Why are there so many buildings that resemble ancient Greek temples in Europe? And why do so many artists from the Romantic era depict ancient Greek mythological characters in their sculptures and paintings?
If you have ever visited some of the major cities of Europe, such as Paris, Vienna, Munich, and Brussels, you might have noticed some 18th and 19th century buildings that are clearly inspired by the simplicity and symmetry of Classical Athens’ architecture. You might have visited the Orsay Museum in Paris and noticed a collection of artworks from that same period that depict characters from ancient Greek mythology. Maybe you have heard of cities named Athens in the United States of America and Canada and of secret societies communicating in ancient Greek in American Universities.
This movement in art and architecture is called “Hellenism”, “Neoclassicism”, or “Neoclassical Hellenism”. These terms were introduced during the Romantic era (18th and 19th Century Europe) by the German art historian and archaeologist Johann Joachim Winckelmann. It was a time when noble Europeans would study the political and philosophical ideas of Classical Athens, often romanticizing the era.
With Hellenism, “Philhellenism” was born: a love and admiration for the living descendants of ancient Greeks, who lived under the Ottoman rule. Philhellenes played a crucial role in reviving the Hellenic (Greek) spirit and encouraging the enslaved Greeks of the Ottoman Empire to create a national identity and fight for their independence.
Helinika has gathered a collection of artworks and buildingsthat were inspired by the Neoclassical movement.
Psyche Revived by the Kiss of Love, Antonio Canova
Italian artist Antonio Canova is behind the masterpiece of Neoclassical sculpture named “Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss”. The sculpture respresents the god Eros (Cupid) kissing and reviving Psyche (Soul). The sculpture was inspired by Greek mythological characters, however the depicted scene comes from the Metamorphoses of Apuleius.
Perseus with the Head of Medusa, Antonio Canova
Canova is also behind the marble sculpture of Perseus holding the head of Gorgon Medusa in the Vatican. Perseus was the ancient Greek legendary hero who slayed a monster named Medusa who would turn people into stone with her gaze.
When The Heart is Young, John William Godward
John William Godward was an English Neoclassicism painter who draw inspiration from both ancient Greece and Rome. “When The Heart is Young” was painted in 1902 and depicts a young woman laying wearing on a marble bench.
In The Days od Sappho, John William Godward
Here is another painting from Godward, created in 1904. The painting depicts another young woman in a scenery that reminds us of ancient Greece. The title of the painting includes the name Sappho. Sappho was an archaic Greek poet from the island of Lesbos, often called the “Tenth Muse”.
Neoclassicism in Arcitecture
Neoclassical architecture is prevalent in Greece and other European countries but also in the United States of America and South America. The epicenter of Neoclassical architecture was, without a doubut, Munich, Germany.
The Hellenic Parliament
The Hellenic Parliament, an austere and fuctional building, which initially served as the palace of King Otto, was designed by the German architect Friedrich von Gaertner.
Altes Museum Berlin, Karl Friedrich Schinkel
Designed by the Prussian architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel, the Altes Museum in the historic center of Berlin is a major work of German Neoclassical architecture. The Museum is part of the UNESCO World Heritage.
The White House, James Hoban
The official residence of the president of the United States, known as the “White House”, is an example of both Neoclassical and Palladian arcitecture. The White House was designed by the Irish architect James Hoban in Washington DC.
Today’s Greek listening exercise is about Greek diminutive (υποκοριστικά). In other words, you will learn how to make Greek sound cuter. Diminutives are words that imply that the person or the noun that we are referring to is small/cute/unimportant.
Welcome to your Greek Listening Comprehension exercise #3. Today’s topic covers what we call figurative expressions in Greek (Metaphors, Similes). For example, what do Greeks mean hen their “vessels are sinking”?
Stop using the same Greek words again and again. Use their synonyms instead. Today’s listening exercise aims at helping you enrich your Greek vocabulary. Don’t forget to subscribe to Helinika’s YouTube channel and never miss a video in the future.
You might be wondering why Greece is officially called “Hellenic Republic” or “Hellas” and why Greeks are often called “Hellenes”. The same goes with adjectives such as “Hellenic” and “Hellenistic” instead of Greek. Another common term is “Philhellenism”, meaning friend/lover of Hellenism. What do these terms mean and how are they connected to Greece?
