THE DISTRESS OF ATHENS (ACTS 17:16-34). Alone in Athens Paul becomes distressed to the point of depression. He could handle beatings, robberies, hunger, nakedness, shipwrecks, but not loneliness! Athens was in the province of Achaia. It was five miles inland from its port of Piraeus, which is on the Saronic Gulf, an arm of the Aegean Sea, stretching 50 miles between Attica and the Pelopnneus. It is situated on a narrow plain between Mt. Parnes to the north, Mt Pentelicus to the east, and Mt. Hymettus to the southeast. It was named after the goddess Athena. Its city streets were lined with statutes of gods and men. The Acropolis with the Parthenon could be seen from anywhere in the city.
Athens reached its zenith under Pericles (495-429 B.C.), who built the Parthenon, numerous temples, and other splendid buildings. Literature, philosophy, science, and rhetoric flourished; and Athens attracted intellectuals from all over the world. In Paul’s day, its prestige was challenged by Alexandria and Tarsus, but not in popular opinion.
Athens became a democracy when Greece ruled the world. The Romans conquered Athens in 146 B.C. They were lovers of everything Greek, and under their rule Athens continued as the cultural and intellectual center of the world. Rome also left the city free politically to carry on its own institutions as a free city.
When Paul came to Athens, it had long since lost its empire and wealth. Its population probably numbered no more than ten thousand. Yet it had a glorious past on which it continued to live.
Athens, the headquarters of Greek mythology, was a city filled with philosophers and idolaters. Paul was distressed to see that the city was full of idols. He would tackle the philosophers and idolaters; but first, he reasoned with the Jews and God-fearing Greeks in the synagogue. Day by day, he also reasoned with all who happened to be in the marketplace.
One day he encountered Epicurean and Stoic philosophers who were of rival schools.