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PM Mitsotakis Exalts Greek Economy in Meeting New York Leaders

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The Greek Premier interviewed by Bloomberg TV on Thursday. Credit: PM’s press office

Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Thursday in New York that the growth of the Greek economy may exceed an impressive 5.9 percent for the entire year.

In an interview for Bloomberg television, Mitsotakis hit an optimistic note on the prospects of the Greek economy, stressing that “the growth rate reached 16.2 percent in the second quarter of 2021 and a forecast of 5.9 percent may not be high enough.”

He also said that foreign investment interest remained high as well.

In the interview, the Greek leader, who is in New York for the 76th General Assembly of the United Nations, touched on several issues, including the climate crisis, energy cost, and relations with Turkey.

He spoke of Greece’s plans to manage the climate crisis, which had hit the Mediterranean basin hard, with the aid of EU Recovery Funds and foresaw that electricity bills would not rise very high in the next 3 to 6 months, while efforts were being made at Greek and EU level to absorb the repercussions of a global rise in cost.

He revealed that Greece may shut down coal-fired power plants even sooner than planned. “We said we would do it by 2028 …I think it will be possible to do it by 2025.”

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Greek PM Mitsotakis meets with Michael Bloomberg in New York on Thursday. Credit: PM’s press office

Asked about the soaring energy costs, he said the Greek government has taken steps to limit its impact on consumers. He also said that Greece has called for the creation of a European Union-funded mechanism to use revenue from additional sales of carbon permits to curb the impact of soaring energy costs.

“We have made a commitment to support electricity users in Greece. We are doing it by providing state funding but also encouraging electricity producers to absorb part of the cost increase,” he explained, adding that Greeks “will not see significant increases” in electricity bills in the next three to six months.

In terms of Turkey, he said relations were improved this year, but there were complicated legal issues related to marine zone delimitations. Similar issues with Italy and Egypt had been resolved through agreements with each country, he said, but in Turkey’s case the only resolution would come through International Law.

Collaboration with Turkey is also necessary, the Greek premier said, on the migration issue, to control migration flows and fight the human trafficking in the Aegean Sea successfully.

He also forecast that 2022 will be a bumper year for tourism in Greece.

Meeting with Microsoft’s Brad Smith

Mitsotakis also met with the President of Microsoft, Brad Smith, with whom, government sources say, he has an excellent personal relationship.

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The Greek Premier meets with Microsoft’s Brad Smith. Credit: PM’s Press Office

In 2020, Brad Smith announced a large investment in Greece, which is expected to reach one billion euros ($1.17 billion) and — as he noted — shows the company’s confidence in the Greek economy.

As part of the plan, Microsoft announced its intent to build new datacenters which will establish a Microsoft Cloud region in the country, adding Greece to the world’s largest cloud infrastructure footprint and delivering access to low-latency, enterprise-grade cloud services.

To support citizens in both their professional and personal ambitions, Microsoft also announced its plan to give digital technologies skills to approximately 100,000 people in Greece by 2025.

“It is an important day for Greece,” Smith declared, adding that this is “the biggest investment of Microsoft in Greece during the 28 years of its presence in the country.”

Mitsotakis to speak at the UN General Assembly on Friday

The issue of combatting the climate crisis will have a prominent place in the speech of the Greek Prime Minister at the 76th UN General Assembly, on Friday. Mitsotakis is expected to underline the important initiatives which have already been adopted by the Greek government to address the climate crisis, noting that decisive action is urgent, otherwise the consequences will be disastrous for everyone.

The Greek PM’s goal at the UN and during his scheduled meeting with business leaders, according to government sources, is to strengthen the dynamism and openness of the country, while emphasizing its leading role in the wider region, but also in Europe.

He will also show that Greece is firmly at the forefront of meeting modern challenges, taking initiatives for the new challenges, such as climate change and environmental protection.

Among the Prime Minister’s goals will also be the strengthening of relations with the Greek community. He will be meeting with members and representatives of the Greek Diaspora at a dinner on Thursday evening as well.

On Friday, Mitsotakis will visit Ground Zero in New York, where he will be given a tour of the brand-new St. Nicholas Shrine by Archbishop Elpidophoros of America. It was built on the site of the old church destroyed in the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

New Conference to Shed Light on Greek War of Independence

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Harvard University Massachusetts Hall. A new conference, beginning tomorrow, will shed new light on the glorious Greek War of Independence, begun 200 years ago this year. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

On the occasion of the Bicentennial of the Greek War of Independence, the George Seferis Chair of Modern Greek Studies at Harvard University and the Constantine Karamanlis Chair of Hellenic and European Studies of the Fletcher School of Tufts University are sponsoring an international conference called “New Perspectives on the Greek Revolution.”

Beginning on Friday, a group of eminent scholars from different disciplines will discuss their  important event in European history in a comparative and diachronic perspective. Special emphasis will be based on the broader cultural, political, and economic context of the Greek War of Independence.

The conference will take place from September 24-25, 2021.

Introductory remarks will be made by Stratos Efthymiou, Consul General of Greece in Boston, and professors Constantine Arvanitopoulos (the Karamalis Chair) and Panagiotis Roilos ( the Seferis Chair). The conference  will feature the following speakers: Preofessors Mark Beissinger, Alan Herinkson, Costas Douzinas, Patreica Higonnet, Christina Koulouri, Konstantinos Botsiou, Nikos Alivatsos, Sophia Laiou, AlexandrosKyrou, Dimitris Keridis, Elizabeth Prodromou, Spyridon Vlacholpoulos, Kostas Lavdas, Evangelos Prontzas, Kostas Kostas, George Alogoskoufis, and Petros Vamvakas.

The Greek War of Independence was waged after more than 400 years of rule by the Ottoman Empire.

