Georgakis Olympios

ολυμπιοσ

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

Α passionate patriot and one of the most highly acclaimed heroes of the Greek War of Independence, Georgakis Olympios was Alexander Hypsilantis’ right-hand man during the war operations prior to the start of the Greek War of Independence in 1821. A true lover of freedom, whose sacrifice during the first phases of the war made him a symbol of eternal glory and patriotism in Greek history.

He was born to a family of harmatoles. At the age of 25, Olypmios led a group of harmatoles to Serbia where he joined forces with Karageorgis of Serbia and fought against the Ottomans. In 1803, he met with hegemon of Bucharest Constantine Hypsilantis where he organized a small army of Greeks. Later on, he enlisted in the Russian army. With his numerous successes against the Ottomans, Olympios earned the rank of colonel.

After several failed attempts to defeat the Ottomans in Serbia, Olympios returned to Bucharest and was initiated to the Society of Friends (Philiki Hetaereia) by Alexander Hypsilantis. He swore to fight to the death for the holy war in the name of freedom. In 1820, the Society of Friends planned the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence in Pruth. Alexander Hypsilantis promoted Olympios to commander-in-chief of the armies of the para-Danubian hegemonies. On February 1821, Hypsilantis and Olympios crossed the river Pruth and declared the start of the Greek War of Independence. Olympios led the para-Danubian armies in the Battle of Dragashani against the Ottomans but the outcome of the battle was fatal.

Following the tragic Battle of Dragashani, Olympios joined forces with Pharmakis and organized an army of 800 horsemen, in order to descend to Greece through Moldova and Wallachia. He continued fighting relentlessly until September 1821, when he was hunted down by the Ottomans in the mountains of Bessarabia, during the Battle of Moni Sekkou. Olympios and his 11 remaining men, having fought continuously for 12, closed themselves in the Monastery of Sekkos and prepared for their final stand. When food, water and ammos ran out, Olympios and his men chose to die an honourable death than to fall victims to the Ottomans. He lighted the gunpowder barrels that had remained and blew themselves up, killing multiple Turks in the process.

Georgakis Olympios was Alexander Hypsilantis’ most trusted co-fighter, a glorious and honourable man, in the words of Spyridon Trikoupis. Had he survived the Battle of Moni Sekkou he would have become one of the most capable and honest leaders of the Greek War of Independence. His admirable efforts and struggle to awaken the peoples of the Danubian territories convinced Theodore Vladimirescu, general of Wallachia, to rouse all the Balkan peoples and fight as one for their freedom.

Bibliography

  1. “Olympios, Georgakis”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens, 1946. Print.
  2. ΓΕΩΡΓΑΚΗΣ ΟΛΥΜΠΙΟΣ ΕΝΑΣ ΑΦΑΝΗΣ ΗΡΩΑΣ ΤΟΥ 1821.eoellas.org. Web. January 28, 2014.
Georgakis Olympios

Janus Lascaris

lascaris

Philosopher, Scholar (1445 – 1535)

One of the many Greek scholars who fled to the West during the dawn of the Renaissance to disseminate the Greek letters was Janus Lascaris of the House of Lascaris, an old Byzantine family of nobility with many distinguished philosophers. His work consists of translations into Latin, original treatises and lectures in the universities of Italy.

After the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, 8-year old Janus fled with his family to Peloponnesus and from there to Crete, which was under the rule of Venice. Under the guidance of Bessarion, Janus was sent to Venice to study classical studies. He then became a scholar in the University of Padua.

In 1472 he left Padua for Florence. The royal family of the Medici had made their court into a philosophic school where eminent philosophers from Italy and Greece gathered to promote Hellenism. Janus was welcomed there by Lorenzo de Medici, who appointed him the prestigious position of headmaster of his library. There, Janus taught ancient Greek philosophy and anthology. Marcus Musurus was his student there.

Twice was Janus Lascaris sent by Lorenzo de Medici to various places in Greece to retrieve as many ancient manuscripts as he could find. He travelled to Constantinople, Crete, Thessaloniki and Mount Athos, collecting and salvaging over 200 such ancient Greek manuscripts.