Hellas and Hellenes
The reality is that Greeks/Hellenes today use the terms «Ελλάδα» (Hellada), «Έλληνες» (Hellenes), and «ελληνικός» (Hellenic) when talking about Greece, Greeks, and Greek (adjective) respectively. At the same time, many western countries are more familiar with the Latin “Graecia”, hence the common use of the words “Greece” and “Greek”. In this sense, “Greece” and “Hellas” can be used interchangeably, but the second option is more accurate than the first.
There are various theories surrounding the etymology of “Hellas”. We know from the ancient Greek poet Homer that Hellas was a place in central Greece, where the women were described as “very beautiful” (καλλιγύναικος). You might have also heard of the mythical Helen of Troy, considered the “most beautiful woman in the world”, whose abduction started the Trojan War. Her name, which is still a very popular given name for girls, means “bright”/ “of light”, leading us to the conclusion that Hellas was “the land of light”. Greece is still referred to as “the land of light”, not only because of its clear skies and many consecutive days of sunlight, but also because its history inspired the Age of Enlightenment.
The term started describing all Greeks thanks to the conquests of Alexander the Great (356 BC – 323 BC). Up to that point, the Greeks were organized in city-states, such as Athens and Sparta. Greeks were aware of their common characteristics in religion, language, and appearance, and would distinguish themselves from people of different cultural backgrounds.
With the creation of the vast empire of Alexander, these differences became more prominent and Greeks started recognizing themselves as one group: the Hellenes. Ancient Greek historian Thucydides was also using the term “to Hellenize” (ελληνίζει) when referring to the spread of the Greek language and culture.
The Hellenistic Period is the historical period that starts with the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and ends with the Battle of Actium in 31 BC and the emergence of the Roman Empire. This was the time when the Attic dialect of the Greek language, that you may know as Koine Greek, became the lingua franca in the Mediterranean and other regions that were reached and influenced by Alexander. Some scholars often refer to it as an age of decadence, since it marks the decline of the Greek Classical Era. However, the Hellenistic Period was a time of prosperity and was characterized by a great progress in arts, mathematics, philosophy, architecture, and science. Stoicism and Epicureanism saw a rise during this period.
“Hellenism” has three different meanings. Today, the term describes the culture(s) of Hellas and Hellenes (Greece and Greeks) from ancient to modern times. Sometimes, scholars might use the term Hellenism to describe only the culture of the Hellenistic Period, as described in the previous paragraph. In the European Romantic era, “Hellenism” was a synonym of the neoclassical movement in art and architecture, which was inspired by the Greek Classical era.
Philhellenism and Philhellenes
Philhellenism derives from the Greek «φιλώ» (to befriend, to love, to adore, to kiss) and the term Hellenism, which is a synonym for the Greek culture and aesthetic. Philhellenes are the admirers of Hellenism and Hellenes (Greek culture and Greeks). Philhellenism became a movement in Western Europe and other regions in the 17th, 18th and 19th Century thanks to the neoclassical movement that focused on the study of Classical philosophers and thanks to the tradition of the Grand Tour; a coming of age trip for upper-class European men in the archaeological sites of Italy and Greece. Philhellenism played a crucial role in the start and completion of the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire.
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You may know Aristotle (Aristotélēs, 384–322 BC) as the ancient Greek philosopher who was taught by another well-known philosopher, Plato, during the Classical era. Here are five facts about philosopher and polymath Aristotle that you may or may not know.
Facts About the Philosopher Aristotle:
Aristotle did not originate from Athens
Aristotle was the student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great
Aristotle was the founder of the Peripatetic School of Philosophy
Aristotle did not hate Democracy
Aristotle was married to a respected female scientist
Although associated with Classical Athens, Aristotle was born in 384 BC in Stagira, an ancient Greek city in the peninsula of Chalkidice. His father was a physician and was closely associated with the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedonia. At the age of eighteen, young Aristotle moved to Athens to study at Plato’s Academy, the first higher education institution in the West. The philosopher is said to have participated in the Eleusinian Mysteries, the secret cult of Demeter and Persephone that we have discussed in the past.
