Ancient Greek Trireme To Be Brought Stateside
For Astoria resident Tom Dellis, what began as simple fascination quickly turned into obsession and then, finally, into a personal quest.
It was while on vacation visiting his family’s native Greek island of Poros, that Dellis witnessed something extraordinary in the harbor. A full-scale, life size operational reproduction, of an Ancient Greek Trireme, named the Olympias. This extraordinary site intrigued Dellis who filed it away in the back of his mind once he returned stateside.
Sometime later, his son, George, a young inventor and model maker, had the honor of displaying one of his creations at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan in the city.
As a gift for his participation, the museum sent George a guidebook to Greece. His father flipped through the book and quickly came upon a chapter about famous inventions of Ancient Greece. And, sure enough, there it was. One of the most notable creations of that time period was the trireme. It was then that Dellis began researching the ship and became motivated to bring the recreated version he saw in Poros to the United States.
During his research, Dellis discovered that a British history professor at Cambridge, John S. Morrison, had also dedicated his life to studying the trireme and was responsible for the creation of the reproduction that Dellis had seen years before.
Olympias is a reconstruction of an ancient Athenian trireme and an important example of experimental archaeology.
The ship was constructed from 1985 to 1987 by a shipbuilder in Piraeus. The ship was built to drawings by the naval architect John F. Coates which he developed with Morrison. The work was also advised by the classics teacher Charles Willink and drew on evidence gained from Greek literature, history of art and archaeology above and below water. Finance came from the Hellenic Navy and donors such as Frank Welsh a banker, writer and trireme enthusiast as well as actor Melina Mercouri who was Greece’s minister of culture at the time. Morrison, Coates and Willink founded the Trireme Trust with Welsh. The Trireme Trust is now chaired by Boris Rankov, a professor of Classics at Royal Holloway University of London.
The trireme derives its name from its three rows of oars on each side, manned with one man per oar.
Dellis founded the Olympias to NYC campaign in 2006 which was endorsed by many area elected officials as well as former President Bill Clinton.
Early this year the trireme made world headlines after it was chosen to sail down the Thames in London for the upcoming Summer Olympics as a symbol of the games’ Greek origins and as an icon of peace and unity.
Then, as of late May, plans for the trireme’s appearance were scrapped by British authorities. The vessel was supposed to carry the ceremonial flame which, instead will be carried from the city hall via car.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Dellis said. “This was probably incorrectly seen as a warship but in reality the symbol of the ship was supposed to be one of peace and solidarity.”
Dellis insists that this possible misunderstand ing can be fixed by introducing a passage from Plato’s Republic that can be used to show that the trireme, originally intended as a means for defense, can be used as an icon of goodwill.
The passage is as follows, “And then in the middle of the light they saw the ends of the light stretching from heaven. For this light binds together heaven like the under ropes of triremes holding together the whole circumference.”
“We want to show that this is not a warship but a ship of peace,” Dellis said. “The sight of people rowing together shows that we are all one. The world looks to America for leadership and example. Olympias, that great gift of freedom, with 170 oars, flags of all nations will now row in peace for future generations.”
Dellis attributes this project to his son and the youth of the country who he hopes will be inspired by the trireme.
The trireme is planned to make an appearance in Washington D.C. and New York City in 2013 under the auspices of the Hellenic Navy and the IAC.
For more information, visit www.triremeolympias.com.