Monday, October 27, 2008


Sarah Bernhardt, aka "the divine Sarah," queen of the silent movie screen, is widely accepted to have been the most famous actress in the history of the world. What escapes the cognizance of most of her fans however, is the singular fact, that she was married to one of the most remarkable and versatile Greek anti-heroes, ever to have trodden the thespian boards, military officer-turned-actor, Jacques (Aristides) Damalas. The tortuous twists and turns of their tempestuous relationship would relegate the likes of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan in the kindergarten of Hollywood passion. Damalas' characterization by modern researchers is far from positive. His handsomeness was as notable as his insolence and Don Juan quality. Writer Fredy Germanos describes him as an opportunistic and hedonistic person, whose marriage to the great diva would inevitably intensify and maximize his vices, namely, his vanity and obsession with women, alcohol, and drugs. In short, he was a cad and probably, the first Hollywood-style toy-boy..
Like most bon viveurs of the fin de siecle, Damalas was born to an aristocratic family, in Piraeus in 1855 . His father, Ambrosios Damalas was a wealthy shipping magnate and later mayor of Ermoupoli and Piraeus and his maternal grandfather, Dimitrios Rallis, had also once served as mayor of Piraeus and was a member of the Executive Committee which attempted the liberation of Chios in 1827, during the Revolution. The family later moved to Marseille, and eventually, back to Piraeus.
After finishing school in Piraeus, Damalas spent four years abroad, mainly in England and France, where he pursued diplomatic studies. During his time abroad, he became acquainted with high society, as well as the theatre world, as he had acting aspirations. By the early 1880s, he had earned a post as a military attaché to the Greek Diplomatic Corps. He quickly acquired a reputation of being "the handsomest man in Europe", as well as the nickname "Diplomat Apollo" by his friends and the assumption of being the most dangerous man in Paris, among the several husbands who feared their wives would fall victim to his charms and be seduced by the young diplomat. Damalas rapidly earned the reputation of being a merciless heartbreaker and womanizer within high society. His affair with the wife of a Parisian banker, Paul Meisonnier, caused her to leave France. One of his documented affairs was with the young daughter of a Vaucluse magistrate who had left her parents and home to follow Damalas to Paris, where he deserted her when their illegitimate child was born. The grief-stricken young girl then committed suicide Following these scandals, Damalas was reassigned to Russia.
Prior to his transfer however in 1881, he was introduced to the great Sarah Bernhardt by her half-sister, Jeanne, who, along with Damalas, belonged to a circle of well-known morphine-takers who were associated with the stage world. By this time, Damalas was playing small parts as an amateur actor with the stage name of "Daria." Jeanne spoke to Bernhardt of Damalas, and Bernhardt felt simultaneously repelled and fascinated by the perspective of meeting the most notorious man in Paris. Madame Pierre Berton, who wrote a biography for Sarah Bernhardt, remarks the following:
"It was inevitable that Bernhardt, the famous actress, and Damala, the equally notorious bon-viveur, should eventually meet. Each knew the reputation of the other and their reputation was only the more whetted thereby (...) Bernhardt prided on her ability to conquer men, to reduce them to the level of slaves; Damala vaunted his ability as a hunter and a spoiler of women (...) Their two natures were inevitably attracted towards each other (...) Damala boasted to his friends that, as soon as he looked at her, the great Sarah Bernhardt would be counted in his long list of victims; and Bernhardt was no less certain that she had only to command for Damala to succumb."
Even though Bernhardt was appalled by Damala's insolence towards her during their first meeting, she was nevertheless strongly attracted to him and soon fell madly in love. As she was about to begin her world tour and knowing that Damalas had been transferred to St Petersburg, she decided to arrange a six month stay in Russia.. Residing in Saint Petersburg for a few months, as an official guest of Emperor Alexander III, her romance with Damalas flourished. The openness of their affair scandalized the social circles of the city and proved a common topic of discussion.
Despite its passionate nature, Damalas' and Bernhardt's relationship was far from blissful, with Damalas openly criticizing and mocking Bernhardt in front of her friends and Bernhardt calling him a "Gypsy Greek." Nonetheless, Bernhardt was so overwhelmed by her infatuation for him that she tolerated his insults and often begged him for forgiveness. After Bernhardt left Russia to extend her tour to other European countries, Damalas resigned from the Diplomatic Corps and followed Sarah's theatre circle. While in London, completing the final part of her tour, Bernhardt had yet another fight with Damalas which led to her, paradoxically enough, marrying him. Bernhardt was supposed to have played Victorien Sardou's Theodora during the tour. Instead, she sent Sardou the telegram: "I am going to die and my greatest regret is not having been in your play. Audieu." A few hours later, Sardou received a second message by Bernhardt which simply stated: "I am not dead, I am married." When asked later by Sardou why she had wed, she responded that it was the only thing she had never done. Her impulsive decision to marry was probably at her own initiative, as Damala sarcastically admitted to friends that it was she who had proposed to him. The wedding took place on 4 April 1882, to the immense consternation of Bernhardt's son, Maurice,
Even though Bernhardt presented Damalas to reporters with the phrase "This ancient Greek god is the man of my dreams" , the marriage became the object of criticism and even satire for press. Caricatures of Bernhardt and Damalas virtually flooded newspapers for months. A review of Les Mères Ennemies featured Bernhardt holding Damalas like a puppet, manipulating his limbs
Damalas' marriage to Bernhardt made him even more unfaithful. Three weeks after the wedding, upon insisting that Bernhardt change her stage name to "Sarah Damala," he eloped with a young Norwegian girl. A few weeks later, he fled to Brussels with a Belgian woman. Despite the humiliations she endured, giving him money so as to pay his mistresses and debts to prostitutes, Bernhardt constantly forgave him, even bying a theatre, the Théâtre del'Ambigu, and Damalas as the leading man in order for him to indulge his acting fantasies.
