We departed in the morning from Erice and made the drive to Selinunte, probably the most impressive group of temples that we saw in our time, even though many of them now lie in ruins. That was in some ways a blessing because it allowed us to climb into the remains of them. I think for all of us there was a little hesitation when we learned that we really could climb onto the temple ruins. We are so used to being told not to touch ancient things that the sudden invitation to freely frolic as we pleased caught us off guard.
The first thing that struck me once we did start to climb onto the ruins was the sheer size of all the rocks. Until you are able to climb through them and try to jump from one to another, the audacity of the Greeks to build such huge temples doesn’t completely hit you. The pulleys, ropes, and force needed to move all of these rocks was enormous.
Another thing that sticks out to me is that that many of these temples were built in democratic societies. Public funds might be used to build this monument. The urge for a culture to build something beautiful and lasting is an interesting thing. The people in Selinunte did not live easy lives, but they still decided to put extensive resources into a building that had limited value for them beyond how impressive it is.
I think personally that in today’s world I would frown seeing public funds being used so extensively for something that has so little utility. At the same time, the lasting impact of creating such a beautiful thing like the temples at Selinunte goes beyond a simple cost and benefit analysis. The temples represent the human urge to create, and to create beautifully when possible. In the US we still have that urge to have monuments to wars and other events, but it seems like there is limited preference for spending extravagantly on them. If we built something with the relative amount of resources that the Selinuntans poured into their temples, it would be quite something. Again, I don’t think that is necessarily the best thing.