Near the end of its fourth decade of life, the Society for the Preservation of the Greek Heritage (SPGH) has recently opened a new chapter of service to our community. Founded as an environmental and architectural preservationist organization in 1975, SPGH broke ground with a number of historical initiatives, such as the restoration of the historical Plaka House in Athens and the refectories of the monasteries of Osios Loukas in Greece and St Catherine’s at Mount Sinai, the preservation of manuscripts in the library of the monastery of St. John at Patmos, and the repatriation of the unique Mycenaean treasure of Aidonia to Greece in 1996.
Our legendary President, Anna Lea, whose recent passing we are mourning, expanded the original preservationist mission of SPGH to projects dedicated to the ecumenical values of Hellenism at the core of modern Western civilization: democracy, theater, statesmanship, ethics, even modern medicine. Our establishment of the initial Classics Program for 8th and 9th graders of the SEED Public Charter School, our numerous lectures and symposia, and our rich publication record are some of our proud achievements in this arena. Anna was instrumental in designing and personally supervised many of these projects.
The second decade of the third millennium finds Greece, the birthplace of Hellenism and the Ithaca of every Greek around the world, in a state of crisis and Hellenism at crossroads. To many, the entire Western world shows weariness and uncertainty. More than ever before, tracing the course of Hellenism can help us make sense of what is happening and, perhaps, prepare us for the future.
While we retain the best from our past, we also need to expand our agenda beyond the classics to include medieval and modern Hellenism, as well as the entire diaspora and Greek “experiments” outside Greece. We also need to focus on the Greeks themselves: how they live, what they think, how they view their Greek identity.
More than anything else, we at SPGH want to create a hospitable and stimulating corner where Greeks and Philhellenes can meet, debate, and become entertained, a corner that can become part of their lives. In the difficult times we go through, this is probably the most important part of our mission.
So, welcome to SPGH, if you are not already a member please join us, and come see us in our next event.
Chair of the Board
The Contributions of Hellenism
Classical Greece is universally viewed as the cradle of Western civilization, primarily through its contributions to philosophy, democratic governance, visual arts and architecture, theater and poetry, science and medicine, and sports and athletic competitions, including the Olympic games. Less is known about the great contributions of Greek civilization during Roman and medieval history as the main intellectual force in the 1000-year Byzantine Empire. Little is also known about contributions of modern Greece through its heroic fight against the injustices of two world wars and its struggle for peace, stability and cooperation in Europe.
In all these periods and various manifestations of Hellenism, one can find the same diachronic values tracing back to classical times. These values and lessons from the experiences of Hellenism remain of central importance to Western civilization.
Modern Greece and Cultural Heritage
Modern Greece was founded on the basis of its cultural heritage. The Nobelist George Seferis quotes an episode involving Yannis Makriyannis, a legendary general of the Greek War of Independence from the Ottomans. The old warrior had no schooling and he taught himself to write only so that he could record his memoirs for successive generations. Seferis describes an incident in which Makriyannis found out that some of his soldiers intended to sell two ancient statues. Seferis quotes Makriyannis: "I took these soldiers aside and told them this: 'You must not give away these things, not even for ten thousand talers; you must not let them leave the country; it was for them we fought.'"
Seferis writes, "It is not Lord Byron, or a great scholar, or an archaeologist speaking; it is a son of shepherds from Roumeli, his body covered with wounds: 'It was for them we fought'".
«Τοσοῦτον δ’ ἀπολέλοιπεν πόλις ἡμῶν περί τό φρονεῖν καί λέγειν τούς ἄλλους ἀνθρώπους, ὥσθ’ οἱ ταύτης μαθηταί τῶν ἄλλων διδάσκαλοι γεγόνασι καί τό τῶν Ἑλλήνων ὄνομα πεποίηκε μηκέτι τοῦ γένους, ἀλλά τῆς διανοίας δοκεῖν εἶναι, καί μᾶλλον Ἕλληνας καλεῖσθαι τούς τῆς παιδεύσεως τῆς ἡμετέρας, ἤ τούς τῆς κοινῆς φύσεως μετέχοντας»
"So far has Athens left the rest of mankind behind in thought and expression that her pupils have become the teachers of the world, and she has made the name of Hellas distinctive no longer of race but of intellect, and thus Hellenes should be called the ones who share our education rather than a common ancestry."
(Isokrates, Panegyric 50.1)