Nikos 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.
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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

Germanos III of Old Patras

Palaion_Patron_Germanos

Priest, Hero of the Greek War of Independence (1771 – 1826)

Orthodox Metropolitan of Patras, member of the Philiki Hetaireia and the figure most closely associated with beginning the Greek War of Independence on March 25th, 1821.

He was born in Dimitsana as Georgios Kontzias or Gozias to a poor family of goldsmiths and farmers. He studied among the most renowned and respected teachers of his time in Dimitsana and then in the city of Argos. While in Argos, he was named deacon Germanos and stayed there as a monk for seven years. He later moved to Smyrna and then in Constantinople, serving as arch-deacon. In 1806 he was appointed Metropolitan of Old Patras, the highest rank of priesthood. With this rank he became a protector of the citizens and an advisor of the Turkish leaders of the local areas.

His significant diplomatic and nationalist work for the Greek War of Independence began in 1818 when he joined the Philiki Hetaireia, a secret society formed for the War. He went on to recruit many chieftains and metropolitans from Central Greece and raise the necessary money for the funding of the War. Despite his active involvement in the society, he believed that Greece was not yet ready for a revolution. He changed his mind when he realized that the Turks were surrounding the Peloponnese.

In March 1821, he traveled to Patras, Peloponnese to unite all priests of the Orthodox Chruch against the Turkish army. With the city under siege, Germanos united the priests and the chieftains, sent a letter to the Great Powers (Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, Austria) informing them that they will fight for freedom or die and blessed the Greek flag and armaments. Thanks to Germanos, the revolution had already started in the Peloponnese and on March 25th, 1821, he officially declared the Greek War of Independence in the monastery of Hagia Lavra.

Germanos continued his struggle for the independence of Greece for the remainder of his life. He took place in the First and Third National Assembly and later went to Italy with Georgios Mavromichalis to persuade the Pope to support the revolution. Although he was prevented from doing so, he managed to meet and unite several Greeks living in Italy for the causes of the revolution. His continuous acts of diplomacy and conciliation in the Greek and European field provided important physical and mental support for the success of the revolution.

His contribution to Greek history is also significant due to his memoirs, which chronicle the events from the preparation for the revolution until 1823 and provide detailed insights to the Greek War of Independence. Greek historian Ioannis Philemon described Germanos as “pure in his priesthood, zealous in his struggles and righteous in his politics”.

Bigliography:

  1. “Germanos”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens, 1946. Print.
  2. “Palaion Patron Germanos”. Sansimera. Web. 14 Jul. 2017.

 

Germanos III of Old Patras

Anaximenes

anaximenes

Philosopher, Physicist, Astronomer (c.585 BC – c.525 BC)

Anaximenes, the third and chronologically last of the great Milesian philosphers, was a pre-Socratic philosopher and student of Anaximander. He exerted important influence on pre-Socratic philosophy with his theory on the genesis of the cosmos. The thesis that air is the origin of life is unique and belongs to him.

Before Socrates, philosophy was almost exclusively focused in studying nature. Hence, philosophers back then were synonymous to physiologists (from φύσις + λόγος/ the science of nature). Anaximenes was primarily influenced by his predecessors Thales and Anaximander but introduced his own principles in philosophy. He believed that air was the first principle and that all life comes from air. He based in theory on 3 observations that he made: 1) Air is the most abundant element in nature, 2) air surrounds everything, 3) without air, every living organism would die. Anaximenes asserted that the quality of matter depends on the different quantity and distribution of air caused by motion. As such, it is the difference of air quantity and distribution that creates different beings. Because the Greeks considered the first principle as God, Anaximenes believed air to be the Divine principle. An ancient writer asserts that Anaximenes indeed believed air to be God

Another theory of Anaximenes was the following: Air lacks characteristics and is invisible when motioness. However, when in motion, it manifests in the form of temperature, humidity and velocity. For example, if air becomes thinner, it turns into fire. If it condenses, it creates clouds that produce water. If condensed even more, water transforms into earth and then stone. According to Anaximenes, all varieties are attributed to motion of air, which creates condensation or dillution.

Apart from philosophy, an indistinguishable part of science at the time, Anaximenes had a particular interest in physics and meteorology. He suggested that the planets are held in place by the atmosphere and that the moon reflects the light of the Sun. He presented correct theories on the formation of snow and hail from frozen rainwater, explained that lightning was formed when air was thinned out to fire, was the first to explain correctly how the rainbow was formed and the first to note that the rainbow could also be formed by the moonlight. Moreover, he attempted to provide an explanation for the earthquakes and the eclipse of the Sun.

In astronomy and cosmogony, he attempted to explain the creation of the universe, creating his own cosmogonic model. He theorized that the Earth, which was created by air, was trapezoid in shape and that the world turns like a mill. The sun and the stars rotated around the Earth like a hat rotates around the head. Much like the Earth, the celestial bodies were flat bodies that floated in air.

Today, even though his theory of air being the primordial element of the world is not accepted as scientifically correct, his influence in philosophy up until the 18th century was significant, especially his meteorological findings. For instance, Stephen Hales in his book “Vegetable Statics” in 1727, influenced by Anaximenes’ theory writes “Air takes part in the composition of bodies wherein it is found in a solid form without its elasticity. Air is the universal link of nature”. The fact that Anaximenes came up with the theory that beings differ from one another due to their difference in air density and distribution makes him the forerunner of the atomic theory.

Bibliography

  1. “Anaximenes”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens, 1946. Print.
  2. Graham, David. Anaximenes. Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. Iep.utm.edu. Web.
  3. Georgakopoulos, Konstantinos. Ancient Greek Scientists. Georgiades, Athens: 1995. Print.
  4. Pleures, Konstantinos. Greek Philosophers. Athens: Hilektron Publications, 2014. Print.
Anaximenes