Saturday, December 23, 2023



Isidoros, known to the general populace as Izzy, is a Neo-Byzantine. What this means is that even though the last vestiges of Byzantine power fell in the fifteenth century, they endure in him, and his coterie of friends, of whom I am one, by imposition. We do not visit him in his parents’ house in Footscray on 29 May, for he is deep in mourning and woe betide any of us who has the effrontery to wear clothing of a porphyry hue, for such attire is the preserve of the Emperor alone and he, as self-appointed protovestiarios, guards his privileges faithfully, regardless of the expletives we murmur under our breaths, in Yeats’ Byzantine iambic pentameters, of course.

Similarly, Isidoros is the sworn enemy of Western Christmas. This year when he turned up to our house unannounced a few weeks before the great Feast, fulminating against the latest biography of the Emperor Justinian, he found me in the garage, teaching my progeny traditional Greek Christmas carols.

“No, no, no!” he screamed, “not like that. During the Dodecahimeron (Isidoros always pronounces the Spiritus Asper), children are supposed to go from house singing carols accompanied by the sound of the pipe, not the triangle and the tambourine!” Leaning torwards my startled children, he admonished: “Remember kids, the scholar Ioannis Tzetzes recorded that in order to get treats when carol signing, children had to praise the owners of the homes they were visiting. And the only proper gifts you are allowed to receive are exotic fruits, nuts, eggs and gold coins. If someone gives you chocolate, throw it back in their face.”

“We aren’t allowed to eat chocolate,” my youngest daughter replied.

“Why not?”

“Because they didn’t eat chocolate in Byzantium,” she responded, giggling.

Noticing Isidoros’ eyes brimming with tears, I ushered him inside. This was a grave mistake, for almost immediately, he let forth an almighty bellow of disapprobation. From one perspective, this is understandable. We tend to go rather overboard at Christmas and the entire house is festooned with wreaths, elves, garlands and related paraphernalia. The Myer Christmas windows have nothing on our abode, save for the fact that our adornments are actually Christmas-themed.

“What in the name of Belisarius is all this rot?” Isidoros bleated. “Elves? Pagan wreaths? The baubles of heretics? Teutonic Christmas trees of gaudy excess? You call yourselves Byzantines? You should be ashamed of yourselves. You are nothing more than uncouth Varangians!”

“Oh best of men,” I cajoled him. “Be of a cheerful disposition. Did not the Byzantines also indulge in Christmas Trees?”

“Nooooooo,” he shook his head angrily. “In those times, the Emperor would order that the streets be cleaned and decorated at certain intervals with poles of rosemary, myrtle branches and blossoms of the season.”

Visions of the Seinfeldian Festivus Pole flashed by but I held my peace.

“The pernicious custom of the western Christmas tree was introduced by the Bavarians who decorated the palace of King Otto in 1833,” Isidoros exclaimed. “We must stamp out this pestilent practice.”

One particular Byzantine Christmas custom that Isidoros always neglects is that of the masked prank. In the times he so cherishes, the Byzantines donned various disguises and would knock on their friends’ doors, disturbing their slumber. According to accounts, dressing as a soldier, a priest or an animal, preferably a deer, a camel or a goat was all the rage. In keeping with the custom, a friend once knocked on Isidoros door pretending to be the tax man, causing his parents heart palpitations and last year, I too turned up on his doorstep on Christmas Eve, dressed as his former fiancée (the one who broke his heart), an act that took considerable courage, as Isidoros lives on a main road, where parking is scarce and I had to park and make my way to his premises from the adjacent side street in drag. Sadly, neither Isidoros nor his parents were home, though I did get propositioned by an elderly Vietnamese man on Droop Street with a walking frame, proving to all and sundry that even in middle age, I’ve still got it. When Isidoros did find out about the thwarted prank, he merely quoted the canons of the Quinisext Ecumencial Council, in which the wearing of disguises is banned and merely shrugged when I protested that the abolition was more honoured in the breach, for the custom survived until at least the twelfth century.

