El Greco

Greek: Δομηνικος Θεοτοκοπουλος
Who: Painter, Sculptor and Architect.
Birth Name: Domenikos Theotokopoulos
Born: 1541 (Kingdom of Candia, modern day Crete)
Died: 1614 (Aged 72)

The disrobing of Christ by El Greco.

The disrobing of Christ by El Greco.

El Greco was one of the greatest painters of the Spanish Renaissance. He was known as “El Greco”(The Greek), a reference to his Greek origin, and even signed his paintings with his full birth name in Greek letters; Δομηνικος Θεοτοκοπουλος. He was born in Crete, which was the centre of Post-Byzantine art and also part of the Republic of Venice. El Greco descended from a wealthy family, his father was a merchant and tax collector, and he received his training as an icon painterat a Cretan school, eventually earning the title of Master by the age of 22.

Wanting to further pursue his career in art he travelled to Venice at the age of 26, as other Greek artists had also done. In 1570 he moved to Rome where he oped a workshop and finished a series of works. While in Italy El Greco enriched his style with elements of Mannerism and of the Venetian Renaissance. Then, at the age of 31, he moved to Toldo, Spain, the religious capital of Spain, where he would live and work until his death. It was there that he created some of his most renowned pieces of work.

During his time El Greco’s work of art was very much different from the norm. His work married Byzantine traditions with Western paintings and were painted as dramatic and expressionistic that was often met with puzzlement by his contemporaries. It wasn’t until the 20th century that his work would truly be appreciated. His most popular pieces of work include: The Assumption of the Virgin, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, View of Toledo, The Holy Trinity and Portrait of Jorge Manuel Theotocopoulos.

Toledo, Spain: The Art of El Greco:

El Greco – The Movie (2007):



Greek: Πυθαγορας
Who: A philosopher and mathematician.
Born: 570 BC
Died: 495 BC (aged 75)
Birthplace: Samos

The statue of Pythagoras in Samos.

The statue of Pythagoras in Samos.

Pythagoras of Samos was an Ionian Greek mathematician and founder of the religious movement called Pythagoreanism. He was a great mathematician, mystic and scientist and was labeled as “the most able philosopher” among the Greeks and known as the”father of numbers”. What we know of Pythagoras is what has been written about him by his followers, of which he had many. He is most famously known for the Pythagorean Theorem which bears his name. It is a theorem in geometry that states that in a right-angled triangle the square of the hypotenuse (the side opposite the right angle), c, is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides, b and a.

He was the first person to call himself a philosopher (lover of wisdom) and had a great deal of influence on philosophy and religious teachings. Pythagoras and his students believed that everything was related to mathematics and that numbers were the reality of things and through mathematics everything could be predicted and measured in rhythmic patters of cycles. Pythagoras had stated:”number is the ruler of forms and ideas and the cause of gods and daemons.”

Pythagoras had travelled most of the known world to the Greeks and is thought to have picked up and learned some of his teachings in mathematics from other places. One interesting story was the way Pythagoras learned about musical notes. It was said that one day he was walking passed a blacksmith who was hard at work. He heard the sounds from their anvils being hit and thought they were beautiful and harmonious and decided that whatever scientific law caused this to happen must have been from mathematics. He went to the blacksmith and discovered that the hammers were simple ratios of each other as one was half the size of the first and another was 2/3 the size. Although this theory would end up being proven false Pythagoras did discover that musical intervals, which are recognized as concordant, are related by small integer ratios. Prior to this discovery musicians in ancient Greece tuned their lyres by ear until they heard a state of harmony that sounded right, something Plato referred to as “torturing the tuning pegs.”

Pythagoras Quotes:

  • A thought is an idea in transit.
  • As long as man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower living beings he will never know health or peace. For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other.
  • As soon as laws are necessary for men, they are no longer fit for freedom.
  • Do not say a little in many words but a great deal in a few.
  • Silence is better than unmeaning words.
  • The oldest, shortest words – “yes” and “no” – are those which require the most thought.

