Monday, October 30, 2006


“Emptiness, everything is emptiness. What do people gain from all the work they do under the sun? A generation goes and a generation comes; yet the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and rushes back again to the place from which it rises. The wind blows south, then returns to the north, round and round goes the wind, on its rounds it circulates. All streams flow to the sea, yet the sea does not fill up. All matters are tiring, more than anyone can express. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. What is, is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done. There is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which it can be said, "See this is new!"--It has already been, in eras before us. The people of ages past are no longer remembered, nor will there be any remembrance of people yet to come by those who come after them.” Ecclesiastes

One of the often overlooked characteristics of the Greek propensity to found colonies throughout the world, is their historical tendency to fail. Sooner or later, whether through social decline, warfare or simply exhaustion, the various colonies founded by our illustrious forefathers have been abandoned, or have lost their Greek character. Examples are manifold. As early as 1,400BC, the Minoans are said to have abandoned their colony at Miletus. The Phoceans who settled in Corsica abandoned their settlements for mainland Italy, the entire Graeco-Bactrian kingdom that held the balance of power between the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent was subsumed in the tempestuous headwaters of violent conquest by various tribes, leaving only classical ruins as strange and melancholy witnesses to their sojourn upon an alien moonscape. Sicilian Naxos was also abandoned whereas Sybaris was completely destroyed by its neighbour Croton. Some colonies, like Byzantium and Trapezous retained their Greek character despite conquest and tyranny for thousands of years only to have it violently destroyed through ethnic cleansing and genocide. Others such as Paestum in Italy and Odessa and Marioupolis on the Black Sea simply over time, saw their Greek inhabitants assimilate into a larger whole.
There is a particular quality to a melancholy that arises from a sense of loss in Greek colonies. It is an admixture of sweet sadness at perceiving the traces of that which is gone coupled by the knowledge that it will never return, that in fact, to paraphrase Steinbeck, the best laid deeds of mice and men and led to nought. The Turks have a word for it: huzun and it is exactly the emotion captured by Solomon’s musings in the passage of Ecclesiastes that prefaces this diatribe. It is this huzun that is keenly felt by the traveller who will traverse the silent, narrow alleyways of the Phanar district of Constantinople, tentatively tracing Greek-language inscriptions on the doorways of abandoned houses, sagging under the weight of their memories and rotting away in their lethe before oblivion, passing by the locked churches and observing the mouldering Byzantine walls. It is also this huzun that the traveller will feel in buzzing, lively Cairo or Alexandria, knowing that the neo-classical, baroque and art-nouveau architectural masterpieces that are swamped in the madness of a city that is an ever-expanding living organism are denuded of their erstwhile cosmopolitan and well to do inhabitants, that the elaborate tombstones of its Greek magnates are crumbling, with no one to tend them. The huzun is amplified when one stops to consider that not so long ago, Alexandria was arguably home to a larger Greek population than that which currently resides in Melbourne.
Seeking to grapple with issues of futility and immortality are the preserve of a community that is aged. In previous decades, the Greek community was too concerned with establishing itself in this country, acquiring wealth, having children and legitimising its own presence to worry about the future of its outward manifestations. In those days, Greeks flocked together in organic forms that reflected their needs without much concern for image and appearance. It is to our everlasting credit that we reached our apex extraordinarily soon. Now, much as an aging woman who spends hours in front of the mirror surrounded by face-paints vainly attempting to re-create the freshness and vigour of youth, we lament the sagging of our skin, the wrinkles and liver spots that have become to be manifest upon our surface.
What bugs us the most it seems, is not that these marks of decline exist, for it is by now common knowledge that our frame has shrunk and that we have shed the extra kilos of our own affluence. Rather it is that our aging has become noticeable to others and that instead of being diplomatic, they are asking direct questions about our ageing process.
The recent forum on the future of Lonsdale Street is a case in point. It was convened simply because philhellene Lord Mayor of Melbourne John So wishes to provide some Greek “colour” to his city. In other words, we have been told that we have been chosen to be contestants in a beauty pageant in an externally defined multicultural Melbourne. Unfortunately, our selection has been by reputation alone and our blemishes and time-ravaged features having been discovered, we have been referred to the surgeon for some intensive cosmetic surgery before we can be deemed to be acceptable.
