Saturday, July 30, 2022



The garden presented as visibly more unkempt than in my previous visits. Here and there, a few wildflowers broke the hegemony of green within the lawn, a presumption that would not have been tolerated had the master of the house been in possession of all his powers. 

Climbing the steps to the front door, I noticed that its rusted iron lacework with flaking pieces of white paint was enshrouded in cobwebs studded with dead flies. This was a portal that had not been opened to strangers for a significant amount of time. 

“Come round the back,” the master of the house’s voice called. “I’m in the garage.” 

I ambled around the side of the house noting the half barrels that once contained saplings of fruit trees and a vast array of orchids. Now they were overgrown with yellow weeds, sickly and stunted, as if they could not make up their minds whether they wanted to live or to die. A heap of rotting firewood stood mouldering in a corner. And within the small side door that led to the garage, I could discern a single light bulb hanging from a cord. There, seated at an oil-cloth covered table that used to be in the kitchen when I was a boy, he sat, reading NEOS KOSMOS. The paper was creased as if it had been folded and refolded a number of times and on its facing page I saw a row of photographs. His index finger was placed upon one of them, as he mouthed the pictured person’s name, a veritable litany of the dead. 

“You will have to excuse my appearance,” the master of the house apologised, brushing pieces of tissue, breadcrumbs and dandruff from his stained blue tracksuit. “I seldom go up into the house anymore. It’s too hard to climb the stairs and ever since my wife died, there are too many painful memories.” There is a photograph of both him and his wife hanging over the sink. That sink also used to be in the kitchen before the nineties renovation. At that time, it was transferred to the garage, where it continued to be used, leaving the good sink upstairs as a display sink, for visitors who increasingly never came. The picture is faded, but from the gaudy fashions and the bouffant hairstyles, it can plausibly be dated to the eighties. The master of the house is trim, dapper and charming. His wife is vivacious and imposing in the manner that only women who know their beauty is universally appreciated can be. They are both smiling, as if rejoicing in the knowledge that they are both at the peak of their physical and mental powers. A smudge at the bottom left-hand corner of the frame turns out to be a millipede, bleached white in death, hanging from a defunct thread of a spider’s web. 

“We had just gone to dinner with the Minister for Education at the Grand Bretagne in Athens,” the master of the house reminisced wistfully. “As I recall he had given me a book. Kazantzakis’ “Christ Re-crucified,” I think it was. Let me have a look.” He rose slowly from his chair and hobbled to a tarpaulin covering a series of objects on the far side of the wall. He lifted it carefully to reveal row after row of boxes, all full of books. 

“These are the important ones,” he mentioned. “The ones you would have seen upstairs as a boy in the study are long gone. My eyes are not what they used to be and I can no longer absorb information easily. My daughter doesn’t concern herself with philosophy, history or theology, so she is getting rid of them. We asked a few of the schools but they showed no interest . It’s surprising how many people don’t read anymore. But these ones, they tell a story. This one here, a biblical concordance, was given to me by Patriarch Athenagoras himself. See, for yourself, its inscribed. I was a student at the time. And this one here, this one is my pride and joy. It is autographed by the great Yiannis Psycharis himself. No, of course I did not know him but when I was a boy in Athens, my teacher knew….. Oh, here it is. I tell a lie. It’s not “Christ Re-crucified.” It is “The Fratricides.” Look at the dedication here: “With immense respect...” Yes, I was a figure to be reckoned with back in the day, let me tell you. I remember once during a trip to Greece, Yiannis Ritsos telling me… hang on… here it is. Have a look at this. This is a pebble autographed by the poet itself. There is a drawing on it that he executed. And here are his “Lianotragouda,” autographed by him. I haven’t opened this in years.” 

I rummage through the boxes, exclaiming with rapture as I find embedded within the pages of the books, notes and mementoes attesting to a relationship with important Greek literary and political figures of the modern age, as the master of the house makes me coffee, emitting rhythmic groans every time he reaches for the sugar. 

Shuffling towards me, he extends the coffee cup with a trembling hand, spilling the coffee in all directions. “It’s good luck,” I laugh and he stares at me with a pained expression. “This is the last cup of coffee I will ever make for someone,” he whispers. I am being admitted to the nursing home in two days’ time.” 

