Saturday, July 26, 2014


The photographs accompanying this diatribe were taken last year by Turkish photographer Bastermur Bilal. They depict a couple of semi-nude stick figures attempting to assume languid attitudes of sensuous nonchalance. As such, they could be dismissed as yet another accretion to the derivative drivel that poses as art, if it were not for the context in which these were taken. For a closer inspection of the photographs reveals that the models are straddling Greek gravestones. The inscription of one broken cross, held erect by the expressionless female Turkish model, as she sits upon the head of the deceased’s tombstone, states that it belongs to Giorgos DImitriou who died in 1953. The male model in turn, sets his foot upon a broken cross, which marks the grave of a person unknown.
All about the models, are strewn pieces of crosses and broken stones for the models are ‘posing’in an abandoned Greek cemetery in Turkish occupied Cyprus. The cemetery displays clear signs of desecration and vandalism, a phenomenon which is well documented, for since the invasion of Cyprus in 1974, occupying forces have perpetrated a systematic program of looting and vandalism against the Greek cultural heritage of Cyprus. This has not only been restricted to churches and art, but also the remains of departed Cypriots.
Earlier this year, Bastermur Bilal for his photographs. He stated that “It’s clear that a lot of mistakes have been done, but we will have to use every possible chance to apologise.” Asked why he chose to photograph models in a cemetery, Bilal said it was just a location that had struck a chord with him as he passed by. I do not see how anyone can accept such an apology. Throughout the world, but especially in the Middle East, special reverence is paid towards the dead and the funerary rites of all religions, this being common knowledge to all inhabitants of the region. Bastermur Bilal knew that he was taking photographs in a desecrated Greek cemetery. He also knew that he was asking his models to use religious symbols and the identities of dead people as playthings. He did not balk from doing so. His conscience did not prick him, neither did he seek to take similar photographs in a Muslim, Turkish cemetery. Instead, he proceeded to perform his own act of desecration, presumably thinking that it was of no consequence, for the Greeks had gone, they were Christians instead of Muslims and thus unimportant, and most importantly, his target Turkish audience would not care.
Forty years is ample time to desensitize people as to the enormity of the crime of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. The world moves on, other crisis unfold, the world powers cynically downgrade the issue from a violent violation of sovereignty to an inter-communal dispute, the victims give up hope of return or restitution, while arm-chair patriots, who, for the past forty years have dutifully attended the various rallies held on the abandoned streets of the city centre on Sunday afternoons, despairing of a political solution, throw their hands up in the air, bewail the impotence and friendlessness of the Greek race, simultaneously reaching for their frappe, and stay at home. «Δεν βαριέσαι,» they exclaim. Every year we do the same thing and every year fewer and fewer people come to the Cyprus rally. We aren’t achieving anything.”
Originally, the Justice for Cyprus rally, organized every year by the Co-ordinating Committee for the Cypriot Campaign, (SEKA), was a conduit for community outrage and indignation at the brazen brutality of the Turkish invasion. It was believed, and is still officially claimed that by attending the rally, which members of the Greek community used to do in their tens of thousands, we could a) galvanize public opinion, b)send a message to the Australian government that it is in its interests to support our stance on the issue (which they always have, at least publicly) and c) send a message to Turkey and the world, that the occupation of the island is unacceptable.
This year, with the fortieth anniversary of the invasion, members of the Greek community are vociferously disputing the efficacy of such a rally, which is poorly attended, not taken seriously by the State or Federal political sphere and appears to address only ourselves and our own fears of forgetting, which are inextricably linked to our own fears of assimilation. In our subconscious, the rally assumes a Poseidonian Cavafiesque function: one of the many poorly understood and yet necessarily performed litanies that underlie our identity and must therefore be perpetuated in exactly the same form, year after year.
