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The beautiful and the good in Greek civilization

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I studied Greek history in college. However, unexpected changes in my student life diverted me from my goal of teaching about the Greeks. However, I kept reading the Greek texts. I also wrote two Greek history books.

In America, 1961

Moving from Greece to the United States in 1961 was shocking. The startling contrast was that of size. In my village and high school town in the island of Cephalonia nearly everything was human-sized. Landing at Chicago’s giant O’Hare Αirport was exciting and frightening. I had never seen so many people and so many stores and buildings vainly trying to reach the heavens.

My uncle George picked me up from the airport. He drove through downtown Chicago. I noticed a tremendous contrast between the glamorous stores of downtown Chicago and the tiny stores and homes lining the streets leading to Oak Lawn, a suburb in south Chicago where my uncle lived.

On our way to Oak Lawn, I started seeing electrified large glass crosses, headed with large glass letters reading “Jesus Saves.” I thought these crosses were more than an appeal to Jesus. They looked to me as if they carried some kind of a secret message. Such crosses were all over south Chicago. What did they mean?

These peculiar crosses became my introduction to a divided America. Whites and blacks had their own societies right next to each other. Whites had the power and wealth. Blacks had very little, save for a living memory of slavery. They protested white oppression and struggled for integration within the large white society. But in 1961, things looked frozen. Trouble was in the air.

Being eighteen years old, with rudimentary English and starting college removed the injustice of America from my mind. I could not handle it. My instinct led me eventually to the Greeks. The choice had something to do in helping me cope with my new environment – strange, silent, threatening, difficult to decode.

Moral decline

After several years at the University of Illinois and University of Wisconsin, I earned a doctorate in history. I followed that with postdoctoral studies in the history of science at Harvard. Later, I worked on Capitol Hill and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). My unpleasant and often bitter experience in these institutions partly reflects my disappointment with the lax ethical standards and corrupt science prevailing in political Washington and industrialized America.

Greek architecture shaped the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court, and congressional buildings. In fact, in a dreamy moment I compared the congressional neighborhood of Washington DC, to Athens. I thought I was walking in fifth century BCE Athens.

I went to work thinking that some of this Hellenic affection of America must have been more than a fake imitation of Greek architecture. So I began my professional career thinking about how to improve human life and protect the natural world from the myriad gadgets and poisons industry had been churning out for decades.

Once my delusions about America faded, I embraced the Greek achievement even more. I felt good and secure in those imaginary and real realms of Greek literature, philosophy, science, gods and heroes.

The Antikythera Mechanism

My Greek journey took a new turn about ten years ago with my study of the Antikythera Mechanism, a gear-based computer and scientific masterpiece which the Greeks created in the second century BCE.

In 2006, I saw for the first time the fragments of this sophisticated astronomical device in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. I looked carefully at these fragile fragments and examined dozens of x-ray pictures of the largest fragments, which revealed the intricate and interlocking gear trains inside the computer. This immersion in the technology and beauty of the astronomical device brought me closer to understanding why the Greeks invented and manufactured this machine, without a doubt the greatest achievement of their civilization.

Ancient Greeks put their modern-like science and engineering skills and virtues to work in this computer in order to open another window to the heavens, a cosmos of order and beauty. This device accurately followed the movement of the sun, moon and the planets, and predicted solar and lunar eclipses. It was also an accurate calendar.

The expansion of the Greeks to Egypt and the Middle East after the death of Alexander the Great in late fourth century BCE set the foundations for the modern world. The Greek kings of Egypt created the Mouseion, a university of sciences and humanities, and a library. They funded the exploration of the natural world and the heavens and the study and editing of the poets and writers of ancient Greek civilization. The Italian scholar of the Alexandrian age, Lucio Russo, said the result of this intellectual activity at the Mouseion and Library was an explosion of scientific knowledge about the world. The Antikythera Mechanism came out of the scientific institutions and Library of Alexandria.

Greek Art

My research and interest in this explosion of enlightenment in the Greek world led me to Greek art – the material remains of Greek civilization and the images Greeks made of themselves and their world. They decorated everything, including the humble ceramic cups they used for drinking water and wine. They painted the walls of their homes and those of public buildings, including the Parthenon.

Mosaics, paintings, ceramic vessels, jewelry, coins, statues, altars, stadia, theaters and temples told the story of their makers. The end was a mixture of science, craftsmanship, beauty and goodness. It’s in that combination that you can see a reflection of the ancient Greek world.

The surviving art shows the Greeks no different than the characters coming through the pages of poets like Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes; philosophers like Plato and Aristotle; and the writers of the Alexandrian era. Art was philosophy.

