Saturday, February 27, 2021


One can do naught else but praise Social Media god Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan for posting a selfie from the Acropolis a few years ago, which they visited as part of their wedding anniversary celebrations. At that time, the deity of online voyeurism gushed: “Celebrating 7 years of happy marriage at the temple for the goddess of wisdom.” Presumably he meant the Parthenon and not the home of Anna Giannopoulou-Daskalaki, whose manifesto “My Greek Drama,” has absolutely no resemblance either in style of content, to Mein Kampf, even as we defer to her superior intellect in all things pertaining to Hellenic modernity. 

Here in the Antipodes, which has its own sacred rock with ancillary immortals sharing only a passing acquaintance with helmeted, souvla carrying Athena, not much wisdom is received from the Sacred Rock of the Acropolis. Instead, we tend to receive our intellectual sustenance through Neos Kosmos newspaper. Whereas one group of devotees will argue that the holy spirit of Neos Kosmos emanates directly from its print manifestation, others will decry this as a heresy, strenuously maintaining that the said spirit proceeds from the online version, without additions of any kind. Another schismatic group headed by the unspeakably charismatic Fotis Kapetopoulos, who has gained an immense amount of converts, espouses as its creed that the spirit of Neos Kosmos proceeds from its online hypostasis, through Facebook and is co-eternal with both, variously emphasizing or ignoring the hypostatic properties of each Neos Kosmos journalist, all the while re-affirming that through the spirit of Neos Kosmos, mediated by Facebook, whom they term after the apokatastasis of the Hard Drive, the Parakeet, (because the Paraclete domain name was already taken), they all share a single divine substance, quality and power. In this way, Neos Kosmos is justly said to abide in the Mediator Facebook in a special manner, for within said social media platform, it abides of grace for that particular object, but in itself, Neos Kosmos abides substantially for all ends. The orthodox equivalent of a theologoumenon, this particular fact is known as a Neokosmoumenon among seasoned veterans. 

When not engaged in fervent Facebook online debates with devout pagans as to whether modern Orthodox Christians share a blood guilt for the murder of the Alexandrian philosopher Hypatia millennia ago, or disputing whether Agia Sophia is a more perfect building than the Parthenon, arguments which are inevitably buttressed with copy paste slabs of text from Wikipedia, or among the more honest and indolent, a posting of an entire website, I am wont to muse as to whether sacrificing to the ancient Babylonian god Marduk is tantamount to worshipping the modern media god Murdoch, at which time someone will inevitably direct me to the Neos Kosmos facebook page, whence I derive all of my news, in rolling coverage format.   

Not only is the news digest concise and uniquely Greek-Australian, therein can often be discovered breaking stories that do not exist anywhere else, especially with regards to the sexual proclivities and frequency of prophylactic use of our Helladic cousins. I greet them and the ensuing sinuous bilingual reader commentary, with the reverence and awe that is due the revelation that most of our kafeneio culture has especially in the lockdown age, become transubstantiated online, affirming that the media essence of Neos Kosmos  neither is begotten nor begets, but exists in and of itself through the efficacy of its word, even though it may share the outward characteristics of any other media publication. Put in simple theological terms, Neos Kosmos is divine. 


This should not be a surprise. After all, the mythical heroine Media, possessed of magical abilities, a mortal with divine ancestry, is the font of all modern media, social or otherwise, though the form of social distancing she practiced, murder and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by absconding on Helios’ dragon drawn chariot, is these days, considered rather extreme and yet another ominous harbinger of Global Warming. 


Acropolis adoring Mark Zuckerberg evidently knows that he must offer due homage and tribute to Media, for it is upon her dreaded social platform that he dominates the world. After dispatching her children with Jason, Media flew to Athens where she married Aegeus and attempted to poison Theseus, a potential rival in a hostile takeover. Thwarted in this and unable to overturn Athens’ inflexible media ownership laws, possessing as she did, one hundred percent of the shares in herself, she then ended up in Persia, her son Persus becoming the genarch of the Persian race and in consequence setting in train a course of events that would engender such Persian media celebrities as Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and Hassan Rouhani, all of whom are quite eager to grant Zuckerberg free distribution rights to their news sites.  


