Romanos the Melodist

romanos-hi-res

Hymnographer, Musician (c.490 – c.556)

The greatest hymnographer of the Christian Orthodox Church, the “Pindar of Christianity” as he was called, was Romanos the Melodist, active during the Golden Age of the Byzantine Empire. He is renowned for being the greatest poet of the Byzantine era and has been canonized by the Greek Orthodox Church. His feast is on October 1st.

Romanos was of Graeco-Syrian origin and was born in Homs, Syria. He became deacon in the Church of Resurrection in Beirut and later went to Constantinople, where he served as presbyter (elder). Romanos was a musician; he is credited as having composed almost 1000 kontakions, which are ecclesiastical hymns honouring a certain religious event of figure such as apostle, saint etc. They are a form of sermon verse accompanied by music. Only one tenth of his work survives to this day. The music that accompanied the chanting of the hymns also does not survive. All of them were written in Ancient Greek.

With his work, Romanos honoured almost all saints of the Orthodox Church as well as all of the major religious events in Christianity. Among his most notable works are the troparion to Virgin Mary (Theotokos), the kontakion on Christ’s Nativity, the Last Judgement, Adam’s Lament, the Martyrdom of St. Stephen including hymns on Christmas, Easter and the Resurrection. His masterpiece, however, is the Akathist Hymn. It is a hymn to Theotokos (Virgin Mary) that was believed by the citizens of Constantinople to have protected their city from the siege of the Avarians in 626. Its name means the unseated hymn, because it was always chanted while standing. The Akathist is recognized as the greatest hymn written for the Orthodox Greek Church.

The eminent Byzantinologist Karl Krumbacher wrote about Romanos the Melodist: “In poetic talent, fire of inspiration, depth of feeling and elevation of language, he far surpasses all the other melodists. The literary history of the future will perhaps acclaim Romanos for the greatest ecclesiastical poet of all ages”.

Bibliography

  1. Michael G. Farrow. St. Romanos the Melodist. Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. Antiochian.org. Web. Retrieved on June 23, 2017.
  2. Ρώτα, Μαίρη. Ρωμανός ο Μελωδός. Ο Μεγάλος Χριστιανός Ποιητής. Κοινή Γνώμη. Koinignomi.gr. Web. April 14, 2016.
Romanos the Melodist

Konstantinos Tsiklitiras

tsiklitir

Athlete (1888 – 1913)

The greatest athlete in the history of track and field of Greece and the greatest Greek Olympian, Konstantinos Tsiklitiras wrote history as one of the legendary Greek athletes who won 4 medals in the Olympic Games of 1908 in London and 1912 in Stockholm. He possessed a rare talent in multiple sports as well as a sense of patriotism.

He played several sports on competitive level such as football, high jump, javelin throw and polo, but he is most remembered for his performances in standing long jump and standing high jump. His achievements began in 1906 when he won third place in the Panhellenic games in standing long jump. In 1907 he won three golden medals in the Panionian Games of Smyrna in high jump, standing high jump and standing long jump as well as two more golden medals in the Panhellenic games that year. In the years 1907, 1908 and 1910 his team won the Panhellenic football championship. Tsiklitiras was playing as their main goalkeeper.

In the 1908 London Olympics, Tsiklitiras won two silver medals; one for standing long jump and one for standing high jump. In the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, he was the flag-bearer of Greece during the opening ceremony. There, he won the gold medal in standing long jump with a 3.37 meter long jump and a bronze medal in standing high jump. Earlier during the year he had tied for the world record in standing long jump (3.47 meters).

The 24-year-old had beaten Panhellenic records and held a world record in standing long jump. He was apotheosized upon his return to Greece and made the headlines as Greece’s most celebrated Olympian at the time. He was also offered a working place in the National Bank of Greece, since he had studied economics.

In 1912, the 1st Balkan War broke out. Tsiklitiras volunteered to fight on the first line in the Battle of Bizani. He contracted meningitis and died at the age of 25, having sacrificed his career and his life for Greece. In his memory, the Athens Grand Prix Tsiklitiria athletics were founded and continue to be held every year to this day.

To date, having won 1 golden medal, 2 silver and 1 bronze, he ranks as Greece’s greatest Olympian with the highest number of medals ever conquered by a Greek athlete, a title he holds together with Pyrros Dimas and Nikolaos Georgantas.