In 1814, three like-minded Diaspora Greeks came together in Odessa, in present-day Ukraine, at that time home to a thriving Greek community.

The three men formed a secret society called the Filiki Eteria (The Society of Friends)  with the decidedly “unfriendly” purpose of initiating an armed uprising to rid Greece of the Ottomans.

The three founders were Nikolaos Skoufas, from the province of Arta, Emmanuil Xanthos, from Patmos and Athanasios Tsakalov, from Ioannina.

The Filiki Eteria recruited mostly Phanariot Greeks from Russia, local chieftains from Greece, and Serbs into its ranks.

Two of its early outstanding members were Alexandros Ypsilantis, a prince and high-ranking officer of the Imperial Russian Cavalry, and Moldovan lord Michael Soutzos.

Future Greek War of Independence leaders such as Theodoros Kolokotronis, Odysseas Androutsos, Dimitris Plapoutas and the Metropolitan Germanos of Old Patras joined the effort as well.

In October of 1820, Ypsilantis decided to begin the revolution in Moldova.

The Turkish army met Ypsilanti’s men at Iasi. The Sacred Band and the army of volunteers were slaughtered in the Battle at Iasi.

Nevertheless, the revolutionary seed of the Filiki Eteria was planted, and the slogan “Liberty or Death” began to be uttered more and more on the lips of Greeks. The tide had turned.

To see the full agenda of the conference and lineup of speakers, please visit the following link: tiny url.com/Harvard-classics-events and tiny url.com/karamanlis-events.

To register for the conference please visit this site.

For those who would like to view the conference via Zoom, please register here.

Athens is Focal Point of International Press in Late September

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Athens view. The city will host a number of international exhibitions. Credit: Thodoris Karakozidis, Wikimedia Commons

Apart from its history and its museums, Athens is expected to become the focus of international press in late September because of a series of exhibitions and conferences taking place in the city.

Various Athens sites, including the famous Benaki museum and the National Museum of Modern Art, will attract the attention and capture the imagination of the world press once again after many months of scaled-down events due to the pandemic.

The 7th Athens Biennale ECLIPSE, co-curated by the Omsk Social Club and Larry Ossei-Mensah under the artistic direction of Poka-Yio, takes place from September 24 to November 28. The exhibition features artists based in North and South America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Europe, many of whom will be exhibiting in Greece for the first time.

The exhibition title highlights the obscured perspective of reality caused by the constant state of flux we are experiencing in our society now. ECLIPSE engages the social, political and spiritual changes of today’s global construct and in Athens itself, as a rising metropolis located at the intersection of Europe, Asia and Africa both physically and historically.

Eclipse, Benaki Museum
Poster of the “Eclipse” exhibition in the Benaki Museum, Athens. Credit: Benaki Museum

International Press in Athens for Biennalle, other events

This year’s Athens Bienalle will highlight the works of artists from the African Diaspora in addition to other artistic voices that have historically been pushed to the outskirts of modern art. This engagement will be articulated through the use of a “Black Lens” as one of the frameworks, alongside a complimentary framework of artistic interventions that use dynamic manifestations to compose unique practical narratives. Their aim is to strategically address the viewers imagination of potential parallel worlds and futures.

Another event to capture the world press and its lenses is the annual conference “Quality of Life” sponsored by the internationally renowned magazine “Monocle,” which will be hosted in the Greek capital for the first time. Monocle invites those who are interested in participating in its famous conference entitled Quality of Life, from September 23-25 ​​in Athens, to the Benaki Museum, located at 138 Piraeus Street.

Noting that Athens is “a city on the rise”, the journalists of the respected medium, which highlights important current issues from around the world through its pages, chose the Greek capital as the setting of their 6th annual conference, after Lisbon, Vienna, Berlin, Zurich and Madrid.

At the conference, Athens will host more than 25 famous speakers and 130 representatives from the international arena of business, culture, architecture, science, journalism etc., thus gaining a great opportunity to be promoted abroad.

According to the magazine, Athens was chosen on the grounds that “new businesses are flourishing in the city and the art scene is prospering, factors that have forced the talented generation to return to its base along with ambitious businessmen operating abroad. All these creative ‘players’ are investing in hospitality, design, technology and industry, as the city consolidates its position as the most open and rapidly growing ‘outpost’ in the Eastern Mediterranean.”

During the event, which will last a total of three days, organized tours will take place in some of the most interesting places in Athens and the businessmen of the city will be given the opportunity to get in touch with their colleagues from all over the world, aiming at networking.

Athens’ “Kallos” (beauty) displayed for the world

Finally, another event to attract visitors and international media alike is the exhibition “KALLOS. The Ultimate Beauty”, which will be hosted from the 29th of September 2021 until the 16th of January 2022 at the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens. The musum continues its series of ground-breaking archaeological exhibitions focusing on Man in Antiquity, and in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture and Sports.

The exhibition includes 300 antiquities from museums, Ephorates of Antiquities and collections in Greece, Italy and the Vatican, and is structured in two major sections, Beautification and Beauty. Through these antiquities, various aspects of the notion of Kállos in everyday life and philosophical discourse in ancient Greece are presented.

This particularly important and large-scale exhibition will occupy all the exhibition spaces of the Museum of Cycladic Art.

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The poster for the “Kallos” exhibition in Athens. Credit: Museum of Cycladic Art

The ancient Greek word Kállos essentially means beauty and is associated with both the female and the male sex. However, the concept of Kállos in its ultimate dimension is not a word signifying merely beauty. It is an ideal that was developed in ancient Greek thought,  expressed through the poems of the epic (8th century BC) and the lyric (7th – 6th century BC) poets.

From the fifth/fourth century BC onward it was formulated gradually in the texts of philosophers.