Naked athletes

Of course, the Greeks were not perfect; they knew that well. Their literature aimed at enlightenment, not perfection. They aimed at eudaimonia, the enjoyment of the good and examined life. They left perfection to gods and, possibly, heroes.

The athletes competed naked in order to erase any sign of inequality among them. In addition, nakedness revealed beauty. And looking at a naked athlete, god or hero you also thought of the good and beautiful embedded in that nakedness.

Seeing is believing

I borrowed images from museums, books and Wikipedia. I also take my own pictures. I use photos for the illustration of Greek history. Pictures give life to the Antikythera Mechanism, Greek traditions from the second millennium BCE to mid-twentieth century, the Olympics and other Pan-Hellenic games, the Iliad and Odyssey of Homer, mythology and Greek medieval and modern civilization.

These images bring me slightly closer to ancient Greeks who gave us so much of our civilization: political theory and the warnings of Plato and Galen, the great Greek physician of the second century, to not put money and wealth ahead of science; the Parthenon; the biology of Aristotle; the geometry of Euclid and abstract mathematics; the geometry and engineering of Archimedes; mathematical astronomy and gears for computers.

Greeks are especially relevant today

We need Greek wisdom right now, especially science uncontaminated by money and lobbyists.

I know that I live in revolutionary times. The United States and other countries devoted to the commercialization and militarization of science and technology are posing a threat to civilization and the world.

Second, in 2018, the United States is falling apart. President Trump is consolidating the power of the rich, pushing America to plutocracy. The Republicans and Trump lowered the taxes of corporations and the rich, handing them something like a trillion-and-a-half dollars.

This inequity, which in 1961 troubled me, has become a gigantic gangster-like force undermining democracy and civilization. The conflict between Republicans and Democrats may lead to civil war. Trump’s attack against public and environmental health is an onslaught against each one of us and the natural world. Honeybees are on the verge of extinction. The very institution I worked for twenty-five years, the EPA, is openly licensing corporations and factories to pollute.

The Greeks did not need an EPA. The natural world was sacred to them. But they went through political schisms and civil wars. Reading them sheds light on the roots of America’s breakdown.

The Greeks thought plutocracy was a bad government. It still remains the worst form of government.

Opinions are those of the author alone and may not reflect the opinions and viewpoints of Hellenic Insider, its publisher, its editors, or its staff, writers, and contributors.

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Greek Opposition Leader Mitsotakis Coming To Moscow For High Level Talks

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Archons of Greek Orthodox Church issue toothless letter about abortion law

The good news is the Archons did say some good things in reaction to the New York abortion law. But there was no consequence.

Seraphim Hanisch

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In relation to our previously published piece about Governor Andrew Cuomo signing abortion into the New York State Constitution, we noted that at the time of the article’s writing, no entities within the Orthodox Church in any jurisdiction issued any kind of statement condemning this law. Of all fourteen universally acknowledged Local Churches, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the Greek Orthodox Church was particularly of note, since their Archons awarded a humanitarian award known as the Athenogoras Award to extremely liberal, pro-abortion politicians, Andrew Cuomo being one of these.

Well, the Archons did issue a statement yesterday:

The Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Condemns New York’s New Abortion Law

The Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, strongly condemns the State of New York’s new Reproductive Health Act that was passed on January 22, 2019. This new law allows abortions up to the moment of birth and gives people who are not doctors the right to perform abortions.

The Order also deplores the celebratory atmosphere surrounding the new law, as One World Trade Center was lit pink to commemorate the passage of the law, as if it represented a great advance for the rights of women. The rights of no human being are ever advanced at the expense of another. The State of New York will not truly have respect for the rights of women until it once again restores legal protections for every human being, from his or her first moment of existence until natural death.

Hailed as progress, New York’s Reproductive Health Act is not actually an advance, but a regression, a return to a time of barbarism when the weak were at the mercy of the strong and had no protection from legal structures or governing authorities.

The Order implores New York’s legislators to reconsider this dangerous new law and reinstitute protections for all human life, no matter how weak and vulnerable. Only when such protections exist can any society truly prosper.

Rev. Alexander Karloutsos
Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate
Spiritual Advisor of the Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle

Is this enough?

It does not seem to be so. Governor Cuomo and his award, along with pro-abortion Roman Catholic Vice President Joe Biden, also received this award at the same time Governor Cuomo did.

What did not happen in this letter was that neither politician was named, nor were the four (out of five) Greek Orthodox politicians in the New York State Assembly that voted FOR this law.

