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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 26 October 2019
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 26 OCTOBER 2019 17 HISTORY Stamps of my history ALEXANDER BILLINIS wo years ago, we moved from Chicago to South Carolina. Moving is never easy. It is a loss of nerves, and in my case, pounds from work and stress, and it always costs more than you anticipate. Things get lost, and broken. Sometimes, however, things do get found. During the moving chaos, items lost or forgotten (particularly when, as in our family, we have moved about ten times in sixteen years of marriage) suddenly (re)-emerge. As I returned from our new South Carolinian home to finish off the move from our former Chicago home, I wearily opened yet another box, one long sealed, likely from before our eight years in Europe. This one was full of good things. In the chaotic aftermath of my father's death from Alzheimer's, many family heirlooms were lost to my eldest sister and me. Among the items my father intended for me included several folders and binders of stamps, collected both as a side hobby and from an extensive correspondence in Greece and Cyprus. Opening the box, several booklets and packages of painstakingly compiled Greek stamps from four decades fell into my lap. I turned the pages reverently, as beautiful, brightly coloured images of Greece's four millennia of history, national costumes, (ex) Kings and Queens, and Junta Phoenixes shone behind protective covers, compiled by a man who loved Greece with such visceral intensity. Whether from the exhaustion of too much cardboard and carrying, or the memory of his gentle heart, I cried. As moving—and valuable—as T this compilation was, together with a beautifully-bound edition of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, with stamps from a country that no longer exists; it was, rather, a haphazard manilla envelope that touched me the most. Stuffed with well over one hundred envelopes from Greece and Cyprus, most of them emptied of their letters, but the return addresses, dates, and once again, the stamps, carried stories personal and national. I found it possible, using the date, the sender, and the stamp's era and subject to surmise something of the context and contents. In particular, there were two sets of letters that recalled personal and difficult national histories. For as long as I can remember, my father had a subscription at Eleftheroudakis Book Store, a virtual shrine to us every time we were in Greece (a chain now sadly defunct, but it was there when I lived there, a source of solace from the "Greek Reality"). Over the course of ten years, from mid 1970s to mid-1980s, a dozen tome edition, Istoria tou Ellinikou Ethnos (History of the Greek Nation), arrived at our Salt Lake City home, the arrival of each book being an occasion for schoolboy delight on my father's part. I read the typed invoices, and the correspondence back and forth, usually my father complaining about the delay in a long-awaited tome or the arbitrary change of price in dollars. This series, now in a place of honour in our home library in Serbia, was the foundation both of my Greek and my knowledge of Greek history. The correspondence and the books they paid for have played a singular role in my life and identity. Stamps, collected as a side hobby, now stand as works of art and history. Other letters had beautiful stamps, often enough depicting nature and (until 1974) neutral, non-nationalistic themes. The stamps were in Greek, but also in Turkish and English. Cypriot. The dates, all from the mid to late 1970s, from the immediate aftermath of the Turks' vivisection of this leaf shaped island, are likely from Cypriot friends and organisations thanking my father for his efforts on their behalf. Thumbing through the stamped, franked envelopes made me proud of my father's past efforts, and reminded me that the old would inflicted in 1974 has yet to be healed. More than any viral meme on Facebook, these silent envelopes are a call to action. My initial review of the stamps, in haste during the move, turned into a longer one, as I showed my family our history in stamps, and then I put these words to paper. These stamps serve as elegant markers of a slower, more deliberate time, and their correspondence and contents stamped their identity on me. This legacy, retrieved from cardboard and dust, now returns to a place of honor in our new home. * Alexander Billinis is an instructor and graduate student at Clemson University. His thesis concerns the history of the Greek merchant marine. His book, 'Hidden Mosaics: an Aegean tale', is available on Amazon. The original version of this article appeared in Weekly Hubris (www.weeklyhubris.com). E Deciphering Ancient Greek inscriptions using Pythia pigraphy, the study of written matter recorded on hard or durable material, which – as a term – is derived from the Classical Greek epigraphein ("to write upon, incise") and epigraphē ("inscription"), is a prime tool in recovering much of the firsthand record of antiquity and thus, an essential adjunct of the study of ancient peoples. However, inscriptions –as records of ancient cultural heritageare often incomplete due to deliberate destruction, or erosion and fragmentation over the centuries. Illegible parts of the text must then be restored by specialists, known as epigraphists. However one of the problems with discerning meaning from incomplete fragments of text is that there are often multiple possible solutions. Now, researchers at Oxford University – a Greek, Yannis Assael, among them – and Google's DeepMind – a London-based Artificial Intelligence (AI) companyhave created Pythia. Bringing together the disciplines of ancient history and deep learning, AI Pythia – which takes its name from the woman who delivered the god Apollo's oracular responses at the Greek sanctuary of Delphi- is the first ancient text restoration model aiming to recover missing characters from a damaged text input using deep neural networks. Epigraphy is made easier to decipher using AI. PythiaMore specifically, Pythia takes a sequence of damaged text as input, and is trained to predict character sequences comprising hypothesised restorations of ancient Greek inscriptions (texts written in the Greek alphabet dating between the 7th century BCE and the 5th century CE). The architecture works at both the character- and wordlevel, thereby effectively handling long-term context information, and dealing efficiently with incomplete word representations. This makes it applicable to all disciplines dealing with ancient texts (philology, papyrology, codicology) and applies to any language (ancient or modern). The AI seems to be better than humans at filling in missing words. To test the system, the researchers' team hid nine letters of a Greek personal name from Pythia, and it managed to fill in the blanks. In a headto-head test, where the AI attempted to fill the gaps in 2949 damaged inscriptions, human experts made 30 per cent more mistakes than the AI. Moreover, whereas the experts took 2 hours to get through 50 inscriptions, Pythia gave its guesses for the entire cohort in seconds. Even if Pythia is highly accurate in predicting missing characters in Ancient Greek inscriptions, it is most valuable when used as a collaborative tool. Pythia can decipher the text, provide the top 20 suggestions, and then have a historian choose the most accurate answer using their subject knowledge and expertise. "It's all about how we can help the experts," says Assael who graduated with an Applied Informatics Degree from the University of Macedonia, in Thessaloniki, in 2013, did graduate studies at University of London's Imperial college and is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Computer Science at Oxford, specializing in Machine Learning. Since 2015, he is also an AI researcher at DeepMind. * This article first appeared in The Greek News Agenda. Personal effects from WWII Letters from the past, carrying stamps of history. G reek President Prokopios Pavlopoulos on Monday inaugurated an exhibition at the War Museum displaying personal effects retrieved from the Temporary Tombs of the Fallen during the 1940-41 Greek-Italian War on the Albanian Front. In his statement, Mr Pavlopoulos referred to all those who had fallen on the Albanian Front, defending freedom and democracy against fascism, and said: "Unfortunately, with responsibility for this Beautiful 200-drachma vintage stamp of Greece. burdening of neighbouring Albania, many of them did not find a grave that befits their great sacrifice." Before the capture of Kleisoura pass, a photo on exhibition at the display.
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