Later, upon invitation by King Charles VIII he settled in Paris, where he became his advisor and organized the royal library of France. From 1500 to 1509 he served as ambassador of France in Milan and in Venice. In 1503, he joined the Greek Academy of Aldus Manutius and became a professor of Greek philosophy. His former student Marcus Musurus was also a professor there and the two became colleagues.

In the following years, Pope Leo X appointed him headmaster of the newly founded Greek Gymnasium of Rome. Together with Marcus Musurus they founded a printing office, which further promoted the dissemination of Hellenic thought. In 1518 he was called in Paris by Francis I to take on the organization and direction of the royal library. He attempted in found another Greek school but without success.

Janus wrote numerous commentaries and printed them together with Marcus Musurus in their printing office. Janus printed the Iliad with his own commentary, as well as Sophocles’ plays. He translated works into Latin, published works such as the entire Greek Anthology and Philosopher Porphyry’s Homeric Questions as well as original works such as On canonic Law and Greek Rhetoricians.

Janus Lascaris left his last breath in Rome in 1535 at the age of 90. Together with his students and his colleagues, he had helped plant the seeds of the Renaissance. He remained a flaming patriot throughout his entire life, never ceasing his struggle to free Greece from the Ottoman rule and awaken humanity from the darkness of illiteracy the Middle Ages had imposed. On his tombstone was inscribed: Lascaris in foreign land deposided his body, and he does not blame her that she is very foreign, oh stranger. He found her sweet. But he is worried about the Achaeans (the Greeks), because their country does not cover them with free soil”.

Bibliography

  1. Αίας ο Τελαμώνιος. Άγνωστες μορφές του Ελληνισμού: Ιανός (Ιωάννης) Λάσκαρις. Λαϊκός Σύνδεσμος Χρυσή Αυγή. Xryshaygh.com. July 1, 2016. Web.
  2. “Lascaris, Ioannis”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens, 1946. Print.
Janus Lascaris

Nikos Kazantzakis

kazantzakis

Writer, Poet, Philosopher, Statesman (1883 – 1957)

Nikos Kazantzakis is the most widely translated Greek writer in the world. His enormous bibliography, ranging from philosophy and poetry to plays and literature places him at the top of modern Greek literature. He is regarded as one of the giants of modern Greek literature whose reputation still holds ground all over the world.

He was born in Crete. He studied law in the University of Athens and in the University of Paris. From a young age he began studying Nietzsche and attending lectures of Henry Bergson, two philosophers that would have great influence on his career. His two greatest teachers would remain Dante and Homer. His debut in the Greek letters was in 1906 with his essay The Disease of the Century and his novel Snake and Lily.

He was a close friend of Angelos Sikelianos and the two traveled extensively throughout the world. It was a spiritual journey that introduced him to the ideas of Buddhism, communism and most importantly nationalism. Both Kazantzakis and Sikelianos had envisioned the revival of the ancient Greek spirit, something that brought him in conflict with the Orthodox Church.

Except novels and essays, Kazantzakis wrote plays, poems, travel books, philosophical books and memoirs. He gained worldwide attention with his book Zorba the Greek, the story of a young man who meets and befriends a strange man full of energy for life called Alexis Zorbas. The novel was adapted into a critically acclaimed film by Michael Kakoyiannis in 1964, which won 3 Academy Awards, as well as a musical.

Other works that made his name famous across the world are novels Captain Michalis, Christ Recrucified and The Last Temptation of Christ, all of which were negatively received by the Orthodox Church for their themes and Christ’s portrayal. The latter was included in the now abolished Index Librorum Prohibitorum of the Church. Kazantzakis replied to them by saying “You gave me a curse, Holy Fathers. I give you a blessing; may your conscience be as clear as mine and may you be as moral and religious as I”.

Ascesis: The Saviours of God, published in 1927, is considered to be Kazantzakis’ greatest work on philosophy influenced by Bergson, Nietzsche, Marx, Christianity and Buddhism, expressing the writer’s metaphysical faith. Other works include his spiritual autobiography Report To Greco, Toda Raba, The Fratricides and God’s Pauper: St. Francis of Assisi.