Having wolfed down our entire supply of melomakarona, Isidoros settled into an armchair. “You know what we need to do as a community?” he exclaimed enthusiastically. “We need to bring back the Emperor’s Christmas celebrations.”

“But we have no Emperor,” I lamented. “We have a Greek Community President, a multitude of other little presidentiskoi, a Consul-General and a crown-wearing Hierarch, but if one goes forth within the Community in search of an Imperial Overlord, one soon learns that there is an absolute dearth of this commodity.”

Liutprand of Cremona, an Italian bishop and historian dispatched as a diplomat to Constantinople during the tenth century, penned an account of his personal invitation by the Byzantine emperor to partake in Christmas festivities, at the imperial court. It is this ceremonial that Isidoros wants to revive, if only an emperor could be found.

According to Liutprand's narrative, the Imperial Christmas celebrations transpired within a palace referred to as the "The House of the Nineteen Couches." The extravagance of the Christmas celebrations was notable, with Liutprand describing how "everything is served in vessels, not of silver, but of gold." I asked Isidoros whether ancestral stocks of silver dinner sets and cut Bohemia Crystal glasses could be substituted and the answer was firmly in the negative.

According to Isidoros, there would have to be a fixed hierarchy of dishes served, for Liutprand recounted the presentation of food in three weighty golden bowls, transported by carriers concealed beneath a purple cloth. These bowls were lowered to the guests through apertures in the ceiling, each suspended by “three ropes covered with gilded leather and furnished with golden rings,” no doubt creating the need for urgent renovations to the Greek Centre, for this is where I envisage that this grand re-enactment would take place.

Isidoros offered no response to my question as to which eighteen lucky community grandees would be invited to take their places on the couches next to the Emperor, in order to dine with him so I suppose my suggestion, that the places be taken by the last surviving members of the moribund Council for Greeks Abroad (SAE) Oceania, could feasibly be adopted out of humanitarian concerns, over my other suggestion, that as it was also the custom for the Emperor to invite twelve of Constantinople’s poorer residents to dine with him, then plausibly the most suitable person to act as Emperor in our projected reconstruction would undisputable be the leader of our community Commercial Organisations, known for their fraternisation with the more humble classes.

That the substitute Emperor would have to be of a suitably humble disposition is evidenced by the staging of the “Prokypsis,” a custom that took place only twice a year, at Christmas and Epiphany, whereby the Emperor would emerge from behind a curtain on an elevated platform, illuminated by artificial light and acclaimed with accompanying trumpets and other instruments. The Emperor of course would have to be clad in full regalia, cut off at the knees by a balustrade that also obscures the two kneeling men holding the candle and the sword both visible beside him. The height requirement here disqualifies eighty percent of the Greek presidents of Melbourne and the question as to whether the Emperor will enact the Prokypsis at South Melbourne Theophania or Frankston, or both, and what the status of the schismo-prokypsis at Rye will be, is also yet to be resolved.

Despite the protestations of the Byzantine clergy, they were never able to stamp out the custom of the race-mad Byzantines flocking to the Hippodrome to enjoy the Trots of a Christmas. Accordingly, there is nothing stopping our Victorian Commemorative Council of Absolutely Everything from hiring out Flemington Race-track on Christmas Day, allowing our community τζογαδόροιto indulge in their passions while also performing the valuable function of alleviating family tension built up over the hours of enforced levity, by removing themselves from the festivities. Isidoros is against the revival of this practice. Horses make him itch.

The year my son was born, the day after Epiphany, Isidoros turned up at my home bearing Christmas gifts. As a true Byzantine, he celebrates Christmas according to the Julian calendar as our ancestors did right up until 1923. The gift in question was situated in a bowl and took the form of a globulous mass of semolina, honey and butter. “What is this swill?” I feigned outrage.

“This,” Isidoros hastened to inform me, is the «λοχόζεμα», a dish that the Byzantines made in honour of the Panagia. It is given to breast-feeding mothers the day after Christmas – the true Christmas, that is, as an aid to lactation. I’m hoping that…. ”

“Do you want to tell my wife this, or shall I?” I inquired, eyebrow raised. “Further, you ought to know that the practice was outlawed by the Sixth Ecumenical Synod on the basis that the Panagiadid not experience the Postpartum Period the way ordinary mothers did. Take this heretical bowl of slop away from this abode you Neo-Nestorian before you are exiled to the outer darkness, where there is only wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

“But I have no plans to visit Templestowe,” Isidoros protested.

