Adamantios Korais

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Adamantios Korais
Adamantios Korais.jpg
Adamantios Korais (1748–1833)
Native name
Ἀδαμάντιος Κοραῆς
Born(1748-04-27)27 April 1748
Died6 April 1833(1833-04-06) (aged 84)
Education University of Montpellier
(MBBS, 1786; MD, 1787)
Era Age of Enlightenment
School Liberalism, Modern Greek Enlightenment
Main interests
Political philosophy, philology, history, freedom of religion, Greek language, Greek Independence
Ecriture de Coray.JPG

Adamantios Korais or Koraïs (Greek : Ἀδαμάντιος Κοραῆς [aðaˈmandi.os koraˈis] ; Latin : Adamantius Coraes; French : Adamance Coray; 27 April 1748 6 April 1833) was a Greek scholar credited with laying the foundations of Modern Greek literature and a major figure in the Greek Enlightenment. His activities paved the way for the Greek War of Independence and the emergence of a purified form of the Greek language, known as Katharevousa. Encyclopædia Britannica asserts that "his influence on the modern Greek language and culture has been compared to that of Dante on Italian and Martin Luther on German". [1]

Greek language Language spoken in Greece, Cyprus and Southern Albania

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.

French language Romance language

French is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire, as did all Romance languages. French evolved from Gallo-Romance, the spoken Latin in Gaul, and more specifically in Northern Gaul. Its closest relatives are the other langues d'oïl—languages historically spoken in northern France and in southern Belgium, which French (Francien) has largely supplanted. French was also influenced by native Celtic languages of Northern Roman Gaul like Gallia Belgica and by the (Germanic) Frankish language of the post-Roman Frankish invaders. Today, owing to France's past overseas expansion, there are numerous French-based creole languages, most notably Haitian Creole. A French-speaking person or nation may be referred to as Francophone in both English and French.

Modern Greek literature

Modern Greek literature refers to literature written in common Modern Greek, emerging from the late Byzantine era in the 11th century AD. During this period, spoken Greek became more prevalent in the written tradition, as demotic Greek came to be used more and more over the Attic idiom and the katharevousa reforms.


Life and views

Korais was born in Smyrna, in 1748. His father Ioannis, of Chian descent, was demogérontas in Smyrna; a seat similar to the prokritoi of mainland Greece, but elected by the Greek community of the town and not imposed by the Ottomans.

Smyrna ancient city on the Aegean coast of Turkey

Smyrna was a Greek city founded in antiquity located at a central and strategic point on the Aegean coast of Anatolia. Since 1930, the modern city located there has been known as İzmir, in Turkey, the Turkish rendering of the same name. Due to its advantageous port conditions, its ease of defense and its good inland connections, Smyrna rose to prominence. Two sites of the ancient city are today within the boundaries of İzmir. The first site, probably founded by indigenous peoples, rose to prominence during the Archaic Period as one of the principal ancient Greek settlements in western Anatolia. The second, whose foundation is associated with Alexander the Great, reached metropolitan proportions during the period of the Roman Empire. Most of the present-day remains of the ancient city date from the Roman era, the majority from after a 2nd-century AD earthquake.

Chios Place in Greece

Chios is the fifth largest of the Greek islands, situated in the Aegean Sea, 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) off the Anatolian coast. The island is separated from Turkey by the Chios Strait. Chios is notable for its exports of mastic gum and its nickname is "the Mastic Island". Tourist attractions include its medieval villages and the 11th-century monastery of Nea Moni, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


The kodjabashis were local Christian notables in parts of the Ottoman Balkans, most often referring to Ottoman Greece and especially the Peloponnese. They were also known in Greek as proestoi or prokritoi or demogerontes. In some places they were elected, but, especially in the Peloponnese, they soon became a hereditary oligarchy, who exercised considerable influence and held posts in the Ottoman administration.

Residence of Korais in Amsterdam A. Korais house in Amsterdam.jpg
Residence of Korais in Amsterdam

He was exceptionally passionate about philosophy, literacy and linguistics and studied greatly throughout his youth. He initially studied in his home place, where he graduated from the Evangelical Greek School. [2]

Philosophy Study of general and fundamental questions

Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Such questions are often posed as problems to be studied or resolved. The term was probably coined by Pythagoras. Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation. Classic philosophical questions include: Is it possible to know anything and to prove it? What is most real? Philosophers also pose more practical and concrete questions such as: Is there a best way to live? Is it better to be just or unjust? Do humans have free will?

Literacy ability to read for knowledge, write coherently, and think critically about the written word; ability to read, write, and use arithmetic

Dictionaries traditionally define literacy as the ability to read and write. In the modern world, this is one way of interpreting literacy. One more broad interpretation sees literacy as knowledge and competence in a specific area. The concept of literacy has evolved in meaning. The modern term's meaning has been expanded to include the ability to use language, numbers, images, computers, and other basic means to understand, communicate, gain useful knowledge, solve mathematical problems and use the dominant symbol systems of a culture. The concept of literacy is expanding across OECD countries to include skills to access knowledge through technology and ability to assess complex contexts. A person who travels and resides in a foreign country but is unable to read or write in the language of the host country would be regarded by the locals as illiterate.