Pythagoras’ Theorem and the Ancient World:


Volcanoes in Greece

Greek: Ηφαιστεια Στην Ελλαδα
Number of Volcanoes in Greece: 8
Last eruption: 1950 on the island of Santorini.

Map of volcanoes in Greece.

Map of volcanoes in Greece.

Volcanoes have shaped the Greek landscape for thousands of years, with one of the biggest eruptions occurring on the island of Santorini 3,500 years ago. There are a total of 8 volcanoes in Greece occupying the islands of the Aegean Sea. They are located in Kos, Methana, Milos, Nisyros, Poros, Santorini (has 2) and Yali. The last eruption of any of these volcanoes was in 1950 when the Mea Kameni volcano erupted on the island of Santorini. Most of the volcanic islands have a unique landscape to the island from their volcanoes. Santorini is famous for its caldera cliffs (which is a cauldron-like volcanic feature usually formed by the collapse of land following a volcanic eruption). Mylos with its bone white beaches that derive its unusual characteristics from volcanic rocks shaped by wind and waves.

One of the more interesting volcanoes is the Nisyros volcano. The volcano makes up the entire island and has become a popular tourist attraction. It is an active volcano that is 160,000 years old. Several millennia ago Nisyros was once part of the island of Kos but a volcanic eruption occurred that split the two islands apart. Pockets of hot water can still be found in the spot where the volcano used to be in Kos. In 1872 a volcanic eruption occurred on the island forming a crater of about 6 to 7 meters long as mud and ash spewed out and a lake was formed with hot salty water.

Volcano in Nisyros:

Ancient Greek Theatre

Greek: Αρχαιο Ελληνικο Θεατρο
Dramatic Genres: Tragedy, Comedy and Satyr
Major Playwrights: Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripedes
Major Theatres: Epidaurus and Dionysus

The theatre at Epidaurus.

The theatre at Epidaurus.

Ancient Greek theatre was the most popular form of entertainment in Ancient Greece. The Greeks helped spread theatre to its many colonies and allies to help promote a common cultural identity, which is why theatres can be found as far as the Middle East and Italy. Theatre reached its height during the 5th Century, most notably in Athens, as this was known as the Golden Age of Greek drama. Many of the plays we know of today originated in Athens and were performed at the theatre of Dionysus. What we know of ancient Greek theatre is what has survived. Up until the Hellenistic period in the late 4th century BCplays were only performed once in honour of Dionysus, therefore what we know of these plays is what has been remembered well enough to have been repeated when the repetition of old tragedies became popular during the Hellenistic period.

Theatre was especially important to the Athenians who created a competition and festival at the theatre of Dionysus in honour of the God Dionysus in 508 BC. This took place once in the winter and once in the spring and was a competition between three tragic playwrights that had to each submit three tragedies and one satyr play. One of the first winners of this competition was Phrynichus who was the first to use female characters (not female performers) and to use a historical subject in one of his plays. One of his plays, the ‘Fall of Miletus’ produced in 493 BC, was a play about the town of Miletus after it was conquered by the Persians. The story goes that when the play was first performed the whole theatre was weeping, such was the grief for the taking of Miletus to the Athenians and such was the powerful nature theatre had on the Greeks. He was then fined by the state who forebode the performance of that play forever.

Ancient Greek theatres were built on very large scales, some holding as many as ten thousand people. These theatres were designed to have the best acoustics so that the actors’ voices could be heard throughout the theatre, and even in the last rows. Beginning in 465 BC backdrops began to be used behind the orchestra. This also served as an area where actors could change their costumes. Masks were also used and these often told of how the character was feeling.

