Saturday, 12 December 2015


There are as many kinds of Philhellenism as there are Philhellenes. Byron of course: his love of Greece was as great as his love of freedom, and he came to Greece to offer what help he could in the liberation of Greece from Turkish rule, and died here. (Not in battle, but from malaria contracted in the unhealthy marshes of Missolonghi.) That Byron was a frightful poseur and closet transvestite, thrilled to discover that it was acceptable for men to wear skirts here, detracts from this not one jot: the mere presence of an English Lord and celebrated poet on their side did wonders for Greek morale. (‘Jot’, by the way, derives from the smallest letter in the Greek alphabet: iota subscript.)

Then there are the ‘Glory that was Greece’ types, with the emphasis firmly on the ‘was’ — professors of Ancient Greek who are disappointed to discover that the locals seem not to understand them when addressed in a 2,000 year old language spoken with the artificial Erasmian pronunciation; these go home when they discover that ‘Olympus’ is actually pronounced ‘Olly-boss’.

Last and least are the people who come on holiday, claim to have ‘fallen in love with the place’, regard every Greek they meet as a ‘quaint local character’ and make no attempt to engage with Greek culture.

Not quite last: there are also some who come to see what it’s all about, like it enough not to bother to go ‘home’ when their two weeks are up, stay, learn the language, settle, and have more Greek friends (and enemies) than they ever had where they came from. I believe it is to this last group I belong, and that this gives me an excuse, even a right, to tell what I think I have learnt of the place, the people, and the culture.

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