Saturday, April 29, 2017


Anzac Day, the cornerstone of  our collective Australian national identity, has just been solemnly commemorated. Men and women marched, or attended dawn services, honouring the lost youths who fought and fell at Gallipoli, in incomprehensible numbers. 
Among their number, members of the broader Greek community. Considering that during most of the Great War, Greeks in Australia where considered enemy aliens and were interned, harassed and in some cases attacked, (King Constantine kept Greece out of the war ands was passing state secrets to the Kaiser) it is worthwhile to question whether the way in which Greek Australians increasingly honour ANZAC day is connected to a desire for inclusion, is a calculated or subconscious effort to insert Hellenism into the Australian national narrative or is merely an appreciation of heroism and sacrifice? After all, up until recently, there was scant inherited memory of the important contribution of Greeks and Greek Australians to the Allied cause within our community.
Ruminating over this after the dawn service, I saw an advertisement on television that claimed: “They fought, not for King, not for Country, but for their mates.”
This then is the Australian version of the Adonic cult . The emphasis on ‘mateship’ was borne of the ANZAC tradition and exemplifying the ‘very best of the Australian character’, to lend a particularly Antipodean tinge to the Mediterranean cult of the lost youth, who, through commemoration, achieves deification.
Such mateship mythmaking is important, and Australians have successively capitalised on ancillary mateship myth-making, emphasising the magnanimous words of the founder of Modern Turkey in the aftermath of the Great War, Kemal Ataturk: “There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours,” in order to ensure continued permission for Australians to commemorate their dead directly at their place of slaughter. It is well that they do so, for it is becoming apparent both, that Ataturk never uttered those words and that Australian commemorations at Gallipoli are negotiable, by a Turkish government that is increasingly viewing the Ottoman Empire with nostalgia and admiration and which is purging intellectuals and others who would challenge the validity of its own national myths.
Thus, myths of mateship aside, the ANZACS actually fought at Gallipoli, a peninsula ethnically cleansed of its Greek inhabitants by the Ottomans at the instigation of their German advisers Colonel Liman von Sanders and Ambassador Wangenheim, in anticipation of the ANZAC landings.
The Australians fought willingly in what the spin doctors of the time termed ‘the Great War for Civilisation,’  because apparently Teutonic barbarism had to be stopped and the world made safe for benign monarchies like the British Empire. Barely having been given self-government some thirteen years previously, Australians went to war to serve British strategic interests, in the firm belief that these were also their own.
Gallipoli is the Australian Thermopylae, a place where Australians distinguished themselves through their valour, thus creating cultural archetypes to boost the self-esteem of a young nation, even though their efforts were ultimately futile and absolutely useless in serving their military aim: the capture of Constantinople.
For the Turks, the battle is seen as one of the finest and bravest moments in the history of the Turkish people - a final surge in the defence of the motherland as the centuries-old Ottoman Empire was disintegrating; laying the grounds for the so-called Turkish War of Independence and the subsequent foundation of the new Turkish Republic, led by Atatürk, a commander in Gallipoli himself.
This is significant because the Gallipoli campaign could, according to scholars, have been the catalyst not only for the creation of the Turkish republic and the Australian national identity, but also the first genocide of the twentieth century. According to an essay by Robert Manne, Professor of Politics at LaTrobe University in ‘The Monthly’ magazine, what the Turkish genocide of the Armenians (and in parallel that of the Pontic Greeks and Assyrians) and the battle of Gallipoli have in common is that they started on almost the same day, within a few hundred kilometres of each other. He poses the question, one which is pertinent considering blatant attempts to recast the Ottomans as Turks and in that guise, as an ‘honourable enemy’ in a manner not attempted with Australia’s other historical military opponents, such as the Germans, Japanese and Vietnamese, why we don’t know this as a nation and why Australian historians and literati have apparently never made the connection between the two events, except for Les Murray, who used Armenian genocide victim Atom Yarjanian’s poem: ‘In shock I slammed my shutters like a storm,/ Turned to the one gone, asked: ‘These eyes of mine/ How shall I dig them out, how shall I, how?’ in his work ‘Fredy Neptune.’
In The Monthly, Professor Robert Manne, explains that “in 1915, the Ottoman Government began one of the first really systematic genocides in history, certainly of the twentieth century. And within a year or so, perhaps one million Armenians had been killed because they were a Christian minority in the Muslim Ottoman Empire, which was in its point of crisis. And there’d been persecution for a long time, but this the attempt to eliminate a people.”
The Turkish government has consistently denied the genocide of the Christian peoples of Anatolia. As Professor Robert Manne posits: “The Turkish Government has always utterly denied that a genocide took place, although they admit that some massacres took place. But the largely blame the Armenians for that saying they were a rebellious, subversive element at a time of wartime crisis. But it's at the heart of Turkish identity to deny the meaning and the reality of that genocide.”
Of course, up until recently, the fact that modern day Turkey was considered a vast economy of some eighty million people that paid lip-service to Democracy and was, apart from Israel, the only non-Arab ‘democratic’ state in the Middle East, could possibly explain why the West has been willing to overlook a painfully obvious crime that allegedly inspired Hitler to perpetrate the Holocaust, supposedly remarking “Who remembers the Armenians?” Realpolitik is also compounded by the difficulty the West would experience in sympathising with such Middle Eastern peoples with unpronounceable names as the Pontians, Armenians and Assyrians, who were slaughtered a century ago, when in our own time, the nightly news has for the past decade, flooded our living rooms with images of mass slaughter in the same broader region, coupled with our own tears of terrorism. However, considering the increasingly authoritarian nature of the Turkish government, such attitiudes may change. 
The inconsistency of such historical indifference has not escaped Professor Robert Manne, who stated to the ABC a few years ago: “It seems to me the strangest thing. We have Anzac Day as April the 25th 1915 is remembered; the Armenians have April the 24th 1915 as their day of mourning, which they take to be the beginning of the genocide. The two events not only coincided in territory and in time, but there is quite a lot of evidence that the genocide was pushed on because of the Dardanelle campaign of the Anglo-French forces in which the Australians were involved.
So despite the fact that the things happened at the same time and int he same place more or less, and they were even kind of connected with a causal link, I looked through book after book about Gallipoli, and there's no end of books that Australians have written about it, and virtually none of them mention it for more than a passing paragraphs or a couple of lines”.
Yet as Professor Manne states, the evidence linking the two events, seems to be incontrovertible: “[T]here are some contemporary historians, there's a wonderful Turkish historian, Tanner Akcam, who think that when the Gallipoli campaign began, or when the Dardanelles were first bombed by the Anglo-French in March 1915, that was the final moment of reckoning, and that the Turkish regime, which was run by two or three young Turks were the dominant figures, they set upon and decided on a systematic extermination of the Armenians, saying that at this moment of crisis, where Constantinople might fall, we can't afford to have as subversive minority within our country.
So, the Dardanelle campaign and the Gallipoli landings pushed on and maybe not exactly caused, but at least triggered the final events that led to the genocide…. My point is how strange it is that the event that's really by far the most important historical event in the national imaginary in Australia, which is the Gallipoli campaign, our historians have never thought to ask the obvious questions about the connection between the two events, or even to comment on the fact that the two events took place at the same time. Apart from the poet Les Murray, I've not come across an Australian writer who's really thought imaginatively about the connection of the two events in whatever they've written.”
The causal link between the two events is further cemented when one considers that just twenty days after the Gallipoli landing, on 14 May 1914, Talaat Pasha, a member of the ruling Young Turk triumvirate ordered the forcible evacuation of all Greek settlements on the Dardenelles as far as Kyssos and the re-settlement of the region with Muslim refugees from the Balkans: “For political reasons it is urgently necessary that the Greek inhabitants of the coast of Asia Minor are forced to abandon their villages… If they refuse to move… please give oral instructions to Muslim brothers how to force the Greeks to remove themselves ‘voluntarily’ by any means possible. In that case, don’t forget to obtain confirmations from them that they are abandoning their homes of their own free will.”

