Eratosthenes

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Mathematician, Astronomer, Geographer, Writer, Poet, Musician, Scholar (c.246 BC – c.194 BC)

Eratosthenes was one of the greatest sages of ancient Greece. He was headmaster of the Library of Alexandria and the founder of geography as a science as we know it today. His most famous achievement was the measurement of the circumference of the Earth.

He was born in Cyrene, a Greek colony of North Africa. He was 11 years older than Archimedes, with whom he was good friend. Eratosthenes studied mathematics and astronomy in the Academy of Athens under his teachers Ariston and Arcesilaus. He then continued his studies in Alexandria under his teacher Callimachus, where he remained and worked for the rest of his life. He was one of the many Greek intellectuals who comprised the staff of the Library of Alexandria, the greatest spiritual center of humanity as the time, including Ctesibius, Hipparchus, Apollonius of Perga, Apollonius of Rhodes, Conon, Aristarchus, Heron and Philon of Byzantium. He served as the third headmaster of the Library of Alexandria.

Eratosthenes was a polymath; he was nicknamed “Pentathlos” because he excelled in numerous fields such as mathematics, astronomy, physics, geography and music. By far his most notable contribution in the sciences is the measurement of the circumference of the Earth, a feat that is recorded for the first time in ancient history. Knowing that at the river Syene (modern Aswan), 500 km away from Alexandria, during the summer solstice, the sun’s rays fall vertically at noon and that at the same date and time at Alexandria, the rays fall with an angle of 7,2 degrees, Eratosthenes calculated the distance between the river and Alexandria at about 820 km. By accepting that the sun rays are parallel to each other and that the difference in the geographic latitude between Syene and Alexandria is equivalent to the angle the sun rays form during that time, Eratosthenes, using a rod and its shadow calculated the equatorial length of the Earth at 41.000 km, with a negligible error of 1000 km, because he miscalculated the distance of Alexandria and Syene instead of 800 km.

Eratosthenes was a prolific writer. He wrote several books ranging from mathematics and astronomy to poetry and philosophy, most of which do not survive today. In his treatise Catasterism he compiles a catalogue of constellations and their respective stars, calculates the Earth’s polar diameter with great accuracy as well as the distance of the Earth and the Sun. One of his most famous contributions to mathematics is the Sieve of Eratosthenes, a method for finding prime numbers, of which Eratosthenes is the inventor. He also solved the Delian problem, the doubling of the cube in his treatise Mesolavos.

The scientific foundations of geography were laid by Eratosthenes. In his now lost treatise Geographica, he presents the history of geography, mathematical and physical geography and perigraphic (discriptional) geography, including oeconomic and ethnographic elements. Furthermore, he created a world map as well as a calendar called Chronological Table, which covered 1076 years starting from the Fall of Troy, featuring most significant scientific and historical events recorded at the time for each date, regarded as a groundbreaking undertaking in the history of sciences. In philosophy, Eratosthenes was concerned mostly with ethics, poetry inspired from astronomy and comedy plays.

Eratosthenes had the rare privilege of being recognized as a great scientific mind during his own time. He was praised for his wisdom by notable intellectuals of his time such as Archimedes and Ptolemy Euergetes. The fact that he calculated the Earth’s circumference using nothing but geometry, a sacred science to the Greeks, proves Eratosthenes’ wisdom and justifies his influence on the ancient world and the Western civilization.

Bibliography:

  1. “Eratosthenes”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens: 1946. Print.
  2. Georgakopoulos, Konstantinos. Ancient Greek Scientists. Georgiades: Athens, 1996. Print.
  3. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Eratosthenes. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Britannica.com. Web. July 15, 2018.
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Eratosthenes

Pavlos Melas

μελασ

Hero of the Macedonian Struggle (1870 – 1904)

Pavlos Melas was a Captain of the Greek Army who became the symbol for the Macedonian Struggle after sacrificing himself for Macedonia. He is one of the most celebrated heroes in modern Greek history and his influence holds strong to this day in the hearts of the Greeks.

Descending from a wealthy and historical family, Pavlos Melas rejected the luxuries and convenience offered by his high status, choosing instead a life of suffering and hardships, travelling to Macedonia to organize the freedom fighters and liberate Macedonia from the Ottoman Empire.

Pavlos Melas was a patriot. He graduated from the Evelpidon Military Academy and participated in numerous military campaigns for the liberation of the subjugated Greek lands, including the Graeco-Turkish war of 1894. A restless spirit, he was always concerned about the struggles of the unredeemed Greeks and more about Athens’ disregard on their efforts for liberation.