They describe it as a combination of the beauty of physical appearance with the virtues of the soul. The exhibition in the Museum of Cycladic Art refers to this dimension of Kállos, highlighting the contribution of ancient Greece to the definition of the meaning of “Beauty” through history.

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The Poseidon Temple photographed on the cover of the New York Times Magazine. Credit: Vera Lutter, NYT

As the cherry on top of the international media focus on Athens, the Poseidon temple in Sounio, the southern suburb of Athens, graces the cover of the renowned New York Times Magazine next week.

The extremely dramatic photo was taken by American photographer Vera Lutter using a technique which combines three camera obscuras, printing the photo negative and developing it in various Athens labs. All in all she stayed in the Greek capital for two weeks, capturing various ancient Greek sites with her lens.

With all that, Athens is expected to become a sort of world media capital in the next two weeks. The city municipality and the relevant government ministries will be doing everything possible to promote Athens to international journalists covering these exhibitions. It’s the ideal opportunity for a tourist boost in the post pandemic world.

The Liberation Of Tripolitsa in The Greek War of Independence

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The Siege of Tripolitsa. Credit: Public Domain

The siege of Tripolitsa, Greece (today’s city of Tripolis) was a pivotal moment in the Greek War of Independence and it remains a point of contention between Greeks and Turks, as reflected in the way it is portrayed by their respective historians.

It took place on September 23 1821, exactly 200 years ago today.

The siege (and the ensuing massacre) was an early victory for the Greeks, just six months after the declaration of the War of Independence in March 1821, but it also became notorious for the atrocities against the Muslim inhabitants of the city and the Jews who entered the city, terrified by the wrath of the Greek rebels after the siege.

As historian of the War W. Alison Phillips noted, “the other atrocities of Greeks paled before the awful scenes which followed the storming of Tripolitsa.” In the three days following the capture of the city, Muslim and Jewish inhabitants of Tripolitsa were exterminated. The total number of Muslims killed during the sacking was estimated by Thomas Gordon, who arrived in the city shortly after its fall, at 8,000.

Beyond the 2,500 Albanian troops vouched for in advance, only a tiny contingent of Turkish cavalry escaping to Nauplion, along with a few women who were taken as slaves, the harem of Hurshid Pasha and a few notable Turks held for ransom were spared. There were about one hundred foreign officers present at the scenes of atrocities and looting committed in Tripolitsa.

Situated in the middle of the Peloponnesian peninsula, Tripolitsa was the preeminent town in southern Greece, as well as the administrative center for Ottoman rule in the Peloponnese, thus making it an important target for the Greek revolutionaries. Many rich Turks and Jews lived there, together with Ottoman refugees driven there by the outbreak of the revolt, escaping massacres in the country’s southern districts.

Unfortunately for them, this spelled disaster after the Greek rebels finally took control of the city.

Ottoman massacres before Tripolitsa in the Greek War of Independence

It was also a potent symbol for revenge, its Greek population having been massacred by the Ottoman forces in the past: the most recent of such events had occurred just a few months earlier, following the failed rebellion at Moldavia in early 1821. Previous massacres of the town’s Greeks occurred in 1715 (during the Ottoman reconquest of the Morea) and on Holy Monday, March 29, 1770, after the failed Orlov Revolt.

The de facto commander in chief of the Greek forces, Theodoros Kolokotronis, now focused on the capital of the province. He set up fortified camps in the surrounding area, establishing several headquarters under the command of his captain Anagnostaras in the nearby villages.

In addition, a fresh forces of Maniot troops under Petros Mavromichalis, the Bey of Mani, arrived and camped at Valtetsi to prepare to part in the final assault on the Ottoman capital of Morea. The Turko-Albanian garrison was reinforced in May by some troops and cavalry sent by Hursid Pasha from the north, led by the Kehayabey Mustafa.

The rebels’ decisive victory in the Battle of Valtetsi and several other victorious clashes in Doliana and Vervaina, meant that the Greek revolutionaries had effective control over the majority of the areas in the Central and Southern Peloponnese.

The Tripolitsa Battle and the Ensuing Massacre

Although the siege of the city had been ongoing for several months, its progress was slow, as the Greeks were unable to maintain a tight blockade and were often scattered by sorties of Turkish cavalry. However, conditions were worsening inside the walls regarding the scarcity of food and potable water. Taking advantage of this, Kolokotronis began quiet negotiations with the leaders of the besieged, aiming at an orderly capitulation.

He wisely convinced the Albanian contingent, led by Elmas Bey, to make a separate agreement for safe passage to Argos, thereby greatly reducing the strength of the defenders. The deal itself was guaranteed by Dimitrios Plapoutas, the renowned Koliopoulos. The city was taken before the 2,500 Albanians had departed, but still they had a safe passage out of the Peloponnese a few days after the fall.

The massacre that followed on the next three days (Friday through Sunday) resulted in the death of between 6,000 and 15,000 Turks and Jews who lived in Tripolitsa.

Eyewitness and Historians’ Accounts of Tripolitsa as part of the Greek War of Independence

The account of William St. Clair, one of the foreign officers present in the siege got like this: “Upwards of ten thousand Turks were put to death. Prisoners who were suspected of having concealed their money were tortured.

“Their arms and legs were cut off and they were slowly roasted over fires. Pregnant women were cut open, their heads cut off, and dogs’ heads stuck between their legs. From Friday to Sunday the air was filled with the sound of screams… One Greek boasted that he personally killed ninety people. The Jewish colony was systematically tortured…

“For weeks afterwards, starving Turkish children running helplessly about the ruins were being cut down and shot at by exultant Greeks… The wells were poisoned by the bodies that had been thrown in.”

