Saturday, November 25, 2023


 Not so long ago, while presenting the Epirus Programme on community radio, I happened to make mention of the passing of Isaac Mizan, who was the last Auschwitz survivor of the Epirote city of Arta. I also highlighted the fact that the 25th of March, celebrated as the day of our national regeneration, has a bleaker significance for Greek Jews as it was on that day in 1944 that the ancient Jewish community of Ioannina was rounded up in the main square of that city by the Nazis and deported to Auschwitz. As most were murdered upon arrival and very few survived, I ventured the opinion that it is a testament to their suffering that the late mayor of Ioannina Moses Elisaf, was elected as the first ever Jewish mayor of a Greek city. Seeing the switchboard light up, I threw to a music break. The vast majority of callers were sympathetic and sensitive, displaying an acute interest in the topic, wanting to know more, or recounting stories of the Jewish communities of their own home towns. Intermixed with these, however, were some interesting exchanges:

One caller was a rather irate elderly listener:

- Are you Jewish? he shouted.

- Why?

- You must be Jewish. That is why you are sprouting all that filth and lies.

- I do not believe that it a lie that the last survivor of Auschwitz from Arta is dead, I replied. The gentleman did die, you know. The reason why we know this is because he is no longer with us.

- Who cares? Καλά έκανε και ψόφησε.

At this point I was about to bid him a good night and go to the next caller, when he stated:

- Jews are the catastrophe of the Greek people. They have spread death and destruction wherever they have gone.

- And where is that exactly? I enquired.

- Everywhere. Μέσα σε όλα έχουν το χεράκι τους. They need to apologize for everything they have done to us.

- Including the massacre of Tripolitsa when the Greek freedom fighters massacred the innocent Jewish population after giving guarantees about their safety?

- Ehh..

- Or how about when Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the Temple of Solomon?

- What temple?

- The Temple of Solomon. The seat of the Holy of Holies.

- I knew it! I knew it, he crowed triumphantly. You are a Jew and in the pay of the Rothschilds. They are your true masters.

- Assuming that I am a Jew, I responded, shouldn’t you apologize on behalf of the Greek people for desecrating the Temple?

- Είσαι πούστης εβραϊομασώνος σαν τους παπάδες, he screamed. He then went on to tell me that I am a Judeo-Bolshevik in league with George Soros, Jeff Bezos, a number of prominent Greek-Australian institutions and Neos Kosmos, all of whom are secretly Jews tasked with retarding the Greek-Australian community's social development and that I perform unmentionable acts with farm animals in assorted Masonic lodges all around Melbourne.

- By all indications, we have done a brilliant job, I responded and to my regret he terminated the conversation, which was a pity, since I wished to discover how he came to knowledge of my alleged tectonic activities and reassure him that I lean towards Menshevism instead.


Another caller took issue with the fact that I had discussed the role Athens Police Chief Angelos Evert played in saving Jewish families during the Holocaust.  As Police Chief, he ordered the forging of thousands of identity cards to Athenian Jews under which described them as Greek Orthodox Gentiles, an act for which in 1969 he was proclaimed “Righteous Among the Nations” by the Yad Vashem Institute.

Angelos Evert later testified that he drew his inspiration from the actions, words, and deeds of Archbishop Damaskinos of Athens, who had urged the Greek people to save the remaining Jews of Greece.

-        He was a fascist and a collaborator, my interlocutor snapped. You shouldn’t even be talking about him.

-        Yes, a flawed individual indeed, I agreed. What is significant however, I ventured to opine, is that although he was of German origin and thus a Volksdeutscher, he did not adopt the prevailing attitudes of his people but rather, did whatever he could to save these most vulnerable people.

-        He was probably a crypto-Jew, so that doesn’t count. You should be talking about how the only Greeks that helped Jews during the War were EAM. And even after the war, the British-controlled fascist government did nothing for the Jews.

-        You mean how in 1943 Chief Rabbi of Athens Elias Barzilai negotiated a deal with EAM, whereby in exchange for them sheltering Jews in guerilla-controlled areas, he paid to them the Jewish community's entire cash reserve? I asked. Hardly a selfless act.

By the way, did you know that post-war Greece was the first country in Europe after the war to give back to its Jewish community possessions of Jews, that were killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust and the war as resistance fighters?