It is true that the rally is no longer the rallying point it once was. It is true that as the first generation enters old age, its passion and fervour has cooled, a passion and fervor that is not shared by the latter generations. It is also true that there seems to be no solution to the Cyprus issue on the horizon. This does not however, mean that we should abstain from supporting or participating in events that have as their aim to spread awareness of, or commemorate a crime against humanity.
The Armenians, for one whole century have campaigned for the recognition of another Turkish crime, that of the Armenian genocide. They have done so, as a refugee minority, largely without a country of their own. Their ardour has not cooled, nor have their efforts flagged in the face of vested interest and world indifference. Slowly but surely, they have continued to campaign, wherever they may be situated so that now, one hundred years on, majority world public opinion supports the view that Turkey did in fact perpetrate genocide against the Armenians.
This then, is an example from which we have much to learn. The slogan of SEKA is «Δεν Ξεχνώ» (I do not forget). We cannot, single-handedly from Melbourne, dislodge the occupying forces from Cyprus. Yet we can, through unceasing Armenian-style efforts, ensure that the perpetrators of this heinous crime, their supporters and apologists, do not let their consciences rest easy at night. We can point to banal instances of desecration, such as those committed by Batermur Bilal, to show that that the Cyprus problem is not one of inter-communal strife, but rather, where one militarized community refuses to acknowledge or respect the existence of the other.
If we stay away from the commemorative activities of SEKA, if we do not engage with SEKA in order to suggest alternative or additional methods of activism, we run the risk of participating in the legitimization of the occupation and the continued persecution of Christians throughout the Middle East. After all, the ethnic cleansing of the Greeks and other Christian minorities from Turkish occupied Cyprus was the precedent for a whole stream of similar persecutions against other Christians of the Middle East, culminating last week in the expulsion of every single Christian in the city of Mosul by the ISIS forces. They left, just as the Greeks and other Christian minorities of Cyprus did, with only the clothes on their back. Their homes have been taken away and their churches destroyed. By our silence or indifference, we assist in the perpetuation of a regional culture that sees nothing wrong in treating a religious and ethnic group as mere playthings of broader fundamentalism, or other designs.
We cannot always alter the policies of the mighty, stay the hand of the murderer, the hammer of the grave-destroyer, or the flash of the insensitive photographer. With our continued activism however, we can ensure that their crimes are never forgotten or forgiven, in the hope that in the future, persecution of the vulnerable will be rendered more difficult. Hence the wisdom of that cliché: «ΔΕΝ ΞΕΧΝΩ
First published in NKEE on Saturday 26 July 2014

Saturday, July 19, 2014

3ZZZ Forty Years On

My first introduction to Radio 3ZZZ took place in 1990, as an emendation to my morning pre-school ritual. Since I can remember, while eating breakfast, I would listen to the news and the sparsely interpolated songs on the SBS Greek program. One day, while driving my cousins and I to school, my father casually switched the radio onto the Greek program at Radio 3ZZZ, thus beginning a tradition that, some twenty four years later, still endures.
Unlike the SBS Greek program, which over the years lost much of its fresh character and increasingly became a translation of conventional English language news, 3ZZZ appeared to be a breath of fresh air. Instead of finely tuned and micro-produced segments, here there was lively, often unscripted debate, commentary on what was transpiring in the Greek community, rather than mere news reportage and an introduction to a completely novel way of looking at the world, divorced from the often blinkered and stereotypical world view presented by mainstream media.