This year, in case Isidoros returns for Byzantine Christmas, I shall be ready. I shall be taking a leaf out of Liutprand’s book, who records remarkable Imperial Christmas performance whereby a man balanced a wooden pole on his head without utilizing his hands. Two young boys proceeded to showcase gymnastic feats on this pole, all while the older performer maintained its balance on his head. I know of no acrobats, but I intend to sharpen both ends of the pole and one end, to transfix that Greek-Australian Christmas favourite: a Panettone. The trouble is, I’m not sure what the Byzantines did with the other end. Perhaps Basil the Bulgar Slayer offers a clue.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 23 December 2023

Saturday, December 16, 2023


Had Greece not been liberated, we may have been speaking today of the Mehmed Marbles, rather than the “Elgin” Marbles, a colonialist-imperialist term whose use by our national broadcaster, has recently (and rightly) offended the Greek community.

This is because one of the first muslims to have appreciated the Parthenon, was Sultan Mehmed II, who seized the Acropolis in 1458, not from the Greeks, but rather from the Florentine Duke of Athens, Francesco II Acciaioli. A polymath and lover of history, Mehmed appreciated Athens’ classical heritage. For this reason, he issued an imperial decree safeguarding its remnants, imposing death as the penalty for the destruction or looting of classical monuments. The Parthenon, having served as the Church of the Virgin Mary for nearly eight centuries, underwent a transformation into a mosque.

The process however was a slow one. We know from accounts that as at 1466, the Parthenon was still in use as a church. When conversion took place, drastic renovations were made: the apse was repurposed as a mihrab, this being the Islamic prayer niche indicating the direction of Mecca and a minbar, or pulpit was installed upon which the local imam was to deliver his sermons. The walls of the Parthenon, upon which icons had been painted were whitewashed, in deference to the prohibition on the depiction of sentient beings in the Islamic tradition and the iconostasis was removed. Further, the bell tower at the southwest corner of the cella, was converted into a minaret, from which the muezzin could issue the call to prayer. In sixteenth century Ottoman tax records, the mosque is named as cami il kale i Atina, 'fortress mosque of Athens'.

In 1667 century, the intrepid Ottoman traveller Evliya Çelebi visited Athens and left a detailed record of the Parthenon mosque, which he found clearly astonishing To Çelebi, its construction seemed beyond human capability and he described the building as "like some impregnable fortress not made by human agency.” Inspired by its beauty, he went on to compose a poetic supplication that the Parthenon, as "a work less of human hands than of Heaven itself,” remain standing until the end time.”

Çelebi noted with wonder, the sculptures adorning the edifice, which he believed depicted "all the creatures fashioned by the Creator of the Universe, from Adam to the Second Coming." Not conversant with the meaning of the reliefs, he went on to describe a myriad of creatures such as fairies, angels, dragons, elephants, rhinoceri, giraffes, scorpions, crocodiles, and numerous others. These sculptures according to him, portrayed processions, one depicting the saved in Paradise and the other capturing those petrified in Hell.

According to Çelebi’s understanding, the Parthenon sculptures adorned a courtyard. Drawing from his familiarity with classical Turkish mosques, he likened the approach to the mosque through a colonnaded courtyard, reminiscent of the magnificent Selimiye mosque in Adrianople. The columns, now separated from the interior structure due to a fire and roof collapse, led him to interpret the Parthenon as a mosque nestled within its courtyard.

The ceiling of the interior to the building, as Çelebi saw it, was made of cypress, gilded and painted.  This was definitely not the ceiling of marble coffers constructed by classical architects Iktinos and Kallikrates.  At some unknown time in the history of Athens between about 250 and 550, Çelebi maintaining that it was on the night of the birth of the prophet Mohammed, a catastrophic conflagration took place in the cella.  It was then that the chryselephantine statue of the goddess Athena by Pheidias was consumed, and the ceiling collapsed, bringing down with it most of the interior structure with the double levels of columns. 

