Saturday, October 26, 2019


My earliest memory of the broader Greek community in Melbourne involves being taken to an open air theatre as a young child, to watch a production of Euripides’ Medea. The scene where Medea stands over the corpses of the offspring she has just murdered, is indelibly etched into my memory, as is my mother’s comment to my father as we drove home, I, in stunned silence: “Greece is a Medea that destroys her children.’

Greek theatre in Australia is one of our most enduring community institutions. It has maintained a continuous presence among successive generations within the Greek communities of this continent for over one hundred years. During that time, Greek community organisations and personalities have come and gone but for some reason, Greek theatre as a form of entertainment has survived right up until the present day. Compared with comparable theatre-going rates among the broader Australian population, a disproportionally large percentage of Greeks within the Greek community still patronise the ‘Greek’ theatre, speaking not only to the vitality and relevance of theatre as a community institution, but also to the manner it is, as a form of expression and communication, deeply ingrained within the culture of the Greek people, wherever they reside.

Coupled with the above, there has emerged, over the years, an entirely new type of Greek-Australian thespian, one which draws inspiration from, or responds to, issues of identity, acculturation or perceptions of ethnicity as these are articulated and/or imposed both by the community and the broader mainstream, creating works primarily in English and postulating new perspectives of self-awareness. To what extent, for example, can the Wogs Out of Work phenomenon be considered Greek? How relevant is its assertion of a post-migrant identity that cuts across ethnic boundaries today? Indeed, it what way can Anglophone actors and writers of Greek origin within the mainstream, be considered Greek? How does their hybridity impact upon the way we define ourselves and the communities we create and maintain?
These are the complex phenomena that are examined in actor, educator and academic Dr Eleni Tsefala’s magisterial history of Greek-Australian theatre, “One Hundred Years of Greek Theatre in Australia,” recently launched in various centres of Greek culture in Australia, including Melbourne. Dr Tsefala, though resident in Greece, is no stranger to diasporan communities of the Anglosphere, having been born in Canada and having spent three years teaching and researching her chosen topic in Australia. Like others before her who have attempted to write histories of sundry facets of the diasporan experience, Dr Tsefala could have restricted herself to a simple narration of historical facts and the dry and artless listing of authors, productions, actors and production companies in chronological order, with no attempt to analyse those productions or the socio-economic factors that gave rise to their creation, nor indeed to evaluate the evolution of such works over the century focused upon by her study and to draw the appropriate conclusions as to the place of Greek-Australian theatre within the broader Greek and Australian cultural framework. Instead, in a breathtakingly complex and ambitious work, Dr Tsefala achieves what few historians of Greek-Australia dare even attempt: a cross-disciplinary examination of this aspect of Greek-Australian history via various theoretical frameworks, anthropological, sociological and theatrical. What emerges is thus far more than just a narrative about migrant players strutting their stuff upon a stage. Through Dr Tsefala’s exhaustive study, we are treated instead, to a sophisticated social history of our community, one that tracks the manner in which it has evolved, tracing and sometimes critiquing its own self-perceptions, narratives, values, as well as those imposed upon it by the dominant cultural group, and most importantly, the conflicts of those caught between the two sets of values and significantly, languages.

For it is in her understanding of the composite bilingual nature of the Greek-Australian hypostasis that underlies and validates Dr Tsefala’s deep appreciation of the Australian diasporic theatrical tradition. Her thorough analysis extends past a discussion of Greek-language theatre and the conditions that engendered it, such as racism, fear of assimilation, the White Australia Policy and in later years, social, class and political activism whereby theatre was seen not only as a means of education and entertainment but also, of propagating change, to a generation that slips between Greek and English registers, sometimes importing Greek into its English in order to impart an exotic ‘gloss,’ thus responding to expectations of stereotype held by the dominant cultural group, other times, employing exactly the same terms or appropriating others, such as “wog” in order to undermine their paradigms of cultural and political sovereignty. It is Dr Tsefala’s contention that this linguistic and cultural dialectic has achieved some type of resolution in our own time, in that there is a tacit acceptance of each other’s ontology, a conclusion based on painstaking research and intricate analysis. It is definitely a conclusion that bears further discussion, especially given that in the ten or so years after her study concludes, the arrival of Greek Crisis migrants has altered the theatrical scene in ways that we are yet to fully comprehend.

