The Hellenic Library of the Onassis Foundation
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 Mallarmé 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 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.
DR. ANTONY S. PAPADIMITRIOU
Alexander S. Onassis
Public Benefit Foundation