I place my hand on his. It is liver-stained but surprisingly soft compared to the hands of his contemporaries I have held in this country. This is a hand that never knew the factory. The calluses on his fingers betray the identity of someone who has lived his whole life with pen in hand, marking time through the rustle of pages. 

“That is why I have asked you to come here,” the master of the house continued softly. “In ways I can’t describe, our acquaintance has made an impression upon my life. I want you to have something to remember me by.” Reaching across the table, he retrieved a Woolworths re-usable bag. From inside it emerged a rather tattered Vostanzoglou’s Anti-Lexicon, the object of my most ardent desire as a child. 

“This is the first edition. I seem to recall you asking to borrow this when you were younger.” I had indeed, and my request was denied owing to the fear that I would damage it in some way. “It’s inscribed. Take a look.” There were two inscriptions on the front page. One with his signature and the date of purchase in 1967 and the other bearing the following dedication: “To Kostas Kalymnios. In remembrance of a friendship. Don’t forget me.” 

“May it serve as a resource for you,” the master of the house said. “Though I daresay these days you can most probably find all this information on that blasted internet. Still, many are the nights, when sleep eluding me, I sat up poring over this tome. This was my αγρυπνία. Do the same. You can sleep when you are dead.” I smiled, trying to use my cheek muscles to crush the tear that was welling up above them, threatening to spill below. 

“The house will be emptied now,” the master of the house informed me. “It needs to be let out. I’m hoping that they will let me take these books with me. All the people that have given them to me are long gone but I do hope that I can sit out the remainder of my days in their company. As long as I can read anyway.” At this point he started laughing, a rasping, wheezy laugh that convulsed violently through his body. I sprung up from my chair and fetched him a glass of water. He gulped greedily, and then fell back against his chair, languidly. 

“Don’t fuss. I’m quite alright. I just remembered you telling me, that time when we were in Sydney, how as a newly-wed, your wife complained about the quantity of books you were amassing and asked what would happen to them after your death.” 

“And I said...” 

“And you said: “Bury me in a vast hole with all my books around me and my coffin open so I can reach them and turn the pages.” 

“And then…?” 

“And then use the empty spaces in the bookcases to display designer shoes.” 

“That’s right!” he chortled. “Farewell my boy. Don’t let me keep you. Remember me.” 


When I returned home late that evening, I went up to the study and sat a while, staring at the books that have been gifted to me by people that have had an inordinate influence upon my life. I toyed with the idea of placing post it notes on the most poignant of them, explaining who had given them to me and why they were important. Then I sighed, pulling out a volume that I expected to give to a friend the next day, replacing the empty space with the Anti-Lexicon entrusted to me by the master of the house. Having had second thoughts, I walked over to the bookcase, retrieved the Lexicon and took it downstairs into the bedroom. Just as my All-Night Vigil commenced, I muttered a prayer to all lost and slumbering books, dreaming of their masters, especially that of my Anti-Lexicon, which can be found complete on the internet, in glorious pdf. 



First published in NKEE on Saturday 30 July 2022

Saturday, July 23, 2022


 If there is one Olympian deity of which there exists no statue, then surely it is that of the goddess Metis, Zeus’ first wife. A daughter of the primordial water titans Oceanus and Tethys, Metis was the first goddess of wisdom and knowledge, her name signifying a quality combining wisdom as well as cunning, a combination highly prized by Greeks of all ages. Highlighting the femininity of sagacity, her name is cognate with the Latin “mentis” whence the English “mental” is derived. This then, is a cerebral goddess, possessed of boundless perception and insight. 

It was her mental powers that made her indispensable to her husband, Zeus. Proving correct the adage: “Behind every successful Olympian god there is a slighted and disgruntled Olympian goddess,” Zeus owed his life and ascent to power, largely to Metis, for it was she who provided Zeus with strategic advice as to how to defeat the Titans. According to Apollodorus, she also revealed to Zeus the precise ingredients of the emetic he administered to his father Kronos, compelling him to disgorge Zeus’ siblings from their abdominal incarceration. Having defeated his father and ascended the throne of the gods, Zeus began to see the wise and knowledgeable Metis not only as a helpmeet and indispensable adviser, but also as a threat to his own power. This did not inhibit him from laying with her. Metis conceived a child and it was, according to Hesiod’s Theogony, at this point that Metis, in all honesty and in the interests of full disclosure, revealed to Zeus a prophecy, that she would bear: 

“first the maiden bright-eyed Tritogeneia (Athena), equal to her father in strength and in wise understanding; but afterward she was to bear a son of overbearing spirit, king of gods and men.” 

