The Great Greeks: an assessment: an article by K. I. Despotopoulos*

The Great Greeks: an assessment: an article by K. I. Despotopoulos*

The invitation, for television purposes, of thousands of Greeks to impersonally determine the ten greatest Greeks, since antiquity until today, has been a reckless venture. And, the people who responded to this invitation, thousands of contemporary Greeks, among them myself, are not competent to make the correct choice. In order to make the right choice, each one of those thousands of voters should have adequate knowledge of the three thousand-year history of Greece and should be aware of the qualities that compose the human greatness so as to dispose the criteria for a non-arbitrary choice, as well as the real ability to comparatively evaluate the “Great Greeks”.      The result of the election of May 18, is quite disappointing, in my point of view, as, among the ten “great Greeks”, the last one was the greatest politician of Greece, and possibly of all mankind, Pericles, and the greatest philosopher of all times, Plato, was placed just before him. First in historical greatness came Alexander, the Greek, of Greek descent and ideas, king of Macedonia and leader not only of the Macedonians but of all Greeks («ðëçí Ëáêåäáéìïíßùí» ), obviously on the basis of his achievement to change the political map of a large part of the known world at the time, and his effort to hellenise, that is to civilise, the barbarian residents of the conquered countries, or to finally treat them with cosmopolitan manners, or perhaps of his persistence to participate in the hardships and the dangers of the campaign with honest solidarity towards the simple soldiers and/or his intense interest in pure intellectual progress.
I focus on Plato, second to last in the final vote, whose creative activity as a philosopher and a political inspirer, did not end with his death, but his active presence in the consciences of posterity endured for more than twenty three centuries, until today, and whose philosophy, even when it was misinterpreted, shaped the majority of Europe’s famous intellectual leaders especially during the Modern times; furthermore, the intellectual leader of Europe during the late Middle Age, or of the Arabs earlier in Asia and Europe, was the genius student of Plato, Aristotle, of North Greek descent, with his excellent philosophy, an extension of Plato’s philosophy, but yet self-reliant and self-reliable.
The precedence of Kolokotronis and Karamanlis compared to Kapodistrias and Venizelos, is also obviously wrong. Based on the criteria of his moral-intellectual formation and his contribution to the political regeneration of the Greek nation and the multiple promotion of the Greek state, Kapodistrias is the top politician of Modern Greece, as well as the top politician of Europe during his time, as his contribution to the consolidation of peace in 1815 when, as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, although he was Greek and not Russian, he had serious activity and was distinguished in the Conference of Vienna. But above all, he salvaged the Greek revolution in 1821, as he averted a decision in Laibach, for the intervention of the European Forces against the Greek Revolution; from 1828 until 1831, he was a miracle-worker for Greece, as he had found the largest part of the initially liberated territories occupied by the Turks, the Administration, the military forces and the economy collapsing, and yet, displaying admirable skills, he rapidly reorganised the forces and the institutions of the struggling nation, he boosted its economy, and, at the same time, with his diplomatic skills and his relationships and prestige, he achieved the military mobilisation of Russia and France in support of Greece in order to finally create an independent Greek state.
Kolokotronis was an exquisite military leader of the Peloponnesians, with a hearty devotion to the Liberation Struggle, but he is in a subordinate position compared to Ioannis Kapodistrias, in regard to the formation of their personalities and their contribution to the success of the Revolution. Venizelos’ political achievements are evident and unique in Greece during the 20th century. Among other, with his political perceptiveness and his boldness, he doubled the Greek territory in 1912-1913 and made efforts to fulfill the Great Idea in 1919, while he also played a leading part in 1923, with his sober and redeeming handling of the consequences of the national misfortune of 1922, and later, in 1929, he achieved, with his prestige and his power, to convert the meaning of the Great Idea: the territorial-liberating ideal was replaced by the ideal of economic and cultural development.
Furthermore, Venizelos enjoyed the admiration of the leading foreign politicians of his time. Karamanlis found Greece expanding from Kythera to Evros and from Corfu to Rhodes, the people were quite educated and the state organisation was efficient. He was a powerful prime minister, though kind of unexpected in his first term of office, but generally admissible in his second term of office. But he was lucky to have valuable partners, two prominent Greeks, leading intellectual figures of the nation, Panagiotis Kanelopoulos and Konstantinos Tsatsos who composed an excellent image of the government abroad; despite his power and his prestige, it is not possible to place his historical greatness before Venizelos’, who was a top Greek politician of the 20th century.
Ranking the very popular doctor Papanikolaou in the second place of the “Great Greeks” is also evidently inappropriate. Is it possible to consider him superior, even in comparison to Hippocrates, the top doctor of mankind, an ancient Greek of unequalled prestige that still endures, in modern times? The result of the peculiar “survey” of SKAI that was completed on May 18, for the election of the ten “greater Greeks” simply reflects the considerations of many Greeks on the political or intellectual leading figures of Greece, ancient and modern, but without adequate knowledge and the essential criteria. The minister of Education and his council may draw their own conclusions.

* K. I. Despotopoulos is an academic.

Newspaper “H KATHIMERINI”, Permanent Columns, 24.05.2009.

A critical assessment by Evanthis Hatzivasiliou on the book of K. Svolopoulos, Η απόφαση για την επέκταση της ελληνικής κυριαρχίας στη Μικρά Ασία: Κριτική επαναψηλάφηση (The decision of Greek expansion in Asia Minor: Critical Review).
1st, 2nd & 3rd prize of the 7th Panhellenic Student Essay Competition (school year 2008-2009).

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