Plato (c. 427-347 BC) was Socrates’ student and one of the most influential philosophers in Western civilization. Born to a politically active and wealthy noble Athenian family, (Plato’s mother was descended from Solon, the famous lawgiver credited with major democratic reforms that paved the way for Athen’s Golden Age) Plato grew up during the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC), a conflict that arose among Athens, Sparta, and their allies. This civil war was the beginning of the end of the Athenian Golden Age, and created an opening for later conquest by Philip of Macedon. The principles of democracy in Athens were lost, as was much of the cultural wealth of both city states. Continue reading Plato
Aristotle, or Aristoteles, (c.384-322 BC) was born in Stagirus in the Greek colony of Chalcidice, which lies to the north of Greece near Macedon. Aristotle was never an Athenian citizen, despite having spent most of his life in Athens. Nicomachus, Aristotle’s father, was court physician to King Amyntas III of Macedon.
Aristotle came to Athens to study and joined Plato’s Academy in 367 BC. Aristotle became Plato’s best student and was generally felt to be Plato’s successor. He remained at the Academy until Plato’s death in 347 BC, when, bypassed in the election of the Academy’s next president, Aristotle left Athens with a few students and friends. Continue reading Aristotle
The Byzantine-Arab conflicts that lasted from the seventh to the early eleventh century provide the context for Byzantine heroic poetry written in the vernacular Greek language. The most important and oldest of these works are the Song of Armouris and the epic romance Digenis Akrites.
The first of these works, the Song of Armouris, 197 lines of which survive, relates the deeds of the young Arestis as he battles against the Saracens on his way to Syria where his father, Armouris, is being held hostage. Arestis crosses the Euphrates and succeeds in defeating the Arab armies single-handed. Just one Arab survives the encounter, although he has lost a hand, and it is he who bears the news of the defeat to the Arab emir. Arestis threatens to slay the Arabs if they fail to release his father. The emir, alarmed by these developments, yields, releases Armouris and proposes that their respective children seal the deal in marriage. Although the plot is complex, the narrative is fast-moving and lively. And while the style is plain it has considerable descriptive power. The poem contains much of the formulaic texture of oral poetry. Continue reading The Song of Armouris and Digenis Akrites
The spread of literacy and education among the urban population of Crete, the organized network of the book trade (most books at this time were printed in Venice), the availability of the cultural goods of western Europe and the growth of private libraries, particularly those built up by the wealthy bourgeoisie and nobility who had studied in Italy (primarily Padua and Ferrara), were the key components of the cultural and intellectual life of Crete from the mid sixteenth century onwards.
The foundation of a number of academies (The Academy of the Vivi in Rethymnon in 1561, of the Stravaganti in Candia in 1590, and of the Sterili in Chania in c. 1630) based on Italian models was the result of the Cretans’ first-hand experience of the cultural and intellectual life of Italian cities and their desire to recreate something of this life in their homeland. During the last century of Venetian rule in Crete the society of the island attained a confidence and maturity such it had never seen before. Continue reading Erotokritos
– The Poet
Constantine P. Cavafy (Konstantinos Petrou Kavafis, or Καβαφης) is a leading figure in 20th century Greek literature. He was born in Alexandria on 29 April 1863, into a wealthy merchant family from Constantinople. After the early death of his father, Peter John Cavafy, in 1872, Cavafy was brought to England and lived in Liverpool for five years. But, apart from three years in Constantinople, from 1882 to 1885, he spent the rest of his life in Alexandria.