Saturday, June 30, 2018


“Let’s forget about Alexander the Great, for a while,” my Bitolan interlocutor exclaimed in exasperation.
For the past hour, he had been trying, via various spurious means to ‘prove’ to me that the Macedonian king was not Greek, but rather, belonged ethnically to the people he believed he was affiliated with. I, on the other hand, had been countering his outlandish contentions by proffering in return, that even if one were to concede that Philip of Macedon was not Greek, (which I was not willing to do), then at least by matrilineal descent, Alexander was Greek by virtue of the fact that his mother Olympias, was a Molossian princess, one of the ancient Epirotic kingdoms.

“No, no,” he interjected. “She was Illyrian.”
“Everyone agrees she was Molossian,” I replied. “There is no dispute about it. So even in your view, Alexander was half something which is unrelated to your conception of your own ethnic identity. So pick. Was he, as the son of an Epirot, Greek, or, if you believe the theory that the Illyrians were the precursors of the modern Albanians, was he Albanian?”

It was at that point that my interlocutor’s brow furrowed. He harboured prejudices both against the Greeks and the Albanians and as his eyes narrowed, I could see how hard it was for him to determine which was the lesser of the two evils. It was at that point that he sought an escape from the exchange altogether.

“Anyway, we “Maco’s” can claim someone who is far more exalted than Alexander. Someone who you can never claim to be yours?”
“Who, Putin?” I asked.
“No,” he said assuming an air of awe and grandeur. “I mean Jesus, himself.”
“What?” I choked into my coffee, spreading froth all the way down my shirt. “Jesus was one of yours? Are you serious?”
“Of course,” he nodded confidently. “He was a ‘Maco.”
“Well considering that he was born by all accounts in Bethlehem, lived in Nazareth, and was crucified in Jerusalem, all of which are situated in Palestine, on what basis do you argue that Jesus was one of yours?”
“Well he was called Hristo, which is a ‘Macedonian’ name., for starters.”
“His name is Hristo. He had a ‘Maco’ name. So it follows that he was a ‘Maco.’
I stared at him incredulously as he emptied four sachets of sugar into his vanilla soy skinny latte and stirred it nonchalantly.
“You do know that even in your language Jesus is Hristos, not Hristo?” I enquired.
“Same thing, same thing,” he waved dismissively.
“And you know that this is a Greek word that means “the anointed one”?” I continued.
“No, and why should I take your word for it?” he crowed.
“And you know that Christos is a title, and not Jesus’ actual name, which was, well actually, Jesus?”
“Look mate,” my interlocutor sneered. “You can say whatever you want. Nothing is going to change the fact that Jesus was a Maco. You bloody Greeks. It’s not enough for you that you want to claim Macedonia as your own, you want Jesus as well. All this rubbish about Hristo being a Greek word.”
“Any biblical scholar can tell you this,” I offered.
“Garbage” he spluttered. “When Alexander the Great conquered the Middle East, he also took over Israel. And he settled his “Macedonian” soldiers there, like he did everywhere else. So Jesus is from one of these “Maco” solider families that settled in the region.”
“You are completely sure about this?” I asked.
“One hundred percent,” he insisted. “Why do you think we have the “Macedonian Sun” on the templon of our church? It represents the fact that Jesus was a “Maco.”
“I can’t believe this,” I muttered, well, in utter disbelief.
“Also, King Abgar wrote a letter to Jesus asking him to come to his kingdom, to be safe from his enemies. Jesus didn’t go but wrote him a letter in return. What was the name of his kingdom? Edessa, which is Vodena, named after Vodena in “Aegean Mcedonia.” So one “Maco” was writing to another. ‘Maco’ power!” he whooped.
“You can’t be serious,” I shook my head.
“What, are you disappointed that Jesus isn’t’ Greek?” my interlocutor commented sarcastically.

I cast my mind back two decades to a hot summer’s afternoon in an inner Melbourne terrace house. I was sitting in a doily covered couch, listening to an aged aunt hold forth on the subject of the perceived woes of Greece:

“I tell you, it’s those freemasons and those Jews that are responsible for everything. They are deliberately keeping the nation from achieving its full potential.”
“Jesus was a Jew,” I piped up from behind the enormous quince spoon sweet I was in the process of consuming.
“Whhhhaaaat?” my generously proportioned aunt rose from her chair, her feet thundering onto the floor, creating reverberations that almost threw me from my seat.
“Well Jesus was a Jew, wasn’t he?” I repeated.
She lunged towards me and slipped a long nailed thumb and fore finger around my left ear. “Listen here, you stupid boy,” she spat through gritted teeth. “Jesus was a Greek. His name was Christos, a Greek name. His mother was called Panagia, a Greek name. I don’t want to hear any of this Zionist rubbish in this house ever again. The Jews killed him because they hate Greeks.”