Consequently, in May and June 1914, there were massacres of Greeks in Erythrae and Phocaea in Ionia, while in Pergamon on 27 May 1914; the Greeks were given just two hours to leave the city. This ethnic cleansing, along with the simultaneous massacres of Armenians and those of the Assyrians in inaccessible areas such as the mountains of Hakkari, were widely reported by diplomatic personnel and missionaries. U.S Ambassador Morgenthau, who had the ear of the Young Turk Pashas and was also privy to their boasting about what they would do to the Christians in their realm, was one of the first to link ethnic cleansing with the Gallipoli landings in his memoirs. Arnold Toynbee, who worked for the British secret service wrote as early as 1915: “The scheme was nothing less than the extermination of the whole Christian population within the Ottoman borders…”
As always, there was no mention of the millions of innocent Christian victims of bungled western policy in this year’s ANZAC Day commemoration. Nor was there any mention of the thousands of Greeks who assisted and nursed wounded Australian soldiers from Gallipoli on the island of Lemnos. Homage instead, was paid to that ‘honourable enemy army’ that, upon German instruction, cleansed the coastline of its Christian inhabitants in order to better defend it against the ANZACS and who, as the campaign dragged on, engaged in their wholesale slaughter.
But then again, Gallipoli was never about justice, or historical fact. It is a national myth within the confines of which other people, especially victims of its aftermath who may sully the noble pure page of its epic with their blood, have absolutely no place. In the words of Robert Manne:
“… I think always Gallipoli has been tied up with identity and almost never been really connected to a kind of interest in the history of the First World War, let alone an interest in the Ottoman Empire. And so it's not really pessimism so much as kind of trying to identify the difference between history and myth, that I think it'll never become a matter of great interest in Australia, except perhaps for some intellectuals…. The interests of myth, I think, drive the historians that move time and again back to Gallipoli. Even if they want to revise the story, what they're doing is revising the myth. But they're not really interested in the kind of overall historical questions that are connected to it.”
In this context, the traditional expression: “Lest We Forget” assumes the form of a pious hope indeed.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 29 April 2017

Saturday, April 22, 2017


Every year on Holy Saturday, our doorbell rings. Standing outside our doorway, our Italian neighbor awaits, brandishing a panettone. “Buona Festa,” she smiles as she hands it over. That smile gradually merges into a grimace, when I reciprocate by handing over a tsoureki of our own construction. Such unrefined items rank rather low in the Magna Graecian pecking order of comestible appreciation.
By now, said neighbor would be justified in her reticence, for this year’s tsourekia are by all reckoning, the worst to have emerged from the Kalimniou kitchens and this would probably explain her forced smiles and quick shuttling back into the safety of her own property as soon as she sets eyes on me, ever since. The fault, in my opinion, lies solely with Easter itself.
On that Great and Holy Thursday, after weeks of fasting, the sight of eggs and milk rendered me weak at the knees. It was all that I could do, to cast a pontificating and supervisory eye upon the tsoureki production, without dipping my snout into the trough, as my wife kneaded the dough. She did so methodically, rhythmically, ignoring the clouds of flour in which she was covered, transforming her into a type of human λουκούμι. Back and forth went her hands upon the dough, back and forth, until I could bear it no more.
“You are supposed to knead the dough, not stroke it gently,” I commented. Coming up behind her, I plunged my hands on top of hers, into the dough. “Like this,” I said, and slowly began to pummel the dough. Back and forth, went my hands, back and forth, until she could bear it no more.
“It needs more mastiha,” she said breathlessly, pushing my hands away. “Crush some.”
Quickly, I poured the mastiha granules into the mortar and taking hold of the pestle, I began to pound them inexorably. Back and forth went my pestle, grinding the mastiha into oblivion. Having pulverised the entire contents, my head swmming, I poured them into the dough. Some hours later, the most bitter tsoureki ever made emerged from the oven, overwhelmingly tainted by the mastiha of my own deviant anticipations.

Some twenty minutes after our Italian neighbour departed bearing the tainted tsoureki, the doorbell rang again. This time it was a Greek-Australian friend, proffering what looked suspiciously like a panettone. Now in my mind, Greek-Australians who gift each other panettoni instead of tsourekia for Easter are the abomination of desolation as spoken of by Daniel the Prophet. This pernicious custom is aided and abetted by the Greek grocers of East Keilor, for, as one of them told me when I accused him of destroying all that is sacred and righteous about our Easter traditions, panettoni retail for thrice the price. One cannot argue against the free market with margins of this magnitude. 

A half an hour later, the doorbell rang again, this time to herald the arrival of an effusive exponent of internet inspired, born again Hellenism. Not only was the donor inordinately enthused in providing a home-made tsoureki that was gluten free, she also gushed excitedly that she could not wait to see who in our family would "win the coin." "What coin?" I asked. "The coin that I put in for good luck" was the response. This is because apparently in New Age Hellenism (it is a Greek Australian Vasiloxristopita thing), New Year is celebrated in April and Easter not at all, among those who define themselves as “Culturally Orthodox.” This is also a “thing.”