Dr Tsefala’s conclusions with regard to linguistic diversity, our bilingual reality and our social position all derive from her close scrutiny of the texts and the values and messages they encode within them. Rather than merely just list the works the subject of her history, she actively engages in literary criticism and deconstructs them. She interrogates the assumptions embedded within them and explores how the language employed by the author disseminates or perpetuates these. Further, with regard to more contemporary works, Dr Tsefala engages with the writers of those works through interviews, from which she is able to glean their motivation, their understanding of their own mission and the manner in which they articulate their message. She reveals for example, how “Wogs Out of Work,” by far the most famous and influential Greek-Australian theatrical phenomenon, with regard to the mainstream, arose out of its protagonists not being able to obtain ‘mainstream’ work owing to their looks and ethnic origins. What also emerges is that despite its pervasiveness, the identity constructs it sought to propagate were ultimately superseded, nor was it able to break down social barriers to any appreciable extent. Those of its successors that exist, purvey a form of inverse orientalism. Further, it appears to have not impacted upon Greek language theatre in any way. In other interviews, we note how Greek literary motifs, (rather than aspects of Greek-Australian life), drawn from the broader western Classical Tradition, are re-packaged as Greek and employed within English language works directed towards the mainstream. Dr Tsefala’s ability to discern the two separate linguistic streams that comprise Greek-Australian theatre, to identify where they diverge thematically and where they once more converge and apply a sociological framework to their evaluation that is truly awe-inspiring.

“One Hundred Years of Greek Theatre in Australia,” a truly multifaceted work, is a significant contribution to the historiography of the Greek-Australian community. Simultaneously penetrating and all-encompassing, it is, in its scope and method of delivery, a work of art in its own right. Dr Tsefala’s study cries out for translation into the English language, for that history forms an intrinsic part of the socio-cultural history and identity of broader multicultural Australia, a narrative that, owing to language and focus, our community is largely written out of. Furthermore, as it constitutes an ark that preserves and highlights the vast corpus of Greek-Australian theatrical works, its translation into English will grant future generations with no facility in the Greek language, access to those works, the keys with which to appraise them and the ability to draw upon them for inspiration in their own theatrical endeavours. For this alone, Dr Tsefala deserves our heartfelt thanks. As for the legacy of her seminal work, in the words of Medea, “Not yet do you feel it. Wait for the future.”

First published in NKEE on Saturday, 26 October 2019

Saturday, October 19, 2019


I remember my last homecoming from Greece. Seated on the aeroplane next to an irate elderly gentleman, by way of introduction, he exclaimed:

-Άχρηστοι αυτοί οι Έλληνες. Τελείως άχρηστοι. Όταν έρχονται εδώ (the meaning of the word “here” defying geographical definition as although we were still flying over the Aegeanhe was referring to the environs of Port Phillip Bay) τους μπαμπακίζουμε, τους δίνουμε ξηρά καρπιά και όταν πάμε εκεί, μας ρωτάνε: «Ήρθες; Πότε φεύγεις;».
- Τι να κάνουμε Έρμιππε, I sighed.
- Γιάννη με λένε, the elderly gentleman corrected me. He then launched into a detailed discussion as to how his fellow villages made fun of his garish, as they termed it, taste in shirts and how much he missed discussing the footy. In the village in which he was born, no one was able to understand his humanity. As much as he identified with his birthplace, he felt that he was no longer counted as a part of it by his peers.

Hellenism as diasporan discourse is founded on the division between the ‘authentically’ Greek and its opposite, the degrees of unhellenisation comprising assimilation which haunts the paradigm like a spectre. This process is the subject of one of Constantine Cavafy’s most profound poems: “Going Back Home from Greece”. Much like my own experience of two Greek-Australians returning home in an aeroplane plane, Cavafy casts two Greco-Syrian philosophers returning to Syria after a jaunt in the motherland. Their dialogue takes place in a boat, half way between Greece and Syria, between the cultural metropolis and the periphery, a powerful metaphor for a no-mans land in which an identity discourse can take place.  An unnamed philosopher thus addresses his friend Hermippos:

Well, we’re nearly there, Hermippos.
Day after tomorrow, it seems—that’s what the captain said.
At least we’re sailing our seas,
the waters of Cyprus, Syria, and Egypt,
the beloved waters of our home countries.
Why so silent? Ask your heart:
didn’t you too feel happier
the farther we got from Greece?
What’s the point of fooling ourselves?
That would hardly be properly Greek.
It’s time we admitted the truth:
we are Greeks also—what else are we?—
but with Asiatic affections and feelings,
affections and feelings
sometimes alien to Hellenism.
It isn’t right, Hermippos, for us philosophers
to be like some of our petty kinglets
(remember how we laughed at them
when they used to come to our lectures?)
who through their showy Hellenified exteriors,
Macedonian exteriors (naturally),
let a bit of Arabia peep out now and then,
a bit of Media they can’t keep back.
And to what laughable lengths the fools went
trying to cover it up!
No, that’s not at all right for us.
For Greeks like us that kind of pettiness won’t do.
We must not be ashamed
of the Syrian and Egyptian blood in our veins;
we should really honour it, take pride in it.”