The same ravages of time and ever changing demands of the Greek community have seen the ostensible Greek presence in traditionally “Greek” areas of Richmond and Brunswick also vanish. However this is not as lamented. That is because subconsciously, we believe that the Greek “presence” in the heart of the City, in close proximity to the ostensible bastions of civic power, somehow legitimises our presence in this City and acts as a sort of sacred charm, warding off the evil spells of decay and disrespect. It is for this reason that we ignore the fact that apart from serving the needs of a section of the Greek community that works in and around the City and wants to pop in for a cup of coffee, or browse through the latest Greek CD’s, Lonsdale Street now has marginal relevance to our community, its centre of gravity now having shifted to other areas of Melbourne, such as the centre of Oakleigh, which on Saturday mornings is as close to a village as one could conceivably re-create in this country. Instead, Lonsdale Street has a wonderful semantic operation: it constitutes the signified to the signifier “Greek.” It is the yardstick by which we believe our overlords and fellow citizens perceive and define us, a paltry collection of five or so shops along a miniscule stretch of pavement, offering the non-Greek a non-alienating, government approved taste of user-friendly Austrohellenism.
That we all subconsciously realize this can be evidenced by our resounding now show at the recent forum convened to discuss the future of the Lonsdale Street, Greek precinct which failed even to obtain the participation of all of the proprietors of the Greek businesses which constitute it. This if anything signifies how remote to our old age this principal folly of our youth has become.
And indeed it appears that a folly is exactly what we now seek Lonsdale Street to become, in the interests of keeping up our façade of vitality. In architecture, a folly is considered to be an extravagant, useless, fanciful building, or a building that appears to be something other than what it is. Follies are usually found in the parks and gardens of stately English homes. In other words, they are playthings of those who hold the reigns of power, of absolutely no use to anyone, constructed and retained in a spirit of madness and excess. We are happy to become such a symbol, if only because it tickles our vanity that someone, in this case Lord Mayor John So and the City of Melbourne still finds us attractive enough, even in our decrepit state, to be worthy of his attentions, which lets face it, are honourable and appreciated. In the film “The Serpent’s Kiss,” Pete Postlethwaite plays a wealthy businessman who squanders his fortune and destroys the vitality of his family in his quest to build an artificial hill as a folly. When all his lost and his house is repossessed, he looks at that hill and mutters: “Oh the swollen belly of my pride.” We must take care not to suffer the same fate.
Shocked community pundits have commented that the absence of interest in the Lonsdale Street forum is unacceptable. This is because in our endeavour to entrench ourselves here, we have committed the hubris of believing in our own immortality. Ignoring all historical precedent that implies the opposite, we maintain the dream that we will retain the pristine, paradisiacal form we had at the time of the First Contact. Seeing or implying that this dream is somehow flawed is a heresy because in our self-conception, informed by an unlikely compound of metaphysical materialism, we believe that we can arrest our terminal decline, either by virtue of our own efforts, or the miraculous intervention of a deus ex machina or paraclete. (cue in John So descending from heaven in a winged chariot drawn by Lavinia Nixon.)
That is not to say that we should arrogantly dismiss any opportunities to redevelop a part of our organic whole if and when they arise. We need to balance material need with emotional dependence upon symbols, regardless of potency or lack thereof. However, we owe it to ourselves to properly identify these as they truly may be, either as prosthetics, cosmetic refinishes or true regenerations. After all, our cousins back on the islands are masters of the art of whitewashing their homes. And if we are unable to revitalize ourselves, if we do vanish, as our ancestors have before us, we have not failed. We have just been human beings, albeit pathetic ones who wasted their limited time seeking the fountain of youth. There is much huzun still to be distilled.
Finally, a word of advice for those who insist upon the dream from the great master himself, Homer: “Dreams surely are difficult, confusing, and not everything in them is brought to pass for mankind. For fleeting dreams have two gates: one is fashioned of horn and one of ivory. Those which pass through the one of sawn ivory are deceptive, bringing tidings which come to nought, but those which issue from the one of polished horn bring true results when a mortal sees them.”