In 1904, driven purely by his love and sense of duty towards Greece, Pavlos Melas left Athens and travelled in secrecy to Macedonia, where he organized the Greek military forces, mobilizing men from the neighbouring villages in an attempt for immediate action in Macedonia. His plans, however, were thwarted early in the course of the operation, when during a clash with the Bulgarian militias, Pavlos Melas was shot and killed.

The death of Pavlos Melas shocked Greece. His sacrifice sparked the patriotic element of the Greeks, causing a massive number of volunteers to follow his example and flood Macedonia, fighting by the side of the Macedonian freedom fighters. The apogee of these enormous efforts was the victories of the Balkan Wars in 1912-1913.

Pavlos Melas became an immortal paradigm of the Macedonian Struggle, a man determined to sacrifice everything in order to wake up the Greeks. The fact that he was only one to leave his life behind and go to Macedonia to face an outnumbered enemy was of no concern to him, rather, to act obedient to his laws and become the example that others would follow. His heroism was sung by many, including intellectuals such as Kostis Palamas. To this day his soul resonates with the hearts of all the Greeks who defend Macedonia, yelling to the enemy across time “Famous Macedonia, the land of Alexander”!

Bibliography:

  1. Παύλος Μελάς (1870 -1904) «η Ζωή καὶ το Έργο ενός Ήρωα». ΙΣΤΟΡΙΑ ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΗ ΚΑΙ ΠΑΓΚΟΣΜΙΑ. Greekworldhistory.blogspot.com. Web.
  2. Παύλος Μελάς (1870 -1904). Σαν σήμερα. Sansimera.gr. Web.
Pavlos Melas

Diodorus of Sicily

diodorus

Historian, Writer (1st century BC)

Diodorus Siculus was one of the most famed historians of antiquity, widely considered today as a pioneer in historiography. His massive work Bibliotheca Historica comprises 40 books and spans the universal history of mankind, from the mythical era until the age of Julius Cesar. With the majority of the work having been destroyed, Diodorus nevertheless presents himself as a master of his art and an authority on world history.

As his name implies, Diodorus was born in Sicily and was active primarily in Rome. A restless spirit, he dedicated 30 years risking his life and subjecting himself to dangerous feats in order to accumulate the best material needed to compile his magnum opus, travelling to various parts of Europe, Asia and Africa. In Rome he learned Latin and researched the libraries, collecting information that could be found elsewhere.

Years of meticulous research resulted in the compilation of the largest history treatise that existed at the time, the Bibliotheca Historica. Diodorus follows a chronological order, describing not only the most significant events that occurred during each year, but also the geographical relations, the culture, the customs and the traditions of peoples. Furthermore, he names notable individuals in the fields of arts and poetry, not solely on politics and military affairs. Even though he did not possess the experience and the skill of his predecessors Thucydides and Xenophon, Diodorus adheres to the scientific method of historiography.

Bibliotheca Historica is divided into 3 parts. The first part covers the mythical era up until the fall of Troy. The second part contains the history from the fall of Troy until the death of Alexander the Great. The third part picks up from the second part ends and ends with the conquests of the Romans against the Britons. Out of the 40 books in total, only the first five and the second decade survive in their complete form.

In the remaining surviving books, Diodorus writes about the following: the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Atlantians, the Assyrians, the Scythians, the Hyperboreans, the Persians, the Indians, the Arabs, the Africans, on the Greek mythology, the Greek islands and the Greek colonies, Xerxes’ campaigns against Greece and Cyprus up until the battle of Syracuse, the 30 Tyrants of Athens until the fall of Rome by the Galatians, King Philip’s rule of Macedonia, Alexander’s conquest of Asia, his death and the Diadochi up until the contemporary events of Diodorus.

Overall, Diodorus’ ambitious undertaking of writing down the entire history of mankind from the beginning until his contemporary times places him among Greece’s most acclaimed historians Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon and Polybius. His writings are the only surviving source of certain parts of history that are considered as landmarks at a time when the Greek history was synonymous to universal history.

Bibliography:

  1. “Diodorus Siculus”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens: 1946. Print.
  2. Badian, Ernst. Diodorus Siculus. Encyclopaedia Iranica. Iranicaonline.org. December 15, 1995. Web
Diodorus of Sicily

Dimitrios Plapoutas

Dimitrios_Plapoutas

Hero of the Greek War of Independence (1786 – 1864)

Dimitrios Plapoutas was a general of the Greek army who fought in the Greek War of Independence of 1821. One of the greatest and most heroic figures of the war, Plapoutas’ deeds and bravery are often overshadowed by those of Theodoros Kolokotronis, with whom they fought side by side in almost every battle. He played a decisive role in numerous battles, most notably in the Battle of Valtetsi as well as during the civil war against Ibrahim.