Interesting link to the top ten plays of ancient Greece:
10 Greek Plays That Are Essential to Any Education

History of Theatre – Development of Classical Greek Tragedy:


Greek: Αγαμεμνονας
Who: The king of Mycenae in the 12th Century BC.
Lived: During the Trojan War (early 12th Century BC)
Position: King of Mycenae
Brother to: Menelaus, King of Sparta

The mask of Agamemnon.

The mask of Agamemnon.

Agamemnon, a character of Greek mythology, was the son of King Atreus of Mycenae and Queen Aerope. He would eventually take to throne of Mycenae (also known as Argos) to become king. It is not certain if Agamemnon was a real person or the product of Homer’s book the Iliad, even after claims from Heinrich Schliemann in 1876 that he had discovered his tomb and the ‘mask’ of Agamemnon (pictured right). The mask was later identified to belong to a previous King of Mycenae a few centuries before Agamemnon would have existed.

What we know of Agamemnon is only through one of the plays by Aeschylus, the Greek lyric poet Pindar and the book the Iliad. The book begins with Agamemnon declaring was on the Trojans after Helen, the wife of his brother Menelaus, was abducted by Paris of Troy. Agamemnon and his brother at the time were the most powerful people of Greece and gathered up Greek soldiers to sail for Troy. However, the goddess Artemis was angry with Agamemnon because of all the young men who will die at Troy and prevented his ships from sailing to Troy. Agamemnon then sacrificed his own daughter, as the prophet Calchas announced this was the only way to to please Artemis. Then the Greek army set out for Troy.

Agamemnon was the commander of the Greeks during the Trojan war and even participated in the fighting killing 16 Trojan Soldiers. One of the main plots of the Iliad was the quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles during the final year of the war. Agamemnon had taken one of Achilles slave girls, Briseis, from him. Achilles, the greatest warrior the Greeks had, withdrew from the war, nearly costing the Greeks the war. Eventually the Greeks would capture Troy and return to Greece.Among the spoils of the war was Cassandra, the daughter of King Priam of Troy, whom Agamemnon took along with him.

Upon returning to Greece Agamemnon got blown off course and landed in Aegisthus’ country, where Agamemnon’s wife, Clytemnestra, had taken him as her new lover. Upon returning to Mycenae Clytemnestra decided to take her chances. She killed Agamemnon as he was taking a bath. Clytemnestra was still angry over Agamemnon’s decision to sacrifice their own daughter, her jealousy over Cassandra and his decision to go to war over Helen. Agamemnon’s son Orestes later avenged his father’s murder by killing Aegisthus and his own mother.

Truth of Troy: A Real Agamemnon? by BBC:

The Great Fire of Smyrna

Greek: Καταστροφη της Σμυρνης
What: A fire that destroyed much of the city of Smyrna.
When: September 1922
Deaths: In the tens of thousands
Refugees: 400,000 Greeks and Armenians

The Smyrna Catastrophe Painting by Vasilis Bottas.

The Smyrna Catastrophe Painting by Vasilis Bottas.

The Great Fire of Smyrna was a fire thatdestroyed much of the port city of Smyrna (now Izmir) in September 1922. The fire is reported to have began on 13 September 1922 and lasted for several days. It occurred four days after the Turkish forces regained control of the city on 9 September 1922 and subsequentlyended the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922) in the field, more than three years after the Greek army had landed troops at Smyrna on 15 May 1919. Smyrna, the largest city in Asia Minor called ‘the jewel of the Mediterranean’, a cosmopolitan hub populated by a highly educated Greek community and flourishing commercial and middle-classes, was sacked and burned and its inhabitants massacred by the Turkish forces. The exact number of people who died are not precisely known but it is believed to be in the tens of thousands of mostly Greeks and Armenians.Many had died as the flames were approaching the harbour and people were forced to jump to their deaths and drown rather than be consumed by the fire.

