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.
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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

Menaechmus

menaechmus

Mathematician, Philosopher (c.380 BC – c.320 BC)

Menaechmus was a famous mathematician and Platonic philosopher of the 4th century BC from Alopeconnesus. He is remembered for his contributions in geometry. As Proclus puts it “(he) and his brother Deinostratus made the whole of geometry still more perfect”.

Menaechmus was a student of Eudoxus, a polymath who was in turn a student of Plato in the Academy. He served as the tutor of Alexander the Great in geometry. It is believed that he had founded his own school of mathematics. His most important contributions were in the field of conic sections.

The conic sections, one of the most applicable chapters in analytical geometry were discovered by Menaechmus when he was attempting to solve the doubling of the cube, a famous geometrical problem of antiquity known for its high degree of difficulty. Menaechmus managed to solve the problem with two solutions by using the conic sections, thus paving the way for Apollonius of Perga to develop them years later.

He showed that by cutting a cone with a line that is not parallel to the base, one could obtain different shapes, which he named ellipses, parabolas and hyperboles, depending on the angle. It is asserted that the mathematician used mechanical devices to help him in drawing the shapes, something which Plato disapproved in geometry. His works were translated into Arabic and then to Latin during the late Middle Ages. This contributed significantly to the Renaissance and the revival of mathematics.

Menaechmus endorsed Eudoxus’ theory on the heavenly bodies and further developed it based on Theon of Smyrna’s writings. Moreover, he studied the structure of mathematics and was involved with astronomy. His work was continued by Apollonius of Perga, Archimedes and by the mathematicians of the Renaissance.

Bibliography:

  1. JJ O’Connor, E.F. Robertson. Menaechmus. University of St.Andrews. www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk. Web.
  2. Ο Μέναιχμος, ο Μεγαλέξανδρος και η Οδός της Γεωμετρίας. Ιστορίες στο Περιθώριο.. dimitristsolakis.blogspot.bg. Web. August 19, 2012.
Menaechmus

Thucydides

thoukididis17

Historian, Statesman, General (c.460BC – 395 BC)

The greatest historian of the ancient world and the first to write down history as a science. Thucydides wrote the History of the Peloponnesian War, which recounts the 30-year conflict between Athens and Sparta during the 5th century BC. He is, to date, the most widely and extensively studied historian of all time. He is the one who set the scientific principles of history.

Thucydides was born in Athens and came from a wealthy family. As a young man he was a student of philosopher Anaxagoras and rhetorician Antiphon. Thucydides became a general of Athens and participated in the Peloponnesian War. In 424 BC, having failed to save the city of Amphipolis from the Spartans, led by general Vrasidas, he was exiled by the Athenians. During his 20 years of exile, Thucydides devoted full time to collecting data from both opposing sides and compile The History of the Peloponnesian War.

Thucydides was the first to use research as a scientific method to write history. He set the foundation on how modern history is written down, examined and studied. Before him, history was based on observation and mere conjecture. In antithesis to Herodotus, for example, who relies on sentiments and admiration, Thucydides’ only tool is strict logic. He dismisses any information that is unreliable, discredited or without sources, uses first-hand knowledge and primary sources to express the true, the exact, the precise. He clarifies every cause he presents with logical aetiology, stripped of his own psychological influence and self-benefit. His writing is exemplary subjective. His thought runs in the context of reality, with the ultimate aim to document the truth using nothing but facts. For him, truth and prognosis are the two factors that guide him to writing his treatise.

Thucydides possessed first-hand experience in the military affairs. He acknowledged the importance that economics played in the war and recognized the significance of key players of the events, such as Themistocles’ and Pericles’ contributions for Athens. He was an avid proponent of the Athenian democracy, which he attributed to the “power of the first man (of Athens)”. In his work Epitaph or Pericles’ Funeral Oration, Thucydides underlines the importance of the one man, the aristos that governs the state in the name of democracy.

The History of the Peloponnesian War was written with the intention that the war would be more worthy of relation than any other that had occurred in the past. The treatise was later divided into 8 books. The first book opens with an introduction to the war, the external factors that led to it and the diplomatic movements of the two opposing forces prior to the outbreak. Thucydides’ last book closes with the events of 411 BC, 7 years before the end of the Peloponnesian War. Even though he had lived through the entirety of the war, Thucydides left his work incomplete because of his death in 395 BC.

