Arcesilaus

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Philosopher (316 BC – 240 BC)

Arcesilaus is the second most important representative of the Skeptic School of Philosophy, founded by Pyrrhon. A student of Theophrastus, Arcesilaus is said to have doubted everything, similar to Descartes’ skepticism. None of his works on philosophy survive. As such, what we know about his philosophy is based on others’ accounts.

He studied geometry and astronomy before settling in Athens. After studying next to Theophrastus, he joined Plato’s Academy, where he studied philosophy next to Crantor, Crates and Polemon. He succeeded Crates as the sixth headmaster of the Academy, a position which he held for 25 years until his own death.

Our understanding of Arcesilaus’ skepticism is incomplete because his philosophy is survived only from brief reports by other writers and their opponents. Hence, each one gives their own interpretation of Arcesilaus’ philosophical views. Philosophers have interpreted his philosophy in three different ways: the Academic, the Practical and the Socratic interpretations.

Arcesilaus believed that we should not give a definite opinion on anything and that we should have a suspension of judgment – a term he named universal epoche (εποχή) – when we cannot distinguish between truth and falsehood. Nevertheless, he did not deny the performance of deeds, as our actions come from our will, not from our knowledge. Arcesilaus also held another doctrine called akatalepsia (ακαταληψία), according to which nothing can be known. He was highly critical of all philosophical movements, most notably against the Stoics.

Arcesilaus’ statements that one should not form beliefs and that nothing can be known have long bewildered philosophers, who have attempted to shed light to his way of thinking. Regardless, Arcesilaus made an important step in Academic Skepticism, as a skilled dialectitian following the Socratic Method, influencing important figures in philosophy.

Biblography:

  1. Brittain, Charles. Arcesilaus. Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. Plato.stanford.edu. January 14, 2005. Web.
  2. Pleures, Konstantinos. Greek Philosophers. Hilektron Publications. Athens: 2014. Print.
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Arcesilaus

Xenophon

Xenophon-van-Athene

Philosopher, Historian, Economist, General (c.430 BC – 354 BC)

Xenophon of Athens made a name of himself as a multifarious individual. He was a historian, an economist and a political writer, who continued Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. In addition to being a philosopher, Xenophon was an excellent general, who encompassed all the powers and values of Ancient Greece.

He was born in Athens during the Peloponnesian War. He was a student of Socrates. When the Athenians sentenced Socrates to death, Xenophon left Athens in disgust and settled in Sparta. He became a mercenary and served in the Army of the Ten Thousands, a part of King Cyrus’s army, as they ventured to Persia to dethrone Cyrus’ brother, Artaxerxes. Xenophon would later assume the leadership of this army and lead them to safety back to Asia Minor. Xenophon’s accounts are told in his book Anabasis, one of his greatest works written, which also accounts the Battle of Cunaxa.

Xenophon was a great admirer of Sparta. Upon his return to Greece, he continued serving the Spartans as a general. For his services, Sparta provided him with a private estate in Peloponnesus, where he lived for 23 years, writing his works. Xenophon was exiled from Athens for allying with the Spartans. However, as he proved that he was a military genius, his exile was revoked. Nevertheless, he never returned to Athens.

Xenophon wrote historical, “Socratic” and didactic treatises. Among his historical works are De Republica Lacaedemoniorum, a treatise on the political and social system of Sparta, its structure and its institutions, Agesilaus, a treatise on the life and work of King Agesilaus of Sparta, whom Xenophon considered an “ideal type of man and general”, Hellenica, a continuation of Thucydides’ major historical work The History of the Peloponnesian War, which covers the events of the war from 411 BC to 362 BC and Cyropaedia, a fictional biography of Cyrus the Great, King of Persia.

His “Socratic dialogues” are works named after Socrates, who serves as the central figure of the dialogue. In Apology of Socrates, Socrates defends himself in front of the jury by demonstrating his virtue and wisdom. Memorabilia features dialogues and conversations with Socrates and the ethical influence has on others. In this category also belong two of his works Oeconomicus and Symposion, a conversation with Socrates involving home economics and a dialogue on love respectively.

Xenophon’s didactic treatises provide valuable information on the correct treatment and use of horses, instructions on strategic and tactical matters of war, as well as solutions to the remediation of Athens’ economy.

A philosopher with high educational background, Xenophon’s philosophy was largely influenced by Socrates. As a political philosopher, he endorsed the strict political system of Sparta, the goal of which was set years ago by Lycurgus. As a moral philosopher, Xenophon highlighted the importance of discipline, moderation and self-control. For him, hard work is a virtue, even for a King, as presented in Oeconomicus, where Cyrus the Great is said to be taking care of his own garden regularly.