I could post some bug and cookie-filled Greek websites that take half an hour to load, lend themselves not at all to scrolling and feature pop up advertisements with such frequency that they should carry a health warning, on the manner in which Alexander the Great’s army brought the secret of media, social or otherwise back to Greece, which is why, by the way, Mark Zuckerberg should be paying Greece royalties, as should all other media magnates throughout the world, but I digress. Instead, I merely draw the reader’s attention to our august Prime Minister, Scott Howgoodisaustralia Morrison, who, ignoring Media’s provenance, her intensely vindictive nature and the fact that being a princess of Colchis, she is probably originally Georgian in origin (I won’t tell if you won’t), labours under the opinion that Mark Zuckerberg should pay for the distribution of media from Australian news sites. Consequently as of the 18th of February, Facebook users are effectively blocked from sharing Australian online news articles and I am no longer met with articles about the latest hotel quarantine measures accompanied by commentary calling for Dan to be placed in stocks and pelted with soggy manifestos from the 2019 Labor Conference, penned by hysterical Greek-Australian fitness instructors, whenever I consult my feed. 


Mysteriously, Neos Kosmos appears to be exempt from this blanket prohibition against Aussies. I am still, as I pen these words, reposting articles on my wall about the free online tuition in the Pontian dialect offered by Neos Kosmos stalwart Grigoris Sembelidis, even as I draft an email to Ivan Savvidis politely asking him to ask Putin to suggest to Zuckerberg to offer Pontian as a user interface.  Is this because Neos Kosmos is not considered to be part of the Aussie media? Is ethnic media considered to be so marginal to the rest of the Australian polity that it does not rate a mention or deserve consideration for exclusion from Mark Zuckerberg’s cyber realm? Or are there other darker nefarious deeds and purposes and play here? 

Absolutely not. For while our Prime Minister may not know it, Mark Zuckerberg certainly appreciates that our Prime Mover in the first instance of Neos Kosmos’ conception, by singular grace and privilege, in view of the merits of Media, informer and enlightener of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of unoriginal content sin and thus exists outside the world of corruption. Being an erudite fellow who has visited the Erectheion as well as the Parthenon, Mark Zuckerberg also understands the concept of hubris as pertains to all those mortals who have the effrontery to dishonour the gods. For not only is Neos Kosmos of one substance with Media, it is also consubstantial with the greatest news hound of all, the maker and conveyer of all things newsworthy, Hermes.  As a psychopomp and god who is able to easily cross boundaries in the dissemination of tidbits of tidings, it should be noted, by Facebook feudal lords and Prime Ministers alike that there is but a brief but uncomfortable, itchy distance separating the letter m in his name from the voiceless bilabial plosive P. 

On this historic and hallowed day, when the forces of international capital, media monopoly and sovereignty bow down to the might of our community and its mission to retain its sense of cohesion by keeping each other informed and propagating a truly authentic Greco-Antipodean discourse, let us give thanks to Neos Kosmos for vanquishing the dragon of counter-revolution and living up to its name, bringing about a brave New World.  


First published in NKEE on Saturday 27 February 2021

Saturday, February 20, 2021



Ν΄ ἀνάψωμεν μία φλόγα, σὲ ὅλην τὴν Τουρκιά,
Νὰ τρέξ΄ ἀπὸ τὴν Μπόσνα, καὶ ὡς τὴν Ἀραπιά.

“We will light a flame throughout the Turkish lands 

That will spread from Bosnia to Arabia.” 

Rhigas Pheraios. 


It is fair to say that the Serbians had a stake in the Greek Revolution and the Independence of Greece, even prior to 25 March 1821, with leaders of the Serbian people and key protagonists in, or veterans of the Serbian revolt, such as Serbian revolutionary leader Karadjordje, becoming sworn members of the Philike Etaireia.  

Indeed, when the Greek Revolution was proclaimed, not in Greece, but in Moldavia in February 1821, Prince Alexander Ypsilanti’s forces were comprised of mixed Greek and Serbian fighters. Some of these were known for their ferocity. Captain Milenko Stojković, was renowned for having killed the Ottoman notables Aganlija, Kucuk Alija, Mula Jusuf and Mehmed Focic, responsible for the killing of Serbian Princes that triggered the First Serbian Uprising, arrived in Moldavia with his band of Serbian fighters and placed himself under Ypsilantis’ command. Petar Dobrnjac who had distinguished himself previously by defeating  Ibrahim Bushati, pasha of Scutari at the battle of Deligrad and was one of the most important men in Serbian society, followed suit. Mladen Milovanović, prior to crossing the Danube to fight with Ypsilantis, served as the Prime Minister of Serbia and as a first Minister of Defence. The fearsome Prodan Gligorijević, known as Hadži-Prodan, on the other hand, after fighting in the First Serbian Revolt and another revolt he instigated of his own accord in 1814, also joined forces with Ypsilantis in 1821 in Wallachia, while mention is also made by chroniclers of an archimandrite “Servos,” probably his ethnonym, who also arrived from Serbia to fight for the Greek cause. 


