Saturday, April 29, 2023



You find me enmeshed in the throes of issuing proceedings against the International Astronomical Union (IAU), an ostensibly benign and inoffensive body that purports to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy in all its aspects through international cooperation. Among other things, it is tasked with assigning names to celestial bodies and any surface features on them and it is here that I have identified a crime of a magnitude surpassing even the invention of the chocolate tsoureki.  

I accuse the IAU of deliberately misrepresenting and distorting the nature of august personages of hallowed antiquity with the sole aim of appropriating their legacy to bolster their own perverted ideologies. Exhibit A, Alexander the son of Cleopatra VII Philopator (which literally means ‘Daddy’s girl’), has been given the surname Helios, or Sun. Exhibit B: Daddy’s girl’s daughter, also named Cleopatra, the queen of Mauretania, has been given the surname Selene “the Moon.” One of her ancestors, Cleopatra of Syria, also was referred to as Selene.  Now, “Ancient Apocalypse” aside we know that both Alexander and the two Cleopatras were actually human members of our own tribe, no matter the extent of their inbreeding, so why is it that the IAU is intent upon effacing their Greek heritage, ascribing to them instead the nature of planetary bodies? There is a conspiracy here, I’m sure of it. Deed, dark nefarious purposes are at play here. Personally, I blame Kissinger. 

The outrage felt by Greeks, primarily from the Diaspora, but also by Egyptians and Slavitsa from Thomastown who dressed up as Kleopatra for the 1993 Miss Bitola beauty pageant, at Netflix’s casting British actor of Adele James to play the iconic queen in Jada Pinkett Smith’s docudrama “Queen Cleopatra,” is thus merely symptomatic of a broader trend to diminish the achievements of ancient Greek civilisation and thus divest the modern Greek people of their identity. After all, Adele James is part Welsh and we know that there were no Welsh people at the Ptolemaic court at the time that Cleopatra was trying to kill her brother, and although the words Welsh and Vlach have the same root in the proto-Germanic “Walhaz” which came to mean foreigner, the whole idea is for us to prove that Cleo was one of us, probably originally hailing from Ano Kleines in Macedonia, and while there are Vlachs in the vicinity, no one even remotely related to Tom Jones has ever lived there, nor likely, ever will.  

Controversy over who gets to play Cleopatra is nothing new. In 2020, people around the world were outraged at the casting of Amazonian goddess Gidal Gadot as the enigmatic and bloodthirsty Ptolemaic Queen on the silver screen. Parts of the Arab world were incensed that an Israeli was chosen for the part, while in America, protests centred around the choice of a “white” actress instead of a “black” one, the rationale being that since Egypt is in Africa, all Africans are black, except of course, for Michael Jackson. At the time, I remember writing to the producer politely suggesting that the best to resolve the dispute was by seeking neutral ground: Let Cleopatra be played by a man, of Polynesian descent, named Maui. The story that this was vetoed by Jacinta Ardern is purely apocryphal, as is my suggesting that Cleopatra, in the alternative, be played from Alkistis Protopsalti, who at least was born in Alexandria and could perform a rendition of «Μαλάμω during the battle scenes. 

If is any consolation to Pinkett Smith, I too have provoked the ire of my compatriots, for employing a picture of Gidal Gadot dressed as Wonder Women to promote my upcoming lecture on “Kick-Arse Women of Pontus,” at the Greek Centre. Enraged compatriots have showered me with invectives, proclaiming that Wonder Woman was not Pontian (which is incorrect considering that Wonder Woman was an Amazon, and according to Greek mythology, Amazons came from Pontus) and would only be assuaged when I informed them that the actor portraying her in Hollywood’s actual full name is Galene Gadotidou whose ancestors migrated from Matsouka near Trapezounta to Tel Aviv in 1821. 

The same cries of consternation were heard when “Troy: Fall of a City,” cast David Gyasi, of Ghanaian descent, as Achilles and Nigerian-born Hakeem Kae-Kazim, as Zeus. Admittedly, I did not make it past the second episode, for having read Homer, the suspense was kind of ruined but I noted my people’s bewilderment. Interestingly however, I have never seen any concerted effort by diasporic Greeks to protest the manner in which Olympian Gods and indeed ancient Greeks have been portrayed by the West since the time of “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys,” as a cross between Conan the Barbarian and the Vikings. I also have not seen much in the way of protest at the manner in which classical Greek culture and mythology has been historically subverted in order to fuel an ideology based on Western racial superiority – that same discourse that feeds the modern Greek ontopathology of inadequacy, and causes us to constantly seek the West’s approval by playing to their imposed stereotypes of who we were and who we should be. 

