Saturday, September 21, 2013


Say what you like, being an apologist for Satan is no easy task. Take for example the Yezidis, an obscure ancient of Iraq, who reverence the aforementioned nefarious being. According to their view of things, the Peacock Angel, also known as Satan, is not the source of evil. Quite the opposite, he is to be commended, for he refused to obey God's capricious injunction to bow down to and serve Adam. Adding to the confusion, the Yezidic Satan, is but one of a heptad of angels who are in fact God's emanation, formed of the light of God. God is supposed to delegate most of his actions to the heptad so instead of a trinity, we are talking here of a heptarchy.
Of course, in Christianity, Satan is the source of evil in the world, his task being to tempt humans to give in to their baser instincts and stray from the path of God. Yet while orthodox Christianity, on the basis of the book of Revelation preaches the final eternal damnation and punishment of the Archfiend and all his pomps, some influential theologians have, in their quest to prove the ultimate mercy and love of God, to suggest that in the final apokatastasis or restoration of the divine plan, even the Devil will be forgiven and restored.
Origen, the great theologian whose writings form the foundation of Christian theology, and who castrated himself in order to purify himself of the passions, seems to have been condemned for this view, after his death. According to him, a vast cleansing via the equivalent of a spiritual bushfire would take place, leading to cosmic renovation. By a further spiritualization Origen called God himself this consuming fire. In proportion, as souls were freed from sin and ignorance, the material world was to pass away, until, after endless eons, at the final end, God should be all in all, and the worlds and spirits should return to a knowledge of God. This, logically would also include the infernal spirits who would emerge very much burnt and very much cleansed.
Evagrius Ponticus, an influential Pontian theologian also espoused this point of view and even the revered Orthodox saint and theologian St Gregory of Nyssa approached this view of things though not without numerous qualification and distinctions:  In the Life of Moses, he writes that just as the darkness left the Egyptians after three days, perhaps redemption will be extended to those suffering in hell. There are passages where he seems to suggest that even the demons will have a place in Christ's "world of goodness" based on his  interpretations of Corinthians, ("And when all things shall be subdued unto him ...") and Philippians, ("That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth"). While he too believes in the purifying fire and the banishment of evil though, it is arguable that this does not preclude a belief that God might justly damn sinners for eternity.
Nicholaos Mihaloliakos also appears to believe in the apokatastasis. His apokatastasis however, is not one where Satan is purified, forgiven and restored to his primordial position after apologizing profusely for his transgressions. Instead, according to the early beliefs and writings of the leader of the Right-Wing Golden Dawn Party, he looks forward to the time when Satan will oust "twenty centuries of darkness," restore  "lost Paradiseis of old" which comprise the "future world of our dreams, which by our own Will, shall become a reality." All this and much more besides in contained in his introduction to Odysseus Paterakis' poetry collection: "The Shining Darkness of Lucifer - The National Greek Religion." According to Mihaloliakos, who at that time was not a member of parliament and thus had time to dabble in literary criticism, poems such as "Lucifer" in which Paterakis warns: "The meek beware, we have returned, in the ranks of the black battalions of Hell. We proceed in the footsteps of Prometheus, and Lucifer illuminates our way,"  poetry of this nature is to be applauded because it possesses "Spiritual Courage" and "Ideological Consistency." The Spiritual Courage of the poet here, according to the mini-fuhrer, lies in calling for the overthrow of Christianity and the restoration of some type of ill-defined Neo-pagan religion, in the same way that Alfred Rosenberg designed the new Nazi Neo-pagan religion for his fuhrer in the thirties. The Ideological Consistency, something which of course is important to all totalitarian belief systems, is exemplified by the poet wishing to "sacrifice his desire to be liked by everyone, by remaining true to his national consciousness." One may possibly find an example of such consistency in the poem "The Lord of the Demons" where the poet states that he is an element of death, the offspring of the abyss and begs for the chance to be offered the primordial forbidden fruit from the hands of the Arch-slanderer himself. Powerful stuff, except the bit where he claims that he is a "monk of lightning and a beast of the sea," where the imagery veers off into mangaland.