The massacre at Tripolitsa was the final and largest in a sequence of massacres against Muslims in the Peloponnese during the first months of the revolt. Historians estimate that upwards of twenty thousand Muslim men, women and children were killed during this time, often by the exhortations of the local clergy.

Historians believe that although the Jews were murdered, they were not targeted specifically, they just weren’t distinguished from the Ottomans, as the wrath of the rebels was uncontrollable.

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Statue of Kolokotronis at Nafplion. Credit: C Messier CC BY-SA 4.0/Wikipedia

The commander in chief of the Greek rebels, Theodoros Kolokotronis, confirms both the eyewitnesses and later historians concerning the massacre. He writes in his memoirs: “Inside the town they had begun to massacre. … I rushed to the palace … ‘If you wish to hurt these Albanians,’ I cried, ‘kill me rather; for, while I am a living man, whoever first makes the attempt, him will I kill the first.’

“I was faithful to my word of honor… Tripolitsa was three miles in circumference. The (Greek) host which entered it, cut down and were slaying men, women, and children from Friday till Sunday. Thirty-two thousand were reported to have been slain. One Hydriot (boasted that he had) killed ninety. About a hundred Greeks were killed; but the end came (thus): a proclamation was issued that the slaughter must cease.”

The capture of the city of Tripolis inarguably had a salutary effect on the morale of the revolutionaries. After this event, Greeks saw that their way toward victory was possible, with the entire Peloponnese now bearing hardly any trace of Ottomans.

On the other hand, it also marked the first strong point of discord in a previously apparently cohesive force, since the atrocities committed during the siege were at the time deplored and criticized by some Phanariot figures of the Greek War of Independence such as Dimitrios Ypsilantis and Alexandros Mavrokordatos.

Guide to the Classics: Homer’s Iliad

Homer Iliad
The battle between Penthesilea and Achilles during the Trojan War. Credit: Marie-Lan-Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.5

A central idea in the Iliad – a poetic work by Homer focused on the war for Troy – is the inevitability of death. The poem held a special place in antiquity, and has resonated throughout the millennia since.

By Chris Mackie

Homer’s Iliad is usually thought of as the first work of European literature — and many would say it is the greatest. It tells part of the saga of the city of Troy and the war that took place there. In fact the Iliad takes its name from “Ilios”, an ancient Greek word for “Troy”, situated in what is Turkey today. This story had a central place in Greek mythology.

The poem deals with a very short period in the tenth year of the Trojan War. This sometimes surprises modern readers who expect the whole story of Troy (as, for instance, in Wolfgang Petersen’s 2004 film Troy). But Homer and other early epic poets confined their narratives to particular periods in the war, such as its origins, key martial encounters, the fall of the city, or the returns of the soldiers to Greece. There is no doubt that Homer and other early poets could rely on a very extensive knowledge of the Trojan War among their audiences.

The Greeks defend their ships from the Trojans
The Greeks defend their ships from the Trojans. Credit: Wikipedia/Public domain.

The central figure in the Iliad is Achilles, the son of Peleus (a mortal aristocrat) and Thetis (a sea-goddess). He comes from the north of Greece, and is therefore something of an outsider, because most of the main Greek princes in the poem come from the south. Achilles is young and brash, a brilliant fighter, but not a great diplomat. When he gets into a dispute with Agamemnon, the leading Greek prince in the war, and loses his captive princess Briseis to him, he refuses to fight and remains in his camp.

He stays there for most of the poem, until his friend Patroclus is killed. He then explodes back on to the battlefield, kills the Trojan hero Hector, who had killed Patroclus, and mutilates his body.

The Iliad ends with the ransom of Hector’s body by his old father Priam, who embarks on a mission to Achilles’ camp in the gloom of night to get his son’s body back. It is worth noting that the actual fall of Troy, via the renowned stratagem of Greeks hidden within a wooden horse, is not described in the Iliad, although it was certainly dealt with in other poems.

All of this takes place under the watchful gaze of the Olympian gods, who are both actors and audience in the Iliad. The Olympians are divided over the fate of Troy, just as the mortals are – in the Iliad the Trojan war is a cosmic conflict, not just one played out at the human level between Greeks and non-Greeks. Ominously for Troy, the gods on the Greek side, notably Hera (queen of the gods), Athena (goddess of wisdom and war), and Poseidon (god of the land and sea), represent a much more powerful force than the divine supporters of Troy, of whom Apollo (the archer god and god of afar) is the main figure.

The many faces of Homer

The Iliad is only one poetic work focused on the war for Troy; many others have not survived. But such is its quality and depth that it had a special place in antiquity, and probably survived for that reason.

We know virtually nothing about Homer and whether he also created the other poem in his name, the Odyssey, which recounts the return journey of Odysseus from the Trojan War, to the island of Ithaca. The Iliad was probably put together around 700 BC, or a bit later, presumably by a brilliant poet immersed in traditional skills of oral composition (i.e., “Homer”). This tradition of oral composition probably reaches back hundreds of years before the Iliad.

Early epic poetry can be a way of maintaining the cultural memory of major conflicts. History and archaeology also teach us that there may have been a historical “Trojan War” at the end of the second millennium BC (at Hissarlik in western Turkey), although it was very unlike the one that Homer describes.

The Iliad was composed as one continuous poem. In its current arrangement (most likely after the establishment of the Alexandrian library in the early 3rd century BC), it is divided into 24 books corresponding to the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet.

It has a metrical form known as “dactylic hexameter” – a meter also associated with many other epic poems in antiquity (such as the Odyssey, and the Aeneid, the Roman epic by Virgil). In the Odyssey, a bard called Demodocus sings on request in an aristocratic context about the Wooden Horse at Troy, giving a sense of the kind of existence “Homer” might have led.