While there can be no doubt that Cleopatra was predominantly Greek in origin (her mother Laodice III was a daughter born to King Mithridates II of Pontus, a scion of the Persian Mithridatic dynasty) and spoke Greek as her mother tongue, she was also the first multilingual Ptolemaic monarch, the first of her line to learn Egyptian, along with, if one believes Plutarch, Ethiopian, Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, Median, and Parthian and Latin. As an iconic, flawed and doomed figure, her valiant and often ruthless attempts to navigate the macho world of Rome as a powerful Hellenistic woman and retain power and independence for her family and her kingdom, her role as a skilled naval commander and a true goddess in that she was worshiped in Egypt for four hundred years after he death are what should move is and not the colour of her skin. Similarly, like her ancestor Alexander who was considered by the Egyptians to be the son of their last pharaoh, Nectanebo, and by the Persians to be a grandson of Darius II, Cleopatra has come to mean all things to all peoples. The manner in which people appropriate myths or historical figures not their own, for whatever reason (in case of the African-Americans it is relevant to a search for empowerment, as Pickett-Smith reveals: “We don't often get to see or hear stories about Black queens, and that was really important for me……The sad part is that we don't have ready access to these historical women who were so powerful and were the backbones of African nations,") deserves to be studied and celebrated, not excoriated. After all, it was Herodotus himself two millenia and a half ago who wrote that ethnicity often is manipulated for political reasons and it has perhaps escaped Pickett-Smith in her quest for appropriate role models for the modern African-American, that for all her tragic life, Cleopatra was the scion of one of the first colonialist monarchies in history, ruling over a people with which she had no kinship and save for the sake of convenience or to preserve her rule, from which she, her family and her people remained segregated. 

Of course to bolster those claims there is the story that Vavo Machi from Syrrako once told me: 

In 59BC the young Cleopatra of Egypt was sent to accompany a Ptolemaic delegation to the kingdom of Epirus. While sojourning in Metsovo, she was accosted by an old woman who asked her: 

- Ω Πάτρα! Τι φτιανς η μαύρη; 

She has been considered to be black in Metsovo and indeed the whole of Epirus, ever since. 


We can, like me, be deeply saddened and offended by Netflix’s casting of Brad Pitt to play Manolis Angelopoulos in the upcoming biopic of same name, considering that Tim Curry whose skin is of a lighter hue would have eminently been a more historical choice. 


We can also again, like me, write to Netflix and to the various outraged Greek online media suggesting a compromise whereby the promotional photo from the 1912 silent film Cleopatra, starring Helen Garner conclusively proves, that the Ptolemaic Queen of Egypt was both black and white. 

Or, specific to the Hellenic zeitgeist, we can raise this question: If each culture portrays historical and mythological characters according to its own set of references, to fit its own prevailing narratives, rather then complain about the inaccuracy or irrelevancy of those portrayals, why are not the Greeks in Greece and indeed, the Greeks in the diaspora (for even among these two connected groups there are a plethora of socio-cultural differences) producing their own?  

For my money if you are seeking a rollickingly good rendition of a Cleo-flick, you cant go past the 1970’s British classic Carry on Cleo. Replete with lines such as “Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me.” In my Greek-Australian version: “Cleopatra in Clayton,” Cleopatra takes the last stand against the City of Monash before Eaton Mall is turned into a multi-story carpark, her last line being, as in Carry on Cleo: “I have a poisonous asp.” The rest, as they say, is history. 


First published in NKEE on Saturday 29 April 2023

Saturday, April 22, 2023


 I am loathe to admit, but I feel rather down post-Easter, even though it is the most joyous occasion in the traditional Greek Australian’s calendar. A friend, who is a doctor, ascribes my melancholy wont to the cessation of fasting which modern science holds creates negative moods and the potential for nutrient deficiencies, in everyone that is except those who hail from Epirus, who report an improvement in psychological symptoms, especially the first generation communist ones who pride themselves on never entering a church but fast during Sarakosti anyway, for medicinal reasons, as they assure me. 

