Saturday, October 17, 2020


Simonides of Ceos was a man of many talents. According to legend, he was responsible for the invention of the Greek letters ω, η, ξ, ψ. If I had invented a Greek letter, I would want it employed incessantly, a point to which I shall return presently. Michael Psellos, the great Byzantine scholar accredited him with the saying "the word is the image of the thing,” inferring that using the wrong words or indeed composing those words incorrectly, is tantamount to iconoclasm.

Most famously, Simonides is held to have invented the Victory Ode genre and it is in this spirit that he supposedly composed the epigram for the tomb of the 300 Spartans that perished at Thermopylae at the hands of the Persians and their Theban allies. His verses: «Ὦ ξεῖν', ἀγγέλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις ὅτι τῇδε κείμεθα, τοῖς κείνων ῥήμασι πειθόμενοι,» which sound to a modern Greek schoolboy like an exhortation to Spartans to have a scratch, are as poignant as they are enduring: “Stranger, tell them in Lacedaemon,/ That here, obedient to their word, we lie.”  The example of the Spartans who could have run away but did not, sacrificing their lives to delay the invader’s advance, is held up by modern Greek patriots as a standard of devotion and duty to the State worthy of emulation by all its citizens, as well as those of its male homogenes abroad, who  have prolonged their sojourn in the motherland for over three months.

It is for this reason that the Republic of Hellas, which this year has organised a series of formal events to mark the 2,500th anniversary of the Battle of Thermopylae has sought fit to commemorate the Spartans’ slaughter, by commissioning a commemorative stamp, which purports to feature Simonides’ immortal words. Except that they do not. Rather than κείνων, the Greek stamp prefers κοίνων, removing the concept of Spartan personhood altogether, and for πειθόμενοι, πειθώμενοι, a non-existent word, is substituted, either in homage to Simonides’ invention of the omega, or instead, because ever since the removal of ancient Greek as a compulsory subject in the Greek curriculum, standards have fallen. 

Personally, I blame George Soros and the Pope. It has been long rumoured that these two are colluding in order to impose the Roman alphabet upon Greece as a condition precedent to latinisation and domination of the orthodox peoples. Replacing the latin-style o with an omega is a clever ruse to confuse and confound the watchful, for it would lull then into a false sense of security, while at the same time erode their spelling skills. Let «ορθογραφία ή θάνατος» be our watchword henceforth, even as we consider that our Spartan ancestors would probably not have been offended. After all, they were largely illiterate. Still, if we follow Simonides, if we use the wrong words, we create the wrong image, and in this era of Instagram, image is everything.

Unlike the Victorian State Government, the Republic of Hellas has refrained from launching a parliamentary inquiry into the demise of the letters omicron and epsilon. The Prime Minister has not sought to restrict letters to a five kilometre radius, nor has it characterized postal staff as non-essential workers and sent them into quarantine. No collective decision making or high-ranking philatelic bureaucrat has been embroiled in a blame game of pass the parcel. Again, those in the know blame George Soros and the Pope for this. For it is well known that these two have bought up all the erroneously inscribed stamps, sending their value sky high, another blow to ordinary collectors, by the plutocrats.

It generally has not been a very good year for Hellenic stamps. Off the back of the Simonides stamp spelling debacle, the Republic of Hellas has also resolved to release a “Euromed” (as opposed to any other type of med) series of stamps, featuring “Greek food.” The result is a rather bland and tacky pastiche that looks like the weekly menu board at one’s local Souvlakiland, also known as Stereotype City, brought to you by Greece, the musical. The series’ only saving grace is that it pays homage to the age old question: Why is moussaka spelled with one ‘s’ in Greek and two in English? No prizes for guessing which sigma thieving plutocrat bent on world domination and Hellenic subjugation is responsible for that one.

The Euromed series is supposed to pay homage to Greek gastronomy, which is of course, a Greek term referring to the belching of oversatisfied punters while gazing at the stars during their package holiday in Santorini. Of course, the fact that the gyros/souvlaki, the food by which Greek-Australians have been known and identified from Federation to Plate of Origin (and who will forget the immortal words of our televisual gastronomic goddesses: “I’m rapt like a souvlaki,”) has been left out of the series, is a testament to the complete ignorance of our Helladic cousins both as to how to showcase or market our common culinary heritage effectively, and also of the fact that it is by the Greeks abroad that Greek food, whether that comprises dolmades fresh out of a can, hot pink taramosalata or carbonized meat, is generally known. All of a sudden, we are expunged from the narrative, as if George Calombaris’ advertisements for Dodoni Feta (he and I use no other), never existed.

Show me a Greek Euromed stamp that proudly displays a fried chiko roll and I will acknowledge its apodemic authenticity. Reveal a stamp that portrays the humble fasolada, the unassuming faki, the blushing bamia or the generous giouvetsi, provender that has sustained generations, and I will bow my head with reverence and awe. Depict upon your stamps, the glamourous gardoumba, the cocky kokoretsi, or the playful patsa and I will salivate with exuberance. Reissue the infinitely more aesthetically designed 2005 stamp celebrating the Cretan snack Dakos, including a food-porn depiction and description of its ingredients and I will nod approvingly. 

The only thing one will probably not be able to portray on a Greek stamp is that mainstay of Greek-Australian childhood cuisine: alphabet spaghetti and that of course, is because thanks to Those Who Must Not Be Named, half of the letters are now missing, the real reason why we Greek-Australians say: “I’m going with Niko to get a gyro,” instead of Nikos and gyros, the s having been appropriated by forces too dark and nefarious even to contemplate, let alone digest.

While we are on the subject, why can we not utilise Greek food stamps in order to make a few points about culinary appropriation and imperialism? Pizza, in its original form was a mainstay of ancient Greek cuisine. Lasagne comes from the ancient Greek lazanon, a dish containing layered strips of pasta. Macaroni comes from the Greek “makaros” meaning blessed, because in southern Italy aka Magna Graecia, this was the food prepared to commemorate the dead. Bouillabaisse, an iconic dish of French haute-cuisine, is derived from the no frills kakavia brought to Marseille by its ancient Greek founders. Is it not time we used philately to reassert our sovereignty beyond the culinary five mile boundary? Has not the moment arrived where all those who have been profiting by our genius without license or offer of franchise fee finally pay?

These are weighty questions and cannot be determined without due deliberation. In the meantime, I look forward next year, to the long anticipated release of the Malia philatelic commemorative series, the one when one is on a weekend bender with one’s mates chasing middle aged women from Slough and cough up one’s entrails all over the checked table cloth in the tavern, in a manner after Jackson Pollock, firstly because one was too paralytic to find the pub, secondly because the particular shade of blue on said table cloth reminds one of the Chelsea Football Club and thirdly, because in one’s quest to prove to one’s lads that the Slippery Nipple is a ladies’ drink, one has imbibed it and a pipeful of shisha through each of one’s nostrils.

Stranger, tell them in Hackney/ that here, obedient to the tour touters and the letter stealers, we lie. After all, all art, like philately, however indifferently it is spelled, is suffering.   Just keep the illuminati in the dark.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 17 October 2020