Çelebi also described a second fire, one which was supposedly lit by a mythical Egyptian sultan who looted the church of the Panagia Atheniotissa, as the Parthenon was known prior to its conversion into a mosque of its riches and he maintained that he could see the "wounds" from that fire. Just how much loot could have remained in the building for the mythical sultan to purloin after the conquest of Athens by the Franks after 1204 and the city’s subsequent rule by the Catalans and the Acciaiuoli, is anyone’s guess.

Çelebi’s fascination with the structure of the Parthenon extended to the narthex, where he perceived the holy water font as a colossal goblet, large enough for a person to fit inside—an indication, in his eyes, of the mightiness of people in ancient times. Noteworthy to him was the existence of a pipe organ above the door from the narthex to the church, but what truly captivated him was a column supported by an arch.

The mosque utilized the apse as a prayer niche, adorned with gold mosaics. Multicoloured mosaics covering the arches and walls in the sanctuary invoked memories of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem for him.


An astute observer, Çelebi was also careful to record extant evidence of the Partthenon’s Christian history was evident too. Despite a relatively thin layer of whitewash on the walls to obscure the iconography, Çelebi observed a captivating painting of the Last Judgment in the porch. This artwork portrayed the gardens of Paradise and Hell on either side, with the Panayia’s gold and coloured glass mosaic covering the apse. According to legend, a Turk who tried to damage the mosaic suffered a shrivelled arm, dissuading others from vandalizing it

Outside the mosque, Çelebi noticed a cistern, allegedly filled with wine during the temple's construction to cater to the workers. He claimed that Plato used the grand throne in the apse to teach the people of Athens, attributing the translucent panels in the east wall to the philosopher's ingenuity.

Çelebi had seen the great mosques of the Islamic world, but he was evidently moved by the Parthenon to opine:

“Presently there are well-constructed locations which have been disfigured by the wounds from the fire, but still, in the sphere of this ancient world, there is no such sparkling and luminous mosque since, no matter how often you enter it, on each subsequent entrance so many kinds of artful, individual and exemplary illustrations are evident and manifest.

However, the mosque's grandeur came to an explosive end in September 1687. A Venetian mortar round fired at the command of Francesco Morosini penetrated the Parthenon's roof, igniting stored gunpowder and resulting in complete destruction. The magnificent columns, mysterious wall paintings, and the miraculous Virgin mosaic collapsed into rubble, along with the bodies of numerous Ottomans who perished in the catastrophic explosion.

During the 18th century, the Ottomans constructed a replacement mosque at the centre of the building to replace the one lost in the Venetion explosion. According to all accounts, the new structure paled significantly in size and grandeur compared to its predecessor, visitors describing it as a "whitewashed, quadrangular building with a dome."

The ensuing stagnation of the Ottoman Empire, facilitated increased European access to Athens. The picturesque ruins of the Parthenon became subjects for numerous drawings and paintings, fuelling a growing interest in philhellenism. This, in turn, contributed to the emergence of sympathy in Britain and France for the cause of Greek independence. Among the early travellers and archaeologists were James Stuart and Nicholas Revett, commissioned by the Society of Dilettanti to survey the classical ruins of Athens. Their significant contribution was the production of the first properly measured drawings of the Parthenon, which were published in 1787 in the second volume of "Antiquities of Athens Measured and Delineated." In order to achieve this, they had to seek and obtain, the permission of the Ottoman authorities.

In 1801, the British Ambassador at Constantinople, the Earl of Elgin, asserted that he had obtained a firman from the kaymakam, whose existence or legitimacy remains unproven to this day. This edict purportedly granted permission to create casts and drawings of the Acropolis' antiquities and to remove sculptures scattered on the ground. The resulting vandalism to the building and theft of its sculptures should make even Rishi Sunak blush with shame.