-        You are a degenerate bourgeois capitalist whose opinion has no validity, he barked and I went to another caller.


“Check your Messenger,” the voice, which was known to me, on the other end snarled, and glancing at my phone, I saw a picture of young, uniformed men, their arms raised in fascist salute. A caption, written in Greek but using angular “Ancient Greek” style Roman letters, proclaimed: “This is how the Greeks saluted before the Jews conquered the world.” Those pictured appear to have been in Ioannis Metaxas’ youth organisation EON 1936-1941, so obviously it was after 1941 that the Jews, according to the meme, commenced their conquering of the globe.

-        So how is it that the Jews were able to conquer the world at the same time that they were being herded into concentration camps? I asked my interlocutor. Talk about multitasking.

-        Just remember, he warned. Stop defending Jews at the expense of your own people. Jews are on a mission to destroy Hellenic civilisation. They will never forgive our brilliance. That is why they always act against the interests of Greece.

-        Does that include Mordechai Frizis, the Greek military officer, who fought for Greece in World War I, distinguished himself in World War II, and was killed on 5 December 1940, fighting against the Julia Division? The same Frizis who was born in Chalcis, on the island of Euboea, to a Romaniote-Jewish family? I enquired.

-        It’s evident there is no further point talking to you. But I know why you are supporting the Jews. You are a lawyer so you want to impress your Jewish lawyer mates so you can get more cases. But just remember, there is a price to pay for being a filthy race traitor and selling out your people. I’ll say it one last time: Μακριά από τους Εβραίους.


On the next line, a reedy Cypriot-inflected voice congratulated me on my chosen topic.

-        It’s good to learn about all these things,” he pronounced. But just remember, if

there is an Israel today is because of us.

-        How do you figure? Greece voted against the creation of Israel in the United Nations.

-        Well they got the idea of a homeland from us, didn’t they? After the Greek Revolution. They saw that it could be done so they gave it a go as well. Did you know that the Karaolos internment camp, set up by the British in Cyprus, was used in 1946 to incarcerate Jews wishing to settle in Palestine, so as to stop their entry into the region? I’m telling you, our role was pivotal.


My next caller was an elderly person who identified himself as a Jew formerly resident in Constantinople. He told me how much he enjoyed Greek films and listening to Greek music. In particular, he confided, he very much liked the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” on account of the fine Jewish actors who appear in it, such as Lanie Kazan, Arielle Sugarman, Mark Margolis and Bess Meisler. I in turn, advised him that before “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” there was the 1972 Israeli film “Salamonico” about a bouzouki-loving larger than life kind-hearted Greek Jew whose daughter marries into an uptight European Ashkenazi family who gawk as the Greek Jews drink ouzo and dance tsifteteli. He asks me where in Melbourne he could venture to dance tsifteteli and I learn that he is ninety-six years old.


-        Ε, βλάκας! Δεν βαρέθηκε να μιλάς βλακείες στον ράδιο; came the gravelly voice of the final caller. I recognised that voice. This was a Jewish friend who taught himself Modern Greek in order to amuse himself (at least that is what he maintains against my suspicions that it was to impress a long, lost love-interest) and who has taken a lively interest in all things Greek ever since. I described to him the tenor of the responses I received from my listeners and he sighed:

-        The problem boychik, is that none of us have read Hobsbawn properly. Nu, and what does the great Hobsbawn say? He says: “A history which is designed only for Jews (or African Americans, or Greeks, or women, or proletariat or homosexuals) cannot be a good history, though it may be comforting to those who practice it.” Now go forth and broadcast no more.



First published in NKEE on Saturday 25 November 2023

Saturday, November 18, 2023


The ancients feared the Strix as the worst kind of monster; a malevolent bird that would emerge under cover of darkness in order to feast on the blood and flesh of people, preferably infants. Her passage, for she was a gendered monster, was said by ancient Greek grammarian Antoninus Liberalis, the sole surviving written source attesting to her existence, to be “a harbinger of war and civil strife to men,” according to his work «Μεταμορφώσεων Συναγωγή,» a collection of brief tales about mythical transformations of humans caused by outraged Olympians.  Yet the Strix was not always a nocturnally crying creature which positioned its feet upwards and head below, in order to squirt foul-smelling milk upon the lips of human infants, or disembowel them and feed upon their blood. Indeed, the myth of Polyphonte (“mass murdering”), the first Strix, sheds light on issues related to gender roles, power dynamics, societal norms and the transcending of binaries.

