The Onassis Library


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Onassis Library
ONASSIS LIBRARY
The role of books in the perpetuation of historical memory has been acknowledged from the earliest years of the dawn of writing. Some personalities, such as Mallerme and George Steiner, have indeed spoken of the ‘voice’ and of the ‘silence’ of books. The fundamental position of intellectuals is that books represent the agent par excellence of knowledge and are an indisputable judge of the true picture of events. In these days of super-inflation of incoherent information, random censorship of the politically correct and what is accepted by religion as well as other similar phenomena, books continue to speak to us long after they have been read. 

The heroes, the notions that are expounded and the social criticism exercised all continue to live in our minds and guide our thoughts. Many books in this way become part and parcel of society to such an extent, that they are even referred to by people who have not read the works. For example, in their everyday speech, people quote verses by Cavafy and Shakespeare, mention heroes from the works of Kafka and Moliere, without knowing their origins. The books of Konstantinos Staikos collection have an eloquent silence of a different kind. They testify to an era long past that has not, however, ceased to influence us, in ways we do not acknowledge or do not wish to acknowledge. They were printed from early days of Renaissance up to the later years of the Neohellenic Enlightenment. This says a lot about how rare and how old they are. However, it says even more if we consider that, at the time, Greece was still under the Ottoman yoke, a period in time obscurantism, tyranny and subjection. The 1500 titles of the Staikos Collection reveal anything but a subjection of the spirit of the Greeks. They are books of science, editions of the classics lost for centuries, books of philosophy and theology, of logic, geography, grammar as well as liturgical. Later, they were books that were revolutionary for their time and still are, such as my favorites: “Elliniki Nomarchia by an Anonymous Hellene”, all the books by Adamantios Coraes- who was at some time excommunicated – and the Charta by Rigas Feraios. 

One is glad that some books have existed, and also sad, mainly about the opportunities missed. However, these volumes survived –even the most revolutionary- when certain people read them, they diffused them and finally, preserved them from voracious time and reactionary powers at their own risk. It is a fact that should make us optimistic about the triumph of the spirit and the reason even in our days. Let us consider what Greece was like when these books were published and what it is like nowadays. 

Let us mainly think of the differences and the similarities. Where we have made progress and where we stayed the same. I am of those who believe that the period in which we are living is better than 500 years ago (the decade from 1960 to 1970), than 90 years ago (the 1922 Asia Minor Disaster) as well as 150 years ago (when the Greek territory extended only as far as the Ambracian Gulf). Crises of values – social, national, political and governmental – existed then and still exist today. The testimony of those pages worn by time is that in the end, us Greeks were able to overcome it all, to supersede ourselves, even when all the odds were against us. The Konstantinos Sp. Staikos Collection was not acquired by the Onassis Foundation to enrich our library. With the agreement of Kostas Staikos himself, whom I take this opportunity to thank yet again, the Collection was acquired to be preserved as perpetual property of the Greek Nation, to make these books accessible to researchers, being gradually uploaded on the Internet so that they may be reached by as many people as possible. 

 ANTONY S. PAPADIMITRIOU 
 President, Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation
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DESCRIPTION

The Onassis Library is housed in a neoclassical building of the Onassis Foundation in Plaka (Amalias Avenue 56) and accumulates two large collections of books:

1. The Hellenic Library (K. Staikos' book collection)

2. The Travel Accounts book collection 

The Hellenic Library book collection consists of books representing the intellectual activity of the Greeks, whether of the secular world or of the Church, from the period of the Italian Renaissance until the late years of Neo-Hellenic Enlightenment, that is to say the period from the outset of the fifteenth to the first decades of the nineteenth centuries. These publications are not confined to purely spiritual quests and the composition of manuals for educational purposes, nor only to issue the books necessary for the conduct of the liturgy in Orthodox churches and matters of dogma, they also comprise texts, bulls, patents and every sort of document legitimizing the privileges of Greeks active in the West and the Orient.

Greeks exercised the art of typography and were occupied in book publishing whether as authors, in literary editing, correctors as well as sponsors at a time when the capital of the empire, Constantinople, had fallen (1453). They were thus initially staffing the Italian publishing and printing centres mainly, in this way contributing to Westerners learning of the Greek language as well as the dissemination of the editiones principes of Ancient Greek writings, in the framework of the spirit of Humanism. Subsequently, already in 1499 they set up printing works under Greek ownership that continued in operation until the early decades of the nineteenth century in Venice. The orientation of their publications altered radically from the beginning of the sixteenth century when Greek printers, publishers and intellectuals set to work to support the scattered Hellenism of the diaspora, printing the books indispensable for maintaining its unity: language, the Orthodox faith and spiritual tradition.

The Library contains more than 1,400 titles, copies of which extend to about 2000 volumes, classed in five basic entities.

Renaissance – Humanism

Ancient Greek authors, Humanist works, grammars, encyclopaedias, dictionaries, philosophical treatises and literary essays.


Neo-Hellenic Literature

Literary works, poetry and folklore, historical treatises, grammars for educational purposes, literary essays, grammar-dictionaries and every sort of school text book.


Liturgical Books

Gospels, Books of Months (Menaia), Psalters, Books of Hours, Pentekostaria, Prayer books et al.


Treatises of Theology

Patristic works by Greek Church Fathers, treatises concerning the Schism between the two Churches, texts on the history of the Orthodox Church, lengthy studies regarding the Orthodox dogma and the Popes Infallibility et al.


Neo-Hellenic Enlightenment

Original works written for the intellectual elevation of the Greek people, Greek translations of works of prose of the world and poetry and examples of the literary and linguistic dispute in the framework of European Enlightenment and the ideas arising from the French Revolution.

The total of titles in Greek classed in the Hellenic Bibliography representing publications serving the purposes mentioned above as well as the books published in Latin or other European languages dealing with the works and days of the Greeks amount to some 7.000. The majority of these books were published mainly by Greek printing houses in Venice or at printers issuing Greek books for the Greek-speaking public. Printers with similar publishing orientation were set up in Venice, Florence, Rome, Paris, Geneva, Alcala, Kefalonia, London, Constantinople, Vienna, Leipzig, Jassy, Bucharest, Moschopolis, Buda, Pest, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Mount Athos, Smyrna, Odessa and Jerusalem.

The Travel Accounts book collection consists of 1.200 editions written by various European travelers describing the Mediterranean area and Southeast Europe from the 16th to the 20th century.

These books, although possessing many elements of fantasy, are a valuable source of information for society, culture, geography, economy, religion and all aspects of daily life of the people that travelers met during their voyages. Moreover, since these books are accompanied by rich graphic material (photographs, engravings, drawings, etc.), they provide significant records of archaeological sites and monuments while composing the local history through the unique view of European travelers.

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