The Greek revolt in the Danubian principalities, having to deal with competing Romanian nationalism and the Ottomans was an abject failure. After the subjugation of the rebels, Serbian fighters migrated south to Greece proper, in search of employment and as a means of evading punishment. One of these was the legendary female fighter Čučuk Stana, wife of the armatole Giorgakis Olympios, who was killed in the battle of Secu in Moldavia. Others, who we learn of from descriptions of battles, range from Constantine Nemanja, who claimed that he was a descendant of the royal Nemanjid line of Serbian medieval rulers, and would sign his correspondence as “Prince of Serbia” employed a seal that bore the double-headed eagle and was granted a pension of five loaves of bread a day, George Papazoglou, a cavalry officer under the command of Hatzi Christos, of Bulgarian ethnicity,  who was killed in the battle, Radoš Mavrovouniotis (ie of Montenegro), while a list of fighters surnamed “the Serbian” such as Thomas Servos, Lambros Servos, Lambros Christou Servos and Thanassis Servos are recorded as having fought at the siege of Messolongi. Another twenty five Serbians are mentioned as having fought under the command of Captain George Kontopoulos in that most important of towns. 


Of all of the Serbians who fought in the Greek Revolution, the one who perhaps left the greatest legacy, was Vaso Brajević, better known as Vasos Mavrovouniotis, who played a leading role in thirty six battles for the liberation of Greece. In 1821 leading a force of 120 Montenegrins and Greeks, he joined the early stages of the Greek revolution. Teaming up with his blood brother, Nikolaos Kriezotis, leader of the Greek Revolution in Euboea, he distinguished himself in fighting in Central Greece. In 1822 he participated in the battles against the Ottomans in Athens where he displayed great bravery and daring, being widely acclaimed as one of the best warriors of the time.  


Having successfully navigated the minefields of the ensuing civil wars and coming out unscathed, he was assigned the rank of General and entrusted with a force of 1,500 fighter. Notably, between 1826-27 he was one of the few revolutionaries not to be defeated by the Egyptian forces led by Ibrahim Pasha, that devastated the Peloponnese and almost defeated the Revolution. Perpetually restless, he teamed up with Hatzimihalis Dalianis of Chimarra in Northern Epirus to participate in a  daring but ultimately failed Greek expedition to Cyprus and Lebanon aiming at inciting revolution in the soft underbelly of the Ottoman Empire. His career having peaked, he eventually became a member of the Greek Privy Council and an adjutant to King Otto. 


Other Montenegrin Serbs who followed Mavrovouniotis seemed to have been from the same area as he, the Bjelopavlići lowlands and they are also given the same surname in historical records. Thus, there are extant references to Ioannis Slavanos Mavrovouniotis, Ioannis Montenegrinos, who fought in the siege of Tripolitsa and Gregory Jurovic Mavrovouniotis. Historian William St Clair in his magisterial history of the Revolution: “That Greece Might Still be Free,” writes of a Montenegrin General with the Germanised name of de Wintz, who having fought under Napoleon, unsuccessfully attempted to unit of 2,000 European volunteers or mercenaries to fight in Greece, giving up after failing to secure the requisite financial assistance.  


While in the beginning, Serbs tended to fight under their own leaders, with the effluxion of time, a sense of camaraderie developed between Greeks and Serbs and their units began to be mixed. The vast majority of these men were guerrilla fighters, while few, notably a mixed corps of 250 Greeks and Serbs led by the Serbian Stefos Nivitsa, formed a part of a tactical army under the command of the turban-toting French philhellene Charles Nicolas Fabvier. 


