The Greek Secret to Happiness | Unravelling the Greek Way of Thinking

In the 1960s’ romantic comedy film “Never on Sunday”, an American classicist visits Greece to find the secret to happiness. Years earlier, the book “Zorba the Greek” follows a young intellectual to the island of Crete, where he tries to liberate himself from his bookish life. Greece and specifically the Greek countryside and the Greek islands, are often portrayed as the lost paradise; the eternal vacation destination where time moves slowly and everyone lives a happy, long life.

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The truth is that it is hard to pinpoint what happiness really is. Is it an abstract philosophical idea or a measurable variable? The Sustainable Development Solutions Network, supported by different foundations, publishes the “World Happiness Report”, which tries to measure happiness based on six key variables, including income and absence of corruption.

Greece is objectively in a negative position in both cases. But, throughout the years, even during the difficult financial period of 2010-2018, Greece – or at least the Greek countryside- has been perceived as a generally happy place. Is this based on a stereotypical portrayal of smiling Greeks breaking plates and dancing syrtaki on a postcard? Or are there more things to consider when talking about happiness?

A Stoic Perspective on Happiness

The Stoic philosophers have long been associated with holding the key to a happier life. They understood that happiness is a mental state and, therefore, external factors, such as money or government corruption, are irrelevant. In other words, it is not the things that happen to you or your circumstances that influence your mental well-being, but the way you perceive these events and circumstances.

As someone who grew up in Greece and was influenced by the Greek culture and the Greek way of thinking, I have noticed that there are indeed many things that Greeks believe or do that help them be more content with their life.  

Happiness and The Greek State of Mind

The first thing that comes to mind is the attitude of Greeks towards indulgence. In the video on modern Greek culture, I mentioned that Greeks have intermediate scores when it comes to indulgence vs. restrain. That means that we learn from a young age how to do everything in moderation and enjoy the pleasures of life without guilt.

There are many cultures that promote a very strict disciplined lifestyle. And that can be translated as having long periods of avoiding sugar, fats, alcohol – you name it – and then a weekend of emotional eating or getting blacked-out drunk, even putting themselves in great danger. The object of indulgence is demonized and people feel guilty for giving in. Now, that doesn’t mean that there are no Greeks who fall into a vicious cycle like this, but this mentality of constantly feeling guilty is far from the Greek way of thinking.

That may surprise some, since the modern Greek culture is heavily influenced by the teachings of Greek Orthodox Christianity. The latter suggest an ascetic, simple life, that focuses on mind and soul over matter. Today, however, this lifestyle is usually followed by people who choose to live in monasteries, rather than the average Greek Orthodox believer or even priest. Greek priests are often the “life of the party” of every village – drinking and dancing in traditional festivals.

But even the ascetic life of the monks is not free from pleasures. Monasteries in Greece are always located in breathtaking locations, usually on a hill to have an inspiring view. Keep this in mind because this will make more sense later.

Now, another thing that may contribute to the happiness of Greeks is the mindset that everyone deserves to have a good, fulfilling life.No matter the size of your house or the amount of money saved in your bank account, you should avoid misery at all costs. We often say «η φτώχεια θέλει καλοπέραση» – “poverty needs fun”. It may sound cheesy but dancing, singing, and telling jokes is for free. And other fun activities, such as eating and drinking with friends, do not always cost a fortune.

What I’ve noticed when I got in touch with people living in other countries in the world is that there are certain cultures that make people feel guilt for having fun and enjoying life, when they are things missing from their lives – including money. The Greek way of thinking dictates that you should not postpone happiness. You should enjoy life, with all the means you have, now.

Then we have the concept of “meraki” – and specifically working with meraki. Meraki is when you put all your effort towards your work. Have you ever watched an old man in an Greek island making a kaiki – a traditional fishing boat? How slowly and carefully he carves the wood and paints the details. Working with meraki, with all your attention and focus, is the opposite of what a modern economy needs to be the world’s leader: mass production and quantity over quality. But it can make you feel more creative and fulfilled with your work. More content with your life.

Another thing that comes to mind is the concept of “comicotragedy” in the Greek culture. Situations that are both comical and tragic, in which laughing and crying are both acceptable reactions. Foreigners are often surprised to find out that their favorite upbeat song that everyone dances to is actually describing a painful breakup. Greeks don’t have less tragic events happening to their lives than others. But they learn that they can make jokes with the things that bring them down, such as losing a job, a relationship or dealing with a health issue. It may be a coping mechanism but… it works!

Last but not least, let’s not forget that Greece has a collectivistic culture, where people keep strong ties with their close family members. You always feel like someone has your back and, by seeing yourself in a group, it is less likely to question your purpose and the reason for your existence.This of course is a double-edged sword, since you may feel too comfortable with what you have – you may be reluctant to take risks, open a business, or take a different route than the one of your family members. But today’s topic is about happiness, not risk-taking.