Some of the latest reviews of fasting have revealed that people who fast have lower anxiety and depression scores than control groups who did not fast, most probably because they are relieved from the psychological burden of making bad dietary choices, if not personal ones, while other studies suggest that fasting can create positive experiences, like a sense of accomplishment and control. This would explain the manifest joy exhibited by a Greek Australian denizen of the café I frequent near my office in Toorak, who, resplendent in activeware and pouchon in tow, ordered a cappuccino from the waiter, informing him that she was not seeking her usual soy chai latte as she was giving up soy for lent.  

“That guy over there is also fasting,” the waiter indicated my form, hunched up over the Neos Kosmos death notices. 

“Oi!” a deep gravely voice called from across the table. “Are you νηστέψειing?” 

“Yeah,” I replied curtly, turning the Neos Kosmos over to read up on the artist formerly known as papa-Lefteris latest exploits. 

“Oh my God, what a pisser! We must be the only people νηστέψειing in Toorak, re! What are you νηστέψειing from?” she gushed exuberantly. 

“The usual dairy and meat,” I responded, disconcerted at having lost the thread of papa-Lefteris’ argument. 

 “Oh, you’re old school,” she frowned. “There’s no way I could do that. I can’t live without my Saturday souvlaki in Oakleigh. You’re not Greek otherwise.” 

For the rest of Sarakosti, Soula would greet me every morning ebulliently, enquiring: “How’s the νηστέψειing going?” as if I were training for a marathon, in which, if one reads the Holy Fathers, she is not so far off the mark. Her friend Joanna, on the other hand, is pious and fasts “retro-style” like me, although she eats tuna, and this because while roaming the aisles at Woolworths this year, she discovered a sign reading “Perfect for Lent,” in the canned fish section. She also indulges in Pascall Marshmallows because they are in keeping with the overall Pascal theme, a pursuit that I consider ingenious as well as eminently legitimate given that their ingredients (I googled them) comply with our fasting canons. 

My friend Maria, who is studying Theology in Thessaloniki, messaged me on the first of April, ostensibly to remind me that according to the canons of the Church, when the feast of the Annunciation falls within Sarakosti, the customary eating of fish on Palm Sunday is not permissible, thus rendering to nought any plans I had in relation to the conceptual gigantic snapper which I had not yet caught. After three hours of despondency, I finally realised the extent to which my credulity had led me astray and messaged her back, quoting the thirty fifth canon of the Thirteenth Council of Kalamaria, which provides for the instant excommunication of those who have the temerity to make jokes during this most solemn time. 

Fasting, I’ve discovered, is a great way to silence disputation. My friend Marios, whose baptismal name was Spiros before he changed it in honour of the Theotokos after being born again, tries to convince me during Sarakosti that the entire hierarchy, those who consort with them, and indeed everyone in the entire world except an obscure cleric who performs his liturgies from his garage in suburban Melbourne and does not appear to be in communion with anyone else, are heretics who are doomed to perish in the End Times. He attempts to cite St Kosmas the Aetolian’s purported pronouncement about the Pope in order to bolster his contention, at which time I gently inform him that because I am fasting, I am unable to engage in argument with him. The conversation turns to his second object of Marian adoration, Maria Sakkari, instead. 

I apply the same approach to my friend’s cousin’s koumbara who always during this period, informs me that we, the Orthodox are anti-social, anti-global and behind the times because we celebrate Easter after the rest of the world. Not before, mind, but after, indicating that we are institutionally incapable of leadership. It is for this reason, she informs me, that she and her progeny celebrate Easter with the Catholics. She wants to teach her children to lead, not to follow. Her sister on the other hand, refuses to permit her offspring to celebrate Easter at all, considering services such as the Kathelosis, “the unnailing” of Christ from the Cross, or the dyeing of blood-red eggs to be triggering and the whole event to be a massive death cult. They look to me to comment and Francis Urquhart like, I opined that they may very well think that, but I could not possibly comment, for I am fasting and unable to engage in discussion.  

The story that I have been able to obtain impossible adjournments of court hearings for clients on the same basis, is purely apocryphal, especially considering how many court registrars and judge’s associates in Melbourne are of Greek extraction. All of us it seems, prefer to conduct our disputation after having fuelled the body and mind with at least one week’s consumption of meat. 