Aristotle as a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great
Aristotle was the student of Plato and, like his teacher, he tried to tackle ontological topics and understand the concepts of existence, being, and reality. However, Aristotle did expand on these topics and his philosophical ideas are perceived as empirical and practical when compared to Plato’s abstract thinking. For example, both Plato and Aristotle expressed the importance of “virtue” in achieving happiness. “Virtue”, according to Plato, was the harmony of the three parts of the soul: reason, spirit, and appetite. Aristotle, on the other hand, viewed happiness as the exercise of intellectual and moral “virtues”. Happiness, in this sense, is not a state of being, but an activity.
After Plato’s death, Aristotle left Athens and started tutoring Alexander the Great in the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedonia. Aristotle’s broad knowledge on zoology and botany and his deep understanding of Persian customs and traditions sparked the curiosity of young Alexander who ended up creating one of the largest empires of the ancient world.
The Peripatetic School of Philosophy
Before moving to northern Greece, Aristotle founded the Peripatetic School of Athens in 335 BC. Along with a number of students, including Aristoxenus and Theophrastus, he would conduct philosophical and scientific inquiries. The name of the School derives from the Greek word «περίπατος» (peripatos), which means “walk”. One theory is that the philosopher would walk a lot while talking or thinking, hence the name. Another, more credible theory is that Aristotle and his students would walk around the Lyceum, a temple in ancient Athens, since the philosopher did not own any private property in Athens at that time. The temple of Lyceum is often associated with Aristotle for that reason and many educational institutions around the globe, including Greece, bear that name.
In previous videos we have seen that Athenian philosophers such as Plato and Socrates were skeptical about Democracy. They did not necessarily hate it, but they saw a lot of its flaws. Aristotle was the least skeptical towards Democracy than the three. The philosopher suggested that the best form of governance includes a mixed constitution that would have characteristics from Democracy, Aristocracy, and Monarchy. Today, most western countries possess mixed constitutions.
Aristotle’s personal life
Although we often view ancient philosophers as celibate, this is far from the truth. Aristotle in particular was married to Pythias, an ancient Greek biologist who had a well-know collection of specimens of living things and had contributed immensely in the study of embryology. She also co-authored an encyclopedia with her husband. Pythias and Aristotle had a daughter, Pythias the Younger, and both women ended up dying at a young age.
After his wife’s death, Aristotle had a love affair with a young woman from his hometown. Herpyllis, as she was called, ended up living with the philosopher till his death. They also had a son together named Nicomachus and, although they were never married, Herpyllis was included in his will.
You may already know that Plato (428/427 BCE – 348-347 BCE) was an Athenian philosopher during the Classical period in Ancient Greece. You may also be familiar with him thanks to the Italian Renaissance fresco in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican called “The School of Athens”. Here are five facts about Plato that you may or may not know.
You may know Socrates as the Classical Greek philosopher behind the quote “I know that I know nothing”, who also laid the fundamentals of western philosophy. Here are five facts about the classical Greek philosopher that you may or may not know.
Can you measure the Greek culture? What does it mean to be Greek?What are Greeks like?
Although we live in the era of convergence and globalization, there is a call to protect local cultures and maintain a certain level of cultural diversity. If we want to protect our cultural identities, it is crucial to understand what our cultures actually are. Understanding cultures is also essential for anyone who wants to introduce products and concepts in a foreign market or working in a multicultural environment.
Understanding the Modern Greek/ Hellenic Culture
Today, we will try to understand the Greek culture based on different metrics and examples. Before we get started, it is important to clarify that we perceive the modern Greek culture as a continuation of the ancient Greek culture, with the difference that it has been influenced throughout the years from the cultures of the Frankish states, the Ottoman Empire, the Bavarian and Danish monarchies etc.
The Greek Culture as a High-Context Culture: Communicating Without Words
In a past video it was mentioned that Greeks place non-verbal communication at a higher level than others. We could safely say that Greek people are masters at decoding indirect speech and body language. Anthropological and cross-cultural studies agree with that statement.
High-context cultures use a lot of hand gestures. People like maintaining eye contact and pay close attention to other peoples’ posture and facial expressions. It is not about what is being said, it is about what is not said.