In 1938 he published his epic poem Odysseus, a part of his epic poem called The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel based on Homer’s Odyssey. It too was written in 24 rhapsodies and consisted of 33.333 lyrics, each with 17 syllables. What was to become Kazantzakis’ magnum opus was reworked 7 times and was published after his death. It picks up from where Homer’s Odyssey ends. Furthermore, he did renditions of Homer’s epics from ancient Greek to modern Greek.

Kazantzakis was involved with politics sporadically throughout his life. In 1919, he was appointed Minister of Public Welfare by Eleutherios Venizelos for 1 year, until he resigned. During this short time period, he was responsible for evacuating 150.000 Greeks from Asia Minor. He served as Minister of State from 1945 to 1946 and worked in UNESCO for promoting the translation of classic literature to foreign languages in order to bridge civilizations.

Kazantzakis was nominated a total of 9 times for the Nobel Prize of Literature. The first time was in 1946, when he lost the award to Albert Camus. Camus himself expressed his opinion that Kazantzakis deserved the award more than him. In 1956 he was bestowed the International Peace Award in Vienna. He died in 1957 in Freiburg from leukaemia. His funeral was held in Herakleion and was a major event in Greece. On his tombstone is inscribed: “I hope for nothing, I fear nothing. I am free”.

Bibliography

  1. Editors @ TheFamousPeople.com. Nikos Kazantzakis Biography. TheFamousPeople.com. Web. Retrieved on August 5, 2017.
  2. Νίκος Καζαντζἀκης. Σαν Σήμερα. Sansimera.gr. Web.
Nikos Kazantzakis

Theocritus

theocritus

Poet (c.310 BC – c.260 BC)

Theocritus is one of the greatest poets of antiquity. He is the Father of pastoral poetry, the poetry concerned with agricultural life. He flourished during the 3rd century BC in Syracuse, Kos and in Alexandria and surpassed in fame all of his contemporaries including poets Hermisianax, Phanocles, Asclepiades and Aratus.

Almost thirty complete poems survive under Theocritus’ name. It is known that not all of his works survived and that not all of the poems that have survived are definitely written by him. His collection comprises many different types of poetry, including bucolic poetry, hymns, elegies, iambs, mimes, mythological poems and epigrams. His primary works were the bucolic idylls, short poems on agricultural and rural life of shepherds connected with nature.

Some of the most well known poems of Theocritus are the following:

  • Thyrsis is about a shepherd who challenges another shepherd to play music with his flute for the milking of a goat and a cup as a prize, without disturbing Pan’s sleep. Matthew Arnold’s Thyrsis is a direct source of this.
  • Pharmaceutriae is a poem about a woman who falls in love with a man who does not return his love back. Hence, she concocts spells to bring him close to her. The 8th poem of Virgil’s Eclogues is an imitation of this poem, considered to be Theocritus’ best one.
  • Vattos and Corydon, a poem about the conversation of two shepherds who do not get along very well. It served as an influence to the 5th poem of Virgil’s Eclogues.
  • Bucolists or Travellers is a bucolic poem about two shepherd slaves who compete for whoever plays a better flute. As with the previous one, it served as an influence for the 5th poem in Virgil’s Eclogues.
  • Thalysia is about Theocritus’ visit to Alexandria to celebrate the Thalysia, a celebration in honour of Demeter. The 9th poem from Virgil’s Eclogues is an imitation of Thalysia.
  • Daphnis and Menalkas, two shepherds who bet their bids on who is a better singer. Daphnis wins the bet and marries the nymph Naiad. The 7th poem from Virgil’s Eclogues is an imitation of this poem.
  • Cyclops, an idyll about Nicias, a doctor who suffers from love. The poet advises him to imitate the Cyclops Polyphemus, who managed to recover from his love of the nymph Galateia by singing at the top of a mountain. Cyclops is considered to be one of Theocritus’ masterpieces and was imitated again by Virgil in his 2nd poem of Eclogues.
  • Adoniazousai, a poem about the celebration of Adonis.
  • Heracliscus, an epic idyll based on the legend of Heracles.
  • Lover or Diseros, a poem about a man who commits suicide for an unrequited love of a youth. The poem greatly inspired not only Virgil, but also Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Jean de La Fontain for his poem “Daphnis et Alcimadure”.

