Nostos 2024

I want to suggest a project: Nostos 2024. ‘Nostos’ is the ancient Greek word for a voyage home, and the project I suggest is that the Parthenon marbles, removed from the Athenian Acropolis by agents of Lord Elgin in the early nineteenth century and currently housed in the British Museum in London, should complete their long-delayed voyage home to Athens before the end of the year 2024.

Why should the marbles go home? This hardly needs asking. Elgin took them without clear permission from the Ottoman Empire, which then ruled Greek lands, and certainly without permission from the subject Greek people. Even at the time, their removal was controversial, and the Greek state has been campaigning for their return since its foundation in 1832.

Today, their retention in London is indefensible, morally and aesthetically, if not legally. They were designed to be part of the Acropolis complex and belong with the other remaining Parthenon sculptures in the Acropolis Museum, which has been specially designed to exhibit them. Many organizations campaign for the return, working under the aegis of the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures, and UNESCO has recently called on Britain to hand them back.

Why 2024? Because it’s the bicentenary of the death of Lord Byron. Byron was a passionate philehellene who sold his estate in England to fund the cause of Greek independence and travelled to Greece to help lead the fight. It was there that he died on 19 April 1824.

Byron had condemned Elgin’s removal of the marbles in his poems, ‘The Curse of Minerva’ and ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’, writing this of Elgin and his men:

Curst be the hour when their isle they roved,
And once again thy hapless bosom gored,
And snatched thy shrinking Gods to northern climes abhorrd!
–Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto II, Stanza XV

The British will want to celebrate the bicentenary of the death of one of their greatest poets, and I can think of no finer or more appropriate tribute than the righting of this wrong done by his countrymen to a country he loved. If we could ask him what memorial he would like, I have no doubt he would choose this one.

Statue of Lord Byron in Athens, Greece.

Statue by Alexandre Falguière showing Greece as a female figure crowning Lord Byron.

It would be a generous, noble gesture, befitting Byron, and would reaffirm the long-standing bonds of friendship between Britain and Greece.

I know it’s presumptuous of me to ‘suggest’ this, as if no one else had thought of it. There are many people working hard for the return of the marbles, and doubtless others have made the connection with Byron’s bicentenary. But I wanted to add my voice and propose Nostos 2024 as a watchword.

Φέτος

Φέτος πήρα την ελληνική υπηκοότητα. (Δεν λέω ιθαγένεια αφού αυτή η λέξη σημαίνει κάτι πιο σύνθετο.) Μπορώ όμως να πω ότι πλέον είμαι Έλληνας και το λέω με μεγάλη περηφάνια. Είναι μεγάλη τιμή να ανήκεις σε αυτό το έθνος, με ιστορία υψηλού πολιτισμού και βαθύ αγώνα. Μα είναι ακόμη μεγαλύτερη τιμή να πάρεις υπηκοότητα τη χρονιά που γιορτάζουμε την επέτειο των διακοσίων χρόνων από την Ελληνική Επανάσταση. Ευχαριστώ όλη την οικογένεια μου και όλους τους φίλους μου που με καλωσόρισαν στη χώρα τους και λέω σε όλους τους Έλληνες πόσο περήφανος είμαι που είμαι συμπολίτης τους.
Σας ευχαριστώ και εύχομαι τα καλύτερα σε όλους.
–Κηθ

Mezedes

Where to find the best mutton soup, mascarpone torte and anise-flavoured spirit in Crete.

Children, education, and open doors: Some Ancient Greek proverbs.

‘My father always hoped that Gerry and I would marry.’

3,000-year-old Olive tree on the island of crete still produces olives today.

Greek center shelters orphaned bear cubs.

Greece allows gay couples to foster children.

Ashes from Santorini’s Minoan eruption found in Smyrna excavation.

Mezedes

‘Everett’s informed activism on behalf of Greek independence is perhaps the first great example of American ‘engaged scholarship’, fitting for the scholar who was the first in his country to earn a PhD.’ Johanna Hanink on Edward Everett, the American classicist who became an unlikely spokesperson for Greek revolutionaries.

‘Maybe what Rodin really has in common with the creators of the Parthenon is an insatiable appetite for life.’ Jonathan Jones reviews ‘Rodin and the Art of Ancient Greece’ at the British Museum.

How did the Mycenaeans cut through the especially tough type of rock they used in their palaces and tombs? Read about the homemade pendulum saw that is ‘the most persuasive reconstruction of a Mycenaean sawing machine’.

‘The program is a very important and innovative educational, scientific and cultural initiative for this country.’ Greece is getting its first English undergraduate program, organized by the University of Athens and the International Hellenic University in Thessaloniki.

Why ‘philhellenes’? A note on terminology

The term ‘philhellenes’, which been adopted to characterize this site and its contributors, is used here in its literal (and ancient) sense for lovers of Greece and Greek culture. The aim is not to align the site closely with the aims and values of nineteenth-century philhellenism, a movement which divides opinion. Though Western philhellenes certainly cared passionately about Greece and played an important role in the fight for Greek independence, it can be argued that they espoused a highly selective view of Greece that ignored large tracts of Greek history and culture (in particular, the influence of Orthodox Christianity), and some Greeks regard philhellenism as a burden rather than a blessing (see for example, Nikos Dimou’s book The Misfortune to be Greek). There are complex historical and political debates here, on which I do not wish to take sides.

