A Beer Too Far?

Readers of this blog, Hellenophiles, and those that regularly enjoy a cool beer at the end of the evening in Greece may have been intrigued by the fact that Mercedes Benz have just announced a new luxury car range: “Mythos”.

It’s not clear how they square this with the “When You Drive, Never Drink” campaign so prominent at the tracks where the Mercedes Formula One team race.

Is this what we can expect for branding?

Still at least Mythos is brewed by Carlsberg and not Heineken who partner with Formula One on the “When You Drive, Never Drink” campaign.

What next? The Ford Fix?

Xania’s New Museum : Coming Soon?

On my last trip to Greece (on my last trip anywhere, thanks COVID!) we stayed in Halepa on the edge of Xania on Crete. Just behind the hotel was a brand new building that was destined to house the Xania Archaological Museum. Now it seems the museum is possibly to open later this year.

Xania has a rich Minoan past that isn’t always appreciated because many of the remains are buried beneath the city, although some are on view. (See my earlier post) It was the discovery site for important collections of Linear A inscriptions that may some day provide insights into the Bronze Age on Crete.

The current archaeological museum – located in an old monastery – is charming but cramped. The new museum has been under construction for some time.

Xania News has covered the museum here with some preview pictures with an article relating the visit of government officials to the new museum. You can find the article here and an earlier article here and have plenty of opportunities to practice your Greek while you contemplate a return to Crete, as I did!

Minoan houses destroyed by fire 1450BC on Castelli Hill in Xania

A Post For Women’s Day

Classical Greece didn’t have the best track record as a society promoting the equality of women, at least in Athens (it would seem that Spartan women had rather more freedom than their Athenian sisters). However, I wanted to celebrate some of the great women from Greece’s past for International Women’s Day on March 8th.

I think Aspasia (usually described as lover and partner of Pericles, but I’m not sure it’s right to be defining her in terms of her relationship with a man) sounds like a remarkable woman. The extent to which she is referred to in complementary – albeit patronising – terms by giants of classical Athens such as Socrates, Plato and Xenophon suggests that she was someone very distinctive among women of her time.

She appears to have been both loved and disliked, lauded and loathed, but anyone that was one of Judy Chicago’s dinner guests (other Greek historical figures include Sappho and Hypatia – see below) is all right by me.

I’m not sure how far afield we should consider Greek extends for this but I’ll also put in a word for Hypatia of Alexandria who was certainly working in the Greek language and was presumably Greek by culture if not by country of birth. She seems to have been a highly educated, principled and outspoken woman who paid for her beliefs as a pagan martyr (described in Catherine Nixey’s book : The Darkening Age).

From more recent times I will add Laskarina Bouboulina, who looks from her portrait to have been a formidable woman. Heroine of the Greek war of independence, she was a commander of a fleet of ships, funded by herself, that were involved in the blockade of Nauplio and the Siege of Momenvasia in 1821.

Bouboulina was sadly killed on Spetses in a family feud with the father of the girl her son was eloping with.

I will also include the Souliot women who chose to commit suicide in the face of Ottoman troops in Epirus in 1803. Choosing to die with their children rather than to face enslavement.

The memorial at Zalongo that marks the spot is a moving and disturbing reminder of the cost of freedom.

The memorial to the ‘Dance of Zalongo’. Source: Wikipedia Commons.

Why Learn Greek?

Or any other language?

It’s a legitimate question to ask in these days of Google translate, on-line dictionaries and the hegemony of certain languages as a result of their spread by global cultural media.

Of course, the simple answers could be; so I can eat in foreign parts or so I don’t say anything that might get me killed or (in my case) so I can study the history of those that I am interested in.

But there are other reasons too, deeper reasons concerned with what learning another language tells us about our own assumptions about the world. Cultures are wired into languages and through those languages we learn a great deal about how others see the world and, so, how we do too.

For (a very simple) example, in English we might say “See you later” when parting. In Greek they are quite likely to say “Τα λέμε” (literally: “Talk to you”) and in that one pair of words you have a world of Greek culture; the love of interaction, of discussion, of speech and the expectation of talking as the principal purpose of meeting.

It’s an idea that can be taken much further as a recent article on the web site GetPocket does. There the author looks at five languages that reveal alternative perspectives on the world. It’s not a bad thing to be reminded that such things exist.

Five Languages To Change How You See The World.

Τα λέμε, Κρίτη

Spartan Words

First – apologies for not posting since October! I can only plead the fact that I’ve been heads down on my course in Egyptian hieroglyphics and that has soaked up any spare capacity in my little grey cells. Hopefully, I’ll return to my Greek studies in the New Year in the expectation of some summer sun… 🙂

I’ve been reading Andrew Bayliss’s excellent little book on the Spartans and then came across an article which readers of this blog might find interesting.

Apparently folk living in Pera Melana in the Pelloponese still speak a language called Tsakonika which is a version of Doric and closely related to the language used in Sparta. Sadly with few speakers and few written texts it is in danger of extinction.

There is a good article here on the BBC’s web site, including an audio of a short conversation in Tsakonika and a link.

There’s also some detail about the language on Wikipedia and a Greek language site about it.

A Cautionary Tale

When politicians start listening to psychics and science-deniers it’s time to head for the hills.

This cautionary tale, from Τα Παντά Ρεί, highlights what can happen if somebody starts telling you something you would really like to believe.

What They Didn’t Find….

In 1987, a Dutch clairvoyant claimed to know the whereabouts of the remains of the Colossus of Rhodes. A search of the sea bed retrieved what was believed to be a part of the statue. Some Greek politicians supported the astounding “find”, happy that proof of Greece’s wonderful past (as if more was needed!) had turned up on their watch. Sadly no one asked the archaeologists until the world’s press had already been excited by the idea that the ancient wonder had been discovered.

Embarassingly, (for some politicians at least – Melina Mercouri, arts minister at the time, comes out of this with some honour) when it was examined it turned out that the rock that had been found was just that, a rock.

You can read the Τα Παντά Ρεί article in Greek here. The Fiasco of the Greatest Archaeological Discovery in the History of Greece.

Or, if you’d rather, here is a contemporary article in English from the New York Times.

Not that we English can brag. The story of the Piltdown skull is every bit as embarassing.