The diasporan Cavafy, unlike modern neo-Greeks who whoop enthusiastically at the prospect of holidaying in Santorini and wearing the latest designer swimwear, implies the relief felt by many diasporans seeking to negotiate their identity while in the motherland, at the point of leaving it. In the poem, despite reference to it as a geographical and  cultural focal point, the land of Greece remains aloof, impenetrable, unintelligible, and unable to absorb them. Nonetheless, as a result of her undefinable attributes, Greece personifies the discourse by which the two travellers can be defined as “Hellenic,” and also excluded as “non-Hellenic” on the basis of their own inauthenticity.

To express relief that one’s travel to Greece has concluded because they do not belong there, constitutes a dynamic re-appraisal of what it is to be Greek.  It is evident that the philosophers, like the Hellenistic (ie. Greek-like but not authentically Greek per se) monarchs  they mock, have had their foreign behaviour, accents or dress sense pointed out to them, much as a beloved cousin in my village pointed out to me in the nineties that I should refrain from wearing corduroy pants, not because they constitute a crime against fashion, but rather because they mark me as a foreigner. The two Greek philosophers, arbiters of Hellenism in their home country, gleefully poke fun at the hysterical ontopathology of the rulers emulating Macedonian ways, all the while trembling lest signs of their inauthenticity, an Arabian or Median expression or attitude, extrude from their carefully cultivated Hellenised exterior,  yet are evidently hurt when the same treatment is meted out to them and they are marked as the “Other,” by “higher” arbiters of the standard.

The philosopher’s reaction, however, in contrast to the shame and embarrassment of the Hellenistic kings, which tacitly reinforces Greece as the epicentre of the Hellenic discourse, is an aggressive one.  He initiates a process of re-evaluating and re-determining his identity that is complemented by a contemporaneous process of re-asserting his own definition of Hellenism in contra-distinction to its metropolitan articulation. For him, it is axiomatic that: “We are Greeks,” regardless of the fact we may be possessed of “Asiatic affections and feelings,…sometimes alien to Hellenism” or that we may have “Syrian and Egyptian blood in their veins.” Rather than be ashamed of such non-Greek admixtures, the philosopher asserts that this should form a subject of pride. Ostensibly, he is telling us to accept ourselves in the form and manner in which we abide.

Of course the irony in this particular assertion of “Hellenism” is that it is fraught with tension and contradiction. Presumably, admitting that one’s attitudes, interests and bloodline is not Greek gives one the right to identify with that particular ethno-cultural world, or at least to admit a syncretic, composite identity, comprised of the sum of its parts. Yet it no way is the philosopher attempting to engage in such a mirror-image process. He is not resiling in any way from his assertion that he is Greek. Nor is he providing any rational or consistent criteria for his own definition of Hellenism. There is no argument here that racial background does not preclude one from Greekness, although education and culture (he is after all that most Hellenic of beings, a philosopher) may. Nor is there any analysis of the unique forms of Hellenism developed on the periphery of the Greek world. The reader gets the feeling that the philosopher is making it up as he goes along, re-applying, re-arranging and re-locating the disparate elements of his own life,  in order to circumvent or override his exclusion from the tribe. As much as his assertion of his hybridity as a form of Hellenism is revolutionary, it is also reactive, in that it cannot stand up on its own feet, nor does it have a discernible geographical location. It is unable to have as its point of reference, anything but the metropolis he seeks to reject, and its denial of his own ethnic purity. Thus, the philosopher expresses the desire not to act in a non “properly Greek” manner. The word used in the original, ἑλληνοπρεπές, denotes a form of conduct that is “Greek-like” but possibly not truly Greek. Thus the term associates but also retains a distinction between the Greek and the other, reinforcing the central tension undermining the philosophers own attempt at cultural emancipation.