Owing to an inspiration best attributed to an inordinate amount of angst causedd by the proliferation of tsourekia in our household, I managed to crack my long-departed grandmother’s secret koulouri recipe. Upon crowing triumphantly about my achievements to a friend, said friend was singularly unimpressed, commented drily tha making one’s own koulouria is so last season, and the Greek-Australian tradition is to “re-gift.” According to the rules of the game, if your koumbara, friend, or cousin's koulouria are excremental, in that they look, feel and taste like an ossified dog turd, then playing “Re-gift the Koulouri” is mandatory. Accordingly, one takes the said excremental koulouria and gifts them to another Greek family to whom one is linked by a bond of υποχρέωση. You score one point if you able to pass this off successfully. Two points are gained if you can identify koulouria given to you by others as a re-gift and you proceed to re-gift these as well. Ten points if you re-gift your mother in law's koulouria and these are re-gifted down the circle of relatives until she ends up with them. Twenty points if your mother in law realises what you have done. Thirty points if you are what is termed an “Afstraleza nyfi” in game terminology and have only made koulouria (which you criminally call Easter cookies) in order to placate the fury of your mother in law in taking her precious son away from her. Lose thirty points if you are an “Afstraleza nyfi” and you think that by making koulouria you will obtain your mother in law's acceptance. Gain forty points if you are an “Afstraleza nyfi” and you find your koulouria in your mother in law's rubbish bin (she wouldn't be caught dead re-gifting them). Lose twenty points if you seriously believe your aunts, mother and in laws don't hold a grudge if you didn't make koulouria. Gain fifty points if you froze last year's gifted koulouria and are gifting them this year. Apparently, the game is won when you say “Stuff This” and get your mum to make your koulouria for you. House-proud Greek Australians who pride themselves on their koulouri-making prowess are disqualified from entry, as are Greek-Australians who attribute their koulouri recipes to George Kalombaris. Of course the flaw in the game, is not having a critical mass of one’s own koulouria to effect the first exchange, but my friend was so wrapt in her exposition of the rules that I didn’t have the heart to tell her. Instead, in honour of her ingenuity, I re-gifted her koulouria to someone that I love, on my way to the Epitaphios service.

Evidently, in modern Greek Australia, it is de rigueur for some parents to become abusive when it is suggested to them by older parishioners that the ornately decorated candle with the Easter bunny/butterfly/AFL team logo they purchased for their children from one of the various Greek cake shops that purvey articles of this sort, is inappropriate for the Good Friday Epitaphios, for the reason that this service is one of mourning and thus, their candle is out of context and better suited to the Resurrection Service. Quoth one mother, on the steps of our church: "How dare you judge me. It is a scam on the part of the church to sell more candles." I observed her in silence, for my four year old did not want to bring a candle to the service at all. Instead, as she informed me, she wanted to bring her collection of marbles, with which to stone the evil men που σκοτώσαν το Χριστούλη.” I made a mental note to have a father-daughter chat to her about fundamentalism in a few months’ time.

Her proclivities towards violent revenge notwithstanding, said daughter was extremely well behaved on Holy Saturday, despite being untimely woken from her sleep, in order to take communion. The  line outside our church was long but orderly, and we had plenty of time to absorb the comments of the eager communicants:

- Στηβ, έλα Στηβ; Το κρεατάδικο έχει μόνον λόιν τσοπια. Νάου, δε ξέρω πού να πάω. Νο γουόρυ. Θα περάσω από το φρουτάδικο.

"Im not going to your (I think the word was fornicating) mother's alright?"

"Yia yia (emphasis on first syllable), why are we drinking this wine anyway?
Answer: "Μπηκόζ Χριστούλη” wants you to.
Googly eyed woman observing a scruffy unshaven fellow wearing tracksuit pants walking down the street: "Obviously he's not Orthodox" Ten seconds later, scruffy man joined the line, proceeded to roll his own, and generously, offer rollies to those behind him.
“Seriously, why can't they have disposable spoons? Are they that stingy?"

In our corner of Greek-Australia, it becomes Easter at exactly the stroke of midnight, regardless of whether the priest has completed the service and chanted the Resurrection Hymn. This year, the priest proclaimed the Resurrection five minutes past twelve, which meant that a large number of the faithful had already kissed each other, smashed eggs (I was informed by a particularly militant vegan family that smashed avocados are a more ecologically viable alternative to this barbarous custom) and wished each other the uniquely Australian version of the traditional Orthodox Easter Greeting:
“Christ is Risen.”
“Yeah, thanks, same to you.”

When I finally arrived at my parent’s house for the Easter feast, my mother looked me up and down and asked incredulously: “Didn’t you bring any koulouria?” In my haste, I had not realized that I had forgotten to re-gift and thus had depleted my own store of edible koulouria. “Here,” I smiled, proving my maternal progenitor an offering from my notorious mastiha-laden batch. “I’ve brought you a tsoureki instead.”


