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.”