On the other hand, people in low-context cultures prefer speaking in a direct and clear way. They are not making a lot of gestures and rarely pay close attention to others’ facial expressions.
It comes as no surprise that Hall places the Greek culture in the first category. If you have ever visited Greece, you should have already noticed that people speak with their hands and always try to maintain eye contact when they speak to you. It is also important to note that, if you annoy a Greek person, they will most likely give you many cues. If you don’t notice them, don’t be surprised if you see them getting mad at you all of a sudden!
The Greek Culture as a Collectivistic Culture: It Is About “Us”
The American anthropologist also distinguishes cultures based on whether they are individualistic or collectivistic. Most western countries, such as the United States of America, are considered to be highly individualistic. People in these cultures strive to be independent from an early age. At the same time, they might find it hard to take decisions with others, maintain strong relationships over the years, and they are more susceptible to loneliness.
Greece is on the other side of the spectrum, since it is recognized as a collectivistic culture. Greek people love sharing experiences with others and maintain close relationships with their families throughout their lives. They like sharing food and they are less likely to travel alone. There is no shame in asking for help and independence is perceived differently than in the US or other individualistic countries.
If you ever visit Greece and want to immerse yourself in the culture, try ordering food with the group you are dining with. You can order a bunch of different dishes and try a bit of everything. If you are visiting alone, don’t be surprised if the locals approach you and invite you to join them. Philoxenia (φιλοξενία) is the Greek tradition of hospitality. Its roots go back to ancient times and it requires people to be welcoming towards strangers.
The Greek Culture as a Balanced Masculine Society with Feminine Characteristics
The Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede has also contributed immensely to the study of national cultures. He came up with many different cultural dimensions, including masculinity vs. femininity.
Masculine cultures, such as Japan and the United States, value success and do not view competition as something negative. People raised in these cultures learn the importance of standing out of the crowd and becoming winners.
On the other hand, feminine countries, such as most Scandinavian countries, strive at improving the quality of life of every person, instead of being considered “the best country in the world”. Characteristics that are considered feminine, such as being nurturing and caring, are valued more than being competitive and ambitious.
Greek culture ranks somewhere in the middle, maintaining a balance between masculine and feminine characteristics, but it is considered a bit more masculine than feminine. Greeks are very proud of their heritage. Successful people, such as Aristotle Onassis, a Greek shipping magnate who was one of richest men to have ever lived, are admired.
Hofstede has come up with many more dimensions for defining a culture, such as power distance, uncertainty avoidance, indulgence, and long-term orientation.
Greece has intermediate scores in indulgence, meaning that it has a healthy relationship between restrain and enjoying life, and in long-term orientation, meaning that it maintains some links with its past but looks towards the future.
Indeed, you will see Greeks enjoying nice meals most days of the week. Drinking red wine is often recommended by doctors to protect the heart and, according to statistics, the Greeks are the most sexually active people in the world. At the same time, there are some clear limits between indulgence and over-indulgence.
For example, drinking alcohol in Greece is enjoyed by most adults, however, our drinking culture is very different than of other nations. Drinking a little bit on a regular base and enjoying it with friends is preferred over “boozing” and getting black-out drunk every Saturday night.
This balance can be explained by the ancient Greek quote «(παν) μέτρον άριστον», which is often translated as “all in good measure”. This might be the quote that acts as a compass in each Greek person’s life. Enjoying life but not loosing control is the most common piece of advice we get from our caregivers and teachers in our childhood and teenage years.
The cultural dimension that is the most unbalanced is that of uncertainty avoidance. The Greek culture ranks as the most avoidant in the world when it comes to uncertainty. This dimension explains how different nations manage anxiety and react to threatening or unknown situations.
It is worth mentioning that during the years of the Ottoman Occupation but also after the Greek War of Independence, Greeks had and have faced a great number of wars, political instabilities, violent regime changes, national divisions, civil wars, and financial crises. Greeks have recently faced a great uncertainty: the Greek government-debt crisis in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008, which created a social, cultural, and humanitarian crisis.
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Today’s Greek listening exercise is about Greek diminutives (υποκοριστικά). In other words, you will learn how to make Greek sound cuter. Diminutives are words that imply that the person or the noun that we are referring to is small/cute/unimportant.