In a variant version of the myth, it is the Great Mother Goddess Gaea who reveals the prophecy to Zeus, for solidarity with the sisterhood had not yet been invented. Gaea’s is an act replete with irony, as it would later be she who, in league with Tartarus, would combine to produce a son, the dreaded serpentine monster Typhon, in order to challenge  Zeus’ authority, suggesting that at least in the consciousness of our ancient forebears, even the great Mother’s powers could only work through male agency, while also acting as a cautionary tale about stretching the affections of Greek grandmothers too far. 

Having defeated his father, who in turn had emasculated his own father with an adamantine sickle, Zeus was not about to allow his power to be jeopardised. Instead of, however, planning to restrict or do away with his future progeny, in the manner of his father and grandfather, he instead resolves to nip the problem in the bud. It is Metis who is to blame, for it his she who has the power to bring forth his usurper. Zeus therefore transforms her into a fly and promptly swallows her up. 

In Apollodorus, Metis is not Zeus’ wife but rather his unwilling sexual partner, who transforms herself into a variety of guises in order to escape him. Whether a victim or rape or not, her loss of self is occasioned only through an act of violence. 

In swallowing up his wife, Zeus is not only solving the problem of his removal from power. He is also rendering Metis, a female of arguably greater knowledge, skill and foresight than he, invisible. What is more, he is appropriating that female knowledge and power for himself, in the manner of a hostile corporate takeover, completely divesting Metis of her personhood. As Hesiod explains in the Theogony, “Zeus put her away inside his own belly so that this goddess should think for him, for good and for evil.” Her cognitive powers are now his own, to be exploited according to his own terms and without having to defer to her or treat her as an equal. Metis is also divested of her gender, because Zeus not only takes over her identity, henceforth assuming the title of Metieta (Μητίετα), ”the wise counsellor,” according to Homer, but also appropriates her capacity to bear children. For having swallowed his wife, it is Zeus who becomes pregnant with their child Athena. Metis, enclosed within Zeus, cannot conceive ever again, completely disempowering her and her creative energies. 

By the time Athena is born, Metis has become completely subsumed within Zeus. As Hesiod relates: “And she remained hidden beneath the inward parts of Zeus, Metis, Athena's mother, worker of righteousness, who was wiser than gods and mortal men,” and she is portrayed in art as a small winged spirit abiding underneath his throne, alive and yet incapable of autonomous existence.  

The goddess Athena’s subsequent birth, sprung fully armed, with armour created by Metis, from Zeus’ head, reveals the creation of a novel kind of woman: denatured, born without a mother, the instrument and embodiment of her father's will, born of aggression and repression and absolutely and blindly devoted to her father's rule; possessing her mother’s skills, but as a feminine tool of the patriarchy and a weapon of the prevailing order. 

Metis’ complete sublimation is effected by the incidence of Athena’s birth. In castigating Zeus for treating Athena as his favourite, the god of war Ares states in the Iliad that αὐτὸς ἐγείναο “you gave birth to her,” whereas many of the ancient poets referred to her as “the motherless goddess,” completely ignoring the existence, let alone the motherhood of the hapless Metis. 

Yet Metis, even within the dank, close prison of Zeus’ form, is not completely without potency. It is Athena’s banging together of the spear and shield her mother fashioned while in Zeus’ mind that gives her father the splitting headache which occasions her birth. Do we read this as a metaphor of the pangs of conscience? If so, they are short lived. Athena will go on to kill her friend Pallas and appropriate her identity, just as her father did to her mother, being known among her worshippers as the composite Pallas Athena. 

Dr Sheila Embry provides a novel interpretation of the Metis myth. She holds that Zeus swallowing Metis is a metaphor for the recapitulation of the lives of many first wives of successful men. According to her, these women provided the means and the strategy through which their particular Zeus reached the top and then swallowed them up. In this metaphor, the woman is usually the daughter of Titans, a member of the class to which her husband aspires, or even aspires to supplant. She may be better educated and brighter than he is. She may provide introductions, ideas and strategy to further his goals. Once his ambitions are realized with her help, she becomes involved in home and children, diminishing her role in his life significantly. After a divorce she disappears from sight socially. She has become Metis swallowed up by Zeus. 

