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This Week in History: May 14th to 20th

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. She studied childcare, music, and archeology and was a reserve member, alongside her brother Constantine, of Greece’s gold medal-winning sailing team in the 1960 Summer Olympics. Sophia met her paternal third cousin (they are both descendants of Queen Victoria of England), Juan Carlos of Spain, on a cruise in 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 Catholic Cathedral of Saint Dionysius; at the Greek-Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral of the Virgin Mary; 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 usual 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. The Antikythera mechanism was found in 45 meters of water in an Antikythera 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, jewellery, 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 mechanism 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.”

May 20th:

On this day in 1941, the Battle of Crete began. The Battle was one of the most significant, if subsequently underreported battles of World War II. This last battle for the defense of Greece against the Nazis was critical in leading to the ultimate defeat of Hitler. This battle also emphasized the sacrifice, through selfless bravery, that the people of Crete were willing to pay to defend their freedom. Distinguished military historian Anthony Beevor described Cretan defiance: “Boys, old men, and also women displayed a breathtaking bravery in defense of their island.” Many historians believe the Battle of Crete, along with the earlier campaign against Greece and Yugoslavia, contributed to a 4-6 week delay of the German invasion of the Soviet Union. This delay was to prove fatal in not achieving German objectives before the winter set in and thus significantly contributed to Hitler’s ultimate defeat.

Also on this day in 1938, Marinella, one of the most popular Greek singers and actresses was born. Her career has spanned over six decades (since 1957). Since the beginning of her career, she has released 66 solo albums and has been featured on albums by other musicians. Born Kyriaki Papadopoulou in the city of Thessaloniki in northern Greece, her parents were refugees from Constantinople. She is the fourth and last child of a large family, which despite its poverty, was rich in love and in artistic vein. Her early career was marked by her collaboration with singer Stelios Kazantzidis – whom she later married. Together they managed to become the greatest duet of Greece, unsurpassed even today. The couple divorced in September 1966 – an occurance that can be attributed to the beginning of her solo career. Her popularity rose in the late 1960s, 70s and 80s, with a string of successful albums and live shows. She developed a new standard for shows in Greek nightclubs, introducing costumes, dancing, and special lighting effects.

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