As early from the Alexandrian era, Xenophon was highly valued by historians and philologists, who placed him among Herodotus and Thucydides. His legacy continued unchanged during the Roman Empire. In the Renaissance, European scholars used his works for didactic purposes: the Memorabilia to teach about Socrates and his philosophy, Agesilaus for the virtues of an ideal leader, Anabasis for the discipline, initiative and wise decision-making, Cyropaedia for the importance of education, and the Hellenica as the most valuable source for the history of Greece during that era.

Bibliography:

  1. Βολωνάκης, Κ. Ιωάννης. Της Αρχαίας Ελλάδος οι Μεγάλοι Ηγέται. Γεοργιάδης: Αθήναι, 1997. Print.
  2. Browning, Eve A. Xenophon. Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. Iep.utm.edu. Web.
  3. Διαλησμά, Δρουκόπουλος, Κουτρουμπέλη, Χρυσαφής. Αρχαίοι Έλληνες Ιστοριογράφοι. Οργανισμός Εκδόσεως Σχολικών Βιβλίων. Διδακτικά Σχολικά Βιβλία. Print.
Xenophon

The Lady of Rho

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(1890 – 1982)

Every day at sunrise, Despina Achladiotou raised the Greek flag in the island of Rho and then took it down at night. She did this for 40 years. With this act, she spread the message that Rho was part of Greece and that nobody would violate its sacred ground. She became known as the Lady of Rho.

In 1924, she, her husband and her blind mother inhabited the small island at the southern coast of Turkey. When all the other inhabitants left the island, Despina and her husband faced challenges from the Turks, who wanted the island for themselves. In 1929, the Turks invaded the island and hoisted the Turkish flag. As soon as she saw the Turkish flag, Despina took it down, sew a Greek flag from white and blue fabric she carried and hoisted it in its place.

During World War II, Despina Achladiotou went to Kastellorizo to work in one of the bases of the Allies by helping out the soldiers. When the Allies ordered the evacuation of Kastellorizo, everybody fled from the island to Cyprus and Egypt. Despina Achladiotou was the only one to remain in the island and in spite of the Germans’ bombardments, continued to raise the Greek flag every day.

Despina Achladiotou stood as the protector of both islands Rho and Kastellorizo. In her brief absences, the Turks would find the chance to invade the island and raise the Turkish flag. When she returned, she removed it and placed the Greek flag once again. In 1974, when such an event occurred, the Greek navy arrived at the island to award her for her valor, her acts of patriotism and services to the nation. She received numerous decorations from the state thereafter, including from the Academy of Athens and the Greek Parliament.

Despina Achladiotou died in 1982, at the age of 92. Her final wish was to be buried at the island of Rho, right next to the pole she used to raise the flag every morning for almost half a century. History wrote her down as the Lady of Rho, the woman who ensured that the two islands always remained part of Greece and withstood every hardship to achieve it.

Bibliography

    1. Σαν σήμερα “έφυγε” η κυρά της Ρω, Δέσποινα Αχλαδιώτη, που επί μισό αιώνα σήκωνε την Ελληνική Σημαία απέναντι από τους τούρκους. Λαϊκός Σύνδεσμος Χρυσή Αυγή. Xryshaygh.com. May 13, 2017. Web.
    2. «Πέρασα κακουχίες, αλλά εδώ νιώθεις πιο πολύ την Ελλάδα, χαμένος στο πέλαγος». Η κυρά της Ρω, η νησιώτισσα που ύψωνε την ελληνική σημαία για 40 χρόνια στο ερημονήσι του Αιγαίου. Μηχανή του Χρόνου. Mixanitouxronou.gr. Web.

 

The Lady of Rho

Conon of Samos

Astronomer, Mathematician, Geographer (c.280 BC – c.220 BC)

Conon of Samos is renowned for his contributions in astronomy. He was a contemporary and close friend of Archimedes, with whom he exchanged mathematical ideas. He lived in Alexandria and worked in the court of Ptolemy III Euergetes, with whom he was also a close friend.

Conon discovered the constellation of Coma Berenices, found between the constellations of Virgo, Leo and Bootes. He named it poetically after the rich hair of Queen Berenice II, wife of Ptolemy III Euergetes.

His works are numerous, but sadly the majority of them have been lost. Among them, De Astrologia, a treatise consisting of 7 books dedicated to Ptolemy III Euergetes. It contained Conon’s own astronomical observations on solar eclipses. This treatise was used by Hipparchus. Another one of his works was Parapegmata, a diary containing meteorological forecasts and information on the risings and settings of stars. His data was a result of meticulous observations he had conducted in Magna Graecia.

In addition to astronomy and geography, Conon was a skilled mathematician. His work on conic sections, which also does not survive, formed the basis of Apollonius of Perga’s 4th book of Conics. It is also believed, based on accounts from Pappus of Alexandria, that Conon was the original inventor of the Archimedean spiral.