Linguistics is the scientific study of language. It involves analysing language form, language meaning, and language in context. The earliest activities in the documentation and description of language have been attributed to the 6th-century-BC Indian grammarian Pāṇini who wrote a formal description of the Sanskrit language in his Aṣṭādhyāyī.

After his school years, he lived for a while in Amsterdam as a merchant, but soon he decided that he wanted to study in a university. He studied also the Jewish, Dutch, French and English languages, apart from his knowledge of ancient Greek and Latin.

Amsterdam Capital city of the Netherlands

Amsterdam is the capital and most populous city of the Netherlands, with a population of 866,737 within the city proper, 1,380,872 in the urban area, and 2,410,960 in the metropolitan area. Amsterdam is in the province of North Holland.

Korais studied at the school of medicine of the University of Montpellier from 1782 to 1787. His 1786 diploma thesis was entitled Pyretologiae Synopsis, while his 1787 doctoral thesis was entitled Medicus Hippocraticus. [3]

University of Montpellier university in Montpellier, France

The University of Montpellier is a French public research university in Montpellier in south-east of France. Established in 1289, the University of Montpellier is one of the oldest universities in the world.

He traveled to Paris where he would continue his enthusiasm for knowledge. There he decided to translate ancient Greek authors and produced thirty volumes of those translations, being one of the first modern Greek philologists and publishers of ancient Greek literature.

Ancient Greece Civilization belonging to an early period of Greek history

Ancient Greece was a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history from the Greek Dark Ages of the 12th–9th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Roughly three centuries after the Late Bronze Age collapse of Mycenaean Greece, Greek urban poleis began to form in the 8th century BC, ushering in the Archaic period and colonization of the Mediterranean Basin. This was followed by the period of Classical Greece, an era that began with the Greco-Persian Wars, lasting from the 5th to 4th centuries BC. Due to the conquests by Alexander the Great of Macedon, Hellenistic civilization flourished from Central Asia to the western end of the Mediterranean Sea. The Hellenistic period came to an end with the conquests and annexations of the eastern Mediterranean world by the Roman Republic, which established the Roman province of Macedonia in Roman Greece, and later the province of Achaea during the Roman Empire.

After 1788 he was to spend most of his life as an expatriate in Paris. A classical scholar, Korais was repelled by the Byzantine influence in Greek society and was a fierce critic of the lack of education amongst the clergy and their subservience to the Ottoman Empire, although he conceded it was the Orthodox Church that preserved the national identity of Greeks.

While in Paris, he was witness to the French Revolution. He was influenced by the revolutionary and liberal sentiments of his age. He admired Thomas Jefferson; and exchanged political and philosophical thoughts with the American statesman. A typical man of the Enlightenment, Korais encouraged wealthy Greeks to open new libraries and schools throughout Greece. Korais believed that education would ensure not only the achievement of independence but also the establishment of a proper constitution for the new liberated Greek state. He envisioned a democratic Greece, recapturing the glory of the Golden Age of Pericles.

Korais died in Paris aged 84 soon after publishing the first volume of his autobiography. In 1877, his remains were sent to Greece, to be buried there.


Cover from his "Salpisma Polemistirion" (1801) Salpisma Polemisterion - Hellas.jpg
Cover from his "Salpisma Polemistirion" (1801)

Korais's most lasting contributions were literary. Those who were instrumental in publishing, and presenting his work to the public were merchants from Chios. He felt eternally grateful to these merchants, since without them, it would have been financially impossible for him to publish his works. These works included Strabo in Greek, another on Marcus Aurelius, his translation of Herodotus, the translation of the Iliad, and his main literary work, the seventeen volumes of the "Library of Greek Literature".

His political writing really begins with the publication at the opening of the nineteenth century of Asma Polemistirion ("War Chant") and Salpisma Polemistirion ("Military Bugal Call"), celebrating the presence of Greek troops fighting alongside the French in Egypt. Earlier he had attacked with his Adelphiki Didaskalia the Patriarch of Jerusalem for urging the Sultan's Christian subjects to support him in the war against the 'atheistic' French.

Korais went on to publish in 1803 his Report on the Present State of Civilization in Greece, based on a series of lectures he had given in Paris, extolling the link between the rise of a new Greek mercantile class and the advance of the Greek Enlightenment or Diafotismos. In What should we Greeks do in the Present Circumstances?, a work of 1805, he tried to win his compatriots over to Napoleon and away from the cause of their Russian co-religionists. In later years, though, his enthusiasm for the French Emperor diminished, and he ended by referring to him as the 'tyrant of tyrants.'