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Overlooked External Factor for Happiness  

But are Greeks happier only because of their way of thinking? Well, there must be some external factors as well. I am not going to be mentioning the role of sunlight and vitamin D, since studies have shown that vitamin D deficiency is also prevalent in Greece. But here is one external factor that I believe is connected to those living in the Greek countryside being overall content with their life. It may sound strange but bear with me.

Have you ever noticed how most Greek villages are located on a hill, built amphitheatrically, and overlooking the sea? Greeks have been placing a great focus on location since ancient times. They would avoid areas that are flat, dark, and far from a water source. There were practical reasons for this but, at the same time, living somewhere with a great view uplifts your spirit. You may live in a tiny house in a small village, but you feel like the king of the world. You have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, fish from the sea, and a house that you wouldn’t change for anything, no matter how humble it is. The magnificent landscapes are attributed with inspiring ancient Greeks to travel and explore new places, hence starting trading and building a strong civilization.

There are other parts of the world, even in the biggest economies, where living in nice landscapes requires a lot of money. Hills are reserved for the upper class and there are particular areas with affordable housing. People who struggle financially have to live in buildings that resemble boxes. Grey walls, no natural light. In this case, happiness and inspiration require a heavy wallet.       

Is a Happy Life an Exciting Life?

Before we end this video, I need to address that there is no global definition for happiness. In Greek, «ευδαιμονία» or «ευτυχία» is perceived as being overall content and satisfied with your life. Not necessarily smiling excessively, being always in a good mood, or living an extraordinary life. It is about the small things. Enjoying a cup of coffee looking outside your window. Taking care of your plants and making sure that your home feels homy, no matter how small. And most importantly, knowing that you are worthy of happiness – now, not sometime in the future, when everything will be perfect.

Learn Greek at Home During Quarantine

If you are interested in learning Greek but there are no classes taking place in your area, don’t be discouraged. Helinika, a platform dedicated to the Greek language, history, and culture, offers affordable Greek language lessons online. Learn Greek during Quarantine.

This Is Your Sign for Learning Greek

You have been debating whether you should start learning modern Greek and you constantly postpone it. Whatever the reason might be, here is the sign you were looking for. Start learning Greek today.

Greek Drama Ep.6: The Concepts of Hybris, Nemesis, and Catharsis

Hybris, nemesis, and catharsis are three important aspects of every ancient Greek tragedy. Hybris and nemesis were mentioned way before the birth of Greek theatre; we know the terms from ancient Greek mythology. And catharsis is a concept that was introduced in drama. But what is the meaning of these three theatrical terms?

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Hybris and Ancient Greek Drama | Pride and Injustice

The English word “hybris” derives from the Greek «ὕβρις». In modern Greek, the term is used in a way that can be translated as “insult” or “curse word”. But in ancient Greek, the term refers to an insult which was targeted towards gods and goddesses, rather than other humans. But how could a mortal offend a god or a goddess?

The easiest way an ancient Greek could manage to commit hybris, was by being excessively proud and overconfident. This is why the English word “hybris” is often translated as “excess pride”. Odysseus, for example, committed hybris when he started mocking Cyclops Polyphemous, after managing to blind him. Blinding him was an act of self-defense – it was the only way he could escape the island. But repeatedly making fun of him was unnecessary. Odysseus insulted Poseidon in this way, and the god of the sea punished him for his arrogance.

In ancient Greek theatre, the concept of hybris still revolved around excess pride and overconfidence but it also included other negative traits and actions. The gods and goddesses in ancient drama were presented as more sensitive and caring than in ancient Greek mythology. They also cared for the injustices towards humans.

For example, the tragedies of Oedipus and Antigone root back to an hybris that was committed by a human towards another human. Oedipus’ father had attacked a young boy, which enraged the gods. The entire family got stuck into a series of tragedies. In Antigone, the ruler Creon enrages the gods for being both arrogant and being cruel towards Antigone and her deceased brother, Polynices. Therefore, “hybris”, in the context of drama, can also be translated as “injustice”, “outrage”, or “immoral act”.

The necessity of hybris in ancient tragedy is therefore obvious. Tragic events would not be possible without an act of hybris. Hybris – either in the form of arrogance and pride or in the form of injustice- is the usual cause of every single tragedy. And from the stories that ancient tragedians narrated on stage, we can assume that pride and injustice are often connected – with acts of injustice being the result of excess pride. In other words, an arrogant and proud person is more likely to be unjust and, as a result, insult the gods and goddesses.

