Wednesday, January 30, 2019


I Hate the Ancient Greeks

Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011), Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece (1966; rpt. New York: New York Review Books, 2006), pp. 68-69:
"I don't know," he said amiably, "and, what's more, I don't care. I hate the ancient Greeks. We had to learn all about them at school: Plato, Socrates, Pericles, Leonidas, Aristotle, Euripides, Homer —Andra mi ennepe, Mousa, polytropon os malla [sic] polla and all that stuff. No, I don't hate them: that's too strong. But what have they got to do with me? Perhaps we descend from them, perhaps we don't, what does it matter? And who did they descend from, pray? Nobody knows. They were Greeks and so are we, that's all we know. I come from Smyrna—there's an ancient Greek city for you—and I may be more Greek than the Greeks in Athens, more Greek than your Sarakatsáns, for all I know. Who cares? Greece is an idea, that's the thing! That's what keeps us together—that, and the language and the country and the Church—not that I like priests particularly, but we owe them a lot. And those old Greeks, our celebrated ancestors, are a nuisance and I'll tell you why. They haunt us. We can never be as great as they were, nobody can. They make us feel guilty. We can't do anything, people think, because of a few old books and temples and lumps of marble. And clever foreigners who know all about the ancients come here expecting to be surrounded by Apollos and gentlemen in helmets and laurel leaves, and what do they see? Me: a small dark fat man with a moustache and eyes like boot buttons!" He laughed good-naturedly. "To hell with them! Give me the men of the War of Independence, who chucked out the Turks, give me Averoff, who presented us with a battleship out of his own pocket, give me Venizelos, who saved us all and turned Greece into a proper country. What's wrong with them? If we weren't such fools and always quarrelling among ourselves, if we could have no wars or revolutions for fifty years—fifty years, that's all I ask—you'd see what a country we'd become! Then we could start worrying about the Trojan Horse and working out our relationship to Pericles and finding out whether the Sarakatsáns descend from the ancient Greeks!"

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?