Monday, May 17, 2004


"Beware of Greeks bearing gifts," is an oft-quoted phrase, ever since Homer, (or whoever the author of the Iliad and Odyssey is) irresponsibly coined it, thus providing other with the weapons with which to deride his unfortunate descendants down the ages. An Albanian proverb runs thus: "After shaking hands with a Greek, count your fingers," while an old Bulgarian proverb is also enlightening: "Fear one Greek, laugh at two."
As far as I have been able to glean, no proverb or saying exists to magnify the achievements or nobility of the Greeks to the tune of: "Great are the Greeks and magnificent are their works," or something similar. Even the Romans who grudgingly acknowledged that the conquered Greeks had conquered Rome with their civilization doesn't quite cut the haloumi. It appears that throughout history, ever since Homer's unfortunate faux pas (would we hesitate to state that the great poet "rolled himself and us into the bargain") and Alexander's burning of the palace at Persepolis, which earned for the Greek king the appellation of "son of Satan," that we have been the victims of extraordinary bad press. Why so?
In part, we only have ourselves to blame. Homer's precedent is a particularly bad one. It enabled Illyrian monarchs such as Justinian to actively persecute vestiges of Greek culture, simply because in his subjective opinion, they were anti-Christian or harmful. The bulldozing of temples and destruction of Greek works of art can only have had the effect of making the Greek people feel really bad about themselves. This is why Greek philosophers, fleeing the closure of the school of Athens found themselves in Persia, Greece's traditional enemy, seeking succour from the Great King, and were only allowed back to Byzantium briefly and under a bi-lateral treaty, so they may collect manuscripts for the Great King's library. It has oft been argued that these scholars were responsible for the dissemination of Greek culture throughout the East, providing for its ultimate survival. The jury is still out on this one, but one can imagine the Great King, intent on spreading the Persian State religion, Zoroastrianism, enveloped in waves of mirth, using the leading scholars of his arch-enemy to develop a modern and more cohesive theology.
The nineteenth century and the advent of Neoclassicism in the West reversed this trend. Suddenly, everything that was Greek was good. Western buildings were built in the Greek style of old, Greek sympathizers arrived on the shores of Greece to assist the downtrodden in their fight against the Ottomans and thousands of artifacts admired and removed. This golden age of Greek public relations seems to have lasted until Western sympathises began to realize that Mitso the Greek levendi was quite unlike Socrates or Alcibiades and well, more like Mitso really… Ever since then, it all went downhill. Such was the disappointment in 'Greeks' after the Revolution that pseudoscientists such as Fallmerayer decided that they could not have been descended from the ancient Greeks at all but rather from 'lesser' peoples, such as Slavs. What a crushing blow.
This of course is old hat and while compliments fell thick and fast from our 'Allies' in World War Two for giving our lives to protect western interests and bases in the Aegean area such as "Greeks don't fight like heroes, heroes fight like Greeks," generally speaking, the world seems to have been reading too much Homer and are once more suffering from the "we can't trust the Greeks" syndrome, in the present era.
Only this can explain the organized worldwide campaign to vilify the Cypriots for rejecting a forced referendum about the future of THEIR country. Suddenly, the barbarity of the Turkish invasion, English colonialism which forced people to be burnt alive, desecrated churches and tortured priests is swept under the carpet and considered irrelevant. Irresponsible journalists portray Cyprus as the aggressor and the invaders as victors. In effect Cypriots are being punished for not towing the imposed line. Ladies and gentlemen, the Greeks are the sole cause of the Cypriot problem. Remove the Greeks and therein lies a solution.
The media hype over the safety of the Olympic Games and Greece's capacity to stage them is also indicative of a general malice towards the Greeks in general. The media seems to take great glee in magnifying, distorting and exaggerating Greece's shortcomings in this regard, as the recent Sixty Minutes 'report' showed. Having an American reporter, who looked as if she had just escaped from Oprah or Entertainment Tonight try to pull controversial faces at her Greek interviewees, thus destroying thousands of dollars of cosmetic surgery and setting at naught the proposition that Botox does in fact kill the right nerves is the height of cynicism. Not only was the report poorly compiled, it was also out of date by the time it was screened. So why then was there need for a shocked Liz Hayes to report on an 'Olympic Tragedy?' Simply, because she knew her viewers would enjoy it.
Assuredly, the media has also obtained great mileage out of the Kallithea bombings. Perhaps what Greece should do is stage a terrorist bust like their northern neighbours in Skopje who killed innocent Pakistani immigrants and presented them as terrorists in order to obtain kudos from the United States of Anti-Terrorism. Or better still, stage a raid of a boat off Greek waters, full of terrorists holding babies over their heads. It is a sad, sad world we live in indeed.
Nevertheless, rather than rage against Homer's legacy, the Greeks should do something about it. Knowing full well that the over-critical eyes of the world would be upon them, they should have taken steps to nip unfair criticism in the bud. Sadly, in relation to the Olympic Games, this has not been done. Gianna Angelopoulou Daskalaki was appointed only to be removed , only to be reinstated once more when the going got tough, works suffered interminable delays owing to strikes and mismanagement and an inefficient bureaucracy frustrated efforts to get things on track. Dora Bakoyiannis' great one-liner "Greeks are like the syrtaki, they start off slow and go very fast at the end," does not exactly inspire confidence in Greece within the international community, especially considering it is one that is not disposed to being indulgent with Greece, adding instead fuel to the fire of the media reputation-burners.
While I personally am fearful of the security issues of living in a country that appears to incarcerates refugee, appears to invent terrorist threats, unjustifiably invades other countries and arguably steals the resources of its third-world neighbours, I am doubtful whether this is seen as more important than whether a small country, with a multitude of problems can organize a sporting event that will outshine the parade of Hills Hoists and thongs that graced our shores here in 2000. Still, criticizing others is the best form of displacing attention from local issues and making us feel good about ourselves. But hey, that’s only the view of a pestilential purveyor of print-media.
Finally, spare a thought for those who would go against the Homerian trend and support us in our time of need. There is something romantic that an Aussie girl, with the aptly Greek name of Delta, is learning Greek so she can converse with our Marko, who judging from his lispy accent in the old AAPT Smartchat commercial (issi tha kirdisseis) is not entirely cognizant of the language himself. This is good and rare publicity so I take Homeric leave of view without further comment than to state a Pythagorism: "Beware of Greeks eating beans."

First published in NKEE on 17 May 2004