Whatever interpretation one gives to the myth of Metis, the concept of the potent woman, silenced and denatured by the patriarchy has underlain the Greek discourse from its very cosmogony. It is a narrative that can be identified in our own migrant experience, within our own community institutions and beyond. In highlighting the importance of granting the voiceless and the disempowered a voice, the myth of Metis is as relevant as ever before. 


First published in NKEE on Saturday, 23 July 2022

Saturday, July 16, 2022



“When Tasia came to Australia in the mid-sixties, it was at the invitation of her newly married sister. The plan was for Tasia to help her sister with her baby that was on the way, settle, and then when the time was right and the village politics negotiated in the appropriate way, to invite a certain gentleman with whom she had an understanding, to join her in Australia and start a new life together.  

That is not what happened, however. Tasia was raped by her brother-in-law. Her sister either knew or suspected but did nothing until such time that it became apparent that Tasia was pregnant. Then, she took Tasia to someone who illegally performed abortions and compelled her to “throw the child” as the Greek expression goes. Once that was done, she kicked her out of the house. Some people said that she ended up in South Melbourne, living alone. Others, less kind, said that they saw her on the street corners of St Kilda. No one really knows. She vanished. What else could she do. That’s what things were like in those days. No one sympathised with her in public. They all said that she must have brought it upon herself, provoked him…. ” 

The elderly lady, a member of my local community who revealed this story to me before her death over a decade ago, signed as she took another sip from her cup of tea. The side wall of her living room was festooned with silver icons that glowed burnished copper through the reflected light of the kandili, the sole source of light in the room. Next to her, a small table was filled with faded photographs of her grandchildren, long grown up.  “There are many other stories like this one. Lodging further down the street from us there was a girl, recently arrived. About a month after her arrival, she began to act strangely, couldn’t keep down her food. She told everyone that she couldn’t get used to the food in Australia but I began to suspect differently. It turns out that she had met a young man on the ship, coming to Australia and had fallen in love with him. He spun the usual tale; he loved her, his intentions were honourable, he was going to marry her as soon as he wrote to his father. All rubbish. When the ship docked at Fremantle, he disembarked and left her with no forwarding address or anything. 

When her landlady realised that she was pregnant, she evicted her. That is how it was then, you couldn’t be seen to be condoning this type of behaviour and no one really cared about the circumstances. My mother had told me, before I left my home country: “You only have two things: my blessings and your honour.” The sad thing is how she left. The landlady threw her suitcase out onto the street and all the housewives came outside and banged pots and pans and ridiculed her.  Village people were harsh back then, you know. 

Eventually, she was taken in by a Greek couple who agreed that she could rent a room but the wife insisted that she could not have the baby and stay with them. Instead, they arranged for her to have an abortion. After that, they managed to find someone to marry her in Sydney, so she left. Apparently, there were complications with the abortion process and she was unable to have children after that. Her husband left her after five years.” 

The old lady’s large frame was draped in a shawl that in the gloom of her living room, makes her look like a mountain range, immense and imposing and yet soft and pliable. She dipped a teddy bear biscuit into her tea and nibbled at it greedily. “I came here in the fifties. There was no Greek coffee back then, so I got used to drinking tea. Tea with biscuits, preferably Monte Carlos, but I rather like Teddy Bear Biscuits as well. It was Ourania who introduced them to me. She lived a few streets down. I would visit and we would take our tea and Teddy Bear Biscuits together. She was a very good cook, an amazing housewife and very irresponsible. Never kept a proper lookout for her daughter. As the story goes, she got mixed up with some young guy, not a Greek and got into trouble. Some people say he was an Aboriginal but I don’t know. What I do know is that the girl’s father beat her black and blue so that she can reveal who the father was, so he could go and kill him and wash away the shame but she wouldn’t say a word. Anyway, the family couldn’t countenance their daughter bearing a child out of wedlock and they would not let her marry someone who was not Greek because of the shame, so Ourania arranged for the daughter to have an abortion. On the morning that she was supposed to have undergone the procedure, she vanished. They didn’t look for her and no one knew where she went. I saw her, years later, at the Victoria Market. I recognised her instantly and I’m sure she recognised me. She was holding a blonde blue eyed little girl which must have been a grandchild, as this was twenty or so years later. Wherever she is, I hope she is well. Hard times these were.” 