(I started learning Greek so I could do this sort of thing; pick up stories about the past that might interest me. I wouldn’t have bothered to read it if I hadn’t been able to work out that the headline “Το Φιάσκο Της Μεγαλύτερης Αρχαιολογικής Ανακάλυψης Στην Ιστορία Της Ελλάδας” might have a tale behind it… )

Live From Epidauros

The annual Epidauros Festival is a high point in the cultural life of Greece.

This year there is a chance to share it from your own home.

The Festival is going to stream Aeschylus’ play “The Persians” live from the ancient theatre on Youtube.

Streaming will start at 21:00 Athens time (19:00 BST) on Saturday July 25th. The play will be streamed in Greek with English subtitles.

You can find out more (in English) on the Keep Talking Greece web site.

I’ll be putting a note in my diary!

Looking Forward to the Past

I just found this article from The Conversation discussing one benefit fo learning a second language as rewiring your brain’s perceptions of time.

What it doesn’t mean is the idea that learning Greek show you just how long some things can take (although that is certainly true….) but it suggests that English monoglots judge time linearly while Greek speakers judge time as volume.

The article give some examples but here is another. In England we talk of the summertime, that is a particular time of year, whereas in Greek it’s καλοκαίρι – the time of “good weather”.

It’s a different perception of the continuum we move through and all the more interesting for that.

Of course, there are exceptions as there always are in English. “Make hay while the sum shines” is one saying that exorts us to fit our activities to the situation of the moment. “Write blog posts while the lockdown continues” might be another one!

Death In Skiathos

Margarita Ioannidou has published another of her re-workings of Greek literature into a simplified form of modern Greek. Her books are intended to be suitable for students who are learning Greek as a second or foreign language and are suitable for intermediate level of language proficiency (B1 – B2) according to the European Framework of Reference for Languages.

Margarita’s latest work is “H Φονισσα” (“The Murderess“) another work by Alexandros Papadiamantis (her previous book – discussed here – was also by Padadiamantis).

As Margarita says in her introduction, “The Murderess” is considered the leading work of Alexandros Papadiamantis, and one of the most important works of modern Greek literature. The story takes place in Skiathos, at the end of the 19th century and centers on Frangogiannou, an elderly widow who has lived a tortured life. Experience has taught her that a woman’s life is full of sorrows and that the birth of a girl only brings misery to the girl herself and to her parents, especially if they are poor. Frangogiannou’s actions and her fate are the focus of the book. What will that fate be? Will she be saved or will she be punished for her crimes? Will “God’s righteousness” or “man’s righteousness” judge her?

Margarita’s goal is to help students enjoy some of the most beautiful books in Greek literature, without difficulty, while at the same time to improving their Greek language skills.

To get an idea of Margarita’s approach you can read an sample from the book here:- H Φόνισσα -sample.

The book is available from Ianos or Politeianet.

Your Greek Heritage?

Back in January I wrote about the work being done by Carol Petranak on digitising Greek historical records to make them available for (among others) geneaology researchers.

Now the My Heritage Blog has made available three more sets of records, totalling over 1.8 million items. Details are available for:-

  • Greece, Electoral Rolls (1863–1924)
  • Corfu Vital Records (1841–1932)
  • Sparta Marriages (1835–1935)

You can find out more here: My Heritage Announcement or on the Spartan Roots blog.

Advice From 430BCE

In 430 BC, an 11-year-old ancient Athenian girl fell victim, alongside perhaps 100,000 others including the great Athenian general Pericles, to the great plague of Athens.

Her remains were recovered in excavations and her face was recreated by the team of Professor Manolis Papagrigorakis,

Named Myrtis by the team, this girl from 2,500 years ago is now helping in the global effort against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Myrtis stars in an animated video calling us all to listen to the experts, fully respect the hygiene rules and take special care of our beloved ones so that we can have them by our side tomorrow.

So, practice your Greek with this video which has Greek audio with English subtitles and take on board Myrtis’s advice (curiously, she speaks modern Greek – which is lucky for us!) :-

Myrtis gives us advice from 2500 years ago.

The Archaeologist

I spotted this on the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles Facebook feed and thought folk here might be interested……..

Johanna Hanink (Brown University) is working on a English translation of Andreas Karkavitsas’ 1904 novella ‘The Archaeologist’, to be published in 2021 with Penguin Classics. This will be the first Penguin Classic edition of a work by a Modern Greek prose author.

Kings College London’s Centre for Hellenic Studies is hosting an online talk by Johanna Hannink and you can join the online event on Monday, 01 June 2020 at 15:30 – 17:00 BST

Please note this is an online event. Registered attendees will be sent a link, which they can follow on the day to participate in the seminar on their browsers or via the Microsoft Teams app.

You can find more details and register for free here: Eventbrite Event Page

Easter Egg

Firstly: Καλό Μήνα. Have a good month.

A post on my Facebook page made me realise that not everyone knows why there are different dates for Easter in the UK and Greece, even though we both seem to use the same calendar.

As ever, it’s all down to history. Here’s my brief summary….

The difference in dates comes because of the change in the calendar that took place in the western Catholic Church under Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. The correction was intended to keep the calendar in step with the actual time the Earth takes to move once around the sun. It resulted in skipping 10 days and changing the way leap years were calculated.

Julius Caesar : I came, I saw, I left you with a calendar that doesn’t quite work.

The eastern churches, including the Greek Orthodox church, continued to use the original Julian calendar introduced by Julius Caesar in 46BCE. The gap between the two calendars has increased in the 438 years since the introduction of the Gregorian calendar.

Other western Christian churches, including the protestant churches, adopted the Gregorian calendar.

Today there is a difference of 13 days between the two calendars. However because of the way Easter is calculated the difference between the eastern and western Easters can be more or less than this – in 2017 they were on the same day, next year they are 27 days apart.

Even though the Orthodox Church uses the Julian Calendar, the Greek state uses the Gregorian calendar.

Those who are interested can find more at Wikipedia:-

Nina Rapi On Writing

Back in 2018 when you could still go outdoors without the fear of succumbing to a global pandemic, I ventured as afar as Oxford to enjoy the Praxis production of Splinters by Nina Rapi

Now 40 miles seems like 400.

Sadly, there is no news of a date for the production this year.

However, for those of you like me that admire Nina Rapi’s writing you might be interested to read her take on the process.

