Spyros Louis

louis

Golden Olympian of the 1st modern Olympic Games (1873 – 1940)

Spyros Louis was a water carrier-turned national hero, who won 1st place in the marathon of the 1st modern Olympic Games of 1896 in Athens. His victory granted Greece glory reminiscent to that of the ancient Olympic Games.

Louis was born to a poor family in Marousi, a then suburb of Athens. He helped his father carry water across the village on foot. He was also illiterate and had failed the same class twice. Nevertheless, he made up for his mischief with his incredible speed and stamina, which were evident from a young age.

Louis joined the Greek team of the Olympics at the last moment, upon the incitement of Major Papadiamantopoulos, a judge at the marathon who also happened to be Louis’ commander in the army and who was knowledgeable of Louis’ capabilities. He participated in the marathon event, which was 40 kilometers in length, starting from Marathon and ending in the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens.

In spite of the high expectations of the public, Louis’ victory seemed improbable. Having joined without any prior training or preparation, Louis’ results in the qualifying games were disappointing, having finished 5th in the second preliminary races. Louis wore a foustanella and tsarouchia, which were unconventional for running.

The participants included 4 foreign athletes, 12 Greeks and the water carrier Spyros Louis. The French Albin Lermusiaux, who had previously won 3rd place in the 1500 meters, led the race early on. At the 32nd km, however, Lermusiaux collapsed from exhaustion and Australian Edwin Flack took the lead. Soon after, Flack, who was not accustomed to such long distances, was surpassed by Louis. The Greek entered the stadium triumphantly, where 50.000 overwhelmed spectators apotheosized him, throwing flowers and yelling his name. Louis completed the race in 2 hours and 58 minutes.

Louis received a myriad of gifts, from jewelry to a lifelong free shave at the barber’s shop. In the end, Louis got only two things he desired: a carriage to help him carry water and the hand of his beloved one, for whom he had run in the marathon.

Spyros Louis never ran again in any other athletic event, choosing instead to live a peaceful life in his village with his family, working as a water carrier, a gardener and a local police officer. He made frequent public appearances whenever he was invited to athletic events. His last public appearance was in the Olympic Games of Berlin in 1936, where he was invited by Adolf Hitler, himself an admirer of Spyros Louis. Hitler received an olive branch from Louis, a symbol of peace.

Spyros Louis remained a humble man until the end of his life in 1940, where he died in complete poverty, a few months before the Italian invasion. He gained eternal glory for being Greece’s first Olympian after 1500 years. His name has become part of a phrase in the Greek language «Γίνομαι Λούης» (To become Louis), meaning to disappear from site by running very fast.

Bibliography:

  • «Ο Σπύρος Λούης έτρεξε στους Ολυμπιακούς του 1896 για τα μάτια της ωραίας Ελένης από το Μαρούσι. Πως ο φτωχός νερουλάς μπήκε την τελευταία στιγμή στη λίστα των αθλητών και κέρδισε το χρυσό…». Μηχανή του Χρόνου. Mixanitouxronou.gr. Web. May 16, 2018.
  • Σπύρος Λούης 1873 – 1940. σαν σήμερα. Sansimera.gr. Web. May 16, 2018.
  •  Spyros Louis, the first Marathon race winner of the Modern Olympic Games, 1896. Rare Historical Photos. Rarehistoricalphotos.com. Web. May 16, 2018.
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Spyros Louis

Hippalus the Governor

Geographer, Explorer (2nd century BC – 1st century BC)

Hippalus was a navigator, cartographer, geographer and meteorologist who lived in the 2nd and 1st century BC. He is mostly known for his voyages in Arabia and India, as well as being a pioneer in meteorology. His travels greatly helped the Roman Empire expand its trade to the Eastern world. While he is mentioned in Ptolemy, Strabo and Pliny’s works, Hippalus’ position in history is not fully appreciated.

Hippalus travelled from Greece to Egypt and from there to India. As a meteorologist he made numerous important discoveries. The most significant one was the existence of the monsoons, periodic winds that blew in the Indian Ocean, which changed direction from north to south one half of the year and south to north the other half. These winds are termed Hippalian winds. Hippalus was the first to utilize these winds to cross the Indian Ocean on open sea, instead of next to the shore, as was typically done by sailors. Thus, his journey was much shorter in duration.