“But aunt,” I pleaded, picking up the Bible she always had on the sideboard next to her armchair, and turning to the Gospel of Matthew. I began to read the genealogy of Jesus: “ "A record of the origin of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham begot Isaac…” What was David? A Jew. What was Abraham? A Jew. What was Isaac? A Jew.”
“Let me see that!” my aunt snatched the Bible from my hands and peered at it intensely. I could see her slowly, carefully, following every syllable of the miniscule print with her massive fingers, enunciating them haltingly. Finally she gave up and threw the Bible across the room. “This Bible is false!” she proclaimed “It has been produced by Communists and Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Grabbing hold of my arm, she lifted me from the couch and frog-marched me to the door. 

“Get out and stay out,” she shouted. “I will not have any smart arse sully the sanctity of my home with Judaeo-Commie propaganda. Ακούς εκεί ο Χριστούλης μας ήταν εβραίος….κωλόπαιδο.”
Relating my adverse concatenation of circumstances to a friend a week later, he scoffed: “You can’t be serious. What a strange family you have. It’s completely inconceivable.”
“Don’t laugh my friend.” I warned him. “Go and enquire of your aged relatives as to the ethnicity of Jesus and then let’s talk.”
When next I saw him, he was crestfallen and sporting a bruise on his arm. “I simply can’t believe it,” he shook his head. They are convinced Jesus was Greek. All of them. One enraged uncle even did claimed he was an incarnation of the Olympian god Apollo.”

“So if Jesus, on the flimsy linguistic grounds you have offered, was as you say a “Maco,” I departed from my reverie, “then why is the rest of the world is convinced that he was a Jew?”
“Oh that’s easily explained,” my friend wiped the last of the latte stain from his upper lip. “The Jews will never forgive us “Maco’s” for conquering their kingdom in ancient times. “And they will never forgive Jesus, as a “Maco,” for trying to destroy their religion. That is why they are out to destroy the “Macedonian” people. This also explains why the Jews are helping the Greeks steal our name and persecute our people. It’s all a big conspiracy concocted by Jews and Freemasons to keep our people from realising their full potential.”
Images of my aunt’s coal black pupils dilated in fury flashed before my eyes.
“Pardon me for asking,” I smiled, “but are you sure that YOU are not Greek?”


First published in NKEE on Saturday 30 June 2018

Saturday, June 23, 2018


“A little farther, we will see the almond trees blossoming
the marble gleaming in the sun
the sea breaking into waves.”
 Giorgos Seferis

There is a common narrative within our culture that seeks to reduce the discourse of Hellenism into its elemental constituent parts. With Seferis, this was marble, sun and sea. Nobel Prize winning poet Odysseas Elytis on the other hand, identified other significant elements: “If Greece is completely destroyed, what will remain is an olive tree, a vine and a boat. It is enough to begin again.”

When one views the photographic collection ‘Horizons,’ a sub-set of son of the former king of Greece, Nikolaos’, exhibition: “Phos, a Journey of Light,” currently at the Hellenic Museum, one is immediately reminded of that narrative, and is left in no doubt that the artist is partaking in it. In a darkened room, a series of haunting photographs of dawns and sunsets, taken so that the dividing line between sea and sky is distinct and level, instead, brings to mind not so much the identification of the elemental components that comprise our identity, as something that transcends them, Greece and the natural world altogether, the archetypal process of Creation itself: “And the earth was waste and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep: and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters, and God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.”

Though our lowly terrestrial position may circumscribe our perspective, inhibiting our surveying the broader aspects of our identity, the artist descends from on high to illumine us that further than narrow conceptions of Hellenism as a world view, here are higher powers at play here. The artist, as light bearer, beams these cryptic messages in their infinite permutations upon the waves of his creations.