Upon Greece gaining independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1832, the section of the minaret extending from the architrave was dismantled. The mosque then functioned as a storage facility for artifacts unearthed on the Acropolis. In the late March of 1841, the great Danish storyteller Hans Christian Andersen explored Athens, making a daily ascent to the Acropolis and apparently relished the magnificent panorama, deeming the site as a "ruined fairy world." The Parthenon's steps were adorned with wild cucumbers, and remnants of the recent War of Independence were evident in scattered Turkish and Greek skulls. Reflecting on the use of the building coming full circle, he noted that "in the altar, there now stood a torso of an Apollo statue."

In 1842, a portion of the mosque’s walls collapsed, leading to the eventual removal of the entire building. Today, only the minaret's base and the lower part of the spiral staircase remain in place.

It speaks much for the mystique and grandeur of the Parthenon that rather than be destroyed as a vestige of paganism, it was rather appropriated by two of the Abrahamic religions and cherished. Serving today as a temple to the West’s awe of Greece’s classical past, the Parthenon’s Ottoman history indicates just how polyvalent the significance of outstanding architecture can be.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 16 December 2023


Saturday, December 09, 2023



I first learned of the Greeks of Zgorzelec in Poland (formerly the German imperial city of Görlitz) from Preston-based Faye Mangos, who describes in her autobiography “A Cry of the Heart,” how she was taken there during the Greek Civil War, along approximately 10,000 of her compatriots, mostly from northern Greece. There, they set about constructing Greek schools, a Greek retirement home, a factory reserved for Greek employees and later on, the Greek church of Saints Constantine and Helen.


Unbeknownst to Faye Mangos, and most of her compatriots, this was not the first time that Greeks had settled in the city. Indeed, some thirty years previously, when the city formed part of the German Empire and was not divided along the Neisse River between modern Germany and Poland, another unlikely group of Greeks had made their way there, under a most unique set of circumstances. They would go on to establish a vibrant presence, Görlitz going down in history as the town where the first ever bouzouki recording was ever made.


On 25 May 1916, amidst the throes of the First World War, German and Bulgarian forces demanded that Greece surrender of the fortress of Rupel on the Bulgarian border to them, as a counterbalance to the Allied forces that had violated Greek neutrality and established themselves in Thessaloniki in 1915. King Constantine I acquiesced to this demand and the German-Bulgarian troops proceeded to occupy most of eastern Macedonia without resistance, causing outrage within an already divided Greek polity.


At the time of the surrender, the Greek Army’s IV Corps were stationed in the region of Drama. Their commander, Colonial Ioannis Hatzopoulos, was ordered by the King not to hinder the German-Bulgarian occupation of Macedonia in any way. Encircled by the occupation army and in a quandary as to what to do, Hatzopoulos proposed relocating his troops to Germany. Following negotiations with Major Wolfgang von Schweinitz and approval from the German Army Command, the Greek soldiers were considered “guests of the German Empire.” They were thus transported to Görlitz, where the whole contingent consisting of 6,100 soldiers and 430 officers, accompanied by their families, totalling around 500 individuals, were warmly welcomed by the townspeople. Some of those soldiers’ descendants, originating in Crete, live in Melbourne today. 



Initially, the Germans treated the newly arrived Greeks extremely hospitably, considering them a strategic asset in the protracted and complex negotiations with the Greek government for their maintainance of neutrality. Though in fact the soldiers were in a state of captivity, they were billeted in homes that were considered by them to be luxurious compared to those they were used to in Greece, they were allowed free movement, and were even provided with funds and a printing press in order to publish their community newspaper, «Τα Νέα του Görlitz». Overseen by Emil Glauber, printer of the city’s German rag, it ostensibly operated “as means for the Greeks of the town to become known to the townsfolk,” and was described by the editors as a “publication of immense historical and scientific importance.” In actual fact, it was a tool of the German Imperial propaganda, filled with reports of German victories and Allied losses on various European fronts. Apart from stirring poems with verses such as «δούλευε τα μπράτσα-Θάρρος Γερμανία!» (work those muscles, take heart Germany!) the newspaper also contained various sympathetic or ambivalent articles about workers’ agitation to bring down the Provisional Government in Russia and remove that country from the war, with analysis along the lines of: “the situation is critical as the army is beginning to debate socio-political and economic issues.”


