Ex­hi­bi­tion pre­serves mem­ory of ‘great spirit’ Anas­ta­sios Agath­idis

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY ELIS KISS

A 16th-cen­tury vol­ume traces the history of re­li­gion – one of the first ever edi­tions to fea­ture the “grecs du roi” type­face, or­dered on be­half of King Fran­cis I of France – while another ex­plores the col­or­ful pavil­ions of Lon­don’s 1862 In­ter­na­tional Ex­hi­bi­tion in South Kens­ing­ton. Both are part of “Rare Books, Rare Peo­ple: Anas­ta­sios Agath­idis,” an ex­hi­bi­tion go­ing on dis­play in Prousos, Evry­ta­nia, cen­tral Greece, from Au­gust 10 to 23.

The ex­hi­bi­tion show­cases books, en­grav­ings and manuscripts, all be­queathed to the com­mu­nity of Prousos by one of its most il­lus­tri­ous sons, clas­si­cal literature teacher and bene­fac­tor Anas­ta­sios Agath­idis (1794-1881), and will be on view at the li­brary bear­ing his name. While Agath­idis’s ini­tial do­na­tion com­prised over 1,000 vol­umes, only about 300 vol­umes sur­vive to­day. For sev­eral decades the do­na­tions served as a wealthy source of learn­ing for Prousos and the broader area. In re­cent years, how­ever, much of the col­lec­tion suf­fered ir­repara­ble dam­age due to ne­glect.

In the mean­time, lit­tle is known about the life of the man whose bust graces one of the vil­lage squares. His­to­rian-bi­og­ra­pher Leonie Thana­soula, who or­ga­nized the ex­hi­bi­tion, hopes this will soon change.

What is known is that the bene­fac­tor was born Anas­ta­sios Kaper­das and was later re­named “Agath­idis” by his teach­ers be­cause of his kind na­ture (in an­cient Greek “agathos” means good and noble). He spent 40 years in Lon­don, where he tu­tored Greek states­man Char­i­laos Trik­oupis and his sis­ter, Sophia, among other mem­bers of the city’s Greek di­as­pora.

“My for­ays into Prousos and by ex­ten­sion Agath­idis show that chang­ing your point of view on a place or a sit­u­a­tion can lead to some­thing very pos­i­tive,” Thana­soula told Kathimerini English Edi­tion. “In this case, it was about us­ing cul­tural her­itage in a con­tem­po­rary way – where oth­ers see aban­don­ment and a lack of prospects for the fu­ture.”

For the his­to­rian-bi­og­ra­pher, who has fam­ily ties with Prousos, the Agath­idis pro­ject goes well be­yond the Au­gust dis­play: She was re­cently awarded a schol­ar­ship from the Bri­tish School at Athens to carry out re­search on Agath­idis, Lon­don’s 19th-cen­tury Greek di­as­pora and the history of ed­u­ca­tion in Greek and Bri­tain in the same cen­tury.

“Agath­idis’s life and work is a good ex­am­ple of the in­flu­ence of the mod­ern Greek en­light­en­ment be­cause this is a unique case of a bene­fac­tor who did not be­long to the en­tre­pre­neur­ial world of his era,” noted Thana­soula. “Mean­while, the ex­hi­bi­tion show­cases the in­flu­ence of Greek cul­ture in the de­vel­op­ment of Europe in gen­eral.”

Be­sides Agath­idis’s book col­lec­tion – mainly Ger­man ti­tles – the Prousos dis­play presents three teach­ing vol­umes penned by the teacher him­self – the first, a text­book for school­girls learn­ing An­cient Greek, was pub­lished in 1840, at a time when he was teach­ing at the Volmerange girls’ school in Naf­plio, in the Pelo­pon­nese.

The bene­fac­tor chose to be buried in the Bri­tish cap­i­tal, but his books even­tu­ally ar­rived in Prousos with a car­a­van of mules, while the gold coins he be­queathed the moun­tain vil­lage com­mu­nity were used for the con­struc­tion and main­te­nance of a school and the li­brary. “I was an­noyed by the fact that all that was left of him was the name of the li­brary, a bust and 300 books for dis­play,” said Thana­soula. “A non-preser­va­tion of mem­ory is the big­gest loss when it comes to a great spirit.”

Di­as­pora Greek. Anas­ta­sios Agath­idis spent 40 years in Lon­don.

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