Try as he might, the philosopher remains unable to negotiate a distinct or alternate form of Hellenism, in contrast to that of the mainstream. He does not for example, display an insight into the act of exclusion by the metropolis as being symptomatic of a perceived threat to their own form of Hellenism by Hellenes of the periphery. Instead, the form of “Hellenism” articulated by him is nothing but a construct erected at the expense of the ontopathology of the Hellenistic kinglets, his pupils who in turn are considered as barbarous. Herein lies further irony: what is the use of the philosopher and the Greek education he purveys, indeed of Hellenism in the East and by extension the diaspora, if, for all his efforts, by both his own standard and that of the motherland, his pupils cannot be considered to by Greek? In his act of identity emancipation he negates his very self.

Cavafy’s provocative poem offers no solution to the quandary of the authenticity, existence or perpetuation of the Greek identity in the diaspora, or the reception of its particular culture by the ancestral homeland. It does however, highlight its fundamental tensions and as such deserves to be closely considered by diasporan purveyors of Hellenism and all of those who seek purchase into the Hellenic paradigm. As the elderly man, sighed, while lamenting the demise of Olympic Airways as denying him the opportunity to enjoy a high-altitude smoke:
«Έλληνας γεννιέσαι, δεν γίνεσαι, αλλά καμιά φορά παραγίνεσαι.» I raised a Cavafian eyebrow in enigmatic riposte.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 19 October 2019

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Ελληνομάθεια και Coburg West