The entrance to the exhibition is marked by a video installation depicting an animated silhouette of the artist, in the process of executing a zeimbekiko dance behind a luminous Greek flag. It is easy to be immediately transfixed by it. On the one hand the piece appears to replicate every single western stereotype there is, of modern Greece. It suggests, at first glance, a person, much like most of us here in the Antipodes, who has spent most of his life outside of Greece and thus primarily engages with Greece from the perspective of the stereotypes he has imbibed in the countries of his sojourn, identifiably, in a visual vocabulary that is not Helladic but contrived. Viewed from this perspective, this installation thus serves as a powerful and poignant post-modern-critique of orientalism, its effects upon concepts of identity in a globalised but nonetheless imperialist world, and the search for an emancipated Greek identity, on Greek terms, whatever these may be.

The reason why this installation has a deeper meaning and is thus intriguing, is because it convinces the viewer that it serves as a parody of stereotype. The lines on the Greek flag assume the role of jail bars. The artist executing the zeimbekiko is trapped beneath a heavy corpus of stereotypical symbols, the meanings that derive from them, and already laid out expectations as to how one is to appreciate these, that control the manner of his identity and its expression. Thus, the silhouette dances the dance of free men, ostensibly unscripted, but according to tightly choreographed steps dictated by tradition, a myriad of movies, posters and an evolved Greek political culture that demands that those holding the reins of power prove their virility by becoming Lords of the Dance, in a closeted and stifling space that in actual fact overturns the concept of freedom that both it and the Greek flag are supposed to connote.

The bars on the flag, which are traditionally held to represent the syllables of the words: Ελευθερία ή Θάνατος, (Liberty or Death) further illustrate the paradox. According to the popular discourse, one is either to choose one OR the other. One is NOT FREE, within the parameters of this banner of freedom to explore the nuances in between the two absolutes, presumably just as one is, within the increasingly polarised zeitgeist both within Greece and its diasporan communities, not able to comfortably traverse the varying gradations and facets of the Hellenic paradigm. Instead, if one is to satisfactorily “prove” their Hellenic credentials, they must funnel their actions within a pre-determined and pre-approved time loop, and replicate these for legitimacy, over and over again. Consequently, Nikolaos’ is a profound and vastly subversive discourse.

Except for his very personal appearance, trapped behind the flag, and a print of his wife’s heavily stylised silhouette, like a regal postage stamp, over that most Seferic Greek elemental medium, marble, no other humans people the artist’s creations. Does this betray an intensely personal interaction with the constituent elements of identity that must be resolved by each person alone, without the impingement or intervention of others? Does one here combine the artist with the person in his historical context and consider whether such a stance derives from a reaction to the attempts by others who identity as Greek to deny him the same properties? There is safety of expression in the elemental.

Nikolaos’ other ‘Greek’ seascapes, generally reminiscent of other artists’ renditions of the genre, may, superficially at least, appear to be eminently generic. Yet the seascape entitled “Phantom” is immediately arresting, deliberately shattering the beguiling placidity of the other vistas framing it. From the unnervingly deep blue waters, a ghostly figure stirs. The monocular visage of a spectre, part Cyclops, part robotic nightmare suggests that light not only liberates, but also reveals within depths, menaces that lurk undisturbed. It is to us to determine whether or not such fault-lines as subsist through our culture should be addressed. Viewed at an angle, the Cyclops seems to be screaming the identity of he who has caused his pain. “No one.” Because in the entirety of Nikolaos’ exhibition, full of pregnant pauses and fleeting nuances, there is no one ever there.

An intense, unbearable and crushing sense of loneliness and isolation permeates “Phos.” It is this sense of dislocation, masterfully rendered, that suggests that Nikolaos’ work must be interpreted through the lens of a Greek abroad, a diasporan, who though his artistic syntax may not be ‘Helladic’ per se and references western-derived constructions of Greece, is able to articulate highly emotive artwork which challenges these very constructs and raises interesting questions about the nature of the Greek identity, its antipodean permutations and the manner in which these are received and extrapolated within diasporan communities, mythologised and ultimately, stereotyped, all through a remarkable homage to the elemental discourse of some of the most profound thinkers on the subject of Greek identity that ever existed.

Poet of the Sea, Zisimos Lorentzatos once wrote: “Just like the kings, on coins worn away in the hands of the people/ the face of Empedocles emerges/ observing blood upon the bay….. Dark and wild power, reveal yourself/ an enemy of classical Greece/ and save me from its white column/ that closes me in.” Nikolaos’ attempt at mastery over the elements offers him and so many others, a bridge over troubled waters, to destinations undisclosed.


First published in NKEE on 23 June 2018