September 9th, 2012
The year is 404 BC (no relation to the HTTP status code). Athens has just surrendered to the Spartan commander Lysander, ending the Peloponnesian War, with its 27 years of bloodshed.
John R. Hale’s glorious history, Lords of the Sea, describes what happened next (page 243):
Among Sparta’s allies, the Corinthians and Thebans were quick to demand that Athens be destroyed and its people enslaved. At a banquet held during the congress of victorious allies, however, a man from Phocis happened to sing a well-known chorus from Euripedes’ tragedy Elektra. The great works of Athen’s Golden Age were now the common property of all Greeks. The song moved the delegates to tears, and the vengeful plan to raze the city was given up. Athens had been made rich and powerful by its navy, but it was saved by its poets.
Not only did poetry save thousands of peoples’ lives, it preserved a cultural heritage that influences us today. The world might have forgotten the first great experiment in democracy. Plays like Electra and histories like those of Herodotus and Thucydides might have vanished. The works of Plato and Aristotle would not have been written. The Acropolis in Athens might be unknown to us.
Within a few years, Athens’ democracy would be restored and its navy would be rebuilt one last time. This rebirth would last until Athens was absorbed into the empire created by Alexander the Great.
So, the Arts not only enrich our lives, sometimes they even save them.