It’s in English, so it’s not going to help you with your Greek. I enjoyed reading it though so here’s a link:-

Nina Rapi on why I write.

Easter is Coming (in Greece)

Although here in the UK we’ve had our Easter, in Greece it takes place this weekend.

This week has been Μεγάλο Εβδομάδα (“Big Week” but in English called “Holy Week”) culminating in Μεγάλη Παρασκευή (in English “Good Friday”) and Μεγάλο Σαββατό (“Holy Saturday”).

Sunday is the day for celebration: Πάσχα.

And here is a recipe for Easter biscuits.

Happy Easter all of you in Greece.

Keep safe. Here in England too, Μένουμε Σπίτι (“We Stay At Home”).

All Inclusive

I hate the idea of “all inclusive” holidays because of what they do to local economies and because, what’s the point of going somewhere if you see nothing of the place you go to?

Plus I like to find new places to eat. I don’t want to be tied to one hotel.

Well it seems like one couple thought they had solved the problem on Rhodes according to this article in Dimokratiki.

Apparently they ate in a restaurant in Rhodes Old Town and when they tried to leave without paying, showed the owner their wristbands and told him they were on an “all inclusive” trip and expected to be able to eat anywhere on the island.

I’m not sure if this is (a) extremely cunning or (b) extremely dim.

Either way, it’s cheered me up in a week where it is pretty hard to find any good news….

Ποιός Νομίζεις Ότι Είσαι;

If you are researching your Greek ancestry then news of this site is bound to be interesting.

The Spartan Roots web site reports that a new genealogy web site, GreekAncestry.net has been launched with details of voting lists, military lists, male registers, census records, and many more from four regions of Greece. This promises to be a major resource for those wanting to explore their Greek heritage.

Spartan Roots is a blog run by Carol Kostakos Petranek, an American with ancestors from the Sparta / Mystras area of the Peloponnese.

You can find out more on the Spartan Roots post.

Καλά Χριστούγεννα

The festive season is definitely upon us. There is no escaping from the fact that we are coming to the end of another year (and another decade!).

So, to all the readers of this blog and my Facebook page I would like to say …..

Σας Εύχομαι Καλά Χριστούγεννα και Ευτυχισμένο το Νέο Έτος 2020.

Πολλά Χρονιά και Καλά Δεκαετία

An Appeal

To any Hellenophile Brits that remember the Falklands conflict and how it must have felt to sit on an island far from your mother country with a less than friendly foreign power breathing down your neck, spare a thought for the people of Kastellorizo on Megisti, only 2km from the Turkish coast and just about the most distant Greek island from Athens.


If you want to try your Greek, read this appeal and send a card……



A Proverb Song

Following a post by Centro Linguistico Unofficial on Facebook I spotted this post from Omilo (I’ve mentioned them before) which features a song from Melina Tanagri where the lyrics are made up from Greek proverbs.

The Omilo page provides the lyrics, translation and explanation of the proverbs. As they say, a great way to understand a people is to explore their proverbs. So this is well worth a read and a view….

11 Greek Proverbs in One Song

It includes one which seems appropriate for this time of electioneering here in the UK…..

Όπου ακούς πολλά κεράσια, κράτα και μικρό καλάθι.

(In the face of grand promises keep your hopes in check.  Literally: When you hear of many cherries, hold a small basket.)

Owls to Athens

250px-Tetradrachm_Athens_480-420BC_MBA_Lyon.jpgThis post was inspired by a Facebook conversation with a Greek friend and is another diversion into the alleyways of language that I find fascinating.

It started with this link to an article in the magazine Dokari which described the find of residues from Greek red wine in Celtic drinking vessels in the Burgundy area of France dating to the 5th to 7th Century BCE. (if you want to read the full paper you can find it here).

I said the idea of sending red wine to Burgundy sounded like a Greek version of what in English is called “sending coals to Newcastle” (The northeast of England used to be an important coal mining area).

Apparently the equivalent expression in Greek is “Κομίζω γλαύκα εις Aθήνας” or “Φέρνω κουκουβάγια στην πόλη των Αθηνών“.

How does “sending owls to the the town of Athens” work?

The “owls” are the silver drachma coins of ancient Athens.  Struck from silver from the mines in Laurion, south west of Athens, it was the wealth that these coins represented that powered the Athenian state. So, “sending Owls to Athens” comes to mean sending something to where there is already plenty of it.

There’s a good explanation in this Wikipedia entry.

Γλαύκα ִis the word for owl, the sacred bird of the Goddess Athena. Γλαύκος in modern Greek is the colour pale blue, although in ancient Greek it would be more properly described as “bright” (I have written about this before). So when Homer talks of “bright-eyed Athena” he is linking his description to the bird that represented her. The idea persists in the modern English term for the eye condition glaucoma, where the iris of the eye may appear “bright” – in reality pale green – (or at least not dark).

Owls to Athens” is also the title of a historical novel by Harry Turtledove, for folk that like historical fiction.

Incidentally, Greek wine is getting good critical reviews these days. Here’s an article rating some of the best Greek wines by respected wine writer, Jancis Robinson: More Greek Wines Please.

So. why not give in to your inner Celt and join the Burgundians in a glass  or two of Greek sunshine to stave off the onset of winter?


PA037199.jpgToday (28th October) is Όχι Day (literally “No! Day”) in Greece when they remember the defiance of  prime minister Ioannis Metaxas in 1940. He is supposed to have replied with the single word “No!” when presented with an ultimatum by Axis forces threatening to enter Greek territory.

It was the start of four years of heroic resistance and considerable suffering for the Greek people – it is estimated that over 40,000 civilians died in Athens alone of starvation. Metaxas’ (and the Greek people’s) resistance is celebrated each year with a public holiday.

If the sea was wine

and boats were cups.

These two lines turn up in a traditional song “In the Foam of the Sea” (Εις τον αφρό της θάλασσας) and I found them on the back of a door in Kissamos at the Kelari taverna where we stopped for a very pleasant coffee on our trip around the western end of Crete.

First of all, I liked the door and then I thought, I’ll translate this. Is obviously a poem or a song. How hard can it be? Well, first of all you have a look….


The first problem you hit is that some of the words don’t seem to make sense. What on earth is “υόσμο” in the third line of the third verse, for example?