 

Nemesis and Ancient Greek Drama | Divine Punishment

Nemesis is the result of hybris. It derives from the Greek word «νέμεσις» that can be translated as “delivering justice”. That meant bringing good fortune to the virtuous and bad fortune to immoral people. Similar to the concept of karma. But, because the term “nemesis” was used predominantly in tragedies, the negative aspect persisted. “Nemesis” today is translated as “punishment” or “bad karma”.

It is important to note that the concept of nemesis has been personified. Goddess Nemesis, also called Rhamnousia, has been mentioned in many ancient texts, including Hesiod’s “Theogony”. She is the goddess who punishes the ones who commit hubris.

Just like hybris, nemesis is an important part of every ancient Greek tragedy. Without it, the tragic characters will never face their problems or deal with their inner demons. Nemesis – divine punishment- leads us to the final and most important concept of ancient Greek drama: catharsis.

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Catharsis and Ancient Greek Drama | Emotional Cleansing

Hybris and nemesis were two concepts that were present in ancient Greek myths. A hero or heroine would be blinded by his or her pride and they would be punished for it with a long period of bad luck. But ancient Greek theatre was born at a time when ancient Athenians were rethinking their old values and tried to construct a more sensitive and humanitarian society. Ancient Greek drama does not stop at nemesis. Punishment for the shake of punishment is too cruel. Instead, punishment should be a learning lesson for the person who receives it and anyone who witnesses it.

Catharsis is tragedy’s ultimate goal. The term derives from the Greek «κάθαρσις», which means “cleanse”. But it is mostly known for its metaphorical meaning – the “spiritual or emotional cleanse” that can be achieved through art. Catharsis is the reason why rich Athenians paid for the tickets of the financially struggling citizens. Every Athenian had to participate to “cleanse” their soul and be better citizens.

The term is attributed to Aristotle who used the metaphor of soul cleansing in his work “Poetics”. In tragedy, catharsis is experienced by both the play’s characters and the audience. The tragic characters who commit hybris and then receive nemesis, “cleanse” their mind and heart from all the negative emotions that led them to make unjust decisions or actions.

In Antigone, the tyrannical ruler of Thebes, Creon, sees the body of his diseased son and immediately regrets all his past decisions. The audience leaves knowing that, from now on, he will be an empathetic and caring leader. Having experienced tragedy, he will be able to get in other people’s shoes.

At the same time, the members of the audience of a tragic play can leave the theatre feeling “lighter”. They experienced intense negative emotions while watching the tragic characters’ misfortunes but, in the end, something positive comes out of it. Theatre acts as a form of psychotherapy. The viewers can resurface their suppressed emotions – jealousy, fear, regret, anger- and let them go. They exit the theatre with their emotions purified. And that is what catharsis is.

Greek Drama Ep.5: Antigone by Sophocles

Antigone by Sophocles is one of the most well-known ancient Greek theatrical plays. It belongs to a collection of tragedies – the Theban plays – since it takes place in the Greek city of Thebes. It was written by the great tragedian Sophocles and was presented at the theatrical competition of Dionysia in 441 BC. It is based on the myth of Oedipus but Sophocles manages to make the story even more tragic. It focuses on the subject of written vs. unwritten rules and absolute power.

Greek Drama Ep.4: Helen by Euripides

In 412 BC, the ancient Greek tragedian Euripides presented a trilogy of plays at the annual theatrical competition of Dionysia in Athens. One of those plays was Helen – inspired by the legend of Helen of Troy.

6 Random Things Greek People Do | Greek Culture Facts

Are you looking for some Greek culture facts? Today, we present to you six (6) random things Greek people do. From adding oregano on everything to saying one thing and meaning another, here are the most random facts about Greece and the Greeks.

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Random Things Only Greeks Do:

  1. Employees for Pumping Gas
  2. No Self-Service
  3. Enjoying a Glass of Plain Water
  4. Pedestrian Lanes= Decoration?
  5. Oregano on Everything
  6. Indirect Communication

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Greek Drama Ep.5: Antigone by Sophocles

Antigone by Sophocles is one of the most well-known ancient Greek theatrical plays. It belongs to a collection of tragedies – the Theban plays – since it takes place in the Greek city of Thebes. It was written by the great tragedian Sophocles and was presented at the theatrical competition of Dionysia in 441 BC. It is based on the myth of Oedipus but Sophocles manages to make the story even more tragic. It focuses on the subject of written vs. unwritten rules and absolute power.

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Main Characters in Antigone

The main characters of Antigone by Sophocles are Antigone (daughter of Oedipus), Ismene (Antigone’s sister), Creon (Antigone’s uncle), Haemon (Antigone’s fiancée), Eurydice (Creon’s wife), Tiresias (the prophet), and the Chorus that consists of a group of elderly men.