Bibliography:

  1. Κωνσταντίνος Τσικλητήρας. Σαν Σήμερα. Sansimera.gr. Web.
  2. Ο αετός του αθλητισμού –Ο κορυφαίος αθλητής και Ολυμπιονίκης Κωνσταντίνος Τσικλητήρας. Pronews. Pronews.gr. Web. January 8, 2016.
Konstantinos Tsiklitiras

Nikiforos Vrettakos

Brettakos

Poet (1912 – 1991)

Nikiforos Vrettakos is regarded as one of the greatest writers and poets of modern Greece. He lived an adventurous life with multiple struggles during some of the most difficult times of modern Greek history. He was honoured by multiple prestigious bodies inside and outside of his homeland.

He was from Laconia. After graduating from high school he enrolled in the University of Athens where he studied law. Because of his family’s hardships, however, he did not graduate and he remained in Athens, working to survive. Nevertheless, his big love for poetry did not stop him from publishing his first two poetic collections Under the Shadows and Lights and Down to the Silence of the Centuries, at the age of 17. It was not long before Vrettakos rose to fame, intriguing Kostis Palamas, who wanted to meet him in person.

During the Second World War, Vrettakos enlisted in the army and fought against the Italians in the Albanian front. He partook actively in the Resistance in the midst of the axis occupation and became member of EAM during the guerrilla war of 1946 – 1949. He was removed from the Communist Party of Greece following his disagreement with their politics. He was self-exiled to Switzerland during the junta for 7 years. When he returned to Greece he settled peacefully in Laconia.

Throughout his hard life, Vrettakos never ceased writing poems. The poems he wrote between 1929 and 1938 are characterized by a melancholic tone that reflects his life’s hardships. The second period of his literary work, which spans from 1939 to 1950, is characterized by optimism and struggle. They predominated the Second World War, the axis occupation, the resistance and the guerrilla war. The poems written between 1961 to 1974 are characterized by love and purity and are mostly about nature and the light. The final poetic era from 1975 until his death in 1991 have a similar aura. His works have been translated in several languages such as Turkish and Russian.

Numerous awards were bestowed to Vrettakos. Among them were the National State Prize of Poetry in 1940, 1965 and 1974, the Ourani Prize in 1974, the Knocken Prize of the Sicilian Society of Arts and Letters in 1980 and the Academy of Athens Prize in 1989. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize of Literature 4 times, one of which was nominated by his friend Yiannis Ritsos, with whom he was schoolmate. Vrettakos himself claimed to be a “servant of poetry” and that he would not have anything to live for if God hadn’t given him poetry. His highest virtues were love and homonoia (solidarity). He believed that with these two, man could achieve anything.

Bibliography

1.  Νικηφόρος Βρεττάκος, ο πάμφτωχος ποιητής που είπε: «Αν δε μου ’δινες την ποίηση, Κύριε, δε θα ’χα τίποτα για να ζήσω». Ο δικτάτορας Μεταξάς έκαψε το βιβλίο του, πολέμησε στο μέτωπο του ’40 και προτάθηκε 4 φορές για Νόμπελ. Μηχανή του Χρόνου. Mixanitouxronou.gr. Web.

2.  Cartali, Anna. Νικηφόρος Βρεττάκος,Ο ποιητής της ειρήνης και της αγάπης. Artic. Artic.gr. Web. January 22, 2013.

Nikiforos Vrettakos

Epicharmus

Pictorial_history_of_Epicarmo,poet_and_writer

Philosopher, Comic Poet, Mathematician, Physician (c.540 BC – c.443 BC)

Epicharmus of Kos was a polymath recognized as the founder of comic poetry. He was the son of a physician, desendant of the Aesclipiads. Epicharmus immigrated to Sicily when he was very young and remained there until his death, teaching mathematics, medicine, physiology, philosophy and astronomy. Plato considered him equal to Homer.

Because of the dual meaning of the word μῦθος (mythos) in Greek, Epicharmus is credited with introducing either the regular plot in the comedies or comedies with mythological subject. Either way, he set the foundations of comedy, which years later the Attic poets would perfect. He taught 52 or 35 plays, mostly on mythologic subjects. Sadly, only fragments of his works survive.

His philosophic views seem to have greatly influenced Plato, primarily on the Theory of Forms while Epicharmus himself was influenced by the Pythagoreans. For this reason his comedies contain many high philosophical concepts on metaphysics, the soul, theogony and the creation of the world. It is not unlikely that his philosophical views on the latter motivated Plato to write his magnum opus Timaeus on the creation of the universe. His plays also tackled themes of ethics and politics. He believed that the mind sees and hears (νοῦς ὁρᾶ καὶ νοῦς ἀκούει), a quote that has become quite popular.