First published in NKEE on Saturday 22 April 2017

Saturday, April 15, 2017


"Did you bring it?" the old man rasped earnestly from his bed.
I looked down at him. Emaciated and yellowing, he forced a grin, as he painfully raised a withered arm as if to confer a stunted benediction. "Look at all these tubes. Truly I am being trussed and seasoned for sacrifice, just like the Pascal lamb." 
Pushing aside the multitude of tubes attached to various parts of his person, he asked again: "Did you bring it?"
Slowly, I revealed the box of chocolates I was hiding behind my back and tried to balance it on the bedside table, between a desultory vase of nonchalant flowers and a rather large leather bound tome, open at the centre and almost completely covered with pencil notations.
"Oh joy," he exclaimed, licking his lips. "By your Passion we were set free from our passions, O Christ, and by your resurrection we were redeemed from corruption." Steadily, his fingers enclosed a truffle and looking furtively at the door, quickly enveloped it with his mouth. "Bliss. Take one."
"After Easter," I responded. "We aren't there yet."
"Oh yes," he snorted. " Let all mortal flesh keep silent and stand in fear and trembling, giving no thought to things of the earth. Yet it is the flesh that betrays us in the end you see, because the soul and the flesh are interconnected. Plato was either a blithering idiot, or set out deliberately to mislead. Chrysostom on the other hand..."
"Don't get yourself excited," I murmured, grasping his hand. "It's ok."
"Well, imagine how differently Christian theology would have evolved if the Holy Fathers had access to chocolates, or for that matter, if Kierkegaard had had someone to sleep with. The whole thing would have been unrecognizably different, don't you see."
He reached over to pour himself a glass of water and became entangled in an unspeakably complicated contraption, full of buttons, tubes and emitting high pitched, rhythmic bleeps. "They do not know nor understand; They carry on in darkness; all the foundations of the earth shall be shaken," he grimaced, as a nurse, entering the room, silently wrested control of the water jug, helped him back into bed and fluffed his pillows for good measure.
"Bloodsucker, ανέραστη," he cursed. "They are not humans. They are automatons. No feelings to speak of at all except for one, some type of South East Asian. A beautiful bloom. His skin radiates jasmine and hibiscus of the East. When I was in the South East, this was before the war, you understand, I was captivated by the scent. And I told him, if there is a Paradise, this is what it will smell like. Because at that time, the whole South East smelled of him, or the other way around, I don't know. And he just smiled, the bastard. Smiled like he always did. You know we were together for forty years?"
"No, I didn't know. No one ever told me."
"I don't imagine they would have. Together ever since Cairo, my and my British Tommy. We came to Australia together. I was the first Greek your grandfather met here. That much you must know. And HE was the first non-Greek, he met here. Simply because he was wandering around the dock like a lost sheep with that frown on his face, yes, exactly like that - it's uncanny how similar yours is, it's like I'm looking at your grandfather resurrected - and we felt sorry for him and took him home with us and helped him find a place of his own. And I remember he would always scold your grandfather for frowning and tell him: "Lift up your finger and say: Tweet Tweet, Shush Shush, Now Now, Come Come," which were the words of a popular song of the time." Your grandfather thought he was insulting him and looked like he wanted to throw him a punch. He never liked him you know. And even when he would come round, never with your grandmother, you understand, the first thing he would do, was ask gruffly: "Is your husband here, αφορισμένε? No? Good." A tremendously dry sense of humour, your progenitor had."
"Pappou is long gone," I mused.
"They all are," he spluttered. "All gone, and left me alone, an aging fag, to find my pleasures turn to ash in my mouth, to face Death alone. What does it say in there?" he asked, pointing to the fat tome on the table.
I picked it up and flicked through the pages. It was an old service book for Holy Week, so well thumbed that the corners of most pages were almost translucent. The text was so heavily annotated it was barely legible. Taking my place from a large pencil asterisk, I begin to read: "Now then, if you are ready, when you hear the sound of the trumpet, the pipe, the harp, the four-stringed instrument, the psaltery, the symphony, and every kind of music, that you shall fall down and worship the golden image I made."
"Not like that," he snapped. "Properly. Chant it, the way I've shown you. Now read this."
"I said, "You are gods, and you are all sons of the Most High. But you die like men, and like one of the rulers, you fall."
Grasping my hand so tightly that I let out a gasp, he closed his eyes and intoned: "Today, Hades groans and cries out, "It would have been better for me if I had not received the One born of Mary; for when He came here, He destroyed my power. He shattered the gates of brass; and, as God, He resurrected the souls, which I held captive for ages..." Then, leaving off suddenly, he asked: "Will there be a resurrection, do you think? And stop frowning, boy."
"There has to be," I responded after a time. "Otherwise our hearts would break."
"But that is precisely the point, dear boy," he chortled, his eyes widening. "Down there among the mud and clay, you won't have a heart for very long will you? How long do you think it will be before it disintegrates? One month? Less? So why do you need a resurrection?"
I remained silent.
"Will you go to the service of the First Resurrection on Holy Saturday morning, the one that anticipates His rising?" he asked.
"Yes. I always do."
"When the priest comes out with the laurel leaves, I want you to bang your pew hard. I want you to hammer at it. Make an almighty ruckus so I can hear it all the way down in Hades. Harrow those gates of Hell," he pronounced, almost with manic urgency. Sitting up on the creaking hospital bed, he pleaded: "Please, do this for me."
"Yes, alright. It's only a few days away and then I will come to see you again. And next year, we will go and hammer those pews together."
"Oh no," he smiled, waving me away. "I'm going off to meet not one, but two bridegrooms. I'm the luckiest person in the world."
On the third day, Holy Saturday, very early in the morning, I took the koulouria and eggs I had prepared and went to his chamber. I found the curtain drawn away from the bed, but when I entered, the bed was empty and his body was not there. While I pondered this, suddenly a nurse in whites that gleamed like lightning stood beside me. In my fright I turned my face away from her but she said to me: "Why do you seek him? He is not here."
"The Lord awoke as from sleep, and He rose and saved us," I recited, as I discerned an empty chocolate box poking out of a drawer of the bedside table. As I walked away, light penetrated the four panels of the window, flooding the empty chamber. And I wept.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 15 April 2017

