Famous Greek People from Ancient Greece

LEONIDAS

Leonidas, the legendary king of Sparta: Leonidas (540-480 BC), the legendary king of Sparta, and the Battle of Thermopylae is one of the most brilliant events of the ancient Greek history, a great act of courage and self-sacrifice. This man and the battle itself has inspired since then many artists, poets and film-makers ( “300” )that hymn the spirit of him and his Spartans.

Little is known about the life of Leonidas before the Battle of Thermopylae. Historians believe that he was born around 540 BC and the he was son of King Anaxandrias II of Sparta, a descendant of Hercules, according to the myth. Leonidas was married to Gorgo and had a son. He must have succeeded his half-brother to the throne at around 488 BC, till his death in 480 BC. His name meant either “the son of a lion” or “like a lion”.

In summer of 480 BC, Xerxes, the king of Persia, was attacking Greece with a big and well-equiped army. As he had already conquered northern Greece and he was coming to the south, the Greeks decided to unite and confront him in Thermopylae, a narrow passage in central Greece. Leonidas and his army, 300 soldiers, went off to Thermopylae to join the other Greek armies. The Greeks altogether were about 4,000 soldiers, while the Persian army consisted of 80,000 soldiers.

Xerxes waited for 4 days before he attacked, believing that the Greeks would surrender. When Xerxes sent his heralds to the Greeks, asking for their weapons, as a sign of submission, Leonidas said the historical phrase “Come and get them!“, declaring the beginning of the battle.

The first days, the Greeks were resisting, until a local man, Ephialtes (=nightmare), revealed to the Persians a secret passage to circle the Greeks and win the battle. Seeing that the Persian army were about to circle them, Leonidas asked the other Greeks to leave the battlefield. He proposed that he and his army would stay back to cover their escape, while the other Greeks would leave to protect the rest of Greece from a future Persian invasion.

Therefore, Leonidas with his 300 Spartans and 700 Thespians, who refused to leave, stayed back to fight the huge Persian army. They were all killed in the battlefield, in this deathtrap, protecting theie homeland and their values. After all, it was disgraceful for a Spartan to return to Sparta beaten in war. A Spartan would either return from war as a winner, or he should not return at all.

Today, a modern monument lies on the site of the battle in Thermopylae to remind of this courageous action, while the tomb of this legendary king lies in his homeland, Sparta.

ALEXANDER THE GREAT

Alexander the Great, the eternal Greek legend: Alexander was the third King of Macedon and can be regarded as one of the best military personnel the world has ever seen. His military genius brought him tremendous success and managed to stretch the Empire of Macedon from Greece to India. Alexander the Great, as he is known today, is credited with conquering and annexing to his glorious empire nearly half of the world’s population during his time.

Tremendously successful in all military coups, Alexander the Great spread the Greek civilization all over the East, till the borders of India, and changed the course of history until he died at the age of 33. In his short life, he managed so many things as to become a legend.

The First Years
Alexander was born in 356 BC in Pella, the capital of the Macedon Kingdom. His father was King Phillip II of Macedon and his mother was Olympias, the daughter of the king of Epirus. The two of them had met in Samothraki island during some religious festivals and, although Phillip also had other wives, Olympias was thought as his primary wife and queen. The myth says that the night Alexander was born, the temple of Artemis in Ephesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, was burnt down as the goddess was not there to protect it, being busy to attend the birth of that boy who would later become a legend.

Since he was a little boy, Alexander was taught by the best tutors and had shown special courage in fights. At the age of 10, to everyone’s surprise, he managed to tame a very wild horse. Since then, this horse which was named “Bucephalus” became his companion in all battles and wars.

When Alexander was 13, he came under the tutelage of Aristotle, the famous philosopher. Aristotle taught some very important and interesting subjects to him and his courses covered topics on biology, philosophy, religion, logic and art. During this learning process, Alexander developed favoritism for Homer‘s literature, especially the epic of Iliad, and became a great fan of Achilles, whom he had as his exemplar.

Ancient sources state Alexander to be short, much shorter than a normal Macedonian, but very tough. His beard was scanty and it is reported that he had a short of spinal problem: his neck was twisted and some believe that he had a congenital spinal disorder.

At 16, when he finished his education, he was constantly involved in fights against the tribe of the Illyrians, who threatened the Macedonian Empire. Along with his father, he participated in the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC and defeated both Athenians and Thebans who had formed an alliance against Macedonia. Together they occupied Central Greece and then marched to Peloponnese. There at Corinth, that Philip got the recognition of Supreme Commander of all Greeks in the war they wanted to launch against Persia.

When King Phillip II returned to his kingdom, he was charmed by a Macedonian noblewoman Cleopatra Eurydice, whom he married soon. Their marriage bore doubts in the minds of many as because their offspring would be a true Macedonian blood and a possible heir to the throne. Such thoughts were even spoken aloud in the banquet ceremony before the wedding, which led to a heated exchange of words and actions between Alexander and his father.

Next day, the day of his wedding to Cleopatra, King Phillip was assassinated by Pausanias, his chief bodyguard, for unknown reasons. Some said that it was Olympias who had ordered the assassination of her husband from jealousy. Others believed that the Persians had arranged everything to prevent a war against them, while Alexander himself was also suspect as he faced the danger not to become king, after the birth of Cleopatra’s son.

The result was that at the early age of 20, Alexander had to take his father’s position on the throne. Soon regions of Thebes, Athens, Thessaly and the Thracian tribes revolted against Macedon to acquire their independence now that Phillip was dead. Alexander got the news very quickly and he acted spontaneously. He first crushed the Thessalian forces making them surrender and went southern to face other battles.

