Scholars' Association News
Issue 31
July 2014


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Athens Dialogues: the adventure of human curiosity in five acts
By Dr. Niki Tsironi

During the academic year which ended, as part of the ‘Athens Dialogues’ Project, the Onassis Foundation organised a series of five colloquia in Greece and abroad on issues of particular interest to the academic community but also the general public. The series kicked off with the colloquium on ‘The Adventure of Human Curiosity’. The topics of the five colloquia were relevant to themes equally interesting to the academic community but also to modern man. The academic approach taken by the keynote speakers was enriched by the viewpoint of people of action, whose life experiences of the topics helped stimulate exceptionally interesting dialogue between the speakers themselves and between the panels and the audience.

The topics chosen by the Organising Committee chaired by Prof. Georgios Babiniotis, working in partnership with the President and Board of Directors of the Foundation, shed light on issues that came to the fore through dialogue with academics in Europe and America.


This year’s events were launched on 20 September by “The Adventure of Human Curiosity: Travelling from antiquity to modern recreation” hosted on the central stage of the Onassis Cultural Centre, in Athens. Leading academics from Greece and abroad, such as Petros Themelis, Richard Stoneman, Antigoni Zournatzi, former Director of the Walters Art Museum Gary Vikan, Veronica della Dora, current Director of the French Archaeological School in Athens Alexandre Farnoux, Maria Kostaridou, Konstantinos Staikos, Ioli Vingopoulou and John Walton from Bilbao University, Mayia Tsokli and Ismini Morou, contributed as speakers to the event which showcased the function of travel over the centuries. Travel started as an expression of human curiosity, then morphed into pilgrimages primarily aimed at the Holy Land and other areas charged with religious meaning during the Middle Ages. In modern times, travel has once again become associated with human curiosity, as expressed through the spirit of the Enlightenment and Romanticism.Journeys by intellectuals of that time have been captured in the drawings of travellers which testify to their views about the peoples and places they visited. The colloquium also focused on a new purpose in travelling in the modern age: travel for pleasure, which is a form of travel that has emerged over the last two centuries. This is a living reality that is particularly interesting for Greece in this day and age.

The colloquium was also accompanied by a small, outstanding exhibition curated by Konstantinos Staikos. The books presented in the exhibition that come from the Onassis Foundation Collection showed images of Athens from travel books printed in various languages from the 16th to the 19th century.


Discussing the perpetual dialectic relationship between body and spirit, the colloquium held at the Onassis Cultural Centre on 15 November 2013 focused on the historic development of this topic of crucial importance, that can be traced from the philosophies of antiquity, through the Middle Ages, right up to modern times. The exceptionally important chapter of antiquity was covered by interesting papers presented by Stelios Virvidakis and Pavlos Kalligas from the University of Athens (Department of Philosophy and History of Science) and Andreas Lebedev from the University of Crete. The dynamic antithesis of body and spirit was reflected in the event’s programme by the visual works of the Foundation’s Scholar, Uroš T. Todorovic, an artist with a PhD in Byzantine Art Theology who has a very unique style indeed. Dr. Todorovic along with renowned Byzantine expert and theologian Fr Andrew Louth addressed how the body was explored as a means of perceiving the spirit during the Middle Ages. Acclaimed professor of philosophy Algis Mickunas from the University of Ohio, spoke about the failure of reductionisms in the Age of Reason, while young and brilliant Pavlos Kontos, from the University of Patras, spoke about the ‘Corporeal Self: A mind older than ourselves’. The presentation by Vasso Kindi, University of Athens Professor in the Department of Philosophy and History of Science, also focused on physicality, and was followed by a presentation from University of Athens Professor Emeritus Mr. Ioannis Metaxas. In an exceptionally inspired talk packed with imagination and vitality, Professor Metaxas brought us to the modern age talking about the ‘The Rhetoric of the body: A questioning and questioned image’. The eloquently expressed philosophical concerns of Stavroula Tsinorema were followed by a talk from lyricist Lina Nikolakopoulou, who spoke in a direct way of her own experiences as a modern person, bringing the colloquium to a close.


This colloquium was organized in cooperation with the Centre for Hellenic Studies of King’s College London, which this year celebrates its 25th anniversary with a series of exceptionally important events in the British capital. Prof. Roderick Beaton, Charlotte Roueché, and other staff from the College worked together to prepare the programme and to host the colloquium which was held at the Anatomy Theatre, one of the University’s historic amphitheatres on 30 November 2013. The relationship between word and image is at once both an ancient and contemporary issue. Over the course of the centuries, words and images have been conveyed in different ways, each of which -from the discovery of the alphabet to YouTube- was an innovation that opened up new pathways of communication. The continuous existence of the Greek language means that there has been an ongoing debate over these issues for many centuries. The aim of this ‘Dialogue’ was to explore the interaction between words and images from antiquity to the globalised world of today. Which is more powerful – the Word, the Image or something which encapsulates the tension between the two, the Logo?