I began to listen to the Greek program religiously, intently concentrating upon each spoken word and protesting vociferously when my father, who is possessed of talkback propensities, attempted to switch to 3AW. As a result, not a few Greek words entered my vocabulary. In particular I still remember how far away from school I was when Greek community poet Dina Amanatidou was interviewed in relation to the launch of her poetry collection «Δροσοσταλίδες και Διάττοντες.» These were mysterious, moist sounding words and I resolved to use them in almost every sentence, to the chagrin of my Greek school teacher, who curtly informed me that «διάττοντες» was not a Greek word at all and that I should stop using it in my essay «Πώςπέρασα το Σαββατοκύριακο
3ZZZ Greek programs are also responsible for opening up a world of Greek music, of whose existence I was hitherto blissfully unaware. To that point, my understanding of Greek music was limited to traditional demotic songs and some snippets of 60s-70s popular music performed at Greek dances or played on old LP's by my aged progenitors' progenitors. All of a sudden I was introduced to something «έντεχνο,» meaning replete with 'techne' or art, and I would be moved by the music, simultaneously pondering the often profound meaning of the verses. Even today, whether there is a plurality of other Greek radio programs on various stations, 3ZZZ maintains its commitment to the alternative. Particularly heartwarming, are the musical selections of Zisis Pouros, who is, as far as I know, the only Greek broadcaster in Melbourne who realizes that Greek-Australian children also listen to the radio and accordingly, plays Greek childrens' songs, mostly of "Zouzoumia" provenance. Last week, he inadvertedly played a Zouzounia that had the half the words removed, so that children could, presumably read the rest of the lyrics from a television screen.
The prevalence of on-air gaffes such as Zisis' is another factor that makes 3ZZZ so endearing. The presenters are all volunteers and one gets to know their foibles or stock phrases over the years, whether these be 3ZZZ stalwart and historian George Zangalis running out of breath after delivering a particularly lengthy exposition (Zangalis by the way is known for being able to attract the most illustrious guests from the political sphere on his show and subject them to uncompromising cross-examination), Anthe Sidiropoulos' off the cuff remarks or the genial Christos Fifis forgetting to switch off the microphone and talking to his guests over the music, during the musical interlude. There is no stuffiness or pretention about the program. We accept and love the presenters, warts and all, especially the volunteers recently arrived from Greece, whose employment of the language and knowledge of the diversity and complexity of Modern Greek culture is marvelous. Dimitra Lagoudaki's program on culture and current affairs in particular, must remain as a yardstick by which all other Greek language programs in Australia must be measured. For this is the 3ZZZ Greek programs main appeal: its capacity to teach and inspire.
Despite the lack of technical support, 3ZZZ Greek programs are in no way amateurish. Quite the contrary, they are 'jam-packed,' (to use an expression from the old youth Tria Harakiri program) with news and analysis. They are also decidedly partisan, presenting a certain outlook both on the world and the Greek community at large. The Greek programs thus a decidedly left-wing slant and inhabit a world, where the 'progressive forces' of the community, which include the Workers Association Democritus, the Friends of KKE and the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria, act or should act in concert with the Labor Party in particular in order to bring about social justice. 3ZZZ Greek presenters have not shied away from attacking members of the Greek Orthodox Community where they believe that they have departed from this ideal, though criticism of such nature has died down recently, with the successful construction of the Cultural Centre. Greek-Australian politicians and even the Diatribist have received tongue-lashings by acerbic presenters and this is how it should be in a complex, multi-faceted Greek community where a plurality of voices and opinions must be heard and questions. This is why, even on the occasions when the usually astute political analysis becomes puerile and simplistic, leading one to believe that they are listening to Radio Bulgaria during the Cold War, ie the Liberals are the personification of evil, lack of criticism of the Labor party's departure from its own ideals and espousal of neo-conservative economics, exposition of antiquated theories of class struggle and a polarized view of the community between the progressive 'us' and the reactionary 'them,' even when the views expressed are historically revisionist, ie. Stalin (who can do no wrong) and Churchill never did divide the Balkans between them and Mao never caused the huge famine in China during the Cultural Revolution, it is instructive and important that these views be aired and considered. After all, they form part of the backdrop upon which the story of our community's development was played out. It is also worth considering how valuable it is to have a government funded radio station that is able, without fear of reprisal, to criticize that government.