Thucydides’ influence was immediate right after his death. Ancient Greeks and Romans alike were drawn to his work, some of which continued it, such as Xenophon, and others who proceeded in writing their own historical treatises, namely Polybius, Sallustius and Tacitus. It is said that the Athenian rhetorician Demosthenes was a fanatic reader of Thucydides’ work. Modern scholars from England, France and Germany have meticulously studied his works, most notably Leopold von Ranke and Jacqueline de Romilly. Already from antiquity, Thucydides had secured his place among the giants of Western thought and civilization. He is recognized worldwide as the father of scientific history.

Bibliography:

  1. Arnold Wycombe Gamme. Thucydides. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Britannica.com Web. February 8, 2018.
  2. “Thucydides”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens: 1946. Print.
  3. Διαλησμά, Δρουκόπουλος, Κουτρουμπέλη, Χρυσάφης. Αρχαίοι Έλληνες Ιστοριογράφοι. Ινστιτούτο Τεχνολογίας Υπολογιστών και Εκδόσεων «Διόφαντος». Αθήνα. Υπουργείο Παιδείας και Θρησκευμάτων, Ινστιτούτο Εκπαιδευτικής Πολιτικής.
Thucydides

Phocion

ΦΩΚΙΩΝ

General, Statesman (c.402 BC – 317 BC)

Phocion was an Athenian general and statesman, widely renowned for his bravery, prudence and sophrosyne, which earned him the nickname “The Good” ( χρηστὸς). A man of humble descent, Phocion was a student of Plato and Xenocrates at the Academy of Athens. He believed strongly in the unification of the Greeks as a common force and placed the good of Greece above his own. His virtues and military excellence frequently made him the opposition of Demosthenes, who drew the Athenians on his side with his captivating rhetoric speeches.

Phocion came from a poor family and had thus learned to live his life as a poor, as he considered simplicity a virtue. Alexander the Great thought that it was shameful for a king to have Phocion as a friend and thus one day sent him a large sum of money. When Phocion asked Alexander what they were for, the latter told him that he gave him the money because Phocion was just.

At the age of 26, Phocion began participating in military campaigns. In the Battle of Naxos, where the Athenians won against the Spartains during the Peloponnesian War, Phocion was in charge of the left division of the fleet. Like Isocrates and Aristotle, Phocion, in spite of being a skilled general, was against wars and civil conflicts between the Greeks. He had expressed the need of Pan-hellenism, where all Greeks would stand united against their common enemy. This, however, placed him in the epicenter of the political scene, clashing with the demagogues of Athens, most importantly, Demosthenes, who enticed the Athenians to oppose Philip.

Phocion had been elected general of Athens 45 times in his lifetime. He is the only one in history to have defeated Philip II of Macedon in battle. Phocion prevented the siege of Perinthos and Byzantium by Philip and later defeated the Macedonians in the Battle of Ramnous, close to Marathon. He was one of the generals and rhetoricians who negotiated terms of peace with Philip after Athens’ defeat in the Battle of Chaeroneia.

Throughout his career as a statesman, Phocion managed to maintain stability in Athens and prevent the anti-Macedonian division from taking over and revolting against Alexander the Great. Following the devastating destruction of Thebes, Phocion struggled to keep Athens out of danger from destroying itself. Disciplined, strict and righteous, he served his state more than any other statesman of his times with paradigmatic patriotism and prudence. His disregard of public opinion and his battle against the city’s most powerful demagogues was enough to make him a much detested individual among the masses, who never forgave him.

Phocion was ultimately accused of treason, trialed in a parody trial and sentenced to death by hemlock at the age of 85. His body was thrown outside of Athens where it was found by a woman, who burnt it, according to the ancient traditions. It was not long before the Athenians in an act of remorse, sentenced Phocion’s accuser Agonides to death and built a statue of him, the same they had done to Socrates almost 100 years ago.

Bibliography:

  1. “Phocion”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens, 1946. Print.
  2. Pleures, Konstantinos. The persecution of the best elements of society. Athens: Hilektron publications, 2013. Print.
  3. Pleures, Konstantinos. Faces and Events. Athens: Hilektron publications, 2015. Print.
Phocion

Anacreon

anacreon

Lyric Poet (c.582 BC – c.485 BC)

A lyric poet from Teos of Asia Minor and one of the nine lyric poets of Ancient Greece. Though not as popular as the rest of the lyric poets, Anacreon remained in history as a musician and as the last lyric poet of Ancient Greece.