At his time, Conon was recognized as a prestigious mathematician. Callimachus wrote a poem entitled Coma Berenices, which writes about Conon that he “discerned all the lights of the vast universe and disclosed the risings and settings of the stars, how the fiery brightness of the sun is darkened and how the stars retreat at fixed times”.

Bibliography:

  1. Georgakopoulos, Konstantinos. Ancient Greek Scientists. Georgiades: Athens, 1995. Print.
  2. J.J. O’Connor, E.F. Robertson. Conon of Samos. University of St. Andrews. St-andrews.ac.uk. Web.
Conon of Samos

John Philoponus

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Philosopher, Theologist, Mathematician, Physicist, Astronomer, Writer (c.490 – c.570)

John Philoponus was a Christian Neoplatonic and Aristotelian philosopher, philologist, scientist and theologist. His name means “friend of pain”, which denotes his love for hard work. Considered by many as the most educated man of his time, John Philoponus was a prolific writer, whose bibliography spans the fields of philosophy, mathematics, physics, logic, metaphysics, psychology, astronomy, theology and cosmology. Primarily renowned for his works in physics, he was the first scientist to propose the experiment of the fall of two bodies of different weight to disprove Aristotle’s long lasting theory that the heaviest of the two bodies would fall first.

Philoponus studied philosophy in the Neoplatonic School of Alexandria. His teacher, Ammonius, headmaster of the school, was a student of Proclus, one of the most influential philosophers in world history. Later on, Philoponus became a scholar in the same school and began writing commentaries on Aristotle’s works. As he started distancing himself from Aristotle’s axioms, he moved on to writing his own original treatises, unwillingly becoming one of the first critics of Aristotle and introducing his own new concepts and ideas in philosophy, a very daring act at the time.

In the field of physics, Philoponus disagreed with Aristotle that light is a static property and instead proposed that light is an immaterial action capable of heating up bodies. In a similar way, he asserted that the soul warms up the body. He deduced that light travels from light-emitting objects to the eye by means of geometric optics. Furthermore, he explained that heat is produced from the sunlight’s rays that refract and heat up the air by means of friction.

Philoponus rejected Aristotle’s theory that any three dimensional object must be a material body, redefined the concepts of void and matter, researched collisions and compiled studies on free fall. In particular, he described that during free fall of two bodies of different weight, the difference in their time of fall is not equal to the proportion of their weight, but in reality is very small. Moreover, he made significant contributions to the theory of impetus and in inertia, which changed the direction of dynamics towards a more modern form that it has today.

Concerning astronomy, he applied the theory of impetus on the celestial bodies, claimed that the sun and the stars are made of fire, that planets do not spin in perfect circular symmetry and that celestial bodies are three-dimensional. He attempted to provide an explanation for the creation of the galaxy and the universe and, while a Christian, he accepted Plato’s Timaeus of the creation of the universe as being in harmony with the Christian dogma.

Philiponus’ studies on physics influenced several scientists of the Renaissance. The most notable example was Galileo. In his first texts, Philoponus’ name is mentioned more times than Plato’s name. Galileo praises him for his ideas, most importantly on his theory of impetus, which helped Galileo develop his theory on the inertia. In addition, one can find numerous similarities between the two scientists, such as both questioning Aristotle’s theories, both believing that man will never be fully able to understand any natural phenomenon and both being condemned by the Church as heretics.

As an open-minded philosopher, his theses were not accepted by the Church or his colleagues. Accused of rejecting the dogma of the Trinity and being a tritheist, Philoponus was condemned by the Church. His sentence was revocated in 1990.

Philoponus’ works had a significant influence on Islamic, Judaic and Christian thought. They were subsequently translated into Arabic, Latin and Syrian. Perhaps his greatest achievement was that he made his thought independent from that of Aristotle, challenging the philosopher’s authority, thus allowing physics as a science to progress. His scientific genius has recently been compared to that of Isaac Newton and Galileo by modern scientists.

Bibliography:

  1. Ιακώβου, Μαρία. Η Φυσική του Ιωάννη Φιλόπονου και ο Γαλιλαίος, Πτυχιακή Εργασία. Αριστοτέλειο Πανεπιστήμιο Θεσσαλονίκης, Σχολή Θετικών Επιστημών, Τμήμα Φυσικής. Astro.auth.gr. Web.
John Philoponus

Athanasios Karpenisiotis

Agrafiotis

Hero of the Greek War of Independence (c.1780 – 1821)

Athanasios Karpenisiotis was a hero of the Greek War of Independence from Eurytania. He was a skilled colonel having served the Russian army in the Turkish-Russian War. He is remembered for leading the Greeks in the Battle of Galatsi and the Battle of Skouleni, where he sacrificed his life for freedom.