The language of the Iliad is a conflation of different regional dialects, which means that it doesn’t belong to a particular ancient city as most other ancient Greek texts do. It therefore had a strong resonance throughout the Greek world, and is often thought of as a “pan-Hellenic” poem, a possession of all the Greeks. Likewise the Greek attack on Troy was a collective quest drawing on forces from across the Greek world. Pan-Hellenism, therefore, is central to the Iliad.

Death and War

A central idea in the Iliad is the inevitability of death (as also with the earlier Epic of Gilgamesh). The poignancy of life and death is enhanced by the fact that the victims of war are usually young. Achilles is youthful and headstrong, and has a goddess for a mother, but even he has to die. We learn that he had been given a choice – a long life without heroic glory, or a short and glorious life in war. His choice of the latter marks him out as heroic, and gives him a kind of immortality. But the other warriors too, including the Trojan hero Hector, are prepared to die young.

Death of Achilles, Iliad
“Death of Achilles” by Peter Paul Rubens. Credit: Wikipedia/Public domain.

The gods, by contrast, don’t have to worry about dying of course. But they can be affected by death. Zeus’s son Sarpedon dies within the Iliad, and Thetis has to deal with the imminent death of her son Achilles. After his death, she will lead an existence of perpetual mourning for him. Immortality in Greek mythology can be a mixed blessing.

The Iliad also has much to say about war. The atrocities in the war at Troy are committed by Greeks on Trojans. Achilles commits human sacrifice within the Iliad itself and mutilates the body of Hector, and there are other atrocities told in other poems.

The Trojan saga in the early Greek sources tells of the genocide of the Trojans, and the Greek poets explored some of the darkest impulses of human conduct in war. In the final book of the Iliad, Achilles and Priam, in the most poignant of settings, reflect upon the fate of human beings and the things they do to one another.

Postscripts and plagiarists

It was often said that the Iliad was a kind of “bible of the Greeks” insofar as its reception within the Greek world, and beyond, was nothing short of extraordinary. A knowledge of Homer became a standard part of Greek education, be it formal or informal.

Ancient writers after Homer, even the rather austere Greek historian Thucydides in the 5th century BC, assume the historicity of much of the subject-matter of the Iliad. Likewise, Alexander the Great (356-323BC) seems to have been driven by a quest to be the “new Achilles”. Plutarch tells a delightful story that Alexander slept with a dagger under his pillow at night, together with a copy of Homer’s Iliad. This particular copy had been annotated by Alexander’s former tutor, the philosopher Aristotle. One can only imagine its value today had it survived.

In the Roman world, the poet Virgil (70-19BC) set out to write an epic poem about the origins of Rome from the ashes of Troy. His poem, called the Aeneid (after Aeneas, a traditional Trojan founder of Rome), is written in Latin, but is heavily reliant on Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.

My own view is that Virgil knew Homer by heart, and he was probably criticized in his own life for the extent of his reliance on Homer. But tradition records his response that “it is easier to steal Heracles’ club than steal one line from Homer”. This response, be it factual or not, records the spell that Homer’s Iliad cast over antiquity — and most of the time ever since he wrote.

Chris Mackie is a Professor of Greek Studies at La Trobe University. This article was published at The Conversation and is republished under a Creative Commons License.

New microCOVID Tool Allows Users to Calculate Covid-19 Risk

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A new tool called microCOVID can tell you just how much risk of coronavirus infection you face in certain situations. Credit: Wikimedia/Public Domain

A new online calculator called microCOVID can give you an estimate of your risk of contracting Covid-19 by just inputting information about your environment and what is going on around you.

The online application uses the most recent data available to give you an approximation of your chances of contracting the coronavirus in different settings.

MicroCOVID is an attempt to collate information and calculate all the risks involving the virus, which are changing all the time as the Delta variant makes its way into every county of the country and virus measures change every single day.

A certain scenario — for example, a vaccinated person who is eating at an indoor restaurant with his friends, in any county of the United States — will produce an estimated numerical risk of contracting the coronavirus.

Ben Shaya, a contributor to the microCOVID project, explains to reporters “It gives you a kind of common playing ground for understanding all sorts of activities,” adding “It separates some of the emotional load out of it.”

 

Shaya, who lived in a “pandemic pod” of housemates and friends during the worst of the Covid-19 crisis, wished there were a more concrete way of knowing just what the risks were regarding partaking in some of his favorite activities once life started up again.

He and his friends “wanted to have a better way to be fair about what people could do,” he explains.

Taking this to its logical conclusion, Shaya and his friends created a mathematical model that employs the latest research on masking, the efficacy of vaccines, the number of current cases in each county of the United States, and other information, and gives that a numerical value.

Initially intending the tool to be used by them alone after creating it in May of 2020, it was only a matter of a few months before they went on to create a version for the general public as well.

The microCOVID website actually includes two different tools: a calculator and a risk tracker. The calculator, which can be used quickly to assess the exact risk of a single activity, can be used on the fly.

The risk tracker takes notice of all a person’s activities that they input to come up with an overall risk score to not only give them a larger view of their coronavirus risk but to enable them to share that information with others.

MicroCOVID mask
A microCOVID graph shows the relative efficacy of different types of masks against Covid-19. Credit: Facebook/microCOVID

From something used by just a few friends, Shaya’s brainchild grew to include dozens of volunteer collaborators over the next several months — even including mathematicians, data scientists and a primary care clinician to help determine risks.

All risk of contracting the coronavirus is expressed in microCovids, which represent a one-in-one-million chance of contracting Covid-19.

The basic level of risk is 10,000 microCOVIDs per person each year, which represents a 1 percent chance of contracting Covid-19, according to Shaya.