There follows a lengthy quotation of Yeats, which fills up one half of the introduction, presumably serving the double purpose of establishing Mihalokiakos' intellectual credentials (after all he has read Yeats,) as well as dispensing with the need to come up with anything more original to say. Coincidentally, Yeats had designed the uniforms of the Irish fascists in the twenties. Do we forgive him his foibles? After all, many of us are guilty of penning introductions to questionable works which we would prefer never to see the light of day again. I remember writing one such introduction to a work involving an interstate romance that came to a heady conclusion on the exotic sands of Victor Harbour. The key significance of this work was that half of it as copied from a travel brochure about this enchanting location. Yet as I recall, while the besotted youth was romancing his beloved on the horse-drawn tram, there was no mention of any infernal powers, despite their devil-may-care attitude on life in general.
Mihaloliakos' love of the devil, stemming as it does from his conviction that Christianity has somehow corrupted Greek civilization and that paganism offers a way forward is an element of the core belief system of Golden Dawn's rank and file that they now would not readily admit to. In his attempt to plunge his party into the mainstream of Greek politics, he now professes an admiration for "our Orthodoxy." In particular, he is concerned with protecting Orthodoxy from the miasma of racial miscegenation, recently crossing swords with Metropolitan Anthimos of Thessaloniki. An outspoken nationalist himself, Anthimos has condemned Golden Dawn's racist provision of food and other handouts, which is restricted solely to Greeks. He has confirmed the Church's doctrine that charity is for all and that migrants and other needy groups in Greece should not be discriminated against. Mihaloliakos ripostes by stating his concern for the protection of the integrity of Orthodoxy, which concern, one would suggest, is as sincere as that of his object of admiration, that mankind be permitted to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. This after all, this is the person who, with his  simian cohorts, performs the contemptible act of physically abusing Greek citizens who purchase foodstuffs from migrants.
 With such disturbingly farcical views under their belt, views that the Greek media have either not presented to their full extent or which have not been fully analysed or understood by a Greek public bred upon a public discourse of hyperbole and sensationalism, Golden Dawn's continued presence in the Greek parliament and growing popularity is gravely disquieting. A racist, macho, sexist, violent organisation that applauds the devil and writes poetry in his honour simply because kindness and compassion is beyond its members compass of emotions, would have us believe that it offers a plausible way forward for the Greek people. While it espouses its devilish world view, it, as a way of duping the gullible populace into smoothing their assault on power, they profess their concern for a religion that preaches the exact opposite of the evil that they rejoice in. To them therefore and their heinous adherents only one Greek injunction is relevant and should be expressed on a continuous basis until their pernicious existence is expunged from the diptychs of Greek political life:   «Άει στο διάολο
First published in NKEE on Saturday, 21 September 2013

Saturday, September 14, 2013


Sour grapes have their origins in the works of Aesop. You know the one, the slave who, according to the earliest Greek sources, including Aristotle, indicate that he  was born around 620 BC in Thrace at a site on the Black Sea coast which would later become the city Mesembria. A number of later writers from the Roman imperial period, including Phaedrus, who adapted the fables into Latin, claim that he was born in Phrygia in Asia Minor. This Asia Minor connection is corroborated by the third century poet Callimachus, who called him "Aesop of Sardis," and the later writer Maximus of Tyre, who called him "the sage of Lydia."
Call his country what you will, there can be no doubt of the fact that if it wasn’t for Samos, there would have been no fables to speak of. Both Aristotle and Herodotus reveal that Aesop was a slave in Samos and that his masters were first a man named Xanthus and then a man named Iadmon. They claim that he must eventually have been freed, because he argued as an advocate for a wealthy Samian and that he met his end in the city of Delphi. According to Plutarch, Aesop had come to Delphi on a diplomatic mission from King Croesus of Lydia. Apparently, he  insulted the Delphians, was sentenced to death on a trumped-up charge of temple theft, and was thrown from a cliff. To add insult to ignominy, the fable writer narrowly missed out on being included in the list of Greece’s Seven Great Sages. This is no matter now, when everyone knows the fable of the fox, who unable to reach the grapes of his desire, called them sour, whereas most of his shy clear away from snuggling into bed with a copy of Thales the Milesian’s latest.
Turkey has also recently missed out being included on a list, that list being the list of countries that have hosted the Olympic Games. Instead of being granted to Istanbul, the old Constantinople, Tokyo has snitched the 2020 Games from under their very noses. Regularly readers of this column will recall the sense of entitlement prevailing within Turkey in the wake of its bid, including the bizarre claim that since a Mount Olympus exists in Turkey, the Olympic Games should permanently be held there. Try convincing impassioned advocates of this view that the Olympian Gods have long since sold their mountain top freehold and relocated to the loftier climes of Mount Fuji instead.