When Teos was conquered by the Persians in 545 BC, Anacreon moved to Abdera, Thrace. He spent a considerable amount of his life in Athens, where he was influenced by Aeschylus’ work, who at the time was at the beginning of his career. There, he also formed friendships with Pericles’ father Xanthippus, Critias and Simonides of Ceos, another one of the nine lyric poets.

Anacreon’s poetry is primarily centered on love. Even though a representative of the Aeolic School, his works feature elements of the Ionian School. It is said that most of his poems started with an invocation to Aphrodite. They were frequently accompanied by music from a barbiton in an erotic tone. He used three musical modes. Out of his entire work today only fragments survive of the following: 3 books on erotic poetry, sympotics, and hymns to Gods, 1 book on iambs and 1 book on elegies.

Anacreon became highly successful throughout Greece. His poems were widely read and acclaimed, especially by Critias, who characterized him as “soul of the symposia” and “masterful singer of the lyre”. He inspired many poets throughout history, expanding his influence up until the Byzantine era. Many amateurs attempted to imitate him. 60 of his surviving poems were found in the Palatine Anthology, discovered in 1606. The Palatine Anthology significantly influenced European poetry, including Goethe, who studied Anacreon’s works.

When Anacreon died, his compatriots minted coins depicting him. In Athens, a bronze statue of him was sculpted that stood on the Acropolis, right next to the statue of Xanthippus. Both were said to have been sculpted by Pheidias. Anacreon was subsequently portrayed in a number of potteries, as well in paintings, most notably by Jean-Leon Gerome, where he is playing his barbiton next to two cupids and Love.

Bibliography:

  1. “Anacreon”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas I. Athens, 1946. Print.
  2. Παλαιοθόδωρος, Δημήτρης. Ανακρέων. Εγκυκλοπαίδεια Μείζωνος Ελληνισμού. Asiaminor.ehu.gr. January 1, 2006. Web.
Anacreon

Theagenes

Theagenes_receiving_the_palm_of_honour_from_Chariclea

Athlete (5th century BC)

Theagenes of Thasos was one of the greatest Olympians of ancient Greece. A runner, boxer and pankratiast, Theagenes was a boxing champion in the 75th Olympiad in 476 BC, as well as champion in the pankration in the 76th Olympic Games. His legacy evolved to that of a divine therapist.

Theagenes was believed by locals to have been the son of a god, due to his incredible strength. He became famous all over Greece at the age of 9, when one day, when walking home from school, he took a bronze statue of a god from the marketplace with him. Some of the citizens saw this as a disrespectful act and demanded the child’s death. It was decided, however, that he should return the statue to its former position. Doing this, Theagenes’ life was spared and his name rose to fame.

His first victory was in the 75th Olympic Games in 476 BC in boxing and then in the 76th Olympic Games in the pankration. He went on to achieve numerous other victories in other sports events, namely 10 in the Isthmian Games, 9 in the Nemean Games and 3 in the Pythians. Furthermore, he won in a race in Phthia, a competition dedicated to Achilles, who descended from there. His ambition was to rival Achilles’ speed.

According to Pausanias the historian, Theagenes had accumulated a total of 1400 laurel wreaths by the end of his lifetime from his victories. His compatriots, who once attempted to kill him, were very proud of him. Pausanias accounts that Glaucias had sculpted a statue of Theagenes that was positioned in Olympia, next to the statues of King Philip II and his son Alexander the Great.

After his death, a statue of his was erected in Thasos. In is said that an athlete who could never defeat Theagenes while he was alive went to the statue and flogged it every night. The statue collapsed one night and killed him. The statue was charged with murder and was thrown in the bottom of the ocean. However, drought struck the island causing a famine. When the citizens sought the Oracle of Delphi’s divination, the Oracle told them to replace the statue of Theagenes back to its original position. The Thasians did so, and the drought stopped. Since then, the Thasians started believing in Theagenes the divine God-Healer and offer him tributes.

Bibliography

  1. Θεαγένης από την Θάσο. Ίδρυμα Μείζωνος Ελληνισμού. Fhw.gr. Web.
  2. Karasavvas, Theodoros. Theagenes of Thasos: From Legendary Olympic Fighter to God-Healer. Ancient Origins. Ancient-origins.net. Web. January 17, 2017.
Theagenes