Monday, January 16, 2006


Amidst the festivities and bounteous feast of the New Year, our dog, whose street roaming tendencies caused us to suspect early on that she would become a progenitor of other pooches, gave birth to two puppies. In the midst of conversation with family and friends as to relative and correct ways to act as a midwife to goats and other village cattle that have for the most part now been banished from Greek villages by EU funding, I was asked what names I would like to give the puppies.
Semantics form an inordinately important aspect of the Greek identity and world-view, this being evidenced by Aristotle, who wrote and thought widely upon the human desire to ‘name’ things. The Categories of Aristotle are classifications of individual words (as opposed to propositions), and include the following ten: substance, quantity, quality, relation, place, time, situation, condition, action, passion. They seem to be arranged according to the order of the questions we would ask in gaining knowledge of an object. For example, we ask, first, what a thing is, then how great it is, next of what kind it is. Substance is always regarded as the most important of these. Substances are further divided into first and second: first substances are individual objects; second substances are the species in which first substances or individuals inhere.
Notions when isolated do not in themselves express either truth or falsehood: it is only with the combination of ideas in a proposition that truth and falsity are possible. The elements of such a proposition are the noun substantive and the verb. The combination of words gives rise to rational speech and thought, conveying a meaning both in its parts and as a whole. Such thought may take many forms, but logic considers only demonstrative forms which express truth and falsehood. The truth or falsity of propositions is determined by their agreement or disagreement with the facts they represent. Thus propositions are either affirmative or negative, each of which again may be either universal or particular or undesignated. A definition, for Aristotle is a statement of the essential character of a subject, and involves both the genus and the difference. To get at a true definition we must find out those qualities within the genus which taken separately are wider than the subject to be defined, but taken together are precisely equal to it. The genus definition must be formed so that no species is left out. Having determined the genus and species, we must next find the points of similarity in the species separately and then consider the common characteristics of different species. Definitions may be imperfect by being obscure, too wide, or by not stating the essential and fundamental attributes. Obscurity may arise from the use of equivocal expressions, of metaphorical phrases, or of eccentric words.
Ιερά Παράδοσις, holy tradition, establishes some naming conventions but these are seldom helpful and are constantly called in to question, thanks to Aristotle’s perspicacity. Thus, various ‘prominent’ and ‘important’ neoGreeks with pretensions to ‘leading’ the ‘Greek’ community advise us that the word ‘Greek’ was foisted upon us as a definition by the Latins. It is therefore a fallacious and ineffective tool in determining our familial group, which is why in turn we must impose the use of the term ‘Hellenic’ upon others who would describe us. Those enamoured of Byzantine civilization point out that both the Graecoi and the Hellenes were merely ancient tribes of central Greece, that the word Hellene shifted in meaning to signify an idolater and that the term Ρωμιοί, used even today by the Middle East and the Greeks of Constantinople, is more apt as it has been used right up until the present day. I particularly favour the term Romioi as it confuses us both with the Romans and the Romanians, as well as the Roma, in keeping with French philosopher Jean Bernard Klus’s maxim: “The artist creates the myth to obscure the art.”
Nonetheless let us not despair at both our obsession and inability to name ourselves. Even the great Homer struggled to give a name to the ‘Greeks.’ At times he called them Achaeans, a word to be rejected outright as fuelling Peloponnesian arrogance that they are the only true Greeks.’ On other occasions, he called them Danaans, a term not without attraction as it no longer has any connotations in Aristotelian logic and can be applied generically. Indeed, an anabaptism with the word Danaan could even permit one of our own community armchair thinkers to postulate that it is only the gradual shift of a set of lightly contrasted plosive/fricative pairs that have caused the difference between Danaan and Canaan. In different variations of a certain lexical root, a root consonant might exist in plosive form in one variation and fricative form in another. Thus, a mere pharyngealised voiceless alveolar fricative could have us claim the promised land as our own and completely set at nought, the entire Middle East peace process.