First published in NKEE on 30 October 2006

Thursday, October 26, 2006


There really was a Prince of Pindus, though his principality and indeed his royal self warrant scarcely a mention in Greek historiography. Indeed the first I heard of him was during my student days, from the mouth of the esteemed Professor Richard Clogg, who while visiting my university, issued two research challenges: 1. To find extant copies of Karamanli texts (been there, done that thanks to the ubiquitous Ebay,) and 2. To find out whom Alkiviadis Diamandis actually was. To do so is to immerse oneself into the swirling whirlpool of competing nationalist and irredentist claims that so pockmarked the development of early twentieth century Greece.
A Vlach hailing from Samarina, by virtue of his primary schooling in Romanian, Diamandis developed a conception of his 'Vlachness' that was inextricably linked to Romania, given that his native dialect was closely related to the Romanian language. He left Greece on the eve of the Balkan Wars, graduated from the Commercial Academy in Bucharest and in 1916, actually served in the Romanian Army.
For those interested in the history of Northern Epirus, Diamandis makes a cameo appearance in Korytsa, which was successively occupied by the Northern Epirus Autonomous Republic, Albanian secessionists, the French Army and finally in 1918 by Romanian funded Vlachs who set up the extremely short-lived "Republic of Pindus." Diamandis appears on the proclamation of the establishment of the "Republic" as co-founder.
After the dissolution of the Republic, Diamandis tarried in Albania, befriending the first president of Albania, Fan Noli, also known by his native Greek name, Theofanis Mavromatis. He is also reputed to have been the Kingdom of Romania's consul in the city of Avlona for a time. He then drifted to Rome where he fell in with Mussolini's fascists and in particular, the dream of establishing an empire of Latin-speaking peoples around the Mediterranean. Contacting the Romanian Legation in Rome, he was issued with a Romanian passport and returned to Greece where he would travel to the various Vlach-speaking villages of the Pindus mountain range attempting to variously inculcate in the villagers, a Romanian national consciousness or at least, Vlach national consciousness as separate of that of a Greek, as a fall back position. Cash gifts and material goods were supplied to families who sent their children to Romanian schools or openly professed a "Vlach" consciousness.
Diamandis' activities were known to the Greek authorities. He received a pardon for what were termed his 'seditious' activities in 1927 and re-surfaced in Athens as vice-president of the "National Petroleum Company of Romania," living in Kolonaki and enjoying a flamboyant lifestyle. His frequent travel to Italian-occupied Rhodes attracted renewed interest in his activities by the Greek counter-intelligence services. As a result, during Ioannis Metaxas' regime, when a general crackdown against cultural manifestations other than those conforming to the strictly "Hellenic" stereotype" delineated by the government, Diamandis was issued with an expulsion order. However, owing to the gathering storm clouds and intelligence of an imminent Italian invasion, his expulsion was never carried out.
Indeed, Diamandis also seems to have been privy to the Italian invasion plans. When the invasion actually occurred, he was already in Konitsa, at the Greek border. The Italians offered him the rank of Commendatore and he was appointed translator and aide to general Alfredo Guzzoni. After the heroic Greek counterattack that saw Greek soldiers repel the Italian invasion and expel them from Northern Epirus, Diamandis fled to Tirana, returning only to Greece after the successful conclusion of the German invasion in 1941.
It was then that Diamandis decided to create the "Autonomous State of Pindus," later renaming this the "Principality of Pindus" or "Principatu di la Pind" in Vlach, after deciding that he would like to be referred as Principe. The state was to be comprised of Vlach speaking villages in Epirus, Macedonia and Thessaly. To this effect, his now self styled Highness Prince the Prince of Pindus traveled to Grevena to receive the acclamation of his subjects and then to Metsovo, which he renamed Aminciu and declared it to be the capital of his principality. Further, he founded the Roman Legion of Larissa, a paramilitary group, poorly provisioned from Italian army surplus seconds to assist the Italian and German occupation. It indulged in the wholesale terrorization of the Vlach inhabitants of Larissa, who identified themselves as Greek and wanted no part in Diamandis' state. He also set up various other Vlach organizations such as the lame "Koutsovlach Community Party" which was supposed to be a constituent of the "Union of Romanian Communities." It is clear that while attempts to destabilize Greek society by fragmenting it were condoned by the Italian authorities, any autonomous attempts to establish centers of power were frowned upon, thus explaining Diamandis’ frenetic attempts to create unions and associations to legitimize his illusory rule.