Despite the fact that there were numerous ships from various Allied powers in the harbour of Smyrna did not pick up Greek and Armenian civilians who were forced to flee the fire and Turkish troops and thus were either burned by the fire or drowned. Military bands played loud music to drown out the screams of those who were drowning in the harbour. A Japanese freighter, however, dumped all of its cargo and filled itself to the brink with refugees, taking them to the Greek port of Pireaus. There were approximately 400,000 Greek and Armenian refugees from Smyrna and the surrounding area who received Red Cross aid immediately after the destruction of the city. Many were rescued via an impromptu relief flotilla organized by Asa Jennings. Other scholars give a different account of the events; they argue that the Turks first forbade foreign ships in the harbour to pick up the survivors, but under pressure from Britain, France, and the United States allowed the rescuing of all the Christians except males 17 to 45 years old, whom they aimed to deport into the interior of Turkey where they became slaves and their lives ended by mysterious death”.

The Greek Smyrna refugees were never allowed to return to their homeland after 1923 and the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne. The last part of Mustafa Kemal’s (founder of the Republic of Turkey as well as its first President) ethnic cleansing campaign to create an ethnically pure homeland for the Turks was the instigation of a forcible transfer of populations uprooting close to a 1.5 million Greeks from Turkey in exchange for less than half a million Muslims from Greece. According to historian Dinah Shelton: “the Lausanne Treaty completed the forcible transfer of the country’s Greeks”. Thus ended the more than 2,500 years of Greek presence in Asia minor.

1922 Smyrna Fire Videos:

Nika Riots

Greek: Σταση του Νικα
What: A violent riot that took place for a week in AD 532.
When: 532 AD
Where: Constantinople
Death Toll: 30,000

The city of Constantinople in 1453 with the Hippodrome in the centre. By De Ludis Circensibus.

The city of Constantinople in 1453 with the Hippodrome
in the centre. By De Ludis Circensibus.

The Nika riots was one of the deadliest riots in human history as tens of thousands of people died and half the city was burned or destroyed. While most riots last a day or two the Nika riots lasted a week long. They look place in 532 AD in Constantinople and centred around the Hippodrome (pictured right). During the fifth century chariot races were very popular pitting teams against each other to become champion. The two popular teams of the time of the riots were the Blues and Greens and the emperor of the Byzantine Empire, Justinian I, favoured the Blues and made this known. The teams had become a focus for various social and political issues and combined aspects of street gangs and political parties. Frequently political demands would be shouted between races to the emperor.

A few days before the Nika riots players from the Blue and Green team was accused of murder in connection with deaths that occurred during rioting after a recent chariot race and were sentenced to death. Most of the team members were hanged but a couple, a Blue and a Green, had managed to escape and went into hiding at a church sanctuary surrounded by an angry mob. Justinian was put in a difficult decision as he was in the midst of negotiating with the Persians over peace in the East and many people were upset over the recent increase in taxes. Justinian decided that the two people would face imprisonment for life and that a chariot race would still be held three days later. The Blues and Greens had demanded that their people be released to no avail and thus people began to set various buildings on fire over the course of the next three days in protest.

Three days later on January 13, 532 the chariot races began and spectators arrived angry and tense. The Hippodrome happened to be next to Justinian’s Palace (Kathisma) and thus he could watch from the safety of his box and preside over the race. During the race the crowd were shouting insults at Justinian and by the end of the races the crowd started to chant Nika (meaning “conquer in Greek). The crowd then began to assault the palace and for the next five days the city was virtually under siege by its people and the city’s foremost church, the Hagia Sophia, would be destroyed (only to later be re-built into one of the greatest architectural wonders of the world).

The riots turned even more out of control when Justinian’s own senators joined the rioting seeing as this was an opportune time to overthrow him, as they did not agree with his new tax laws.Justinian was considering fleeing the city, but his wife Theodora convinced him otherwise saying,”Those who have worn the crown should never survive its loss. Never will I see the day when I am not saluted as empress.” He then had his guards lock up the Hippodrome with many rebels inside and had his guards kill everyone in what would be one of the most gruesome acts of violence in Constantinople’s history. Altogether 30,000 people died from the riots and the city was in ruins. Justinian then had those who opposed him exiled from Constantinople and started to rebuild.