Theocritus was a master of his work. His poetry is characterized by astounding observation, dramatic talent, grace and sentiment. The characters are portrayed with great realism and simplicity and reflect the every-day lives of both shepherds and urban dwellers truthfully. Theocritus possessed remarkable knowledge on several animals, plants and nature as a whole as evidenced from his poems.

His entire collection contains all the virtues of the ancient Greek poetry, which played an influential role in the Renaissance, serving as the prodrome of Romantic poetry. He is rightfully named as the last of the great poets of the Hellenistic period.

Bibliography

  1. “Theocritos”. Helios new Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas I. Athens, 1946. Print.
  2. Foster, J. Andrew. Theocritus of Syracuse. Oxford Bibliographies. Oxfordbibliographies.com. Web.
Theocritus

Alec Issigonis

NPG x165931; Sir Alec Issigonis by Godfrey Argent

Car Designer (1906 – 1988)

Alexander Arnold Issigonis was an engineer and car designer born in Smyrna, Asia Minor to a cosmopolitan family. He was the man who made the legendary Mini Cooper, one of the most significant cars in British history.

He fled from Smyrna in 1822 during the Great Fire and settled in London. He enrolled in the University of Surrey to study engineering, but failed mathematics three times, forcing him to continue his studies in the University of London.

He began his career in the automobile industry initially working for Humber and then for Morris Motor Company. His first major success as a car designer was when he developed the Mosquito in 1948, shortly after World War II. The Mosquito would continue being manufactured up until 1971. Another vehicle designed by him was the sports car 750 cc Lightspeed Special.

In 1952, Issigonis retired from Morris Motor Company and joined Alvis Car, until 1955, when he joined British Motor Corporation. It was in August, 1959 when British Motor Corporation unveiled the Morris Mini Minor or Mini Cooper, as it came to be known, designed by engineering genius Alec Issigonis. Hailed for its overall simplicity and comfort, the Mini Cooper was an unprecedented success that changed the way cars were designed by the industry. It later went on to become the best-selling British car in history, producing 5.3 million vehicles. Numerous models were released over the years which continued being manufactured until 2000. Another one of his major success, the Austin 1100, was developed in 1961. His last car was the Austin Maxi in 1969.

Issigonis, the “Greek God”, as he was called by his contemporaries, received enormous recognition in England. He was made Knight Commander of the British Empire and was knighted by the Queen of England in 1969. Streets were named after him in several towns of England. Today, the original surviving Mini Cooper vehicles have become very valuable for collectors.

Bibliography

  1. Sir Alec Issigonis 1906 – 1988. jannaludlow.co.uk. Web.
  2. Sir Alec Issigonis (1906 – 1988). Uniquecarsandparts.com. au. Web.
  3. Αλέξανδρος Ισιγώνης. Σαν σήμερα. Sansimera.gr. Web.
Alec Issigonis

Demetrius of Phalerum

demetrius

Philosopher, Rhetorician, Statesman (c.350 BC – c.280 BC)

Demetrius of Phalerum was a statesman, orator, rhetorician and writer, member of the Peripatetic School of philosophy and student of Theophrastus, who served as epistates of Athens under the rule of Cassander. He is best known in history for being one of the greatest rhetoricians and writers of the 4th century BC and the founder of the Library of Alexandria together with Ptolemy I Soter.

As an epistates, he ruled Athens for 10 years, proving to be a skilled governor. He increased the total financial income of Athens, passed into law numerous social innovations, conducted the very first census in recorded history and beautified Athens as a city overall. Legend says that he was so well received by the Athenians that 360 statues of him were made, one for each day of the year, as a token of appreciation.

Demetrius’ role as an epistates of Athens ended in 307 BC when Demetrius the Poliorcetes arrived in Piraeus escorted by 20 ships and took control over Athens. Demetrius of Phalerum initially fled to Thebes and then to Egypt, where he befriended Ptolemy I Soter. Demetrius’ life long dream to create the greatest spiritual center of Hellenism, where all knowledge in the world could be stored in one place earned Ptolemy’s approval and thus, in 300 BC, works for the Library of Alexandria began being implemented.

