On this day in 1820, the famous ancient Greek statue, the Venus de Milo (AKA 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 theater 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 1990, Konstantinos Mitsotakis became Greece’s Prime Minister after his New Democracy party won elections. Born in Chania, Crete, Mitsotakis came from a political family – his father and grandfathers were members of parliament, and the statesman Eleftherios Venizelos was his uncle. Mitsotakis studied law and economics in Athens. He was active in the resistance during the Nazi occupation of Crete (1941-44) and was arrested twice and sentenced to death. Mitsotakis was first elected to parliament in 1946 as a member of the Liberal Party. In the early 1960s, he joined the new Center Union, a center-left coalition organized by Georgios Papandreou, and he became minister of Finance in Papandreou’s government. In July 1965, Papandreou became involved in a power struggle with Greece’s King Constantine II. Mitsotakis, with other Centre Union deputies (the ‘July apostates’), defected from the party and joined the pro-monarchist forces in a series of coalition governments. Mitsotakis’ action incurred the lasting animosity of Papandreou’s son, Andreas (who also eventually became prime minister of Greece). Mitsotakis was arrested in 1967 by the military junta but managed to escape to Turkey with the help of the Turkish foreign minister. He lived in exile with his family in Paris, France, until his return to Greece in 1974 following the restoration of democracy. In 1977, he founded the centrist New Liberal Party in 1977, and in that same year he was elected to parliament. One year later, Mitsotakis accepted a cabinet post in the government of Konstantinos Karamanlis, and shortly afterward, he joined Karamanlis’ center-right New Democracy Party. In 1984, Mitsotakis became party leader, and then prime minister in 1990.
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 seven symphonies, four 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. In his later years Theodorakis mainly spent his time publishing texts on his earlier work and contemporary political events. He died September 2, 2021 at the age of 96. Many in Greece still hail him as a national hero.