In Corinth, he met the Athenians who opted for peace and persuaded all the Greeks to make his father’s dream true: to start the war against the Persians in order first to take revenge for the Persian Wars, about a century earlier, and then to minimize the risk of a new Persian attack.

Conquering the East
It was in springtime of 334 BC that Alexander set out to conquer Persia with an army of soldiers from all Greek towns, except Sparta that denied taking part in this war. The generals of his army were all Macedonians. They were Antigonus, Ptolemy and Seleucus. In the ancient city of Troy, close to the River Granicus, the Macedonian army defeated the Persian forces and occupied all the coastline of Asia Minor. While in Troy, myth says that Alexander paid tributes to the grave of Achilles, his eternal model.

At the Battle of Issus, in 333 BC, the Macedonian army for the first time came face to face with the real Persian army led by King Darius III. Darius was defeated and he succumbed to Alexander, who proclaimed himself to be the King of Asia. Alexander moved then to Egypt, where he was viewed upon as a liberator to free Egypt from the Persians. There he was named Pharaoh and established the city of Alexandria, that exists and flourishes till today. Alexander went on to the west to occupy Babylon, the capital of the Persian Empire.

In Babylon, he resided in the Palace of Darius and married his daughter, princess Statira. The ambitions of Alexander brought his army to modern Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he married the daughter of a local leader, Roxana. This was rather a strange decision and raised many reactions from his general, but Alexander considered it a symbolic action: a Greek king married a local princess and populations of the West and the East could finally unite into one empire, as was his dream.

In the meantime, the relationship of Alexander with his generals was getting bad. After some conspiracies against his life, Alexander didn’t trust them any more expect for one general, Hephaestion, the son of a Macedon nobleman and long friend of his. The Macedon generals would also protest against some Persian traditions and practices that Alexander demanded from them, such as the custom of kneeling before him. This was a natural practice for the Persians to show their respect to the king but the Greeks kneeled only before the statues of the gods, not to their kings, so the generals considered it as a action of indignity to kneel in front of a man.

After long years of marching and fighting, Alexander had yet reached the borders of India but fighting with the local tribes was very difficult. In fact, in a battle, Alexander lost his beloved horse, Bucephalus. Plus his army was much tired from so many years of wars and they wanted to rest. That is when Alexander decided to return to Babylon for a few months and then come back to conquer India.

The Death
However, death prevented him to launch a new expedition. Alexander the Great died in June 323 BC in his palace in Babylon from unknown causes. It could be poisoning, or malaria or even a physical problem that may have caused the death of Alexander. Others say that he died from grief because his companion, Hephaestion, had been killed in a battle a few months ago.

When he died, his wife Roxana was pregnant to their son but Alexander didn’t see his heir being born. After his death, the vast Empire he has created, the Empire that was stretching from Greece and Egypt to India, was split in four parts and was divided to his generals, while his son was killed before adulthood.

Despite his just 33 years of life , Alexander had seen them all in life: love and hate, loyalty and conspiracy, war and peace, virtues and faults. He was happy to fulfill his ambitions and he changed history and the fate of many tribes, as the Greek civilization was spread far and wide. The cities he had conquered and established flourished for many centuries and even today there are tribes in Asia that say they descend from Alexander the Great.

HOMER, the famous poet of antiquity:

Homer was one of the greatest early Greek poets. Legend has it that he was blind and recited his poems as he traveled from one place to another. For this reason, people say that he called himself a singer, as opposed to a writer. It is said that after his death on the island of Ios, others kept his work alive by reciting them wherever they traveled and eventually scribes wrote them down.

Homer created fabulous poetry expressing deep human emotions. The Greeks put him on a very high pedestal proclaiming him their greatest poet and almost worshipping him.

His most acclaimed works include the epics Iliad and Odyssey.
The Iliad is written in twenty four books and talks of Achilles wrath caused by the Greek commander Agamemnon and its disastrous consequences in the Trojan War. It was considered by many as a symbol of unity and heroism, as an anti-war poem actually, altough it is set in the last 50 days of the Trojan War.

The Odyssey, again written in twenty four books, deals with incidents connected with the return of Odysseus to his homeland. Homer drew inspiration from history and real life blending it with his fascinating imagination to create them.

The plot of both epics consist of a series of exploits and adventures that help shape the protagonist and give the message of heroism, wisdom and other desirable qualities that set an example for lay people to follow.

Not a lot is known about this mysterious figure except for bits and pieces of information obtained from here and there. Beyond that one can only speculate about his life. In fact, we do not even know what century he lived in for sure, though on the basis of linguistic, geographical and historical evidence we can say that he lived considerably before 776 B.C.

Herodotus places the age of Homer about 400 years before his own time which would be about 850 B.C and that date has been accepted as the most probable by many scholars. Almost all the legendary evidence points out that he was Greek, born in Asia Minor, modern Turkey.

There are at least seven cities that claim to be his birthplace including Chios island, Rhodes island, Smyrna, modern Izmir, Colophon in Turkey near Ephesus, Salamis and even Athens and Argos on the Greek mainland but the most evidence points to Smyrna as the possible candidate.

Little is known about Homer that some scholars even debate his very existence and also whether he was just one person or many. There is also controversy about whether Homer actually wrote both the Illiad and the Odyssey. Many find it highly unlikely that the Odyssey was written by one person while others find that the style of writing is the same throughout and therefore has to be written by one person.

Homer is said to have died on the island of Ios and his grave is supposedly located at Plakoto, today considered as a very popular tourist attraction on the island of Ios. Many say that his mother Clymene was from Ios and that is why he chose to spend his last days here. Some believe that he died of an illness while others believe that the locals had to kill him because he was unable to solve a riddle posed by them.

