Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Great and not so great Greeks, part two

The second part of Skai TV’s Great Greeks was shown last night, purporting to present the leading 50 representatives of our exalted race. There will now be one-hour documentaries shown for each of the top ten before a final winner is declared by public vote on 18 May. I know I shouldn’t take seriously a programme on which the half-wit Maria Damanaki is invited to give her opinion on anything, let alone who is a great Greek, but we Greeks are known for our love of categories and categorisation and I guess I am no different.

Last week, I discussed Great Greeks from 51-100, and expressed my shock and disappointment that the talentless Melina Mercouri and the disastrous Konstantinos Karamanlis (above left, sharing a joke with the butcher of Cyprus, Bulent Ecevit) had evidently made it into the top 50 and I hoped and expected that they wouldn’t make it out of the high forties. Unfortunately, they did.

Mercouri came in at 13 and as such is regarded not only as a greater Greek than Homer (17), but also as the greatest Greek woman of all time, more glorious than Sappho, Cleopatra and Hypatia – none of whom made it in the top 100. Mercouri, unless I’ve missed something, is known for her large mouth – literally and figuratively – and her film roles as a big-hearted prostitute, in the tawdry, febrile Stella and the utterly insufferable Never on Sunday.

Mercouri got through the Axis occupation of Greece thanks to a clever marriage to a much older husband and his considerable wealth and the friendships she developed with many of the high-ranking German and Italian officers responsible for Greece’s prostration.

Karamanlis, another person with a dubious war-time record – ‘health problems’ prevented him from fighting at the Albanian front and he was later accused of being a German informer – was judged by the great Greek public – or a large enough portion of the 36,000 who voted – to be a greater Greek than Leonidas (19), Themistolces (41) and Pavlos Melas (45), and, in fact, Karamanlis who was prime minister of Greece three times between 1955 and 1963 and once again from 1974 to 1980 and president from 1990 to 1995, made it through to the top ten.

I think it’s fair to say that if you wanted to pin the blame on one man for Greece’s catastrophic transition from the ‘traditional’ to the ‘modern’, in which the country for the sake of ‘modernisation’ has ditched any number of worthwhile values and virtues, developed a dysfunctional and rotten society, an unproductive and inert economy, sacrificed national independence and allowed Hellenism’s borders – mental and physical – to shrink, then that man would be the ‘ethnarch’ (sic, sick) Konstantinos Karamanlis.

More than anyone else I know of, Karamanlis has represented the self-loathing Greek political class and its outrageous view that what is holding Greece back is the Greek people themselves, their outmoded Byzantine ways, who need to be ‘Europeanised’, and what Greece has to do to secure progress and prosperity is to put aside its history, traditions and the innate patriotism of Greeks and mimic the social and ideological models of the ‘West’.

As for the other nine who made it into the top ten: Giorgios Papanikolaou shouldn’t be there and nor should Capodistrias. I even have my doubts about Venizelos. It cannot be overlooked that when the once-in-a-millennium chance to create a Megali Ellada presented itself, the Cretan made choices and decisions that resulted in calamity, which has set Greece back centuries.

The argument against Venizelos could also be made against another top ten Greek, Pericles – since the Athenian’s brilliant career was also marred by the pursuit of an ultimately disastrous war – in Pericles’ case, war against Sparta, which resulted not only in the loss of Athens’ empire but also the city’s independence.

Kolokotronis is rightly in the top ten, as a representative of the 1821 revolutionaries – who with their bravery, willpower and patriotic zeal restored to Greece the state it had lost in 1453 and offered the chance to future generations to establish the independence the country had snatched away from it in 1204. (Since 1832, Greece has flirted with independence, achieved it once or twice, then thrown it away again) – but I wouldn’t want to put the Old Man of the Morea higher than five.

And then there were four: Alexander the Great, Plato, Socrates and Aristotle. In terms of brilliance, influence and complexity you could make a good case for any one of this group to be declared greatest Greek; but in the end, if I had to pick, then it would probably be Alexander. I say ‘probably’ because I’ve never been convinced that Alexander cared that much about Greece, Macedonia or any other part of the Hellenic world. Alexander cared about one thing and one thing alone, and that was Alexander, who saw himself not only as superhuman but supra-Greek. But if Alexander is not the greatest Greek of all time, then who is? Me? Maybe. Why not? I’ve had my moments. No Greek likes to admit he’s not the best.

■ I’ve already mentioned that Cleopatra, Sappho and Hypatia didn’t make it into the top 100; but neither did Yiannis Xenakis, Diogenes of Sinope or Zeno of Kitium. If Epikouros got in at 63, then surely Zeno, the founder of the Stoic school of philosophy – one of the high points of Hellenistic culture – should have made it too.

To watch Great Greeks 21-50 go here, and for 1-19 go here. You can vote for your Great Greek here; the winner will be announced on 18 May.