The old lady’s hand had began to tremble and she set her tea down slowly as it spilled over the rim of the cup, into the saucer. “The world has always been unkind to women,” she wheezed. “Always. No mercy. And sometimes it’s the women themselves who are unkind. There was a woman a few streets away who just before she arrived in Australia, fell in love with one of the local boys in her village. He didn’t seem to be interested in her however, he had eyes for another. As the girl was a friend of his sister, she asked her what she could do to get him to her brother to like her. “Well, if you lie on his bed and take your clothes off, he is not going to say no, is he?” she told him. And the foolish girl that she was, that is exactly what she did. She left for Australia and expected him to follow her and he never did. Luckily for her, even though she fell pregnant, she didn’t show. She arranged to have an abortion and ended up marrying someone else. Obviously people knew but she got married and washed away the shame, so they didn’t say anything. That’s how people thought in those days.” 

I began a discussion about the abortion debate, mentioning how the positions are polarised between pro-life and pro-choice and the old lady waved her hand at me dismissively: “What pro-choice?” she exclaimed indignantly. “Go and tell your husband back in the day, who uses your body for his pleasure on demand about choice. Do you know how many women were forced to have an abortion back then because they already had a handful of children and their husbands would not adopt other methods to prevent conception? There are even cases of women being forced to write to their mothers back home in Greece seeking money to pay for the abortion. Think of it. We came to this country to feed our families and instead our husbands were making our families pay for their lack of restraint.” 

“These are the things we don’t talk about,” the old lady observed, a tone of anger rising in her voice. “We all like to assume an air of respectability but there is so much that is hidden. And it is better that way. Best to keep silent rather than stir up the past. No good comes of it. And don’t think that these things just happened back then when we were new and vulnerable. Do you know how many girls still get into trouble and are forced to have abortions because their boyfriends won’t take responsibility for their actions and pressure the girls to go through with it? Especially in the conservative families. They fear their parents and their peers. Even today, where you can supposedly do whatever you want. Consider that,” she thundered. “Consider that! Choice? When did any of us ever have a choice in what we did with our lives?” 

I sat on the couch, stunned. Never had I turned my mind to the circumstances i just heard described with such vehemence and never had an elderly lady of my community spoken to me of things largely unspoken of for young males, with so much candour and openness. For a long time, I said nothing, turning her words over in my head as she picked up the crumbs of biscuit in her cup with a spoon. Eventually, I summed up the courage to ask: 

“Auntie, these are sensitive matters and I can understand why they weren’t and aren’t spoken of. But if they are so secret, how is it that they appear to be common knowledge?” 

“Nothing is hidden under the sun,” she replied, conflating Ecclesiastes and Luke. 

“Fair enough,” I continued, “But you don’t just know the broad schematic of the stories, you know intimate details. How broadly did these stories travel? How is it that you know so much?” 

The old lady’s lower lip began to tremble as she took short raspy breaths. Her eyes welled with tears and flowed down her creased cheeks. Amidst sobs that grew ever more violent, she looked up at the icons and then at the photographs of her grandchildren. “Because they came to me,” she sobbed. “They came to me.”  



First published in NKEE on Saturday 16 July 2022

Saturday, July 09, 2022


 I remember the first and only time I ever drew a swastika clearly. I was six years old and had recently watched the Greek classic film «Οι Γερμανοί Ξανάρχονται» (The Nazis Return) with my family. Attending the name-day celebration of a family friend and discovering a dearth of children with which to play, I took to illustrating scenes from the film on the back of an envelope. Drawing a set of soldiers in a row, I decorated their upper arms with swastikas, an emblem that appeared to me to resemble a rather demented spider. Suddenly, I felt the envelope recede from my grasp. An elderly gentleman snatched it from the table and waved it in front of my face. 

“Do you know what you have drawn here?” he shouted. 

“The baddies,” I managed to stammer. 

“Do you know what this symbol is?” he asked, his voice straining to an impossible high pitch. 

“The sign of the baddies,” I muttered, petrified. 