Soon after his discovery, ships started implementing the use of the monsoons as Hippalus had done, thus creating a new trading route between India and the Roman Empire. This secured a faster and safer route for the ships, free of pirates.

As a cartographer he drew maps of the shores of the Red Sea, as well as its ports. In the book Periplous of the Erythraean Sea, he is described as the first man who discovered the route from the Red Sea to the Indian peninsula via the Indian Ocean. He wrote books, none of which survives today.

His influence in the Romans and Greeks is evident from the fact that Ptolemy, one of the greatest astronomers of antiquity named the Indian Ocean Hippalian Sea in his writings. Today, a crater on the moon bares his name.

Bibliography:

Georgakopoulos, Konstantinos. Ancient Greek Scientists. Georgiades: Athens, 1996. Print.

Hippalus the Governor

Parmenides

parmenides

Philosopher (c.540 BC – c.470 BC)

Parmenides was a Pre-Socratic philosopher from Elea. He is called the Father of Metaphysics, because he was the first who spoke about the nature of existence. Considered as one of the most influential figures in the history of philosophy, Parmenides set the principles of ontology for future Greek and international philosophers.

Initially involved with politics, Parmenides made laws for his country, until resigning to focus on philosophy. We do not know how many books Parmenides wrote, but by far his most complete one is On Nature. It is a poem, of which only fragments survive, divided into 3 parts: The first part, also named Poem describes a man’s spiritual inner journey in search of enlightenment. In the second part named Alethia (Reality), Parmenides deals with all that is real. The third and final chapter named Doxa (Opinion) deals with the erroneous ideas of man and is presented as an antithesis to the second part of the poem.

A basic concept of Parmenides’ philosophy is the being. The being, according to the philosopher, has neither beginning nor end, possesses inseparable completeness, is immovable, inalterable and indivisible. Furthermore, the being is eternal and as such, past, present and future overlap. Similarly to Heraclitus, Parmenides distrusted the senses, stating that while these change, the being does not. For him, the only reality that exists is the one we can perceive with our intellect. Reality is made of one substance, the same substance from which it came, and we, who inhabit this world, share the same substance.

Understanding Parmenides’ highly complex philosophy has proven to be a very difficult task, leaving modern thinkers and scholars perplexed as to how to interpret his theories. The enigmatic nature of his incomprehensible treatise also challenged the Pre-Socratics, few of whom understood what Parmenides really meant. His influence on his successors was, nevertheless, significant and included Melissus of Samos, Zenon of Elea and Plato, who is said to have revered him for the depth of his thought. Plato also wrote a treatise after him. The concept that intellect identifies existence was later picked up by Descartes, who said “I think, therefore I am”.

Bibliography:

  1. DeLong, Jeremy C. Parmenides of Elea. Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. Iep.utm.edu. Web. Retrieved on April 29, 2018.
  2. Mark, Joshua J. “Parmenides.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Ancient History Encyclopedia, 28 Apr 2011. Web. 30 Apr 2018.
  3. Pleures, Konstantinos. Greek Philosophers. Hilektron Publications: Athens, 2013. Print.
Parmenides

Kitsos Tzavelas

Kitsos_Tzavelas

Hero of the Greek War of Independence, Prime Minister of Greece (1801 – 1855)

Kitsos Tzavelas was a general and hero of the Greek War of Independence of 1821. He fought in many battles, on the side of numerous prominent heroes, distinguished himself as a skilled general and went on to serve as Prime Minister of Greece from 1847 to 1848.

Tzavelas was from Souli, home to notable fighters of the Greek War of Independence. At the age of 19 he acquired the rank of Captain. Before the start of the Greek War of Independence in 1821, Tzavelas was sent to Pisa, Italy to seek funding for the War.

