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This Week in History: January 15th to 21st

January 15th:

On this day in 1855, Jacques Damala (also known as Aristides Damalas), a Greek military officer (and later, actor), was born in Piraeus, Greece. After finishing his schooling in mainland Greece, Damalas spent some time abroad, mostly in England and France, where he pursued diplomatic studies. He returned to Greece in 1878 and was recruited into the army. Within a few years, Damalas had earned a post as a military attache to the Greek Diplomatic Corps. According to some, he quickly acquired a reputation for being the “handsomest man in Europe,” and rumors began surfacing that he had driven several women to divorce, and one even to suicide. Eventually Damalas married Sarah Bernhardt, one of the greatest French actresses of the 19th century and one of the best known figures in the history of the stage. Their marriage was far from a fairytale – mainly as a result of Damalas’ infidelity. Despite their tumultuous relationship, Bernhardt remained infatuated with him. Even after they separated (as a result of Damalas’ drug addiction), Bernhardt, who was also a gifted sculptor, carved a marble sculpture of her husband which is now on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

January 17th:

On this day in 1369, Peter I of Cyprus, the King of Cyprus from 1358 to 1369 was murdered at the age of 40. In 1353, he married Eleanor of Aragon, a member of the House of Barcelona – whom he was passionate for. According to sources, Peter always slept with Eleanor’s night-dress in his arms. Five years after they were married, Peter I was crowned King of Cyprus by the Latin Bishop of Limassol and decided to continue the crusader tradition of sea raids against nearby lands. He travelled across Europe during the 1360s, meeting with various monarchs. In 1365, he led the Alexandrian Crusade against Egypt, conquering the city of Alexandria for three days before abandoning it. In 1366, he invaded Tripoli but was ultimately unable to raise armies from Europe, forcing him to end his raids and return to Cyprus. He became a tyrant after he found out that his wife had been unfaithful during his travels in Europe, and was eventually murdered by three of his own knights in his bed at the Palace of La Cava in Nicosia.

January 18th:

On this day in 1913, the Greeks were victorious against the Ottoman Turks at the Naval Battle of Lemnos. The Battle took place during the First Balkan War and defeated the second and last attempt of the Ottoman Empire to break the Greek naval blockade of the Dardanelles and reclaim supremacy over the Aegean Sea from Greece. Following the loss of a number of Aegean Islands to Greece during the first phase of the war in 1912, and its first defeat at the Battle of Elli, the Ottoman Navy sought to check Greek progress by destroying the Greek fleet docked at the port of Moudros in Lemnos. The Greek navy, led by Rear Admiral Pavlos Kountouriotis, forced the Ottoman Navy to retreat to its base within the Dardanelles, from which it did not venture from for the remainder of the war, thus ensuring the dominion of the Aegean Sea by Greece.

January 19th:

On this day in 1669, Leo Allatius, a Greek scholar, theologian, and keeper of the Vatican Library passed away. Born on the island of Chios, Allatius converted himself to Catholicism from Orthodoxy before he was taken by his maternal uncle to Italy to be educated at the age of nine. He was admitted to the Greek college in Rome – where he ultimately spent his career as a teacher of Greek, devoting himself to the study of classics and theology. In 1661, Alexander II made him custodian of the Vatican Library, where he remained until his death.

Allatius was known to labor earnestly to effect the reconciliation of the Greek Church with that of Rome and to this end wrote his most important work, De Ecclesiae Occidentalisatque Orientalis Perpetua Consensione, in which the points of agreement between the Churches are emphasized, while their differences are minimized. He also edited or translated into Latin the writings of various Greek authors.

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