One is not supposed to judge one’s brother while fasting but the enemy always provides situational tripwires designed to lure the unwary away from the path of righteousness into the cesspit of perdition. Thus, there is a school of thought that contends that Greek Australian residents of Balwyn who express eagerness at the prospect of seeing their kids crack chocolate Easter eggs purchased from Aldi over the Paschal table while lisping “Christ has Risen,” with the appropriate response being “Same to You,” must necessarily be effaced from the Earth and relegated to the outer darkness wherein only suffering reigns and there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth, as are those who prefer to serve Cream of Mushroom soup rather than Mageiritsa after Anastasi. 

As Holy Week arrives, much discussion revolves around lamb on the spit, with Bunnings getting their advertisements for Anglo-sized mini-spits in early, eliciting the scorn of the hard-core suburban souvla-kings when middle class professionals with pretensions to paradosi, admit to having purchased one which they still haven’t figured out how to put together, rather than having welded together with their bare hands, a supersized one from oil drums purloined from the back of a factory. 

Holy Week also marks the resurrection of Petros Gaitanos, whose classic chanting of the various hymns of the Passion is on constant loop at my parent’s house throughout, only to be buried deep within the bowels of the CD drawer as soon as the Week is over. At our place of abode, we listen to Fairouz, who, while her hair is less lustrous and coiffured, her eyebrows less plucked and her pronunciation of Greek less punctuated by passion, still is able to act as the personification of dignified grief, a proper paradigm of charmolypi, the joyful sorrow that permeates Holy Week, in the anticipation of the Resurrection. My friend Chris, a theologian, prefers to listen to Heavy Metal instead,  notably Songs of Death and Resurrection by Demon Hunter. This pains me on various aesthetic levels. 

On Good Friday,  a Greek Australian client called me for legal assistance regarding conflict arising out of the chocolate Easter Egg hunt she was organising for her syllogo, prefacing her phone call by declaring:  “Christos Anesti.” 

“If you say so,” I replied. 

“What do you mean?” she asked. 

«Ο πελάτης έχει πάντα δίκιο,» I informed her, before expressing delight at the imminent emergence of the Pascal Mar Lago Stifado, Trump's latest dish of choice. 

This year, our Pascal feast was prefaced by a host insisting that we perform a welcome to country ceremony prior to commencing festivities. Unfortunately, he did not know the name of the local tribe that once inhabited Truganina, nor could  google search assist in providing the names of its elders past, present and emerging. We settled for a general salutation and a polite reminder to the land developers within the environs that sovereignty was never ceded. 

A week later, satiated in culinary carnality, I am pensive and wistful. I miss pre-Pascha. 


First published in NKEE on Saturday 22 April 2023

Saturday, April 15, 2023



It was the poet Angelos Sikelianos who referred to Easter as «Πάσχατων Ελλήνων» (Pascha of the Greeks), and rightfully so considering that even in this secular age, Easter is arguably still the most important fixture on the Greek calendar, even in the centres of the diaspora throughout the world. 

Consul-General of Greece in Melbourne, Mr Emmanuel Kakavelakis is fond of distinguishing Greek Easter with its deep, symbolic and nuanced customs from that of “Disney Easter,” the festival of chocolate eating, an event bereft of meaning, focusing instead on commercialisation and consumption. Yet even as many Orthodox parishes throughout Australia organise Easter egg hunts for their younger parishioners, who are at least two generations removed from the villages in which the Orthodox customs exist in their natural habitat, and in a Greek community that appears to have adopted its host country’s emphasis on consumption, albeit one where lamb replaces chocolate, one would be forgiven for thinking that the Pascha of the Greeks is doomed to be a soon discarded relic of the past, as quaintly irrelevant as the Greek language itself. 

Panagiota Andreadakis, author of the recently released bilingual children’s book “The 123 of Greek Easter,” begs to differ. Approaching the customs and deeper meaning of Greek Easter from the perspective of a counting game, Andreadakis seeks to educate the latter generations (and their parents) as to the significance of Orthodox usage, beyond merely the aping of practice. There is wisdom in this approach. I remember growing up, two fellow students of the same tribe boasting to our teacher about their fasting for Easter. “Do you know who instituted the fast and why?” the teacher enquired. The boys had no idea. “We do it because we are Greek,” they intoned, and then went off to thump Vasili, who was eating chocolate, because his father was a communist and believed that all forms of religion were opium for the masses, although this did not inhibit him from taking “Greek” Good Friday off from school. 