Some scenarios that users can choose include attending a crowded party or just meeting one friend for dinner; they then must enter information such as what type of mask they are planning to wear, whether or not they are fully vaccinated, and if the event will be taking place indoors or outdoors.

Much like the maps used by national centers for disease control, Shaya’s tool uses color codes to denote risk. Someone who lives in Manhattan but who is fully vaccinated and who also wears an N95 mask might incur risk of approximately 4 microCOVIDs if they went grocery shopping for the period of one hour, for example.

Having a default budget of 200 microCOVIDs for each week per person, such an activity would be considered a “low risk,” or green, thing to do.

In contrast, someone else from the same area but who has had no vaccinations at all and refuses to wear a mask would incur a risk approaching 80 microCOVIDs. It might not sound like a lot, but that is almost half the risk for one week used up in one shopping trip.

Complex activities involving weddings and other major public events can also be put through the calculator to arrive at the relative risk posed.

An unvaccinated person attending an outdoor wedding in Miami at which there will be 100 guests — some of whom are fully vaccinated and some who are not. Of course, because there will be eating and drinking, no one can wear a mask during that part of the celebrations. All told, it may mean five hours of interaction with individuals who care not socially distancing.

According to microCOVID, this is a scenario that most likely should be avoided since the risk is calculated to be approximately 3,000 microCOVIDs, or what it considers to be “dangerously high risk.”

If the person in question him or herself is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, however, that lessens the chances that they could become infected; in that case, it would still be considered “very high risk,” though, at 500 microCOVIDs.

All of the calculator’s parameters are adaptable, so users can change their budget depending on their particular concerns and any issues that people around them might have.

Jenny Wong, one of the contributors to the microCOVID project, says “Nobody thinks they’re being dangerous. ‘Careful’ means different things with different people.”

The risk tracker can simply be viewed like a financial budget, according to Wong, making it clearer just what the implications are of engaging in certain activities. Activities that are riskier might be passed over for other, equally risky, events that are more important later on in the week. Wong says that enables people to “save up for the things that matter to them.”

Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease doctor at the University of California, San Francisco, who is not involved in microCOVID, states “The way we’ve posed the pandemic is that any venture outside your home is very risky, and anything inside is fine. And that, of course, is not exactly how life works. It tells you okay, how do you directly compare eating at a restaurant to sitting on a plane for three hours?”

The Delta variant threw a bit of a monkey wrench into the algorithms, but the microCOVID team dealt with its threat by updating update the calculator and risk tracker to account for its greater virulence.

Wong stated that this means the relative risk of many daily activities has been significantly altered. “I went from, ‘I can do this once a week,’ to maybe a once-every-two-months activity,” she explains.

Even with amazing tools like microCOVID risk assessments, this doesn’t mean people can behave with impunity just because they use it. F. Perry Wilson, an epidemiologist at Yale University, who is not involved in microCOVID, is wary of the tool in that it can provide “a false sense of security,” he warns, adding, it “might give people sort of permission to behave in ways that might put them in more danger than they appreciate.”

The Most Notorious Antiquities Smuggler in Modern Greece

Antiquities smuggler Greece
Corinthian style bronze horse statuette from 6th century BC exhibited at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. Credit: Jastrow/Wikimedia Commons CC BY 3.0

The name of German national Stefan Guericke will go down in history as the most notorious antiquities smuggler in modern Greece.

The audacious smuggler operated in Greece from the early 1960s until the late 1990s and had been imprisoned four times — unfortunately, however, he got out of jail that many times as well.

The last time Guericke left prison was as an escapee. It was Saturday morning, October 22, 1994. But, as the saying goes, the criminal always returns to the scene of the crime.

In January 1995, he was extradited from Switzerland after his arrest for trying to sell stolen ancient Greek antiquities. He went to prison again but was subsequently mysteriously released by Greek authorities.

After his release, there was only hearsay about his antiquity-smuggling activities in the country. Some say he left for good at the end of 1996 — with a suitcase full of yet more precious antiquities.

According to another rumor, he continued his illegal activities until the early 2000s.

The beginning of Guericke’s life of smuggling

Stefan Guericke was born in 1931 in Indonesia to German parents. After graduating from school, he went to Munich, where he began his studies in archeology.

He specialized in prehistory and the fine arts, subjects on which he completed his doctoral dissertation. Among the skills he developed was his fluency in the Greek language.

He finished his studies with a PhD and traveled to Greece with the title of doctor of archaeology.

However, it turned out that his purpose was not to take part in archeological excavations and study new finds. The German scientist had decided to use his knowledge merely to become rich as a smuggler of precious antiquities.

Having a respected doctorate in archaeology, he had established connections in Europe in order to sell the stolen antiquities.

Guericke knew that Greece was an inexhaustible source of ancient wealth, and at that time much of it was almost unguarded and accessible to anyone who had the means and knowledge to explore it, even for illegal purposes.

The antiquities smuggler set out to locate and acquire his illegal merchandise and immediately promote it to foreign collectors.

It is impossible to accurately calculate the number and value of the antiquities he stole during the first period.

The first time Guericke was tracked down by Greek authorities was in November of 1963, while he was ready to take off from Greece on a private aircraft loaded with ancient jewelry of great value.

He was thenbrought to justice on charges of smuggling antiquities. However, with the help of a good lawyer who claimed that the jewelry was only imitation, he was released.

The criminal saga of the German antiquities smuggler

Tragically, Guericke’s first encounter with the law did not discourage him. He continued his illegal activities in various parts of Greece, frequently changing his identity, his appearance and his collaborators.

In June of 1968, Greek authorities tracked him down again when they dismantled a stolen antiquities ring. Finally getting to the heart of that ring, they found that Guericke had been the mastermind.

This time, the 37-year-old German antiquities smuggler was arrested, put on trial and sentenced to 12 months in prison.