Away from contemporary politics, Korais did much to revive the idea of Greece with the creation of the Hellenic Library, devoted to new editions of some of the classic texts, starting with Homer in 1805. Over the following twenty years many others appeared, with lengthy prefaces by Korais entitled 'Impromptu Reflections', with his views on political, educational and linguistic matters. Although the broad mass of the Greek people was beyond his reach, he played an important part in the shaping of a new consciousness among the intelligentsia, which was to play a part in the creation of a new national movement.

With the breakout of the Greek revolution in 1821, he was too old to join the struggle. However his house in Paris became a centre for informations, meetings among the Parisian Greeks and financial aid. He wrote also many letters advising the revolutionaries. Initially a supporter of Kapodistrias, finally he opposed his policies.

On religion

Korais was a Greek Orthodox but also a critic of many practices of the Orthodox church. He was a fierce critic of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, considering it as a useful tool in the hands of the Ottomans against the Greek independence. So, later, he was one of the supporters of the new established Church of Greece.

He was also critic of the monasticism, the ignorance of the clergy, and practices like that of the "Holy Fire". He was a supporter of religious freedom, empiricism, rationalism and tolerance. He set himself in opposition to some metaphysical ideals of Greek custom and sought to mould Greek Orthodoxy towards a more syncretic religious basis, in order to bring it under the auspices of liberal thought and government.

On Greek language

Cenotaph of Korais; Montparnasse Cemetery. Cenotaphe Adamantios Korais, Cimetiere du Montparnasse.jpg
Cenotaph of Korais; Montparnasse Cemetery.

One of his most significant accomplishments was his contribution to the redefining of the Greek Language. The Greeks were dispersed so widely across Europe, people who served several masters. He decided to purge the Demotic (the vernacular or spoken language) of foreign elements (such as Turkish, but also Western, words and phrases). His vision led to the creation of Katharevousa by future scholars.

His intent was to bring the language as close as possible to the classic of Ancient Greece. This effort ultimately led to his publishing the "Atakta", the first Modern Greek dictionary.

Statue of Korais in Athens (work of Ioannis Kossos). Adamantios Korais statue Athens.jpg
Statue of Korais in Athens (work of Ioannis Kossos).

Unknown to most, Korais held passionate views on how the legal system should function in a democracy (views which of course, were greatly influenced by the French Enlightenment, closer to Montesquieu than to Rousseau) and managed to have a great, albeit indirect, impact on the Constitutions of the Greek Revolution, but also, primarily, on the Constitutions or Syntagma created after the end of the Greek Revolution. This element holds significant importance if one takes into consideration the fact that these meta-Revolution Constitutions still, to the present day, form the basis of the Greek Constitution and the philosophy on which the guiding principles of the Greek legal and judicial system are rooted in.

This influence Korais exercised on Greek Law, was due to a personal relationship the intellectual formed with another Greek intellectual, the legal scholar of international repute N. I. Saripolos, who, after the Greek Revolution, became the founding father of Greek Law and the "author" of the Greek Constitution. Proof of this relationship and of the strong and progressive views Korais held on how the legal system of the new Greek state should be formed, is based on correspondence exchanged between the two men, during a long period of time, beginning before the Greek Revolution. These letters which manifest the influence the older intellectual (Korais) had on the then aspiring lawmaker Saripolos, are in the possession of the archives of the Greek National Library, were discovered and brought to academic light, in 1996, by a Law School student, researching a project sponsored by the Faculty of Law of the University of Athens and the National Academy for Constitutional Research and Public Law (adjacent to the University of Athens). The ensuing thesis was published. [4]


Korais was declared Pater Patriae ("Pateras tis Patridos") by the revolutionaries at the Third National Assembly at Troezen.

Korais' portrait was depicted on the reverse of the Greek 100 drachmas banknote of 1978–2001. [5]

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  1. "Adamantios Korais - biography - Greek scholar". Encyclopædia Britannica.
  2. Trencsényi, Balázs; Kopeček, Michal (2006). Discourses of collective identity in Central and Southeast Europe (1770–1945): texts and commentaries. Central European University Press. p. 141. ISBN   978-963-7326-52-3.
  3. Ioannis Taifakos, "Korais and Latin" in Proceedings of Korais Congress and Chios (Chios 11–15 May 1983), I, Athens: Omirion Pnevmatikon Kentron Chiou, 1984, pp. 67–89, esp. p. 70
  4. Aμαλία Νεγρεπόντη, "Ν.Ι. Σαρίπολου "Περί της Δικαστικής Εξουσίας"" Archived 24 November 2011 at the Wayback Machine , "Εφαρμογές Δημοσίου Δικαίου", Τεύχος1/1996
  5. Bank of Greece Archived 28 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine . Drachma Banknotes & Coins: 100 drachmas Archived 5 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine . – Retrieved on 27 March 2009.

Further reading