All in all, the German government allocated over 10 million marks from what they termed “the Greek Fund” to support their “guests”, and some Greeks were able to find employment in agriculture and industry. Some marriages with local German women also took place and according to scholars, the arrival of thousands of troops marked the first mass meeting of Greeks and Germans on German soil in history. Consequently, the presence of the Greeks sparked the interest of German folklorists and social scientists who gravitated to the area in order to research the customs of the Greeks, make recording of their songs and their music. It is within this context that the first ever sound recording of the bouzouki was made. Also noteworthy was the significant intellectual and cultural activity of many Greek captive artists and intellectuals, such as the great playwright Vassilis Rotas, the writer Leon Koukoulas and the painter Pavlos Rodokanakis.


Events soon limited the use of the captive Greeks of Görlitz by the Germans, as a means to perpetuate civil strife within a Greece divided between the neutral but German-sympathising King and the Entente-sympathising Venizelos, who had set up a rival administration in Thessaloniki. Thus, conditions for the internees changed drastically when Greece openly joined the Entente, leading the Greek soldiers to transition from “guests” to prisoners of war. Disarmed and confined to a camp, many succumbed to the Spanish flu. Insufficient food and unbearable cold within the camp also took their toll on the Greek prisoners, resulting in the deaths of four hundred of them, mostly due to tuberculosis.


Talks about closing the camp began at late as January 1919, and due to transportation constraints, most soldiers only began to be repatriated from Görlitz on 21 February 1919. Not all of the Greeks wanted to be repatriated, however. A number of royalist officers refused to be repatriated, as they feared that they would become victims of reprisals by the Venizelist government once they arrived in Greece. They also hindered the repatriation of the men under their command, causing many radicalised Greek soldiers to join the Spartacist Uprising of Rosa Luxemburg. That uprising was put down with some violence, after which time the soldiers began to escape in small groups by any means at their disposal, many after unimaginable suffering and a whole odyssey of peregrinations around Europe. Some families sought after loved ones incarcerated at Görlitz for seven whole years after the end of the war. For many hapless returnees, life was particularly harsh. Some common soldiers suffered persecution from the Venizelist authorities, were subjected to ridicule and were often accused of treason. Returning offices were sentenced to death, even though these sentences were never carried out.



By 1920, only 200 Greeks and 133 graves, including that of Colonel Hatzopoulos, who died on 15 April 1918 remained in the town. In 1921, the Görlitzer Greeks established the Griechische Vereinigung in the town to support cultural activities and their fellow countrymen. The association received financial aid from a Greek government nor longer intent upon retribution in 1930, to maintain the graves of Greek soldiers.


Left largely to their own devices during the interbellum, with Hitler’s rise to power, the association's activities waned, and notwithstanding Greek dictator Ioannis Metaxas’ amicable relationship with Germany, the Greeks in Görlitz faced harassment by the Nazi SS until the end of World War II. Despite these challenges, many Greeks who stayed in the town started families and businesses, owning retail outlets, shoemakers’ and hairdressers’ workshops, and even a factory by 1923. As trade with Greece expanded, they imported exotic products, including Greek snuff, which apparently, was popular in Germany.


By 1948, when the Greek Civil War refugees began to arrive to the town, providing a new wave of Greeks, it was no longer the Görlitz of old. A few years earlier, in 1945, the town was divided by the river Neisse which runs through it, and its eastern districts were ceded to Poland under the name of Zgorzelec, a status quo that has endured ever since. Thus, in the city divided in two, there lived Greeks of different generations, all victims of the two great conflicts of the twentieth century, blissfully unaware of the existence of their compatriots on the opposite bank, or indeed, of their trials and tribulations.



First published in NKEE on Saturday 9 December 2023

Saturday, December 02, 2023



“You look peeved,” the prospective customer said as he perused the covers of my books at the Greek Book Fair, recently held at the Greek Centre.