As George Zangalis points out in his history of 3ZZZ, its existence was not secured without a struggle. Facing closure during the Fraser era, passionate activists such as Zangalis engaging in people power tactics that while today, in a decidedly less free world, would have been ineffective and resulted in criminal prosecutions, at the time forced the government's hand and kept 3ZZZ alive. It is for this reason alone, for their active stand for freedom of expression and cultural diversity that we should value the work of its presenters and take an active role in supporting, promoting and enhancing its programs.
On the odd occasion, while driving around town, my radio dial will inevitably travel to 3ZZZ at times ungreek. In particular, I will look out for the Albanian and Assyrian programs, which are extremely well presented, the Coptic youth program and the program that purports to broadcast in a language which its presenters claim is 'Macedonian,' simply because I enjoy its music. On other occasions, when stuck in traffic and bored to tears by the conventionality of mainstream radio, I will turn to 3ZZZ at random, trying to guess the identity of the language I am listening to and gain a sense of its musical tradition, or lack thereof. And it is here that 3ZZZ excels in a way that other ethnic broadcasters do not. Rather than encouraging the ghettoization and isolation of ethnic cultures in Australia, it actively promotes the sharing of cultural traditions in all of their facets, whether these be musical, literary, sporting, religious or political arriving, at that point at which the ideologues of the original multiculturalism aspired to. The extent and perpetuation of that achievement, in the light of 3ZZZ's forty year anniversary, depends on all us.
First published in NKEE on Saturday 19 July 2014

Saturday, July 12, 2014


«Τα διαφόροις των παλαιών περί τε γεωργίας και επιμέλειας φυτών και σπορίμων και ετέρων πολλών χρήσιμων ειρημένα συλλέξας εις εν, τουτί το βιβλίον συντέθεικα.» Γεωπονικά.
On the extraordinary rare occasions where my grandparents would be ready to admit that a particular piece of agricultural lore was beyond them, they would seek answers in the "Kazamia," an almanac that provided handy tips on a range of subjects. Puzzling over the dense type, they would scratch their heads as they tried to invert the information so as to apply it to the contrary Australian seasons. Inevitably, they would give up, and ask someone else. On a shelf in my study, there exists a well thumbed 'Yates Garden Guide' published in 1981 which was consulted by my parents for much the same reason.
Had my progenitors been transported in time to Byzantium, they may have been surprised to ascertain that books on gardening were common and widely consulted. So prevalent where these, that there were even books masquerading as gardening manuals that in fact, were intended as a form of political satire, as is the case with the Porikologos or "Fruit Book", where many fruits are presented as taking part in legal procedures satirizing court ceremonial.
For the diehard green thumbs who had too much pruning to concern themselves with politics, there was always the Geoponika, to consult: an agricultural and horticultural encyclopaedia aiming to present in digest an accumulated practical lore of the ancients. We know that his book, or rather compendium, was important to the Byzantines and widespread, for it survives today, in fifty five different manuscripts. It is the sole survivor in Greek of a long and rich tradition of agricultural literature, stretching back at least to Hesiod and especially flourishing in the Hellenistic era.
The text of Geoponika in its present form, dates from the mid-tenth century. It opens with an elaborate prologue addressed to Emperor Constantine VII where he is referred to as a "sweet scion of the purple." The praise continues with reference to military victories and
the restoration of philosophy, rhetoric, and the entire range of science and art. According to the Geoponika, the state consists of three parts: the army, clergy, and agriculture, giving a Byzantine twist to the ancient literary convention of the king as warrior-farmer in his own right, as evidenced in Xenophon's Oeconomicus where he reports how Cyrus excitedly told Lysander that his remarkable garden at Sardis was a personal labour: "I measured and arranged the whole, and some of the plantings I did myself."
The works of various older authors can be located within the Geoponika. The most important of these is Anatolius of Beirut, a friend of the ortator Libanios, teacher of St John Chrysostom's collection: "Synagoge of Agricultural Practices." This in turn was incorporated as the primary source of "Selections on Agriculture" compiled by Cassianus Bassus Scholasticus, in the sixth century, which in turn forms a large portion of the Geoponika.
