Landmarks: Areopagus Hill

Where gods and men stood trial

To the northwest of the Acropolis lies the plateau of Areopagus (lit. “Ares Rock”), the stage of many important events in the city’s mythology and history. This rocky hill was the meeting place of the Areopagus, a powerful political council of the city’s elders – a type of Archaic “parliament” – which after 462 BC was stripped of its political duties and instead functioned as a court for hearing serious crimes such as homicide as well as other special cases. It is perhaps for this reason that in Athenian tradition the Areopagus was the venue for a number of mythical trials. Among them, the trial of Ares before a jury of fellow gods, for the murder of Poseidon’s son Alirrothios. Also, according to Aeschylus’ “Eumenides,” it was where Orestes was tried for killing his mother and her lover, Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. The great tragedian says that the name stems comes from the Ares-Erinyes (or Eumenides or Semnes), chthonic deities of vengeance, as well as of the curse and guilt that haunted criminals. Also known as Furies, the Erinyes were worshipped at a sanctuary erected at the foot of the hill. In AD 51, the Areopagus was where the Apostle Paul first preached Christianity to the Athenians.

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