It probably will be a long time before anyone can actually solve the enigma of Homer. Even that however is not a given. But what we should be thankful for is the fact that his great epics have been passed down intact. Both Illiad and the Odyssey are considered as landmarks in human literature. The content, ideals and style of his epics formed the foundation of the Greek education in the age of Socrates, Aristotle and Plato and have influenced works of Western literature, including those of William Shakespeare while also inspiring multitudes of readers over the centuries. The sheer beauty and power of the imagery and the universality of the themes is comendable.

What must be applauded also is the fact that Homer had no literary work to guide him for literature itself was in its infancy when he created his works. He is thought as the world’s first great writer and a model for other to imitate for centuries to come.

SOCRATES, the enigmatic philosopher of classical Athens:

Socrates (469-399 BC) is considered as the original founder of Western Philosophy. He was the man to develop the notion of ethics the most till his time and to introduce a new method of pedagogy, where the student actually finds the truth himself through a series of questions.

The surprising thing is that we actually have no writings of Socrates and the only descriptions we have of him and his philosophy is through the manuscripts of his famous students, the philosopher Plato, the historian Xenophon and of the comedy writer Aristophanes, who actually mocks Socrates in one of his plays, “The Clouds”.

The father of Socrates was Sophroniscus and his mother was Phaenarete, a midwife by profession. In fact, Socrates used frequently the profession of his mother to describe his teaching methods: as a midwife is helping a woman give birth to her child, so was Socrates helping people to “give birth” to the truth, which is hiding inside everyone.

The figure of Socrates was unattractive: he is said to have been short, fat, with a malformed face. However, he got married to a girl much younger than him, Xanthippe, and had three sons. According to some historical accounts, he earned his living orating philosophy to his students whereas others mention that he followed the footsteps of his father, a stone sculpture. Some believe that the figurines of the Three Graces that once adorned the Acropolis were actually his work. Apart from that, Socrates was also a brave soldier and fought in the battles of Potidaea, Amphipolis and Delium.

The time Socrates was born, Athens was living the golden years under the ruling of Pericles, a charismatic politician who gave emphasis on culture and arts and who made the town the strongest naval power of that time. However, as Socrates was growing old, the decline was starting for Athens, with the beginning of the Peloponnesian War in 431 BC, the final defeat of Athens in 404 BC and the fall of the Athenian democracy. The social decline thus led to a moral decline in the society of the city-state. Therefore, the concept of moral virtues and ethics that Socrates was teaching was not made understood by many of its citizens.

Socrates believed that every man hides a set of truths in his heart and he tried to make each one reveal these truths. His whole philosophical ideology circulated around some basic principles. First of all, he believed that nobody likes to do immoral actions and if one acts immorally, this is because he doesn’t know the moral thing. Moreover, he believed that righteousness leads to knowledge and also that righteousness is the only bringer of happiness in people and in society.

The inclination of Socrates to moral virtues, his explicit thoughts about honesty and justice and moreover his belief in doing good actions made him become an unfavourable figure to all the politicians of his time. At this point, the people of Athens were quite taken aback after their defeat in the Peloponnesian War. They started to doubt the effect of the reign of democracy in their country.

Seeing this, the politicians blamed Socrates for corrupting the minds of the young boys with such thoughts. Moreover, they also accused that it was him who taught them to disregard the Athenian Gods and who filled their minds with ideas of listening to an inner voice called daemonion.

The Athenian politicians were also infuriated for one more thing: in public discussions, Socrates was mocking their knowledge and would make them look unintelligent to people. Socrates believed that no man in wise, if he doesn’t acknowledge his unawareness of the truth. He frequently said for myself “I know that I know nothing”, claiming his lack of knowledge.

In 399 BC, Socrates was put to trial under the accusation of corrupting the young Athenians. In his defense, he compared himself to an annoying stable fly which disturbs people from their inactivity and forces them to turn their head towards the truth. When he was asked to propose a punishment for himself, he ironically answered that the Athenian state should pay him and give him free diners for his lifetime, as long as he is a benefactor to the people.

Socrates was eventually found guilty and was sentenced to death by drinking the poison hemlock. Although his students had prepared everything for him to escape prison and death, Socrates refused. He believed that the time had come for him to die. After all, if he escaped, he would be proved disobedient to the rules of the state, so he would harm his own city. He also stressed that the fear of death doesn’t indicate any true philosopher, as death actually frees the immortal soul from the mortal body.

Socrates is probably the philosopher with the greatest influence ever. Plato and Aristotle, the other famous philosophers of classical Athens, were actually his students and on their work the whole Western philosophy was based. His busts can be seen in most philosophical universities, as a tribute to this great thinker.

ARISTOTLE, the famous philosopher of ancient Greece:

Aristotle is one of the most renowned philosophers of ancient Greek period. His name is remembered along with other great philosophers of that time, such as Socrates and Plato. Although only one third of Aristotle’s works has survived, his concepts have been instrumental and extremely influential for modern ideologies.Aristotle was in fact the student of Plato and had studied in the Academy, founded by Plato, for almost twenty years. When Plato died, it is at this time that he left the institution.

His life
Aristotle was born in 384 BC at Stagira, Halkidiki. His father, Nichomachus, worked at the royal residence of the King of Macedon, Amyntas, as a physician. At the age of 18, Aristotle went to Athens to study at the Academy that Plato had founded. He remained there for almost 20 years, till 347 BC, the year of Plato’s death.

Then Aristotle left for Asia Minor where he visited his dear friend Hermias of Atameus. With another friend, he went to the island of Lesvos where he spent time studying zoology and botany. In Asia Minor, Aristotle married Pythias, the adoptive daughter of Hermias, who gave him a girl child.