I can’t help thinking that a few immarbled Byzantine emperors had a word in the IOC’s collective ears. After all, Byzantine Emperors were not big on the perpetuation of pagan pastimes and would certainly not countenance the hosting of a Games designed to honour the gods they extirpated in their city. The only sport aesthetically permissible to the Byzantines was chariot racing and this only because it was laden with political overtones, the two sides, being the Greens and the Blues forming effectively, political pressure groups.  Perhaps this is something the Turkish bidders should have considered. When it was announced that Turkey lost out to Tokyo on hosting the 2020 Olympics, Ankara’s mayor took to Twitter to blast anti-government protestors as “traitors” who cost Turkey its bid.  What he should have realised is that a bid for the Melbourne Cup would have been more effective.
Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, in fine incendiary form blasted the International Olympic Committee’s as “unfair”, saying it was turning its back on the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims. This is a fascinating statement. The last  Turkish leader to purport to represent the totality of the Muslim population of the world was the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Mejid, who was the caliph, or spiritual leader of Islam. His title was abolished by the founder of the Turkish republic, Mustafa Kemal. Are we to understand that a new caliphate is now in existence? And how pray does the non-granting of the Olympic Games to Turkey impact upon the religious sensitivities of the faithful in such diverse places of the world as Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, or Mindanao in the Philippines? If the games were indeed granted to the Queen of Cities, how would the newly appointed caliph protect members of the IOC from the wrath of enraged samurais wielding their well-tempered blades, incensed at the insult not just to a spiritual leader, but to the Son of Heaven, in the form of the Japanese Emperor, a direct descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu and to the entire Shinto religion as well and seeking revenge? Oh dear. The fact that the Summer Olympics have never been held in a Muslim country is noteworthy but not worthy of dismay. After all, it took the IOC 104 years to re-grant the Games to their birthplace.
When asserting one’s spiritual authority gets you nowhere, the next best tactic is to through a tantrum, reminiscent of a child complaining as to why his elder siblings have been allowed to east lollies while he is not. Erdogan exemplifies this approach in his plaintive cry to the Turkish media: “Both Tokyo and Madrid have hosted the games before; Istanbul hasn’t. It hasn’t been fair.” Don’t stress sonny. You can host the games when you are older, seems to be one’s instinctive method of consoling the poor child and stopping him from banging his hands and feet upon the floorboards of our credulity. After all, we have just had them polished.
If kicking and stamping one’s feet fails to procure results, how about blaming one’s own people. After all, there was opposition to the Istanbul bid from a significant portion of its own citizenry and government officials are now calling these citizens traitors. When the IOC announcement was made, some of these celebrated in Turkey’s streets. So powerful  were the emotions surrounding the City’s Olympic bid, that supporters and opponents of the Olympics gathered at separate sites. After Istanbul failed in its fifth Olympic bid, some cried and others embraced in the ancient square of Sultanahmet. Most just stood still, lowering their Turkish flags. In Taksim Square, on the other hand, those who had opposed the bid celebrated late into the night. Obviously, this seems rather strange when it is considered that when making the case for Turkey before the IOC, Prime Minister Erdogan categorically stated that his country’s bid was one of “tolerance” and “peace.”
Way to state the obvious. Being impressed at the fact that a nation that wants to host Games revived upon the values of friendly competition and peaceful co-existence, proclaims peace and tolerance is proportional to a candidate in a beauty contest also wishing for world peace. It is mere convention.
The traitors, sorry, I mean the protestors, don’t see tolerance and peace in the manner in which the recent Gezi Park protests were broken up by the Turkish authorities and this more than any lack of progress on issues of human rights or religious freedom, seems to have blighted the Istanbul bid. After all, a country whose government brands alternative views as traitorous, where water cannons and beatings are deployed with such ease against peaceful protestors, does not exactly inspire confidence. The celebrations in Taksim Square may have been an appreciation of the belief that the IOC did not reward the Turkish government for its oppressive behavior. For my own part, I find this difficult to believe. Other cities languishing under authoritarian regimes have been granted the Olympic Games before, equally notorious for their lack of respect for their citizens, Nazi Germany being the most obvious example, without the treatment of these citizens serving as any impediment whatsoever.
