“Doctor Anacreon was a gifted man,” my late grandmother used to reminisce.
“He spoke in tongues. Some people said that he had been blessed by the Holy Spirit, others that he was possessed by the devil. Now you know that the people of our island are all eccentric, so no one paid any notice, until he tried to teach the children. It was then that people started to talk against him. Personally, I blame his mother. She was Italian, cosmopolitan, don’t you know. She put all sorts of crazy ideas in his head.”
In 1904, Samos had been an independent principality under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Sultan for seventy-three years. A thirty five year old doctor, Anacreon Stamatiadis, born in Florence, was rubbing his hands with glee. He had known as far back as 1888 that a Polish doctor, Ludwig Zamenhoff, had invented a new language which he hoped would become international, Esperanto. Now, an Esperanto manual had arrived through the post from Paris and he set about devouring it eagerly. Within a year, the polymath doctor, who held a degree in Philosophy from Athens University, a degree in Agriculture from the University of Montpellier and a degree in Medicine from the Sorbonne, he had become fluent in the language and convinced that an international tongue, that had no cultural or political ties to any other known language, would be instrumental in bridging barriers of religion, custom and nationality, finally eliminating the root causes of conflict and facilitating seamless communication.
This conviction had come to him as a result of his role as surgeon in chief of Samos Hospital and official prison doctor of the island. Leaving that position, he became doctor in a plague quarantine facility on the island of Kamaran in Yemen, where, between 1897-1899, he studied the local customs and languages of the people of the region, eventually acquiring facility in nine languages. His work with the needy, the destitute and the disadvantaged caused him to believe that the only way that problems of war and poverty can be addressed is through co-operation between states on a global basis. That could not take place if people could not find common means to communicate.
The Samosa Esperantista Societa
It is for this reason that the independent principality of Samos became host, in 1905, to the first ever Esperanto Society to be founded in the lands of the Greeks.
The Samosa Esperantista Societa advocated the teaching of the language throughout the island and also published a journal, entitled “Greklingva Esperantano” (The Greek-speaking Esperantist).
By this time, as Chief Health Officer of the entire Principality, Doctor Anacreon was a person of some note and enjoyed the friendship of the prince of Samos, Andreas Kopasis. Convincing the prince that Esperanto was a language of progress and the future, Kopasis permitted Greklingva Esperantano to be printed at the Principality’s official press, at no charge under the crest of the Principality itself.
Soon after, in 1907, Doctor Anacreon published the first ever Esperanto manual written in Greek: «Εσπεράντο και Εσπεραντισμός» (“Esperanto and Esperantism”). In the same year, he founded the first official Esperanto school anywhere in the Greek world, in the island’s capital, Vathy. It provided lessons in Esperanto, music and singing three times a week, boasted a library gifted by the Prince and was attended by one hundred and sixty students.
Such was the charisma and influence of Doctor Anacreon that he was able to convince the Prince of Samos that all teachers on the island should receive instruction in Esperanto, something that he arranged. Soon after, he persuaded him to make the teaching of Esperanto a compulsory subject in all schools. By means of law 2342 of 8 October 1910, the compulsory teaching of Esperanto in all primary and middle schools, was given legal effect, the first time ever this had happened anywhere in the world.Working tirelessly to achieve his aim of making Esperanto the official language of the island, Doctor Anacreon founded the “Women’s Esperanto Society of Samos,” placing the Prince’s wife, Eleni Kopasis as its head, while also teaching her proficiency in the language. He also founded an Esperanto orchestra boasting twenty five different instruments and become extremely well known in international Esperantist circles, his achievements being recorded with admiration in a subsequent dedicated publication of the League of Nations: “L’ Esperanto comme Langue Auxiliaire International”.
Sadly, Doctor Anacreon was not to achieve his aim of making Esperanto the official language of the Principality of Samos. On 22 March 1912, Prince Andreas Kopasis, a generally unpopular regent, was assassinated and not long afterwards, on 11 November 1912, Samos united with Greece. For reasons that were never explained to Doctor Anacreon, his schools were closed by government order.
Unfazed by official Greek obstruction, Doctor Anacreon moved to Constantinople where he was appointed as a member of the Ottoman State Health Council and founded “Bizantio” the Constantinopolitan Esperantist Society, also publishing a journal of same name, to widespread acclaim throughout the international Esperanto community. He also set up a school in order to teach the language to anyone interest, but that endeavour was cut short by his drafting into the Ottoman Army upon the outbreak of the First World War, wherein he served as an army doctor with the rank of captain. At war’s close, in 1919, he returned to Samos and attempted to publish the journal “Samosa Esperantisto,” (Samian Esperantist). However the effects of the war, the isolation of Samos from its traditional markets, resources and trade networks in Asia Minor, had resulted in an economic decline of the island. Where once Samos enjoyed a reputation as a lively and progressive cultural entrepot, it was fast becoming a backwater in the newly expanded Greek State. Consequently, Doctor Anacreon felt that it was necessary, if he was to further the cause of Esperanto in Greece, to move to its capital, Athens, in 1924.
After a brief return to Samos, in 1926, Doctor Anacreon set up the Neohellenic Esperantist Society and the Hellenic Esperantist Association, with branches in Thessaloniki and beyond. He advocated and facilitated the introduction of Esperanto as a subject in various Greek tertiary, secondary and primary institutions, soliciting the interest of politicians, artists and actors, such as the legendary Mimis Photopoulos, who was an active member of the Hellenic Esperantist Association and education minister, academic and later President of Greece, Constantine Tsatsos. His attempts to communicate with Esperantists in both Germany and the Soviet Union caused him to be viewed with suspicion by the security organisations of those countries, with Adolf Hitler believing the Esperanto was simply a means of facilitating worldwide Jewish conspiracies, and Joseph Stalin distrusting a form of communication that was bourgeois and permitted his citizens to converse with the outside world, relatively unobserved.When Doctor Anacreon died in 1964 at the age of ninety-six, he perhaps had lived too long. Not only had he witnessed the Asia Minor Catastrophe and the horrors of the Second World War, the world around him, which should have divested itself of savagery and instead focused itself upon fostering the brotherhood of mankind through the institution of Esperanto as an international language, was instead, gearing up for another, possibly final, given the creation of atomic weapons, conflagration.
READ MORE: Samos, the independent isle 1832-1912
Doctor Anacreon did not live to see his dream of Esperanto becoming adopted by all states as an international language, realised. In the internet age, knowledge of the language has receded as English becomes all-pervasive. Regardless, he is a revered figure among Esperantists and Samians alike, the elderly Samians still preserving some local lore about this remarkable man.
“He came to our village once,” my grandmother remembered, the last time we ever spoke of Doctor Anacreon.
“He saw me outside my home and asked me whether our family was one of the δελφινόσημοι, those who had come to the island on the backs of dolphins. He winked at me and shoved a book in my hand.”
My grandmother ruffled though some papers in a cupboard, producing a tattered booklet.
“Here, see what you can make of this. I can’t read it, but he gave it to me and I would never want to throw out something of Doctor Anacreon’s.”
Which is how I came to reverently maintain a copy of Greklingva Esperantano, one of my most prized possessions.