Bernhardt's contemporaries were puzzled by her decision to discard professional actors so as to perform next to a rank amateur. Damalas has been described as exceptionally untalented, lacking of any acting qualifications, technique, or timing, and possessing an unintelligible Greek accent. Nonetheless, Bernhardt was oblivious of all these shortcomings, and casted him as Armand Duval in La Dame aux Camélias remarking to a (rather shocked) Alexandre Dumas about Damalas: "Won't he make an excellent Armand? Only by looking at him, you understand why Marguerite Gautier dies in the way she does!" Sarah's performance in La Dame aux Camélias was exalted by the press whereas Damalas was lampooned. He was furious and blamed Bernhardt. .
Damalas' frustration over his career developed in Bernhardt's shadow, his eventual removal by her as leading man and his morphine addiction created even greater problems in their marriage. On one occasion, while on stage with Bernhardt, a drug-induced Damalas tore down her dress and exposed her bare buttocks to the audience. Finally, on 12 December 1882, Damalas enlisted in the North Africa corps, leaving Bernhardt to settle his gambling and call-girl debts. Damalas would return to Bernhardt time and time again. She would then turf out her lovers to accommodate him and pay for his de-tox treatment at various fashionable sanatoria. As a Catholic, Bernhardt would not countenance a divorce and entered into an arrangement whereby, in return for certain sums she sent to him on a monthly basis, Damalas would never re-enter her life. They thus remained legally married until his death.
Following his separation from Bernhardt, Damalas attempted an unsuccessful return to the diplomatic world. In 1883, he performed the most memorable role of his career as Philippe Berlay opposite Jane Hading in the stage adaptation of Georges Ohnet's novel, Maître de Forges. The play was a great success and ran through the entire year in the Théâtre du Gymnase , in Marseille. He also successfully played the leading man (as Jean Gaussin) in the comedy Sapho in 1885 and in La Comtesse Sarah, in 1887.
Despite this success, Damalas was largely ignored by the Parisian society, following his separation from the great diva. In March 1889, Bernhardt returned to Paris after a year-long European tour and receive a message from Damalas who informed her that he was dying in Marseille and begged her to forgive him and take him back. She abandoned her performances in Paris, rushed to him and nursed him in her own home. After he recuperated, she cast him as her leading man in La Dame aux Camélias. Damalas promised to stop taking morphine and embarked on a European tour with Bernhardt. However, his addiction became progressively worse. On one occasion, he almost got arrested for exhibiting himself naked in the Hotel de Ville in Milan, while high. Damala After a six-week run as leading man, Damalas collapsed and was carried in the hospital. Shortly before his death, he was offered another role by Bernhardt, in the play Lena, at the Théâtre des Variêtés. Just after the second performance, he was considered incapable of playing the part, due to his now permanent lack of clarity and continuous influence from alcohol and drugs. Damalas died in Paris on 18 June 1889, heavily diseased after his longtime addiction. The news of his death were concealed from Bernhardt until she had finished a performance. Upon founding out, she is cited as saying : "Well, so much the better..."
My fascination with Damalas centres not around his being Kevin Federline, to Bernhardt's Britney, but rather upon his unlikely legacy upon Greek literature. In early 1889, Damalas fathered a child with one of his mistresses, a theatre extra, who used to inject him with heroin, during intermissions. After his mistress gave birth to a baby girl, she placed the baby, in a basket, on Bernhardt's doorstep, together with a note. Bernhardt was furious to discover that Damalas' illegitimate daughter was placed in her care and contemplated having the infant drowned on the river Seine. Fortuitously, the child's life was saved by a friend of both Bernhardt and Damalas, gun dealer and future tycoon Sir Basil Zaharoff, who proposed to take the child so that he could find a surrogate family for her. Eventually, the girl was baptised Teresa and was raised in Adrianoupouli.
The adventures of Damalas' daughter (who had brief affairs with Ernest Hemingway and Gabrielle D' Annunzio, posed as a model for Picasso in the early 1920s, caused Mussolini a pre-mature ejaculation and was reputedly gang-raped at the direction of Kemal Atatürk) were documented by Fredy Germanos (father of Natalia) in his brilliant historical novel «Tερέζα.» The book also makes reference to Damalas' Parisian life, claiming that Bernhardt remained in love with him until the end of her life. Fascinatingly, Bernhardt and Teresa Damala also met each other, years later. Germanos vowed to keep the identity of his muse a secret and truly her life is just as fascinating as her father's. Diatribe this week is therefore proud of rescuing the inordinately absorbing and simultaneously utterly repellant Damalas from the Tartarus of obscurity. We leave you now with this sage advice from Alexis Bledel, of Gilmore Girl's fame, which best sums up Bernhardt's predicament: "For some reason, bad boys always draw you in, despite the fact that they are jerks."