Then you remember that there is more than one way to write some Greek characters. (A useful guide to Greek handwriting can be found here). In this case a lot of the “υ” are in fact “κ”, so υόσμο is in fact κόσμο (world).

Having done that, you work away at it with your dictionary until you realise that it’s making no sense at all and then you message a Greek and say “HELP!”

Kindly, Τόνια Τάβλα helped me out again. She says that this kind of 4-verse poem or 4-verse 2 -stanza poem is very common all over Greece. Very often they are wry, humorous poems.

However these four short verses that don’t seem to have much to do with one another.

You can find my transposition of the Greek and my (actually mainly Τόνια’s) translation here if you want to check your own efforts: Kissamos Poem.

If you would like to hear the original song sung, here are the Χορωδία Κερκύρας / Corfu Choir. on YouTube.

Two More Signs

After my warning signs post, I was hoping to take some pictures on our trip to add to the catalogue. The trouble is that Chania is so overcome with φιλόξενια that almost all signs are bi-lingual in Greek and English, so you rarely need to understand the Greek.

However I did spot a couple of examples which, while they are still pretty obvious, I thought were worth sharing.

Firstly, this instruction not to park (μη σαθμεύετε instead of the often seen μη παρκάρετε)  because of the garage (γκαράζ).


Secondly, there was this easily overlooked sign which tells you that the Halepa Road (Δρόμος Χαλέπας) is closed because of work (Κλείστη Λόγω Εργών) and you had better turn right if you want to go towards the airport (Προς Αεροδρόμιο).


Wild Life

Crete is famous for its wild life. There is the wild goat – the kri-kri or agrimi – of course (well known from the golden statuette found at Akrotiri on Thera) but we encountered a new specimen as we began our flight back from Chania this week.

While taxiing out to the runway, the pilot gave out an announcement apologising for a short delay saying, “Ladies & gentlemen, it will be a few minutes before we can move. They have to clear a hedgehog from the taxiway.”


Picture from the Cretan Animal Welfare Society (http://www.crete4animals.gr) used with acknowledgement.

I wasn’t sure at first if this was a joke* but, yes, there are hedgehogs on Crete.

So, everyone, today’s useful phrase is…

 “Λυπάμαι για την καθυστέρηση, υπάρχει ένας σκαντζόχοιρος στο διάδρομο του αεροδρομίου.”

“I am sorry for the delay, there is a hedgehog on the airport runway.”

*Sadly it seems that my suspicions were right. Talking to a friend of an airline pilot, it seems more likely that this was simply to amuse passengers while F16’s operating from the airforce base took off.

More Greek Reading

Last November, I wrote about Margarita Ioannidou and her aim to help students working at the B1 – B2 level to enjoy some of the finest books in Greek literature, while at the same time improving their Greek.

She has just published her her latest work. This is a version of “ΟΙ ΕΜΠΟΡΟΙ ΤΩΝ ΕΘΝΩΝ” (“The Traders of Nations“) by Alexander Papadiamantis, the 19th Century writer from Skiathos.

traders.pngWhile Papadiamantis was writing in the formal, “Katharevousa” Greek of his era, Margarita has rendered her version into modern Greek at a level suited to intermediate students. She adds notes on Greek words that are likely to be unfamiliar to a modern student.

You can download a sample here and you will see, I think, that Margarita has a straight-forward style of Greek that students should find easy to access.

The following summary is (very) freely translated from Margarita’s own synopsis….

The story takes place between 1199 and 1207, when Venice originally had trading relations with the Greek islands, but also aims to conquer them. The book describes a world where “the traders of nations” stop at nothing to gain money, glory or handsome women…

The heroes of the book are Yiannis Mouchras, Lord of Naxos;  his beautiful wife Augusta; and the Venetian ruler Markos Sanoutos.  Mouchras, is in serious danger from enemies. He avoids the danger with the help of Markos Sanoutos. He invites Sanoutos to his house to thank him but there, Sanoutos meets the beautiful Augustus and is charmed by her.

What will Sanoutos do? Will he try to win Augusta? Or will he respect her husband, who has given him hospitality? And what consequences will the choice have?

The book is available from Ianos or Politeianet.

(If you are beguiled – as I was – by the picture on the cover, it is “The Port of Volos” by Constantine Volanakis and was painted around 1875.)

The Benefits of Knowledge

Why learn Greek?

What’s wrong with using Google Translate?

Well, Google Translate is great if you know you want to translate something, less good at helping you spot the thing you want to translate in the first place but here’s another reason: sometimes it just doesn’t cope.

Here’s a lovely example from today. An interesting article caught my eye (because I can understand enough Greek to be able to spot the stuff I need to read…..) about this year’s  exciting finds of five different ancient ship wrecks in the Aegean.


Are these turtles?

The only problem came when using Google Translate to give me a quick survey of the whole article.

The translation I got for “περιλαμβάνονται ένα ναυάγιο με μεικτό φορτίο αμφορέων από το Αιγαίο (Κνίδος, Κως και Ρόδος)” was “include a wreck with mixed loads of amphibians from the Aegean (Knidos, Kos and Rhodes)“.

I’m pretty sure that “amphibians” should read “amphoras” or “amphorae”. I see no evidence of turtles, newts, frogs or toads……

Curiously, later on in the article, Google Translate handles the same word ” αμφορέων” more or less correctly.

So Google Translate: a useful tool but USE WITH CARE. You wouldn’t want an amphibian full of olive oil, would you?

(PS My dictionary gives “αμφίβιον” as the Greek for “amphibian”)

Easy Myths

I just picked up a book from Bibliagora which other students might be interested in.

ΜΥΘΟΙ (Myths) by Μαριά Αρώνη is one of a series entitled Μυθολογία σε Απλά Ελληνικά (Mythology in Easy Greek) and provides an excellent way to practice your Greek and learn a little more about some of the famous legends of Greek myth.

Scan_edited-1The book is a compact (16x12cm) softcover book of 63 pages, covering 15 of the most famous myths. Each myth gets a short (typically two or three pages) description in straight-forward modern Greek. Some will be familiar to everyone (Daedalus & Icarus, Narcissus & Echo, Orpheus & Eurydice), others less so.

Each of the tales has words marked in bold – see picture below. These are less-familiar words which a student starting in Greek might not know (The book is designed to be used by those at Level 3) . At the back of the book a vocabulary translates these words into English, German and French.

