This Week in History: April 23rd to 29th

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. According to Britannica, his influence on the modern Greek language and culture was enormous.

April 29th:

On this day in 1863, Constantine P. Cavafy, the Egyptian-Greek poet, journalist, and civil servant was born in Alexandria, Egypt. Interestingly enough, 70 years later in 1933, Cavafy also died on this day. C.P. Cavafy became one of the most important figures not only in Greek poetry but in Western poetry as well. Cavafy lived in England for much of his adolescence. He then moved between Alexandria, Liverpool, and Constantinople – where his family had its roots. During his lifetime, Cavafy was an obscure poet, living in relative seclusion and publishing little of his work. A short collection of his poetry was privately printed in the early 1900s, but that was the extent of his published poetry. He never offered a volume of his poems for sale during his lifetime. Instead he distributed privately printed pamphlets to friends and relatives. A skeptic, he denied or ridiculed traditional values of Christianity, patriotism, and heterosexuality, though he was ill at ease with his own nonconformity. His language is a mixture of the refined and stilted ‘official’ Greek called Katharevousa, inherited from the Byzantines, and the Demotic, or spoken, tongue. His style and tone are intimate and realistic. The lyric treatment he gave to familiar historical themes made him popular and influential after his death.


Frederick the Great’s 18th century dictum sums up America’s current geopolitical dilemma neatly.

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