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Culture

Dr. Peter Frankopan on Greece: Futures in the Thalia Potamianos Lecture Series

NEW YORK – The Gennadius Library of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) and Dr. Peter Frankopan, best-selling and award-winning author of The Silk Roads and Professor of Global History at Oxford University, presented Greece: Futures, the final installment in a three-part series of lectures for the inaugural Thalia Potamianos Annual Lecture Series, on May 10, at St. Bartholomew’s Church in Manhattan. The previous lectures were held in Athens and Washington, DC, and were live streamed worldwide on the ASCSA website.

The event began with a video presentation on the Gennadius Library which was inaugurated in 1926 with the gift of a 26,000-volume collection by diplomat and bibliophile Joannes Gennadius. The Library now houses 145,000 titles of rare books and bindings, research materials, manuscripts, archives, and works of art related to Hellenism and neighboring cultures from late antiquity to the present.

Greece: Futures, the third lecture in the inaugural Thalia Potamianos Lecture Series for the Gennadius Library of the American School of Classical Studies Athens was presented by Dr. Peter Frankopan at St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York on May 10. Photo: Eleni Sakellis

Dr. Maria Georgopoulou, Director of the Gennadius Library, gave the welcoming remarks at the event on May 10, thanking all those for attending and for their support of the Library and ASCSA. She noted the ongoing efforts of the library and thanked Phokion Potamianos, an Overseer of the Gennadius Library, whose generous 10-year commitment totaling $1 million made the program possible. He also named the lecture series in memory of his grandmother, a distinguished Greek doctor, academic, and philanthropist.

The Thalia Potamianos Annual Lectures Series seeks to create a stimulating environment to draw both the academic community and the general public to the Gennadius Library. The inaugural lectures in the series featured Dr. Frankopan who presented Greece: Beginnings on October 7 in Athens, Greece: Legacies on March 16 at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, and the third lecture, Greece: Futures on May 10 at St. Bartholomew’s Church.

Dr. Glenn D. Lowry, Director of the Museum of Modern Art, introduced Dr. Peter Frankopan who is Professor of Global History at Oxford University, where he is the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Director of the Oxford Centre for Byzantine Research. The award-winning author of The Silk Roads, a New York Times #1 Best Seller, Dr. Frankopan’s lectures examined the role that Greece and Greek culture, literature, and language have played over the course of more than two and a half millennia. Rather than exploring the familiar and limited Mediterranean context, he presented a global perspective, allowing for a better understanding of not only world history but Greece itself.

Greece: Futures, the third lecture in the inaugural Thalia Potamianos Lecture Series for the Gennadius Library of the American School of Classical Studies Athens was presented by Dr. Peter Frankopan at St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York on May 10. Photo: TNH Staff

The fascinating lecture highlighted the ways in which Greece and its ideals continue to have an influence well beyond the borders of the country, historically and to the present day. Frankopan noted how fitting the setting for the lecture was in St. Bartholomew’s Church, named in honor of the Apostle Bartholomew who had an international range, and according to tradition was either martyred in his attempt to convert the king of Armenia to Christianity or traveled as far as India with St. Thomas. Relics of St. Bartholomew are now in Sicily, Frankfurt, and Canterbury, among other locations.

The influence of classical Greece on architecture could be another entire lecture, Frankopan pointed out and mentioned examples of the Federal style in New York, as well as the Neo-Byzantine style which can be seen in many churches worldwide and even in the architecture of “a galaxy far, far away” in the Star Wars films.

Dr. Maria Georgopoulou, Director of the Gennadius Library at the American School of Classical Studies Athens gave the welcoming remarks for the third lecture in the Thalia Potamianos Lecture Series on May 10 in New York City. Photo: TNH Staff

In recent years, Greece draws on its long history in diplomatic connections as Frankopan noted the example of India with “2500 years of interaction” with Greece. He also pointed out how the views of the Byzantine Empire also influence what is happening today with Russia and Ukraine. The global perspective and education are key components moving forward even as geopolitical shifts, climate change, declining birth rates and a graying population are among the factors that could cause seismic change worldwide in the coming years.

The lecture series honors the life of Dr. Thalia Potamianos, an Epirote who was born in Constantinople in 1914 and came to Greece at the age of 8. With an innate gift of high intelligence, the fierce determination shaped by her life experiences, and financial support from her four siblings, Thalia earned a doctorate in microbiology with high honors from the University of Athens. She became an influential doctor, scientist, and philanthropist who led a life dedicated to the public good and public service.

In the 1950s, Dr. Potamianos founded Greece’s first alcoholism and toxicology treatment center. She made this the heart of her medical research, establishing a treatment center at Aghia Paraskevi, publishing research, and forming a methodology on the topic that came to be the standard in the early days of the study of alcoholism in Greece.

Marked by her experience as a refugee, Dr. Potamianos defined her life by her philanthropic actions. During World War II, she was active on the front lines and behind the scenes, working to organize food committees and using her medical practice as a cover to shelter elements of the Greek resistance and Greeks of the Jewish faith.

In the years immediately after the war, this exemplary citizen helped create centers of care for dispossessed families, orphaned children, and veterans in refugee areas. In partnership with American and other philanthropists, she created centers for education and financial support for veterans. Together they established the Greek American Organization for the Care of Dispossessed Greeks. To recognize her service to the country, the Greek government awarded Dr. Potamianos with their Gold Cross of the Order of Beneficence.

Dr. Potamianos (née Dervos) was the wife of Phokion Potamianos, a prominent maritime attorney. Together they raised two daughters, Helen and Lydia. In 1961, Dr. Potamianos passed away from cancer at the age of 47.

Among those present at the lecture were His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, Consul General of Greece in New York Konstantinos Koutras, Permanent Representative of Greece to the United Nations Ambassador Maria Theofili, Consul of Greece Dimitris Papageorgiou, The National Herald co-publisher Vanessa Diamataris and her husband Matthew Dowling, as well as many supporters of ASCSA and the Gennadius Library.

Greece: Futures, the third lecture in the inaugural Thalia Potamianos Lecture Series for the Gennadius Library of the American School of Classical Studies Athens was presented by Dr. Peter Frankopan at St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York on May 10. Photo: TNH Staff

More information about ASCSA is available online: https://www.ascsa.edu.gr/.

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