Η είδηση ότι το ελληνικό πρόγραμμα του δημόσιου σχολείου Coburg West μέλλει να καταργηθεί, δικαίως έχει θορυβήσει την παροικία μας. Κι αυτό επειδή είναι αισθητή η πεποίθηση εντός της παροικίας, ότι θεσμικά και εκπαιδευτικά, διανύουμε μία εποχή παρακμής. Πολλές από τις παραδοσιακές μας οργανώσεις φθείρονται και υπολειτουργούν, τα προγράμματα νεοελληνικών σπουδών, για την ίδρυση των οποίων συσπειρώθηκε ολόκληρη η παροικία στον καιρό της ακμής της, έχουν καταργηθεί από τα περισσότερα ιδρύματα τριτοβάθμιας εκπαίδευσης της πόλης μας, ενώ εκείνο που παραμένει μάχεται με νύχια και δόντια να κρατηθεί, οι συμμετοχές στα νεοελληνικά προγράμματα του VCE και της δευτεροβάθμιας εκπαίδευσης συνεχώς μειώνονται, ενώ, (το σπουδαιότερο), παρόλων των πολυσύνθετων προσπάθειών μας όσον αφορά την ελληνομάθεια και τους θεσμούς που δημιουργήσαμε, εκπαιδεύουμε αυτή τη στιγμή μία γενιά νέων που ως επί το πλείστον δεν έχει ευχέρεια στην ομιλία της ελληνικής γλώσσας.
Κατά αυτόν τον τρόπο, η επικείμενη διακοπή της λειτουργίας του νεοελληνικού προγράμματος στο Coburg West, αποτελεί βαρόμετρο της υγείας της ίδιας μας της παροικίας. Κάθε συρρίκνωση, κάθε κατάργηση προνομιών από την άρχουσα τάξη μας προκαλεί ρίγος, διότι υποσυνείδητα την αντιλαμβανόμαστε ως σύμπτωμα απώλειας του κύρους μας απέναντι στο κυρίαρχο πολιτιστικό στοιχείο, εκείνο που, κατά την αντίληψή μας, μας προσδίδει την υπόσταση μας ως μεταναστευτική ομάδα. Όταν μας κλείνουν τα προγράμματα που οι ίδιοι μας δημιούργησαν (είτε κατά συνέπεια «παροικιακών αγώνων» είτε από πολιτική σκοπιμότητα), διαισθανόμαστε ότι δεν μετράμε γι’αυτούς πλέον ως οντότητα, ότι άλλες εθνικότητες παίρνουν τα προνόμια και τη θέση μας στην εκτίμηση τους, και ότι η παροικιακή μας αφήγηση, που θέλει να μας έχει υπόδειγμα μεταναστευτικής ομάδας, ευνοούμενη από την άρχουσα τάξη, υπονομεύεται θανάσιμα.
Επικαλούμαστε το επιχείρημα ότι προγράμματα ελληνομάθειας όπως αυτό του Coburg West, αποτελούν θεσμοί εφόσον σημειώνουν λειτουργία άνω των τριών δεκαετιών, παραβλέποντας το γεγονός ότι οι δημογραφικές, γλωσσικές και πολιτικές πραγματικότητες και πολιτικές, τόσο της Αυστραλίας, όσο και της ιδιαίτερης μας παροικίας, εξελίσσονται και μεταβάλλονται συνεχώς. Θεωρούμε, (διότι έτσι μας ώθησαν να πιστεύουμε, οι της άρχουσας τάξης στον καιρό της ακμής μας και οι παροικιακοί τους αρωγοί και ιδεολόγοι) ότι σε μια πολυπολιτισμική χώρα, η εκπαίδευση στη μητρική μας γλώσσα αποτελεί δικαίωμα και κρατική προτεραιότητα, παραβλέποντας τις απαιτήσεις και αξιώσεις των τριακοσίων άλλων αλλόγλωσσων ομάδων που κατοικούν στην Αυστραλία, και την μεταστροφή στην μονογλωσσία που σταδιακά επιβάλλεται από διαδοχικές πολιτειακές κυβέρνησεις από τη δεκαετία του 90. Αρνιούμαστε λοιπόν να δεχθούμε ότι τίποτε δεν παραμένει αμετάβλητο και συνεπώς δεν έχουμε διανοηθεί να καταστρώσουμε ποτέ σαν παροικία, σχέδιο αντιμετώπισης μελλοντικών μεταλλαγών στις πολιτικές του κυρίαρχου στοιχείου απέναντί μας, που κατά τη γνώμη μας, είναι επιβλαβείς.
Το συμπέρασμα που βγαίνει από αυτή τη διαπίστωση είναι απλή. Τα παροικιακά μας συμφέροντα και αυτά της άρχουσας τάξης δεν συμβαδίζουν πάντοτε και στην περίπτωση αυτή αποκλίνουν σφόδρα. Για τους περισσότερους συμπάροικους της πρώτης γενιάς, η ελληνομάθεια θεωρείται ζωτικής σημασίας. Είναι ένα από τα σημαντικότερα στοιχεία που θα εξασφαλίσει την μελλοντική μας υπόσταση. Παραβλέποντας προσωρινά το γεγονός ότι αυτή την άποψη δεν τη συμμερίζεται ολόκληρη η δεύτερη και τρίτη γενιά η οποία προβάλει μια ιδεολογία της ελληνικής ταυτότητος που δεν έχει την ελληνομάθεια ως επίκεντρό της, η άποψη αυτή σίγουρα δεν ισχύει και για τους παρέχοντες των κρατικών μας προγραμμάτων, για τους οποίος η υπόθεση αφορά μόνον την παροχή προνομιών ώστε να εξασφαλίσουν κάποια κοινωνική συνοχή και συγκατάθεση εκ μέρους της δικής μας εθνοτικής ομάδας στην κυριαρχία τους. Αν και μας λυπεί αφάνταστα η επικείμενη κατάργηση του ελληνικού προγράμματος του Coburg West, θα πρέπει να παραδεχθούμε ότι η πεποίθηση ότι η άρχουσα τάξη της κυρίαρχης πολιτιστικής ομάδας είναι αξιόπιστος, αλλά και κατάλληλος φορέας για την εξασφάλιση της γλωσσικής μας συνέχειας έχει πλέον χρεοκοπήσει. Αντιθέτως ο κατάλληλος φορέας δεν είναι άλλος από την ίδια την παροικία μας.