Having been governor of Athens, Demetrius knew very well the function and organization of a library as he had studied most likely in the Lyceum of Aristotle. In addition to the Library, which would become the storehouse of all knowledge man had acquired at the time, Demetrius founded the “Musaeum”, a university within the Library of Alexandria dedicated to the 9 Muses, based on the principles of the Athenian schools. Undoubtedly, his influence in Alexandria was significant. He was in the epicenter of the spiritual life of Alexandria. He wrote an estimated 45 historical, rhetorical, philosophical and political works, none of which survive today, wrote commentaries and critiques on ancient texts, advocated the translation of Egyptian hieroglyphic chronicles to Greek and encouraged the study of letters in Egypt.

Demetrius of Phalerum inaugurated a new era to the Alexandrians. He transferred his love of letters and knowledge to them, promoting the arts and sciences to a great extent that had never before been done. Many of the Alexandrian philosophers and scientists were influenced by him either directly as students or by means of his works. It is thanks to his efforts that Alexandria became the world’s largest and grandest spiritual center of its time.

Bibliography

    1. “Demetrius Phalereus”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens, 1946. Print.
    2. Δημήτριος ο Φαληρεύς : Ο φιλόσοφος που διετέλεσε επιμελητής της πόλης των Αθηνών. Αυτόχθονες Ἐλληνες. Autochthonesellhnes.blogspot.gr. Web. May 11, 2014.

 

Demetrius of Phalerum

St. Theodore of Tarsus

0919_theodore-of-canderbury-

Philosopher, Theologist, Archbishop of Canterbury (602 – 690)

Theodore was a Byzantine Greek born in Tarsus of Asia Minor. Serving as the 7th Archbishop of Canterbury for over 20 years, he created the English Church and laid the foundations of the Anglo-Saxon philology. He was called “the first archbishop whom all the English obeyed” because he became the first to control the whole English Church as one. He has been canonized by the Catholic Church.

He studied mathematics, philosophy and astronomy in Athens and Constantinople and earned the title of philosopher. His work as a reformer of the English Church began at age 60, when he was called up by Pope Vitalian from Rome to become Archbishop of Canterbury following his predecessor’s death. Theodore set out for England, only to find the Church completely disorganized as a result of the crisis that had broken out because of local pagans.

His first move was to organize the country; he made visitation to all churches of the English nation and divided the country into parishes and dioceses, appointing capable priests and bishops in charge. With the Council of Hertford in 673, he passed numerous reforms that put order and discipline back to the Church, the monasteries and the people and passed legislations forbidding bishops to interfere with other dioceses. Moreover, he made Easter an obligatory celebration, disconnected the Church from the movement of the Monothelites and implemented the teaching of music and sacred learning in the churches. Thus, Theodore managed to create one single, unified Church out of the many, heterogeneous ones that existed independently throughout England.

Theodore not only possessed strong administrative skills, but was also a cultivated man of letters. He founded schools throughout the entire country, the most famous school of Greek and Latin being in Canterbury, and promoted art and sciences in the monasteries. Theodore, together with Abbot Adrian, taught all the sciences themselves, including astronomy, Greek language and philosophy, music and arithmetic. Thanks to his reforms, the English Church became a center of culture that helped the development of Christianity as well as the dissemination and integration of the Greek language in England. None of his successors ever made any changes to the system which he had created.

Bibliography

  1. Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury. New Advent. Newadvent.org. Web.
  2. Νέος Συναξαριστής της Ορθοδόξου Εκκλησίας”, υπό ιερομονάχου Μακαρίου Σιμωνοπετρίτου, εκδ. Ίνδικτος (τόμος πρώτος – Σεπτέμβριος, σ. 205-206)
  3. Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73).  Volume IX: September. The Lives of the Saints. 1866. September 19, St. Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury, Confessor. Bartleby.com. Web.
  4. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Saint Theodore of Canterbury. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Britannica.com. Web.
St. Theodore of Tarsus