Antigone: Summary of the Plot

The play begins with the sisters Antigone and Ismene meeting outside of the palace of Thebes. The two young women are the daughters of the mythical king of Thebes Oedipus and his mother, Iocaste. But what do we know about this family from ancient Greek mythology?

Antigone’s Background

Oedipus and Iocaste married each other without knowing that they are mother and son. This unorthodox marriage was their punishment from the gods for the serious hybris the father of the family had committed. Laius, father of Oedipus and first husband of Iocaste, had abused a young boy, which enraged the gods and goddesses. Since then, countless misfortunes and tragedies hit the family.

The royal family of Thebes could be compared to the cursed families we often talk about today, such as the Kennedys. Some of these misfortunes resulted by their own despicable actions. For example, Oedipus was once so enraged by his two sons, Eteocles and Polynices, that he cursed them. He said that they would kill each other one day – which came true after Oedipus’ self-exile.

Eteocles and Polynices fought over the throne of Thebes, after their father left the city-state in a state of shock. He had just learned that he is related to his wife. Polynices then decided to also leave Thebes and go to the city of Argos. There, he married the princess of Argos and ordered the local army to attack his hometown. He wanted to punish his brother and take over the city. Both Eteocles and Polynices died during the battle.

The throne was then overtaken by their uncle, Creon. Creon immediately turned into a tyrant. He wanted to make clear that he wouldn’t allow anyone to overthrow him or question his power. He honored Eteocles for trying to protect Thebes and shamed Polynices publicly for turning against his hometown. He refused to offer a burial ceremony for him and left his body laying on the battleground. Citizens of Thebes were not allowed to touch it. And this is the exact timeline of Antigone’s storyline.

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Main Storyline: Antigone

Antigone and Ismene were the sisters of Polynices and Eteocles. Antigone, the eldest and most rebellious sister, tries to conspire against Creon and bury Polynices. Burying the dead following the rites of the time was an unwritten rule that, according to Antigone, was more important than the rule Creon came up with. Ismene is skeptical. She does want to honor her brother, but she doesn’t want to defy the state either.

“I will not urge thee,-no nor, if thou yet shouldst have the mind, wouldst thou be welcome as a worker with me. Nay, be what thou wilt; but I will bury him: well for me to die in doing that. I shall rest, a loved one with him whom I have loved, sinless in my crime; for I owe a longer allegiance to the dead than to the living: in that world I shall abide forever. But if thou wilt, be guilty of dishonoring laws which the gods have stablished in honor.”, Antigone says.

The two women leave the stage and the Chorus, consisting of elder men, starts narrating the events before the death of Polynices and Eteocles. How Polynices left Thebes and managed to influence the ruler of Argos to attack his hometown.

Then, Creon enters the scene and converses with the Chorus. Is he in the wrong? The elders of Thebes reassure him that he has the power to make decisions for the living and the dead of Thebes. But everything changes when a guard who was supposed to monitor the battleground, enters the scene to announce that the body has been buried.

“Well, this is it.-The corpse-some one hath just given it burial, and gone away,-after sprinkling thirsty dust on the flesh, with such other rites as piety enjoins.”, the guard says.

Creon leaves the stage frantically and the Chorus starts highlighting the importance of laws and state power.

Antigone’s Punishment

Creon comes back on stage, along with Antigone. The young woman confesses to the crime, saying that the law of god was more important to her than the law of the state ruler.

“Yes; for it was not Zeus that had published me that edict; not such are the laws set among men by the justice who dwells with the gods below; nor deemed I that thy decrees were of such force, that a mortal could override the unwritten and unfailing statutes of heaven. For their life is not of to-day or yesterday, but from all time, and no man knows when they were first put forth.”, she says.

Creon orders the arrest of Antigone and Ismene. He speculates that the younger sister knew about her sister’s actions but did nothing to alert him nor the guards. Then, another character enters the scene. A young man named Haemon. He is the son of Creon and fiancée of Antigone. He tries to persuade his father to spare the two women, but a fight ensued. Haemon leaves and the Chorus starts talking about the power of love and compares Antigone to Niobe, whose children were killed and were not given a proper burial after an act of hybris.

Creon then decides to free Ismene and punish Antigone by burying her into a cave. The young woman is led into her eternal prison, while mourning her youth and the wedding she was planning all this time.

