Philotimo, leventia and storytelling: the moral necessity of Greco-Australian narratives
The philosopher Plato allegedly claimed that “those who tell stories run society”. There is no doubt that the stories frame how we view the world and, therefore, how we engage with our surroundings. Stories in various forms can provide a standard by which moral activity is judged and, at best, act as reliable guides for ethical conduct.
What does this have to do with Greco-Australian stories? How do Greco-Australian stories fit into this ethical perspective of storytelling? Based on the above presuppositions, I believe that stories exploring the complexity of Greek life in Australia, with all of its ups and downs and particular cultural quirks, are essential to maintaining a strong identity for the third and fourth. fourth generations. ellino-australoi.
With few exceptions, the most common genre of ‘ethnic’ storytelling in Australia (especially when it comes to Greeks-Australians) is comedy. The enormous success of television shows and films such as the Acropolis Now franchise and The Wog Boy has undoubtedly influenced new waves of “ethnic” comedy over the past ten to fifteen years, such as Fat Pizza and its offshoots, Superwog and Sooshi Mango presenting across multiple media platforms. These sources of entertainment have their place and continue to produce moments of pure joy for us that resonate with the cultural peculiarities on display.
Nevertheless, the question must be asked: is this all we have for the preservation of our culture? Soon the tropes of the “grumpy-Greek father” or “loving but domineering yiayia” will disappear, as each successive generation of Greco-Australians lose touch with their ancestral language, culture and general way of life. An article published in our own Neos Kosmos titled “A Warning For The Greek Language In Australia: Use It Or You Will Lose It” makes this case quite succinct.
So what should we replace everything with?
Another question we need to ask ourselves is what specifically defines Greekness, or the Greco-Australian identity. Are we returning to the classical past – with its undoubtedly miraculous advances in philosophy and science – or to the Byzantine Empire, with its insistence on the Orthodox Christian faith and the promulgation of the values of the Gospel? Or do we turn our attention to the modern Greek Enlightenment, born just before the revolutionary movements surrounding Greece’s War of Independence in 1821, with its worship of Enlightenment principles such as liberty, equality and brotherhood?
A discussion certainly needs to take place. I have my own personal opinions on the matter, but regardless, they do not necessarily serve the proposed message inherent in this article. What is evident, however, is the need for a collective and objective understanding of what it means to be Greek, and more specifically, Greek-Australian; and this is what brings me to the concepts of philotimo and leventia.
We heard it to the point of nausea, whether from our parents, grandparents or your local Greek grocer / longtime South Melbourne football fan at Lakeside Stadium: philotimo and leventia are at the heart of authentic Greek virtue.
Countless articles across the Greek Diaspora have explored the meaning of these values, including articles featured on our Neos Kosmos. For those of you who are not (perhaps surprisingly) familiar with these terms, let me provide a quick explanation:
Philotimo translates directly to “love of honor” and has been used as an expression of an ethical ideal through periods of classical, Byzantine and modern Greek history. In addition, leventia refers to the spirit of courage and integrity; someone who is willing to risk their life for the good of the other.
These moral standards are clearly presented in the best works of Hellenic literature: in Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad most, if not all, of the characters experience immense difficulty – exhibiting not only the finest virtues, but also the most insensible of vices.
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Upon returning to his rightful home in Ithaca, Ulysses mercilessly kills the illegal suitors before his son hangs the maids accused of treason. Additionally, in the Iliad, Achilles shamelessly celebrates his victory in battle by dragging Hector’s corpse around the city walls of Troy in front of the latter’s father, Priam. Nevertheless, Achilles also illustrates the great philotimo by returning the body of Hector to Priam in order to ensure a proper burial for his rival. Greek plays of this period, notably the Tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, also did not hesitate to reveal the inevitable consequences of certain moral or immoral actions. In Byzantine times, an epic poem known as Digenis Akritas focused on the adventures of a border guard named Vasileios who, among other heroic feats, slays a dragon and a lion, single-handedly defeats a group of bandits and their three leaders, and lives the rest of his life in peace thanks to his leventia. This form of epic and romantic poetry has tickled the imaginations of many modern Greek thinkers such as the poet Vikentios Kornaros and his Erotokritos. Obviously we have countless examples of Greek tales in which the virtues of philotimo and leventia are either clearly
conveyed, or their deliberate disregard leads to disastrous results for the main characters.
However, to the reader thinking at this point: “What is he trying to say, that we need more little morals and sermons in Greco-Australian stories these days?” Never. In fact, the stories I have referred to describe arguably the most complex, dynamic, and destructive elements of the human condition ever known in world literature. They don’t hesitate to expose the meaner side of our nature, such as the propensity for prejudice, hatred, war and totalizing power. However, the difference is that most of these accounts (although with varying degrees of success) see virtue as virtue and identify vice as vice. There is a clear objective standard of morality at stake, although the validity of certain virtues and vices is sometimes called into question; at the end of many of these stories, the fruits of moral or immoral decisions are rightly exposed. “The line between good and evil runs through every human heart,” said Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and so our stories should reflect this reality as well.
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Creative talents abound in the Greek-Australian community. Of course. Resurrecting the stories of our young people, parents and grandparents is a great way to reinject philotimo et leventia. We often take the wisdom of our predecessors for granted and don’t really appreciate the sacrifices made in the past to ensure our quality of life today. However, we don’t need to succumb to petty moralization or propaganda; rather, we need to revitalize these values in the Greco-Australian consciousness.
We need to create stories that not only inspire Greeks-Australians to embody these virtues, or even just preserve our culture, but also to illustrate that these values transcend cultural boundaries. Just as the ancient Greeks facilitated the advancement of philosophy and science, this does not mean that these two modes of understanding are exclusive to the Greek people. This is not a call for cultural exclusivism, these values are both specific and universal; particular and generalizable. They act as a standard of conduct by which we shape the world and our interactions with others, regardless of our differences.
As the days of the ‘tenacious Greek mother’ archetype slowly fade, something deeper needs to be salvaged and restored. There is hope: philotimo and leventia in the narrative are here to stay.