Before serving half of his sentence in a Thessaloniki prison, however, the prosecutor requested that he should be transferred to Athens. During his transfer, the German man somehow managed to escape.

In November of 1968, the authorities arrested him again. This time, though, he was trying to escape from Greece in a car — which was loaded with ancient artifacts and fake papers.

This time the court showed no leniency. The judge sentenced him to seven and one half years in prison, which Guericke served on the island of Corfu.

Even though Guericke served his sentence in full, he had not repented of the error of his ways after he was released in 1975. On the contrary, he came out of prison more determined — and even more skillful.

His right hand became an Athenian contractor, and from then on the antiquities smuggler was not content with ancient statuettes and jewelry, but aimed higher.

This time he organized a ring that stole even more valuable objects, such as Byzantine icons of immense value, large statues, ancient clay amphorae, coins and other valuables.

For four years, the ring operated unnoticed, stealing priceless antiquities of incalculable value. However, a murder in which three of the ring members were involved brought the police onto their trail.

That investigation led to the ultimate mastermind, who again was none other than Stefan Guericke. The German and 32 members of the ring were remanded into custody.

However, the trial was delayed for almost five years. By then, 18 months of pre-trial detention had passed, so Guericke was released on parole and disappeared.

Most of the members of the German antiquities smuggler’s ring were tried in 1984. As it turned out, the rogue archaeologist had even not left the country.

Guericke had remained in Greece, using fake IDs and continuing to practice his illegal trade. In 1990 he rented a house in Exarchia, next to Greece’s Ministry of Culture.

On November 17 — the day of the Polytechnic Uprising celebrations — the archaeologist turned criminal mastermind believed that the authorities would be busy.

He took the opportunity to fill a van with boxes containing ancient artifacts of great value and took off.

However, after a citizen’s complaint, the police fortunately located the vehicle and arrested Guericke.

Last imprisonment and escape

This time the sentence for the German antiquities smuggler was harsher: He received fifteen years and nine months in prison.

The 60-year-old Guericke was transferred to the Alikarnassos prison on Crete. On October 18, 1994, claiming severe intestinal pain, he requested to be admitted to the hospital on an urgent basis.

Accompanied by police officers, he was taken to the University Hospital, where he remained for a few days until all the necessary examinations were performed.

In the early hours of October 22 — while the guard went to get coffee — the German smuggler snatched the opportunity to escape once again.

Although his absence was noticed within half an hour, the manhunt that followed did not bear fruit. An APB was sent all Greek law enforcement agencies, and to Interpol as well.

In January 1995, Greek police were informed that Stefan Guericke had been located and arrested in Switzerland, where he was negotiating the sale of ancient Greek artifacts.

After being extradited to Greece, he was taken to Korydallos Prison. Under unclear circumstances, he was once again released — and since then all traces of him have been lost.

According to some rumors, he left the country in June 1996, carrying more antiquities in his luggage. Many claim that he returned to continue his activities into the early 2000s.

Stefan Guericke has gone down in history as the biggest antiquities smuggler who ever lived and operated in Greece.

With the exception of the periods he spent behind bars, the rogue archaeologist operated  non-stop from the early 1960s until the late 1990s.

The value of the archaeological treasures he took out of Greece, although it can never be calculated accurately, is enormous.

US Department of Treasury Blacklists Russian Crypto Exchange Suex

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Janet Yellen
U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen announced sanctions against the Russian crypto exchange Suex. Credit: University of Michigan’s Ford School, CC BY-ND 2.0

United States Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen announced that the Department of the Treasury will introduce sanctions against the Russian cryptocurrency exchange Suex on Wednesday. Suex has been effectively blacklisted for allegedly laundering millions on behalf of ransomware operators, fraudsters and dark web markets.

This is the first time the Biden administration has taken such measures against a cryptocurrency exchange. Biden is hoping to ramp up his fight against ransomware.

The department has added Suex to the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List which blocks Americans from working with the company.

“Ransomware and cyberattacks are victimizing businesses large and small across America and are a direct threat to our economy. We will continue to crack down on malicious actors,” says Yellen. “As cybercriminals use increasingly sophisticated methods and technology, we are committed to using the full range of measures, to include sanctions and regulatory tools, to disrupt, deter and prevent ransomware attacks.”

Almost half of Suex’s transactions were illicit

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, known as OFAC, went ahead with blacklisting the Russian exchange after it allegedly helped cybercrime — including laundering money from at least eight ransomware variants. Almost half of the exchange’s known transactions are the product of illegal activity, according to the department’s officials.

Treasury officials said that: “Virtual currencies can be used for illicit activity through peer-to-peer exchangers, mixers and exchanges. This includes the facilitation of sanctions evasion, ransomware schemes and other cybercrimes.” The department aims to stop “illicit actors from exploiting virtual currencies to undermine U.S. foreign policy and national security interest(s).”

Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., a senior member of the House Committee on Homeland Security and a member of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission said that, “The excellent ransomware guidance released today … makes clear that the U.S. government does not support ransom payments for hackers, which serve only to perpetuate the cybercriminal ecosystem.”

Inside ransomware and data breaches– and how they could affect you

Ransomware attacks encrypt, or lock up, your programs or data files, but your data is usually not exposed, so you probably have nothing to worry about. If the target is a company whose services you use, you might be inconvenienced while the company is out of commission. In the case of Suex, the exchange was allegedly assisting ransomware operators in moving their money through cryptocurrency.

A data breach could include theft of your online credentials: your user name and password. But hackers might also steal your bank account or credit card numbers or other sensitive or protected information, such as your personal health information, your email address, phone number, street address or Social Security number.