“Tomb, bridal-chamber, eternal prison in the caverned rock, whither go to find mine own, those many who have perished, and whom Persephone hath received among the dead! Last of all shall I pass thither, and far most miserably of all, before the term of my life is spent. (…)”

Creon’s Punishment

Once Antigone is led and abandoned into the cave, a prophet named Teiresias enters the scene. He warns Creon of the hybris he is about to commit: leaving the dead unburied and burying the living. Not only that, but everyone in Greece will despise the ruler of Thebes. The Chorus asks Creon to listen to prophet Teiresias but he leaves angrily.

What follows is the discovery of Antigone’s body in the cave. She ended her own life. Haemon, just like Romeo, then stabbed himself, ending his own life. Once Creon’s wife and Haemon’s mother hears the news, she proceeds to do the same. The play ends with Creon holding the body of his son, acknowledging his mistakes.

“Wisdom is the supreme part of happiness; and reverence towards the gods must be inviolate. Great words of prideful men are ever punished with great blows, and, in old age, teach the chastened to be wise.”, the leader of the Chorus concludes.

Antigone in a Nutshell:

  • “Antigone” is a tragedy that was first presented by Sophocles in 441 BC.
  • The play is set in Thebes, Greece.
  • Antigone, daughter of Oedipus, is the main heroine.
  • She defies the written laws of the state and follows the unwritten laws of the gods.
  • Creon, her uncle and ruler of Thebes, commits hybris by punishing Antigone – he ends up being punished by fate.
  • “Catharsis” is achieved when Creon sees the consequences of his actions and acknowledges his mistakes.

Main Theme in Antigone: Written vs Unwritten Rules

Just like in most ancient Greek tragedies, the main theme of Antigone is hybris – the consequences of pride, arrogance, and overconfidence. Creon, the ruler of Thebes, treated the death of Polynices with a lack of compassion. He needed to reestablish order after the battle with Argos, but he got blinded by the absolute power. Yes, Polynices betrayed his city-state, but Creon decided to continue his punishment, after his death. He came up with an inflexible and strict rule and then punished Antigone for disobeying him. He didn’t listen to anyone who tried to warn him – not even prophet Teiresias.

Another theme in Antigone that differentiates it from other plays, is about status quo, moral/ divine law versus human law. Antigone is an archetypical rebel: a young, fearless female against a powerful older male. Antigone chose the unwritten rules over the rules of the state. She even ends up sacrificing her own life for her beliefs.

Were her actions worth it? Could there be another solution to this problem, such as debating with Creon? Did Creon turn into a tyrant before or after the rebellious act? How is a tyrant born? And what if everyone started disobeying the law to follow their moral standards? These are the questions that viewers are called to answer after watching the play. Feel free to share your opinions in the comment section.  

Greek YouTube Channels to Immerse Yourself in The Language

There are different YouTube channels dedicated to the Greek language and culture, such as Helinika. Two examples are LinguaTree and EasyGreek. Here are some of the best Greek YouTube channels that are not targeted at Greek language learners. They are commentary, comedy, lifestyle, and other types of channels, which can help you immerse yourself in the language.

 If you are an absolute beginner, you might find it hard following their videos. But if you have a basic understanding of the Greek language, watching the content these channels produce will significantly improve your fluency.  

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Greek Comedy Channels

Most of the Greek comedy YouTube channels belong to actors and real comedians, rather than professional YouTubers. Here are Helinika’s recommendations:

Labros Fisfis

The comedian Labros Fisfis has a nerdy, self-deprecating sense of humor that can be enjoyed by an international audience. At the same time, you will learn about certain aspects of the Greek culture that even we, Greeks, make jokes about. It is recommended to watch his videos on Greek motherhood and Greece in general.

Giorgos Vagiatas

Giorgos Vagiatas is a personal favorite, since he is gifted with making everything sound funny. His sense of humor could also be described as nerdy and foreigners will also find many Greek “inside jokes” that will help them understand more about the Greek culture. Vagiatas is also uploading travel content from time to time and he is known for his “camper” traveling series here on YouTube.

Dionysis Atzarakis

Dionysis Atzarakis is a very talented actor, director and comedian, with a very sophisticated sense of humor. No loud noises, weird face expressions, or try-hard jokes. Just pure sarcasm and irony. His jokes might be harder to understand, since he adds many references to Greece’s pop culture and media.

Greek Scientific & Informative YouTube Channels

The Greek YouTube community includes many scientists and knowledgeable people.

Astronio

Astronio is a YouTube channel dedicated to the science of Astronomy. It explains complicated phenomena of the cosmos in an easy and understandable way. Behind the channel there is a real astronomer named Pavlos Kastanas, who is also a science lecturer at Mediterranean College. You can also find interviews of other scientists on this channel.

Kathimerini Physiki

 Kathimerini Physiki (Καθημερινή Φυσική) translates to “Daily Physics”. It is a Greek YouTube channel that explains scientific phenomena to a broad audience. The face of the presenter is not shown on screen.