With the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence, Tzavelas participated in the 1st Siege of Messolonghi in 1922, fighting alongside fellow Souliote Markos Botsaris. The two fought together in the Battle of Cephalovrison, where Markos Botsaris was killed. In 1824, he joined forces with Georgios Karaiskakis and Panourgias in the Battle of Ampliani, which resulted in the victory of the Greeks against the Ottomans.

In 1825 he entered Messolonghi with his men to reinforce its defenses. One year later, he was one of the protagonists of the Third and final Siege of Messolonghi, together with Notis Botsaris, Nikolaos Kasomoulis, Nikolaos Stournaris, Demetrios Makris, Christos Kapsalis and Alexandros Mavrokordatos. In the heroic sortie, Tzavelas led 2500 men outside the gates of Messolonghi, of which only 1300 survived, including him. He continued struggling for freedom, fighting against the Ottomans in the Battles of Plaka, Karpenisi, Vrachori and Distomon. Following the death of Georgios Karaiskakis, Tzavelas succeeded him as general of Piraeus.

With the liberation of Greece and the arrival of John Kapodistrias, Tzavelas was tasked with clearing the lands of Sterea Hellada from Turks, Albanians and Egyptians. He served as hypaspist of King Otto, twice as Minister of Military Affairs in John Kolletis’ and Constantine Canaris’ cabinets and later succeeded the former as Prime Minister of Greece for a short and unsuccessful term.

After retiring from politics, he organized a movement for the liberation of the subjugated Greek lands. In 1854, during the Crimean War, Tzavelas and his Souliotes occupied the lands of Epirus in attempt to liberate them from Ottoman rule, a plan that eventually failed, forcing Tzavelas to return to Athens, where he died one year later.

Today he belongs to the Pantheon of the Heroes of ’21.

Bibliography:

  1. Κίτσος Τζαβέλας 1800 -1855. σαν σήμερα. Sansimera.gr. Web.
  2. Κίτσος Τζαβέλας (1800 ή 1801 – 1855). Αργολική Αρχειακή Βιβλιοθήκη Ιστορίας καὶ Πολιτισμού. www.argolikivivliothiki.gr. March 21, 2018. Web.
Kitsos Tzavelas

Mikis Theodorakis

theodorakis

Composer (1925)

Mikis Theodorakis is a songwriter and composer of international fame, widely regarded as Greece’s most important composer of the 20th century, who developed the modern Greek music more than any other composer of his era. His 70-year career spans an extraordinarily wide spectrum of compositions, from symphonic works and hymns, to operas, stage plays and film scores, having composed almost 1000 songs.

He was born in the island of Lesbos. From a young age, he became fascinated by music, poetry and literature. He began composing at a very young age and made his first concert at the age of 17. He was awarded a scholarship and studied music in Paris next to teachers Olivier Messiaen and Eugene Bigot. He lived a troubled life during the Second World War, the Greek Bandits’ War and the junta, with imprisonments and exiles, mainly due to his political affiliations with the Left. To this day, his compositions have become the symbol of the struggle against political oppression and freedom.

Theodorakis wrote all kinds of musical scores. He wrote music for modern plays, music for ancient Greek drama, symphonic works, hymns, chamber music, ballets, operas, cantatas and oratorios. He wrote musical score for motion pictures such as Zorba the Greek, Z and Serpico, set into music the works of Nobel-Prize nominees Yiannis Ritsos and Angelos Sikelianos, as well as Nobel-Prize laureate’s Odysseus Elytis’ Axion Esti. His collaborations with numerous intellectuals in the field of music included Manos Hadjidakis, with whom they set the foundations of entekhno. Throughout his musical career he earned numerous awards, starting with the 1st prize of the Moscow Music Festival in 1957, awarded by Shostakovich himself.

Mikis’ work transcends music and expands on politics, literature, philosophy and metaphysics. In politics, he struggled for world peace and human rights. He expressed it through his music by performing thousands of concerts worldwide, in countries that faced political issues similar to Greece. His songs became synonymous to freedom. He founded the Greek-Turkish Friendship Society in 1980 to promote better relations with Turkey, was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize in 1983, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000.