The list from 1-50 is as follows, with 1-10 in alphabetical order:

1. Alexander the Great
2. Aristotle

3. Ioannis Capodistrias

4. Konstantinos Karamanlis

5. Theodoros Kolokotronis

6. Georgios Papanikolaou

7. Pericles
8. Plato

9. Socrates

10. Eleftherios Venizelos

11. Mikis Theodorakis
12. Konstantinos Karatheodoris
13. Melina Mercouri
14. Andreas Papandreou
15. Nikos Kazantzakis
16. Odysseas Eltyis
17. Homer
18. Manos Hadjidakis
19. Leonidas
20. Hippocrates
21. Pythagoras
22. C. P. Cavafy
23. Maria Callas
24. Archimedes
25. Aristotle Onassis
26. Harilaos Trikoupis
27. Domenikos Theotokopoulos
28. Konstantinos Paleologos
29. Giorgios Seferis
30. Rigas Pheraios-Velestinlis
31. Aris Velouchiotis
32. Ioannis Metaxas
33. Nikos Gallis
34. Giorgios Karaiskakis
35. Demokritos
36. Plethon
37. Dionysios Solomos
38. Ioannis Makriyiannis
39. Adamantios Korais
40. Yiannis Ritsos
41. Themistocles
42. Heraclitos
43. Thucydides
44. Euclid
45. Pavlos Melas
46. Archbishop Christodoulos
47. Athanassios Diakos
48. Theodoris Zagorakis
49. Dimitris Nanopoulos
50. Tomb of the Unknown Soldier


Hermes said...

If we take this program seriously then there are many troubling issues:

1) There is a disproportionally small percentage of so called Byzantines. What about Patriarch Photius, Nikiphorus Phocus, Alexius Comnenus, Michael Psellus, George Maniacas, Heraclius, St Gregory Palamas, Kassiani, John Philoponus, Romanos Melodios?

2) Where is Auxentiou, Makarios or even Grivas?

3) Surely Zagorakis is not a great Greek. Perhaps his leadership contributed to an incredible result but he has never really shone elsewhere indicating that his supposed success was probably due to other factors

4) Mercouri, Kazanztakis, Velouchiotis are too high

5) Where is Parmenides, Plotinus, Isocrates, Sappho, Galen, Plutarch, Menander, Proclus, Kondylis (Panagiotis), Lorenztatos, Xenakis, Sikelianos, Skalkottas?

6) Karamanlis and Papanikolao should not be in the top ten

7) And why the hell is there only one Zakynthian in the whole list??? Surely, Andreas Kalvos, Grigoris Xenopoulos, St Dionysios, Pavlos Carreris and Nikolaos Koutouzos should be up there?

john akritas said...

Spot on, H. Spot on. Nikiphoros Phocas is an unbelievable omission. It can only be that Byzantine history is badly appreciated in Greece. Afxentiou and Makarios should certainly be on the list and the fact that they're not again says something about standards of education in Hellas at the moment. There's definitely not enough Zakynthians on the list, but then there are only two Cypriots: Manos Loizos and Eleni Mouzoula, the pianist I'd never heard of. I say there are only two Cypriots on the list, but Capodistrias on his mother's side had Cypriot roots; as did Dionysios Solomos – according to this article I read this week on the Podokataros family, which after the island fell to the Turks in 1571 made its way to Crete and then Kythera. See last two paragraphs.


Anonymous said...

Excellent article, however it also maked manifest the incredible short memory span ( no doubt due to our education) of our people at large. Our history , it must be remembered, for the bovine majority starts in 1973with the overthrow of the Junta and the eventual introduction of the rotten democracy through the agencies of Mercury-karamanlis and other sell outs. Our perception of history is our post junta experience.

Anonymous said...

The caption in the picture is worth a thousand words. Reverse the roles, let the butcher Ecevit incarnate the timorous and pusilanimous Karamanlis, and Karamanlis incarnate the butcher turk. The turk Ecevit would have been dealt with summarily by his own military, or a patriots' bullet at the back of his head. Instead ,nothing happened with our treacherous democratic leadership . They allowed and condoned the rape of Cyprus, and therafter the truckler Karamanlis, with a beaming smile had the stomach and verve to share a joke with a rapist. History repeats itself. 30 odd years later , his nephew , another proditor had the gall to commit an historic obscenity; he laid a wreath ,and presumably knelt, at the tomb of another butcher and genocidist of Greeks, the bastard Kemal. Is it any wonder to witness the degraded condition we have allowed ourselves to descend in ?.

john akritas said...

You make a good point about Greek historical memory only reaching as far back as 1973. I think this is very true, and very sad, given who we are and what our history is. That Karamanlis (senior) can still be revered by so many Greeks today as the man who restored democracy to Greece and got Greece in the EU is a bad joke.