First published in NKEE on 27 October 2008

Monday, October 20, 2008


Auto pou me ekneurizei apo ta diadiktyaka ellinika einai to legomeno "Griklish," oxi mono epeidh einai dysanagnwsto alla kai epeidh den exei mia typopoiimenh or8ografia.
Receiving emails in Greek can often be a bemusing and culturally diverse experience and the adaptation of a most ancient and venerable script to the most modern of forms of communications has seen it become altered beyond recognition. Thus, the receipt of an email in what purports to be Greek, will often ensure that its recipient is compelled to embark upon a journey of interpretation that would vex the linguistic presdigitations of even the most dextrous glossologist.
Granted, these days it is possible to compose emails (known as "emails" in Technogreek or even «ημέϊλ,» for most Unicode challenged personal computerists, in 'normal' Modern Greek. However, this is time-consuming, and to many, challenging, owing to the diacritical marks that must be located and labouriously inserted at the time of typing. Emails typed in the horrendous Symbol font, which still exists to plague our virtual aesthetics are thankfully becoming extinct. Instead, most PC users, even those in Greece, opt for the convenience of Romanised Greek, "Greeklish" or. more accurately, Internet Greek.
Internet Greek is extremely disconcerting and annoying. Reading it is tantamount to seeing a person clad in the cutting edge of fashion suddenly discard their clothes and don Coogi jumpers or Ken Donne shirts instead. Further, while it is impossible to find a standardised orthography for it, a few rules of thumb, developed in usage, seem to have evolved. Internet Greek (and dare we say text message Greek) users from Greece and those for whom literary Greek is a mother tongue, tend to apply letter for letter transliterations that are consistent with modern Greek spelling. Thus, h represents heta, y represents ypsilon and vowel clusters such as eu and au are preserved. Even within this conformist system, the user is called upon to make arbitrary decisions that will effect the recording of the Greek language for all time. Should we distinguish between omega and omicron by writing one with a w (since it looks like it) and the other with an o? Will this not confuse a functional reader bilingual in both Greek and English. Similarly, should we represent theta as 'th' or s a glyph that resembles the Greek letter, namely, '8?' The situation with the consonant 'X' is even more complex. Do we retain its Greek pronunciation as 'khi,' or do we apply it for the Roman equivalent, 'ks?' The resulting confusion, whereby x is used for both sounds indiscriminately or the number '3' is utilised as it resembles the lower case letter "ξ." Other readers prefer to represent ksi as "j" because that is the key one needs to press if one is to bring up that letter on a Greek keyboard. Similarly, the letter N is variously recorded in its lower case as "n" or as "v," the latter resembling in its physical form, the lower case Greek letter. Compounding the conundrum, do we use b to represent the sound v as we do in Greek, (some use the glyph 8, which looks like lower case beta, in which case they are restricted from using it as theta) and if we do, should we record the 'b' sound, being a voiced bilabial plosive, as 'b" (exactly as in English) or do we retain the Greek orthography and represent it as "Mp?" Again, should delta, as a voiced dental fricative, be represented as 'd' or as 'th' - in which case it could be confused with 'theta' or as 'dh?' Conversely, should the voiced dental plosive 'd' sound be represented as 'd' or as "nt" as it is written in Modern Greek? Should the voiced velar stop gamma, be written as 'g' or 'gh' to enable the English 'g' sound to be written variously as 'g' or 'gg' or 'gk'? And how do we make allowances for the transformation of gamma from consonant into a close-front rounded vowel when preceding an 'i' or 'e' (ie. yiagia)?
Confused? Then seek solace in the fact that at least SOME of our letters have direct equivalents in the Roman alphabet. Internet Arabic, by comparison, is most traumatic, because none of the letters of its abjad in any way correspond to Roman equivalents. Users are reduced to using a vast jumble of letter and number clusters in order to phonetically approximate the words they wish to convey. Thus the letter 'ayin, a voiced pharyngeal fricative, with no equivalent sound in the Greek or Roman phonologies is represented as a 3 and other sounds, such as q (as a voiceless uvular plosive) as 2 or h, (as a voiceless pharyngeal fricative) as 7.
Most Greeks outside of Greece, tend to adopt a standardised, phonetic approach to writing internet Greek which though inelegant, often difficult to read and most probably occasioned by an incomplete grasp of Modern Greek orthography in the first place, may at least provide keys to pronunciation, thus giving rise to a revolution in Greek language writing: Sort of - Phonetic Internet Greek. Thus the sentence, «Αυτή εκεί η γιαγιά μου διαβάζει τον Νέο Κόσμο,» which could be rendered into Modern Internet Greek as "Auth (or is it (ayth?)ekei h giagia mou diabazei ton Neo Kosmo," may be more clearly rendered into Sort of - Phonetic Internet Greek as: "Afti eki i yaya mou diavazi ton Neo Kozmo."
