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This Week in History: May 11th to 17th

MAY 11TH:

On this day in 1771, Laskarina Bouboulina, the Greek naval commander and heroine of the Greek War of Independence of 1821, was born in a prison in Constantinople and was immediately part of a revolutionary family. After her father died, Bouboulina and her mother moved to the Greek island of Hydra and then on to Spetses. She was married and widowed twice and was left considerable fortunes by her seafaring husbands. Through wise investments she increased her worth and bought several ships, including the Agamemnon, the largest Greek warship in the 1821 revolution against the Turks. Bouboulina became a member of the underground organization, ‘Filiki Etairia’ (the Society of Friends) organizing and preparing the Greeks for the revolution against the Turks, the only woman in this organization. On March 13, 1821, twelve days before the traditional beginning of the War of Independence, Bouboulina raised the first revolutionary flag on the island of Spetses. Bouboulina was killed on May 22, 1825 by a bullet wound to her head – presumably fired by the angry father of her daughter-in-law (who had eloped with her son). She became a national hero as one of the first women to play a major role in a revolution. Without her and her ships the Greeks might not have gained their independence.

MAY 14TH:

On this day in 1962, Princess Sophia of Greece married Don Juan Carlos of Spain. Princess Sophia was born on November 2, 1938 in Psychiko, Athens, the eldest child of King Paul of Greece and his wife, Queen Frederica. Sophia met her paternal third cousin (they are both descendants of Queen Victoria of England), Juan Carlos of Spain, on a cruise around the Greek islands in 1954 and then reconnected with him at the wedding of the Duke of Kent in 1961. The couple was married in Athens in three separate ceremonies: at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Saint Dionysius; at the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral of the Evangelismos; and at the Royal Palace in Athens (a civil union ceremony). Sophia converted from Greek Orthodoxy to Roman Catholicism to become more palatable to Catholic Spain, and thus relinquished her rights to the Greek throne. Along with this came the expected Latinization of her Greek name from Sophia, to the Spanish variant, Sofia. The couple ruled over Spain for 29 years and had three children: Elena, Cristina, and Felipe.

MAY 17TH:

On this day in 1902, Greek archaeologist Valerios Stais, along with his mathematician cousin Spiridon Stais, discovered the Antikythera mechanism, an ancient mechanical analog computer, also called an astronomical calculator. The Antikythera mechanism was found in 45 meters of water in an ancient shipwreck off Point Glyphadia on the Greek island of Antikythera (located between Kythera and Crete). The wreck was found by a group of Greek sponge divers, who retrieved numerous artifacts, including bronze and marble statues, jewelry, coins, and the mechanism. All of the artifacts were transferred to the National Museum of Archaeology in Athens, where Valerios was the Director, for storage and analysis. Initially no one knew what the chunk of rusted metal was until Spyridon identified the gears in the mechanism. We now know that the clock-sized device contained an elaborate collection of about 30 interlocking, spinning gears that controlled dials designed to calculate astronomical positions and eclipses. By turning the hand crank of the mechanism, the gears spun, causing the hands of the dials to move, allowing the user to accurately predict eclipses and the passage of celestial bodies through the sky. According to Jo Marchant of the Smithsonian, “nothing as sophisticated [as the Antikythera mechanism], or even close, appears again for more than a thousand years.”

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This article is part of a continuing series dealing with reports of Greek POWs in Asia Minor in the Thessaloniki newspaper, Makedonia in July 1936.

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