Plapoutas was from a family of heroes with a military background. He was employed by the Ottoman army as a kapos (commander) in Karytena. He had also served the English army in Zakynthos prior to the start of the Greek War of Independence.

A flaming patriot, he was initiated in the Society of Friends (Philiki Hetaereia). Together with his father and brothers in 1821, Plapoutas hoisted the Greek flag of independence in Gortynia and gathered an army of 800 warriors. From that point onward, Plapoutas never stopped fighting, partaking actively in numerous major battles of the Greek War of Independence.

Plapoutas fought in the victorious Battle of Valtetsi in 1821, together with Theodoros Kolokotronis, Nikitaras, Mitropetrovas and Anagnostaras. The same year he fought in the Battle of St. Vlasios of Tripolitsa and the Battle of Tripolitsa, in which the Ottoman forces were decimated. He participated in almost every battle of Peloponnesus together with Kolokotronis’ son Ioannis Kolokotronis. He was the first to face Dramali outside of Argos in 1822 with his army, during the latter’s expedition in Peloponnesus. Of course, Plapoutas could not have been absent from the most important battle of the Greek War of Independence, the Battle of Dervenakia, where together with all the major generals of the war he granted one more victory to the Greeks and halted Dramali’s descent to southern Greece.

During the Civil War, Plapoutas and Kolokotronis’ affiliations were temporarily compromised. Nevertheless, with Ibrahim’s arrival in Greece in 1825 on the side of the Ottoman Empire, Plapoutas and Kolokotronis rejoined forces and took out Ibrahim’s forces in many subsequent battles.

After Greece’s independence, Plapoutas served John Kapodistrias loyally and occupied several political positions. Following Kapodistrias’ assassination, Plapoutas, alongside Kolokotronis were charged with conspiring against King Otto, imprisoned and sentenced to death, only to be made innocent by two judges Georgios Tertsetis and Anastasios Polyzoidis. He later became general, member of the Parliament and aide-de-camp of King Otto.

Plapoutas is remembered today for his glorious victories, philopolemic attitude and insuperable courage. He was one of Kolokotronis’ most worthy warriors and his participation in the struggle for freedom was crucial and influential. He possessed a rare charisma in battle and an ethos rivaled only by a few.

Bibliography:

  1. Πλαπούτας Δημήτριος ή Κολιόπουλος (1786-1864). Αργολική Αρχειακή Βιβλιοθήκη Ιστορίας και Πολιτισμού. www.argolikivivliothiki.gr. March 12, 2009. Web.
  2. Δημήτρης (Δημητράκης) Πλαπούτας: Ο ακούραστος κλέφτης αγωνιστής.  Arcadiaportal.gr. December 20, 2014. Web.
Dimitrios Plapoutas

Draco

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Lawmaker (c.650 BC – c.600 BC)

Draco was the lawgiver of Athens, the first statesman who wrote down the laws of the city since the mythological era when Thesaeus reigned as king of Athens. He was a political reformer who changed the political system of Athens, implementing laws which were very strict at the time. Revered by many, Draco was considered a very important statesman in the history of Athens and is now among the greatest lawgivers of antiquity, alongside Solon and Lycurgus.

Before Draco, Athens’ laws were not written anywhere. Even though they existed, they were not available to the public hence citizens could not refer to them anywhere. Athens had been experiencing a period of long political decline, social instability and a crisis of values. It was around 621 BC when Draco was assigned to write down the laws of Athens so that they become available to the public. In addition, Draco passed down significant reforms of the law, implementing changes in criminal law and private law.

Draco’s laws were originally written on wooden tablets before being chiseled on stone slabs and placed in public view. They were said to have been written with human blood. Even though most of his laws are not known, Draco’s legislature was extremely strict, punishing even the simplest of crimes, such as theft being punished with death. His most well-known was the law of homicide, which was the only one kept by Solon when he succeeded Draco as lawgiver of Athens. Among some of Draco’s laws were the implementation of the Ecclesia of the people, the passing down of political rights to all men who could be mobilized for war, the reduction of the jurisdiction of the Areios Pagos, the court of Athens concerning the preservation of laws and the ability of citizens to report the decisions of the Areios Pagos as unfair.

