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20 lepta

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The murder of Kapodistrias and quantum physics

- the story of one coin

Sep 7, 2023 | Nafplio | 140 km from Athens

On the reverse of the Greek version of the 20 cent coin there is the image of Ioannis Kapodistrias. I’ve carried such coin in my pocket, probably every day for the past year, and never noticed it. Until now, when a few days ago, on the wall of Saint Spyridon’s Church in Nafplio in Peloponnese, I noticed a bullet mark. A distinct recess in the wall to protect a historical memento, secured by a glass pane with a frame. This bullet, on September 27, 1831, was fired at Kapodistrias by his future killer Konstantis Mavromichalis. He missed! However, there were two killers, Georgios Marvomichalis stabbed Kapodistras with a knife, and the other bullet of Konstantis was already accurate. Ioannis Kapodistrias – the first president (governor) of independent Greece, died on the spot. At least this is the official version.

And Kapodistrias was an extraordinary figure. A full-mouthed aristocrat with conservative-liberal views. He was born in Corfu, but his family came from Kapodistria, which is today’s Koper in Slovenia, which for many years was in the same country (Venetian Republic). A diplomat with international horizons, for several years he was even the minister of foreign affairs of Russia. He could go ahead and become one of the patrons of the European Union. He tried to build the foundations of a modern Greek state, which exposed himself to the leaders of the clans, still very influential in the Mani Peninsula, in the very south of the Peloponnese – by the way one of the most beautiful regions on the Aegean Sea. The Mavromichalis were heroes there.

Thus, on this coin we have one of the founders of modern Hellas – a standard one might say. However, there is one more interesting thing there. As you know, euro coins have the same avers in all countries  and a reverse side depending on the country of issue. However, the Greek 20-cent coin says not 20 cents, but 20 ΛΕΠΤΑ (lepta). Currencies were different in Greece over the millennia, but pennies of these currencies were always called lepta. And so it stayed with the euro. Greece is the only EU country that has kept the name of its “pennies” written on the coins.
However, the word “lepta” is a plural of the word lepton, which means “small, weak, thin”. In quantum physics a whole group of small particles like electron, positron or neutrino are called leptons (there are 12 of them to be exact) Over the years I have read dozens of books about the structure of the cosmos and the atomic nucleus, and I had no idea that they had anything to do with Kapodistrias.

And to make it even more interesting, the 5 lepta coin also had another name in Ancient Greece – obol. The same obol that every deceased person received in their grave to pay Charon to cross the River Styx and get to the land of the dead. With such a weaving of threads, is it any surprise that, according to the ancient Greeks, the entrance to Hades was located in the very south of the Peloponnese, no more than 200 km from the city of Nafplio, where Kapodistrias was murdered?

Every time I buy a kilo of tomatoes at the market now and I hear 50 lepta from the seller, I know exactly what he means…

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