There is also a set of questions (in Greek) for each of the myths that can be used to check your understanding or could be used as the basis of a discussion in a classroom environment. So for the legend of Midas we get asked twelve questions like “Ποιοσ ήταν ο Μίδας;” (Who was Midas?) and “Τι δώρο ζήτσε ο Μιδάς απο τον Διόνυσο;” (What gift did Midas ask for from Dionysos?) and so on…

Two maps show the location of the most important places referred to in the text.


There are two others in the series, Οι δώδεκα θεοί του Ολύμπου (The Twelve Gods of Olympus) and Ήρωες (Heroes). All three are available via the Bibliagora web site (https://bibliagora.co.uk/). At £12.77 each regular price, they aren’t cheap (like all Greek text books, sadly!) although I was lucky with this and bought it half price in a Bibliagora sale).

I’ve found Bibliagora a very reliable source of text books although inevitably deliveries take a while. This took two weeks to ship but it was worth waiting for and I am finding ΜΥΘΟΙ a worthwhile purchase.


Ancient & Modern

From Facebook I had a message with a question that had at its heart the relationship between Modern Greek and Ancient Greek.

I’ve been trying to get this straight in my own mind for a bit (you may remember my post on presents) and I think the following describes it. Anyone that can point to errors here, please do!

Ancient and Modern Greek share many features, including a common script but there are many differences between them. The origins of words in the modern Greek language are from a number of roots and there are differences in grammar and pronunciation too.

Modern Greek was standardised as recently as 1982, which is why – compared with many other languages – it is relatively consistent with well defined rules. It resulted from the combination of the generally spoken version of the language or “δημοτική γλωσσα” (“popular language” and the formal language “καθαρευουσα γλωσσα” (literally “cleansed language”) used by the courts and administration from the late 18th century and now obsolete. You still see examples of Katharevousa Greek on inscriptions from the early 2Oth Century and jolly confusing they are too, as they look like Greek but don’t look like the Greek you are learning!

The precursor of the δημοτική γλωσσα was the common dialect of Ancient Greek known as “ελληνιστική κοινή” (Koine Greek) which was in use from the time of Alexander the Great and continued in wide use across the ancient world until around 300AD. A version of Koine Greek was also used in the Byzantine Empire until 1453AD. Koine Greek was the successor of Attic Greek which in turn superceded the Greek used by the Mycenaeans that we see written on the Linear B tablets of 1450BC, the earliest time we can trace Greek back to.

So, Modern Greek uses words from all these earlier sources to a different extent and adds words (as do all languages) borrowed from Latin, English and many other languages. The existence of Katharevousa Greek led to many words for new things being introduced as new Greek words.

Modern Greek differs from Koine Greek and Ancient Greek in vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation, but there are many commonalities and cross-overs. In the examples below I omit the accents / breathing symbols for Attic Greek.

For example, the word for goat in Modern Greek is κατσίκα and in Ancient Greek τράγος, (although, confusingly the word τράγος is still used in modern Greek to mean a pervert / dirty old man).

The word for television, in Modern Greek τηλεορασή, and for computer υπολογιστή are both 20th Century Katharevousa coinages.

The word for sheep in Modern Greek is αρνί, in Attic Greek προβατον, and in Mycenean we-re-ne-ja (pronounced close to the modern Greek word).

Similarly the word for gifts or presents in Modern Greek is δώρα in Attic δωρουσ is and in Mycenean do-ra.

In Modern Greek we also see words lifted from English and simply transliterated into Greek letters. So for “Bar” (the kind you go to drink in) we have Μπαρ. The same thing happens from other languages as well. so σπαγχέτο from the Italian “spaghetti”. Other peculiarities are coining words from related words so that the Modern Greek word for mobile phone (το κηνιτό) has been created from the Modern Greek word κινητός meaning movable. It still has a distant relation to the Attic greek word for move, kινειν, but the “phone” part isn’t translated.

The Darkening Age

I’ve just finished Catherine Nixey’s book, “The Darkening Age” and, for anyone that mourns the loss of classical culture, it’s an essential read.

Subtitled, “The Christian Destruction of the Classical World”, it attacks the received wisdom that Christianity saved the writings of the Greeks and the Romans in the monasteries. It explores just how selective the monks were in what they chose to retain and how the Christian church was responsible for suppressing classical culture in the first place. Although Christians were persecuted (for a surprisingly short period as it turns out), their trials were nothing compared to the state sponsored attacks on those that dared to try to maintain their old culture of thought and worship.

I found Nixey’s portrait of the early Christian world chimed well with my own (Roman Catholic) upbringing of only fifty years ago where certain books were denounced from church pulpits as “polluting”, where piety was valued over knowledge, where the mission of the church justified any behaviour by those responsible for its ministry and where those who sought to convert other-believers to the true faith were lauded – irrespective of their impact on the cultures they disrupted. These are all themes that Nixey explores and we can still see these behaviours in some faith-based societies today.

From a historical perspective it provides an alternative narrative to the Christian-sponsored view of persecuted martyrs and the joyful mass conversion of a populace eager to throw off the error of polytheism. One quote illustrates the thinking that Nixey seeks to expose, Eusebius, “the father of Church History” she says, wrote that “the job of the historian was not to record everything but instead only those things that would do a Christian good to read”. Certainly he seems to have had a flexible attitude to the truth, saying, “It is an act of virtue to deceive and lie, when by such means the interest of the church might be promoted.” It is hard to think of anything that contradicts more, the spirit of the Academy.

Nixey introduces us to tragic heroes like Damascius and Hypatia and villains such as the terrifying Egyptian monk, Shenoute and charts events in the two hundred or so years before 532CE. Her style is accessible but still founded in solid academic research. It’s book with a point of view, certainly, which some may consider one sided but it’s an engaging read with compelling arguments.

More important, perhaps, “The Darkening Age” contains warnings for a world where religious fundamentalism is still to be seen and where masses are mobilised by those that claim that it is enough only to believe.

The Warning Signs

When I started to learn Greek it was so that I would be able to spot interesting articles on Aegean archaeology (How unreasonable; the Greeks sometimes write about discoveries in their own culture using their own language!)

But, since I’ve started I’ve found just as much benefit from simpler things.