Some types of Greek script are irreplaceable. After publishing the diatribe entitled "Καραμανλίδικα" last year, I received a very polite and heart-warming email from an Arthur Malcok, resident of Paris which read as follows: «ΧΑΙΗΡΛΗ ΓΚΙΟΥΝΛΕΡ ΣΑΝΑ ΓΙΟΥΝΑΝ ΚΑΡΔΑΣΗΜ. ΓΙΑΖΗΛΑΡΗΝΗ ΟΚΟΥΔΟΥΜ,ΚΑΡΑΜΑΝΛΗ ΡΟΥΜΛΑΡΗΝ ΧΑΤΗΡΑΣΗΝΗ ΓΙΑΣΑΤΤΗΓΗΝ. ΙΤΣΙΝ ΑΛΛΑΧ ΒΕ ΙΕΣΟΥΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΣΕΝΤΕΝ ΡΑΖΗ ΟΛΣΟΥΝ. ΚΑΠΠΑΔΟΚΙΑΛΗ ΑΡΘΟΥΡ.» Here we witness the remarkable emergence of language that has ceased to be literary, that is the Cappadocian dialect of Ottoman Turkish, as Standard Internet Cappadocian. Of course the defining feature of Cappadocian is that it is rendered by a Greek script, albeit with some small modifications. The minute that this script is rendered into Roman script, it loses its unique identity and merely becomes a variant of Turkish. Hence, paradoxically, while Cappadocian-Karamanlidika is Turkish that cannot be written by anything else other than the Greek script, even on the Internet, Modern Greek, can and usually is, on the Internet, written in Roman. It is precisely these difficulties in Greek computing that probably prompted PASOK member of Parliament Anna Diamantopoulou to consider the advantages of replacing the Greek script with a Romanised one a few years ago - something which, given the increasing sophistication of multi-language software today, is not only an anachronism but also thoroughly abhorrent and evil.
Modern Greek or Sort of Phonetic Internet Greek aside, it cannot be doubted that the Internet has vastly improved communication between us castaways and our motherland. This has come at some cost however. I remember as a child, excitedly extracting mail from the letterbox and discovering mail from Greece. Reverently, I would remove the Greek stamps from the envelope and attempt to untangle and decipher the spidery writing of the letter-writer, which was as complicated as a piece of lace, crocheted by a blind woman. These letters, bearing the village news, would invariably begin with the formulaic: «Αγαπημένοι μου, σας φιλώ με πόνο πολύ,» and would arrive at our home every so often, to be devoured, passed on, analysed and scoured for subtle nuances in phrase or turn of the pen, that could betray a further underlying meaning. For me, these letters were, beyond Stathis Psaltis movies and the odd poorly taken video from relatives returning from holidays, my only tangible insight into that mysterious and fabled country, so many kilometres away, of whom so many stories and legends had been told. I would keep them and re-read them, mining them for new words and expressions. Letter writing is a genteel art because it requires you to think about what you have written before you send it. Thus, one hardly ever received a rude, coarse or terse letter. Sprinkled with clichés, they were usually full of touching sentiments about the tyranny of distance and only glossed upon difficulties or problems, that surely would have been dwelt upon if closer and more frequent contact was maintained.. I still maintain a bundle of these relationship-saving letters on now yellowing paper.
These letters became sparse and then stopped coming altogether around about the same time that families no longer dropped whatever they were doing and sat in stunned silence when, upon answering the telephone, the counter-cry «Ελλάδα, Ελλάδα!» would be given, accompanied by the loud shouting of conversation down the telephone microphone, in the hope that this would propel one's voice over the telephone wires, back to the homeland more effectively.
These days, communication, albeit through a Romanised filter, is just a click of a mouse button away. So immediate is the effect of email and the Internet in general that one can receive blow by blow accounts of family and friend's daily lives, temporally tempered only by the medium of time zones. I am often astounded to receive emails from on-line readers of the Diatribe from such diverse places as Novosibirsk, Buenos Aires and Egypt. In one memorable case, I received an angry email from a descendant of the assassin of the prince of Samos Kopasis, who was under the misapprehension that I had considered his forebear's murderous deed a myth. More recently, I was most entertained to read in a Fyromian forum-response to a Diatribe on the New United Villages of Florina that "Grkomani" (presumably such as myself,) are the "scum of the earth," and that I am an Albanian.
Despite the immediacy of email, it does not have the enduring quality of letters that exist in a tangible form. Moreover, no matter how dextrous and eloquent the sentiments expressed, they are invariably distilled into the conformity of a limited range of Roman fonts that cannot convey fully the personality of the letter-writer. I find that immediacy often breeds contempt. When first establishing contact with long lost friends or cousins, a flurry of emails ensues. Months later, when all imaginable topics have been exhausted, communication is relegated to "What's up?" the answer almost always being "Nothing much." Similarly, I find myself increasingly deleting emails from Greek news mail-lists that I have signed up for, whereas previously, I would read each of them carefully, attempting to pillage them for information. Whereas letters provided information and sentiment in small, easily digestible spoonfuls, nowadays, we are swamped by a whole flood of information, that threatens to congeal and stagnate in the innermost recesses of our accounts, unless they are deleted.
