Long journey to spread the word

During most of my long career in botany, I lived in the luminous presence of my husband, Angelos Goulandris. It was he who supported me and gave priority to botany among the research activities of the Museum. In this way, he broadened horizons and gave impetus to new and advanced approaches…. Angelos Goulandris had grasped the ecumenical nature of ancient thought from Hesiod and the pre-Socratic philosophers to Aristotle, and he felt the necessity of relating them to today’s time of crisis. He had also understood the need of preserving the Greek natural and geographic world as the land whence, according to Empedocles, «the roots of everything grow.» We both believed that from the total of the natural world, nothing could be subtracted without destroying the harmony and the balance that unifies the whole, and that the loss of either one would lead to the annihilation of man. We regarded the preservation of ancient memory, the Greek measure of things, the clarity of light and the language as a vehicle in human relations, in science and in technology, as our ethical resistance to the inhumane conditions of today. This was the motivating force and direction our lives would take. Having perceived the message that Nature herself was threatened, at a time when there was still little awareness of the dangers, we started out on a long and arduous journey. My studies directed me toward many different disciplines: law, economics, political science, philosophy, arts and biology. I remember passing from one field to another, in each case seeking consistently to enlarge and broaden my scope and to link together what had remained in my mind as unalterable and to enlighten what had remained obscure. My interest in philosophy gave me a productive starting point for scientific research, and the knowledge that I obtained from the sciences fortified my confidence that philosophy answered questions that were not to be found elsewhere. To concepts so familiar in my language as justice, ethics, truth, order, necessity, beauty and hubris the same ancient questions were posed: How should we live? What is the purpose of life? As young people, we followed the central intellectual trends of the times, but also the work of thinkers on the periphery who called attention to matters of the greatest importance. We communicated with those who worked at the center where decisions were made, but at the same time we listened to those who lived their lives in the countryside. It was an article of our faith and our ambition to create a place for communication which would focus on Greece yet whose range of influence would be worldwide. We took the view that we had had the good fortune to be born and raised in a country which is one of the most favored on Earth. We saw Greece as a microcosm of the planet through which we would resist its degradation. We would arouse an awareness of the environment that was well informed and responsible. It was a difficult task searching in the folds of the body of Western thought to extract and coordinate independent concepts that were derived, ultimately, from ancient Greek sources. Later, in the museum itself, we would first make our direct contacts with the physical body of Greece, for it was Greek nature itself which would reveal the meaning and weight of our still hidden mission. It was a long journey, but there was encouragement along the way… In 1964, we founded the Goulandris Natural History Museum, a private, non-profit foundation as a workshop for research and a base for action. The project progressed quietly. It was a private investment of resources, time and knowledge for the creation of an institution, hitherto unknown in Greece, which would have as its objective [sounding] a nationwide alert for the protection of the country’s precious natural wealth and an awareness on the part of young people of a new code of values based on the criterion of a balanced coexistence of man and the natural environment. For decades, the museum, with a team of Greek and non-Greek scientists, has promoted the country’s biological and geological wealth. It has recorded it by means of scientific and popular publications, as well as through exhibitions held in and outside Greece. Above all, it has built up a vast treasure house of its collections. Today these collections number hundreds of thousands of specimens. Being the depository of the country’s data banks, they constitute a valuable national asset. Furthermore, they form the basis for scientific research and application in the fields of environmental policy, soil biology, biotechnology, agriculture and pharmacology in Greece, in Europe and worldwide. The Goulandris Natural History Museum was the first to introduce education into Greek museums. Biologists and educators have led thousands of children into its exhibition halls, instructed them in the workings of the natural and animal world, and initiated them into the concepts of biodiversity and the interdependence and balance of ecosystems. Since 1975, 3 million visitors, 70 percent of them young people, have passed through the Museum’s portals and have seen the exhibitions which it has organized. In 1987 the Goulandris Natural History Museum was chosen as a «Museum of Influence» together with another 37 from the world’s 35,000 museums.

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