Helinika created a new video series on YouTube called “Greek Listening Comprehension”. Listening comprehension exercises are essential for improving your listening and speaking skills in a foreign language.
The day is dedicated to freedom and Democracy and it is a reminder to never take these two for granted. It is also a call to stand against police brutality, militarism, and authoritarianism. The 17th of November is often described as a result of the prolonged political crisis that was rooted back to the Greek Civil War. From this perspective, the holiday is a reminder of the great dangers of extreme political and ideological division within a society.
On April 21 1967, colonels George Papadopoulos and Nikolaos Makarezos seized power in a coup d’état. There were several other military officers that had conspired to this plan, including general officer Stylianos Pattakos. The coup leaders started arresting politicians and authority figures, as well as citizens who they suspected were sympathizers of the left. It is estimated that over 10.000 people were arrested in one day.
Once Greece was at the hands of the colonels, articles of the Greek Constitution were suspended, civil liberties were restricted, politicians were exiled, and citizens were tortured and imprisoned. During the seven years of the Junta, four different dictatorships governed the country.
The first years were characterized by strong propaganda to gain the trust of the citizens who maintained a neutral position. The ideology was spread through schools and churches. Public works that were promised in the past were completed. Farmers’ debts were written off and forgotten. At the same time, economic scandals rose and the public dept almost doubled by 1973.
The Regime of the Colonels ended with the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in July 1974, leading to the establishment of the Third Hellenic Republic and the complete democratic transformation of the country. The regime was blamed for mismanaging the situation in Cyprus, while a great percentage of the public was outraged with the actions the colonels took to stop the polytechnic uprising.
It is worth mentioning that the Greek Junta was closely associated with the “Truman Doctrine”, an American foreign policy that aimed at halting the Soviet geopolitical expansion during the Cold War. Greece had experienced a civil war some years beforehand between those who supported left and those who supported right ideologies. Various external organizations have been blamed over the years for supporting the Greek Junta, including “Ordine Nuovo”, a far right paramilitary organization in Italy.
The Polytechnic Uprising:
University and high-school students in Athens were some of the first to reject the military regime. In 1973, massive student demonstrations were organized in the Greek capital, which stands as a global symbol of Democracy to this day.
Law students barricaded themselves in the Law School of the University of Athens in February 1973, an act that was followed by police brutality, inspiring more students to take an active stance against the Junta. On November 14 of that year, students at the Athens Polytechnic went on strike and occupied the University demanding “Bread-Education-Liberty”. Some of the students aimed at abolishing capitalism, while the great majority reportedly demanded the restoration of Democracy and Greece’s exit from the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO).
Non-students who wanted to protest against the regime started gathering at the Polytechnic University and a radio transmitter was set up to inspire the people to join them. In November 16, protesters showed their presence on the streets of Athens and the police responded with bullets. At least 24 people were reportedly shot dead during the protests. Other reports mention that the deaths were at least 40.
In the early hours of November 17, the anti-junta movement escalated when a military tank crashed the Polytechnic’s gates. People were reportedly clinging on the gates shouting slogans against the regime. It is also reported that the city of Athens was in complete darkness, since all the streetlights had been shut down. The area was lit only by the generators of the University. What happened after the crash remains a mystery and a highly controversial subject in Greece.
The official investigation that followed the fall of the Junta declared that there were no deaths during the Polytechnic incident. However, 24 deaths have been officially recorded in the protests that occurred outside the University. Moreover, it is estimated that the injured civilians between November 15 and November 17 were thousands. Several conspiracy theories have emerged throughout the years from both sides.
The 17th of November is a rememberance day in Greece, schools are closed, and commemorative services are held in the campus of the Polytechnic University. The commemoration day ends with a demonstration from the campus to the embassy of the United States. The demonstrations often get violent.
The modal verb “can” is translated into «μπορώ». The same applies for the verb “to be able to”. The verb «μπορώ» is used very often and, contrary to the English verb “can”, it is conjugated in multiple tenses.
Π.χ. Θα μπορούσαμε να γίνουμε καλύτεροι στο μέλλον.
E.g. We could get better in the future.