There was no rosy-eyed Rhigas Pheraios fuelled dream of a Confederation of Balkan Peoples presided over by a dominant but benevolent Greece shared by these Serbian fighters. Many of them believed that one way to secure Serbian independence was to foment revolt in the South. Others, aligned with the Karadjordje faction of Serbian leadership, were in danger of their lives under the rule of their rivals, the Obrenović and thus found it expedient to seek refuge in Greece. Many still, as soldiers of fortune still do, travelled to where the action was, seeing payment, loot and privilege. In this regard, it is significant to note that after 1824 a good many Serbian fighters received commissions in the Greek Army, among them, general Hatzi Christos Dagović,  battalion commanders (chiliarchs) Stefos and Anastasi Dmitrević, vice-chiliarch Jovo Mavrovouniotis, Captains Ioannis and Nikolaos Radović of Montenegro and the Serbians known only as Nikolzo, Kotzo, Helias, Spyros, and Karagiorgos.  


The vast majority of the Serbs who survived the Revolution, did not return to Serbia. Instead, they settled in Greece, married local women and assimilated into the emerging society, in the same manner as their Greek counterparts who had fought in the earlier Serbian revolts. While public statues exist of Vasos Mavrovouniotis, the most famous Serbian freedom fighter for Greece, his compatriots barely rate a mention in the popular consciousness. 


The vicissitudes of time and the accidents of fate have led here, so many years after the Greek and Serbian Revolutions, to the establishment in Melbourne of a Greek and Serbian community that reside in close proximity to each other. Yet despite our shared history and the enduring bonds  of friendship that were forged as a result of a mutual commitment to liberty, bonds so strong that they led revolutionary Anastasios Karatasos of Imathia to advocate a dual Greek-Serbian state and veteran and historian Lambros Koutsonikas, to conceive of a Greek–Serbian federation of "two sisters,"  the Serbian community is generally left out of our planned local commemorative events for the Greek revolution, and we neglect to pay homage to its heroes, male and female, who fought for and became adopted children of Greece. 


There is still plenty of time for this omission to be redressed, in this bicentennial year of the Revolution, so that Rhigas Pheraios’ noble conviction that the pursuit of liberty and the destruction of tyranny is the task of all nations working together, can be honoured in full. Until then, we salute and remember our Serbian heroes with gratitude, awe and deep humility, praying always that their memory be eternal. 



First published in NKEE on Saturday 20 February 2021

Saturday, February 13, 2021



If you were an ancient Greek birdwatcher, chances are that the birds you were watching, were actually people, transformed into avifauna after unfortunate encounters with the temperamental but always ornithologically inclined, gods of Olympus. 


Any given crow that takes your fancy, may quite likely have been none other than Coronis, victim of the unwanted amorous advances of Poseidon, who cried out for help to both gods and men, causing Athena to turn her into a crow, silencing her and cooling uncle’s ardour simultaneously. 

It would be also plausible that the pair of kingfishers you were admiring, sat upon a twig overlooking the River Spercheios was actually Alcyone, the daughter of King Aeolus of Aeolia and later queen of Trachis, in the company of her husband Ceyx, the son of Eosphorus, the Morning Star. According to myth, Alcyone and Ceyx were so into absorbed with one another, that all their friends were sickened by their soppiness and no longer invited them to parties. Finally, their schmaltzy mutual adoration grew too much even for the gods. Pseudo-Apollonius records that upon Zeus hearing the mawkish duo refer to each other respectively as “Zeus,” and “Hera,” he through a thunderbolt at Ceyx’s ship in exasperation. Ceyx predictably drowned and when the god of dreams Morpheus appeared in Ceyx’s form to Alcyone to tell her the news, she too through herself in the sea. Out of remorse and compassion, forgetting the couple’s transgressions against good taste, the Olympians transformed them into common kingfishers, or "halcyon birds", named after her. And that right there is the problem with the Olympians. No consistency in discipline. No wonder the demi gods were all spoiled brats. 

Aedon and Polytechnos of Colophon were also an embarrassingly soppy couple. Being of an artistic temperament, they claimed that they loved each other more than Zeus and Hera, an interesting proposition, given Zeus’ propensity for sexual harassment. Hera then sent Eris, the goddess of discord among them to break up the happy couple, which Eris did by means of a contest that Aedon won, enraging Polytechnos, who ends up raping Aedon’s sister, Chelidonis, who along with Aedon, kills Polytechnos’ son Itys and served him up to his father for dinner. Aedon then fled with Chelidonis to her father, who had Polytechnos bound, smeared with honey, and exposed to the insects. By means of family reconciliation and dispute resolution, Zeus changed Polytechnos into a pelican, Aedon’s father into a sea-eagle, Chelidonis into a swallow, and Aedon herself into a nightingale. When stumbling across such wildlife, one is best advised to keep one’s distance. Sure the family has undergone countless sessions of therapy since then, but you just never know… 