When Hermias passed away, Aristotle was invited by King of Macedon, Philip II, to teach his son, Alexander the Great. He also taught philosophy, literature and politics to other Macedonian nobles. In 335 BC, Aristotle returned to Athens and established his own school, Lyceum, where he taught for about 12 years. At that time, he wrote most of his works, which used to be lecture aids for his students. Unfortunately, today only some fragments of these material survive and they are mostly in form of discourses.

In the meantime, Pythias, his wife, had died and Aristotle had taken a second wife, Herpyllis, who gave him a son. However, as Aristotle had a lot of students, he also had a lot of adversaries. When he was accused that he showed no respect to the gods with his philosophical ideas, Aristotle left Athens and went to Halkis, the birthplace of his mother. There he died in 332 BC of natural causes.

His work
Aristotle dealt with every possible subject of his time: from anatomy, zoology, physics and metaphysics, to theology, rhetoric, psychology, geology and meteorology. It is said by historians that Aristotle literally studied everything that constituted the Greek encyclopedia of that time.

Logic
Aristotle also was the founder of notion of formal logic, as its references can be seen in most of his works. His theories on logic were considered till the 19th century as the ultimate concepts of Western Logic.

The three notions of science
His method of dealing with philosophy is both inductive and deductive. His concept of natural philosophy deals with the exploration of nature in terms of physics, biology and other similar sciences. He considered philosophy to have a harmonic balance with another science, known as reasoning.

To him, science had an altogether different meaning. Science had three basic characteristics or better explained as having a certain sort of classification. The three words “practical, poetical and theoretical” very well explains science. Practical science would suggest concepts dealing with ethics and politics. Poetical science deals with research of poetry and artistic endeavours, and by theoretical science he refers to physics, mathematics and metaphysics.

The five elements of the Universe
Aristotle in his study of Physics has said that there are basically five elements which constitute the universe: these are fire, earth, air, water and aether. These elements are positioned according to their gravitational pull from the centre of the universe. When, by chance, they tend to shift from their natural domain, then they again fall back to the same region or place without the use of necessary force. Thus heavy objects tend to sink in water, air bubbles usually rise upwards, rain water falls on the earth and flames shoots up in the air.

Biology
In the field of biology, especially zoology, Aristotle has dissected and studied animals during his stay on the island of Lesvos which enabled him to understand a lot about various species. He used to categorize animals as having blood and not having blood. Moreover, the animals having blood were further divided into two types: life bearing and egg bearing. In case of animals without blood there were basically three types: insects, crustacea and testacea.

Ethics
In Ethical theory, it is seen that Aristotle regards the concept of ethics to be a part of practical science. In this sphere, actions bear more importance than reasoning. Ethical knowledge is basically general knowledge. Moreover, he says that virtue is related to an object’s proper actions. Soul functions as the giver of happiness. An individual must not be tempted to have excess and thereby should be happy with whatever he has. He also introduced the golden mean, believing that virtue in not in excess or in deficiency, but somewhere in the middle.

Politics
Aristotle’s concept of politics was however different. He considered city to be a political community. This city can thrive on the basis of political partnership. The creation of a city gives one a good life. He stated that man was a political animal. He makes us comprehend the fact that individual leads to the formation of the family which in turn leads to the formation of a city. This order in Aristotelian concept is in the reverse. Politics functions like an organism and is the collective action of several individual parts, which are all interrelated.

Poetics
In the field of Poetics, Aristotle considered all forms of art (epic poetry, tragedy, comedy or music) to be an imitation. He believed that mankind has advantage over animals as they can subject themselves to imitation. Aristotle’s Poetics had two parts: tragedy and comedy. He believed that comedy makes people look worse than the average,while tragedy makes them look better than the average man. Tragedy is the resultant effect of actions that lead to the arousal of emotions, like pity or fear, and thereby causes catharsis of these emotions. In any case, they both deal with imitation, which is natural in man.

Unfortunately, most of Aristotle’s works were actually lost after the fall of Rome. Still his philosophies have been instrumental in shaping modern thoughts and language structures. Till the 20th century, Aristotle’s Logic was considered supreme. With the arrival of Renaissance, many of Aristotle’s theories of the Universe were taken as the basis for the formation of newer theories by astronomers of those periods.

Before Charles Darwin came to the forefront in the field of zoology, Aristotle’s findings and classifications had great importance. The 20th century saw Aristotle being praised for the amount of work he had done and the theories he had left behind in education, literary criticism, human and political analysis being studied worldwide.

PERICLES, the brilliant Athenian statesman and general:

Pericles was the most famous and influential Athenian statesman of ancient times. His name means “surrounded by glory” in ancient Greek. Pericles was born in the small town of Holargos, north of Athens, in 495 BC. His father was Xanthippus, famous for his commandership, which led to the Greek victory over the Persians, at Mycale, in 479 BC.

His mother was Agariste, who came from the wealthy family of Alcmaeonidae. It is narrated that, while she was pregnant, Agariste dreamt that she would give birth to a lion, a sign that the child would be strong and brave.

Pericles was shy in his early years. He devoted most of his time to education and was greatly inspired by his two mentors, the sophist philosopher Damon and the Ionian philosopher Anaxagoras. Some of his notable friends included historian Herodotus, sculptor Phedias and sophist Protagoras. He always appears in statues with beard and a helmet. It is said that Pericles would always wear his helmet in public to hide his unusually oblong head.

Political career
His political career took off in the spring of 472 BC when in the religious festival of Dionysus, he presented the play of Aeschelus, Persae, to the audience, a sign that he was one of the wealthiest men in Athens that time. Gradually, Pericles managed to weaken his political opponents, Cimon and Ephialtes, and in 461 BC, he became the ultimate statesman in Athens. He remained in power for almost forty years, till his death in 429 BC, and scientists name this years the “golden age of Pericles”, as under his guide, Athens became the most powerful city in Greece.