“Not so much peeved as content,” I responded. “This is my zen face.”  Buddhist manuscripts in cursive Greek, dated later than the second century AD, have been recently found in Afghanistan. Some mention the "Lokesvararaja Buddha" recorded in Greek as«Λωγοασφαροραζοβόδδο», this being the fifty-fourth reincarnation of the Buddha. To be a Gallifreyan Time-Lord capable of infinite regeneration has always been the chief aspiration of my terrestrial corporeal manifestation. Failing that, to achieve the state of unfazedness possessed of the Greek Buddha, would be ideal.

“How are you going?” the tentative customer asked, having picked up my seventh volume of poetry and put it down again. Any sales.”

“Well, at this stage, I’m paying people to take these beauties of my hands and still they are not flying out of the door,” I lamented.

“At times like these you need Minties,” he consoled me and pulling one out of his pocket, placed it on the table.

Now I have harboured a lifelong aversion to Minties, ever since a swimming teacher in my youth adopted a practise of throwing said comestibles in the pool, I am convinced, solely in order to enjoy the spectacle of wet young boys in speedos vying with each other in friendly competition for their possession, unwrapping and consuming what appeared to me to be petrified witchetty grubs, wherever they found them. Mention Minties to me and I immediately taste chlorine on my tongue and feel his yellow flecked eyes lash my posterior with their acid gaze. It goes without saying that I have steadfastly refused to introduce unnatural objects to my mouth ever since.

Of course we have Persephone of ancient myth to thank for Minties. Despite being abducted by Hades and forced to live in the abysmal Underworld, Persephone was insanely jealous of her husband cum rapist and deplored his infidelities. One of his conquests was his ex, the naiad Minthe, or Menthe (Μίνθη or Μένθη) who missed him and complained vociferously when he married Persephone, organising clandestine trysts while Hades was away on “business trips” for work.

Not being able to shame her on social media, the ancients recounted that Persephone grabbed hold of Minthe and dragged her out onto the sands of Pylos. She hurled herself upon her and squashed her to death, executing the first Fosbury flop in history. As Minthe's soft body was reduced to a pulp of flesh and blood, her lifeless limbs released an intense balmy fragrance: Wild mint.

“But it must be fun to be sitting here,” the plainly not going to purchase anything customer observed. “You get to talk shop with your fellow authors. You can pont…. What’s the word…”


“No, Pont….”


“Pontificate. You get to pontificate on your chosen topics with your brethren.”

Now I have to admit, I despise my fellow authors. For they are an earnest and morally uncompromising bunch who stake their reputations upon every word they have lovingly written and are possessed of an ardent desire to change the world. In this they are aided and abetted by their adoring friends, who form an adulatory claque around them, urging them towards greater heights of literary prestidigitation.  If Kakistocracy (Κακιστοκρατεία) describes government by the least qualified or most unprincipled citizens, that claquistocracy describes literary pontification at the behest of dedicated fans.

I had a dedicated fan once. He returned my fifth book of poetry to me stating that he understood not a word.

Instead of pontificating with my vastly superior peers, I curtly informed the man that I prefer to gorgianise instead. In the "Lives of the Sophists", Philostratus coins the word γοργιάζειν, in order to denote the practice of engaging in oratory of a grand and florid style, or to speak in an excessive manner like the sophist, Gorgias. I enjoy multiple Gorgiasms, every single day.

Taken aback by this, the lapsed customer offered an opinion as to the extent that the concentrated conglomeration of the collected works of Melbourne’s Greek authors under the GOCMV’s roof provided a fire risk to the said edifice. I ventured the opinion that Heinrich Heine’s famous quotation: “That was only a Prologue: where books are burned, in the end people will be burned as well,” actually refers to the burning of the Quran by the Spanish Inquisition during the conquest of Granada in 1499 and as the only quasi-religious material to be found on the mezzanine was securely hidden on page 79 of my sixth poetry collection, he could rest assured that we were all quite safe.