Όταν η παροικία μας η ίδια και όχι το κράτος ελέγχει την ελληνομάθεια και διατηρεί τις κατάλληλες δομές για τον διαιωνισμό της, δεν υπάρχει κίνδυνος να καταργηθούν ελληνικά προγράμματα από εξωγενείς παράγοντες. Σε αυτή την περίπτωση προφυλασσόμεθα από τις μεταλλασσόμενες πολιτικές της άρχουσας τάξης, της οποίας δεν της πέφτει άλλο λόγος στον τρόπο που χειριζόμαστε αυτό το τόσο σπουδαίο θέμα και απαλλασσόμεθα από τον κίνδυνο η ίδια να αποστασιοποιηθεί από τις ανάγκες και τις προσδοκίες μας, όπως έχει συμβεί πολλαπλές φορές στο πρόσφατο παρελθόν, και να μας παρατήσει σύξυλους. Σε αυτό συνεπάγεται και η δυνατότητα εμείς οι ίδιοι να αναλάβουμε τις ευθύνες μας και να σταθούμε στα πόδια μας, αποτασσόμενοι την κακιά συνήθεια να γινόμαστε ικέτες και να θεωρούμε την «ελεημοσύνη», που μας παρέχουν οι κυρίαρχοι ως συστατικό στοιχείο της οντολογικής μας αξίας.
Ωστόσο, αν και οι περισσότερες δομές ελληνομάθειας ελέγχονται από την ίδια την παροικία (και γι’ αυτό άλλωστε η άδικη απώλεια του προγράμματος στο Coburg West, είναι περισσότερο συμβολικής σημασίας) στο χώρο αυτό οι διάφοροι φορείς που δραστηριοποιούνται, κερδοσκοπικοί και μη, λειτουργούν αυτόνομα, χωρίς στενή συνεννόηση και συντονισμό, όσον αφορά τη διδακτέα ύλη, αλλά και των αξιών που πληροφορούν και υπογραμμίζουν την όλη προσπάθεια τους.
Επιπλέον, στην εμμονή μας να υπολογίζουμε τόσο τους θεσμούς που μας παρέχει η άρχουσα τάξη, όσο και αυτούς που έχουμε δημιουργήσει οι ίδιοι ως τεκμήριο «επιτυχίας», δεν έχουμε προβεί ποτέ σε αξιολόγηση των θεσμών αυτών. Κάνουν σωστά τη δουλειά τους; Είναι αποδοτικοί; Διότι αυτό είναι το πραγματικό κριτήριο της εκπαιδευτικής μας επιτυχίας και όχι τα πόσα σχολεία διατηρούμε ή χρηματοδοτούμε. Δεν έχουμε αναρωτηθεί συστηματικά, τι ακριβώς προσδοκούμε από τα πρόγραμμα ελληνομάθειας που παρέχουμε. Ποιος ο απώτερος στόχος τους; Να χορεύουν τα παιδιά μας ελληνικούς χορούς, να γνωρίζουν να λένε «I love you pappou,» να νιώθουν συγκίνηση όταν τρώνε σουβλάκι ή επισκέπτονται τη Μύκονο, ή να δημιουργηθεί μια γενιά βιώσιμα δίγλωσση, η οποία θα μπορεί να χρησιμοποιεί την ελληνική γλώσσα στις όποιες παροικιακές της συναναστροφές καθώς και ως κύριο μέσον επικοινωνίας με τον ελλαδικό χώρο;
Τη στιγμή που τα ελληνικά σχολεία της παροικίας και τα ελάχιστα κρατικά προγράμματα που παραμένουν, ως επί το πλείστον αδυνατούν να παράγουν μαθητές με ευχέρεια στην ελληνική γλώσσα, δεν αποτελεί προτεραιότητα η ανάλυση των λόγων αυτής της τεράστιας δομικής και θεσμικής αποτυχίας, σε όλες τις ψυχολογικές, γλωσσολογικές και πολιτικές της διαστάσεις και η αναζήτηση μεθόδων και τρόπων επιβράδυνσης ή και αντιστροφής αυτού του φαινομένου; Έπειτα, τίθενται άλλα ευρύτερα ερωτήματα: Ποια η θέση της ελληνικής γλώσσας, και μιας τέτοιας γενιάς στο πλαίσιο μιας παροικίας οι θεσμοί και οι δραστηριότητες της οποίας επικεντρώνονται γύρω από την τοπική καταγωγή των προγόνων αυτών, χωρίς να παρέχει ούτε συνεπές όραμα, αλλά ούτε και θέσεις σε παιδιά στους θεσμούς της, και όπου η συνεννόηση πλέον με τα παιδιά αυτά γίνεται σχεδόν πάντοτε στην αγγλική; Είναι βιώσιμα τα προγράμματα ελληνομάθειας στην τωρινή τους μορφή, οποίος και να τα ελέγχει, τη στιγμή όπου υπάρχει καθολική αποδοχή του γεγονότος ότι η συντριπτική πλειοψηφία των παιδιών που μετέχουν στα προγράμματα αυτά δεν είναι λειτουργικά ελληνόφωνα και όπου οι ελληνόφωνοι συνδιαλέγονται με αυτούς στα αγγλικά;
Μήπως τελικά η δυσφορία μας για την απώλεια των Ελληνικών από τα δημόσια σχολεία και συγκεκριμένα από το Coburg West σχετίζεται με τις έμφυτες Καβαφο-Ποσειδωνειακές μας τάσεις: «τα παλαιά [μας]] έθιμα να διηγούμεθα,/και τα ελληνικά ονόματα να ξαναλέ[μ]ε,/που μόλις πια τα καταλα[βαίνουμε] ολίγοι» τρέμοντας με τη σκέψη «πώς εξέπεσα[με]] πώς έγιν[ε], να ζού[με] και να ομιλού[με] βαρβαρικά/βγαλμένοι — ω συμφορά! — απ’ τον Ελληνισμό»; , όπου θρηνούμε αυτά που χάνουμε, χωρίς να έχουμε διαπιστώσει ότι το χάσαμε προ καιρού, χωρίς αυτά να σχετίζονται πλέον με την άμεση πραγματικότητα, και χωρίς να προβούμε σε κανέναν αποτελεσματικό αγώνα για τη διατήρηση τους;
Επικροτώντας την ευαισθησία όλων όσων μάχονται στον άνισο αγώνα ώστε να μην καταργηθεί το ελληνικό πρόγραμμα του Coburg West και για την παροικακή ελληνομάθεια γενικότερα, ας αναλογιστούμε τους στίχους άλλου «Γουέστ» του 1935 και από εκεί να αντλήσουμε τα ανάλογα για τον σκοπό μας, μηνύματα: «Και τους φάγαν τα σφουγγάρια, /τους τυλίξανε στα ζάρια/ Βρε παίζαν με γιομάτο ζάρι /και δεν παίρνανε χαμπάρι».
Κωνσταντίνος Καλυμνιός. NEOΣ ΚΟΣΜΟΣ 17 Οκτωβρίου 2019