Interest in education
Pericles showed special interest to the education of the lower social classes. He thought that all Athenians should be educated in philosophy, art, music and poetry. He also built many gymnasiums for the young people to exercise their body. As part of education, Pericles believed that theatre was an important part, which is why he passed a law that the state was burdened with the theatre tickets of the lower classes, so that all Athenians could attend theatrical plays.

Pericles also constructed many public works, monuments and temples in Athens. The great walls that protected Athens and Piraeus were his work. The Acropolis was built after his encouragement and with the money of the Delian League, as Athens became the leader of this league in his time. War and commercial ships were built that developed trade all over the Mediterranean and made Athens the greatest naval power in Greece.

Aspasia and her trial
Due to his popularity, Pericles was much hated by his political opponents, who in 432 BC accused him, his companion Aspasia and their friends of immorality. Particularly, they accused Aspasia of corrupting the women of Athens. Pericles, in 465 BC, had divorced his legal wife, who bore him two sons, to live with Aspasia, a courtesan from Miletus.

Courtesans, or else heterae, were very popular in ancient Athens and in fact, they were educated women who frequently hosted philosophers and politicians in their houses. These women were highly respected for their mind and, as they were usually foreigners, they were the only women allowed to walk unescorted in the streets.

The opponents of Pericles also accused Aspasia of involving Athens in two wars. The first was in 440 BC, when Pericles persuaded the Athenians to interfere between the conflict of Samos and Miletus, the homeland of Aspasia, and the second war was the Peloponnesian War that had just started. Pericles, in a great emotional scene, presented in the court with tears in his eyes and persuaded the judges to release Aspasia from the accusations.

The death
Pericles, the inspired statesman of Athens, the wonderful orator and the brave general, died in 429 BC, during the First Peloponnesian War, of plague. That time, the Spartans were besieging Athens, whose residents had been gathered inside the walls. However, a great plague burst that killed almost half the population of the city, including Pericles and his two sons from the first wife.

Before he died, Pericles managed to grant the Athenian citizenship to his son with Aspasia, breaking a law he himself had established in 451 BC, according to which the Athenian citizenship is granted only to people whose both parents are Athenians.

His death was a great strike for the city, as all his successors were proven inferior to him. Without his inspired guidance, Athens eventually lost the Peloponnesian War and, after that, it never managed to recover its glory. It can be said that Pericles was the man who gave Athens its power and the man who deprived it with his death.

PLATO, the renowned philosopher of ancient Athens:

Plato (428-348 BC) was a Classical Greek philosopher and founder of the Academy of Athens, the first university of the western world. Along with his teacher Socrates and his student Aristotle, Plato is considered to have set the grounds for Western philosophy and to have influences the thinking of many modern philosophers.

Life and education
The son of two wealthy and prominent members of the Athenian society, Ariston and Perictione, Plato was born in around 428 BC and died in around 348 BC. He belonged to the prominent, oligarchic class and it is said that his mother originated from Solon, the famous Athenian lawmaker and lyric poet. Moreover, two of Plato’s uncles were members of the Thirty Tyrants, the brief oligarchic regime established in Athens after the end of the Peloponnesian War (404-403 BC).

As a child, Plato received good education. A Hellenistic legend says that his original name was Aristocles after his grandfather, but he got the nickname Plato from his wrestling coach, due to his broad (“platys” in Greek) and strong figure. From an early age, he showed a special interest in philosophy and became a follower of Socrates, the famous Athenian thinker who would stroll around the town and ask people questions, trying to find the right answer out of them.

A fact that marked the life of Plato was the trial and sentence to death of Socrates, his beloved mentor, in 399 BC. That time, he lost his belief in the Athenian society and disappointed as he was, Plato left his homeland to travel all around the world. He traveled in Italy, Sicily, Egypt and Libya. There, he met new people and civilizations, while he had the chance to discuss with famous personalities of his time.

The Academy

When Plato returned to Athens, at the age of forty, he established a school on a plot of land that belonged to some man named Academus, which is why the school was called Academy. The Academy of Plato is one of the earliest upscale institutions in the western world and young Athenians would learn philosophy, mathematics, music, art astronomy and other subjects there.

One of the first students of the Academy was Aristotle, the third most famous of the Athenian philosophers. The Academy of Plato worked for almost 900 years, until it was closed by Byzantine emperor Justinian I in 529 BC for spreading pagan, anti-Christian ideas.

The Dialogues of Plato
The works of Plato have the form of dialogues/discourses. Scholars divide his works in three categories: the early, middle and late works. His most famous dialogues are the Apology of Socrates, where Plato describes the trial of his mentor and the last days in prison; Republic, where he suggests a new form of government and political system; Timaeus and Critias, where he discusses the origins of language and knowledge; and Protagoras, referring to the ideas of this famous Sophist philosopher.

The central character in all the Dialogues of Plato is his teacher Socrates, who discusses with other people a certain issue. Scientists, however, haven’t concluded whether the ideas expressed in these dialogues were indeed the teachings of Socrates, or whether they were ideas of Plato that he put in the mouth of Socrates to give them more credibility.

The Ideal State
In his Republic, Plato describes the ideal state, according to him. Disappointed by all the political systems that Athens had used till that time, including democracy and oligarchy, Plato suggested his own system. He divided the society in three categories: the Philosopher Rulers or Kings, the Warriors or Guardians and the Workers.

He divided the society in these categories in comparison to the categories of the soul. The philosopher rulers correspond to the “reason” part of the soul and they are the elite of every society. Intelligent, rational, self-controlled and wise, the philosophers have conquered the Knowledge and therefore, they must rule the state.