I was a relatively late-comer to Facebook, which appears to occupy the middle position between personal contact and email. Discarding for the moment the inherent olde worlde guilt arising from speaking (or rather writing) to people on line instead of calling them or seeing them, if used, in Maxwell Smartian fashion for good instead of evil, it can reap surprising results. Its Greek-related Facebook groups, canvassing such diverse subjects as «Και οι παντρεμένοι έχουν ψυχή,» to "Stuff Tibet, free Northern Epirus instead," and "Giorgos Seferis" there is a real opportunity to connect with ecumenical Hellenism and foster an exchange of views in an unprecedented way. I was enthralled the other week, having joined a Facebook group devoted to my father's village, to discover distant, long-long cousins, the existence of whom had hitherto been unknown to me. Facebook too, poses revolutionary linguistic potentialities. Most recently, I was invited to join a group entitled: «Θέλω Facebook στα Ποντιακά,» the reason cited being so that: «Να λελέβω το Facebook πουλί'μ.» This in turn has sparked off calls for Vlach Facebook and even Cretan Facebook. And why not? Let us conquer the Internet for the diverse dialects of the Greek language! Let us shake off the tyranny of Roman-imposed computering. Until next week, a new computer word: «Κατσιτεφτέρ». You've guessed it. Its "facebook" in Pontiaka.


First published in NKEE on 20 October 2008

Monday, October 13, 2008


"December 1445. To the distinguished, cultivated Andreolo Giustiniani, my good and most delightful friend. . . Receive from the carrier, A. Galaphatos, one marble head, one leg, and two little cypress wood boxes wrapped in cloth with this seal: K+A."
In many respects, it could be considered that the first Greek antiquarian cum archaeologist, of whom we have recorded works is Pausanias, who travelled through Greece in the second century AD, a time between the glories of the Greek past he was so keen to describe and the realities of a Greece beholden to Rome as a dominating imperial force. His work bears the marks of his attempt to navigate that space and establish an identity for Roman Greece. In doing so he is a crucial link between classical literature and modern archaeology. Pausanias wrote at the dawn of a new era. A century later would see the Christianisation of the Roman Empire and a total cultural shift in the lands inhabited by the Greek people.
Similarly, Ioannis Laurentios Lydos, a Byzantine administrator and antiquarian, wrote his remarkable work, De Magistratibus reipublicae Romanae (Gr. Περί αρχών της Ρωμαίων πολιτείας), a record of the administrative details of the time of Justinian making use of the works (now lost) of old Roman writers on similar subjects. His also was a world in transition, one where the Romanised oikoumene was gradually being formally re-hellensed.
Writing a millenium or so later, his successor, Cyriacus of Ancona, would also describe the same world traversed by Pausanias, also in flux. For a few years after his death, a millenium of Christianity would fall under the shadow of the Crescent Moon, most of the artefacts faithfdally recorded by him would be lost and life, indeed, culture for the Greeks, would never be the same again.
Ciriaco de' Pizzicolli or Cyriacus of Ancona as he styled himself, was a restlessly itinerant Italian humanist and antiquarian who came from a prominent family of merchants in Ancona, an ancient Greek colony in Italy. Unlike many library antiquarians, Ciriaco traveled at first for his family's ventures then to satisfy his own curiosity, all around the Eastern Mediterranean, noting down his archaeological discoveries in his day-book Commentaria that eventually filled six volumes. During his fascinating life, he made numerous voyages in Southern Italy, exploring the ancient Greek ruins of the area, the coast of Dalmatia, Epirus, the Peloponnese, then down to Egypt, to Chios, Rhodes, Beirut and finally to Anatolia - by this time overrun by the Ottomans except for a few isolated pockets and finally Constantinople. During his travels, he wrote detailed descriptions of monuments and ancient remains, illustrated by his drawings.
The passages of the Commentaria are, in the style of the time, not just a dry exposition of facts but moving, florid and lyrical prose. His 'discovery' of Mycenae, long before Schliemann, is engrossing:
"Then, while searching for ancient remnants of Mycenae among old, uninhabited Argive villages that bespeak some hint of the long-ago ruined temple of Juno, finally, not far from it and no more than about seven miles away from the cit of Argos, towards the north and less than forty stadia from Nauplion, on a hill that is rocky at the top and steep, we saw that remains of the Mycenean citadel, and some portions of its ancient walls survive, as well as traces of towers and gates, conspicuous for the wondrously beautiful craftsmanship of the architects and eminently worthy of our scrutiny as well. When, along with the same highly experienced men, we had decided to climb to it, we chose to set down here a drawing of the part of the same wall that looks toward Nauplion. The walls of the very old citadel of Mycenae which are visible even in our own time, built with extraordinary craftsmanship on a rocky hill of large, lead-coloured stones."
Imbued with the neo-pagan zeitgeist, he peppered his writings heavily with astrological and classical allusions, representing the renascent interest of the west in its pagan past:
"On the 23rd of March, the eve of the blessed resurrection of the incarnate Jove, when I had revisted Nauplion, we saw on the plain a great number of remarkable remnants of antiquity and, among the more important, some slabs of shining marble [bearing] images of outstanding beauty that had been removed in the past by Christians from a very old temple of Juno, thought to be from among the masterpieces of Polyclitus, to adorn later churches of our religion. On the principle and more outstanding of these slabs, on a partially broken off stone, we found this ancient inscription in Latin script: "The Italians who do business in Argos to Quintus Caecilius Metellus, son of Gaius, Imperator."