Well almost. For the Olympians despised art for art’s sake.  When Hera quarrelled with Zeus and his entourage in Euboea, Zeus decided to flush her out by pretending to get remarried. He dressed a block of wood carved in the shape of a girl shrouded in veils and gave her the name Daedala or Artifice, because she was the first creature that embodies art in herself. Hera, tearing aside the veils to discover that a block of wood had replaced her in Zeus’ affection, had her ritually burnt on Mount Cithaeron, simultaneously creating art criticism into the bargain.


The sorely troubled customer began to take his leave, offering to nip downstairs and return with my chosen choice of beverage, a frappe being his suggestion. At that, I emitted what I verily believe to have been a whoop of enthusiasm, which he reassures me, was actually a grunt. This is because, as I informed him, I used to fulminate against the existence of the Frappe as the epitome of Greek cultural heresy, that is until that very moment.

For it was precisely at that cosmic junctrure that I came to the realisation that frappe, borrowed from French frappé, past participle of frapper “to hit, or strike” is cognate with the ancient Greek φραπίζω, which appears in Herodotus and later loses the f as ῥαπίζω, meaning to hit or slap. The frappe is thus not just the epitome of laziness, but a doing word. Responding also to his offer of purchasing for me a souvlaki, I offered the opinion that unlike Oakleigh, Greece was invented so that Greek-Australians can order souvlaki and frappe in their bathers, from English speaking waiters. Strange to say, he left, and despite me waiting patiently for all of two minutes, he did not return, bearing either item.

Seeing the foot-traffic flag somewhat in the interim, I determined to whip up some clientele in the manner I had witnessed itinerant watermelon sellers do so in my youth in Athens. In a stentorian voice, I began to cry my wares: «Εδώ τα φρέσκα βιβλία, εδώ τα φρέσκα βιβλία». I proceeded not only to describe by books as fresh and domestically grown but also offered to sell them by the kilo. Seeing a look of horror descent upon my colleagues countenances, I promptly desisted, considering that it was probably the timbre of my voice that elicited from them, such horror. These days I have been learning how to sing Sakis Rouvas’ old hits with the voice of Vasilis Tsitsanis. The problem with my Vasilis Tsitsanis impersonation however is that it sounds like Vasilis Tsitsanis impersonating Chrystakis, an obstacle that I am trying in vain to overcome, and which is not conducive at all, to flogging off one’s own printed material.

It was at this stage that a microphone under my nose and I was called upon by my interlocutor to participate in a segment entitled “Meet the Author.” As a joke on his teacher Heraclides of Pontus, stoic philosopher Dionysius the Renegade wrote a fake Sophocles tragedy entitled Parthenopaeus. Even though it contained the line: “Heraclides knows nothing of letters and has no shame,” Heraclides fell for it and referenced passages of the play in his own writing about Sophocles. As the hubbub in the room drowned out our conversation, I thought it would be expedient to follow suit and cast my literary endeavours in the most nefarious of lights. I proceeded to do so, offering for good measure that in highbrow decadent Victorian circles, lawn tennis was referred to as σφαιριστική and galoshes were called ἀνθυγρόπελος, an expression it was widely believed derived from the Greek words for “against wet mud.” Similarly I ventured, prophylactics could have been termed ανθυγρόπεος by no small stretch of the imagination, considering this to be slightly erudite until my interlocutor informed me that though no one in the room could actually hear what I was saying, it was actually being recorded for posterity.

As my colleagues sold tome after tome, enthralling the many visitors to the highly successful event, I decided it was high time I took my leave. Gathering up my books for donation to adjacent Falung Gong pamphleteers, I decided first to perform my ablutions and so headed to the requisite chamber. It was the fashion in days of old at Oxford to inscribe upon the inside of lavatory doors the Heracleitan phrase: «τὰ πάντα ῥεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει»,ie everything flows and nothing remains. Emerging relieved, I mused that this custom should be introduced to Greek-Australian toilets everywhere, with me being the exception that proves the rule, for not even those generous and placid Falun Gongers would allow me to unload the fruits of my literary loins upon them, even as I tried to convince them that they were Greek iterations of their own philosophy.

Better luck at the Greek Book Fair next year.



First published in NKEE on Saturday 2 December 2023