Similarly, if you chanced upon a swan in the Echedorus River, this could be a number of notable personalities, ranging from Cycnus, the bloodthirsty and cruel son of the war god Ares, who killed all of his guests at a party, challenged Heracles to a duel and was transformed into a swan by his father to avoid his imminent slaying, to Cycnus, king of Colonae who killed the Greek hero Protesilaus in the Trojan War. As the son of Poseidon, he was invulnerable to wounds by sword and spear, which is why when Achilles confronted him, he crushed and suffocated his, inspiring Poseidon to perform a post-mortem transformation of his son into a swan. There was also Cycnus, the lover of Phaethon, who perished in flames after taking his father Helios’ wheels for a joy ride. After the death of Phaethon, Cycnus was so moved that he sat by the river Eridanos and wasted away until the gods transformed him into a swan out of pity. Indicating that swans are unhappy birds indeed that should be approached with compassion, there was also Cycnus of Aetolia, the arrogant son of Apollo who made his lover Phylius complete three tasks so impossible and dangerous that Heracles had to intervene and command that Phylius no longer obey his lover. Shamed and disgraced, Cycnus threw himself into Lake Conope, only to be turned to a swan by his father Apollo. The lake was then renamed Swan Lake, a precursor of Tchaikovsky who was to come. 

Should you, during your peregrinations, have caught a glimpse of the strikingly red-headed thistle finch, then it would not be out of the realms of possibility that the particular fowl you were looking at, was actually Acanthis, who was trampled to death by her father Autonous’ hunger crazed horses, since Auotnous was too lazy to till his fields to grow enough feed for them. Granted, the gods could have intervened to prevent her prickly fate, yet they chose instead to confer a consolation prize: Acanthis was transformed into a thistle finch, while her father was transformed into a quail, he had quailed at driving off the horses.  

There is a reason why vultures are associated with death and cause revulsion. The original vulture, Aegypius the Thessalian, was engaged in an affair with the widow Timandre, causing her son Neophron, who wanted his mummy to himself jealous. Neophron seduced Aegypius mother, Boulis, took her to his house and by subtle and arcane means, arranged for Aegypius to sleep with his own mother, thinking her to be Timandre. Having completed the incestuous act and woken from her post-coital slumber, Boulis realized her son was sleeping next to her and in her horror, raised a sword she just happened to have handy to slash out his eyes. It was then that Apollo intervened, transforming Aegypius and the appalling Neophron into vultures, Boulis into a heron, which supposedly lives on the eyes of fish, and Timandre into a long-tailed tit. 

For Greeks birds are thus the Olympian’s means, before the invention of Royal Commissions, of masking their mistakes, their anger, indifference and inability to protect people or mete out decent justice. They also constitute a convenient way to silence the victims of the deities. Bird names are thus highly personal, identifying tragedy, loss of personhood and a second, albeit diminished, second chance at making amends. Bird names are first names, because the transformation that takes place pertains to a specific individual, with all the other birds of the same species representing facsimiles and reminders of the original misfortune. As if to forget the Olympians’ few bird names survive as female first names to the present: Pagona, (peacock), Peristera (dove), Glaukos (owl) being some of these. There are a few other animal first names that also still in use, Leo being the most common. 

Enter the Healesville Sanctuary which recently announced that in order to celebrate the launch of the Great Australian Wildlife Book Collection, visitors with animal surnames on one specific weekend get in free. This is an exciting and laudable gesture yet upon closer examination it presents as problematic: While the animal component of Anglo-Saxon surnames is easily discernible, how will the gatekeepers of the sanctuary designed to grant succour to the victims of Olympian insouciance determine the animal content of Greek, Italian, Indian or Chinese names, to name but a few? Will they undertake extensive linguistic and mythology sensitivity training, merely take the non-Anglo-Saxon’s word for it, or turn away non-Anglo-Saxon surnamed people at the door? 