I lament the failure of the Istanbul bid. To witness the Games being held in the most beautiful city of the world would be  marvellous. To have the host nation showcase and celebrate one thousand years of Byzantine tradition and history would be absolutely spell-binding. Yet herein lies the dilemma. It was from Constantinople that Emperor Theodosius decreed in 394 the abolition of all pagan games, including the original Olympic Games, leading to their terminal decline. To host the games in the city that caused their demise seems paradoxical and counter-intuitive. Far from factors pertaining to internal traitors, religious discrimination, racism or political instability, perhaps it is the old imperial legacy, one that saw fit to dispense with the old gods and bring in the new, that mitigates against Constantinople. For if our Aesopian caliph looks up at the grapes of his desire, and having had these rendered unreachable by the IOC, calls them sour, let him consider the Aesopian Emperor-Woodcutter, begged the trees to give him a handle made of the hardest wood. The other trees selected the wood of the wild olive. He  took the handle and fitted it to his axe. Then, without a moment's hesitation, he began to chop down the trees' mighty branches and trunks, taking whatever he wanted. The oak tree then said to the ash, 'It serves us right, since we gave our enemy the handle he asked for!’ Let the Games begin.
First published in NKEE on Saturday 14 September 2013

Saturday, September 07, 2013


We were seated near the royal palace of Monaco, overlooking the azure waters of the harbour on a particularly intoxicating day. My friend turned to me and challenged: “Now come on. Don’t tell me that Monaco is also Greek.” The reason for this expostulation was owed to the fact that in our travels around western Europe, I was constantly pointing out the Greek foundations behind the veneer of culture and history of the place in question. In decadent, languid Monaco, my interlocutor smugly believed that I was finally stumped.
“Actually” I responded, “ Monaco was founded by Greeks.” This is absolutely true by the way. It was the Phocaeans of Massalia who founded the colony of Monoikos, in the 6th century BC in the area now known as Monaco. Monoikos was associated with Hercules, venerated in this location alone as Hercules Monoecus, meaning the lone-dweller. According to Diodorus Siculus and Strabo, both Greeks and native Ligurian people asserted that Hercules passed through the area. This tradition was also recorded by Roman authors. The poet Virgil called it "that castled cliff, Monoecus by the sea" in the Aeneid. The commentator Servius commented that the epithet was derived: dictus autem Monoecus vel quod pulsis omnibus illic solus habitavit ("either because Hercules drove off everyone else and lived there alone"), vel quod in eius templo numquam aliquis deorum simul colitur ("or because in his temple no other of the gods is worshipped at the same time"). Modern Monegasques honour this tradition, naming the modern port the "Port of Hercules."  After the Gallic Wars, Monoecus, which served as a stopping-point for Julius Caesar on his way to campaign in Greece, fell under Roman control as part of the Maritime Alps province.
Fascinatingly, Monaco was a Greek colony founded by another Greek colony, Massalia, which is better known these days, as Marseilles, a major French port, which has lent its name to the stirring revolutionary anthem. So important was it to the Greek world that its foundation found its way into Greek mythology. Protis, while exploring for a new trading outpost or emporion for Phocaea, discovered the Mediterranean cove of the Lacydon, fed by a freshwater stream and protected by two rocky promontories. He  was invited inland to a banquet held by the chief of the local Ligurian tribe for suitors seeking the hand of his daughter Gyptis in marriage. At the end of the banquet, Gyptis presented the ceremonial cup of wine to Protis, indicating her unequivocal choice. Following their marriage, they moved to the hill just to the north of the Lacydon; and from this settlement grew Massalia.
Facing an opposing alliance of the Etruscans, Carthage and the Celts, the Greek colony allied itself with the expanding Roman Republic for protection. This protectionist association brought aid in the event of future attacks, and perhaps equally important, it also brought the people of Massalia into the complex Roman market. The city thrived by acting as a link between inland Gaul, hungry for Roman goods and wine, which Massalia was steadily exporting by 500 BC and Rome's insatiable need for new products and slaves. Under this arrangement the city maintained its independence until the rise of Julius Caesar, when it joined the losing side in civil war, and lost its independence in 49 BC. Massalia of course, was the home port of the great ancient explorer Pytheas who ventured as far north as the Arctic circle and may have discovered Iceland. Owning to the prevalence of the Greek language in the city, it soon become receptive to Christianity, and according to local tradition, Mary Magdalen preached there with her brother Lazarus.