The Skeptic Theory

A very interesting Greek YouTube channel is “The Skeptic Theory”, which covers a wide range of topics – from religion and conspiracy theories to human psychology, ethics, and logic. The face of the presenter is again not shown and viewers who are currently in the process of learning Greek will be able to expand their vocabulary.

Yannis Sarakatsanis

Yannis Sarakatsanis is a mathematician and actor here in Greece who uploads high quality content on YouTube. His videos on various philosophical matters are very well researched and he also gives great book recommendations.

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Greek Commentary Channels

Commentary channels can get controversial. Here are two commentary channels that belong to independent thinkers and do not necessarily fall under a specific political ideology.

Konstantina Adamaki

Konstantina Adamaki is a Journalism graduate who creates mostly commentary videos but also some satirical videos. By watching her videos, you will get an understanding of Greece’s current affairs. The YouTuber has been called a “leftist” and a “conservative” by commentators, since her opinions do not follow a specific political agenda.

Nefeli Meg

Nefeli Meg is a young lawyer who posts informative and entertaining content. She usually comments on Greece’s current affairs and, as a lawyer, she is able to present both sides of the story. It is as if she debates with herself, which requires a lot of research. Both native and non-native speakers should watch her videos, since they can improve their Greek vocabulary.

Greek Lifestyle Channels

There are several Greek lifestyle YouTube channels but here are the ones recommended by Helinika.

Evelina Nikoliza

Evelina Nikoliza is a singer and presenter who also shares parts of her life on YouTube. She has a great sense of humor and she has some of the most hilarious storytime videos. Greek language learners will easily follow her stories.

I Mikri Ollandeza

Danae Georganta is a half-Dutch – half-Greek YouTuber who is known as “I Mikri Ollandeza” (the little Dutch girl). She was one of the first people who made YouTube their career in Greece. Danae started with beauty and fashion videos but, at the moment, she mostly uploads vlog and lifestyle content.

By exploring these YouTube channels you will probably come across other Greek creators, whose content will be interesting to you. If you watch any of their videos, feel free to leave a comment, letting them know how you discovered them. Have a nice day and keep learning!

Greek Drama Ep.4: Helen by Euripides

A beautiful woman accused of causing chaos and bringing all evils to this world. She could be Eve or Pandora. But, this time, she is Helen. The one accused of causing the Trojan War. The one who left her husband’s side and traveled to Troy with another man, Paris.

Greek mythology and the Homeric hymns that kept them alive focused on brave heroes who fought battles and explored the world. Greek tragedy, on the other hand, placed the misunderstood characters under the spotlight. In the IIiad and the Odyssey, we hear what men had to say about Helen. In the play Helen by Euripides, we listen to her side of the story.

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Euripides’ Helen (Theatrical Play)

In 412 BC, the ancient Greek tragedian Euripides presented a trilogy of plays at the annual theatrical competition of Dionysia in Athens. One of those plays was Helen – inspired by the legend of Helen of Troy.

Helen’s Myth | Helen of Troy

According to the myth, Helen was the most beautiful woman in the world. She was the daughter of Zeus and Leda and wife of king Menelaus of Sparta. One night, Helen reportedly escaped Sparta with her Trojan lover, Paris. The latter was a young prince who was promised by goddess Aphrodite the most beautiful woman in the world. And, despite popular belief, it is not clear whether Helen chose to leave with Paris.

Ancient Greek sources are contradictory regarding Helen’s stance on this matter. Herodotus and most sources mention she was abducted by Paris. The poet Sappho, however, argues that Helen left Sparta willingly. “Full easy it is to make this understood of one and all: for she that far surpassed all mortals in beauty, Helen her most noble husband. Deserted, and went sailing to Troy, with never a thought for her daughter and dear parents.”, she writes.

Looking closely at the storyline, we can easily notice how irrelevant Helen’s stance appeared to be. Nobody really cared whether Helen was abducted or decided to escape from Sparta because she was unhappy. She was portrayed as the destructive woman – source of all evils- for whom several ships sailed towards Troy. And many young men fought and lost their lives. She, a “wicked woman”, was blamed for starting a vicious war.

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Euripides’ Take on Helen’s Myth

The unconventional ancient Greek tragedian Euripides wanted to defend Helen. Inspired by Herodotus’ claim that the Spartan queen was taken to Egypt by god Hermes, he told her version of the story.

In Euripides’ version of the story, Paris did not travel to Troy with Helen herself, but with an “eidolon” – a lifeless copy of her. Goddess Hera, protector of marriage, wanted to stop Paris from doing so. The Trojan prince had offered the apple of discord to another goddess and she aimed at punishing him. She ordered the messenger god Hermes to guide Helen out of her palace and transport her to Egypt, where she took refuge at the palace of Proteas.

