Saturday, September 21, 2019


“We here in the Antipodes, the Antipodeans, do things differently from you over there in the Motherland,” a friend was explaining to a recently arrived lady from the Motherland.
“Yes, I’ve heard,” she chuckled. “You do everything upside down.”
It was at this point that I interjected. “We are not Antipodeans.” My friend looked at me in horror. “Sure we are. We have been calling ourselves Antipodeans for years. We have a festival and a literary journal bearing that name.”
Any way you look at it, despite the term becoming familiar with use, we are not Antipodeans, in any sense of the word. In geography, the antipode of any location on Earth is that point on the Earth's surface diametrically opposite to it. In the case of Australia, its antipode is not Greece, but rather, missing Europe entirely, the North Atlantic Ocean. Greece’s antipode, in contrast, is Moerai, of Iles Australes, in French Polynesia.
The word, however, is Greek in origin, ντίποδες meaning with feet opposite ours.  As such, it makes an appearance in Plato’s dialogue Timaeus, where  referring to a round Earth, there is an explanation of the relativity between the terms “above and below” and give rise to an understanding of the later term, “Down Under:”
“For if there were any solid body in equipoise at the centre of the universe, there would be nothing to draw it to this extreme rather than to that, for they are all perfectly similar; and if a person were to go round the world in a circle, he would often, when standing at the antipodes of his former position, speak of the same point as above and below; for, as I was saying just now, to speak of the whole which is in the form of a globe as having one part above and another below is not like a sensible man.”
As the word was adopted by all of Aristotle, Strabo, Plutarch and Diogenes Laërtius, it passed into the Latin as antipodes. As it did so, it altered its original sense from "under the feet, opposite side" to "those with the feet opposite," referring to the traditional belief of a  hypothetical people living on the opposite side of the Earth. This is the source behind medieval illustrations imagining such people as "inverted", with their feet growing out of their heads, pointing upward.
It was in this sense, that the term Antipodes first entered the English language in 1398 in a translation of Bartholomeus Anglicus’ thirteenth century De Proprietatibus Rerum by John of Trevisa: “Yonde in Ethiopia ben the Antipodes, men that haue theyr fete ayenst our fete.”
Yet it was the second century geographer Crates of Mallus, famous for constructing the earliest known globe of the Earth, who, in constructing his sphere, first gave names to the continents he assumed existed.  As the great Greek geographer Strabo appreciated: “For Crates, following the mere form of mathematical demonstration, says that the torrid zone is "occupied" by Oceanus and that on both sides of this zone are the temperate zones, the one being on our side, while the other is on the other side of it. Now, just as these Ethiopians on our side of Oceanus, who face the south throughout the whole length of the inhabited land, are called the most remote of the one group of peoples, since they dwell on the shores of Oceanus, so too, Crates thinks, we must conceive that on the other side of Oceanus also there are certain Ethiopians, the most remote of the other group of peoples in the temperate zone, since they dwell on the shores of this same Oceanus; and that they are in two groups and are "sundered in twain" by Oceanus.”
The visionary Crates, apart from Europe, Asia and Africa, postulated the existence of another three continents. To South America, he gave the title “Antipodes” and it was this continent that he believed existed as the opposite number to Europe. He also correctly hypothesized the existence of a continent in the location of North America and called it Perioecoi, (Περίοικοι) deriving from περί, "around", and οκος, "house". Lastly, like his rough contemporary Ptolemy, who believed that the Indian Ocean was enclosed on the south by land, and that the lands of the Northern Hemisphere should be balanced by land in the south, Crates considered the existence of a great south land. To that land, which turned out to be Australia, he gave the name, not of Antipodes, which was already taken, but of ντίοικοι, (Antioecoi), meaning literally, those who live opposite home.
There is a vast semantic difference between being “down under” or having one’s feet against one’s compatriot’s feet, so that one is naught else but their implausible mirror image, compelled to ape their every move, upside down, with no thought as to one’s own local environment (and such an existence is implausible because as St Augustine wrote: "it is too absurd to say that some men might have set sail from this side and, traversing the immense expanse of ocean, have propagated there a race of human beings descended from that one first man,"  and since Christ did not appear in the southern hemisphere, any people of that region were beyond redemption,)  and having one’s home opposite to that of one’s original ancestors. The spatial disparity allows one to evolve with reference to one’s original culture, but in parallel to it, without slavishly adopting it wholesale.
Considering oneself to be an Antipodean in relation to one’s original cultural origin, is to remain shackled within a mindset of the mirror image that creates a strange and traumatic ontopathology: as much as one strives for authenticity in identity and culture, one can only ever be the mirror image of that progenitive culture and in fact, semantically, its opposite. This creates a situation where one can only engage with their own identity via a process of sterile emulation, a pursuit that as generations go by, becomes fruitless and leads to oblivion, as the original identity loses all relevance to the continent upon which it is transplanted and is not considered authentic by those who generated it in the first place, since it is its inverse. Without local development, such barren mimesis, where one merely goes through the motions, withers on the vine.
Being one of the Antioecoi, on the other hand, allows one to view one’s progenitive culture at arms-length, positioned within the context of the host culture. This permits the Antioecian to extract from the original culture, those core values of perennial relevance and graft them to the local prevailing conditions, granting them immediacy and relevance in one’s daily life, which is where all true culture is created, thus ensuring the vibrancy of a tradition which will transform and grow, in parallel but not in slavish imitation of the progenitive culture, evolving in an exponential amount of combinations and permutations.
Arguably, both the Greek community in Australia, and our English-speaking fellow citizens have spent the greater part of the past one hundred years, in an Antipodean relationship with our progenitive cultures. Evidently, the appellations by which we are defined and which we use to define ourselves, inform the manner in which we view ourselves to a significant degree. Without disregarding the importance of the ties that bind us to those traditions, as antichthones, ie those peoples who inhabit regions on opposite sides of the Earth, (but only to our compatriots in the original homeland) it is high time we emancipated ourselves from our antipodean mindset and embrace our status as vibrant Antioecoi, able to articulate our own socio-cultural heritage and perspective, in reference to our own shared experience, defining our identity based on our consciousness of our own developed history, rather than upon the perception of those we love, but have left behind.
“So, when all is considered, what are you,?” the newly arrived Greek friend asked. “What is your πατρίδα;

It was at that moment that I finally came to question, Crato’s the concept of the Antioecoi. For whether opposite, around, under or in the periphery, we do not exist in relation to those we left behind, but in relation to ourselves. They and their legacy, conversely, only exist in relation to us. In this context, the orientation of our homeland to the motherland is completely irrelevant. In a viable, self-contained culture, those of the motherland are our Antioecoi, not the other way around.
“I am γηγενής, born of this particular patch of Earth,” I eventually responded. “My ancestral homeland is the City of Moonee Valley.” I went on to relate the history of the Greeks of the municipality, touch on its most famous resident, Dame Edna Everage.
“Ahhh,” came a sigh of understanding. “I get you.”


First published in NKEE on 21 September 2019