Holy tradition also governs my own personal identity, given that my hypostasis and physis was prescribed by the Greek tradition as that which was also prescribed to my grandfather and by the Orthodox Church, to my illustrious patron saint, on whose feast I was also born. Nonetheless, given that assimilative Australian holy tradition prescribed the English manifestation of such an identity to take the form of the word ‘Dean,’ which by the way, sounds tantalisingly close to ‘Danaan’ in the pronunciation of the upper Murrumbidgee, where dental velar plosives tend to be supressed and pronounced bilabial, I have experienced the Aristotelian wrath of the neoGreeks of our community who pour scorn upon those purporting to transcend multilingual demonstrative forms, as pseudo-Greeks. This notwithstanding, the Aristotelian conundrum posed by the existence of a future generation of Aristogeitons who know not a word of Greek shall be thoroughly amusing.
Holy Danaan tradition only goes so far as to prescribe names for animals. A quicl glance at any old school ανθολόγιο will quickly permit one to come to the conclusion that the only acceptable name for a Danaan cat is «Ψιψίνα,» while donkeys are invariably to be named «Κυρ Μέντιος.» The distinguished author Ξενόπουλος in one of his essays to the youth of Greece suggested the alternate Babylonian-biblical name of «Ναβουχοδονόσορ» but that is just as silly as if I named my first son Tiglath-Pileser III. As for dogs, there is a dearth of acceptable names for these most faithful of creatures in the Greek tradition. Generally dogs get slighting press in Danaanic thought and they are always thought to be verging somewhere on the cusp of good and evil. Cerberus, the three-headed hound of the underworld is perfectly frightful, while the flesh-eating hounds of Acteon, instruments of the wrath of Artemis are not even named. Orion’s dog may appear in a stellar constellation, but it remains unnamed. The only dog that appears to have been named in ancient epics, is Argo, the faithful hound of Odysseus, who patiently awaited his return from his looting and pillaging expedition, in order to make the world safe for democracy. Argo is a wonderful name but it does not solve my problem, as I have two dogs, and they are both not Ithacan.
This dearth of references is quite surprising given that various ancient Greek dog breeds provided the genetic material, which formed the basis for the development of many modern dog breeds. The Maltese terrier actually originated in Miletos of Asia Minor, which colonised various areas of the Mediterranean including Malta itself aeons ago. From the Ionian cities these little companion dogs were transferred to Athens and during its Golden Age they became luxury pet-dogs and lap-dogs of the aristocracy, escorting the ladies to the Agora with precious collars on their necks, even with nails polished to match the colour of the mistress' dress. The ancient Hellenes certainly loved their dogs. Xanthippus, the father of Pericles, was said to have owned a dog that swam by the side of his master's galley to the city of Salamis when the Athenians were forced to abandon their city. The dog was buried beside his master at a site known ever since as Cynossema, the dog's grave. Alexander the Great is said to have founded and named a city, Peritas, in memory of his dog.
‘Greek’-Australia has formed its own pet naming traditions. The current craze is to name our domesticated friends after ancient personalities. Thus I have met rottweilers with the genteel name of Pericles, convivial dobermans called Poseidon, King Charles Terriers referred to as Agamemnon and a particularly pernicious poodle called Kyveli. One friend has even named his dogs Empedocles and Agathocles because “one thinks he can fly and just as Agathocles was tyrant of Sicily, so is his namesake tyrant of my backyard.” Personally I think it is pretentious to give newborn puppies not even ten centimetres long a name of more than two syllables. In particular I am reminded of a friend in Albania who named his dog “Rroftë Diktatura Proletariatit.” (Long Live the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.) This plagued his poor pooch with a multitude of psychological problems.
In wishing to adhere to Danaanic tradition, and given that apparently dogs, like all animals, do not possess souls and thus cannot be given Christian names, though St Christopher and St Mercurios’ converts in Orthodox art are often portrayed in icons as having a dog’s head, I have found a middle way. Gerald Durrell, the famous late zoologist who grew up in Kerkyra describes in his book “My Family and Other Animals,” an account of his Greek childhood, how his brother, the renown author Lawrence Durrell named his two puppies, purely on Aristotelian considerations, Widdle and Puke. This is good Greek literary tradition and I propose to do the same, save that both puppies shall be collectively known as Widdle and Puke without any differentiation or further individual naming, given that both share the aforementioned faculties. Να μας ζήσουν λοιπόν, and long may they chase their tails, according to the precedent faithfully adhered to by the rest of the Danaan community.

First published in NKEE on 16 January 2006