“You have drawn the personification of evil,” he screamed. Tearing up the envelope, he strode over to my parents in the other room. With great difficulty I could make out the strange and new additions to my vocabulary for that evening: “psychological problems,” “disturbed,” and the most fascinating of all, “bunch of fascists.” 


It was then that my parents took me aside and explained to me exactly what the swastika meant and the crimes the people who wore it and espoused the ideology it symbolised had committed. Even though the swastika is a most ancient symbol that predates the Nazis by millennia, a symbol that in the form of the tetraskelion or tetragammadion  or meander pattern appears on ancient Greek architectural, clothing and coin designs, I cannot view the swastika without feeling physically sick. This is the reason that although I was lucky enough to be gifted a 6th century BC silver stater from Corinth by a friend in my youth, I could not keep it, for it bore the symbol of the inverted swastika and I felt compelled to give it away. Similarly, discovering a precious first edition of 19th century English folklorist Lucy Garnett’s “Greek Folk-Songs From the Turkish Provinces of Greece,”  I was incensed and shocked to find its front cover bizarrely inscribed with a gold inverted swastika that had sprouted wings, labelled with the word ΚΟΣΜΟΣ in the shape of a cross and surrounded by blazing suns. Rather than a compendium of Greek poetry collected in raw form, this appeared like the handbook of some occult ritual and it was only after discovering that in the Western world, the anticlockwise swastika was a symbol of auspiciousness and good luck until the 1930s when the Nazis turned it clockwise, and committed unspeakable acts of evil in its name, that I reconciled myself to its existence. 


I also remember the first time I drew the star and crescent, for not long after the incident with the swastika, I had taken to watching pre-war Hollywood Arabian nights films and would festoon the pages of my exercise books with exotic, swashbuckling Douglas Fairbanks characters sporting broad yataghans and flowing turbans topped with the star and crescent, liberating genies from their lamps. This time it was one of my Greek school teachers who snatched the book away from me and gazed at my doodles with horror. 

“Do you know what this is?” kyria Georgia asked me, aghast. 

“Sinbad the sailor,” I responded, marvelling that she could not glean this information from the amount of detail in the drawing. 

“No, this symbol you have placed on his turban and of all these other towel wearing individuals.” 

“I don’t know.” 

“This is the symbol of the people who enslaved our people,” she snarled, tearing the page from my book. “By drawing it, you are condoning four hundred years of oppression. Why can’t you draw some heroes of the Revolution instead? What is wrong with you?” 


When my parents came to collect me from school that afternoon, they found her brandishing the drawing at them. Vaguely, I could make out the now familiar words “psychological problems,” “disturbed,” and a new one: «γενίτσαρος». 


“She is an ignoramus,” my grandfather snorted when informed of the days events. The star and crescent is Greek.” 

“Shut up Kosta. It’s your fault for putting all these ideas in his head in the first place,” my grandmother snapped, as my grandfather shuffled away. 


Yet it turns out, for all of my teacher’s indignation, that my grandfather was right. The star and crescent, which is considered to be a symbol of Islam and is emblazoned upon the flags of Turkey, Tunisia, Azerbaijan, Libya, Algeria, Pakistan, Singapore, Malaysia and so many more states, is actually Greek in origin. Indeed, it was developed in the ancient Greek colony of Byzantium around 300 BC and as a symbol of the moon and morning star, it ultimately came to be connected with the goddess Artemis. It received an even greater reception when it was adopted as the royal emblem of king Mithradates VI Eupator of Pontus, after he took control of Byzantium. As such, the star and crescent began to appear upon the coins of Pontus, and the device came to symbolise Pontus itself. By Hellenistic times, the symbol came to be associated with the goddess Hecate, who was said to have saved the city of Byzantium from attack by Philip of Macedon by illuminating the sky with a bright star in 340BC. The connection between Byzantium and the star and crescent was maintained throughout the Byzantine period and was never forgotten. After Constantinople, its Eastern Roman incarnation finally fell in 1453, scholars contend that its symbol, the star and crescent, was adopted by its Ottoman conquerors as a gesture of total and utter appropriation not only of the city itself, but also of its logos, trademarks and intellectual property. 


Contrariwise the symbol that we now associate with the Byzantine Empire, the double headed eagle, turns out not to have its origins in Byzantium at all. Instead, it appears to have been a Hittite symbol, used sparingly by the Byzantines as a decorative motif and adopted as a symbol of their people by the Seljuk Turks and the Mamelukes of Egypt. It was only in the final, Palaeologian period, that the double headed eagle came to symbolise an Empire which by that stage, was in its death throes. 