The encyclopaedic absorption of the works of other authors probably accounts for the fact that in the Geoponika, there is much repetition from chapter to chapter, for each of the disjunctive units focuses upon an individual plant, many of which have a very similar or virtually identical culture. However, the discussion ranges widely: appropriate soil type, planting season, grafting techniques, methods of preservation, therapeutic applications, medicinal recipes. For the modern Greek, the list of plants is fascinating. For example, rocket, a plant for which I did not know the Greek word, is referred to as εύζωμον, while we learn that basil, the 'king's plant,' was known during Byzantium as μισόδουλον or ώκιμον. Jujube by the way, is known as ζίζυφον. Soft fruits are referred to as οπώρα, and hard fruits as ακρόδρυα. The vocabulary for various gardening techniques is also revealing. Distinctions are made between twig grafts (εμπηυλλισμός), boring grafts (εγκεντρισμός) and bud grafts (ενοφθαλισμός), while the techniques for cultivating trees from seed, buds, cuttings and slips (από σπέρματος, παρασπάδος, πασσάλου), are also discussed at length.
There are numerous references to sympathetic plantings and plant combinations to be avoided. Further the Geoponika pays great attention to τέχνη, or the skill of gardening.
Grafting, for instance, is extensively treated, and procedures are repeated from long centuries of literature even though some combinations were quite impossible. Tips exist for altering the quality and appearance of fruit, often to change the colour or shape and there is even, under the heading "Harm to the Garden," a recipe for a form of weed killer: «Χηνών αφόδευμα άλμη λύσας ραίνε τα λάχανα (Dissolve goose dung in brine and sprinkle the plants with it.) Some of the advice is downright bizarre. In Book 1, chapter 14, an entry "On hail," suggests that one can avert hail by stringing keys and hanging them about the property, or to set up wooden bulls. In another entry, attributed to the lore of the Persian prophet Zoroaster, a good way to encourage a tree to produce fruit is to approach it with an axe and threaten to cut it down.
Nonetheless, most of the advice still rings true today: "This appears in keeping with Byzantine planning laws regulating the proximity of buildings to farmland and among other things, the right of a property owner to cut or use fruit from overhanging branches of trees on other properties.
Perhaps the most endearing component of the Geoponika, has to do with its dedication not only to the practical aspects of plants but also, the lore and history surrounding them, belying the commonly held belief that Byzantine culture was religiously bigoted and cut off from its ancient past.. Thus, we learn that Ivy, (Kittos) the plant, "once was a young man, a dancer of Dionysos. Dancing for the god he fell dead upon the ground, and in honour of Dionysos, Earth brought forth a shoot with the same name, thereby preserving the stock of the young man. The plant as it springs from the earth is accustomed to embrace the vine just as the young man once danced embracing the god."
Geoponika has much to say about garden design and its aesthetic impact. The prologue, speaks of the collection as one where the reader will find matters of pleasure as well as usefulness ("not only necessities but even those exceptional things that contribute solely to the delight of sights and smells") Recognition of sight and smell (alongside usefulness and profit) recur in the somewhat skimpy instructions for garden design found in two specific chapters: 10.1 "The Garden" (παράδεισος) and 12.2 "Garden making" (κηποποιΐα).
During the centuries to come, the Byzantines lost much of the countryside that had supplied their with fruit and vegetables. Many peasants were forced to abandon their farmlands and take refuge in the walled towns as Turkish tribes advanced quickly through Byzantine territory. This development turned the neglected areas into uncultivated regions of wild nature, while many deserted settlements soon fell into ruins. Despite this, many gardening techniques as described in the Geoponika survived into the Ottoman period and are with us to the present day, as is attested, by this final snippet:
" The plantings ought to be planted neither irregularly nor intermingled, so to say, although the variety of plants introduces attractiveness. But each of the plants ought to be set out by type, so that the weaker ones not be overcome by the stronger or be deprived of nourishment. The entire space between the trees ought to be filled with roses and lilies and violets and crocus, which are most pleasing to sight and smell and usefulness as well as profitable and beneficial to bees. Cuttings are to be taken from thriving and undamaged trees. One ought to know that plants from seed for the most part are inferior to all others. Better in the case of every plant are natural shoots. Of these the stronger are those produced by grafting, not only for beauty of fruit but also for its abundance and swift production of the fruits."
