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This Week in History: February 21st to 27th

February 22, 2020

February 23rd:

On this day in 1980, an oil tanker exploded off of the coast of Pylos in mainland Greece and caused a 37-million-gallon spillage – one of the biggest maritime accidents that ever occurred in Greece. The ship, named the Irenes Serenade, was loaded with cargo of over 100,000 tons of Iraqi crude oil and was en route from Syria to Trieste when it stopped to refuel in Navarino Bay. The vessel suffered explosions while it was at the bunkering location and thus, the cargo was set alight. An oil slick two miles long by half a mile-wide spread from the vessel and both the tanker and the surrounding area burned for 14 hours until the following morning when the tanker sank off Pylos Harbor. Defying the danger, a local fisherman, Velissarios Karavias, who saw the explosion from the harbor, approached the tanker with his boat to save the lives of the seamen. All but two of the crew members were rescued.

February 26th:

On this day in 1906, Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas (Nikos Ghika), the Greek artist, writer, and academic, was born in Athens. During Ghikas’ teen years, his family began recognizing the potential of his talents and arranged for him to study painting with the artist Parthenis. In 1923, he went to Paris to study French literature and aesthetics at the Sorbonne. He also studied ancient and Byzantine art as well as folk art – partially due to this adoration for the Greek landscape. Less than four years after arriving in Paris, he had his first exhibition at the Gallerie Percier. It has been said that Picasso himself noticed and commented on the works of the young Greek artist. He gained recognition as the leading Greek cubist. Today, Ghikas is celebrated as one of the most important modern Greek painters. His house has been converted into a museum that is run by the Benaki Museum. In 2018, the British Museum hosted an exhibition which focused on the friendship of Ghika with artist John Craxton and the writer Patrick Leigh Fermor. His works are featured in the National Gallery of Greece, Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the Tate Gallery in London, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

February 27th:

On this day in 1943, Kostis Palamas, the Greek poet, author, theatre playwright, historian and literature critic, passed away. Born in Patras, Palamas became one of the most important individuals in the evolution of modern Greek literature. When he was 6 years-old, both of his parents died. He and his older brother were taken by his uncle who took care of them until 1875 in an “atmosphere of misery and sorrow” which greatly influenced Palamas’ psyche. He was educated at Mesolongion and in Athens and eventually became the central figure in the Demotic movement of the 1880s, which sought to shake off traditionalism and draw inspiration for a new literary and artistic style from the life and language of the people. Palamas became the founder of the “new school of Athens” which condemned Romantic exuberance and reverted to a more restrained type of poetry. He was the first poet to express the national sufferings and aspirations of the Greeks, and with his lyricism, metrical variety, and robust language, he re-molded a great deal of Greek history, mythology, and philosophy, fusing it with many western European and even Eastern ideas. His funeral in 1943 became a public show of defiance to the occupation authorities. To this day, Palamas is considered one of the most important Greek poets and one that has made a considerable contribution in the development and renewal of modern Greek poetry.

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