The Guardians represent the “spirit” part of the soul. Adventurous and brave in nature, these people should guard the well-being of the state. The lower social category was the Workers, in whose soul the “appetite” element dominates. These people occupy manual professions, so they can be laborers, merchants, farmers, carpenters or do any other manual work.

According to Plato, a state must not base on rhetoric and persuasion, as happens in democracy, but on reason and wisdom. As philosophers are the few enlightened people of every society, they must govern all the others because they have conquered the “real truth”. Therefore, Plato rejects all kinds of existing political systems and introduces his own.

The Ideal Education
A very important issue for the Ideal Society of Plato is the education of the youth. He suggests that all children must seperate from parents since their birth and that public institutions must take care of their education. Children do not need to know their parents, brothers or relatives, but consider the broader society as their family. The public institutions must be governed by the philosophers who will provide children all the opportunities to “remember” the real knowledge.

Knowledge
Knowledge, for Plato, is not a matter of learning or observation, but a matter of recollection. He believes that there are two parallel worlds: the real world and the world we live in, which is a reflection of the real world. People on earth do not see the real sight of the objects, but their shadow. To explain this theory, Plato used the allegory of the cave.

The Allegory of the Cave
Imagine, says Plato, that the real world is like some people inside a cave. These people are chained and made to look at a wall since their childhood. Behind these people, there is the entrance of the cave and outside the entrance, there is the real world. Between these chained people and the real world, there is a big fire. Therefore, the chained people can’t see the real world, but only their shadows/ representations as reflected by the big fire on the wall. Wouldn’t they believe that these shadows are the real world, for they have seen only that?

Imagine now, he continues, that someone manages to unchain himself and turn the head towards the outside world. He sees the truth, he gets to know the real side of things, but when he tells the other people, they don’t believe him. This unchained man, for Plato, is the philosopher. That is why, Plato thinks that knowledge is all about recollection: we all have seen the truth in another parallel world, but only a few get to remember it.

Such interesting metaphysical beliefs were innovative for the ancient world and they influenced a lot modern philosophical thinking. Although a lot of these ideas were questioned even by his student Aristotle, a defender of reason instead of passion, Plato is considered as a greatly-inspiring philosopher, even in our days.

SOLON, the Athenian politician and lawmaker:

Solon (638-558 BC) was an Athenian politician, lawmaker and poet. He is considered as the first innovative lawmaker that set the ground for the creation of democracy, the governmental system that made Athens powerful and granted the city its fame all over the centuries. Although his reforms lasted for short in his time, he laid the foundations for the economic, cultural and military development of the town.

Solon was born into a noble family in 638 B.C. He was a merchant by profession and a poet. In 594 BC, he was elected an Archon, kind of governor, in ancient Athens. That time, the society of Athens was facing an economic and moral depression due to an agricultural crisis. Farmers could not repay their debts to the wealthy landowners and in return they were sold as slaves, including their wives and children.

Political and social instability
This caused instability and rivalry in the society. As Athens was kind of divided in regions and families, there was much controversy over which family rules and which would prove better than the other. In this miserable point, Solon was elected and made the necessary reforms to improve the local society. In fact, he mostly reformed three domains: constitution, economy and morality.

The Laws of Solon
The first thing of Solon was to set all enslaved Athenians free and to relieve them from their debts. This made him very popular among the people. Also, as he had understood that farming couldn’t get people enough for living, he envisioned to make Athens a powerful trade centre and to have Athenian ships traverse the Aegean and the Mediterranean Sea.

He prohibited exporting any other product than olive oil and he gave benefits for foreign tradesmen to settle in Athens. This was he set the foundation for the economic growth of Athens, which would also grant the city its cultural development and military power.

New political system
Another important contribution of Solon was in the formation and establishment of democracy, the governmental system that would mark the history of the city and would influence the entire world in the centuries to come. Depending on their income and not their noble origin, Solon divided the Athenian society in classes. Only the top three classes had political rights and could be elected in public posts, but still this was a very important measure for that time.

Solon permitted all citizens to participate in the Ekklesia, the council that discussed public issues, and had the right to vote for any particular issue. Also, some of them by turns would become members of the Heliea, the court that could call the officials into account, when needed.

With certain rules, Solon also tried to reform the morals of the Athenians. He abolished some laws that gave only men the right to have property and that required a large amount if dowries. Also, he gave any citizen the right to take legal action on behalf of another citizen and forced every man to take part in wars. This way he stressed out the importance to be politically active for the good of the state.

Travelling around the world
When Solon completed his reformation works, he left Athens to sail around the world. It is said that before he left, he made the Athenians sign a contract that they would keep those reformations for at least 10 years before they make any change in the political system. This way Solon wanted to prevent any political instability until the town gets strong again and recover from its political problems.

However, only four years after Solon had left, Pesistratus took over the power in Athens and established tyranny. Solon, a strong opponent of Pesistratus, got killed in Cyprus shortly after the tyrant had taken over control.

During his trips around the world, Solon met new people and civilizations and this made him a wise man. In fact, Plutarch includes him among the ten wisest men of the Greek antiquity. In one of these trips in Egypt, as Plato narrates, Solon met a priest who told him the story of a prosperous town that got submerged in a single day and night due to the wrath of gods. This town is today known as the lost Atlantis.

In another journey to Lydia, Solon met the local king Croesus who praised that he was the happiest man on earth. Then, Solon replied “Call no man happy before he dies”, meaning that luck can turn unexpectedly and things might change from one day to the other. In fact, a few years later, king Croesus lost his kingdom to the Persians.

