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This Week in History: April 22nd to 28th

APRIL 22ND:

On this day in 1821, the Battle of Alamana was fought between the Greeks and the Ottoman Empire during the Greek War of Independence. After the fall of Livadeia to a contingent of Greek fighters under the command of Athanasios Diakos and Vasilis Bousgos, Hursid Pasha sent two of his most competent commanders from Thessaly to put down the revolt in Roumeli and then proceed to the Peloponnese and lift the siege at Tripolitsa. Diakos and his band decided to halt the Ottoman advance into Roumeli by taking defensive positions near Thermopylae. The Greek forces were outnumbered and Diakos, wounded in the battle, was captured after his sword broke. Diakos was then brought before the Turkish commanders who offered to make him an officer in the Turkish army. Diakos immediately refused and replied: “I was born a Greek and I will die a Greek!” The Turkish commander then ordered that Diakos be impaled. The Ottomans tried to make him carry the sharpened pole, but he threw it down with contempt. As he was led off to be impaled it was said that onlookers heard him sing: “Look at the time Charon chose to take me, now that branches are flowering, now that the earth sends forth grass.” Even though the battle was ultimately a military defeat for the Greeks, Diakos’ death provided the Greek national cause with a stirring myth of heroic martyrdom.

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 27TH:

On this day in 1748, Adamantios Korais, the Greek humanist scholar, was born in Smyrna. Korais was known for his advocacy of a revived classicism which laid the intellectual foundations for the Greek struggle for independence. Korais was the son of a merchant who studied medicine at the University of Montpellier in France. After his studies, he moved to Paris to pursue a literary career. His first works were editions of ancient medical writers, particularly Hippocrates and Theophrastus. Convinced that contemporary Greeks could find strength and unity only through a revival of their classical heritage, Korais made his writings an instrument for awakening his countrymen to the significance of that heritage for their national aspirations. His influence on the modern Greek language, and on Greek culture more broadly, has been compared to that of Dante on Italian and Martin Luther on German. Korais’ most enduring contribution was the creation of a new Greek literary language: purifying the vernacular (Demotic) of foreign elements, he combined its best elements with Classical Greek. His Atakta, composed between 1828 and 1835, was the first modern Greek dictionary. He also edited the first four books of Homer’s Iliad.

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