One has been being able read road signs quickly enough so that you haven’t passed the turning by the time you’ve digested the fact that you need that road.

Another has been getting into less trouble as a result of understanding some of the signs that you see. Yes, many of them are bi-lingual. Yes, many of them use internationally recognised symbols but there are plenty of others where a knowledge of Greek is a real help. (This is especially true since the literal translation of the sign may not be what we would write in English.) Three key greek words to watch out for on signs that might mean that you are about to do something you shouldn’t:-

ΠΡΟΣΟΧΗ :   Attention! Take Care!

ΜΗ / ΜΗΝ / ΔΕΝ  :  Don’t

ΑΠΑΓΟΡΕΥΕΤΑΙ  :  It is forbidden

Here are a few from my course (click for a bigger version) ….

It’s A Gift.

In these times when it may seem that all are pursuing selfish ends, it is comforting to reflect that some of the longest surviving words in language reflect the better side of human nature.

GiftMy attention was attracted to the modern Greek word δώρο (“gift”) by this post on the website of the Society for Aegean Prehistory, looking for support.

On Linear B tablets the word do.ra is identified as being associated with gift giving, making it at least 3300 years old.

In ancient Greek we have the word δωρον. So much the same.

It even persists (possibly) into English where we have the word dowry, meaning the gifts given by the family of the bride on her wedding (the modern Greek word for dowry, προίχα, sounds as though it has some relation to the English word “price”, although all the etymology I can find for “price” points to the Latin “pretium”.  Even so, there is still the concept in English of the dowry as the “bride-price”.

The Hind word for dowry is “dahej” and in Sanskrit “vara” which seem to me to suggest that words for gift giving is one that goes back to the early roots of the Indo-European languages (even of the practice of dowry has some dark sides today).


Limerick Day

According to the radio, and it’s the BBC so it must be true, today is Limerick Day. Well, it is Edward Lear’s birthday (or would have been if he had lived to be 207 years old) and he is know for some of the most atrocious examples of the form.

For my own Greek attempt at this, see this post of a few years back.

Although he is famous for his nonsense poetry he was also an accomplished water-colorist and I came across this example on Lear’s Wikipedia page.


Source: Wikipedia Commons

I include it for two reasons. Firstly it is, a series of sketches he did when he was living on Corfu which he apparently loved. It is dated 5th May 1864 – less than a month before Corfu (and the other Ionian islands) were united with Greece, bringing to an end the British Protectorate and the Ionian State. Secondly it comes from the collection of Patrick Leigh Fermour who was heavily involved with the Cretan resistance during the Second World War.

Those of you that like a gentle tune might chose to check out “How Pleasant to Know Mr Lear” by Al Stewart (the world’s first and only performer of “historic folk rock” according to him):- (https://www.laut.de/Al-Stewart/Songs/Mr.-Lear-86023)

Another “Big Week” Poem

Here’s an alternative to the Holy Week poem I shared last week. This is another Cretan version, originally posted by Γιώργος Μαυραντωνάκης on Facebook..

Μεγάλη Δευτέρα – μεγαλή μαχαίρα

Μεγάλη Τριτή – μεγάλη θλιψη

Μεγάλη Τετάτρη – Ο Χρίστος εχάθη

Μεγάλη Πέπτη – Ο Χρίστος ευρέθη

Μεγάλη Παρασκευή – Ο Χρίστοσ στο καρθί

Μεγάλο μου Σάββατο και πωσ να σε περάσω

Απουχεισ τρία κολατσά, και τρία μεσημέρια

Και τρία απομεσημέρα κι ακόμη εχείς μέρα

Roughly translated as:-

Holy Monday – Big Κnife

Holy Tuesday – Great Sorrow

Holy Wednesday – Christ was Lost

Holy Thursday – Christ was Found

Good Friday – Christ is Crucified

Holy Saturday, how shall I endure you?

Three mornings, three noons, three afternoons too

….and still it is the day.

A few words or explanation (with the help of the ever patient Tonia) on the part that starts “Μεγάλο μου Σάββατο”. Firstly, this is not a literal translation, I have tried to capture the sense that Holy Saturday feels almost never ending before the triumph of Easter Sunday.  The word κολατσό is a used for mid-morning snack (related to the English word “collation” via the Latin) but I’ve interpreted it to mean the morning, so that one day seems to be the length of three.

Καλό Πάσχα : Happy Easter

This is Holy Week in the Greek Orthodox Church (Don’t tell my Grandchildren they will want another lot of eggs) and is known as Mεγάλη Εβδομάδα (literally “Big Week”).

Tonia Tavla let me have this poem which her grandmother taught her to remember the days of Holy Week and its story and Tonia was happy for me to share it here.

Μεγάλη Δευτέρα – μεγάλη μαχαίρα
Μεγάλη Τρίτη – ο Χριστός εκρύφτη
Μεγάλη Τετάρτη – ο Χριστός επιάστη
Μεγάλη Πέμπτη – ο Χριστός παιδεύτη
Μεγάλη Παρασκευή – ο Χριστός στο καρφί
Μεγάλο Σάββατο – ο Χριστός στον τάφο
Μεγάλη Κυριακή – ο Χριστός θ’ αναστηθεί

Roughly translated as:-

Holy Monday – Big knife (the great challenge of confronting evil)
Holy Tuesday – Christ was hiding (being looked for by the Pharisees)
Holy Wednesday – Christ was seized / arrested (in England “Spy Wednesday”)
Holy Thursday – Christ was Tortured (in England “Maunday Thursday”)
Good Friday – Christ is Crucified (literally : “to the nails”)
Holy Saturday – Christ was in the Tomb
Easter Day – Christ will be Raised

As ever when we start discussing these things, interesting sidelines appear. Tonia pointed out that παιδεύτη means “tortured” here but the verb  παιδεύω originally meant “to educate” or “to raise” (παιδεύομαι still means “to strive hard“). It can also be used to mean to press harder or tease things out by greater effort as in “Aν την παιδέψεις λίγο ακόμα την ερώτηση, θα βρεις τη σωστή απάντηση” meaning “If you push at the question a little more, you will find the right answer.

So, to all my Greek friends, Καλό Πάσχα Και Καλή Αναστασή

Image result for Καλό Πασχά

One To See

If you’re in Crete This Summer…

The Heraklion Archaeological Museum is a “must see” on any trip to Crete for me but they have what promises to be an interesting exhibition planned this summer.