In spite of their severity, Draco’s laws made every citizen of Athens equal before the law, regardless of their wealth or status. He succeeded in stabilizing Athens’ political and social condition for almost half a century and highlighted the importance of discipline, which was eclipsing from the Athenian society. His laws combated crime and imposed order to an astounding degree. As a predecessor of Solon, Draco contributed significantly to the re-establishment of democracy in Athens and while his laws may have only lasted for almost half a century, they were necessary for putting Athens back on its former track.

Bibliography:

  1. “Dracon”. Helios New Encyclopaedia of the Sun. Passas, I. Athens: 1946. Print.
  2. Ο Νομοθέτης Δράκων. Αρχαίων Τόπος. Theancientwebgreece.wordpress.com. November 16, 2017. Web
  3. Dhwty. The brutal Draconian laws of ancient Greece. Ancient Origins. Ancient-origins.net. November 20, 2014. Web.
Draco

Ctesibius

Mathematician, Engineer, Inventor (285 BC – 222 BC)

Ctesibius was a mathematician and engineer, founder of the Polytechnic School of Mathematics and Engineering of Alexandria. Together with Philon of Byzantium and Heron of Alexandria, he is one of the initiators of the automata as well as one of the greatest inventors of antiquity together with Archimedes.

Ctesibius worked in Alexandria during the Hellenistic era, when it was ruled by the Ptolemy dynasty. Alexandria was humanity’s greatest spiritual center at the time, which attracted scholars, mathematicians, artists, astronomers from all over the Greek world. Great minds such as Aristarchus, Conon, Apollonius of Rhodes, Apollonius of Perga, Hipparchus and Philon of Byzantium acted there. Ctesibius was part of this group of scientists who comprised the Museum of Alexandria, right next to the famous Library of Alexandria. Though not proven, Ctesibius is thought to have been the first headmaster of the Museum.

He is considered as one of the founding fathers of the automatic machines, as well as the Father of Pneumatics, the science that uses compressed air for operating machines. Ctesibius wrote the very first treatise on pneumatics and their application in pumps, but unfortunately none of his writings survive, although they are mentioned by numerous scientists such as Vitruvius, Athenaeus, Heron of Alexandria and Proclus. His writings include Pneumatica, Hypomnemata Mechanica, Velopoeetica and Memoirs.

The machines he invented were numerous. They ranged from water pumps, cranes and weapons to automatic machines, clocks and musical instruments. Below are listed some of his most notable inventions:

  • The Hydraulic Clock, a marvelous automation that could operate continuously without human intervention. The machine operated with a series of containers one on top of the other, filled with water, a float and a statuette holding a pointer, which could show the exact hour and date on a rotating drum that contained a trace of hours of day and night.
  • The Musical Mirror, a mirror that could be adjusted in height, produced music through mechanism of a closed vertical tube inside of which were musical pipes. The movement of the weight caused pressure to increase within the pipes thus producing the desired notes. It was used in his father’s barber shop.
  • The piston force pump was a double suction force piston pump used for fluids. It was also known as siphon. It operated with the help of pivoted levers, handles, two vertical cylindrical containers and valves. The device is still used extensively to this day by firefighters, albeit in different forms.
  • The Hydraulis, constructed during the 3rd century BC was the very first keyboard instrument ever created. It used water and compressed air, the latter delivered through a series of pipes that produced music, depending on the 24 keys pressed on the keyboard. The Hydraulis is the forerunner of the church pipe organ used today. A contemporary replica of the Hydraulis survives to this day.
  • Cranes that could lift very heavy objects; worked using a system of compressed water.
  • Cannons that operated with compressed air and hydraulic catapults.
  • Automations for entertainment, such as a singing cornucopia and a statue that stood up and sat down continuously using a cam-operated mechanism. Although a simple act, the statue produced a lot of excitement, at a time when the power of the toothed gear was being researched.

Ctesibius’ works deeply influenced the Romans and the scientists of the Renaissance. Modern day scholars have estimated that Ctesibius and the Greeks of his era were 100 years away from inventing the steam engine. Had this occurred, the Industrial Revolution would have begun almost 2000 years ago in Greece, instead of the 18th century. Today, Ctesibius’ inventions have been recreated and most of them still in use.