Saturday, April 08, 2017


A long time ago, in a place quite far away, a young man embarked upon an epic galactic quest for truth that saw him embroiled in an interplanetary war. Compelled to choose sides, he befriends doughty fighters who command three-headed vultures, giant fleas and space spiders and traverses landscapes inhabited by grass-bodied birds with wings of giant leaves, elephant-sized fleas, half women half grapevine beings from whom a kiss would send one “reeling drunk”, and men who sweat milk of such quality “that cheese can actually be made from it by dripping in a little of the honey,” which runs from their noses. George Lucas on performance enhancing stimulants? Hardly likely. Instead, the plot of this bizarre story, entitled “True Histories” (Ἀληθῶν διηγημάτων) was concocted some two millennia prior to Lucas’ earthly manifestation, by Lucian of Samosata, an ethnic Assyrian author of the second century, who wrote in Greek. As such, it can safely be stated that the first work of science fiction, was written in the Greek language.
Unlike the epics of Lucas, which takes themselves just a tad too seriously, the work of the eerily similarly-named Lucian, are delightfully cheeky. Indeed, rather than being constructed as a dualistic moral tale, Lucian weaves, throughout his racy tale, innumerable and skillfully rendered send-ups of the philosophers and authors of his day. Thus, in passing, the iconoclastic Lucian mentions the tales of Ctesias, Iambulus, and Homer, and states that "what did surprise me was their supposition that nobody would notice they were lying." Indeed, the very title of his work, is provoking. Ancient readers would have known the paradox of Epimenides who stated that “All Cretans are liars” – if he is telling the truth he is lying, but if he is lying then he is telling the truth. Thus, as Aaron Parrett explains, when Lucian calls his fantastic tale (which makes fun of liars) a “true story,” he references one of the key paradoxes of philosophy and its inability to be completely self-grounding. Charmingly, Lucian takes a swipe at the tale spinners of his day, especially his rival Antonius Diogenes,’ now lost Of the Wonderful Things Beyond Thule, whose protagonist also reached space, stating that the story recounted in True History is about "things I have neither seen nor experienced nor heard tell of from anybody else; things, what is more, that do not in fact exist and could not ever exist at all. So my readers must not believe a word I say."
Caricaturing philosophy is one thing. To do so in a breathtakingly interesting way is quite another. Lucian’s space adventure features a group of travelers who leave Earth when their ship is thrown into the sky by a ferocious whirlwind. Eventually they arrive on the Moon, only to learn that its inhabitants, the Selenites are at war with the people of the Sun, for the most Lucasian of reasons: both are vying for control of a colony on the Morning Star. As Endymion, king of the Moon relates, in pure science fiction fashion: "The king of the inhabitants of the Sun, Phaethon,…has been at war with us for a long time now. Once upon a time I gathered together the poorest people in my kingdom and undertook to plant a colony on the Morning Star which was empty and uninhabited. Phaethon out of jealousy thwarted the colonization, meeting us halfway at the head of his dragoons. At that time we were beaten, for we were not a match for them in strength, and we retreated. Now, however, I desire to make war again and plant the colony."
The warriors of the two celestial orbs travel through space on winged acorns gigantic turnips as ammunition. Anticipating the mass slaughters brought about by colonialism, by almost two millennia, blood “[falls] upon the clouds, which made them look of a red color; as sometimes they appear to us about sun-setting.” Of course, the mood is lightened someone by the fact that Lucian casts one class of killers as the Garlic-warriors ῾Σκορδομάχοι,᾽ another as the Millet Throwers, ‘Κεγχροβόλοι’ and yet another as the Ostrich-Slingers ‘Στρουθοβάλανοι,’ while the imperial battleships of George Lucas, take the form of the Lettuce-Wings ‘Λαχανόπτεροι.’ 
In lampooning Aristotelian views of the natural world, Lucian makes some novel imaginings that would arrest the attention of gender scholars of the modern age. In particular, he envisages upon the moon, a society in which women are completely absent and men are by necessity, self-procreating. Thus babies are born from men’s swollen calves, delivered dead but brought to life “by putting it in the wind with its mouth open”. Another people known as the Arboreals employ a different method of propagation: a man’s right genital gland is cut off, planted, and from it “grows a very large tree of flesh, resembling the emblem of Priapus”, and from its fruit of enormous acorns men are ‘shelled.’
Lucian’s imagination even embraces technological advances, in particular, conceiving of a telescopic microphone: “There is a large mirror suspended over a well of no great depth; any one going down the well can hear every word spoken on our Earth; and if he looks at the mirror, he sees every city and nation as plainly as though he were standing close above each. The time I was there, I surveyed my own people and the whole of my native country; whether they saw me also, I cannot say for certain.”
Eventually, Lucian’s protagonists return to Earth, and become trapped in a giant whale. Inside the 200-mile-long animal, there live many groups of people, including, Robinson Crusoe-like, a self-sufficient father and son team that farm the fish entering the whale’s stomach. They also reach a sea of milk, an island of cheese and the isle of Elysium. There Lucian meets the heroes of the Trojan War, and other key characters of Greek mythology, and literature, including Homer. The god Rhadamanthys arbitrates disputes between Alexander the Great and Hannibal, Theseus and Menelaus and certain philosophers are also to be found there: “I heard that Rhadamanthys was dissatisfied with Socrates, and had several times threatened him with expulsion, if he insisted on talking nonsense, and would not drop his irony and enjoy himself. Plato was the only one I missed, but I was told that he was living in his own Utopia, working the constitution and laws which he had drawn up.”
Tellingly, we learn there that Herodotus is being eternally punished for the "lies" he published in his own ‘Histories,’ which is amusing, considering that Lucian ends his story abruptly, promising to continue it in later books, and never does so. 
In combining science fiction and parody in equal proportions, Lucian’s remarkable work, also notable for the fact that is constitutes an early expression of the idea of crossing the Atlantic and exploring lands which might lie on its other side, some 1400 years before Columbus, anticipates the French philosopher Voltaire’s ‘Micromegas’ and the writings of Douglas Adams. Significantly, astronomer Johannes Kepler’s 1634 novel Somnium which describes a trip to the moon and the view of Earth seen from far away, was partially inspired by Lucian. He picked up True History in the original Greek to master the language. 
English critic Kingsley Amis has remarked “that the sprightliness and sophistication of True History make it read like a joke at the expense of nearly all early-modern science fiction, that written between, say, 1910 and 1940.” In producing a tale concerning itself with exceeding the margins of the possible and the plausible, Lucian manages to lampoon the hallowed tradition of his world, while imagining the infinite permutations of others. If there is any regret, in reading his remarkable work, it is that he did not prove immortal, in order to have seen and satirized, George Lucas’ puerile “Rogue One.” Had he done so, arguably, he would have given him a slightly more abrasive treatment than that which he gave Pythagoras, in the aftermath of an Elysian war victory: “From this Pythagoras alone held aloof, fasting and sitting far off, in sign of his abhorrence of bean-eating.”
To the man that taught us to reach for the stars, and take the mickey out of them, we are eternally grateful.