Just how illusory that rule was is exemplified by the fact that when Diamandis summoned a parliament of his principality to take place in Trikala in June 1941, its activities and sovereignty was severely curtailed by the Italian authorities who had no intention of permitting their collaborationist minions to exercise real power. However, the Trikala parliament did manage to issue a series of local regulations, making Vlach the official language of the region and proscribing the use of Greek. Other cosmetic regulations effected by the 'toy' parliament included the changing of all town and village entry signs from Greek into Vlach and Italian. Diamandis was quite puzzled at the resistance he encountered by his 'subjects,' against such measures.
Perhaps the zenith of Prince of Pindus' rule was reached when in 1942, a faction of the so-called Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation offered the throne of Macedonia to him, styling him: "His Highness the Prince of Pindus and His Most Serene Excellence, the Voivode of Macedonia." Despite this transforming Diamandis into a major Balkan player, he still felt insecure about the future of his Principality, and rightly so given that he did not enjoy practical sovereignty in any region other that where he happened to be with his Roman Legion and Italian escort at that moment. He issued a Manifesto where he called for the Principality to be placed under the sovereignty of the Romanian crown as a free state and traveled to Romania to curry favour with its fascist leader, Ion Antonescu. It seems that his primary motivation for this suggestion was that it would entitle him to attend Crown Councils in Bucharest of the ski resort and mountain spa of Sinaia. Antonescu's response only being lukewarm, he also sought to link the Principality with the ruling Italian House of Savoy.
None of these pipe dreams were realized. Instead in late 1942 the local Greek resistance, a good proportion of whose members were Vlach-speaking, intensified their activities against the Italo-German occupation in the Pindus mountains. In the chaos that ensued, Diamandis fled for his life and was never heard of ever again, though it is rumoured that he was included in a captured mission of Vlach soldiers who were sent to Corinth by the Germans on a spying mission in 1944.
The Principality of Pindus lingered on as a pitiful paradigm of perfidy for a little while longer. Diamandis was deemed to have 'abdicated' and his throne was assumed by a Vlach lawyer, Nicholas Matoussis who was subsequently hunted by the Greek Resistance and escaped to Romania. The throne was then 'offered' to the Hungarian baron Gyula Milvanyi-Csesznegi who was proclaimed Prince Julius I of Pindus, simply because his family provided cereals to the Italian army. He never set foot in the region, with various collaborators terrorizing the local Vlachs in his name in his absence and indeed in 1943 was compelled to abdicate by the Germans and arrested after they discovered that he was partly of Jewish blood. Finally, in 1944, a certain M Hatzi was appointed by the Germans as 'military governor' of the Vlachs of Pindus, until the liberation of Greece saw an end to the pitiful principality.
The passing of the principality was met with relief by the vast majority of the Vlachs of Pindus, as they identified themselves as Greek and fought for the liberation of their country from oppression. Those few Vlachs who falling victim to foreign propaganda, collaborated with the Italians were either executed by the Greek resistance or fled to Romania. Today, Alkiviadis Diamandis' name is scarcely known in Greece, his principality seldom talked about except with extreme embarrassment by a few Vlachs. Perhaps the saddest legacy of the Prince of Vlach's rule was the abandonment of traditional Vlach culture and its language by Vlachs. As the Helsinki Greek Monitor of Human and Minority Rights states, after the War: "Vlach assimilation was extensive and usually ‘voluntary’, i.e. helped by the Vlach leadership. Vlachs today, with few exceptions, insist on their being ‘the most genuine, the best Greeks," while 'Vlach' in mainstream Greece is used as a pejorative term. Meanwhile, somewhere out there, in Internet-land there is still a pretender to the Pindus throne, a Prince Nicholas, of unknown provenance. This notwithstanding, Diatribe this week pays tribute to the victims of demented nationalism, while acknowledging our peoples' perverse tendency of denying our own identity and assuming another, for no apparent reason whatsoever.