Bibliography:

    1. Ctesibius of Alexandria. History-computer.com. Web.
    2. Georgakopoulos, Konstantinos. Ancient Greek Scientists. Georgiades: Athens, 1996. Print.
    3. Kotsanas, Kostas. Ancient Greek Technology The Inventions of the ancient Greeks. Kostas Kotsanas: Pyrgos, 2013. Print.
    4. Πώς οι αρχαίοι Έλληνες μηχανικοί έφθασαν ένα βήμα πριν από την ατμοκίνηση, χιλιάδες χρόνια πριν από την Βιομηχανική επανάσταση και την εφεύρεση της ατμοκίνητης αντλίας το 1776. Κτησίβιος, Φίλωνας και Ήρωνας ήταν οι κορυφαίοι εφευρέτες. Μηχανή του Χρόνου. Mixanitouxronou.gr. Web.

 

Ctesibius

Proclus

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Philosopher, Mathematician, Astronomer, Scholar (410 – 485)

Proclus was the most eminent Neoplatonic philosopher, polymath scientist and theologist of late antiquity, who exerted enormous influence on Platonic philosophy and its preservation throughout the medieval times. He was the last and greatest representative of the Ancient Greek thought before its downfall, in an era where the Hellenic flame was dwindling, and the Western World was welcoming Christianity as the new religion. His works, mainly commentaries on Plato’s treatises, left a lasting impression in the Western thought and contributed significantly to the revival of the human soul.

Proclus was born in Constantinople. He studied Aristotelian philosophy and mathematics in Alexandria and continued his studies in Athens. In the Academy of Athens, Proclus was initiated into the mystery schools of the Platonic philosophy by Syrianus, the headmaster of the Academy, whom Proclus succeeded, earning the name Proclus the Successor. Proclus served as headmaster of the Academy of Athens for 50 years. Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles, the architects of Hagia Sophia were both his students.

Proclus’ philosophical work marks the epilogue of the Hellenic spirit. He wrote many treatises, but he is most well known for his commentaries, primarily on Plato’s works. Proclus perfected Neoplatonism by providing invaluable exegeses not only of Plato’s works, but also those of Orpheus, Aristotle and Euclid. As far as concerning philosophy, Proclus did not write anything original, rather, through Greek Meditation (Ελληνικός Διαλογισμός) he compiled analyses of exceptional depth and wisdom. His commentaries on Plato’s Timaeus, which he wrote at the age of 28, Parmenides, Cratylus, Alcibiades, Republic, while even more difficult to understand than Plato’s treatises, are undoubtedly the works of a visionary, whose meaning can only be understood through Greek Meditation.

His works on mathematics, physics and astronomy include insightful commentaries on the systems of Hipparchus, Aristarchus and Ptolemy, commentaries on Aristotle’s physics, Euclid’s and Geminus’ geometry, as well as Hesiod’s theogony. He describes a method of measuring the Sun’s diameter, proves geometric theorems of his times, and preserves the treatises of mathematicians which otherwise would not have survived to this day. In addition, Proclus wrote poems, hymns and theological works, most notably Elements of Theology.

Even though he did not oppose Christianity, Proclus attempted to protect what was left of the Hellenic spirit, refine it and give it the glorious spot it once had in history. His efforts were hindered by Christianity and Proclus was forced to exile in Asia Minor. With the final blow coming in 528 by Emperor Justinian, the Academy of Athens was closed and the philosophers persecuted, thus putting an end to Proclus’ dream.

Proclus’ corpus was studied extensively during the Renaissance, when Neoplatonic philosophy underwent an upsurge and, subsequently, a revival. Philosophers such as Michael Psellos, Pletho, Bessarion, Marsilio Ficino, Thomas Aquinas and Hegel were deeply inspired by Proclus’ works, as were more contemporary philosophers Thomas Taylor and Ralph Waldo Emerson. According to Hegel, the ideas of Neoplatonists and specially the philosophy of Proclus were long maintained and preserved in the Church.

Proclus’ mastery of the Platonic philosophy renders him an eternal interpreter of Greek philosophy, which Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato and all their predecessors brought down from the divine plane. Without Proclus, Platonic philosophy would have remained obscure.

Bibliography:

  1. Georgakopoulos, Konstantinos. Ancient Greek Scientists. Georgiades: Athens, 1996. Print.
  2. Helmig, Christoph and Steel, Carlos, “Proclus”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2015/entries/proclus/&gt;.
  3. Pleures, Konstantinos. Greek Philosophers. Hilektron Publications: Athens, 2013. Print.
  4. “Proclus”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Disctionary. Passas, I. Athens, 1925. Print.
  5. Sakellariou, Georgios. Πυθαγόρας Ο Διδάσκαλος των Λαών. Ideotheatron Publications. Athens, 1963. Print.
Proclus