Saturday, October 12, 2019


“Somewhere in America… backbone of the continent, removed from succeeding, selfish, coveting civilisations and out of the path of greed, an acre or two of stone should bear witness, carrying likeness, a few precious words pressed together, an appraisal of our civilisation, telling of the things we tried to do, cut so high, near the stars, it wouldn’t pay to pull them down for lesser purposes.”
Thus mused Gutzon Borglum, the American sculptor who went on to deface the Lakota Sioux Indian sacred site of Mount Rushmore, with the iconic likenesses of four American presidents. For him, the gargantuan profiles represented the quintessence of American civilisation. Perched upon the lofty mountain peaks, far removed from the corruptive and corrosive influences of daily life, they were to remain, for evermore, an imperative, set in stone, for subsequent Americans to follow.
Borglum was interested in the fine line trod between people of the modern age between the sublime and barbarism. One of his early sculptural works was the “Mares of Diomedes,” the man-eating and uncontrollable horses belonging to the king of the Thracian Bistones, Diomedes. The demi-god Heracles left his favoured companion, Abderus, in charge of them while he fought Diomedes, and found out that the boy had been devoured by the ravenous steeds .In revenge, Heracles fed Diomedes to his own horses, then founded the city of Abdera next to the boy's tomb, perhaps highlighting just how prone to devour itself humanity is, without the intervention of the divine. It is probably for this reason that in 1918, he was one of the drafters of the Czechoslovak Declaration of Independence.
Yet Borglum, in pursuing his Moses’ like interests upon the holy mountains of the Sioux, was inspired by other characters of antiquity. In 1934, a cartoonist for the Washington Herald, Malone, portrayed him as a man-mountain, massive, elemental and monumental and quoted him as saying of the Mount Rushmore memorial: “Alexander the Great wanted to convert the Olympian mountains into sculpture. Michael Angelo wished to carve colossal figures on Carrara Mountains – America alone is achieving in a National Memorial, the dreams of these great men.”