Nika Revolt:

Hippocrates of Kos

Greek: ‘Ιπποκρατης
Who: An ancient Greek physician considered the father of western medicine.
Born: 460 BC
Died: 370 BC (90 Years old)
Field: Physician
Known as: Father of Medicine

Hippocrates of Kos.

Hippocrates of Kos.

Hippocrates of Kos was an ancient Greek physician who lived during the 5th and 4th centuries BC and is considered the father of medicine for his outstanding work in the field of medicine. He founded the Hippocratic School of medicine on the island of Kos. This school revolutionized medicine in ancient Greece, establishing itself as being distinct from other fields that it had been commonly associated with (such as theurgy and philosophy), making it a separate profession. So great was the work of Hippocrates that after his death the field of medicine had failed to advance for the next two thousand years as his teachings were taken to be too great to be improved upon. It wasn’t until in Europe in the 19th centuries that his methods were revived and expanded upon by some of the most revered physicians of modern time. His teachings and ideas are still used to this day and the famous Hippocratic Oath is practiced all around the world acting as an oath for Doctors to take once they have graduated medicine school.

One of Hippocrates most important advancements was being the first physician toreject superstitions, legends and beliefs that credited supernatural or divine forces with causing illness. When people got an illness in ancient Greece they would often offer a sacrifice to the Gods of Olympus to cure the illness. Hippocrates essentially separated the discipline of medicine from religion, believing and arguing that disease was not a punishment inflicted by the gods but rather the product of environmental factors, diet, and living habits. Indeed there is not a single mention of a mystical illness in the entirety of the Hippocratic Corpus. Hippocratic medicine was notable for its strict professionalism, discipline and rigorous practice as it was recommended that physicians always be well-kempt, honest, calm, understanding, and serious. The Hippocratic physician paid careful attention to all aspects of his practice: he followed detailed specifications for, “lighting, personnel, instruments, positioning of the patient, and techniques of bandaging and splinting” in the ancient operating room. He even kept his fingernails to a precise length.

Hippocrates Quotes:

  • “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”
  • “Walking is man’s best medicine.”
  • “Declare the past, diagnose the present, foretell the future.”
  • “Life is short, art long, opportunity fleeting, experience treacherous, judgment difficult.”
  • “There are in fact two things, science and opinion; the former begets knowledge, the latter ignorance.”
  • “The life so short, the craft so long to learn.”
  • “It is far more important to know what person the disease has than what disease the person has.”
  • “That which is used – develops. That which is not used wastes away.”

Kos = Hercules, Hermes, Hippocrates! Athena & Asclepius:


Athens 1896 Olympics

Greek: Αγωνες της I Ολυμπιαδας
Stadium: Panathinaiko Stadium
Opening and Closing Ceremony: April 6 – April 15
Nations Participating: 14
Athletes Participating: 241
Most successful competitor: Carl Shuhmann, 4 gold medals.

Games of the I Olympiad.

Games of the I Olympiad.

The 1896 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the I Olympiad, were an international multi-sport event which was celebrated in Athens, Greece. It was the first Olympic Games held in the Modern era after the Romans had banned the Olympics in AD 393because of its close ties to Paganism. Ancient Greece was the birthplace of the Olympic Games and therefore Athens was perceived to be an appropriate choice. The founder of the modern Olympic games was Pierre de Coubertine, a French pedagogue and historian. He took inspiration from the games organized in Greece by businessman and philanthropist Evangelis Zappas (the founder of the Olympic Games) in 1859, 1870 and 1875. Coubertin’s advocacy for the revival of the Olympic games centred around the Olympics in ancient Greece encouraged competition among amateur rather than professional athletes, and saw value in that. There was also a practice of a sacred truce during these games, promoting peace among competing Greek states and thereby lessening the dangers of war.

