Diatribe: Greek School Daze – Neos Kosmos


“I’m taking my child out of Greek school,” my hyperventilating friend spluttered in outrage. “I think someone needs to tell the people that run these establishments that this is the twenty first century.”

“You mean in terms of setting Αντιγραφή and Ορθογραφία?” I asked.

“No, I mean the complete absence of any LGBTI role models. My son come home the other day in tears because his teacher told him off for stating that Alexander the Great was gay.”

When I on the other hand, mentioned the topic of Alexander’s sexuality to my Greek teacher aeons ago, remained unpunished. By way of reply, he told me instead about Aphroditus, who, originating from Amathus on the island of Cyprus, was a male counterpart to Aphrodite, celebrated in Athens through a transvestite ritual. Depicted with a feminine form and attire resembling Aphrodite’s, Aphroditus also possessed a phallus, hence being given a male designation. Apparently, this trans deity arrived in Athens from Cyprus during the fourth century BC. According to Macrobius, part of his worship entailed an exchange of clothing between men and women, with women assuming “male” roles, and men acting as “females.”

“Well now Queer is completely missing from the Greek narrative,” she complained. “It’s disgraceful. I won’t have any of it.”

There is no accounting for what outrages citoyennes who reside in Brighton, but I thought that by way of being emollient, I would set out the benefits of not having one’s son attend Greek School. I referred by way of example to the Homeric Hero Achilles, who prior to becoming infatuated with Patroclus, missed out on hooking up with Helen, the most gorgeous woman ever to walk the Hellespont, simply because he was at Greek School, being tutored along by a half naked old man who was also a horse. At least so maintains the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women which tells the story of of Helen’s suitors, explaining that Menelaos won Helen’s hand because of the magnitude of his wealth. The fragment, however, does not stop there, explaining the reason why Achilles didn’t make the cut:

“Atreus’ war-loving son Menelaos conquered everyone

Because he gave the most gifts. Kheiron took Peleus’ son

of swift feet to wooded Pelion, that most exceptional of men,

when he was still a child. War-loving Menelaos wouldn’t have defeated him

nor would any other Mortal man on the earth who was wooing

Helen if swift Achilles had come upon her when she was still a maiden

As he returned home from Pelion.

But, as it turned out, war-loving Menelaos got her first.”

Alexander the Great is the reason why another of my friends pulled her child out of Greek school. “They keep on going on about how he is this great Greek hero and my daughter goes home and tells her dad and it does his head in and he starts yelling at me, saying that they are preaching hatred,” she complains, adding by way of explanation: “He is Maco.”

Upon hearing the forbidden word I jump three times of the spot, do the sign of the Cross and sprinkle salt over my left shoulder. “So what are you going to do?” I ask. “Take her to Slav school?”

“No bloody way,” she sniffs. “I don’t want her learning that blockhead language.”

Appalled, I advise her that when Amphicrates the rhetorician visited Seleucia in modern Iraq in 85BC, he was asked to create a school of rhetoric for local Greek students. He refused stating that a dish could not hold a dolphin. She responds by stating that she has no idea what I mean.

Yet another of my friends has contemplated taking their children out of Greek school, thought not because of the curriculum but rather because of what he sees to be a clique of favourite parents that surround the teaching staff, ensuing preferential treatment for their progeny, including their pick of roles for the end of year school play. Indeed, he alludes to organised nepotism on a grand scale, hinting at money and foodstuffs changing hands, railing at the existence of the sycophants which apparently exist in Greek schools in plague proportions.

One of my early childhood memories is of visiting Patriarch Bartholomeos on the occasion of one of his visits to Melbourne when he was still the Metropolitan of Philadelpheia.

Commenting on intrigue and gossip, Patriarch Bartholomeos stated: “What I detest most in the world, are sycophants.”

– Αυτό που απεχθάνομαι όσο τίποτε άλλο στον κόσμο, είναι οι κόλακες.

This remained etched in my memory, because it was the first ever time that I heard the words: “απεχθάνομαι” and “κόλακες.”

The week after, I went to Greek school and told my teacher:

– Απεχθάνομαι τους κόλακες και την αντιγραφή, causing her to burst out laughing. She gave me homework regardless.

When I taught at a Greek school a decade ago, parents would drop off their children having first regaled them with graphic stories of savagery meted against them by sadistic vitsa-wielding educators. This was not my experience, and I suppose since those times, the saying attributed to the great Pythagoras, “educate the children and it won’t be necessary to punish the men,” is adhered to, though I do recall being punished for daring to comment to one of my teachers that the Babylonians discovered the Pythagorean theorem centuries before the sage did. I was made to stand in the corner on one leg for what seemed like an age causing my hypotenuse to throb most acutely in angles I never even knew existed.

I will never forget, however, the response of one of my teachers when I asked why we being made week after week to conjugate verbs in nauseating succession. Stretching himself to his full height of five feet and two inches, he intoned: “The great Aristotle said: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.” Given that said teacher had a habit of rubbing himself on the corner of his desk as he delivered the lesson, the words of the philosopher opened unlooked for pathways, especially when the more intrepid pupils rubbed chalk on the desk corners prior to the lesson’s commencement.

You cannot but love an institution where the teacher, instead of telling you your mark for your Greek history exam, reveals that the word for brick in Greek τούβλο is derived from the Latin, tubulus, referring to the tube-like holes within the bricks themselves. And all this because I stated in my essay that ELAS resistance leader Aris Velouhiotis originally came from Baluchistan in Pakistan, because this in Greek is rendered as Βελουχιστάν.

The Greek School I send my children to completely captivates them to the extent that I am fully convinced that they would murder me should I ever contemplate to remove them from it, even after disagreeing with the modern parvenu Greeks’ propensity to write αβγό instead of αυγό, or after jostling with parents in order to secure optimum position during pickup. Nonetheless, even it were not so, I have had two seminal experiences that ensure that come what may, I will ensure that my children attend Greek School until the bitter end:

The first was a few years ago, when I had just dropped off my daughter at Greek school and was talking to my then infant son. A band of rather scruffy gentlemen rounded the corner. Hearing us babble to each other, their faces contorted in rage as they screamed:

“We don’t speak f….n wog, alright?”

“I know,” I replied. “That’s why no one is talking to you.”

The second is perusing an early twentieth century photograph depicting Greek and Armenian students in the only school for deaf children in the Ottoman Empire in Merzifounta of Pontus. In the photograph, they are forming words and looking at their mouths in hand mirrors. The teacher looks at them with the tenderness that my children’s Greek teachers gaze at them. Her love and sensitivity as to their disability, as well as her positivity emanate from the image. Not long after, most, in not all of these children would be dead, victims of one of the most barbarous crimes of the age. Looking at their optimistic countenance and knowing the ultimate price they paid for being who they are makes me resolve to be steadfast in supporting the Greek educational institutions of our community.

But don’t take my word for it. Rather, take that of Virginia Woolf, whose stance on the Greek language is so visceral, so sensuous, that it makes me want to undergo Greek school again and again and again:

“Every ounce of fat has been pared off… Then, spare and bare as it is, no language can move more quickly… Then there are the words themselves which… we have made expressive to us of our own emotions, θάλασσα, θάνατος, ἄνθος… so clear, so hard, so intense, that to speak plainly yet fittingly without blurring the outline…, Greek is the only expression. It is useless, then.. to read Greek in translation.”

Now that, mes enfants, is sexy.



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