The star and crescent is not the only “Greek” symbol to have its use compromised by connotation. If any device symbolised the rebirth of modern Greece, then this surely was the phoenix, the mythical bird associated with Greek mythology that cannot dies for its is born anew, arising from the ashes of its predecessor. So ancient is the Greek people’s association with the phoenix that mention of its is made in Linear B inscriptions dating back to Mycenaean times. The poet Hesiod, in his “precepts of Chiron,” referred to “rich-haired Nymphs, daughters of Zeus the aegis-holder, [who] outlive ten phoenixes.” 

It is no wonder then that the phoenix rising from the ashes was chosen as a symbol of the Sacred Band that declared the Greek Revolution in modern day Romania, as well as of the revolutionaries of Naousa in 1822. Indeed, the first currency of Greece, introduced by Ioannis Kapodistrias was known as the phoenix and sported the mythical bird upon its coins. So synonymous was the phoenix with the concept of freedom that it was also adopted during the German occupation by the Greek Mountain Government.  

However, it was the adoption of the device as the symbol of the Junta that saw an end to any continued official association between the state of Greece and the phoenix. Although an Order of the Phoenix exists as an honour offered to Greek citizens and foreigners alike, any other public use of the phoenix is associated with Junta sympathisers and it appears that the symbol is thus, like the star and crescent, forever tainted and proscribed, regardless of its prehistory. 


Ultimately, whatever their origins and historical trajectory, symbols that come to be associated with hatred and injustice tend to become infused with the memory of that evil and thus their continued use cannot but be abjured. It is for this reason that the entire Greek community welcomes the Victorian government’s initiative to ban the Nazi version of the swastika from public display as a necessary and significant step in the direction of minimising the incidence of hate-crime and anti-semitism. As we go forth, determined to forge a better, securer and more equitable world, it is worth speculating which of our symbols, perfectly acceptable to us now, and encapsulating our ethnic, religious or linguistic identities will come to be tainted and deemed offensive by the stupidity and crimes committed in their name, in the future. 



First published in NKEE on Saturday 9 July 2022

Saturday, July 02, 2022




Peter Andrinopoulos’ recently released book “Greek Women of Influence,” is an example of how community resources can best be harnessed in order to contribute to the formation of our own Greek-Australian narrative. The work is largely funded by the Society of Kalamata “23 March,” and Delphi Bank, as well as by the Victorian Government. The layout and the design of the book is by talented graphic designer Paula Jermenis, who also created the eye-catching Greek-Australian logo for the Bicentenary of the Greek Revolution. 

Most importantly, the book itself is the product of the labour of a well known community identity, a person who has selflessly contributed to the welfare of the Greeks of Melbourne for the past three decades. Peter Andrinopoulos’ deep understanding and love of his community grant him deep insight into the discourses that underlie it and, as he explains in his dedication, it is his experience of strong women of influence in his own life, with his nearest and dearest as a starting point that inspired the writing of “Greek Women of Influence,” a book that contains short biographies of three hundred women from the present and the past that the author considers to be Greek and influential. Some are well known, others more obscure. All are equally as fascinating. 

From the outset, two questions are raised by the title. How do we define the term “Greek?” Indeed, how do we define the term “Influential?” As to the word “Women,” this is employed by the author in its traditional sense and there is no reference here to gender fluidity. 

The question as to who is a Greek is a pertinent one. The book does not contain any reference to influential Greek-speaking women of ancient times or of Byzantium, or indeed of most of the Ottoman period. The earliest by date entries are of women such as Marigo Zafaropoulou who were active during the Greek Revolution. Rather than postulate a diachronic paradigm of Hellenism, the author clearly defines the term “Greek” as pertaining to the modern period, most likely, at the time of and after the founding of the Modern Greek State. There is wisdom in this approach, for by restricting himself to the modern period, the author gives himself enough liberty and space to truly highlight the achievements of contemporary Greek women, giving their stories immediacy and relevance, without these being overshadowed by the stories of already well known influential Greek women of hallowed antiquity such as Cleopatra, Hypatia, Aspasia or Theodora. 