The play starts with Helen standing next to Proteas’ grave, explaining her story. She is hopeless. She was taken away from home against her will. She had no way of returning home and she knew her name was tainted anyways. Not only that, but she felt uneasy in Egypt after her protector’s death. King Proteas’ son, Theoklymenos, put a lot of pressure on her. He wanted to marry her.

Helen then comes across a familiar face. Teucros, the best Greek archer who participated at the Trojan war, had visited the palace of Proteas to ask for a prophecy. Proteas’ daughter, Theonoe, was a well-known fortune teller at that time. Helen is desperate to know where her husband is and if he is searching for her. Teucros, however, informs her that Menelaos is probably dead. She also becomes aware of how hated she is by both Greeks and Trojans. Helen then starts mourning on stage, along with a group of Spartan women. She has lost all hope.

But what Helen, the tragic character of play, does not know, is that Menelaos is alive and hiding on the riverside of the Nile. He was washed ashore when his ship sunk. Him, the counterfeit Helen, and his men, were all hiding in a cave.

Menelaos then decides to seek for help at the palace of Proteas, where he comes across an old maid. The woman explains that Greeks are not welcome here. Theoklymenos, the son of Proteas, will execute any Greek who steps foot at his house, to keep Helen by his side. Menelaos is buffled. Who is this Helen she is talking about?

Menelaos and Helen finally meet and after a long dialogue – during which they are both skeptical about each other – they reunite. “I was tricked by the gods into taking to my arms a misty phantom-form, to my sorrow.”, he says. With one of the characters replying: “How so? Was it then for this we vainly toiled?”.

With Theonoe’s help, they manage to escape by boat and return to Sparta. Theoklymenos becomes enraged and almost kills his sister. But Theonoe is saved last minute with the help of the gods and goddesses.

Helen, a Play with Anti-War Sentiment

On a surface level, the tragedy focuses on the importance of virtue and oaths, especially between husband and wife. But Helen is more than a play about loyalty. The play is about the nonsense of war. What was the purpose of the Trojan war? Just a lifeless shadow. Euripides had just witnessed the defeat of Athens in the Sicilian Expedition. This war had caused great panic to Athenians and people started questioning the necessity of war.

Moreover, the play brings forward the voices of women who have been shamed and blamed from society without much proof. Both the feminist and anti-war sentiment of the play were inspired by the teachings of the sophists. The latter were Greek lecturers who questioned the values and ethics of their time. Some of them argued that women should be equal to men, that war only brings destruction, gods and goddesses do not exist, and that humanity should focus on science.

Euripides’ plays were controversial, since they questioned the morals of his time. He is known as the misunderstood tragedian and it took years to get recognized for his contribution to theatre. Helen has inspired many contemporary artists, including the Greek poet Yorgos Seferis.

Greek Drama Ep.6: The Concepts of Hybris, Nemesis, and Catharsis

Hybris, nemesis, and catharsis are three important aspects of every ancient Greek tragedy. Hybris and nemesis were mentioned way before the birth of Greek theatre; we know the terms from ancient Greek mythology. And catharsis is a concept that was introduced in drama. But what is the meaning of these three theatrical terms?

Top 10 Coolest Neighborhoods in Athens (to Explore or Live in)

When non-Athenians visit Athens, they usually explore the three historical neighborhoods surrounding the Acropolis hill. But Athens is more than Plaka, Monastiraki, and Thiseio. Here are some of the lesser-known Athenian neighborhoods you should explore or consider living in.

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Best Athenian Neighborhoods

  1. Koukaki
  2. Neo & Paleo Psychiko
  3. Pangrati
  4. Kolonaki
  5. Neapoli
  6. Exarcheia
  7. Ano Petralona
  8. Palaio Faliro
  9. Nea Smyrni
  10. Mets

Mets, Athens

Mets is a popular and quite central neighborhood of Athens. Built amphitheatrically between the Hill of Ardettos and the Hill of Loginnos, most houses and apartment buildings have a great view of the city of Athens. Mets is also very close to the ancient Temple of Olympian Zeus. The neighborhood got its name from the first Athenian brewery that was founded by the Bavarian Karl Fuchs.

Today, Mets it’s the neighborhood of choice for artists and writers. The local art center frequently organizes cultural events and exhibitions. Although it is situated in the heart of Athens, it is quiet and green. Last but not least, it is one of the few neighborhoods of Athens where you can still find many neoclassical buildings from the 19th century.

