WITH THE THOUSAND IN AGRAFA
Momentarily that is, for seconds later, realizing that her monologue was punctuated neither with commas, or full-stops, I began to muse that while the ancient Greeks did have punctuation, sporadically using punctuation marks consisting of vertically arranged dots as early as the 5th century BC as an aid in the oral delivery of texts, and even developed an elaborate system of dots, placed at varying heights to mark up speeches at rhetorical divisions, such as the ypostigmi, a low dot on the baseline to mark off a komma (a unit smaller than a clause), a stigmi mesi, a dot at mid-height to mark off a clause (known as a colon) and the stimgi teleia, a high dot to mark of a sentence (periodos), such notions seem not to have carried on to their Helladic descendants. Were the Turks perhaps at fault and could we blame them for this as we do all of our other shortcomings?, I pondered. How would the nation seek recompense for the retardation of its progress?
A short, sharp tap of my interlocutor's foot and I was jolted back to an appreciation of the undulating cadences of her voice. She was a lady well shod, in porphyry tooled leather cowboy boots tapering dramatically at their point, which was why I was rubbing my leg in discomfort. I began to consider that during the days of the Emperor in Byzantium, the wearing of such leg-wear would have been considered a capital offence, for only the Emperor himself was permitted to wear porphyry buskins, this being the imperial colour, though said buskins would have borne upon them, the seal of the double-headed eagle, at least during the late Palaeologian dynasty. In my head, I attempted to visualize the last emperor of Byzantium Constantine Palaeologus about to remove his imperial buskins and other regalia so as to not afford the Ottomans the opportunity to claim his body as a trophy. Mysteriously, in my mind's eye, it was a pair of tapered porphyry tooled leather cowboy boots he was attempting to cast off, looking frantically for somewhere to sit in order to undertake this difficult task.
"Are you paying attention to me at all?" came the indignant tones of my monologist. Looking up, I perceived a slight waywardness in one hair of an otherwise breathtakingly straight set of eyebrows. I began to reflect upon the Greek word αλφαδιασμένος (levelled), which seems to denote the medieval use of an alpha shaped instrument, when the question was again repeated: "Are you listening to me at all?"
«Συγνώμη,» I apologized. «Ήμουν με τους χίλιους στ' Άγραφα.»
"What are you talking about? How were you with the thousands at Agrafa? You've been here the whole time. And who are these thousands?" she pouted, arching her eyebrows ominously.
"It's an expression, isn't it?" I responded. "Isn't it just a way of saying, sorry I was distracted?"
"So you don't find what I'm saying interesting, is that it? And anyway, I've lived in Greece all my live and I've never heard such an expression. Sounds like complete nonsense anyway," the lady huffed, reaching into her bag in order to retrieve a compact. She powdered herself plaintively, lamenting the lack of manners exhibited towards her by male Greek -Australians and the outlandish conceits of the Greek language they seemed to rejoice in. Immobilised by her distress, I could only think to ruminate over her complete disavowal of an expression I had used all my life and her posing of the compelling question: "Who are the thousands of Agrafa?"
«Ήμουν με τους χίλιους στ' Άγραφα,» is an expression that has been handed down within the extended family by my great-grandmother and is used heavily to denote one whose mind is not where it should be. It is also employed by persons hailing from her village and its surrounds, near Ioannina. Yet over the successive weeks following my ill-fated conversation I came to learn that this expression, which I have never reflect upon and considered perfectly mainstream, is not readily understood by almost all Greeks I have spoken to not hailing from the prefecture of Ioannina and in most cases is met with complete incomprehensibility.
Yet this expression seems to have a venerable provenance, derived from local lore. According to one source, the origin of the phrase has to do with Greek Revolutionary hero Yiorgos Karaiskakis' ambition to become the captain of Agrafa, and his occupation of the region with a thousand men. Apparently, this was achieved with the connivance of Omer Vrioni, the impaler of Athanasios Diakos. However, there is a demotic song entitled "Του Ζαχαράκη" which refers to the thousand of Agrafa, and which predates Karaiskakis ' exploits by about thirty years:
Το μάθαταν τι έγινε κάτου στην Παλιοπάτρα;
Η κλεφτουριά παράδωσι κι τα καπιτανάτα.
Ου Ζαχαράκης του σκυλί, ν' αυτός δεν παραδίνει:
-Δε σε φουβάμαι, βρε πασιά, κι εσένα βρε βεζύρη.
Ν-έχουμε χίλιους στ' Άγραφα, χίλιους στο Μισολόγγι
κι τιτρακόσια ολόγυρα, νούλοι Σαρακατσάνοι,
ν' αυτοί δεν παραδίνουντι, πασά δεν προσκυνάνι.
«Δεν έχω άδεια να βγω να ιδώ τον Τόλιο που διαβαίνει
τον Τόλιο τον περήφανο τ" άξιο το παλικάρι
πως πάει απάνω στ" Άγραφα να μάσει παλικάρια
χίλιους νομάτους έμασε χίλιους και διαλεγμένους.»