Neither did the Archons move to rescind the Athenagoras Awards they gave to Mr. Cuomo and Mr. Biden. This move appears to be still far too politically calculated, and keeping with the tragic, curious and distressing behavior of the leadership within the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Monomachos.com is a popular blog site whose editor, George Michalopulos, is undoubtedly one of the giants among those Greek Orthodox who seriously uphold at the notion that the Church ought never compromise herself. Yet, he was very happy with the letter that is shown above because for him it represented a “180-degree turnabout” in terms of the history of the Archons’ behavior, which he noted elsewhere as smacking of “the feeling that their primary job is to raise money for Istanbul.”

He neglected to mention the lack of mention of the Awards, but perhaps understandably, his surprise at any sort of traditional statement by this group was leading to exuberance where perhaps it is not deserved.

The Greek Orthodox Church seems to have an overall alignment with very liberal figures, and it is unclear as to why. But this tendency of people that are considered good and faithful Greek Orthodox churchgoers to align with liberal politics in the United States is very different than the sharply conservative tendencies of Russian Orthodox churchgoers, or Greeks or Romanians in the US.

The other rather liberal church is the US is the Orthodox Church in America, but this group does tend to involve itself in social causes in the US – especially abortion – in a very conservative, if rather feeble, manner. They do make their presence known at the annual March for Life and this is of great value.

We wish to name all the Greek Orthodox elected New York assembly members here, with their votes regarding the state abortion measure:

Michael Gianaris             (D) (co-sponsor)   – Yes.
Andrew Gounardes         (D) (co-sponsor)   – Yes.
Nicole Malliotakis           (R)                            – No. (and she is a woman!!)
Aravella Simotas             (D)                            – Yes.
James Skoufis                  (D) (co-sponsor)   – Yes.

This measure enshrined abortion at any point in a woman’s pregnancy as a constitutional right. The law stipulates several following procedures are now “rights:”

  • The law allows non-physicians to perform abortions.
  • The law allows abortion through the third trimester.
  • and the law repeals protections for babies that survive abortions (this means that if the baby gets delivered alive, it will still be killed.)

This is a barbaric law, and a resounding victory for people aligned with some very dark ideas about life and death. It is a tragedy, and while the Archons’ letter condemning it is at least a token statement, it really wants a full-throated response from the Christian world.

In fact, even Muslims and religious Jewish people ought to be outraged as well. All the Abrahamic religions understand that only God is the author of life. In this viewpoint, people do not themselves create life. We only cooperate with God to bring it into existence, by his blessing.

But we can cause death, and this power is influenced by forces that are not interested in God, traditional values, family, children or anything of the sort.

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Greek MPs pass Prespes deal with 153 votes in 300-seat House

Opinion polls indicate that most Greeks oppose the settlement, a fact which may not bode well for Tsipras in an election year.

The Duran

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Via Ekathimerini


Greece’s parliament on Friday ratified a landmark accord that changes the name of neighbouring Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), ending a decades-old dispute and opening the way for the ex-Yugoslav republic to join the European Union and NATO.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who hammered out the deal with his FYROM counterpart last year, secured the parliamentary majority needed to get the accord approved with support from independent and opposition lawmakers.

“Today we are writing a new page for the Balkans. The hatred of nationalism and conflict is giving way to friendship, peace, and cooperation,” Tsipras wrote on his social media account.

FYROM has already ratified the deal, brokered last year, and its prime minister promptly sent a tweet hailing the Greek parliament’s vote.

The settlement seeks to end a 28-year old row between Athens and Skopje over the use of the term “Macedonia” by renaming the tiny Balkan state “Republic of North Macedonia” to differentiate it from Greece’s northern province of Macedonia.

Greece’s European Union allies welcomed the ratification.

“They had imagination, they took the risk, they were ready to sacrifice their own interests for the greater good,” European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted. “Mission impossible accomplished.”

Opinion polls indicate that most Greeks oppose the settlement, a fact which may not bode well for Tsipras in an election year. A general election is due by October, and his party is trailing the opposition New Democracy by up to 12 points.

The debate in the Greek parliament was heated, with voting almost interrupted on Friday when an MP for the right-wing Golden Dawn Party, asked to cast his vote, responded: “No to treason!”

Several MPs in favour of of the accord reported attempts to intimidate them.

Many Greeks fear the agreement could lead to territorial claims against Greece and say it constitutes an appropriation of their country’s ancient cultural heritage. Macedonia was the birthplace of Alexander the Great.

Protests against the deal have at times turned violent this week, and on Thursday evening police fired teargas to disperse crowds outside parliament. Smaller groups of people braved heavy rain on Friday to demonstrate outside the parliament.

New Democracy slammed the agreement.

“This deal should never have been signed or brought to parliament for ratification,” party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis told parliament. “It is a national defeat … a national blunder that is an affont to the truth and history of our country.”

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