On this day in 2005, Grigoris Bithikotsis, the legendary Greek singer, died at the age of 82. Born in Athens the eighth (and youngest) child of a poor family, he acquired a bouzouki as soon as he was able to. It is said that at first he had to hide the instrument at a friend’s house and practice in secret because his father disapproved of the new rebetiko style that had captured his son’s interest.
Bithikotsis eventually became a leading name in Greek folk music with a career which lasted for nearly 50 years. He composed songs employing verses written by some of Greece’s most acclaimed poets, including Nobel laureates Odysseas Elytis and George Seferis.
In addition to Bithikotsis, El Greco (né Doménikos Theotokópoulos), the Greek-born painter, sculptor, and architect of the Spanish Renaissance, also died on this day in 1614. Originally from the island of Crete (which was at the time part of the Republic of Venice), he eventually moved to Toledo, Spain where he lived and worked until his death. Regardless of his Spanish nickname, El Greco normally signed his paintings with his full birth name in Greek letters (Δομήνικος Θεοτοκόπουλος), often adding the word Κρής (Krēs, “Cretan”).
On this day in 1820, the famous ancient Greek statue, the Venus de Milo (a/k/a Aphrodite), was discovered by a local farmer and a young French naval officer on the island of Milos in the Aegean Sea.
It is said that the French officer commandeered two sailors from his ship to help dig for objects on the site of an ancient theatre on Milos. At the site, the officer observed a local farmer who was gathering stones for his farm but then suddenly stopped in awe of something. The officer gave the farmer a small bribe to extract the remaining pieces of the sculpture which were located inside an arched enclosure. The Frenchman soon came to the realization that he would not be able to acquire the statue alone. Thus, the office of France’s ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, which then ruled over Milos, ultimately purchased and ensured the sculpture’s safe passage to France. The sculpture itself was carved from marble by Alexandros, a sculptor of Antioch around 150 BC. In 1821, the sculpture was presented to King Louis XVIII. Today, the Venus de Milo is considered one of the most celebrated examples of ancient Hellenistic sculptures and is on display in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France.
On this day in 1970, Greek composer and political figure Mikis Theodorakis was released after having been arrested during the 1967 military coup in Greece.
Born on July 29, 1925 on the island of Chios, Theodorakis studied at both the Athens and Paris conservatories. He was a member of the wartime resistance and remained active in politics, serving several times in the Greek Parliament. He is best known outside of Greece for his music for the films Zorba the Greek (1964), Z (1969), and State of Siege (1972). Theodorakis has also composed much concert music, including 7 symphonies, 4 operas, ballets, and more than 1,000 songs. Even during his exile, Theodorakis served as the greatest ambassador of Greek music, playing thousands of concerts around the world. Theodorakis is now retired and mainly spends his time publishing texts on his earlier work and contemporary political events. Many in Greece still hail him as a national hero.