Though he got most of the facts wrong, it appears that in seeking to create the Mount Rushmore Memorial, Borglum was inspired by a story about Alexander the Great which appears in the work of Roman architect Vitruvius, “De architectura.” According to Vitruvius, it was not, as Borglum maintained, Alexander’s desire to carve out the “Olympian mountains.” Instead, another mountain which would become holy centuries later for a completely different set of reasons, was marked for development and by someone just as ambitious as Borglum.
Enter Dinocrates the architect of Rhodes, who upon learning of Alexander’s victories, thought it expedient to seek his patronage. As Vitruvius relates: “relying on the powers of his skill and ingenuity, whilst Alexander was in the midst of his conquests, [he] set out from Macedonia to the army, desirous of gaining the commendation of his sovereign. That his introduction to the royal presence might be facilitated, he obtained letters from his countrymen and relations to men of the first rank and nobility about the king's person; by whom being kindly received, he besought them to take the earliest opportunity of accomplishing his wish.”
For reasons unknown, the age old Greek system of μέσον failed Dinocrates. Try as he might, he could not obtain an audience with the mighty potentate through the usual channels. As a result, he decided to take matters into his own hands. Vitruvius takes up the story: “a man of tall stature, pleasing countenance, and altogether of dignified appearance. Trusting to the gifts with which nature had thus endowed him, he put off his ordinary clothing, and having anointed himself with oil, crowned his head with a wreath of poplar, slung a lion's skin across his left shoulder, and carrying a large club in his right hand, he sallied forth to the royal tribunal, at a period when the king was dispensing justice.  The novelty of his appearance excited the attention of the people; and Alexander soon discovering, with astonishment, the object of their curiosity, ordered the crowd to make way for him, and demanded to know who he was.”
In short, Dinocrates, oiled up or otherwise, was a hottie and a man of action, two things that were bound to capture the attention of Alexander. Borglum, on the other hand, though no painting, (ironic, considering that he had begun his career as a painter) oil or otherwise, was just as intrepid, stating: “a man should do everything…. Boxing fencing, horse-back riding…turn handsprings.”
Dinocrates, like Borglum, was there to convince Alexander that he could do everything. After observing completely dispassionately the way the oil glistened on his muscular torso, the Macedonian king asked Dinocrates who he was: A Macedonian architect," replied Dinocrates, "who suggests schemes and designs worthy your royal renown. I propose to form Mount Athos into the statue of a man [ie. of Alexander himself] holding a spacious city in his left hand, and in his right a huge cup, into which shall be collected all the streams of the mountain, which shall then be poured into the sea." Not only would this be a Hellenic Rushmore, but an actual polis. Had it have been built then quite possibly we would be concerning ourselves with Russian penetration of the statues’ orifices, rather than Russian penetration of the monasteries that exist upon Mount Athos, the mountain holy to Orthodoxy, in the present day.
Alexander the Great quite liked the idea of being immortalised in such a gargantuan fashion in stone. However, his megalomania had a practical edge to it and he began to pepper the plucky Dimocrates with logistical questions, such  as: “Was soil of the neighbourhood…of a quality capable of yielding sufficient produce for such a state?” Not one to be flummoxed by the mundane, Dinocrates, in the manner of a property developer extolling the health giving benefits of the local swamp, admitted that no, given that the city would be carved into a mountain, there was no soil, but fear not, supplies could be brought in by sea.
Impressed by his ingenuity and his desire to harness the domination of nature to the domination of the ruler of men, Alexander gently declined to enter into the real estate deal of a lifetime, not wanting posterity to think him a fierce warrior but a property dupe. Quoth he: “I admire the grand outline of your scheme, and am well pleased with it: but I am of opinion he would be much to blame who planted a colony on such a spot. For as an infant is nourished by the milk of its mother, depending thereon for its progress to maturity, so a city depends on the fertility of the country surrounding it for its riches, its strength in population, and not less for its defence against an enemy. Though your plan might be carried into execution, yet I think it impolitic.”
Nonetheless, it appears that to be deprived of the shimmering undulations of Dinocrates’ physique was more than Alexander could bear.  “I … request your attendance on me, that I may otherwise avail myself of your ingenuity," he commanded him, and Dinocrates went on to design the funerary monument to Alexander's general Hephaestion in Babylon, which was built in imitation of a Babylonian temple, six stories tall and entirely gilded, as well as being involved in the reconstruction of the Temple of Artemis, at Ephesus, after its destruction by Herostratus by arson, the night that Alexander the Great was born. Most famously however, failing to convince Alexander to build a city in the clouds, Dinocrates is said to have gone on to act as director of the surveying and urban-planning work for the city of Alexandria, in Egypt, possibly Alexander’s greatest tangible legacy.
It may not be, as Badger Clark eulogized at Gutzon Borglum’s funeral in 1941, that: -“he did not dies, this artist, engineer and dreamer. He will live longer than the monument he created. Coming generations, five thousand years hence, will not ask who the characters on the mountain are, but who carved them?” However, following in the footsteps of Dinocrates, he was to explode the doubts of Alexander off a cliff face, setting in stone, a political manifesto of an entire people. Dinocrates, the sweat of sultry Alexandria streaming of his spare tyre in his declining years, would have nodded in appreciation, as the redoubtable Borglum, pounded at the rock with his jackhammer, compelling it to yield, in the guise of Abraham Lincoln’s beard hairs.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 12 October 2019