First published in NKEE on Saturday 12 July 2014

Saturday, July 05, 2014


A cursory glance of the surnames of august Greeks whose posteriors have perched upon the benches of the Parliament throughout the ages is instructive. It presents as a vast family tree of interlocking and conjoined tribes. There is a smattering of Kanellopoloulos,’ two Varvitsiotis,’ two Pangalos,’ one of whom was briefly a dictator and of course a sprinkling of Karamanlides, two named Kostas, both of whom were Prime Ministers and one named Achilleas, the older Kostas’ brother. There is also a Marietta Karamanli who is a member of the National Assembly of France and we can therefore exclude her from our count, which renders the Karamanlis clan as a bunch of political parvenus. They are especially trumped by the Rallis,’ who are surreptitiously woven into the fabric of Greek political history. The first of his name, Dimitrios Rallis, was PM no less than five times between 1897 and 1921. His son Ioannis was the Prime Minister of the Greek collaborationist government during the Second World War, while the bushy browed Georgios Rallis was Prime Minister between 1980-1981.
The Rallis clan’s achievement is rivalled by the Papandreou clan, who also have elevated three of its members to the political helm of the country. Georgios Papandreou, known as the ‘old man of democracy,’ served as Prime Minister of Greece three times, in 1944-45, 1963, then again in 1964-65. His son Andreas, who in a poll by the newspaper Kathimerini in 2007 was voted ‘the most important Greek Prime Minister in history,’ served two terms as Prime Minister, firstly for eight years between 1981 and 1989 and then again between 1993 and 1996. Andreas’ son Georgakis, also has served as Greece’s Prime Minister, between 2009-2011.
On occasion, the lineal descent of Greek politicians is obscured by changes in name. Thus seven times prime minister of Greece, Charilaos Trikoupis, and politician and general Nikolaos Trikoupis are all descended from Charilaos father’ Spyridon Trikoupis, also a prime minister, and Ekaterini Mavrokordatos, the sister of Alexander Mavrokordatos, also an early prime minister of Greece.
Similarly, while the Venizelos clan produced two prime ministers, the brilliant but flawed Eleftherios Venizelos and his not so brilliant Sofoklis Venizelos, it is rumoured that the Mitsotakis family is an offshoot. The father and grandfather of Konstantinos Mitsotakis, leader of New Democracy and former prime minister, were also parliamentarians, as is his daughter Dora, and his son Kyriakos.
Antonios Samaras on the other hand, the current Prime Minister, is descended from the Benakis clan, which basically bankrolled the functions of the Modern Greek state for a time and exercised enormous influence upon the exercise of its politics. Other Greek prime ministers achieving the pinnacle of their political career as a result of the influence of their family are Gennaios Kolokotronis, son of the great Theodoros, Kitsos Tzavellas, scion of the great Souliote clan, Athanasios Miaoulis, son of the great admiral Andreas Miaoulis, Alexandros Koumoundouros, son of the last Ottoman bey of Mani, Thrasyvoulos Zaimis and Alexandros Zaimis, son and grandson of revolutionary leader Andreas Zaimis, Zinovios Valvis and his brother Dimitrios Valvis, connected to the Trikoupis clan and Kyriakoulos Mavromihalis, scion of the prominent Maniot Mavromihalis clan. Thisenumeration must conclude with Augoustinos Kapodistrias, elevated to the position of Prime Minister owing to him being the brother of assassinated Prime Minister Ioannis Kapodistrias. Ioannis was of course killed by the Mavromihalis clan, as he opposed their nepotism…
One would, given the above, be forgiven for thinking that the government of Greece is a family concern, with each branch possessing defined spheres of influence within a granted territory. Apologists for the idea that Greece is both the birthplace and bastion of democracy, as well as that of representative government ascribe blame to the nepotistic and corruptive practices of Ottoman rule, for what they perceive to be the inception rather than the evolution of Greek political clientilism. If Antonia Kiousopoulou is to be believed however, the roots of our system are to be found further back in time. After all, Greece has been ruled by hereditary rulers, whether elected or not since times ancient and what we now know is that Greece has also been administrated according to hereditary principles at east since Byzantium.
