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Reflections from Turkey

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The pathos of the past: Existential ambiguity in Acropolis – Srikar Gullapalli

By Dena Bodian on March 13, 2013

To stand in Acropolis – a city alternatively ruled by the Greeks, the Romans and the Turks over thousands of years – and internalize the sheer humanity that has manifested itself here is overwhelming. Looking around at the ruins,  a Greek band of soldiers bending their heads in front of the altar of Zeus making way for a Roman merchant lugging up a new set of exotic supplies for the king who marvels at a Turkish boy throwing stones in the river, is all almost palpable. As the wind whistles by, the whole time-space canvas of the city comes alive, from pusillanimous kings who desperately cling to a legacy that has long abandoned them to overreaching empires that have crumbled under the yoke of time leaving behind only the faintest of architectural signatures to people of different creeds and eras who fought over and joked about the same small things we still fight over and joke about.

It makes one melancholic to then look down at the modern Turkish city that adorns the valley and realize that the almost sociopathic passage of time will probably treat it no differently than the majestic halls set up by Alexander the Great or the idols of the self-deifying Roman king Trajan. This is brought to sharp focus by the emotionless deciduous tree in the midst of the crumbling marble columns and the indolent idols to Gods and humans: an apathetic witness to the sheer destruction of time but also a repository of the tenuous strand of our collective human consciousness, of our dreams and fears and passions and hubris.

Indeed this is a synecdoche of all of Turkey, which is a maze of Byzantine and Greek and Ottoman and Turkish structures built on top of and in the midst of one another in an attempt to redefine history in one’s own image. There is something incredibly hopeless about this ephemeral exercise of human will that repeats on a loop over millenia. But then again, there is something uplifting about the sheer audacity of these individual dreamers – Pagan, Christian, Muslim, and Atheist – who spent every last denarius of their lifetime of passions trying to beat down the Goliath of time with a catapult. How do I feel? Morally ambivalent, existentially confused, and a few miles deeper down the rabbit hole. Yes, I am exactly where I need to be.


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