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This Week in History: May 7th to 13th

May 9th:

On this day in 1927, the first Delphic Festival, organized by Angelos and Eva Sikelianos, was held to celebrate the ancient Greek Delphic ideal. The Sikelianos couple believed that Delphi could actually serve as a focal point for the global understanding of mutual respect analogous to the amphictyony (an association of neighboring states in ancient Greece established to defend a common religious center) which had existed there for centuries. They built a house in the region and prepared the celebrations which were to have an international status. The entire endeavor was funded by the Sikelianos couple and was repeated two times (in 1927 and 1930), an endeavor which exhausted them financially and soon led to their separation.

May 10th:

On this day in 1905, Markos Vamvakaris, the Greek rebetiko musician and songwriter, was born on the island of Syros. The first of six children, Markos and his family belonged to the sizable Roman Catholic community of the island. At the age of 12, under the false impression that he was wanted by the police, Markos fled Syros for the port of Piraeus. He worked as a stevedore, a pit-coal miner, a shoe-polisher, a paperboy, a butcher, and other odd jobs. It is said that one day he heard a bouzouki player and vowed that if he did not learn to play the instrument in six months, he would chop off his own hand with a cleaver (he was working in the public slaughterhouses at the time). He learned bouzouki, becoming an innovative virtuoso player, and began to write songs of his own. At first he often played in clandestine hashish-smoking establishments known as tekés; later he and his bands played in more legitimate clubs and taverns. They were extremely popular, and Markos made many recordings. Today, he is universally referred to by rebetiko writers and fans simply by his first name: Markos. The great significance of Vamvakaris for the rebetiko is reflected by his nickname: the "patriarch of the rebetiko."

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 sea-faring husbands. Through wise investments she increased her worth and bought several ships, including the Agamemnon, the largest 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 what has become known as the official 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, 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.

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