Cyriacus was probably the first traveler who recognized the importance of the ruins of Eretria in Euboea. On April 5, 1436, he described and sketched a plan of the ancient city walls, indicating the position of the amphitheatre and the fortifications of the acropolis and mentioning the existence of inscriptions. He collected a great store of inscriptions, manuscripts, and other antiquities. Through a drawing made by Cyriacus, the appearance of the Column of Justinian is recorded for us, before it was dismantled by the Ottomans. Some of his entries though, deal with the curiosities and sheer delights of travel:
"For today, while we were traveling from the village of Arcasa to Spartan Mistra, we saw among our companions a certain Spartan youth, tall of stature and quite handsome, George, called by the sobriquet Chirodontas, that is, "Boar's teeth," because, they say, that once, while hunting in the forest, encountering a fierce boar, he leaped onto its back, and pressing it down by sheer force, killed the prostrate beast; and that once he caught and held two men together under his arms and carried them several paces. In my case also, instead of reassuring me, and as a statement of his honesty, he caught me up with his hands on the bank of a certain small river, held me under his arm, and deposited me safely on the farther bank of the stream. And at the next village, we saw that, brandishing an iron rod that was three fingers thick, he had split it into separate parts."
Cryriacus was employed by the Ottomans during the 1422 siege of Constantinople. His detailed on-site observations, particularly in lands of the Ottoman Empire, make him one of the precursors of modern archaeology. His accuracy as a meticulous epigrapher was praised by Giovanni Battista de Rossi and his work was acclaimed even by the emperor of Byzantium with whom he established a personal relationship and appraised him of his travels in a manner that has led many to assume that he was actually a spy:
"To John Palaiologos, the divine, august, devout, successful Byzantine emperor, from Cyriac of Ancona. After the most holy union of the faithful was achieved, to your great credit, and you left Italy, much-praised King John, I wanted, for many extraordinarily persuasive reasons, to visit your fortunate majesty in your famous palace in Byzantium, most worshipful prince. Indeed, although I had every desire to go to the west in order to see, as is my habit, whether any worthwhile antiquities have survived in these noble lands until our own day, I decided not to begin that journey without first visiting you and receiving your blessing. At length I arrived at Patras, a city of Achaea in the Peloponnesus, where I wrote immediately to your distinguished brother Constantine and disclosed what I thought he ought to know concerning this project [a possible crusade in defence of the Byzantines]. From there I went to Corinth, where I learned from Demetrios Asan, his deputy, that Constantine had recently gathered a large force from everywhere in the Peloponnesus and was about to march with his excellent brother, Thomas, from Lacedemonian Mistra to the Isthmus. There the long line of earthworks has been restored and the fateful Isthmus has again been fortified with turreted walls. From there he intends to lead his entire force through the Megarid and all of Achaea, and, now that the city of Thebes has recently been received in surrender, to invade Lebadea, Parnassian Daulis and the sacred city of Delphi, sending one division to each, and, with the good Lord's help, to free them from the barbarians, a worthy task indeed."
After extensive travelling, Cyriacus settled in Rome, where he occupied himself by studying Latin and drawing many of the monuments and antiquities of ancient Rome. He enjoyed the patronage of Eugenius VI, who had been Papal legate in Ancona, Cosimo de Medici and the Visconti, of Milan. He was in Siena at the court of Sigismund, and when Sigismund came to Rome for his coronation as Emperor, Ciriaco was his guide among Rome's antiquities. Two years later in 1435, Ciriaco was back exploring in Greece and Egypt. Again as a precursor of Schleimann, he toured the ruins reminsicent of Troy:
"After these princes and distinguished men had received me most cordially, they expertly showed me all of the city's important sites: first, we saw outside the city. . ., the remarkable Trojan tomb of Priam's son Polydorus, which consisted of a large mound of earth. With Cristoforo we rode to the top of this mound on horseback . . .. Then, as we explored the city everywhere more carefully, we saw numerous traces of her great antiquity: huge marbles sculptured with a variety of figures, but for the most part demolished, and we examined numerous broken statue bases with their inscriptions, whose beginnings and endings were missing."
Some ten years before the fall of Constantinople, Cyriacus was horrified to witness the depredations committed against the Greek inhabitants of areas already occupied by the Ottomans:
"For on numerous occasions we saw Christians—boys as well as unmarried girls and masses of married women of every description—paraded pitiably by the Turks in long lines throughout the cites of Thrace and Macedonia bound by iron chains, and lashed by whips, and in the end put up for sale in villages and markets and along the shore of the Hellespont, an unspeakably shameful and obscene sight, like a cattle market, so to speak."
Nonetheless, his is one of the last surviving western accounts of the daily life of a civilization that would, in a decade, be snuffed out and lost forever:
"On the 15th of August, the lucky, bright day of the light-bearer Diana, the middle of the month of Augustus Caesar, a day marked by the Assumption into heaven of the blessed mother of God, the Virgin Mary, a day solemnized at the sacred church of the seraphic Francis in this famous colony of Byzantine Pera with many different sorts of religious and civil celebrations, I first witnessed the solemn ceremonies in the distinguished church of bountiful Wisdom in the royal city of Constantinople, presided over by his excellency, the patriarch Gregory. "
Pushed by a strong curiosity, Cyriacus bought a great number of Greek documents which he used to write six volumes of Commentarii ("Commentaries") and which ended up in various Renaissance libraries of Italy. The ravages of time have been unkind to Ciriaco's lifework, which he never published, but which fortunately circulated in manuscript and in copies of his drawings; the Commentarii were lost in the 1514 fire of the library of Alessandro and Costanza Sforza in Pesaro. A series of Pizzicolli's manuscripts about Ancona was destroyed during a fire of the city's archives in 1532.