In the years to follow his death, Solon was remembered as a wise man with innovative ideas. Upon these ideas, Pericles, a few decades later, established the famous Athenian democracy. Today he is thought as the founder of this governmental system.

ARCHIMEDES, the famous mathematecian and engineer:

To the modern world, the name Archimedes (287-212 BC) recalls the famous Greek mathematician who dedicated his entire life in research and invention. It was his innovative experiments that gave the contemporary world many machines that are used till today in heavy industries, theories of physics applied to scientific discoveries and formulas for solving complex mathematical problems. Having a dynamic personality, Archimedes was an engineer, mathematician, physicist, inventor and astronomer at the same time.

His life
We find extremely scarce information about the personal life of Archimedes. From information gathered by historians, we know that he was born in Syracuse Sicily, in 287 BC, when Sicily was still a Greek colony. He spent most of his life in his hometown, except when he went to Alexandria Egypt to study.

In Egypt, he devised a new technique of drawing water from the lower level under the ground to the higher level. This method was given the term “hydraulic screw” for bringing water located at extremely lower levels in the ground to the land surface.

When Archimedes came back to Sicily, he spent his entire time experimenting and researching. We don’t know if he ever got married or had children, but we do know that his mind was continuously buzzing with so many various concepts and theories. All his life, he was passionately and totally involved in his work. Many of his discoveries were the result of problems that were posed to him by the ruler of Sicily that time, King Hiero II.

The Principle of Archimedes
The well-known “Archimedes Principle” used in hydrostatics results from an interesting story. King Hiero had ordered a goldsmith to make him a new crown in the shape of laurel wreath, but he was not sure whether the crown was eventually made only with gold or if gold had been mixed with other metals, like silver. Therefore, he ordered Archimedes to find this out without melting the crown to measure the gold.

Archimedes was puzzled for many weeks with this problem but he could find no solution. The answer came unexpectedly one day while Archimedes was taking his bath. He noticed that when he entered the bathtub, the water surface rose up.

According to Archimedes, when an object is immersed in liquid, the amount of liquid displaced is equal to the volume of that object. So, by dividing the weight of the object by the volume of liquid displaced by it, this would enable him to find the density of that object. This method could be also used to find the density of the golden crown.

It is said that Archimedes was so ecstatic to find out the solution that he ran out on the streets naked to tell the king about his discovery. On his way, he was crying “Eureka!”, which in ancient Greek means “I have found it!”.

Archimedes Screw
The famous “Archimedes Screw” used widely even today to draw out liquids from great depths was invented when Archimedes was designing a huge ship for the king that would accommodate almost 600 people, a luxurious garden and a temple of goddess Aphrodite. Such a ship would definitely leak a considerable amount of water through the hull.

Archimedes thus developed the “Screw” in such a manner that it would assist in taking out the excess water from the ship. The design of the tool was simple yet effective and had a cylinder containing a revolving screw-shaped blade. It had to be manually rotated to take out the water from the huge vessel.

Measuring the circle
However, it seemed that the most favourite science of Archimedes was not engineering but mathematics. His greatest achievement in Maths was probably the measurement of the circle. Archimedes measured the circle as being more than 1.7320261 and less than 1.7320512. As the value is approximately 1.7320508, we understand by this that the measures of Archimedes were impressively accurate.

Do not disturb my circles
It is a real shame that such a brilliant man had such an unfortunate end. Archimedes was killed by a Roman soldier in 212 BC, during the Second Punic War. The Romans under General Marcus Claudius Marcellus had been besieging the town of Syracuse for two years, when they finally entered the walls.

That time, Archimedes was at his home trying to solve a complex mathematical problem. When the Roman soldier got into the house and raised his sword to kill him, the last words of Archimedes were “Do not disturb my circles”, referring to the circles in the mathematical drawing he had made.

Archimedes was buried near Agrigentine gate in Syracuse and at his request a sphere and a cylinder were placed on his tomb. Although in the ancient times, he was not much famous, his manuscripts were translated in the Medieval times and attracted a lot of attention. In fact, Voltaire once said, “There was more imagination in the head of Archimedes than in the head of Homer”.

HIPPOCRATES, the famous physician of ancient Greece:

The most famous physician of the ancient times, Hippocrates (460-377 BC) was the first to release medicine from any kind of religious superstition and to establish it as a science based on observation and case recording. He is often described as the model of the ancient physician and the founder of western medicine, although in modern terms we can say that he used both clinical and homeopathetic ways.

His Life and Death
Born on the island of Kos Dodecanese in around 460 BC, Hippocrates was the son and grandson of physicians, who practiced medicine in the local Asclepieion, the famous healing centre dedicated to god Asclepius. Hippocrates himself practiced medicine throughout his life, not only in the Asclepieion of Kos but also in other places and towns of Greece. Not much about his personal life is known, but sources say that he died around 377 BC in Larissa Thessaly, in one of his journeys. Other sources tell that Asclepius was over a hundred years old when he died.

Medical Schools
At that time, there were two medical schools that dominated in Greece: the Knidian and the Koan Schools of Medicine. The former concentrated on diagnosis, the later on prognosis. The former failed to achieve its purpose since in the Greek tradition it was forbidden to dissect a human body, so physicians knew very little of the human anatomy.

Hippocratic Theory and Practices
The Koan, or else Hippocratic, School developed certain theories that were based mostly on self-treatment. Hippocrates believed that a body became ill when there was an imbalance in the four humors: blood, black bile, yellow bile and phlegm. Medicine therefore aimed to restore this balance. Another Hippocratic concept was that each disease reached to a state of “crisis”, after which the disease would either subside or increase, leading eventually to the death of the patient. A relapse might occur depending on the number of days between the crisis and the contraction of the disease.