First published in NKEE on 23 October 2006

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


It was Harmodios and Aristogeiton that set the precedent for things to come. When Hipparchos, tyrant of Athens attempted to seduce the youthful Harmodios, he did not realize that OXI means OXI. As a result of his failure to comprehend the enunciation of this adverb, a negative used to express dissent, denial, or refusal, Harmodios' elder lover Aristogeiton (literally "excellent neighbour" - though his conduct is severely proscribed by law these days, as Solomon Islands' attorney-general Julian Moti can attest) ended up killing him, thus plunging Athens into a constitutional crisis. According to the mores of the times, though Aristogeiton was killed shortly after his attack, his act of retribution was justifiable because as Thucydides tells us, Hipparchos' action in attempting to appropriate Aristogeiton's eromenos was a definite breach of the rules as he was Harmodios' "lover and possessed him." Of course the aftermath of the tyrranicide was that the increasingly autocratic regime of Hipparchos' brother, Hippias, was overthrown with the help of the Spartan army and Kleisthenes ushered in a period of peace and prosperity, instituting among other things, democracy, in the place of precambrian fascism.
In October, it is the custom for pundits of Greek history to bloviate warmly upon the concept of the innate freedom-loving nature of the Greek people, their natural aversion to fascism, using the above as the first of an ultra-long list of examples that culminate in Alexander the Great "freeing" the hapless of peoples of the Middle East, who up until that point, were fettered by the harrowing bonds of total ignorance of the bright lights of Greek Civilisation. This is because October marks the anniversary of another great seduction attempt: that of OXI. The reader would be familiar with the story. Fascist Italy lusted after Fascist Greece and thinking they have much in common, made various attempts to seduce her into a blissful autarkic connubial state. When Italy's first honey-tongued attempts at seduction failed, that enraged lover resorted to manifest acts of sexual frustration, such the firing of its missiles at Greece's submarine from a distance. This failed to rouse Greece into submission. Instead it elicited an OXI from an irritated Metaxas. Italy resorted to forcible penetration, at which time the entire Greek people, outraged to the extreme and casting aside for the moment Metaxas' assertions that: "I was only flirting with the fascists, I didn't intend things to go all the way," gave Italy such a hiding that they soon learned what OXI signified.
In the harrowing years that followed, Greece was subjected to one indignity after the other, not only by the invading powers who stripped her of her resources, violated, tortured and killed her people but also, in the aftermath of the Second World War, by various powers and ideologies, desperate to go to bed with her. When all was said and done however, and a hell of a lot was both said and done, the triumph of the Greek evzones over the invading Italian armies, as well as that of the Greek resistance (which while poorly organized and riven by infighting, managed to at least survive until after the war in order for its various factions to kill each other, giving elder lover Britain an opportunity to intervene on the grounds that Greece was its eromeni and thus its possession,) is interpreted as the freedom and democracy-loving Greek peoples' triumph over fascism, to which they have a natural aversion. Almost every single political event taking place in Greece after liberation has been viewed in the light of the democratic-fascist dialectic, to the extent where any attempt to compel a citizen to abide by the law is termed 'fascist' despite the fact that the term "fascist" is now an anachronism in western democracies, replaced by the more menacing appellations: "comfortable and relaxed," "secure" and "safe."
While it is known that a few Greeks, probably those of mixed DNA and thus unable as of instinct to abhor fascism, collaborated with the Italian and Nazi hordes that plunged Greece into the depths of depredation, not much is said of those Greeks who actually were possessed of high rank in the Nazi army (antipodean newspapers of the time publishing their photos under the caption: «κοίτα πώς προοδεύουν τα παιδιά μας» have not survived) and like Darth Vader, were so sickened by the Dark side of the force, that they ended up fighting against it.
Most notable of these fascist anti-fascists surprisingly enough, was Rudolph Hess, Hitler's second in command. It is a little known fact that Hess' mother, was a Greek from Alexandria and a member of the Georgiadis family. What is well known is that Rudolph Hess, distressed by the war with Britain, decided to fly over there on his own in a quixotic and dare we say particularly Greek attempt to single-handedly negotiate peace. He received life imprisonment as a reward for his pains, his dreary and allegedly insane existence in Spandau prison being terminated by his suicide in 1987.
Another renegade Greek of like description was Wilhelm Franz Canaris, a descendant of the Greek Revolutionary fighter and Prime Minister Constantine Canaris, who was a German admiral and head of the Abwehr, the German military intelligence service between 1935 to 1944. A distinguished naval officer of the First World War and devotee of his illustrious ancestor, whose portrait he always kept in his office, Canaris rose to fame as a champion U-Boat sinker. He joined the fascist Freikorps after the dissolution of the German Empire and though implicated in a few political assassinations of which he was acquitted, he never actually joined the Nazi party. As head of the Abwehr, he was responsible for convincing Hitler to side with Franco and his fascists during the Spanish Civil War and it was this that marked his amazing political volte-face.
For while Canaris originally believed Hitler to be the only safeguard against the expansion in Europe, by 1938 he was totally sickened by the Nazi's authoritarian and unscrupulous actions. As a result, he began to work against the regime. Notably, he was involved in two plots to assassinate Hitler before his annexation of Austria and to this effect even traveled to Britain for consultations with the British MI6, as he was convinced that Hitler's aggressive expansionism would provoke a European war.
Canaris' commitment to overthrowing Hitler was deepened after visiting the Polish front in 1939. There he witnessed the atrocities committed by the SS against the populace, including the burning down of the synagogue at Bedzin and the immolation of its Jewish residents. Notes regarding various exterminations in Poland were carefully collated and send to MI6. Similarly, from his privileged position within German intelligence, Canaris was to provide the British with full and detailed positions of the German army during the Nazi invasion of Russia. He also was able to save hundreds of Jews from extermination by giving them token training as Abwehr agents and issuing them with papers allowing them to leave Germany.
Such activities came to the notice of the notorious head of the German Security Police, Reinhard Heydrich and the 1942 assassination of Heydrich in Prague was said to have been organized by Canaris in conjunction with the British, in order to safeguard Canaris' position. Eventually, convinced he was working for the British, Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, dismissed Canaris from his position and he was held under house arrest. Though he had nothing to do with the failed 20 July 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler, Himmler uncovered evidence of 15 assassination plots that were formulated and then abandoned by Canaris over the course of his service including a plot to declare Hitler insane and arrest most leading Nazi officials. Canaris was executed by slow strangulation at Flossenburg Concentration Camp on 9 April 1945, a worthy freedom-fighter who was possessed of enough scruples to say OXI, or rather NEIN to violence and paid for his defence of freedom and decency with his life, much as Aristogeiton did but for more selfless reasons.
The symbolism of Harmodios and Aristogeiton is thus enduring. When in 346 BC the Athenian politician Timarchus was prosecuted for prostituting himself as a boy, his defence lawyer Demosthenes cited the example of Harmodios and Aristogeiton, as well as Achilles and Patroclus as examples of the beneficial effects of same-sex relationships, presumably because they served to rid the world of tyrants. As late 1912, Andreas Barolias who assassinated Prince Andreas Kopasis of Samos was publicly lauded as the new "Aristogeiton" and we could possibly view the armed intervention by certain powers to remove tyrannical leaders they originally supported and forcibly install democracy in their place these days in similar light.
As we salute the Greek victims of the Second World War and all forms of extreme ideology and say OXI to violence, we also pay tribute to those unlikely Germano-Greek heroes such as Canaris who had the courage to say sic semper tyrannis again and again and again, paying the ultimate price for their principled stand. It is to their worthier memories, that we dedicate the last verse of Edgar Allen Poe's ode to Harmodios:
"Ye deliverers of Athens from Shame!
Ye avengers of Liberty's wrongs!
Endless ages shall cherish your fame
Embalmed in their echoing songs!"
Just don't try this at home.