Polyphonte’s story begins with her rejection of prescribed ancient Greek gender roles. A granddaughter of Ares, the god of war on her maternal line, Polyphonte disdains the idea of marriage and motherhood, choosing instead to emulate Artemis, the virgin goddess of the hunt, by fleeing to the mountains and becoming one of her companions. Her rejection of marriage and motherhood challenges the patriarchal norms of ancient Greek society, where women were expected to fulfill these roles. From a feminist perspective, Polyphonte’s defiance can be considered as a rejection of the limited roles society imposed on women, even though the manner in which devotees of Artemis were able to ‘opt-out’ of traditional gender roles was heavily circumscribed.

However, no male seeks to impose the patriarchal mores upon her, or to curb her defiance. Instead, it is a woman who will administer punishment, the enraged Aphrodite, goddess of love, lust and procreation. She takes Polyphonte’s assertion of the right to choose her own destiny, albeit as a follower of another powerful female divinity, as a personal insult. Indeed, the relationship between Polyphonte and the goddesses is significant when one considers that Artemis and Aphrodite represent different aspects of femininity – one associated with independence and virginity, the other with love and desire. The conflict between these goddesses and the punishment Polyphonte receives may thus reflect the tension and societal expectations placed on women to balance and reconcile both aspects of femininity.

This tension is highlighted within the personage of Aphrodite herself. While most commonly referred to in ancient literature as «φιλομμειδής,» meaning “smile-loving” or according to Hesiod, “genital-loving,” she was also known by such epithets as μελαινίς "Black One", σκοτία "Dark One", ἀνόσια "Unholy", τυμβωρύχος “grave-digger", and most ominously for our story, ἀνδρόφονος"Killer of Men", all of which highlight her darker, more violent nature. Consequently, while the sexuality of women is clearly delineated by Aphrodite, the fact that it is a female who is the arbiter of the manifestation of such sexuality, unsettles patriarchal expectations and results in a tension as to the malignancy of female sexuality that never quite resolves itself.

Similarly, Artemis, traditionally goddess of the hunt, of the wilderness and of wild animals, has appropriated to herself other aspects of femineity, namely virginity, but also the outcomes of Aphrodite’s preserve of procreation: childbirth and care of children. A feminist analysis of Polyphonte’s plight would thus invariably have to highlight the lack of agency that she has in her own story. By seeking freedom of choice, she becomes enmeshed within a veritable turf war between two almost omnipotent divine beings. Here, sisterhood counts for nothing. Instead, it is the power imbalances between mortals and the gods in Greek mythology, that are the primary focus. Whichever side Polyphonte chooses, she is bound to offend a higher power and when she does, because she is so low in status, the goddess to whom she has chosen to give her loyalty will not protect her, even when Polyphonte’s punishment is conceived as an attack on that patron goddess, the impotent Polyphonte being irrelevant.

When the punishment comes, it is dire. Aphrodite punishes Polyphonte by subverting the natural order of things and by othering her; making perverse, the role that Aphrodite felt Polyphonte should have adhered to from the outset: she causes Polyphonte to lose her reason and lust madly after a bear. This in turn, leads to a double othering in that she, deprived of rational thought, violates Artemis’ demand for chastity of her followers. Now that the devotee is a transgressor, she no longer belongs in her chosen world; Artemis turns the wild beasts against Polyphonte, threatening to kill her.

Aphrodite’s subversion of her narrative of lust and sexuality results in a perversion of Artemis’ preserve of powers. Polyphonte gives birth to two half-human, half-bear sons, who are monsters and thus do not transgress the binary, but exist outside it, far beyond the protection of the gods. As cannibal half-breeds they are entirely “unnatural” and it is deemed necessary by the patriarchy to eliminate this threat to the natural order, neglecting the fact that this was brought about by the highest echelons of power, or rather emphasising that those in power have the ability to efface their own transgressions by victimising the very humans they manipulate. In this way, the unnatural offspring are transformed into carrion-eating birds such as vultures by their great-grandfather Ares, while the hapless Polyphonte, is transformed into the dreaded Strix.