From word to image and from the meaning of images to text as image, the issues explored at the colloquium were brought to an end with images of the past expressed today. The group of acclaimed speakers included Malcolm Schofield, Prof. Emeritus of Ancient Philosophy at the University of Cambridge, Robin Cormack, Prof. Emeritus of Art History at the University of London, Liz James, Professor of Art History at the University of Sussex and an Onassis Foundation Scholar, Gunther Kress, Professor of Semiotics and Education at the Department of Culture, Communication and Media at the University of London’s Institute of Education, Tim Stanley from the Victoria and Albert Museum, and Sagi Haviv, from the world of cutting-edge business who spoke about logos as identity and gave the audience a picture about how the history of the dialectic between word and image translates into a product with purchasing power and value. In the closing session, the presentations by Anastasia Bakogianni, from the UK Open University and historian, author and presenter of some of the BBC’s most popular documentary series, Bettany Hughes, were impressive indeed.


The February colloquium was dedicated to the new academic discipline of Medical Humanities. This new academic field includes the history of medicine and pharmacology but also the role of illness and how it is narrated in society. The geographical region of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans is of particular importance for this field, since most historical sources come from there. The colloquium explored further issues and views about the nature of illness and health, the role of doctor and patient and other related topics which shed light on this multi-sided, new discipline from various viewpoints. The speakers included Eileen Gillooly and Neni Panourgia from the University of Columbia, and Stefanos Geroulanos, Prof. of Surgery at Zurich University and President of the International Hippocratic Foundation on Kos.

Dionysios Stathakopoulos, Professor at King’s College London, Roy Ascott, President of Planetary Collegium, Art Historian Anna Hatzigiannaki, linguist Dimitris Goutsos, and journalist Ioannis Soufleri from the Lambrakis Press Organisation and others also spoke.


The most recent colloquium hosted as part of the Athens Dialogues took place at the Kostis Palamas Building of the University of Athens on 28 March 2014. The rubric for the event ‘Sports, Theatre, Music, Literature, Contemporary Marathons’ shows the ambitious range of topics the event sought to address. Starting from games in antiquity, it examined the spirit of games, and all the ideological, political and religious aspects of this. This topic was addressed by Panos Valavanis, University of Athens Professor of Classical Antiquity, while Yiannis Zervas, Prof. Emeritus of Sport Psychology at the University of Athens focused on the sporting spirit then and now, raising thorny aspects of modern sporting ethics. Yiannis Petropoulos, Professor of Ancient Greek Philosophy at the Democritus University of Thrace, and Director of the Harvard University Centre for Hellenic Studies in Greece, explored a key aspect of games in antiquity in the paper entitled ‘The race for immortality in Greek sport’. Former president of the Onassis Scholars’Association, lawyer Ioanna Kondyli, gave a talk on the notion of the contest for excellence and excellent contests, with emphasis on their legal aspect.

Vassilis Xydias spoke about the concept of ‘race’ in Christianity while Eri Stravropoulou talked about the exceptionally interesting topic of literary contests in the newly established state of Greece in the 19th and 20th centuries. Major efforts were also made to tie these topics into modern reality. Composer Dimitris Papadimitriou spoke about ‘Greek Song Competitions: from Manos Hadjidakis and the Third Radio Programme to the Onassis Cultural Centre’ demonstrating the continuity of a medium which helped showcase modern artists from the age of Hadjidakis and the legendary Third Programme (a State-run classic music radio station) to the modern day with the Greek Song Competition hosted by the Onassis Cultural Centre. Marianna Moschou, President of the Hellenic Society for Rehabilitation of the Disabled (ELEPAP) and Secretary General of the Onassis Foundation spoke about volunteerism and modern Marathon races as a means of raising awareness and promoting social involvement in relation to the needs of those next to us. The archaeologist and communications consultant, Dr. Angeliki Kosmopoulou, added her own personal viewpoint about participation in modern marathons, stressing the social dimension of long-distance races, a point captured succinctly in the title of her presentation ‘Running for Others’. Images of races on 35mm film were presented by Christos Godas, director and Foundation scholar. Isidoros Kouvelos, President of the International Olympic Academy explained the Academy’s vision for the Olympic Spirit and its position in modern life.

Once the presentations are posted online and others published, this exceptionally rich body of materials from the five events held during the academic year which ended will become a driving force promoting online dialogue. The Athens Dialogues Project, which has now been in existence for 4 years, having started in 2010, already holds out much promise and the academic and intellectual views expressed by men of science, the arts and business now need to be utilised in the best possible, most creative manner. Besides, interaction between the intellect, art and real life was one of key objectives of these events, and was certainly achieved during the Dialogues. The Chairman of the Organising Committee, Mr. Georgios Babiniotis and his team, with the unwavering support of the President, Board of Directors and staff of the Onassis Foundation and the Onassis Cultural Centre, made this innovative venture feasible and ensured it was a success. His masterful chairmanship and coordination of all the colloquia demonstrate the sheer scale of his contribution.

Dr Niki Tsironi is a Researcher at the Institute of Historical Research – National Hellenic Research Foundation Academic coordinator of the ‘Athens Dialogues’ Project

* Photographs from all five events are available online on the website

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