First published in NKEE on 16 October 2006

Monday, October 09, 2006


"Honour to those who in the life they lead
define and guard a Thermopylae.
Never betraying what is right,
consistent and just in all they do…
And even more honor is due to them
when they foresee (as many do foresee)
that Ephialtis will turn up in the end,
that the Medes will come after all."
Personally, I originally blamed Cavafy for our predicament, though it is highly unlikely that our homocultural partakers in the globocultural imperium across the Pacific would have ever heard of him, let alone his accomplished poem: "Thermopylae." In that poem which graciously guides this Diatribe through the mountain passes of cognition and into the hearts and minds of true defenders everywhere, Cavafy extols the virtue as well as the irony of those who take a stand and defend it to the end, all the while knowing that their valiant efforts are doomed to failure. Perhaps this message, in its raw artistic form, existing only as typeface and not on celluloid is all too complicated and organic for our trans-Pacific cousins to comprehend, too selfless and subtly Alexandrian self-indulgent to transcend the grand cultural divide and though we do not absolve him wholly of his crime, we must seek other contributory tortfeasors than Cavafy, though his portrayal of events bears as little relevance to the truth as the modern day antics of the demented stormtroopers of the present discourse.
The words «Μολών Λαβέ» are to be originally found in Plutarch's "Apophthegmata Laconica" or "Spartan Sayings" where he refers to the Persian Empire's invasion of Greece. Having allied himself with Macedonia and subdued Central Greece, Xerxes found the mountain pass through to Athens blocked at Thermopylae by Leonidas, King of Sparta, 300 of his "Sire troops" (ie. soldiers that had fathered a child and therefore could be sent on suicide missions - a precursor of the kamikazes if you will) and various other allies ideologically linked to the violent Spartans, who had the temerity to make the world unsafe for Persianocracy. It was well known in ancient times that Greece was a haven for terrorists. The Achaeans, known as the Ahiyawwa in the Luwian tongue terrorized the peace-loving Hittites, the Sea-peoples of Crete invaded Philistia and the Spartans invented political terrorism when maintaining that their spiritual sheikh at the Oracle of Delphi had told them that in order for Sparta to survive the Persian onslaught, one of her two kings must die in battle. Such violent and un-Persian sentiments horrify us today, but apparently, they were all the rage back then, among primitive cultures.
Plutarch picks up the story at this point: «Πάλιν δε του Ξέρξου γράψαντος «πέμψον τα όπλα», αντέγραψε «μολών λαβέ». Metaphrasing into the approved idiom of the imperium, the noble Xerxes acted in the following manner: He sent a messenger to Leonidas, who, bowing and kow-towing in the subtle, Persian manner, prefacing his remarks by a long and rambling introduction in which he alluded to a hot and steamy union of east and west that would confound and arouse the other cardinal directions, announced the following: "Dear Leonidas. We know you have been secretly hiding and supporting the mad sheikh of Delphi. We know also that your way of life is evil in that you expose little children on mountain tops and make fat kids that don't like sport very much run around Cape Taenarum really fast. Your invasion of Messenia and subjugation of her people as helots has also not gone unnoticed. It violates all principles of Mithraic law and is downright un-Persian. Now we are given to understand that you are harbouring a secret weapon so powerful that when released, will cause the entire known world to descend into clouds of flatulence. Therefore, we the Iranian Alliance of Persians, Medes, Bactrians, Sogdians, Carmanians and Gedrosians (are they really with us or not?) demand:
1. That you recognise the importance of the letter C, the number 4 and permit representatives of the Children's Television Workshop to inspect your training camps;
2. That you adopt our way of life immediately;
3. That you resign and submit to trial for your crimes against Persia;
4. That you reveal to us the hiding place of the mad sheikh of Delphi and
5. That you hand over all your weapons of mass flatulence to us immediately. Leonidas replied with a curt: "Come and Get them."