The Strix, though a female predator, still lacks agency, for she cannot help her nature. She remains perpetually a pawn in the power struggle between Aphrodite and Artemis, abhorrent to her erstwhile patroness, because she drains the life of a child she should, by nature protect and care for.

While grammatically gendered, it could be argued that the Strix, being an unnatural creature, exists beyond gender binaries and absolutes. She penetrates, t(he preserve of the male in classical Greek thought), via her piercing the body of infants, but then also receives, (the traditional role of the woman according to the same paradigm) the flesh and blood of her prey.

Similarly, her function is an inverted parody of her original choice and an annihilation of her own femininity: while serving Artemis, she was required to be chaste. Now, as a monster, she is rendered incapable of life-giving, (whereas before this was a choice) and instead, is life-taking, the complete opposite of what a woman was expected to be, again transgressing and deconstructing binaries.

In some variants of Polyphonte’s myth, the milk dripped upon the lips of infants was not foul but nourishing, this proving no impediment to their subsequent murder. The fact that a living being could nurture and yet destroy that which it nurtures, does much to emphasize the ambivalence in which women were considered in ancient Greece: both as life-givers but also at the same time as subversive and menacing. Any apparently loving mother could be a murderer. The Strix thus exhausts the binary, representing not only phobias as to inversion but also, chillingly that nothing is ever entirely benign.


We are not aware as to the longevity of the Strix’s lifespan and whether she was immortal, another manner in which Polyphonte becomes isolated from her own humanity. We do know however that by Byzantine times, she was conflated with another monstrous being, the child-murdering Gelloudes, who according to Saint John of Damascus and Michael Psellos, “suck blood and devour all the vital fluids which are in the little infant.”

Like Polyphonte, the Gelloudes/Strix of the era were non-binary as well, as it was held by theologians of the time that a woman's gendered nature precluded her from turning into a demon, since demons were considered to be sexless.

Unlike the ancient Strix, which after her transformation, was left to her own devices, the Byzantine Strix could be neutralised through the intercessions of the Archangel Michael, an equally sexless but grammatically gendered being, as attested by archaeological finds of countless amulets invoking his protection, or via prayer to the most powerful woman of them all, the Theotokos.

Today, the term στρίγγλα, a word derived from Strix, endures to denote a woman who does not conform to patriarchal female stereotypes and is thus stripped of her femininity. The word translates in English variously as hag, vixen, shrew or virago - a woman who is man-like. So many aeons later, the othering continues.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 18 November 2023

Saturday, November 11, 2023



The stiff, studio-posed wedding photographs of my newly arrived relatives haunt me now. The people they depict have either long departed or, have placed me in the position of living in mortal terror as I consider the prospect of their demise. They are old, their lives have largely played out and as I gaze upon their faces in the black and white photographs, most of them taken in the Chionis Studio, some smiling and brimming with optimism, others hesitant and apprehensive, I wonder whether their life expectations were fulfilled.

As I flick through those photographs, I note how identical they are, from a succession of brides wearing the same hand-me-down wedding dress, because money was tight and the concept of it being “my day” had not yet penetrated the Greek-Australian zeitgeist, to the identical beehive hairdos of the bridesmaids, the mothers-in-law standing a few centimetres askance, clutching a newly purchased handbag self-consciously, all the images expressing the same values, the same aspirations. And in contrast to the wedding photos of our community today, every single person in the photograph is young, for these are the Prometheans, creating their own reality before the world began to age.

Democritus Worker’s League’s current exhibition “Greek Weddings Under the Southern Cross,” featuring a collection of thought-provoking photographs of Greek migrant weddings in Melbourne from the fifties and sixties emphasizes the role the camera serves as a tool for capturing evidence. Beyond any manipulation or interpretation of a photograph, it suggests that there exists a deep, existential link between the tangible subject placed in front of the camera's lens and the resulting photographic image. It posits that every photograph inherently shares a connection with its subject, emphasizing that the photographed subject indisputably existed in the past, albeit as a reality we can no longer physically touch, but which we can, albeit for now, remember.