It is here that the importance of Andreadakis’ project lies. Unlike many others, who lament the decline in participation in our community’s endeavours and are quick to apportion blame at the organisations or institutions they hold responsible, speculating how things would be different if only they did one thing of the other, Andreadakis waits or relies on no one. She neither criticizes nor blames anyone. Instead, as a mother, a member of the Orthodox Church and the Greek community, she notes that she has a vested interest in ensuring that her child and all children by extension, have access to adequate resources that will teach not only the how, but also the why and the wherefore of the unfathomable depths of the Orthodox Easter tradition. Where she surmises that such resources are inaccessible or not readily available, she had developed some of her own and they are remarkably good. 

Yesterday, I came across my younger daughter reading something aloud in ecclesiastical Greek. On closer inspection, I realised she was holding “The 123 of Greek Easter” in her hands and reading the Good Friday Laments. Number 1 in Andreadakis’ book signifies the Epitaphios and she not only provides an explanation of what that Funeral Bier of Christ is, but also a description of the customs that surround it, and of course, in Greek, a small section of the laments which accompany it, giving the reader a holistic understanding of the customs and theology surrounding it.  

Similarly, she has the number 2 refer to the two main Saturdays of Souls, a fitting contrast to the joy of the resurrection. Andreadakis not only describes the significance of these days but also kollyva and even provides a selection of customary sayings, thus obviating the need for one to resort to their parent to ask: “What do I say when I am told Ζωή σε σας;” In like fashion, at the rear of the book, there is a page dedicated to phrases that can be used throughout Holy Week and Easter, an invaluable resource for those who seek to participate more fully in the festivities, or at least have them rendered intelligible. 

As is the case with Andreadakis’ previous book, “The ABC of the Twelve Days of Christmas,” there is an understated earnestness and integrity which characterises the text, which is simple, easy to understand, read, interpret and teach. Striking the right balance, it is neither condescending nor preachy. Instead, it flows gently, almost tenderly and is clear and concise, resisting getting bogged down in trivia, minutiae and tangents. The parallel Greek text provides an introduction to the look as well as the vocabulary of the Greek language as it pertains to Easter. There is great wisdom in this approach. The beautiful illustrations by Anna Gerb not only enliven the text but in keeping with the Orthodox tradition transform the natural reality described by Andreadakis into a higher conception of form. 

To fully partake of “Greek” Easter, indeed to instil within the young a sense of belonging and relevance, one must not only understand but also participate and be included. It is here that Andreadakis reaches the apogee of her art. Accompanying the “1 2 3 of Greek Easter,” is the Greek Orthodox Easter Activity Book, replete with Orthodox Icons to reproduce or colour in, craft and educational activities, such as Apokries Mask Making, how to create Kyra Sarakosti, how to construct the Pontian Clean Monday tradition of the Koukara, recipes for traditional Easter fare such as Lazarakia and instructions for each child to discover their own family’s culinary and other traditions, explanations of the concept of Godparents, word searches and puzzles, interactive, match and learn, maze and fill in the blanks activities as well as a rich compendium of poems and songs that are sung during this time. A list of permissible Lenten foods acts as an introduction to a tradition that is the antithesis of the consumer age in which they are otherwise steeped. There are also do it yourself stickers and a host of other craft activities that will not only keep a child occupied and enthralled but open up that coveted world beyond the mundane and the prosaic that characterises the aridity of much of contemporary existence. Far from being mere collations from various sources, Andreadakis’ compilation is fastidious and a good deal of thought underpins it. 

It speaks volumes that Andreadakis has chosen to publish her book under the imprint of “Stelakis,” which also happens to be the name of her young son This is in keeping with the family and community ethos that characterises her publications: the way that she would teach her precious little boy is exactly the same way that she addresses all of her other youthful readers, with reverence and immense love. And that, in the end, is what Easter is all about, unfathomable, immeasurable, endless Love. As such, “The 1 2 3 of Greek Easter” and the “Greek Orthodox Easter Activity Book” are resources that should not be absent from any self-respecting Greek organisation and are indispensable for all Greek homes, especially during Holy Week. 