First published in NKEE on Saturday 8 April 2017

Sunday, April 02, 2017


«Σε τούτα εδώ τα μάρμαρα/ κακιά σκουριά δεν πιάνει,» the great poet Yiannis Ritsos proclaims. He is absolutely right. Rust does not assail Greek marbles, wherever these are situated. Instead, despite their ability to blindingly reflect the sun, in the Antipodes, they acquire a tendency towards the opaque and to merge silently with the ashen background of grey, Melbournian pretermission.
One of those forgotten marbles, is the one most recently installed. Mouldering away on the Lonsdale Street "Greek" precinct, placed strategically close to the shops, now gone, that once comprised the hub of Greek life in the Melbourne's Central Business District, is the monolith dedicated to the sisterhood of Melbourne and Thessaloniki. The monument, an initiative of Melbourne's Thessaloniki Association "White Tower," which appears to be a vociferous, and probably, the only truly committed proponent of the stilted sister-city relationship, was triumphantly installed amid fanfare, by controversial Thessaloniki Mayor, Panayiotis Psomiadis, in 2007. One side of the monument bears a relief, in early Byzantine style of Saint Dimitrios. The other, predictably, bears a relief of Alexander the Great holding what appears disturbingly to be a butcher's knife. Once upon a time, the black inscription upon the monolith advised the wayfarer that both images were based on mosaics of old. There are no images remotely linking Thessaloniki to Melbourne on the monument and we can only speculate that it is possibly the act of replicating a mosaic itself, in bas relief, that provides the connection with Melbourne, implying that its society forms a mosaic in its own right, one that ironically enough, defies being set in stone.
It is hard to defend this contention with any confidence, for in just a decade, the inscription has faded to the point of near-illegibility. Indeed it is not at all certain that the part of the inscription that informs the viewer that the monument was installed during the time of Psomiadis reign will endure beyond the year. Instead, there it stands, hidden in plain sight, before the vibrant Asian businesses that fringe the precinct. Though white and gleaming, passersby rarely spare it a glance. It is a ghost, of a past and of a relationship no one cares to remember and whose continued existence frightens nobody. 
Another Greek ghost haunts the environs of the city of Stonnington, opposite the Greek Orthodox Church of Helen and Constantine. The memorial, remarkable in how its socialist realism aesthetics mirror those of the Soviet period, comprises triangular marble-like panels, bearing two bronze reliefs of Reifenstahlian torch bearing athletes on either side. The installation is surrounded by a low metal barrier which is broken in one place, two flagpoles upon which the Greek and Australian flags flap desultory and is fringed by a row of olive trees and a grove of abandoned shopping trolleys. Unlike the Psomiadis monument, there exists no inscription or plaque to enlighten us as to when and why the aged pile was erected. Instead, the sole form of writing upon the monument is a scrawl of graffiti across its front, branding the ghost of the past for the present. Nonetheless, the Olympic Rings emblazoned upon the torches borne by the athletes hint at a connection between Greeks, International Sport and Melbourne.
This particular ghost is possessed of peripatetic tendencies. According to local residents, it was once located at the Malvern Road access of the park in which the Prahran swimming pool is situated. However, it moved to its present solitary position, as it had fallen victim to vandalism. Now it poignantly whiles away the hours to oblivion, forlorn, and forgotten, the significance of its strong, virile and noble brazen male caryatids incomprehensible and remote to a latte bearing, iphone7 wielding generation at large and to the old ladies who enter and exit the church frequently without sparing it a glance, alike. Nonetheless, it would be fascinating to learn of the existence of any Lady of Rho-like figure who secretly tends to the olives and raises the flags upon their flagpoles, unobserved by the local populace, guarding her own Thermopylae, aeons after the Persians have passed us all by and have become forgotten.
That is not to say that all of our mouldering spectral piles signify oblivion. The marble monument at the Axion Estin monastery in Northcote has admittedly seen better days. Bearing in bas relief, the image of a foustanella clad euzone clasping the hand of an Anzac wearing a bizarre elongated sun-visor, underneath a pediment atopped by busts of a helmeted Pericles and an equally helmeted Alexander, it defies inscription, for the Melbournian weather has caused the once gilded Greek buzzwords of Peace, Civilisation, Freedom and Democracy to fade away, most likely in sympathy with the erosion of these values in the Brave New World of our times. Despite this, and its increasing fungal discolouration, the Axion Estin monument serves as a backdrop and a place of reference for the commemoration ceremonies of multitudes of local Greek organisations, all of which have something to do with war, but little if anything, to do with their life in Australia, though it plausibly could be argued that commemorating various Greek regional war events, IS a feature of Greek-Australian life. Here then, dilapidation is not a consequence of obscurity but rather, comfortingly, of wear and tear. The Greek-Australian war memorial in the gardens close to the Shrine of Remembrance is used nowhere nearly as frequently, except to mark grand and solemn national commemorations, and is thus as immaculate as it is unnerving.
The Rye memorial to the Greek and Australian dead, smart, neat and luminous on a summer’s day, featuring a plinth poised upon a mosaic of the Greek flag was erected by the Rye Greek community in 1995. Despite its relative age, it is lovingly tended and serves as focal point for the commemorative ceremonies of the local Greek communities of the Peninsula. If one were to prognosticate, one would venture to feel confident that this memorial will fend off ghosthood for at least another generation, for the Greek-Melbournian urge to retire, or seek relaxation in Rye its environs is a particularly enduring one.
A similar enduring status must be afforded to the monument erected by the Cretan Brotherhood of Melbourne, to Crete’s most famous son, Eleftherios Venizelos. Every time I drive down Nicholson Street, the architect of the Greece of the two continents and five seas greets me. I know that in the years to come, subsequent generations of Greek-Australians will struggle to recognise him or appreciate what he means to us. For this reason, I propose that the land upon which the monument is placed become the subject of a restrictive covenant, so that, regardless of whatever use the adjoining building is put to in the future, Eleftherios Venizelos can gaze upon our descendants in perpetuity, a symbol of the failure of our own Μεγάλη Ιδέα, this being the deeply held belief that we could reconstruct and perpetuate, the lives our ancestors left behind prior to their arrival upon these shores.
Pretermission, the act of forgetting, is especially haunting when it comes to monuments. For to forget a monument which has been erected in order to keep you from forgetting, negates its entire purpose, rendering it, a spectre. It is for this reason, while we as a community, are in construction mode, that we should consider building a monument to commemorate those monuments we have erected, which have lapsed from our memory. And while we are at it, during our community’s vibrancy, we should also build a monument to commemorate ourselves, lest we forget. After all, it worked for the pharaohs….