Cyriacus retired to Cremona, where he lived so quietly that the year of his death is not sure. Long after his death, some surviving texts were printed: Epigrammata reperta per Illyricum a Kyriaco Anconitano (Rome, 1664) and Itinerarium (Florence, 1742). Without his painstaking work, which served to fuel the West's interest in the Classics, much of the corpus of our knowledge of the past would be but a dim shadow. We pay homage to him then, in the words of Jim Bishop: "Archaeology is the peeping Tom of sciences. It is the sandbox of men who care not where they are going; they merely want to know where everyone has been."


First published in NKEE on 13 October 2008

Monday, October 06, 2008


"I'd rather be first in a little village, than second in Rome."
Julius Caesar.

In his flawed but insightful study of crisis in ethnic identity: "The Macedonian Conflict, Ethnic Nationalism in a Transnational World" Loring Danforth makes mention of a village association formed in Melbourne, the wake of the politicisation of the Macedonian Issue in Australia.
He writes: "The village association John and his fellow villagers have formed in Melbourne uses the Greek name of the village in all official contexts. The calendar they put out every year and the invitations to all their social functions are in Greek as well. The Association is not however, a member of the Pan-Macedonian Association. Instead it is a member of the United Villages Family Association, an organisation comprised of the associations of eight villages in the Florina area, whose members all want to stay out of politics and keep their villages "united." One village, Agia Paraskevi in Greek, Sveta Petka in Macedonian (sic) decided to use the name Saint Pat in official contexts in order to avoid having to choose between the Greek and Macedonian (sic) name. At some of the village dances, the master of ceremonies speaks English, at others he speaks Greek but most of the villagers attending the dances speak Macedonian (sic) among themselves… As far as his own identity is concerned, John says he knows he is Macedonian (sic) and not Greek but he emphasizes he is not "against the Greeks." He would never "come out" and assert his Macedonian (sic) identity publicly the way some people do."
Danforth, through testimonials, leads the reader to believe that here in Melbourne, the espousal of a "Macedonian" (here he means Slavonic) identity can prove perilous, as it has the capacity to polarise families, set members of communities against each other and incite passions that have been smouldering, for various reasons, for decades. The testimonials he presents suggest that while the Pan-Macedonian Federation is aggressively Greek, the Florinian Association "Aristotle" is a more neutral environment, where members may, if they choose, speak the Slavonic idiom amongst themselves, as long as it is not done "loudly" and there is no debate as to ethnic identity and the United Villages Family Association, seems to focus more on geography and familial relationships rather than the politics of ethnic identity, as it is too afraid to broach these potentially explosive and divisive issues.
Some of these issues of identity are tragic. Growing up exposed to two cultures and languages, many Florinian immigrants find it difficult to place themselves solely within one or another culturally exclusive 'mould.' Ann Korizi for example, speaks poignantly about being trapped between two cultures and nationalities: "We can’t be all the way Greek and we can’t be all the way Macedonian (sic). We belong to two different ratses. I don’t want to give up who I am. I went to Greek schools .I don’t want to be told, 'You're Macedonian and not Greek.' Sometimes I think we just don't know who we are." Chris Psalidas, a writer, has worked with a so-called "Macedonian Drama Group" but has also won first prize in the Greek-Australian Cultural League's Literary competition, causing his erstwhile companions to accuse him of 'going the other way.' "My psyche, my soul, is big enough to accommodate more than one culture," he states. "Our people, the people of Florina, embody the spirit of multiculturalism. I get criticised for not supporting one side or the other, but im Chris Psalidas, not the Greek or the Macedonian (sic). There is material in both cultures to be explores. I'd be a fool to deny either one." Writer Tom Petsinis has also expressed similar sentiments. Because national identity is defined as something permanent and immutable from the essentialist perspective that so often characterises nationalist ideologies, it is easy to see how people who vacillate between one or the other cultural or ethnic 'pole' can become objects of derision and scorn by their peers.
One wonders then what Danforth would make of the New United Villages of Florina, an organisation that purports to unite associations representing the villages of Florina but in effect does so much more. Yiannis Papadimitriou, the president of the association, explains that the New United Villages exist as a form of self-protection against the extremes of the proponents of ideologies over the possession of national identities, histories and cultures, who regard these as the mutually exclusive property one nation or the other. Instead, he argues, cultural traits can be shared among nations. He recounts anecdotes of persons shunned by the broader Greek community for not presenting as "Greek enough," through their use of the Slavonic idiom spoken by some Greeks in Macedonia (which, it should be added, is quite distinct form that spoken in FYROM) or their confusion as to pertinent aspects of the regions history. He also mentions incidents within the families of some of his members, where various older family-members attempted to coerce, 'brainwash' or undermine the sense of identity within Australian-born children, often without their parent's knowledge, causing great trauma in an environment where the children of migrants already have enough trouble reconciling one monolithic ethnic identity with the Australian reality, without having to deal with its deconstruction. That family members would be so fanaticised by constructs of ethnic identity as to inflict such harm upon their children, truly is a chilling concept, one that has generally been swept under the carpet. "Basically," Yiannis Papadimitriou explains, "we wanted to create an environment where Slavophone Greeks could feel comfortable speaking the idiom they grew up speaking back home, without anyone feeling threatened by this or using it as a means of compromising our members sense of their ethnic identity."