Of the three hundred entries, some seventy five concern Greek-Australian women with others pertaining to trailblazing migrant Greek women in other countries or their descendants. This is a conscious decision by the author, one that suggests that his understanding of the concept of being “Greek” transcends the boundaries of the Republic of Greece and includes the diaspora. That Greek women’s stories exhaust superlatives and transcend stereotypes can be evidenced in such entries as that of the Andrews sisters, singing sensations of Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy fame, whose father was a Greek migrant.  

Indeed, while Peter Andrinopoulos does not discuss his criteria for selection of “Greek” women, his informed choices give rise to pertinent questions as to the nature of that “Greek” identity. In the case of the Andrews sisters, brought up as Lutherans by their Norwegian mother, enmeshed within the American zeitgeist and whose only connection to being Greek was through their father, the manner of their “Greekness” is up for debate. Is connection to place, however tenuous just as significant for the author as an identification with language and culture? 

One would believe so, having regard to the number of entries relating to Jewish women such as designer and royalty Diane von Furstenberg, whose mother was a Holocaust survivor from Thessaloniki. Can she really be considered Greek? Can Rae Dalven, a Jewish writer who migrated to the US from Epirus at the age of five and who produced fine translations of Cavafy poems and important research on the Jews of Ioannina be considered a Greek woman? The author certainly believes so and his sensitive curation of his subjects subverts an understanding of the Greek identity based solely on race and cultural affiliation. In the diaspora, this makes for a fascinating discussion indeed, one that is rendered even more complex by the inclusion of Queen Sofia of Spain, born into the Danish royal family of Greece, educated abroad, having spent only a very small part of her life in that country and serving as Queen of Spain for most her life. 

Some of the entries are of women who have absolutely no connection to Greece whatsoever. Revolutionary Lebanese feminist and journalist Hind Nawfal had no Greek ancestry that we know of. She did however belong to the Antiochian Orthodox Church, known in the Middle East as the “Greek” Orthodox Church. By including her in his collection, the author is postulating an understanding of being Greek that is broad, generous, complex and inclusive. Certainly his approach constitutes an informed and valuable contribution to our own identity discourse in the diaspora as we attempt to define ourselves in the midst of all the other influences and experiences that act upon our daily lives. 

As to what exactly constitutes a woman of “Influence,” the answer was provided to me by the author himself. A woman of influence does not exactly have to mean a woman who is “successful,” by whatever standards success is measured. Instead, it is a women of distinction, a woman who stands out, the circumstances of whose life can move people. The author thus cleverly juxtaposes the lives of such privileged women as Yianna Angelopoulou-Daskalaki and Dora Bakogianni who are in a unique position to “influence” because of the financial and political power of their respective families, against the stalwart and solitary Despina Achladiotou, the Lady of Ro, who lived alone on a barren island, asserting Greek sovereignty on it by the simple act of raising the Greek flag on it every day. As the biographies of the author’s Greek women of influence are not organised according to theme, profession, geographic position or time but rather alphabetically, it is poignant that the Lady of Ro appears towards the beginning of the book. Through her the author reminds us subtly that there are a multitude of women out there who influence us in countless ways. The vast majority of them are unknown and most likely their stories will never be told. The author’s efforts thus encourage us to seek out and value those stories of the women who live among us and to facilitate them being heard. 

 What is unique about Peter Andrinopoulos’ book is that there is underpinned by no overarching ideology or theoretical perspective. While the entries are brief and as such have no space for the women included to tell their own stories, the author is neither prescriptive or effacing. These women of influence are not silenced by the author’s intervention. Instead, he respectfully provides the broad schematics that will permit one to go on to conduct further research. Viewed from this perspective, the book is a compendium, one that allows the reader to dip into and discover with delight, the identity of an unknown personality. It is the pleasure of these initial introductions that thrill the reader, compelling them to consult the book time and time again, a matter acknowledged at the recent launch of the book by both Victorian Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’ Ambrosio and the Honourable Jenny Mikakos. 

Perhaps the lasting legacy of Peter Andrinopoulos’ book is that it will require constant updating, as new stories come to light and more Greek women of Influence emerge both from within our community and the global context. In “Greek Women of Influence,” the author suggests effective ways through which we can capture their stories and provide resources for their further analysis and evaluation. 



First published in NKEE Saturday 2 July 2022