Μπορώ in Μέλλοντας Εξακολουθητικός (Future Continuous)
Π.χ. Υιοθέτησε τον σκύλο. Θα μπορείς να τον φροντίζεις;
E.g. Adopt the dog. Will you be able to take care of him?
Μπορώ in Παρακείμενος (Perfect Tense)
Π.χ. Εσείς έχετε μπορέσει να κάνετε μεγάλη πρόοδο.
E.g. You have been able to make a huge progress.
Μπορώ in Υπερσυντέλικος (Past Perfect)
Π.χ. Είχαν μπορέσει να κάνουν μεγάλη πρόοδο, μέχρι που απογοητεύτηκαν.
E.g. (They) had been able to make a big progress, until they got disappointed.
Μπορώ in Μέλλοντας Συντελεσμένος (Future Perfect)
θα έχω μπορέσει
θα έχεις μπορέσει
θα έχει μπορέσει
θα έχουμε μπορέσει
θα έχετε μπορέσει
θα έχουν μπορέσει
Π.χ. Θα έχω μπορέσει να αγοράσω το σπίτι πριν γίνω 30.
E.g. I will have been able to buy the house before I turn 30.
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The most common modern Greek verb is the verb “είμαι” (to be). The Greek verb “to be” has only three forms: one for the present, one for the future, and one for the past. There are no specific forms for every single modern Greek tense for the verb “είμαι”.
You may already know that Plato (428/427 BCE – 348-347 BCE) was an Athenian philosopher during the Classical period in Ancient Greece. You may also be familiar with him thanks to the Italian Renaissance fresco in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican called “The School of Athens”. Here are five facts about Plato that you may or may not know. Stay till the end and comment down below whether you knew some of the facts already.
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Plato was the student of Socrates and teacher of Aristotle
The Athenian philosopher was closely connected to two other highly influential ancient Greek philosophers. Plato was a student of the Athenian philosopher Socrates, whom we know mostly through Plato’s writings. Plato later taught many influential philosophers and leaders, including Aristotle, who is credited with the earliest study of logic.
Plato is one of the most influential authors to have ever existed
Although his teacher, Socrates, did not leave any written heritage, Plato dedicated his life to writing. The philosopher did not view writing merely as a tool to organize and record his ideas, but also as a creative process that he really enjoyed. You might have heard of Plato’s dialogues; a collection of written conversations between different philosophers on various topics, including ethics, politics, physics, and metaphysics. Perhaps, the most well-known dialogue of Plato is “The Republic”, which we will cover in detail in a future video.
The philosopher is also the creator of some highly-influential allegories, such as the “Cave” (which we will also discuss in another video), and his writing style is often described as “poetic”. At the same time, Plato often expressed his disapproval of poets and poetry, because “it is based on falsehood”. Based on this idea, poetry is an “illusion” that drives us away from the “truth”.
Plato was born into an aristocratic Athenian family. His father was Ariston, a descendant of king Codrus of Athens, and his mother was Perictione, who descended from an oligarchic family. The philosopher considered Aristocracy the best form of governance. Aristocracy places the power of a city-state in the hands of a few. The main difference from monarchy is that, in monarchy, the rulers inherit their power, whereas, in aristocracy, the rulers are selected based on their skills. The aristocrats are «άριστοι» (aristoi – meaning excellent). Plato suggested that the ideal ruler is the philosopher, the lover of wisdom, and he even stated that philosophers, who usually despise power, should be forced to rule a city.
Plato was the founder of “the Academy”, the first higher learning institution in the West
The Platonic Academy was founded in 387 BC in Athens. Plato’s Academy was the first school of higher education in the West and it attracted countless great thinkers, such as Aristotle, Heraclides, and Eudoxus. Students would be taught mathematics, dialectics, natural science, among other sciences. You can visit the archaeological site of the Academy of Plato the next time you visit Athens.
Plato was the first most influential dreamer and idealist
Although Plato despised illusions, he is generally perceived as the “dreamer” among the ancient Greek philosophers, especially when compared to the more rational Aristotle. That is because classical idealism is closely associated with Plato, although the philosopher cannot be considered an idealist in the modern sense. In philosophy, idealism is focusing on the perception of reality from a metaphysical point of view. Plato is often considered as the “earliest representative of metaphysical objective idealism”.