Having your data stolen from a company can be scary, but it is also an opportunity to take stock and apply some common-sense measures to protect your data elsewhere. Even if your data has not been exposed yet, why not take the time now to protect yourself?

“Eva” Algorithm May Have Helped Stop the Spread of COVID in Greece

Eva algorithm Greece Covid
An algorithm designed to prevent the spread of COVID after Greece re-opened to tourists may have saved thousands of lives. Credit: Greek Reporter/Alex Besant

“Eva,” an algorithm designed by the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business and the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, was used by Greece after the country reopened to visitors to track asymptomatic cases of COVID-19.

A new study shows that Greece’s use of the computer program may have helped curb the viruses spreading throughout the country.

“It was a very high-impact artificial intelligence project, and I believe we saved lives by developing a cutting-edge, novel system for targeted testing during the pandemic,” said Kimon Drakopoulos, an assistant professor of data sciences and operations at USC Marshall and one of the authors on the study.

Greece, which depends on its typically lively tourist season, was determined to find the safest and most effective strategy for allowing visitors during the pandemic.

Working together with USC and Wharton, the country developed Eva, an algorithm that tracks real-time data and selects high-risk travelers for COVID testing. The study found that the program was able to catch double the amount of asymptomatic tourists than they would have if they had only used travel restrictions and randomized testing.

“Our work with Eva proves that carefully integrating real-time data, artificial intelligence and lean operations offers huge benefits over conventional, widely used approaches to managing the pandemic,” said Vishal Gupta, a USC Marshall associate professor of data science and operations and another author on the study.

Greek data scientist at USC got idea for Eva algorithm after seeing Greece’s reopening announcement

Drakopoulos, who is Greek himself and studied at the National Technical University of Athens, got the idea for the project after seeing Greece’s inital plans to reopen to visitors in the summer of 2020.

Drakopoulos was able to contact Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis directly to get a better understanding of Greece’s plans and ended up offering the PM his help.

After meeting with Mitsotakis, USC Marshall, Wharton School researchers and AgentRisk CEO Jon Vlachogiannis joined in a partnership with Greece to create Eva for tracking COVID cases. Because of the supply chain disruptions in the earlier months of the pandemic, the country only had a limited amount of COVID tests, but was tasked with identifying travelers who had been infected before passing through one of the 40 different entries into the county.

Eva was used by the Greek government to organize huge amounts of data submitted by tourists. Eva was able to create profiles for each traveler based on where they had stayed and visited, as well as their country of origin, gender, and age.

“At the beginning of the cycle, travelers interested in going to Greece fill out a form online,” said Gupta. “They share information like where they’ve been before, demographic information and their travel itinerary. Based on that information, we — and Eva — were able to recommend who should be tested.”

 

 

Laura Bush, Former First Lady of the US, Awarded at Concordia Summit

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Concordia Summit
Laura Bush was awarded at the Concordia Summit taking place in New York. Credit: Facebook/Concordia Summit

Laura Bush, the former First Lady of the United States, was awarded with the 2021 Leadership Award on Wednesday at the Concordia Summit taking place in New York.

The annual Summit, taking place in parallel with the UN General Assembly, has become a reference point for the global agenda as leaders, entrepreneurs, and visionaries from across the world analyze and provide solutions for current issues.

Laura Bush, an advocate for literacy, education, and women’s rights, pursues her work on global healthcare innovations, and empowering women in emerging democracies through the George W. Bush Institute.

“Today, as we witness the tragic events unfold in Afghanistan, we’re reminded of how fragile freedoms can be for women and girls. We know that a country cannot be peaceful and prosperous if half of its population is left out or does not have equal access, rights, or protection,” Bush said.

“When women and girls hold equal and active roles in societies, communities not only thrive, but entire countries are more secure and stable. And that’s why through our work at the Bush Institute, President Bush and I remain dedicated to advancing the status of women and children worldwide,” she added.

CEO of LEGO, Niels Christiansen, and Monica Ramirez, Founder & President of Justice for Migrant Women, were also awarded at the Summit. Each trailblazer has dedicated their life to promoting public-private collaboration in hopes of creating a more equal future, an announcement said.

The Concordia Leadership Award recognizes global leaders within the public, private, and nonprofit sectors who inspire others through their ability to turn vision into impact.

Voted on by a subcommittee of the Concordia Leadership Council, recipients possess a commitment to catalyzing positive social and economic change while promoting effective public-private collaboration to create a more sustainable future.

Past recipients include: Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart; Christiana Figueres, Founder of Global Optimism; António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations; and, Nobel Peace Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus.

Concordia’s Leadership Award Committee is chaired by Anita McBride, Concordia Leadership Council Member and Former Assistant to President George W. Bush & Chief of Staff to First Lady Laura Bush, who commented:

“The Leadership Award Committee has undertaken a rigorous nomination and selection process. I am honored to chair this committee and I’m delighted to announce three distinguished individuals as this year’s recipients. Each, in their own right, showcases exemplary leadership in their field and is charting the path for lasting and positive change in people’s lives.”

Concordia Summit founded in 2011

The Concordia Summit was founded in 2011 by Matthew A. Swift and Nicholas M. Logothetis, a member of the Greek diaspora.

In 2011, the modest launch of the first Concordia Summit in New York City attracted mostly friends and business partners of the founders. Ten years later the Concordia Annual Summit in New York has become one of the most important events that run in parallel to the UN general assembly and the organization is now facilitating impactful year-round events around the globe.

The major themes of this year’s Summit are:

  • environmental sustainability,
  • global trade, manufacturing and supply chains,
  • human rights and social progress,
  • economic empowerment and financial inclusion,
  • technology and digital transformation,
  • cultural diplomacy and youth advocacy,
  • democracy, security and geopolitical risk,
  • health disparities, recovery and resilience.

For the full list of speakers please see here