In 1942, Mikis Theodorakis created and, throughout the years, developed his own personal theory on the Universal Harmony of the Celestial Bodies. From a young age, he could “hear” subconsciously the sound that is produced from the friction of the movement of the planets and the aether. This sound was first described by Pythagoras and later by Anaximander and Plato, who could also “hear” this music. They named it the Universal Harmony of the Celestial Bodies. Theodorakis used this unknowingly as the source of his influence to create his music. By the time he had accrued enough knowledge on the matter, he had created his famous musical galaxy.

Mikis Theodorakis has cemented himself as the most important Greek composer of the 20th century, the embodiment of Greek music. His musical masterpieces prove that musicians of the modern world, including Vangelis, can possess the ability that Pythagoras and the ancient Greek philosophers did 2500 years ago, to turn their look to the sky, seek out the Universal Harmony and interpret it with their own music in our mortal world.

  1. Mikis Theodorakis. Famous Composers. Famouscomposers.net. Web.
  2. Βιογραφικό Σημείωμα Μίκη Θεοδωράκη. Mikis Theodorakis Orchestra. Mikistheodorakisorchestra.gr. Web.
  3. Θεοδωράκης, Μίκης. «Ἀπὸ τὴν Ἁρμονία τοῦ Σύμπαντος ἐκπηγάζει ἡ μουσική μου». Δαυλός, ἔτος 25ον, Νοέμβριος 2006, ἀρ.296. σελ. 20303 – 20329.
Mikis Theodorakis

Praxiteles

praxiteles

Sculptor (4th century BC)

The greatest sculptor of antiquity together with Scopas and Lysippos. Praxiteles earned widespread fame for his creations, which decorated numerous cities in Greece. He influenced the art of sculpture more than any other sculptor in the world.

His father Cephisodotus was also a sculptor and a teacher of Praxiteles. His aunt was married to Phocion, who was a student of Plato. This presumably allowed Praxiteles to not only have connections with the political upper-class of Athens, but also delve into Platonic philosophy, which he applied to his art.

Praxiteles was the one of perfected sculpture. His sculptures were primarily idols of Gods, depicted in human form. It is estimated that the minimum number of sculptures he created were 70. Some of them were commissions for other city-states of Greece. Praxiteles was also a teacher of sculpture.

Among his most famous sculptures, widely known to this day are the following:

  • Leto, Apollo and Artemis depicted on a series of slabs excavated in Mantineia, with Apollo battling against Marsyas in the presence of the Muses.
  • Hermes and the infant Dionysus, regarded as Praxiteles’ most recognizable work. The sculpture was excavated in Olympia. Hermes is holding an infant Dionysus with his left hand supported on a tree bark. It has come to be known as Hermes of Praxiteles.
  • Aphrodite of Cnidus was the first statue of a naked Aphrodite ever created and was the one that skyrocketed Praxiteles’ fame in the Greek world due to its daring nature at the time. It is accepted as one of Praxiteles’ most beautiful sculptures. The statue was bought by the Cnidians, who held it on display in their hometown.
  • Cupid (Heros) depicted as a young boy with wings. It was found in Propontis, Asia Minor.
  • Apollo Sauroktonos, a statue showing Apollo as an ephebe pointing an arrow against a lizard. The statue has not survived. Depictions of it were found on the coins in the city of Mysia in Asia Minor.
  • The marble triad of Cupid, Phryne and Aphrodite where Cupid, a personification of the Platonic idea, suffers from love (heros). The statue was discovered in Thespiae.

Some other of his masterpieces include the bronze Resting Satyre, the Petworth Head of Aphrodite, the head of Euvuleus,the statue of an enthroned Leto, made of precious stone in Lycia and Artemis of Antikyra. In addition, Praxiteles built the statues that decorated two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus and the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus.

Praxiteles’ unparalleled skill remained unsurpassed in time. His statues were literally vessels by which the Gods descended to the physical field of man. His, as well as other great sculptors’ statues played an important role in the meditation (Διαλογισμὸς) of the ancient Greeks. Today, his works adorn museums inside and outside the Greek boundaries.

