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ITHAKA ON THE HORIZON: A Greek-American Journey



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26 March 2007



This little parable is characteristic of a culture in the very late stage of its development whereby it uses foreign myths and storytelling as didactic tools whilst at the same time inadvertadly undermining the foundations of their own culture (Vico 1657 and Spengler 1926).

For example, why would a Greek use the story of their mortal enemy to tell them something about themselves? Surely this is absurd. One would say this is only the background and it is the internal logic of the parable that matters. However, one could also reply that the background and the internal logic is equally as important.

Also, the nature of the myths are not of the Hellenic spirit. Hellenism was underpinned by sophrosyne rather than rapturous visions and fantastical tales which are characteristic of people to the East.

Also, we see the entry of non-Hellenic rubbish like astrology into the Greek world. Astrology was first introduced in 280 BC by Berossus, a priest of Bel from Babylon, who opened a school of astrology in that year on the island of Cos, site of the medical school of Hippocrates. Prior to the loss of confidence amongst Greeks following the civil war, Asiatic religious divination was largely ridiculed. However, many proletariat Greeks living in larger cities such as Alexandria, without the immediate Polis structure that facilitated participation in political life, began to increasingly seek answers rather than delight in asking questions which resulted in increasingly Middle Eastern hocus pocus entering the Greek world (Gilbert Murray 1912).

Lastly, these little parables are from the desert. Not only is the geography different than the traditional Greek world but also the source of knowledge changes as Greeks moved away from political life back into caves and deserts to find visions and other highly suspicious sources of knowledge.

Basically, this parable shows how Greeks gradually lost their nerve, their courage, their belief in the human mind to grasp the meaning of life and sought answers in foreign tales which may seem attractive but are ultimately destructive. Today, we see many parallels amongst Greek youth who deride national stories and myths and institutions such as trying to burn Evzone compounds and burning flags in favour of foreign ideologies such as American free market capitalism and Marxism.

Finally, although Kontoglu was a great artist but it is very ironic that he uses stories by Christians to argue for tradition when Christianity was the one of the most powerful forces that helped to sweep away over 1000 years of Hellenic tradition.


Hermes, you an idiot!

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  • Keep Ithaka always in your mind. Arriving there is what you're destined for. But don't hurry the journey at all. Better if it lasts for years, so you're old by the time you reach the island, wealthy with all you've gained on the way, not expecting Ithaka to make you rich. Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey. Without her you wouldn't have set out. She has nothing left to give you now. And if you find her poor, Ithaka won't have fooled you. Wise as you will have become, so full of experience, you'll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean. C. P. Cavafy


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