Further, it would be interesting to discover whether any research has been undertaken by the Sanctuary into the proportionate prevalence of animal surnames in the multitude of other cultures as compared to the Anglo-Saxons, in order to consider just how equitable and non-discriminatory to all Victorians, their free admission actually is. In the case of Greek-Australians, the amount of people eligible to gain entry would be extremely small indeed, the few historical personages actually bearing animal surnames such as Constantine Hierax (the falcon), erstwhile prime minister of Siam in the seventeenth century, executed by his king, being ill omened indeed. As an aside it is unknown whether Dimitris Sirinakis, the notorious modern Greek producer of filmic smut would also qualify, given that his surname derives from a creature that was half woman, half bird, the Siren. Perhaps he could be let in at half time. 

In certain Middle Eastern cultures of course, an animal appellation applying to one's family, is considered the height of insult and thus there would be a dearth of qualifying surnames that would grant members of their communities resident in Victoria, entry. 


All Victorians must support the work of the Healesville Sanctuary, and it was in order to elucidate the answers to these weighty questions (and in the hope that some of us would get in for free), that we sent forth Ascalaphus, who, because he bore witness against Persephone, was imprisoned in Hades by Demeter under a heavy rock, to have “winged words,” as Homer rhapsodied, with the well-meaning people at Healesville, remembering that Heracles, during his visit to the Underworld, was able to roll away the stone imprisoning him, whereupon Demeter turned Ascalaphus into a short-eared owl. Ascalaphus returned informing us that he was the twenty-third caller in the queue and that the theory that the Greek surname Pontikis does not actually refer to a mouse, but rather is a corrupted version of the ancient Pontikos, meaning sea-dweller. I won’t tell the Sanctuary if you won’t. 


First published in NKEE on 13 February 2021

Saturday, February 06, 2021


Some months after our wedding, my wife and I were driving in the car listening to Assyrian music. A particularly jaunty tune engaged my attention and I asked: “What is all that about? Is this a song of joy or, as is often the case with the music where I am from, are there deep, profound meanings here that have absolutely nothing to do with the music?” 

“This is about a bridge in Assyria,” my wife responded abstractly. “There is a legend attached to it. Apparently they were building the bridge and it kept tumbling down. They consulted a local fortune teller who said that the first living thing that approached the builder on a given day would have to be sacrificed in order for the bridge to stand. On that particular day, the builder’s daughter in law, Delal, began to cross the bridge in order to bring her father in law lunch, her pet dog, running before her. Seeing the dog, the builder breathed a sigh of relief, but sadly, the dog began to sniff around the sides of the bridge and hung back, so Delal, being informed of the requirements of the fortune teller consented to be sacrificed by being built into the bridge. Henceforth, this bridge has been known as Gishra Delal – Delal’s bridge.” 

Abruptly, I braked and pulled over. 

“Where did you say this bridge was?” I asked. 

“It’s over the Khabur River, a tributary of the Euphrates,” my wife answered. 

In aweI began to recite the following verse«Αλίμονο στη μοίρα μας, κρίμα στο ριζικό μας!/Τρεις αδερφάδες ήμαστε κι οι τρεις κακογραμμένες./Η μια ‘χτισε το Δούναβη κι η άλλη τον Αφράτη/κι εγώ η πιο στερνότερη της Άρτας το γιοφύρι.» 

“Is everything alright?” my wife asked, eyebrow raised. 

"Alas, poor is my fate and my destiny accursed!/ Sisters three we were, and doomed we were all three./ One built over the Danube, one the Euphrates river/ And me, the youngest, I build the bridge at Arta.” I translated. 

“Are you feeling unwell? Do you want me to drive?” she enquired, visibly concerned. 

I began to tell her about the famous demotic folksong about the Bridge at Arta, a song, albeit with a few variations, comprising exactly the same plot. Arched bridges can be found all over the lands of the former Ottoman Empire from Bosnia to Iraq, and considering the itinerant nature of the stonemason trade, with Epirote tradesmen in particular travelling as far as Persia to construct bridges, it is quite plausible that the same legends will be shared and local permutations affixed to them. What astounded me about the song of Delal’s bridge, however, was that it is directly referenced in the Epirote folksong. The Chief Mason’s wife, in lamenting her fate, laments also the fact that she lost two sisters in exactly the same way, one in a bridge on the Danube, and the other on the Euphrates. Delal’ song, therefore, via legend and solidarity, is the sister of that of the Bridge of Arta, even though both bridges are separated by 2,500 kilometres. 