Perhaps the reason why he is included in the sages of antiquity is because he preserved and continued the ancient wisdom of the Greeks, which dates back to a very ancient civilization of undetermined time. This knowledge was perpetuated in his comedies and contributed to many of the wonders of the Archaic Period of Greece.

Bibliography

  1. Epicharmus. Perseus Digital Library. Tufts.edu. Web.
  2. Sarandos, Pan. ζ. Ἐπίχαρμος. Δαυλός. Issue 188-189. August-September 1997. pages 11617-11618. Print.
Epicharmus

Marcus Musurus

μουσουρος

Philosopher, Scholar, Printer (c.1470 – 1517)

Marcus Musurus was one of the greatest humanists and most important representatives of the Renaissance. An erudite philosopher with profound knowledge on the Greek and Latin literature, he exerted extraordinary influence in Italy, where he worked as an academic in the most prestigious universities. As a long-life collaborator of Aldus Manutius, Musurus helped disseminate the works of the ancient Greek philosophers throughout Europe and preserve the ancient wisdom throughout the dark ages.

He was Cretan. He studied Greek language in the school of St. Catherine of Sina and continued his studies in Florence next to his teacher Janus Lascaris. In 1494 he settled in Venice where he met Aldus Manutius, the founder of the Aldine Press and the leading printer of all Italy. The two became close affiliates and would eventually publish numerous works of the Ancient Greek philosophers making them widely available to the public. These included the works of Aristophanes, Euripides, Sophocles, Manuel Chrysoloras, Pindar, Callimachus, Aristotle, Homer, all the works of Plato as well as 25 other Classical and Christian writers.

Musurus worked incessantly to promote the ancient Greek philosophy and sciences to the West. Besides his work as a printer, he taught Greek language and philosophy in the New Academy of Carteromachus and Gregoropoulus and in the Platonic Academy of Venice. As a professor of Greek language, philosophy and literature, he held the department of Greek language in the University of Padua where he also taught Homer, Hesiod and Theocritus. He was appointed the title of “Publica Graecarum Literarum Officina” by the Council of Venice. In this way, he was in charge of approving which Greek book would get published. In addition, he served as bishop of Hierapetra of Crete and of Monemvasia, appointed by the Pope himself.

Musurus envisioned a free Greek nation. He wrote a Platonic ode and dedicated it to Pope Leo X, whose father was a student of John Argyropoulos, in an attempt to persuade him to help the subjugated Greeks. In 1513, he helped his teacher Janus Laskaris organize the Greek Gymnasium of Rome, where he also taught Greek. In 1515, the Council of Venice entrusted Musurus with 800 of Bessarion’s manuscripts. These he taxonomized together with Battista Egnazzio and placed them in the newly founded Library of St. Mark, which formed the basis of Biblioteca Marciana.

His unexpected death in 1517 caused great sorrow to the humanists of the West. He was honoured and respected for his tireless struggle to enlighten the world with the works of the ancient Greek philosophers. He had a vast number of eminent students who continued his work and founded departments of Greek language and philosophy in European universities. Among them were Johan Conon, Girolamo Alexandro, Lazaro Bonamico, Germain de Brie and the famous Desiderius Erasmus, who said about Musurus:”… a polymath and panepistemon, key-holder of the Greek language and an excellent connossoir of the Latin voice”.

Bibliography

  1. Condylis, Thanos. Μουσούρος Μάρκος. Αργολική Αρχειακή Βιβλιοθήκη Ιστορίας και Πολιτισμού. Argolikivivliothiki.gr. Web. August 2, 2011.
Marcus Musurus

Emmanouel Pappas

Emmanouil_Pappas

Hero of the Greek War of Independence (1772 – 1821)

Emmanouel Pappas was one of the greatest leading figures of the Greek War of Independence. He was a member of the Society of Friends (Philiki Hetaereia) and the one responsible for lighting the flame of the Greek War of Independence in Macedonia.

In spite of his poor education, Pappas became a prominent merchant and banker, with stores in Vienna and Constantinople. He would lend money to Turkish officials, thus exerting a powerful influence over the administration of Macedonia. After an event that nearly cost him his life, Pappas went to Constantinople where he was initiated to the Society of Friends and offered large amounts of money in its support.