First published in NKEE on Saturday 15 April 2023

Saturday, April 08, 2023


“You’re from Epirus,” an enthusiastic mother exclaimed at the recent 25 March celebrations. “I love that Zalongo song. The one which goes«στη στεριά δε ζει το ψάρι/ούτε ανθός στην αμμουδιά» (on landfish cannot survive/ nor a flower on the sand). It really gets me going. You have to hand it to these amazing women. Preferring to die free, rather than live as slaves and writing amazing songs in the process. This is what the Greek Revolution is all about.” 

“It is a lovely song, but unfortunately it was not composed by the Souliotisses at Zalongo, nor was it sung during the Greek Revolution” I replied hesitantly. “Oh you are just one of those pinko NeoKosmolefties who don’t respect our traditions and want to destroy everything,” she snapped. “Why don’t you do us all a favour and go and find another ethnicity if you hate being Greek so much.” 

The legend holds that sixty women of Souli, trapped at Zalongo after fleeing the destruction of their homes by the Albanians of Ali Pasha, threw their children and themselves off the cliff to their deaths, in order to avoid enslavement and rape, all the while dancing and apparently spontaneously singing the song which has dominated Greek school theatricals ever since: «Έχεγεια καημένε κόσμε» (“Farewell poor world, Farewell sweet life, and you, my wretched country, Farewell for ever).  It is this song that I was at pains to explain to the enraged mother, which although enmeshed within our popular consciousness and considered emblematic of the Greek Struggle of Independence, actually has nothing to do with it. Firstly, the incident at Zalongo took place in 1803, some eighteen years prior to the Greek Revolution. The music itself, bears absolutely no resemblance to the musical tradition of the region, and as for the lyrics, we know that the song was first performed one hundred years after the event it is supposedly contemporaneous with, forming part of a popular drama, written by Spyros Peresiades, in 1903. 

What we know of Zalongo mainly comes from Western travellers who were eager to incorporate the austere, mountain dwelling war-like tribespeople of Souli into a romanticised myth that presented them as modern incarnations of republican Rome or Sparta. Sacrificing oneself for one’s country was weaponised as a prime example of these forms of civic virtue. By grafting the Souliotes onto values already accessible and understood in the West, Western philhellenes sought to elicit sympathy for the Greek cause and fashion renascent Greece in their image. 

Prussian traveller Bartholdy, who was present in Ioannina at the time of the Zalongo massacre is the first to report on it in 1804. He writes that one hundred refugees from Souli had sought refuge at Zalongo: “They [the Albanians] attacked them because the location, being quite defensible, could easily be fortified and so, the massacre was terrible. Thirty nine women threw themselves off the cliff with their children, some of which were still at the breast.” 

A year later, in 1805, English traveller William Martin Leake recorded that the number of women involved was twenty two. Henry Holland, who travelled through the region a decade later and published his account in 1815 wrote that the Souliotisses “threw their babies over the cliff so they would not be captured by the enemy.” In both accounts, there is no mention either of dance, nor of song and it appears that they were forced off the cliff rather than choosing to throw themselves. 

The earliest account we have of dancing in connection with Zalongo, is that by Christophoros Perrhaivos, also in 1815. He notes that the band of Souliotes that had reached Zalongo were those who had capitulated to Ali Pasha and that among them were men, notably tribal leader Kitsios Botsaris. They were suddenly attacked and only after two days of fighting did “around sixty” women decide to throw themselves off the cliff. Perrhaivos describes them dancing, but also does not mention singing. Instead, he provides a gruesome detail: “Some of them did not perish because they had fallen upon the bodies of their offspring or comrades, impaled upon the sharp rocks below.” Mysteriously, in the second edition of Perrhaivos’ account, he completely omits mention of the Souliots’ capitulation to Ali Pasha and the women’s fatal dance. 

French philologist and historian Claude Charles Fauriel, who published the first collection of Souliote songs in his 1824 “Chants populaires de la Grèce moderne” while dramatizing the massacre by focusing on how the women kissed their children prior to throwing them to their deaths, records the dance but not the singing. He mentions the survival of one woman, as compared to Perrhaivos’ several, but this could be a literary trope to explain how the tale of their sacrifice could have been told without the survival of eyewitnesses. 

Fauriel’s account seems to have influenced Greek national poet Dionysios Solomos’ portrayal of the massacre in his 1824 poem “The Death of Lord Byron.” In that poem, notable for its erotic imagery and its implication that unborn children were leaping in the womb along with their mothers, Solomos references the fatal dance at Zalongo, declaring that it was their love of freedom that pushed them to trace the steps of such an extreme dance: «τεςεμάζωξε εις το μέρος/του Τσαλόγγου το ακρινότης ελευθερίας ο έρωςκαι τες έμπνευσε χορό».  