First published in NKEE on 1 April 2017


The word revolution, is a noun of action from the past participle stem of Latin revolvere meaning to turn, or roll back. Thus, it describes a process of change whereby things are returned to their rightful starting point and was especially applied in English, to the expulsion of the Stuart dynasty under the Catholic James II in 1688, in what was termed the “Glorious Revolution” and the transfer of sovereignty to the Protestant regal duo, William and Mary.
The word επανάσταση, however, which is how the term revolution is rendered in Greek, has other connotations. Rather than a turn or roll back, it is a compound word derived from the ancient ἐπί and ἀνίστημι, signifying, a rising. As such, it is related to the word ανάσταση, which signifies a resurrection.
The semantic differences between the two terms are significant because they represent two different perspectives of history. The first connotes that history is circular, and that the same patterns succeed each other predictably, so that a fallen nation, especially one that has pretensions to greatness, will inevitably achieve the exact heights from which it has fallen, though the ancillary inevitability of it once more plummeting to the depths of decay in due course is glossed over. The second, indicates a linear view of history, one where somewhere along the line, a nation has been crushed. The act of revolution is thus inevitable. It is a special, possibly unique occasion, where that nation has managed to extricate itself from the quagmire of servitude, and has actually stood up and asserted itself. Nowhere is it implicit that in doing so, that nation has to ‘turn’ or ‘roll back’ to, or indeed replicate the prevailing conditions, political, cultural or economic, at the time of its fall. The act of arising is thus not linked and indeed is emancipated from the past. Instead, having arisen, the nation is free to carve its own destiny (as long as it is a great one of course).
While it should be noted that the early Greek historians talk about αποστασία και εξέγερση sometimes about παλιγεννεσία, it is fascinating that the modern Greek people, in viewing their own revolution, chose to ascribe to the term επανάσταση, in use since the 1840s, the connotations of the Latin ‘revolution.’ Thus, in constructing a ‘nation,’ they engaged in a process which Anthony D Smith views, “is essentially one of political archaeology: to rediscover and reconstruct the life of each period of the community’s history, to establish the linkages and layerings between each period and hence to demonstrate the continuity of the nation.”
Once the nation is constructed and defined, a process not without trauma or controversy in the modern Greek context, then revolutions such as the Greek Revolution of 1821 inevitably become viewed in the Latin light. In expelling the Ottomans from part of our world, which period of ‘greatness’ is the ‘nation’ supposed to be rolling back to? For a time, contemporaries conceived of a ‘roll back’ to the last time that Greek speaking people enjoyed some sort of sovereignty, this being during the time of Byzantium.
Yet it is important to note the discourse of revolution as understood by Greeks was not framed by them alone. The western, Enlightenment tradition of historiography viewed Byzantium as an example of cultural decay, political corruption, despotism and religious fanaticism. As the nineteenth century Greek intellectuals and socially aspirant bourgeoisie internalised western mores and values, they came to reject a ‘roll back’ to a disreputable Byzantine past, one which was seen as an impediment to the earlier integration of Greece with the western world as a result of its cultural retrogression. Thus in 1842, Markos Renieris, an Athenian lawyer, could write of the Crusades (which fragmented the Byzantine Empire into Catholic controlled duchies and caused the brutal sack of Constantinople in 1204), “Oh, how different the fate of Greece would have been, if those chivalrous virtues [of the Crusaders] had been permanently grafted onto Hellenic civilization!”
Thus, in a bid to purchase into the material and political benefits of the Western world that was framing the modern Greek narrative, Greeks increasingly began to view their revolution as a ‘roll back’ to a time that the West accepted and agreed was truly ‘great,’ this being the classical period of times ancient. Given that the West had adopted this period and its achievements as the basis for its own civilisation, a “roll back” to this point in history would signify a deletion of all those historical events and eras that had seen Hellenism diverge or alienate itself from the West, and thus provide a useful reintegration point.
For a time, it appears that this ‘roll back’ worked, at least in so far as European public opinion was concerned. Inspired by their studies in the classics, romantics were eager to cast the foustanella clad klephts and petty chieftains, many of whom spoke Arvanitic, rather than Greek, in the panoply of a Leonidas or an Achilles. When the facts on the ground indicated a divergence too vast to comprehend, let alone bridge, the West, in a process Edward Said brilliant describes in his scholarship on Orientalism, appropriated ancient Greece for its own, leaving the modern Greeks as oriental, irredeemable elements, unworthy of their ancient forebears and unable as a nation, to truly “roll back” to them. Significantly, we also adopted this approach, creating an ontopathology about our identity that endures still.
The energy spent in Hellenic “roll backs” is truly phenomenal. With Adamantios Korais at their head, linguists attempted to “roll back” a Greek language they considered to be bastardised and impure to a “clean” and “pure” form that was both contrived and incomprehensible. A similar process was played out in Constantinople, where the Patriarchate sought to mediate between those who sought to incorporate western polyphonic music into the Orthodox liturgy, on the grounds that the current music tradition was “oriental” (ie. retrograde) and those who tried in a Korais-like fashion to “cleanse” Orthodox music of its “oriental” accretions and “roll back” to the imagined purity of ancient Greek music. At all stages we see a society locked in a discourse of insecurity and inadequacy with regards to itself, for the roll-back position was ever shifting and consensus could never be found as to the optimal roll-back point. In so far as consensus could be found, it was in that “roll backs” were infinitely to be preferred, to the ‘true’ etymology of an επανάσταση, of picking oneself up of the ground and rather than looking backwards, carving a future for oneself in the present world.
In collectively ruminating over the Greek Revolution, recently, a friend lamented to me: “1821 I understand, but why do we not, as a nation, commemorate the Battle of Marathon, or the Battle of Salamis, when we saved the world from Persian domination? Why do we not, as a people, celebrate the battle of Issus and the victories of Alexander? It is this failure to celebrate the true greatness of the time when Hellenism was pure that is the cause of our troubles.” Reared in the roll-back discourse of Modern Hellenism, I almost found nothing singular in this point of view, that is, until I asked:
“Why do you think that the British do not celebrate the Battle of Hastings?”
“That’s different. Why would the British celebrate an invasion of foreigners?” came the response.
“Well are they foreigners? The Normans changed the English language and culture forever. They created what we understand to be modern Britain. Why don’t the British celebrate the defeat of the Spanish Armada, or Glorious Revolution, or indeed the victories of Marlborough, all events that took place a millennium and a half after the ancient Greek victories? Does this make them any less great as a people? Does this denote a diminished sense of history, given that the modern Greeks could learn a thing or two from the British when it comes to respect for history and preservation of historic sites?”
“When we were building the Parthenon, the British were living in caves,” came the stock, roll-back response, closely linked to the: “When we worshipped the Twelve Gods, we were great, so we should worship the Olympians again,” mantra.
To suggest to any English-speaker except possibly Mel Gibson, that the key to their greatness lies in adopting the dress, social organisation and mannerisms of a fixed point in their collective past, be it Jacobite, Elizabethan, Brucian, or Druidic, would be the height of implausibility. To suggest to them that their society is inferior because since the time of the ancient Britons it has incorporated the cultures of the Saxons, Vikings, Normans, Scots and half the world besides, would be ridiculous for it is the hybrid nature of that culture that has created its relevance and vibrancy. And yet, to us as a people, such a prospect appears perfectly natural. For implicit in the “roll-back” view of revolution is a smug conviction of the perfection of our own culture, in and of itself. Somehow, we have been taught to believe that our ‘nation’ achieved socio-cultural perfection millennia ago and if we are to achieve the power and respect they enjoyed, all we need to do is work backwards, discarding the dross that has accreted since those times. At its heart, it is a racist and historically misleading narrative, which is why it is possible to have Greeks supposedly possessed of mental faculties justify the execution of the fascist salute in contemporary Greece, with the roll-back argument that this was an ancient Greek salute. Gadzooks.

In this sense, 1821 marks the point when the Greek people stood up, looked backwards, and for the most part have been wanting to walk backwards ever since, indulging in cosmetic retrogressions (remember the Junta’s mangled speaking of katharevousa) that have done nothing to further the relevance or vitality of the modern Greek nation. When we return, rather than roll-back, to 1821 therefore, it should be as a point of embarkation, than a point of gyration, in the hope of engaging in a serious debate about the future direction of the nation, rather than as a weekend meeting of a historical re-enactment society, dress ups and all.

First published in NKEE on Saturday 1 April 2017


Distinguished Greek-Australian poet Dina Amanatidou OAM concludes her latest collection of epigrammatic poetry "Existential" with the following ominous poem:
The Greek language book will not survive for long
in Australia, in the circles of time.
It will survive as long as our generation.
There may be some exceptions of youth
who will speak, write and read
in Greek. However, their first language
will be English...