There are a number of candidates for the Danube sister bridge. In variations of the same legend prevalent in Albania, all the way to Romania and presumably carried there by Vlachs during their peregrinations, the Chief Mason’s wife, as she is being immured within the bridge, asks that she be permitted to expose one breast, so that she may continue to nourish her infants and the request is granted. 

In the Euphrates version of the myth, the local variants are fascinating. At first, when the builder sees Delal crossing the bridge, with her dog now lagging behind, he faints. He has to be cajoled and forced to reveal the cause of his distress. Once she learns of her father in law’s predicament, (in a twist to the tale, the prince of Bohtan who commissioned the bridge will chop of his right hand if he is successful so he will never build a better bridge, but will amputate both hands if he fails, whereas in the case of Arta, a grocer of Arta, Giannis Thiakogiannis, known by his nick name Gatofagos, the “Cat eater,’ is the purported instigator of the construction of the Bridge. According to tradition, a pirate ship from Algiers brought a cargo of oil to sell at the port of Salaora. Gatofagos purchased some of this oil, which the pirates had stolen from a merchant and discovered within the jars, not only oil but an abundance of gold coins with which he funded construction,) Delal willingly agrees to sacrifice herself for the cause of safe infrastructure, whereas the wife of the Chief Mason at Arta is denied such a choice.  


Instead, the Chief Mason relies on guile to entice his wife into the bridge, by claiming he has lost a ring, lamenting that there is no one who can enter to retrieve it, all the while knowing that his sweet natured wife will volunteer to look for it. As soon as she enters, “the mason slaps on mortar with his trowel; another slaps lime;/The Chief Mason heaves and drops a giant boulder.” This heinous violation of trust is most likely the reason why the immured wife utters a terrible curse, transforming the now solid bridge into prototype of Galloping Gertie: “May the bridge shake, like the rifles do,/ May crossing pedestrians fall, like the tree leaves do." 


It is important to note that unlike Delal, who is named in her song and is thus granted personhood, we only know of the victim of the Arta Bridge in relation to her perfidious husband. Having no name, she is merely the wife of the Chief Mason and even now, she is denied revenge and completely disempowered. For even as she utters her curse, an appeal is made to her better nature: Yes, she has been hard done by, of this there is no doubt, but she has a brother who is currently sojourning in foreign lands. What if he should traverse the bridge and be cast into destruction by her fury? Faced with no other choice, the utterly defeated Spirit of the Bridge relents and is tamed, reversing her curse and restoring the patriarchal order which has been temporarily subverted: “May the bridge shake, like the wild mountains do/ May crossing pedestrians fall, like the wild birds do/ for I have a brother abroad who may cross this bridge." 


No one mourns for the hapless, completely disenfranchised wife of Arta. She is no longer a person but a supernatural being that must be propitiated and neutralized. In the case of the Euphrates sister Delal, however, she is mourned by a distraught husband. According to the Assyrian version of the epic, when Delal's husband arrived in Zakho, the town where the bridge is situated and learned of his wife’s fate, he was devastated. In his grief, he took a pick axe and started digging under the bridge. While engaged in this activity, he heard his buried wife Delal's muffled voice commanding him to refrain from his pursuit, explaining that by his actions, however well meaning, he was physically hurting her. She further declared to him that it was her will to continue holding the bridge together with her arms outstretched and to stay there for all eternity. Delal too has become a supernatural being, but one whose personhood, ability to choose and determine her own fate and her femininity remains intact, which is why her husband eventually ceased his lamentations and accepted both his, and Delal’s fate. 


No one leaves offerings to the wife of the Chief Mason at the Bridge of Arta. Her fate is an ignominious one, consigned to a tenuous habitation within collections of Greek folk songs, even as the original music to her epic is no longer remembered. Even today however, the inhabitants of Zakho, primarily Assyrians and Kurds honour the memory of the redoubtable Delal, by growing two lengthy plants in one of the gaps between the stones on each side of the bridge, calling them Delal's hair braids. Our peoples today may be separated by geography history and politics. Yet they share song-lines that comprise human suffering and ingenuity in equal measure, disseminated far and wide by doughty masons of Epirus who travelled the length and breadth of their known world in search of work and the opportunity to ply their craft . And every time I cross the Bolte, the Westgate or any other engineering marvel that spans the horizon, I utter a prayer for the unnamed Epirote wife of the Chief Mason of Arta, and her awesome sister, the Assyrian Delal, of Zakho. 



First published in NKEE on Saturday 6 February 2021