It is only when we come to the anonymous “Memorandum relating to Greece and Albania,” by the so called Ibrahim Manzur Effendi, that we learn that there were one hundred women at Zalongo, who apparently sung, danced and threw themselves off the cliff all the same time, a detail provided by one Suleiman Aga, an Albanian soldier, who apparently witnessed the sacrifice and related it with tears in his eyes. 

At the conclusion of the Greek Revolution and the establishment of the Greek State, Greece ceased being a romantic neo-classical paradise and instead became a burden and a source of aggravation to the West. There was no need to idealise the Souliotisses any longer and it is during this period that Greek historians begin to examine the event and to attempt to romanticise it. In 1860, Souliote doctor Panagiotis Salapantas describes the «σπαραξικάρδιον» moment where, kissing their children, the Souliotisses danced and threw themselves to their deaths. He adds the detail that the soldiers present, witnessing their bravery and daring, exclaimed: “Allah, Allah, yazık,” meaning “God, what a shame!” The fact that the soldiers were Albanian in origin and probably did not speak Turkish must have escaped him. 

George Finlay’s 1861 History of the Greek Revolution, based on Leake’s account omits the dancing component altogether and it is only when we get to Konstantinos Paparrigopoulos’ five volume History of the Greek Ethnos that the authoritative account as we now know it, becomes close to being crystalised, he mentioning that the Souliotisses joined hands and threw themselves off the cliff while singing and dancing, though the nature of the song is not mentioned. 

In 1886, an account was published from the testimony of Lambro of Kamarina, one of the five children that survived the massacre. She stated that during the ambush, both men and women rallied to defend themselves. In the panic, some threw their children over the cliff, others tried to hide behind bushes and most were slaughtered. Poignantly, many children were killed when their mothers who were hiding ebhind rocks, smothered them inadvertently after covering their mouths so that they would not cry out. 

Another survivor’s account in 1890, Ekaterina Karras’ who was five at the time, mentions that there were fifty six women and thirteen men at Zalongo. She states that the women threw their children off the cliff before they followed, singing and dancing to their death. Again, just how the five year old Ekaterina was able to witness the women’s activities after having been thrown off the cliff, is a matter for speculation. 

It appears then that while there can be no doubt that an incident did occur at Zalongo, and that it is plausible that women jumped or were forced to jump to their deaths, the exact manner of their deaths, including whether they danced or sung, and what form this took is impossible to ascertain. What we are able to appreciate instead, is the formation of a myth for national purposes, one that meets the philhellenic ideals and expectations formulated in the West, whereby the Souliotes and by extension, all Greeks are as committed to the defence of their nation and willing to sacrifice themselves for it as the ancient Spartans, while being also as honourable and democratic as the Athenians, in contrast to the capricious and despotic Ali Pasha. It is an exercise in the building of Hellenes, in which the threat of rape converns not only the Souliotisses specifically but endangers the entire Greek ethnos. 

As such, the song and its accompanying myth are highly problematic. As Alfredo Banti has argued, female suicide is an act for submission to men, not relevant to personal emanciapation. While it may be presented as the woman’s choice, it is implied that it is a woman’s responsibility towards men, with the threat of secualised violence being presented in order to create a collective European identity against the sexually violent Other. Thus, the women of Zalongo who love their country more than their children or their lives, subordinate their interests to those of the public good, which is determined by their menfolk. Since women are usually held to represent the private sphere, this means they adopt the male perspective whenever they enter into the public sphere and are sacrificed first. 

The myth of Zalongo, thus, instead of acting as an archetype of defiance and subversion of the patriarchy, both local and externally imposed, or being an element in the process of negotiating the Greek identity in opposition to the colonising vision of classical antiquity propagated by the West and an attempt to overcome the sentimental, orientalist identity imposed upon Greeks by western intellectuals merely reinforces their narrative. Until such time as Greek women feel comfortable enough to articulate their own discourse without resorting to tropes, such myths will continue to deprive them of their voice, fuelling the internal contradictions of our ontopathological identity. 



First published in NKEE on Saturday 8 April 2023