The 1896 Olympic games were regarded as a great success. It had the largest international participation of any sporting event prior (14 nations). The Panathinaiko Stadium was the first big stadium to be built in the modern World and held a record of the largest crowd to watch a sporting event of 80,000 people. Unlike today, the prizes for the victors of the games were different. First place received silver medals, an olive branch and a diploma while second place received copper medals, a branch of laurel and a diploma. Third place winners did not receive a medal at all. There were 43 events in total, among which included: athletics, cycling, fencing, gymnastics, shooting, swimming, tennis, weightlifting and wrestling.

For the Greeks the highlight of the Olympics was the first place finish in the marathon race by Spyridon Louis. On his final lap Louis was fuelled along the way by wine, milk, beer, an Easter egg, and some orange juice as the crowds in the stadium were chanting “Hellene, Hellene!” Greece would finish the games with 46 medals (1st overall) and 10 first place finishes (2nd overall). They also had competitors from Cyprus, Smyrna and Alexandria competing for Greece. After the Games were finished, Coubertin and the IOC were petitioned by several prominent figures including Greece’s King George and some of the American competitors in Athens, to keep the Olympic games permanently in Athens. However, Coubertin had envisioned an international rotation for the Olympic games and the next olympics in 1900 in Paris had already been planned for. The Olympics would not return to Athens until 108 years later in 2004.

The First Olympics Athens 1896:

Saints Cyril and Methodius

Greek: Κυριλλος και Μεθοδιος
Who: Byzantine Greek brothers from the 9th century.
Born: Cyril in 827-828 and Methodius in 815-820
Died: 14 February 869 and 6 April 885
From: Thessaloniki, Byzantine Empire (modern day Greece)
Known as: The Apostles to the Slavs

Saints Cyril and Methodius by Jan Matejko (1885).

Saints Cyril and Methodius by Jan Matejko (1885).

Saints Cyril and Methodius were two Byzantine Greek brothers born in Thessaloniki in the 9th century. They became missionaries of Christianity among the Slavic peoples of Bulgaria, Great Moravia and Pannonia and through their work they influenced the cultural development of all Slavs. They invented the Glagolitic alphabet and the Cyrillic alphabet which formed the basis for the slavic alphabet used in Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, FYROM, Montenegro and Serbia. This is why many Greek letters can be found in their modern day alphabets. After the brothers death their pupils confined their missionary work among the slavs and are now celebrated in the Orthodox church as Cyril officially became a saint.

Cyril was a very smart person and his mastery of theology and command of both Arabic and Hebrew made him eligible for his first state mission where he was sent to the Abbasid Caliph Al-Mutawakkil to discuss the principle of the Holy Trinity with the Arab theologians, and to improve relations between the Caliphate and the Byzantine Empire. In 862 the Prince of Great Moravia, Prince Rastislav, requested that the Emperor Michael III and the Patriarch Photius of Constantinople to send missionaries to evangelize his slavic people. Rastislav had originally expelled missionaries of the Roman Church and turned to Constantinople for ecclesiastical assistance and for political support. The emperor sent Cyril and Methodius.

As part of their mission the brothers devised the Glagolitic alphabet, which was the first alphabet to be used for Slavonic manuscripts, which was suited to match the specific features of the Slavic language. That eventually turned into the Cyrillic alphabet, which is used by many countries today. This alphabet was primarily based on the Greek uncial writing of the 9th century. The brothers also translated the bible into what is now known as Old Church Slavonic. To this day the brothers are celebrated in Bulgaria and FYROM on May 24, which is a national holiday, in the Czech lands and Slovakia on July 5 and by the Eastern Orthodox Church on May 11 and by the Roman Catholic Church on February 14.

Cyrillic Alphabet video:

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