One gains a hint as to what that ethnic identity is as soon as soon as one walks through the door of the reception during the New United Villages of Florina's recent multicultural festival. The first thing that can be discerned is the labarum of the Association, bearing the icon of Panayia Theotokos. She is, as we find out when everyone stands up to chant her hymn, the Υπέρμαχος Στρατηγός, the protector of all. Slowly, solemnly, a column of young children, dressed in traditional regional costumes march into the hall, bearing before them, another icon of the Panayia and holding aloft, Greek and Australian flags. The attendees, all half a thousand of them, are of surprisingly (in an age when mass attendance at dances and other such events, is not only passé for the first generation, let alone the second, but becoming nothing more than just a dim memory) diverse ages, underlying the 'family' or 'village' feel of cohesion and harmony.
The children march proudly past the distinguished guests: the Honourable Harry Jenkins, Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Honourable Maria Vamvakinou, Federal Member for Calwell, Jenny Mikakos, State Member for Northern Metropolitan and Lily D' Ambrosio, State Member for Mill Park, Former Mayor of Whittlesea, Cnr Chris Pavlidis and Whittlesea Councillor Maria Malios. They reach the dance floor and stand to attention as the Australian national anthem is played. As soon as its final strains die down, a murmur of anticipation permeates the room. Then, an immense crescendo and suddenly, 500 voices are united in song as they intone the immortal words of Greek national poet Dionysios Solomos: «Σε γνωρίζω...» The tremulous emotion that tugs at the heartstrings of all those present is palpable.
For these Florinians, singing the Greek national anthem truly is an act of gnosis. It is a firm declaration of who they perceive themselves to be. At the end of the dance floor, a video projector beams images exhibiting the Greek presence in Macedonia. It is a diachronic display, commencing with the ancient past, following through to Byzantium, the Ottoman occupation and contemporary times. Its viewers nod their heads appreciatively, as if discerning in the images of Alexander the Great, Basil the Bulgar Slayer, Saints Cyril and Methodius and of course, the Slavonic-speaking Captain Kottas, not just a historical figure dredged up from the depths of the past, but instead, their immediate kinfolk.
Around me, I can hear snatches of the same Slavonic idiom as that uttered by Captain Kottas when he was led away by the Bulgarians for execution, proclaiming: "Long live Greece!" Suddenly, the conversation is broken by a loud cheer and whoops of delight. The young children are dancing traditional Florinian dances and their elated grandparents and parents are unable to conceal their rapture at witnessing their progeny take exactly the same steps that they have taken, and their ancestors too, in a long chain of dance, as twisted and tortuous as the path taken by the archetypal musician himself, Orpheus, to the underworld to rescue his Euridice, but still unbroken.
One of the beaming grandparents, not being able to contain himself any longer, rushes on to the dance-floor, holding a vast Greek flag upon a lofty flag-pole twice his size. Immediately, the floor is covered in dancers, weaving their way through the age-old steps, all vying for the position of leader of the dance so that they in turn, may also bear the Greek flag. The revellers are so excited that they find it hard to settle down to listen to the speeches.
When Father Stavros, of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia, explains that the apostle Paul was compelled to visit Macedonia and wrote an epistle to the Christians of Philippi, the applause is deafening. When I in turn, as secretary of the Panepirotic Federation of Australia, outline the ties of kinship binding Epirus with Macedonia (we are in effect συμπέθεροι, since Alexander the Great's mother, Olympias was an Epirote princess and Cheimarriote captain Spiros Spiromilios fought in Florina for the liberation of that region and its incorporation into the Greek state, there are cheers and the sounds of many hands clapping. Yiannis Papadimitriou, as president of an organisation that has over the years, repeatedly emphasised its Hellenic identity, arrived at, not only through cultural exchange but through a deep knowledge of history as well, succinctly and perceptively encapsulates the zeitgeist in his address:
"We are here today to celebrate the achievements and continuous presence of Macedonians here in Australia. We, the Macedonians of the New United Villages of Florina are immensely proud of our Greek heritage. We are also immensely proud of the fact that we have been able to transplant them here, in Victoria, home to so many nations. Truly, the Greek and Australian people share many values. Some of these values, love of freedom, democracy, tolerance, a love of the arts and sport are direct gifts from ancient Greek civilization. Let us not forget that it was our great King, Alexander the Great who spread Greek civilization throughout the East. We, his descendants, having left our native Macedonia, are continuing in his footsteps, maintaining the Greek culture of Macedonia here today. Wherever you see us and the Greek flag flying, you know that there lies a small pocket of Macedonia, the northernmost Greek province, home to many nations but historically and culturally, an inextricable part of the Greek world. We welcome you with open arms and hope you celebrate the core values of tolerance, cultural diversity and mutliculturalism with us." As the song «Μακεδονία Ξακουστή» penetrates our eardrums and the ecstatic revellers rush to the dance-floor once more, and Father Stavros, an Epirote, and I, muse over the relative merits of Macedonian as compared to Epirotic pita, the Greek flag once again passes from hand to hand, circling the room. Complexity in the process of identity formation may characterise many people who are members of ethnic and diaspora communities in today's transnational world. For the members of the New United Villages of Florina however, it is resolved simply, in the form of a blue flag with a large white cross emblazoned upon it, upon a tall and proud flagpole.

First published in NKEE on 6 October 2008