Go further east, towards Nice, and one finds that its inhabitants are quite open in their acknowledgment of the Greek origins of their city, which is nice. The city was probably founded around 350 BC by the Greeks of Massalia and was given the name of Nikaia in honour of a victory over the neighbouring Ligurians. Also along the French Riviera, the ancient Greeks having a brilliant eye for real estate, lies Antibes, also founded as a 5th-century BC Greek colony  by the Phocaeans from Massilia, who called their city Antipolis, leterally meaning, “the city across.”  Paying homage to their Greek roots, the town’s inhabitants have named the technology park in their city “Sophia-Antipolis.”
Further west, lies the commune of Agde,  one of the oldest villages in France, founded in 525BC, also by the peripatetic  Phocaeans of Massalia. The name of the village is said to be derived from  the words “Agathe Tyche” or Good Luck.  The symbol of the city, is also of Greek origin, being the bronze Ephebe of Agde, of the 4th century BCE, recovered from the fluvial sands of the Hérault.
Not all of the Phoceans colonies were so successful. Alalia, modern day Aleria in Corsica was founded by Phocaeans from Asia minor fleeing the Persians. These Greek colonists were so troublesome to the Etruscans and to the Carthaginians of Sardinia that the two powers sent a combined fleet of 120 ships to root them out. This force was defeated by 60 Phocaean ships Battle of Alalia in the Sardinian Sea, which Herodotus describes as a Cadmeian victory (an early equivalent of a Pyrrhic victory) because the Greeks lost most of their ships. Now unable to defend themselves, the Phocaeans took to their remaining ships and sailed off to Rhegium, abandoning their colony to the Etruscans.
By virtue of their proximity to the native Celtic tribes of the region, the Gallo-Greeks engaged in constant trade with them. During the late 6th and 5th centuries BC Greek artefacts penetrated northwards along the Rhône and Saône valleys as well as the Isère. Massalian grey monochrome pottery has been discovered in the Hautes Alpes and as far north as Lons-le-Saunier, as well as three-winged bronze arrowheads as far as northern France, and amphorae from Marseille and Attic pottery at Mont Lassois.
From Massalia, Greek traders founded colonies along the coast of Spain and  a trade in tin, indispensable for the manufacture of bronze, seems to have been established at that time between Cornwall in modern England, through the Channel, and along the Seine valley, Burgundy and the Rhône-Saône valleys, remarkably to Massalia.
The ancient Greeks of the French Riviera are long gone, yet their legacy lives on, not only in the place names but also in scholars archaeological finds. The La Tène style of art, based on floral ornamentation, in contrast to the geometric styles of Early Iron Age Europe, can be traced to an imaginative re-interpretation of motifs on imported objects of Greek origin. Further, during his conquest of Gaul, Caesar reported that the Helvetii were in possession of documents in the Greek script, and all Gaulish coins used the Greek script until about 50 BC. Indeed, the field of numismatics does much to attest to Greek cultural penetration of the Gallic hinterland. Celtic coinage as it emerged in the 4th century BC, initially copied Greek designs. Greek letters can be found on various Celtic coins, especially those of Southern France, while coins in northern France, like those of the Parisii tribe were influenced by the coinage of Philip II of Macedon and Alexander the Great. Many of these Celtic coins retained Greek subjects, such as the head of Apollo on the obverse but developed their own style from that basis, thus establishing a Graeco-Celtic synthesis.
By the 1st century BC, the coinage of the Greeks of Massalia even began to influence coinage as far afield as Great Britain. The coins of the Sunbury hoard, thought to have been manufactured in Kent, show designs derived from Greek coins from Massalia with the stylised head of Apollo and a bull.
The ties between Greeks and Gauls therefore run deeper than one would first suspect and Aristotle Onassis’  rumoured attempts to purchase Monaco from its cash strapped prince would have restored a historical Greek presence to the playground of the rich and famous. Today, that presence is attested by names and the odd unearthing of a coin, vase or statue, proving not only that all things pass, that all is vanity, but that also, it is almost impossible not to find a Greek connection to almost every part of the Mediterranean basin and even further afield. That this extends to the culinary, is amply attested to the fact that the signature dish of Marseille, Bouillabaisse, is actually an adaptation of the ancient Greek kakavia. Haute cuisine? Bring on the psarotaverna. C’est bon!
First published in NKEE on Saturday 7 September 2013