Did you know any of these facts about Plato? Leave a comment down below. If you enjoy watching videos from Helinika, don’t forget to subscribe and follow the platform on other social media!
There are many reasons to learn Greek but few people have money in mind. By learning modern Greek, you acquire a rare and valuable skill that you can use for your own benefit. Here is how to make your rare language skills into a money-making machine.
Greece’s geographic location and long history have enabled the establishment and adoption of various traditions. Some of them can be traced back to Greece’s pagan roots, others are related to the Christian Orthodox faith, and some have been adopted from other cultures and religions. Forget Christmas trees, Christmas carols, and Santa Claus. Let’s see some of the most unique Greek customs and traditions that are celebrated during the winter months.
Unique Greek Winter Holiday Traditions:
The Feeding of the Water Spring and the Unspoken Water
Nautical Christmas Decorations
The Smashing of the Pomegranate
Cutting the King’s Pie
The Theophany and the Great Blessing of the Waters
The Feeding of The Water Spring in Thessaly (The Silent/Unspoken Water)
If you have ever visited the picturesque villages of Thessaly, a region located in central Greece, then you must have noticed the traditional stone drinking fountains that are located in each villages’ central square and on some key-locations in the cobblestone routes that surround them. These water fountains, called «βρύσες» (vrises) in Greek, are being “fed” every Christmas eve or New Year’s eve.
The “feeding of the water spring” (το τάισμα της βρύσης) could be described as an offering to a deity that is connected to the water element. Young maidens walk towards the water fountain late at night and pour honey and butter to “please” it. Depending on the location, various other items, such as olive tree branches, are “offered” to the spring. The latter then starts gushing the “silent” or “unspoken” water, as they call it.
The young women fill in their clay pitchers and return home, bringing many blessings to their household. While carrying it home, they are not allowed to talk to each other or to anyone else, hence the name “silent/unspoken water” (αμίλητο νερό). This water is used similarly to “holy water”, mostly for “cleansing” the house on a spiritual level. In certain regions, the unmarried women use the water to make predictions about the future, usually revolving around their marriage and future family.
It is not clear when this custom was established in Thessaly. Its ritualistic nature and the act of making an offering to what appears to be an elemental deity can, however, lead us to the conclusion that it is rooted back to Greece’s pagan culture and religion. The “feeding of the water spring” bears close similarities to another Greek tradition, which takes place every spring or summer (depending on the region).
Klethonas (Κλήδονας) is an ancient Greek ritualistic custom that was re-established by the Christian Orthodox religion and takes place in certain parts of Greece to this day. The custom occurs in the span of two days and it entails the collection of the “silent/unspoken water” and the storage of this water in a container made out of copper. The women drink the water and sit outside, waiting to hear a voice that would reveal the name of their future husband. Another way to predict who they will marry is by falling asleep and seeing the image of their future husband in their dreams. This is not the only way to celebrate the Klethonas and the use of the “silent/unspoken water” may differ from region to region.
Today, Klethonas is connected to John the Baptist who is believed to reveal the future. However, ancient Greek historian Herodotus and the geographer Pausanias do mention Klethonas in their observations; in ancient times, the omens of the Klethonas were revealed by Zeus through Hermes.
Since many young people leave the countryside and move to bigger cities and since the traditional gender roles have evolved during the years, customs such as the ones of Klethonas and the “feeding of the water spring” are becoming less and less known.
Before we get onto the next tradition, it is worth mentioning that similar customs take place in other parts of the world. For example, there is a Scottish custom called the “Unspoken Water” that entails the collection of water from under a bridge late at night and under complete silence. The water is then used to heal someone who is sick. There is no proof that the Scottish custom has been inspired by the Greek custom nor the opposite, which makes the tradition even more fascinating. Perhaps, the answer could be found in Carl Jung’s idea of the collective unconscious and the set of universal archetypes that are manifested in different cultures in similar ways.
Decorating a Christmas Boat Instead of a Christmas Tree
Nowadays, most Greek households associate Christmas with a decorated evergreen tree. This is a custom that was introduced in Greece in 1833 by the Bavarian prince Otto who ruled as the king of Greece for thirty years, but was adopted by the Greeks in the 20th century, after witnessing depictions of holiday gatherings in foreign movies and tv-shows. Since pine and fir trees are not common in the coastal areas of Greece, a lot of people use fake but realistic-looking trees that people store and re-use year after year. But what did the Greeks decorate before the adoption of the Christmas tree?