Hippocrates also developed an early homeopathetic theory: he believed that a human body has the power to heal itself or restore the balance of the four humors. Thus, complete rest and immobilization was recommended to patients to remove pressure from the point of pain and diffuse it all over the body. For this end, Hippocrates had developed special machineries, such as the Hippocratic bench, a bed to pull the body of the patient and diffuse pressure.

Nature could do a great job in healing illnesses, according to Hippocrates. He usually didn’t use drugs, except if they were natural balms and extracts. He also gave much attention to the sterilization of the patient and he was said to use clean water and wine to heal wounds. The Hippocratic School taught physicians to be strictly professional and to follow certain procedures. They had to be calm, honest, understanding, smart and very serious.

Clinical Medicine
However, the most important innovation of the Hippocratic School was that he made physicians keep a detailed record with all their observations and methods for each medical case separately, thinking that these records would be very helpful for the latter generations. In this way, Hippocrates founded clinical medicine. After many observations, he came to believe that diseases could be a matter of family inheritance, natural environment, lifestyle and food habits.

The Hippocratic Corpus

Hippocrates and his students had made remarkable achievements in the detection of various diseases and their symptoms. He even classified illnesses as acute, chronic, endemic and epidemic. All his clinical observations and medicinal applications are discussed in detail in the famous Hippocratic Corpus, which comprises of medical notes, textbooks, lectures, essays and researches. The most famous text of the Hippocratic Corpus is the Hippocratic Oath that physicians take even today upon their graduation.

Unfortunately, after the death of Hippocrates, all researches and observations on clinical case histories came to a stop. Probably his discoveries were so much respected that the physicians of the following centuries didn’t dare to investigate or question them. His clinical methods were utilized by the Arabs in the Middle Ages, by the Europeans after the Renaissance and by physicians till the 17th century, when medicine started to develop again as a science.

EL GRECO of Chania:

El Greco was a distinguished painter sculptor and was a native of Chania, Crete. This outstanding painter was born in the year 1541. After an eventful career as a painter, El Greco setteled down in Spain and he is regarded by the connoisseurs as the first of the genuine artisit belonging to the Spanish School. Although he was referred to as El Greco (“The Greek”), his real name was Domenikos Theotocopoulos and it was in this name that he put his signature in all his paintings using Greek letters.

The world of art and painting has very little information about this great artist’s formative years. What is more, there are just a few paintings that remain of his youthful period in Chania, notable among which is the recently discovered “Dormition of the Virgin“. If one refers to a noteworthy Cretean document dating back to 1566, El Greco is referred to as a master painter. He left Chania and migrated to Venice and on to Rome in 1570.

The legendary miniaturist Giulio Clovio, who incidentally came in contact with him was of the opinion that he was a disciple of Titan. But, it has to be admitted that of all the painters, it was Tintoretto who had the utmost influence on him. Even the great Michelangelo had a significant influence on his works.

Among the most noteworthy masterpieces belonging to El Greco’s Italian era are the two outstanding works, “Purification of the Temple” which is now in the possession of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and NG, Washington, and of course the magnificent portrait of Giulio Clovio. In the year 1577, El Greco moved to Toledo, where he spent the rest of his life untill his passing away. It was in Toledo that he mastered his craftsmanship and developed his trademark style wherein the figures take an elongated flame-like shape that are depicted in cold, bluish colors that is symbolic of immense spiritual longing.

The work that took him to Toledo was the high altarpiece that is adorned in the church of S. Domingo el Antiguo materialised through Diego de Castilla, who was the erstwhile Dean of Canons at Toledo Cathedral. El Greco reportedly met him at Rome. The altarpiece is conspicuous by its 4 meters high canvas depicting rather artistically The Assumption of the Virgin which is now showcased at the Art Institute of Chicago, was by far his best work to date.

Nonetheless, there were to be a series of master altarpieces of which mention must be made of the two most significant ones – the “El Espolio” in which Jesus Christ is depicted of being stripped of his garments while the other one was the “The Burial of Count Orgaz”.

These two outstanding works are symbolic of the heightened spiritual events and they have been projected in a rather mystical manner. Though, never to return to Chania, in the later stages of his life, El Greco went that extra mile to free his figures from the usual earthy limitations. In this regard, mention must be made of “The Adoration of the Shepherds” which was purposely painted for El Greco’s own tomb.

El Greco was also a very good portraitist as far as ecclesiastics were concerned. Worth mentioning are the portraits of Felix Paravicino and the Portrait of a Lady. The later in particular is symbolic of his lawful wife and is said to resemble Jeronima de las Cuevas. Apart from these, El Greco also painted two breathtaking spectacles of Toledo. The manner in which he choose his subjects, which were to say the least, very unique stems from the popular Toledo folklore that it was brought into existence by the ancestors of the Trojans.

As an artist, El Greco was very proud of his stature as an artist. He carried himself as an artist-philosopher rather than just another crafts person. He led an extravagant lifestyle but it seems luck eluded him as far as gaining patronage from the rich and the famous were concerned for promoting his outstanding works. It is also true that towards the end of his life, he was beset with financial constraints as well.

His workshops were indeed very intriguing and was replete with numerous replicas his earlier paintings. A characteristic feature of his works were that they were very personal, so much so that his most ardent followers were his own son as well as Luis Tristan.

There was considerable interest on El Greco’s art works particularly towards the later stages of the 19th century. The coming of the age of Expressionism in the 20th century saw El Greco’s art works coming into the limelight. His works are unusual as they are strange to the average art connoisseurs, so much so that, some are of the opinion that he was stark raving mad while another school of thought hold him in very high esteem as a painter particularly in the manner in which he depicted the spiritual renaissance of his country in many of his masterpieces.