Why then do I use the term ‘philhellenes’? There are two reasons. First, I needed some term, and Greek friends expressed a slight preference for this one over the alternative Latin-Greek hybrid ‘Grecophile’. Second, and more importantly, there are aspects of nineteenth-century philhellenism that the site does seek to evoke — love of Greece and Greek culture, of course, but also solidarity with the Greek people in a time of struggle. Today, as in the 1820s, the Greek people face a fight to define their identity, establish their place in Europe, and create a prosperous future for their children. And now, as then, those who love Greece will want to rally to the cause. A new philhelleneism is needed, clear-eyed, inclusive, and progressive, but just as passionate in spirit as its predecessor. I hope that this site may do something, in its small way, to help create such a movement.

Ochi Day, 2012

The 28th of October is a public holiday in Greece, known as Ochi Day. It commemorates the day in 1940 when  Mussolini’s ambassador gave an ultimatum to Greek Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas: allow Italian troops to occupy regions of Greece or face war. The reply was, “Alors, c’est la guerre” or, in the popular version, “Ochi” (No) — a reply which brought Greece into the Second World War on the side of the Allies.

The following Greco-Italian war lasted five months and did not go as Mussolini planned. The Hellenic Army repelled the invasion and went on the offensive, occupying large areas of Albania (then under Italian control) and tying down hundreds of thousands of Italian troops. The stalemate forced Hitler to intervene, diverting large numbers of troops to the invasion of Greece. British troops came to Greece’s aid, but the Allied forces were massively outnumbered and outgunned, and mainland Greece fell in late April 1941, starting a long and painful occupation.

Greeks are proud of their role in resisting the Axis forces. Their initial victory over the Italians was the first successful Allied campaign of the war, and it is arguable that the subsequent diversion of German troops to the Battle of Greece significantly altered the course of the war, delaying the start of Hitler’s Russian offensive and thus contributing to the German defeat at the Battle of Moscow.

Since 1942 Ochi day has been celebrated by Greeks with parades and displays of national pride. With the current crisis, the day has also become a focus for protests against the austerity measures imposed by Greece’s EU partners and the IMF. This year the mood seemed more subdued, or perhaps dejected. We spent the day with friends at a local children’s playground. The lines below reflect my own mood that day.

It’s easy to self-dramatize
Living in country that’s so tried of saying no
It’s started saying yes
To hopelessness and hate.
But right now I’m aware of nothing but
A headache,
Children’s happy shouts,
And sunlight through small green leaves.

Shakespeare on the crisis in Greece

The School of European Education in Heraklion, Crete, Greece, belongs to the European Schools network, and provides primary and secondary education in both English and Greek. Its students come from a variety of European backgrounds, and one of the aims of the school is to give pupils confidence in their own cultural identity, as the bedrock for their development as European citizens. Earlier this summer, the fifth grade class of the English section, and their teacher Maria Kasmirli, produced the following short video interpreting Shylock’s famous monologue from The Merchant of Venice in the light of the current crisis in Greece. The project brought together the class’s work on language, literature, ethics, and European studies, and their discussions of issues of prejudice and social exclusion. I repost the video here because I feel it offers an interesting perspective on the events in Greece from young people of a variety of European backgrounds. (For full disclosure, I note that the class teacher Maria Kasmirli is my partner.)

Shakespeare in Crisis

A note on malaria in Greece

In a piece in yesterday’s Guardian newspaper Jon Henley reports on how cutbacks to Greek health services have led to a sharp rise in communicable diseases in the country. It’s a sobering piece, and I recommend all philhellenes to read it and to consider donating to Médecins sans Frontières Greece or other medical agencies working here. However, I also want to add a word of reassurance for those considering visiting Greece this year. The article says that malaria has become endemic in Greece — which seems pretty frightening. But, while true, the claim isn’t as scary as it sounds. ‘Endemic’ simply means that cases of the disease have been contracted in the country, rather than carried in from abroad; it doesn’t mean that the disease is running riot. In fact, there have been very few cases of malaria in Greece, and most of them have been confined to a farming region in the south of the Peloponnese, where conditions particularly favour the disease. (The phrase ‘south of the country’, used in the article, means ‘south of the mainland’, not the southern islands, such as Crete.) For more details, see this article in the journal Eurosurveillance and this update from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. There is some information on action being taken to combat the outbreak in this report by the Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Google translation here). See also the UK’s National Health Service advice page on Greece.

Of course, one should not be complacent, and all visitors should check the latest travel advice issued by their government. Moreover, we should all heed Jon Henley’s warnings about effects of cutbacks in the Greek health services. But as a Greek resident with a young family, I am not worried about malaria, and I continue to encourage my family and friends to visit this beautiful country.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Finisterre67.