Democritus’ passionate reaffirmation of retrospective photographic realism should be understood in the context of our community currently being enmeshed in the throes of significant demographic change: the first generation, the subject of the photos, is departing and with it, not only unique cultural memories and traditions but also a way of life transcending the rural and embracing the proletarian, possessed of a desire not only for the acquisition of material goods but also of a profound sense of mission for the betterment of society and achieving equality. The carefully curated photographs that comprise the exhibition attest to a sense of profound loss and a quest for an authentic representation, rather than a superficial, or stereotypical one. The exhibition thus does not seek to bring its subjects back but, rather, to affirm that they existed – to find solace in an unquestionable truth from the past. This is the assurance that a photograph can provide: the certainty of a past truth that remains beyond doubt, while permitting us to argue about its context.

In staging such a unique exhibition, Democritus invites us to recognize that every photograph undergoes specific and highly significant distortions that make its connection to any prior reality deeply problematic. This situation prompts questions about the role of the technical equipment and the social customs surrounding photography. The poses of the protagonists, the clothes they wear, the expressions they affect are a construction, an image created according to established formal conventions and technical procedures. These define allowable manipulations and distortions in a manner that permits skilled and validated interpreters to draw conclusions based on established conventions in specific contexts. It is thus within this institutional framework that otherwise debatable interpretations hold weight and can be upheld, or otherwise, be rejected.

Viewed from the perspective, the photographs, which ostensibly tell the same story over and over again, propound a nuanced commentary on the indexical nature of a photograph, the causal link between the pre-photographic subject and the image. This link is formed through a complex technical, cultural, and historical process where optical and chemical tools are employed to organize experience and desire, resulting in a new reality altogether. As such, the exhibition acts as a mediation on the nature of photography itself:  At every stage of the process, chance occurrences, deliberate interventions, choices, and variations contribute to the creation of meaning, regardless of the level of expertise involved and the division of labour within the process. This photograph gains significance in specific interactions and has tangible effects, yet it cannot reference or be referenced by a pre-photographic reality as an absolute truth. The exhibition suggests that its photographs are not some mystical emanation but a tangible product of a physical apparatus operating under particular circumstances, driven by specific forces, and serving more or less defined purposes. Consequently, it demands not mystical transformation but a historical context, without which the essential nature of photography remains hollow and fails to deliver the confirmation of existence, the imprint of a past presence, and an understanding of its manifold perspectives.

Many, as I do, will recognise some of the persons featured in the photographs comprising the exhibition, others they will have heard about through the memories of their children.  While examining the photographs, a question arises: Even if we were face to face with the actual person that the photograph is supposed to vouch for in terms of their past existence, would we be in a position to extract the same existential truth as from the conscious and unconscious, cultural, psychological, and perceptual codes and processes that shape our perception of the world and lend significance to even a simple piece of chemically discoloured paper? Our experiences and reality are inseparable from the languages, representations, psychological structures, and practices that frame them and imbue them with meaning, just as they invest meaning in a seemingly ordinary piece of paper. Both experience and reality are entwined with the systems of meaning in which they are embedded and that they disrupt.

Undoubtedly, the photographs can engender in the viewer a palpable sense of loss, triggering a yearning for a pre-linguistic certainty and unity – a nostalgic and regressive fantasy that transcends the transient. This is the foundation of the exhibition’s focus: to make manifest what is absent, or retrospectively real. Yet what transcends representation, by its very nature, cannot be expressed. Furthermore, it is an effect of the subject's formation through representation to give rise to this notion of something beyond. We are left with no alternative but to work with the reality we have: the reality of the paper representation, the tangible object, on the wall in the Steps Gallery.


At home, I compare more contemporary wedding photographs: those of loved ones who were married in the nineties and the two-thousands. Like those at Democritus Worker’s League’s exhibition, they are largely identical. Like those comprising the exhibition, they invite an exploration of the economic and social power dynamics of the society in which those portrayed inhabit and an analysis into the economic environment, material aspects, and historical background of the photographs. One is compelled to ask, whether these photographs, like those in the exhibition, uphold the economic values responsible for its creation, or do they divulge the conditions and history that gave rise to them? What hidden ideologies might be embedded in the work? How does they contribute to the perpetuation of class and other distinctions?

While the formal dress and stylised poses in the photographs featured in the exhibition harken back to community narratives of purity, innocence, hard work and success, the exhibition also speaks to the ways in which the Greek migrant discourse was commodified, mythologised and ultimately, subverted. It is thus the polyvalency of these ostensibly simple images, and the questions that their interpretation inevitable pose, that render “Greek Weddings Under the Southern Cross,” so noteworthy and so thought-provoking.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 11 November 2023