Bibliography:

  1. “Praxiteles”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens: 1946. Print.
  2. Πραξιτέλης. Εγκυκλοπαίδεια Μείζονος Ελληνισμού. Asiaminor.Ehw.gr.Web.
Praxiteles

Philolaus

philolaus

Philosopher, Mathematician, Astronomer (c.470 BC – c.385 BC)

Philolaus was a second generation Pythagorean philosopher from Tarentum (or Croton) of Magna Graecia. An initiate of the Greek meditation (Ἐλληνικός ΔΙΑ-Λογισμός) and the mystery schools, Philolaus was involved with astronomy, cosmology, music, medicine and metaphysics. As one of the most influential Pythagoreans, he contributed significantly to the spread of Pythagorean philosophy.

Philolaus was born 100 years after his teacher Pythagoras. He founded his own Pythagorean School of philosophy in Thebes and Phlious. Upon returning to Tarentum, he initiated Archytas into Pythagoreanism, who in turn initiated Plato. Furthermore, two students of Philolaus, Simmias and Ceves became Socrates’ students. It is believed that Philolaus and Plato met each other during their lifetimes.

As every Pythagorean philosopher, Philolaus taught through aenigmata (riddles). He His first and most notable book De Naturae (On Nature), is considered to be the first book written by a Pythagorean. He is credited to have written another book, Bacchae. The founder of the theory of numbers that became a basic concept in Pythagorean philosophy, Philolaus taught that numbers are the only constant characteristic of matter. Everything in the universe is ordained by numbers and their relations. We can only can gain knowledge of the universe insofar we can understand the numbers from which it is built because numbers define the essence of things.

According to Philolaus, the universe is one and eternal. The world and everything in it are composed of a combination of two types of things: unlimited and limited. Nor modern science nor modern philosophy have yet understood what Philolaus meant with these two terms. Perhaps he sought the 4 elements on which the cosmic bodies were formed: fire represented by the tetrahedron, wind represented by the octahedron, water, represented by the eicosahedron and earth, represented by the cube. Limited and unlimited combine together forming a harmony. Philolaus compared harmony to a musical scale, the Pythagorean diatonic, where the combination of limited and unlimited are in accordance with ratios of numbers. He saw the natural world as a cosmos, an order governed by numbers.

Philolaus introduced his own astronomical system. The universe is spherical and at its centre is the central fire, around which all celestial bodies orbit, arranged in 10 concentric circles. These include the stars in the first circle, the five known planets of antiquity, the Sun, the Moon, the Earth, which rotates around its own axis and the Counter-Earth (Aντίχθων/Antichthon). He explained the creation of the cosmos by drawing an analogy with the birth of the human embryo. Not only did Philolaus’ astronomical system and his cosmogony have a scientific background, but also a mythological/philosophical one.

His contributions in psychology and medicine are noteworthy as well. He distinguished four parts of the soul. Nous (intellect), limited to human beings, psyche, defined as emotions and desires of the soul, the third responsible for growth and the fourth for generation. These he termed the four psychic faculties. He associated each one with the head, the heart, the umbilicus and the genitals respectively as their seats. Plato later expanded this philosophy in his books. Furthermore, soul was a harmony of limited and unlimited was capable of transmigration and was immortal. He explained the concept of disease based on the disequilibrium of the three constituents of the human body: blood, bile and phlegm.

Philolaus’ books were widely popular in antiquity and his books were sold at very high prices. One of his books was studied by Plato and influenced him in writing his magnum opus Timaeus. His work has tremendous influence not only on Plato, but also on the Pythagorean successors. As the precursor of most astronomers of the Renaissance, including Copernicus, Galileo and Bruno, he was one of the first to place the Earth away from the centre of the universe, giving it the characteristics of a planet.

Bibliography:

  1. Georgakopoulos, Konstantinos. Ancient Greek Scientists. Georgiades: Athens, 1996. Print.
  2. Huffman, Carl. “Philolaus”. The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (Summer 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2016/entries/philolaus/&gt;.
  3. Pleures, Konstantinos. Greek Philosophers. Hilektron Publications: Athens, 2013. Print.
Philolaus