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