Entitled “Δαίδαλοσ, στα ίχνη του μυθυκού τεχνίτη” (Daedalυs, on the trail of the mythical craftsman”), the exhibition intends to explore the technological innovations of the Minoans in architectural design and construction, ship building, metal and ceramics.

Inspired by the tales of King Minos’ architect, the creator of the labyrinth, the inventor of manned flight, (we will forget about his role assisting Pasiphaë by becoming the first sex-toy manufacturer*), the event runs from May 10th 2019 to March 1st 2020.


* Daedalus supposedly made a wooden cow so that Pasiphaë could hide inside it and consummate her lust for the white bull that Poseidon had given to Minos. As a result she conceived and gave birth to the Minotaur, and we all know how that ended up.

A (Slight) Disappointment

I saw this post about a new railway in the Peloponnese with this picture at the head of it….

My first thought was… “Excellent, a new tourist line to challenge the Kalavrita Railway that I have enjoyed riding…”

Kalavrita Railway

But, no, it seems that this is a much more ambitious project, running trains at up to 200kph.

My romantic side is a little disappointed that we won’t see steam trains running beside the Gulf of Corinth but I guess this is more use!

June Is In May This Year

Praxis Announce Their Latest Production

Regular readers will know of the Praxis productions that I have attended in the past. (You can read my review of last year’s production here.)

Here are some details of this years play in Greek and English…

O Praxis Oxford Greek Theatre, πιστό στη ιδέα του για παρουσίαση σύγχρονου ελληνικού θεατρικού έργου, παρουσιάζει φέτος, με αφορμή και τη συμπλήρωση 80 χρόνων από την έναρξη του Β’ Παγκοσμιου Πολέμου, το έργο του Γιωργος Ηλιοπουλος «Στις 10 του Ιούνη», σε σκηνοθεσία Αναστασίας Ρεβή.

Η πρεμιέρα μας είναι στις 22 Μαΐου στο Simpkins Lee Theatre, LMH. Πρόσθετες εκτέλεση στις 23 Μαΐου


Praxis Oxford Greek Theater, are continuing with their aim of presenting contemporary Greek play, in Greek with English surtitles. This year, on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the Second World War, they are presenting “On June 10th” by Giorgos Iliopoulos , directed by Anastasia Revi.

The premiere is on May 22 at Simpkins Lee Theater, Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, UK. Additional performance on May 23rd.

You can follow Praxis on their Facebook page.


Travel Into The Past

A while ago I posted some links about the archaeologist Carl Blegen to Natalia Vogeikov’s site “From the Archivist’s Notebook“.

Most recently she’s posted a fascinating short article about some of the work she has been doing on the art collection of the American School in Athens.

9789608561762In particular, she has brought together a post on the work of Francois Perilla who produced a number of paintings and guides to different places in Greece starting during the 1920’s & 30’s.

If like me you love the design of this era, you’ll find this post fascinating.

More Drama!

No, not the Brexit negotiations but one for my UK readers near Oxford.

Followers of this blog may know the names of Anastasia Revi as the director of some of the Praxis theatre productions performed in Oxford over the last few years and of Penny Fylataki as the author of the play “Το Κτίριο” (“The Building”) which Praxis produced in 2015.

Now Anastasia is directing and performing in Penny Fylataki’s “Lucezia the Sinner, Lucrezia the Saint” at the Oxford Playhouse Burton-Taylor Studio on March 13th and 14th 2019.

49623516_1987406708045949_5394761171846823936_nLike their other collaborations, the play is performed in Greek with English surtitles.

If their previous work is anything to go by this will be both entertaining and thought provoking.

You can find out more and book tickets at the Oxford Playhouse web site.

You can learn more about Anastasia Revi and the Theatre Lab Company here.



Είναι Μια Κακή Ημέρα Μαλλιών

In the Ashmolean Museum today I came across this splendid rendition of the Head of Medusa, as recently severed by Perseus.


It’s a modern work by Damian Hirst from his “Treasures of the Wreck of the Unbelievable” exhibition, displayed alongside ancient artefacts.

It just goes to show. If you’re hair isn’t behaving itself, maybe looking in a mirror isn’t the smart thing to do.

Travels With My Greek – III

There hasn’t been much posted here for a couple of weeks because I have been away on holiday.

Our April trip to Egypt was such a success that we went back again for another week on the Nile: weather, archaeology and people all splendid, as expected.

There was one tiny piece of Greek content for me to share with you. Like our last trip we saw graffiti in plenty of places but here is a Greek inscription from the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak.


At the top of the hieroglyphic cartouche (the name of Rameses II), a Greek – it looks like Ευστράτιος Καραμαλάκης – has added his name and the date 1880.

Nice to find myself among earlier tourists who have obviously been impressed by what they saw! (and thanks to Τόνια Ταβλά for helping me work out what this was)

Greek Reading

Margarita Ioannidou sent me, via Facebook, the details of her new book. Her objective is to help students working at the B1 – B2 level to enjoy some of the finest books in Greek literature, while at the same time improving their Greek. Her series of books aims to create accessible versions of classic works that preserve the beauty of the originals.
Here is Margarita’s original post:-
46258822_1793544717421033_4507804134065307648_n“Καλημέρα σας, Ονομάζομαι Μαργαρίτα Ιωαννίδου, και θα ήθελα να σας ενημερώσω για ένα βιβλιαράκι που εξέδωσα. Είναι το «Μόνο της Ζωής του Ταξίδι» του Γεώργιου Βιζυηνού, σε απλοποιημένη μορφή, κατάλληλη για μαθητές που μαθαίνουν ελληνικά σαν δεύτερη/ξένη γλώσσα. Είναι κυρίως κατάλληλο για μέσο επίπεδο γλωσσομάθειας (Β1 – Β2) σύμφωνα με το Ευρωπαϊκό Πλαίσιο Αναφοράς για τις γλώσσες. Σας στέλνω ένα δείγμα του. Με την διδασκαλία των ελληνικών ως δεύτερης γλώσσας, ασχολήθηκα εθελοντικά για δυο χρόνια, κάνοντας μαθήματα σε μετανάστες.
«Παραμύθι Χωρίς Όνομα» της Πηνελόπης Δέλτα (Έκδοση 2012), και
«Ποιος ήταν ο Φονιάς του Αδελφού μου» του Γεώργιου Βιζυηνού (Έκδοση 2017)
Και τα δύο αυτά βιβλία είναι επίσης κατάλληλα για μέσο επίπεδο γλωσσομάθειας. (Β1 – Β2) Στόχος μου είναι να βοηθηθούν οι μαθητές να χαρούν χωρίς μεγάλη δυσκολία μερικά από τα ωραιότερα βιβλία της ελληνικής λογοτεχνίας, και συγχρόνως να βελτιώσουν τα ελληνικά τους. Με εκτίμηση, Μαργαρίτα Ιωαννίδου.”
Here is a download which contains a sample of the book:  «Μόνο της Ζωής του Ταξίδι»
Margarita’s books are available via IANOS