Of interest is to note the poet's implied view that even if the second generation of Greek-Australian migrants do choose to produce literature in the Greek language (and she is correct, very few do), then this literature somehow possibly lacks the linguistic validity and authenticity of that produced by the first generation, since, for those few who do, for whatever reason, choose to write in Greek, English is their mother tongue, and therefore, their Greek pretensions, however well meaning, are ersatz. The poet here makes sense. If we accept the proposition that each generation has less facility in the Greek language than that which has come before it, then it follows logically than when and if they do seek to express themselves in a literary context in Greek, the result will more often than not, be a parody or pastiche of that original language. Already a disturbing genre of poetry has emerged whereby second-generation Greek-Australians seek to pander to mainstream conceptions of multiculturalism by spicing up their verses with sprinklings of "ethnic diversity" in the form of ill-fitting song lyrics or clichéd sentences. Considering that these are invariably rendered in an ungrammatical and unorthographical manner, the poet Dina Amanatidou's prognostications are prescient to say the least.
Validity and authenticity aside of course, it is an often recited mantra of the ideology of the Greek-Australian community that we are not only “Greeks,” but also “proud Greeks,” this pride stemming from a conviction that Greek civilization (by which the pre-Christian era is ordinarily meant) has proved to be superior to that of any other and we ought to revel in this fact, it providing the necessary “justification” or evidentialry proof that is required in order for a latter generation Greek-Australian to become convinced that espousing a Greek identity is a worthwhile pursuit indeed. Such arguments imply that a) latter generations are uneasy about espousing a Greek identity (and it is important to note that in a post-modern diasporic world where everyone is free to form and espouse a multiplicity of identities, it is so difficult to define what is meant by the Greek identity that accusations about rejecting it are almost meaningless) and that b) prospective adherents need to be provided with some convincing arguments as to why they should choose to espouse such an identity.
Thus, missionaries for Hellas wax lyrical about ancient Greek civilisation, democracy, theatre, philosophy, the beaches and a purported easy going lifestyle as keys to conversion. Yet to expect me to become a Hellene because of the exploits of Alexander the Great or the penmanship of Sophocles is tantamount to expecting me to love and identify with my parents because they have a real estate empire, a PhD and a superior taste in dramatic irony. Only the latter is true and I do not love them because they are better than anyone else, but because we belong to each other. Similarly, I do not choose to identify as a Greek because I have become convinced that the Greek culture is any way superior to any other, or because I believe that adhering to it will provide me with material and other benefits, but rather because it is the culture I have been brought up in, within the Greek-Australian context, and my sense of self is inextricably interwoven within its warp and weft. Re-branding a la Peter Ekonomides, is completely irrelevant in my view. I am one with the product. I can see through the "brand." 
It is exactly for this reason that missionaries of the Greek language are wasting their time when they try to convince us of the "positive" attributes of the language in order to encourage or rather plead with latter generation Greek-Australians to learn Greek. These arguments are similar to those provided by Greek culture missionaries. There is the "mine is bigger than yours" approach, ie: "the Greek language has been written for over 3,000 years." So what? So has Chinese. And while we are at it, Ancient Egyptian was written for over 4,000 years, as was Assyrian, a language far older than Greek which survives to the present. What of it? We should revel in the antiquity or youth of any and all languages.
Then there is the "mine penetrates yours argument, ie: "There are x (the number varies constantly but the figure 40,000 features regularly) Greek words in the English language." How this becomes a conclusive argument for the adoption of the Greek language when there is no language that has not engaged in linguistic exchanges with others and especially when instances of Greek borrowing from Phoenician, other Semitic languages and Persian can be identified in ancient times, intensifying during the time of the Roman Empire and continuing unabated to the present, is anyone's guess. Further, how knowing that the word 'physiognomy' is of Greek origin or that the word algebra is of Arabic origin or that indeed the word penguin is of Welsh origin, provides sufficient motivation for one to learn any of those languages is a mystery.
A corollary to 'mine is in yours,' is the "if you are good in yours, you can better appreciate mine," argument, most recently articulated by our august prime minister. According to this argument, being a Greek speaker can somehow improve your English, because it is assumed that being a Greek speaker from, let's say Doncaster, Greek derived words such as Haliaeetus pelagicus, (Sea Eagle), or Glycyrrhiza glabra (liquorice) are always at the tip of your tongue. Consequently, could we not invert the PM's argument, propounding that a good knowledge of English assists in learning Greek, for one is more likely to come across Greek-derived words in their daily English discourse and can then transfer them accordingly? I did so, when studying ancient Greek and attempting to master the polytonic accent system. Remembering which Greek-derived words were transliterated into English with a h, such as Haematoma, Hysteria, History etc allowed me to know which vowels to accent with a voiceless glottal fricative (δασεία). The argument thus becomes circular, and leads us nowhere.
My personal favourite is the: "Greek is an official language of the European Union and/or an important language of trade," argument which though in use for a while, has been tacitly dropped from the discourse, as has the "Greek will help you with your career" argument. It appears that the missionaries believe that in the current socio-economic climate, this argument no longer has much currency, if you will pardon the pun.
The truth is none of us really need convincing about the merits of the Greek language. As a people obsessed more than others about their identity, we all come from a background where the importance of retaining the Greek language, as a means of retaining the Greek identity was stressed. And herein lies the rub. That was a value stressed and imposed by the first generation. It is not always a value that was actually adopted or passed on to the latter generations.
When I see friends accosting mothers as they wait to pick up their children from Greek school with phrases such as: "Why are you torturing your children?" or when I speak to parents who are both fluent in Greek but admit that they choose not speak to their children in Greek because they believe that their offspring spending time on Greek will somehow diminish their standing among their peers or their educational and career prospects (and it cannot be doubted that Greek-Australian parents are being told by English-speaking educators that acquiring a second or third language "slows" a child down, an interesting piece of advice, given that the people who give it are not linguists and are invariably monolingual), I can only conclude that the downturn in Greek language fluency is not simply one of attrition, but rather one of psychology. For deep seated psychological reasons, people are choosing to reject the Greek language both as a medium of daily use and as an expression of an identity. And whereas within previous generations the choice to reject was made democratically, ie, but those who could but chose not to retain the language, nowadays, this choice is made undemocratically, by parents, in advance for their children. In other words, in order to allay our own prejudices, desires for social acceptance and progress, we are often depriving our children of linguistic choices, with all that this entails.
The Greek language in Australia is not about superiority, advantage or for that matter multicultural ghettoisation. Put simply, it is a matter of life: the medium in which a significant number of people in Australia communicate and negotiate the world around them. It is a medium that embraces the vast gamut of literary, political and other endeavours of a people that have made a difference to the world. It forms the backstory but also the foreground for our own presence in Australia and a looking glass by which we can see ourselves for who we really are. It is a key, via translation, to the entire European corpus of literature that is generally not taught in Anglo-centric schools. It is, in a word: vital to our existence and consciously depriving it from our children, is what will, at least for a generation or two, create the ersatz human beings that poet Dina Amanatidou so decries.
In 'Mortal Remains,' Margaret Yorke admirably reinforces this view of vitality and this March, the month of speaking Greek, we ought to take heed, for this truly is a struggle of life and death:
“Soon the two men were chattering away sounding excited, they could only be discussing trivialities yet their voices, their gestures might lead the observer to suppose they were arguing about life and death. Such was the Greek manner of conversation.” 

First published in NKEE on Saturday 1 April 2017