At the age of 12 he left for Constantinople, where he worked as a gun repairman. Later he settled in Iasi, Romania where he came into contact with the Greek community there. This was an important step to his awakening to fight for the nation. At some point he joined the Russian army and fought in the Turkish-Russian war. He received honours and was promoted to colonel. After the war, Karpenisiotis became captain of Michael Soutzos’ army.

In 1818 he was initiated in the Society of Friends (Philiki Hetaereia), a secret organization created by John Kapodistria and the Chakalov brothers for the independence of Greece. On May 1st, 1821, Karpenisiotis led Alexander Hypsilantis’ army of 600 warriors against the Ottoman forces, which numbers around 5000, in the Battle of Galatsi, Romania. It was the very first battle in Wallachia. Even though the outcome was not victorious, Karpenisiotis and his army managed to deliver significant damage to the Ottoman army and thus strengthen the Greeks’ spirit.

On June 17, 1821, Athanasios Karpenisiotis was elected captain of the Greek forces that would lead them to the Battle of Skouleni, in Wallachia. A few hundreds Greek soldiers faced an army of 6000 Ottoman warriors. Karpenisiotis and his men fought with immense courage and bravery, killing almost 1600 Turks. He continued fighting when he ran out of firearms and when his sword broke in half. In the end, Athanasios Karpenisiotis passed to immortality, fighting for his homeland and its freedom.

Karpenisiotis is often compared to fellow Freedom Fighter Athanasios Diakos, both of whom share the same name. Like him, Karpenisiotis died by fighting an unequal battle, choosing to stay and give his life rather than retreat and save himself and his forces. The Battle of Skouleni is for many equivalent to the Battle of Maniaki and the Battle of Alamana, where Papaflessas and Diakos fell heroically respectively.

Bibliography:

  1. Ευρυτανικά Νέα. Αθανάσιος Καρπενησιώτης, ο Ευρυτάνας Ήρωας της Ελληνικής Επανάστασης. Σκοτώθηκε στις 17 Ιουνίου 1821 στην Ρουμανία, πολεμώντας για την πατρίδα. Evrytanika.gr. August 8, 2016. Web.
  2. Παπαδημητρίου, Κώστας Δ. Αθανάσιος Καρπενησιώτης (θυσιάσθηκε 17 Ιουνίου 1821). Ορθόδοξη Πορεία. Orp.gr. June 17, 2013. Web.
Athanasios Karpenisiotis

Heraclides of Pontus

Philosopher, Astronomer (4th century BC)

Heraclides descended from a wealthy family from Heraclea Pontica. He was a philosopher and astronomer, the first to propose a mixed geo-heliocentric system of the universe. His vast bibliography, which unfortunately does not survive today, spanned the fields of physics, astronomy, metaphysics and meteorology.

He studied in the Academy of Athens where he became one of Plato’s students and later a student of Aristotle in the Lyceum. In the Academy he befriended Speusippus, the successor of the school. Upon Speusippus’ death, Heraclides was one of the candidates for headmaster of the Academy, but lost to Xenocrates. He returned to his hometown Heraclea where he founded his own philosophic school. Heraclides possessed profound knowledge on Pythagorean philosophy and was a proponent of Demorcitus’ theory of the atom.

Heraclides was active primarily in astronomy. He proposed the mixed helio-geocentric model of the cosmos according to which the sun, the moon and the planets of the solar system rotate around the Earth, except from Venus and Mercury, who orbit the Sun. Heraclides also postulated that the Earth completes a rotation around its axis in 24 hours. He was the first philosopher to hold such a belief. This model proposed by the philosopher is believed to have served as the basis for the astronomical model of Tycho Brahe.

Heraclides was a prolific writer. Like most of his contemporaries, he wrote a book On Nature, a treatise on physics. Furthermore, he wrote the philosophical books On the Pythagoreans, On Hades and on Uranus, On Findings and Zoroaster, books on the philosophy of physics, literary critiques, books on mysticism and books on theurgy or medicine. As a Platonic philosopher, Heraclides endorsed the concept of the immortality of the soul as well as reincarnation. According to him, the soul is made of light (φῶς) and aether (αἰθέρα). It originates from the Galaxy.

Bibliography

  1. Georgakopoulos, Konstantinos. Ancient Greek Scientists. Georgiades: Athens, 1995. Print.
  2. J.G. Toomer. Heraclides Ponticus. Encyclopaedia.com. encyclopaedia.com. Web.
  3. Κάλφας, Βασίλης. Ηρακλείδης Ποντικός. Η Εγκυκλοπαίδεια του Πλάτωνα. N1.xtek.gr. Web.
Heraclides of Pontus