The Shield of Achilles

Occasional  commenter on this site, Kathleen Vail, has completed her book on reconstructing the Shield of Achilles.


It’s available through the well known on-line reseller with the smiley cardboard parcels and you can find out more about it at Kathleen’s web site.

For those interested in the Iliad, its relevance to the study of the Bronze Age Aegean and its influence on western art, the site is well worth a rummage around in.

Νίκος Καζαντζάκης

Travellers to Crete will know (if not love) the airport at Heraklion, named for Νίκος Καζαντζάκης – the author of Zorba the Greek.

What would Zorba think of the proposal to build a new international airport for Crete at Kastelli, around 35km from Heraklion?

I’ve been asked to sign a petition against the airport. I don’t often sign petitions and in this case I’m in two minds. In the end, I’ve done so. I thought I would explain why.

Arguably, its none of my business. I’m only an occasional traveler to Crete. I won’t be massively helped by the new airport. I certainly won’t be affected by the direct impact of it. I’m sure the new airport will be much easier to pass through – for a while at least – even if it is a lot further from Heraklion than the current airport.

On the other hand, I am nervous about initiatives that make it easier for larger and larger numbers of people to visit a place. Does Crete really need to bring in more tourists to sit in all-inclusive resorts, insulated from any contact with Greek culture apart from the obligatory visit to the Knossan theme park? Maybe making it too easy to visit somewhere devalues the experience? I realise I’m being quite hypocritical here. I never thumbed my way over land to Crete in the ’60’s (unlike some of my friends). I’m happy to fly or ferry to get to where I want to go. I’ve been frustrated by crowded airports in Crete, Rhodes, Santorini and pretty much everywhere I’ve been in Greece. Equally I’ve sat on the Riva degli Schiavoni in Venice and wondered why it had suddenly gone dark – only to discover that the sun had been eclipsed by a passing cruise ship.  It’s a delicate balance to be walked between improving access and destroying the thing you are improving access to. On balance, this seems to me like a bad idea.

Greek Government, Region of Crete, Municipality of Minoa Pediada & colon; Stop the procedures for a new airport in Kastelli

If you would like learn more and support the petition to stop the development you can do so by reading this summary and adding your email address hereIf your Greek isn’t up to this (and mine wasn’t) you can cheat with a Google translation here.

A Right Eyeful

Every so often the veil is lifted and you get an “Ah-ha!” moment.

We are all used to words in other languages being derived from terms in Ancient Greek although some times the connection isn’t as obvious as we expect and we all know that kimono has nothing to do with χειμώνας (whatever Gus Portakalos thinks).

Here’s a good one though. In English, glaucoma is a disease of the eyes. It’s common for diseases to use Greek terms for parts of the body but the Greek for eye is μάτι.

It turns out that γλαυκόσ is the colour, pale-blue which might sound only a bit eye-related until you realise that in Homer, the Goddess Athena is often described as Glaukopis  (γλαυκῶπις in Ancient Greek), which is usually translated as, “bright-eyed” or “with gleaming eyes”.

Which brings us to the continuing fascination with Homer’s description of colours. What is it with the whole “wine dark sea” thing, anyway? Did the Ancient Greeks drink blue wine? Has the Mediterranean changed colour since Homeric times? Was Homer colour blind? (Oh, hang on, forget that last one…)

Luckily someone has come to our rescue. I discovered a great essay on the perception of colour in the Ancient Greek world on the Aeon (a magazine described as “intellectual thought candy”) web site. It’s worth a read.

Can We Hope To Understand How-The-Greeks Saw Their World

For those that want a simpler take on modern Greek words for colours there’s my chart here.


Last night, I had a fascinating evening at the Simpkins Lee Theatre watching the latest production by Praxis, the Oxford University Greek Society’s drama company.

“Splinters” (apparently Nina Rapi, the author, refers to it by its English name even though it is a Greek language play) is their fifth annual production of a modern Greek drama, in Greek with English subtitles and delivers in every sense the quality and interest of their earlier productions.

I’m an unashamed fan of these productions and this one certainly met the standards set by productions in previous years.

32914164_1815361435183351_2166006604997066752_n.jpgIn a series of dramatic vignettes, the play explores the way we think about ourselves and the ways that, in giving our feelings voice, we change how we feel and how those feelings and expressions affect those around us. The cast portrays the mixture of friends, lovers, family members and individuals with an energy that lets the audience share in their characters’ confusions, pathos, joy and pain.

It’s not easy to explain how the combination of scenes build to form a coherent whole, but they do. Google gives me five translations of “splinter” into Greek (maybe that’s why the author refuses to fix on one?) and the production follows a similarly fragmented take on each person’s view of their own emotions and their realities.

For a Greek beginner, the pace is challenging but the subtitling works well. Music ranging from The Hollies to Eric Satie is used to good effect. Garnet Mimms’ “Cry Baby” (here by Janis Joplin?) in particular drives one of the scenes.

https _cdn.evbuc.com_images_44215729_170288105625_1_original

The set – a series of white cubes moved into place as by the actors as they need to represent walls, tables and chairs – works well in the small space and is ideally suited to the abstract nature of the production.

Anastasia Revi directs once more and brings, as ever, professional performances from this amateur group.  If you are in Oxford over the next two evenings and can get a ticket, I urge you to have a great evening.

Sorry, but you’ve missed it now. To give you an idea of what it was like, here’s a gallery of photos from the production.

My previous reviews of Praxis productions:-