Despite the Spartan Information Minister sending scrolls to all and sundry proclaiming: "Masses and masses of Spartan troops are waiting to repulse the evil hated invader who in reality is merely a stooge of the Canaanite State. The mountains will drink the Persians' blood. This shall be the Cybele of all battles," Ephialtes, a collaborator from Malis, revealed the existence of the Anopean path to the Persian armies, they outflanked the recalcitrant Spartans, their allies melted away and the 300 remaining suicide warriors were destroyed. The Persians lingered for a while longer in Greece as the country descended into chaos. Finally, considering that they could find nothing in Sparta other than beans and that the Greeks were ungovernable anyway, Xerxes surreptitiously pulled his troops out of the country, sweeping his brother Artaxerxes, who was campaigning at home for the Peacock Throne under a platform of "bringing the troops back home," into political oblivion.
No one these days would have remembered the words of Leonidas if it were not for two unfortunate events. One is the 1962 movie entitled "The 300 Spartans" shot in Technicolor at Perachora near Corinth, by Hollywood screenwriters inspired by Cavafy's poem. Their take on the movie was full of subliminal Cold War messages, accompanied by a scintillating soundtrack comprising of the first ten bars of the Greek demotic folk song: «Κάτω στου Βάλτου τα Χωριά.» It was implied that our trans-Pacific cultural cousins were guarding the passes of Democracy against an onslaught by the descendants of Kievan Rus and that if the said descendants of Kievan Rus wanted their land and way of life, they could "Come and Get It." Assuredly, viewers were given to understand, our cultural defenders were possessed of enough weapons of mass destruction as to guard the Free World from any concatenation of unfavourable events that would displace the equilibrium of their hegemony. What leads one to believe that this movie indeed was inspired by Cavafy, is the fact that despite the vast build up of armaments, the descendants of Kievan Rus, never actually came, providing the Alexandrian poet with the last laugh and an interesting moral fable.
In Australia, only the legend of Leonidas' magic beans seem to have been attached to his famous quote as can be evidenced by Peter-Russell Clarke's short cooking segment on the ABC in the eighties entitled "Come and Get It." Quite a few people did, despite this being prior to the emergence of the era of infotainment. The whole show was a savvy critique of Spartan society, suggesting that world peace and the heights of civilization could have been easily achieved, had the Spartans resolved to cook for the Persians, rather than fight them. Generations of Greek restaurateurs attest to the wisdom of this stance.
The NRA advertisement you see accompanying this Diatribe is an abomination of all those Persian inspired historical attempts to make the world a safe place to be. We see the words «Μολών Λαβέ» forming the background of the said advertisement and also emblazoned upon the gun-toting Amazon's cap. This is a savage indictment in itself upon the Greek government's capability to protect our national heritage from misuse. Think how more facile Balkan politics would have been if the Greek government had the foresight to trademark such logos as the Star of Vergina and words as Macedonia and Molon Lave. They could hire them out to interested parties at a premium. Now, it is too late and it is conceivable that in generations to come, descendants of current NRA members will maintain that they are the only true Spartan race and stake an irredentist claim against the Pallaconian Brotherhood and its distinguished dance group.
The caption itself is sobering, implying as it does that any attempt to disarm NRA members will result in them meting out some form of physical violence that will most probably take the form of the firing of a ballistic projectile, as is alluded to in the picture. What the creators of the advertisement, which enjoys a wide circulation in our Trans-Pacific Cultural Motherland don't seem to have picked up upon, is that Persians did not fail to stop Leonidas' 300 Spartans and that 80,000,000 "lawful" Americans, and an unquantifiable number of "unlawful" Americans would do better to re-visit Plutarch and Cavafy and having done so, draw the appropriate lessons from the text, though their threat of domestic armed insurrection seems to be a lesser evil to those who seek to make the world safe and secure, given that it stems from an approved training ground, than that posed by Delphi-trained David Hicks. Perhaps they should stick to their original plan of completing the construction of the Death Star. Cue in heavy breathing and light sabres.
As enraged NRA members fill the mountain passes with their righteous second-amendment anger and their overloads in the Guano-Bleached House continue the hunt for Red October, we, the descendants of those who have been there and done that, send them subtle consolation, in the form of a balm slaved from the genius of John Letts:
“There was once an old man of Thermopylae
who could never do anything properly:
an unhappy fate,
in which I can state
He certainly had no monopoly.”