In 1821, two days before the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence, Pappas gathered arms and set sail for Hagion Oros, where he would prepare the peoples of Macedonia for the revolt. By June of the same year, the revolution had begun spreading rapidly throughout Macedonia. Pappas, in spite of the lack of food, arms and manpower exerted extraordinary efforts to awaken the subjugated Greeks of West and Central Macedonia, giving all of his fortune to support the war. In the Battle of Cassanda the Greeks lost the battle against the Ottomans. This marked the endpoint of Pappas’ struggles. Having barely survived the battle, he retreated to Hagion Oros, where the priests had made contract with the Ottoman forces to arrest him. Pappas fled from Hagion Oros on a boat, thanks to a monk named Cyrill, and arrived in Hydra, but dead, having suffered a heart attack.

Emmanouel Pappas was named “Leader and Protector of Macedonia”. He stood as one of the most virtuous heroes of the Greek War of Independence who sacrificed everything in the name of freedom of the Greek nation. Three of his eight sons fell in battle, one of them next to Papaflessas in the heroic Battle of Maniaki. He held the War of Independence alive in Chalkidiki for 6 months, inspiring the Greeks to rise against the oppressor and fight for their freedom.

Bibliography

  1. D-Mak. Eμμανουήλ Παπάς, ο Σερραίος αρχιστράτηγος των Mακεδονικών δυνάμεων της Eλληνική Eπανάστασης του 1821. History of Macedonia. History-of-macedonia.com. Web. April 15, 2010.
  2. Εμμανουήλ Παππάς. Σαν Σήμερα. Sansimera.gr. Web.
Emmanouel Pappas

Diogenes of Sinope

diogenis

Philosopher (c.412 BC – c.323 BC)

Diogenes is the most famous representative of the Cynic School of philosophy. He is also known as Diogenes the Cynic or Diogenes the Dog, because while other dogs bite their enemies, he bit his friends to correct them. He was exiled to Athens, where he became a student of Antisthenes, the founder of the Cynic School. Diogenes’ unorthodox philosophy and lifestyle drew much attention from the spiritual figures of his time. He is mostly remembered today for the introduction of humour to philosophy and his cynical puns.

Diogenes can be summed up as a “Socrates gone mad”, as put by Plato. He believed that man was created by nature in such a way that he possesses all the necessities of life, but man himself creates a number of artificial needs and desires. As such, his extreme lifestyle was a faithful practice of his philosophy. He distanced himself from anything that was unnecessary; he walked around barefoot, wore a tunic, carried a walking stick and slept in an oversized jar below the Acropolis. He would frequently carry a lantern when walking around the city, “searching for an honest man” as he claimed. He had a habit of mocking everything that was bad about people and refused to change his attitude about it. Nevertheless, he was highly respected among others for his wisdom, as evidenced by the fact that he was entrusted to teaching sports and sciences to Xeniades’ children.

In contrast to the physiologists, who were mostly concerned with the study of nature, Diogenes was mostly involved with social and ethical matters. The purpose of his mission was, as he said, to prevent the “forgery of the coin”, meaning to prevent the corruption of the human soul. He aimed at a mass transformation of the human society. Man was created by God in his own image, but was corrupted. In order to be reshaped in God’s image, man must undergo a radical metamorphosis of his nature. For Diogenes, living a life in accord with reason was greater than living a life in accord with the conventions made up by the society.

Diogenes invented the wordplay as part of Cynic philosophy. He used the same word with different meaning in a sentence depending on the situation. A major part of his philosophy was sarcasm. Many os his quotations have survived through time. When he once saw the phrase “Let no evil come in” written above the door of an evil man, he knocked the door and asked “Where does the owner of the house enter from?”. Another time, he saw a local bath which was very dirty and asked “Where do the ones bathing here wash themselves afterwards?”. When he was told “The Sinopes have sentenced you to exile”, he replied “And I have sentenced them to stay there”. When asked why people help beggars instead of philosophers, he said “Everybody believes that one day they can become blind or sick, but they cannot be philosophers!”. When in old age he was told to stop philosophizing and rest, he said “If I were a runner on the track would it be right for me to abandon the competition just before the end or would I have to make an even greater effort?”.

According to Diogenes Laertius, Diogenes wrote a significant number of books, of which Republic and Treatise on Republic are known. He remained faithful to his philosophy throughout his whole life. He died in Corinth in a very old age on the same day as Alexander the Great, who was one of the philosopher’s greatest admirerers.

Bibliography

  1. “Diogenes o Kynikos”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens, 1946. Print.
  2. Pleures, Konstantinos. Greek Philosophers. Athens: Hilektron Publications, 2014. Print.
  3. Julie Piering. Diogenes of Sinope. Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy.iep.utm.edu. Web.
Diogenes of Sinope