This Past Week in History: April 21st to April 27th

(Photo by Eurokinissi)

April 21st:

On this day in 1967, a group of four colonels of the Greek army took control of Greece through a military coup d’etat. During the three years before the coup, the political situation in Greece was very unstable – the left wing radicals were gaining strength and there was considerable public unrest – almost daily demonstrations, strikes, and riots. The leader of the coup, Colonel George Papadopoulos, fearful of the upcoming election and the rise of the left, decided that the Greek government needed to be overthrown. The four colonels formulated a plan to arrest all of the generals and politicians they felt might be a threat to their military takeover. Their plan was executed late one night and caught everyone by surprise – they did not fire a single shot. The Greek far-right military junta that followed (also known as the Regime of the Colonels, the Dictatorship, the Junta, and the Seven Years) lasted for seven years, ending on July 24, 1974 under the pressure of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. The new martial law outlawed strikes, labor unions, long hair on men, mini-skirts, the peace symbol, the Beatles, Sophocles, Tolstoy, Aeschylus, Socrates, Mark Twain, and the free press. The fall of the junta was followed by the Metapolitefsi (“regime change”) and the establishment of the current Third Hellenic Republic.

April 23rd:

On this day in 1988, the MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics Department’s Daedalus, a human-powered aircraft, flew a distance of 72.4 miles in 3 hours, 54 minutes from Heraklion, Crete to the island of Santorini. Earlier in the 1980s, MIT students and faculty members, with the support and cooperation of the Smithsonian Institution, NASA, and the government of Greece, embarked on an exploration of human-powered flight. The culmination of their efforts was the Daedalus, a plane which was engineered at MIT and named in honor of the mythological inventor who escaped the tyranny of King Minos of Crete by taking to the sky on wings he fashioned using wax and feathers. The ‘aircraft’ weighed less than 70 pounds (when empty) and had leg-powered bicycle pedals that engaged gears that linked to an 11-foot propeller. Kanellos Kanellopoulos, a 30-year-old 14-time bicycle champion of Greece, piloted and powered Daedalus as the craft took off from a Greek Air Force base near Knossos and flew at a low altitude towards Santorini. The flight holds the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) world records for total distance, straight-line distance, and duration for human-powered aircraft.

April 24th:

It has been said that on this day in 1184 BC, the city of Troy fell to invading Greek armies, ending the 10-year-long Trojan War. The Trojan War is an important story in Greek mythology and literature – the ancient Greek poet, Homer, wrote about the final days of the Trojan War in his epic The Iliad. As many of us will remember from Greek school, the Trojan War began when the Trojan prince Paris ran off with the wife of the Greek King Menelaus. The woman, Helen of Troy, became ‘the face that launched a thousand ships,’ when her husband assembled a fleet to retrieve her from Troy. The War ended when the Greek commander, Odysseus, devised a plan to invade the walled city. The Greeks pretended to surrender and gave the Trojans a present before they departed – a giant wooden (hollow) horse. The horse was hauled inside the walls of Troy and the Greek soldiers descended from the horse’s hollow belly after dark. They slayed the Trojan guards and commenced the sacking of the city.

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