First published in NKEE on 9 October 2006

Monday, October 02, 2006


The problem with Australian Values is that when they are extracted out of the pithy membranes of every day existence, an inordinate number of transformations take place. Consequently, though the deluded recipient or indeed assignee to such extracts may be labouring under the impression that it is the proud recipient and custodian of Australian values, the reality could be quite different.
Prepackaged Australian values, with their gaudy exterior and labels proudly proclaiming their "100% Australian made" provenance can be misleading, especially since much of the printing these days is outsourced to China, given the economies of scale and the general increased profitability of the globalised market. Then, glancing beyond the barcode, aptly printed to emulate the bars of the Wimmera detention camp, you get the first caveat: "Keep Refrigerated." Naturally. For how can one expect Australian Values to remain in their pristine and fresh state unless they are cryogenically frozen to ensure their monolithic unchangeability for all time? Expose your little vessel of Australian Values to the Australian sun (which is hot enough to fry an egg) and very soon you will see your erstwhile fresh and clean Australian values sour, morph and turn into something downright unpleasant. Recent studies by CSIRO scientists recommend that Australian values are best kept preserved at a temperature of 1950AD, though this is not binding. No pressure.
The next thing one learns upon examining the label, is that if one is to enjoy Australian Values to the full, these need to be "shaken well before use." As any chemist could tell you, when Australian values are placed on the shelf for long periods of time, their contents begin to settle and the most pithy elements tend to sink to the bottom, where they can easily be mistaken as dregs. A good shaking prior to ingestion can ensure that such heavier elements as do exist can be evenly dispersed throughout the mixture, temporarily suspending them as if in a colloid of national righteousness that is gentler to the stomach.
Upon shaking said values vigorously and noting their even dispersal with satisfaction, one is astounded upon glancing at the constituent ingredients of such values that all is not well: "Made from Australian values and Re-constituted Australian values (99.9%)" Re-constituted? What do you mean by re-constituted? Does this mean that our values have been picked, packed and then, in a deep, dark laboratory underground, disassembled, prodded, poked, extruded, teased, reamed, boiled, pasteurized, homogenised and reduced to their basic elements before being resurrected on the third day in a test tube? How does this impact upon their freshness? Are we obtaining second hand values mixed together with the latest crop to provide the verisimilitude of organolepticity?
Even more insidious are those packaged Australian-made values that bear the caveat: "Made from Australian and Imported Values." Oh the horror of hybridization. In the frenzied coupling of disparate values, one is powerless to separate the constituent elements to determine the level of purity. Instead, we are presented for our consumption with values that while masquerading as Australian, contain elements that do not belong, that do not allow themselves to assimilate into the dominant liquid but lurk ominously beneath the surface, awaiting the moment opportune to let all the poisons that they harbour within them to hatch out. Of course, in time, many of these values, especially the trans-Pacific ones are able to penetrate the cytoplasm of Australian values and implant their mitochondria in the nucleus, in a manner reminiscent of the Midwich cuckoos. These alter the total functioning of the nucleus, while preserving the outward appearance of the Australian value as before. Interestingly enough, it has either not come to the attention of Australian value producers that they are actually purveying a mutant strain of their product, or, their own nuclei having been imperceptibly penetrated by trans-Pacific mitochondria a good deal earlier, they are not unduly vexed.
In these times, which mark the apogee of humanity's mastering of technology, permitting it to split creation into its constituent parts and put them pack together the wrong way, one needs also to be wary of our own producers knowingly indulging in value engineering, value modification and value splicing; all terms for the process of manipulating values usually outside those values normal reproductive and evolutionary process. The process entails the isolation, manipulation and reintroduction of Aussie myths into ballads, blokey VB commercials, usually to express an Aussie protein. The aim is to introduce new characteristics or attributes physiologically or physically, such as making a pie-muncher resistant to falafel, introducing a novel trait or producing a new enzyme or Kylie Minogue song lyrics. We are assured of course, that Australian Value Modified beverages contain just as much natural goodness as their Organically grown varieties and in fact are jam-packed with nutrients and other goodies that will prevent their decay and composition but it still pays to be careful. After all it is one thing to have Osmocote ™ sprinkled upon your Values prior to their extraction in order to have them grow big and strong and healthy and another thing to fiddle with the parts. If anything, this may end up voiding the warranty.
Despite Australian Values being touted as natural and a pancea to all ills, especially the common wog in winter, they don't keep well and need some enhancement to ensure their palatability and attractiveness to the consumer. My particular vessel of Australian Values has: "Colour (217)." This is imperative. No one wants to buy a watered down version of a product and the only guarantee of of goodness if a full-bodied, true blue, dinki-di healthy hue, coloured to match the exact tone of the values' rind. Similarly, despite the recommended storage temperature (no pressure), scientists know that invariably, Australian Values need further intervention in order to ensure their preservation. An unnamed "Preservative (202)" does the trick, providing producers with a valuable breathing space in which to whip up the next batch.
Not to purchase one's daily intake of Australian Values can lead to all sorts of helath problems, including rickets, beri beri, scurvy and worst of all, being diagnosed with being un-Australian. This is a serious affliction that can lead to social quarantine, ridicule and covert coercion by functionaries ancillary to the Value Producers Board to injest a vial of the nearest available Australian Values, in order to immunize against un-Australianess and deflect the danger of public contagion. Of late, it has been considered that the hybridization of vartious vials has caused an unacceptable danger of such contagion. For the interests of public health and safety, new arrivals to this country must declare that they are not afflicted with the un-Australian virus, as well as to undertake to drink their health-giving vial of Australian values. While they are at it, they should also be made to promise to brush their teeth three times a day. After all, some of these Aussie Value Tetra Paks use artificial sweeteners and I have it on good authority that they can play havoc with ones tooth surfaces. And as an afterthought, should they not also be compelled to undertake in writing that they will responsibly dispose of empty Australian Value receptacles in the recycle bin, so as to ensure that future generations can grow up in a non-polluted and healthy environment?
Of course a word of caution needs to be spoken against those nefarious personages who would exploit the rational fear of everyday Australians of contracting the un-Australian virus by purveying placebos instead of bona fide immunizations. The most notable of all these is the footballer Sam Kekovitch who artfully attempted to persuade the populace at large that the consuption of lamb can protect one against the particularly virulent strain of the disease that was released on Bondi beach: "My fellow Australians, the incidents of un-Australian behaviour over the past year was enough to make me choke on my lamb chops. And it was all down to one thing, not enough lamb. Lamb could have prevented the boofheads perpetrating violence on our beaches. It’s bloody hard to bash someone with a cutlet."
Not a chance Sam. Be careful from whom you buy your shots. An inability to develop enough antibodies could see you hauled off to the House Committee of un-Australian Activities, a franchise of the House Committee of un-American Activities Pty Ltd, owned by the Mc Carthy family and banned from bringing in ethnic flags to the soccer for life. Acquire your Australian Values from accredited providers or do as I do, and await the arrival of the Daily Australian Values Company guys. Their zany employees live in the back of a truck and spend their hours bottling freshly squeezed values that are delivered to your doorstep with a smile. You open your front door, take a sip and yell "You beaut" as you make your bed secure in the knowledge that Mr Menzies has swept all the Reds, lice, wogs and other bugs from under it, and toodle off to waltz with the jolly jumbucks, down by the billabong, under the shade of the Coolabah tree.

First published in NKEE on 2 October 2006