If you have ever visited Greece, then you know the importance of the sea in the country’s culture and economy. Greece, a country of 11 million people, is the world leader in maritime shipping, with the current value of the Greek-owned fleet standing at almost 100 billion dollars. If you are not new to this channel and you have watched Helinika’s playlists narrating the Odyssey and the Argonautica, then you already know that Greeks have been dominating the seas since ancient times. It comes as no surprise that Greeks have been decorating their boats -big or small- with Christmas lights for centuries.
This custom might be getting less and less popular today, however, it is well-established in the Greek islands and in the most important port-cities of Greece, like Piraeus. Since not every single Greek person owns a boat, it is very common to own a miniature wooden vessel. This vessel is put in display in the living-room and lit with various lights. Since many Greek families have members who work in maritime shipping and are often absent during the holidays, the wooden vessel symbolizes the love and devotion the whole family has for the seamen while waiting for them to return.
The Smashing of the Pomegranate
A panhellenic custom that survives to this day is the smashing of the pomegranate on New Year’s eve. When Greeks are invited to a NY’s eve party, they sometimes offer real pomegranates or objects depicting this fruit to their hosts. A pomegranate often hangs above the house’s or apartment’s main entrance, bringing luck and blessings to the household members and all of their guests.
During the countdown, minutes or seconds before the arrival of the new year, the hosts smash the pomegranate by hitting it with their right hand against their front door. In this way, the fruit’s red seeds scatter around the house, bringing luck to all of its members. If someone ends up getting red stains all over their clothes, he/she is believed to be the luckiest of the year. This tradition may differ depending on the region of Greece you visit.
Vasilopita (King’s Pie) is a pie that is prepared, blessed, and shared by families and organizations, such as schools and companies, on the 1st of January. The pie has a hidden coin, real or fake, and the person who finds it in his/her piece is believed to be the luckiest of the year. The recipe varies from region to region, but it usually looks and tastes like sweet bread.
The tradition is associated with Saint Basil’s (Άγιος Βασίλειος) day on January 1st, hence the name. Saint Basil the Great was the bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia from 370 AD till 379 AD and he is believed to be the one who brings presents to children on New Year’s Day. He is the Greek Orthodox version of Santa Claus with the difference that he is visiting on January 1st instead of Christmas.
The tradition is common in countries that follow the Christian Orthodox religion, and its roots go back to the Byzantine Empire. The tradition of the cut of vasilopita resembles the tradition of the “three kings’ cake” that is established for the past three centuries in France, Portugal, Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, and New Orleans. However, this custom is associated with the biblical three wise men (or Kings) who visited Jesus on the day of his birth rather than with Saint Basil.
It is worth mentioning that the name Basil (Βασίλειος) derives from the ancient Greek «βασιλεύς» that means “king”. Therefore, the Greek custom is translated into “King’s Pie” rather than “Basil’s Pie”.
On the 7th of January, people who follow the Greek Orthodox religion celebrate the Theophany, also known as “Phota” (Φώτα). This day celebrates the baptism of Christ and symbolizes people’s spiritual rebirth. There are several customs that take place in Greece on that day but the most common one is the “Great Blessing of the Waters”.
A priest from each village, town, or municipality visits the nearest coastline and sings hymns to bless the waters and protect the people working in the sea, such as fishermen, sailors, and mariners. On the rare occasion that a village or town is not close to the sea, the priests bless the nearest pond or river. The custom’s roots take us back to the third century AD and it is obviously associated with the Christian Orthodox religion.
In some parts of Greece, the 7th of January is also closely associated with the «Dance of the Goblins”. Goblins (Καλικάντζαροι) are believed to be chthonic tricksters that are only able to step foot on the Earth’s surface when the waters are “unbaptized”. According to the legend, they roam the streets between Christmas and the 7th of January, just before the “Great Blessing of the Waters”. In some villages, the locals scare away the goblins by dancing and singing loudly or by organizing bonfires.