In her seminal work “Emperor or Manager: Power and Political Ideology in Byzantium before 1453,” Antonia Kiousopoulou has painstakingly collected a list of eighty court officials and forty four ambassadors for Constantinople in the late Byzantine period. Seventeen percent of these have the name either of Palaiologos or Kantakuzenos or of both, these being families that eventually ascended the imperial throne and twenty eight percent bear other imperial names. Sixteen percent of such administrators, come from families whose names appear on a list of Peloponnesians making their obeisance and pledging loyalty to the Mehmed the Conqueror. Some of the names on Kiousopoulou's lists repeat themselves, reinforcing her contention that the Byzantine Empire was governed by relatively few born-to rule families, referred to as the “dynatoi.”
Among the main earlier examples of such families are the Phokades and the Maleinoi, who almost monopolized the senior administrative and military posts in Asia Minor in the early and middle tenth century. These dynatoi were able to use their political and financial strength to enrich themselves at the expense of the penetes, or small-holders, who had hitherto formed the main pillar of Byzantine society and economy. Despite the efforts of several emperors from Romanos I Lekapenos to Basil II to prevent the land acquisition and amassing of huge foturnes and power by the dynatoi, these efforts failed, and by the Palaiologan period (1261–1453), there was a vast decline in the authority of the central state government, which hastened the fall of the Empire.
In the 15th-century province of Morea alone, Diana Gilliland Wright has made a list of 172 dynatoi. Of these, 35 bear the imperial name Palaiologos, and 20 bear other imperial names such as Angelos, Soukas, Kantakouzenos and Laskaris. One of the extraordinary names of these dynatoi comprises of five imperial and four archon (noble) components: Ioannis Doukas Angelos Palaiologos Rallis Laskaris Tornikes Philanthropenos Asan, who was commemorated in a burial icon at Megaspilion, now destroyed. The largest non-imperial name featured, occurring as it does ten times, is that of Rallis, first cousins of the Palaiologoi emperors and, distant ancestor of the modern political Rallis clan.
Writer after writer in the last eighty years of the Morea mentioned the rapaciousness and brutality of the dynatoi. The Philosopher Gemistos Plethon ascribed to them responsibility for the pathetic condition of the area. Cardinal Bessarion wrote that there were a few good men among the dynatoi, but that their efforts were far outweighed by what the rest had done.
Only instance of a single effort toward change has been found. When Constantine Palaiologos made Giorgos Sphrantzes governor of Mistra in 1446, he exhorted him:
“You are to stay here and govern your command well. You are to put an end to the many instances of injustice and reduce the power of the numerous local lords. Make it clear to everybody here that you are in charge and that I am sole lord (ὡς ἐμὲ μόνον αὐθέντην).”
We know almost nothing about how Sphrantzes fared. Given that soon after he was sent on an embassy to Georgia and the Empire of Trebizond in search of a third wife for Emperor Constantine and that during these duties he married Helena, the daughter of the imperial secretary Alexios Palaiologos Tzamplakon, with the Emperor Constantine was his best man, one thing is certain, which has continued to resonate down the centuries within Greek political life to the present day: Whatever you do, do not ever go against the family.
First published in NKEE on Saturday 5 July 2014