Nea Smyrni, Athens

Nea Smyrni is a family-friendly municipality in the southern part of Athens. Its name derives from the Greek refugees who settled there after the catastrophe of Smyrna in 1922. Many Athenians choose Nea Smyrni because it is close to the city center but, at the same time, it has the benefits of a suburban area. It has parks, a small forest called “Alsos Neas Smyrnis”, and many two-story houses with gardens.

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Paleo Faliro, Athens

Paleo Faliro is a coastal district in the southern part of Athens. Just like Nea Smyrni, Paleo Faliro housed many Greeks from Asia Minor in early 20th Century. Today, locals often call it “Falirofornia”. That is because of the countless palm trees planted across its beautiful marina and public park called “Flisvos”. Athenians love it because of its ideal geographical position. You can easily reach the center of Athens and the port of Piraeus. And most importantly, finding an apartment with a seaside view is easier than in other parts of Athens.

Ano Petralona, Athens

When visitors arrive in Athens, they start exploring Syntagma, Plaka, Thiseio, and Monastiraki. But they often overlook a central Athenian neighborhood that is known for its authentic (and non-touristic!) Greek tavernas and restaurants.

Ano Petralona is a neighborhood located next to Thiseio. It has an excellent public transportation system and it is much quieter than most Athenian neighborhoods that are located within walking distance from Syntagma square. It is also an affordable neighborhood to live in, considering its central location.

Exarcheia, Athens

Exarcheia is both one of the coolest and one of the most avoided neighborhoods of Athens. Situated close to Panepistimiou Street and the National Technical University of Athens, it is inhabited mostly by students and young Athenians. The area has also attracted many left-wing intellectuals and artists, since it has been associated with the Polytechnic Uprising of 1973 against the Greek Junta. Over the years, radical activists and anarchists started residing there.

Foreign visitors often avoid Exarcheia because of its reputation as the “Anarchist Neighborhood” of Athens. But the chances of a random person being bothered by the anarchists of Exarcheia are very rare. Visitors usually have nothing to be afraid of in Exarcheia but it is recommended to avoid the neighborhood on November 17th and December 6th, to avoid coming across a protest. You should also avoid parking your vehicles in this neighborhood.

Neapoli, Athens

Next to Exarcheia, there is the historical and picturesque neighborhood of Neapoli. Located on the northern slope of Mount Lycabettus, it offers a panoramic view of the city. It is perfect for those who want to live in the center but despise large crowds and noises. Neapoli is also known for its countless bookstores and publishing houses. Many writers and artists reside there.

Kolonaki, Athens

Close to Neapoli and Exarcheia, there is Kolonaki neighborhood. The name literally translates to “little column”. That is because of an old 2-meter high marble column that was located there.  

Kolonaki is one of the most upscale neighborhoods of central Athens. It is the fashion center of the Greek capital, with many fashion designers and architects choosing one its countless neoclassical buildings for their studios. Benaki Museum, the Byzantine Museum, and the Goulandris Museum of Cycladic Art are all located there.

Kolonaki square is known for its fashionable cafes, restaurants, bars, and clubs. The neighborhood has two major metro stations (Evangelismos and Megaro Mousikis) and countless luxurious hotels for business travelers. Finally, Kolonaki is the home of many foreign embassies.

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Pangrati, Athens

Few blocks away from Syntagma square, right by Kalimarmaro stadium, you can find one of the coolest neighborhoods of Athens: Pangrati. The neighborhood has recently received great attention from young and creative business owners, which translates to higher rent prices.  

Pangrati is one of the most authentic Athenian neighborhoods, since it rarely receives attention from tourists. Athenians visit Pangrati for its historical cafes and parks, and often choose it for their main residence.

Neo & Paleo Psychiko, Athens

Psychiko – Neo and Paleo – is located just 5 km northeast of the city center. It is a wealthy residential area, chosen by doctors and lawyers. It was historically the home of Greek aristocrats and “old money” families. Psychiko has also countless prestigious private schools, such as Moraitis School, Arsakeio, and Athens College. Finally, just like Kolonaki, the neighborhood hosts many foreign embassies.

Koukaki, Athens

Koukaki was a snubbed neighborhood of Athens that gained great popularity the past ten years. Vogue has announced that Koukaki is now the “new cool neighborhood of Athens”.

Koukaki is a popular brunch destination for Athenians, but it is also known for its hip cocktail bars. Many galleries and museums are located there, including the Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum.

 But the main reason locals love Koukaki and are desperately trying to find an apartment there, is its proximity to the Acropolis Hill. Koukaki is not as crowded nor touristic as Plaka, but it is just few steps away from the temple of the Parthenon.

Did you know any of these neighborhoods? If yes, what is your favorite?

Greek Drama Ep.3: Ancient Greek Stage Machinery (Mechane, Periaktos etc.) | Ancient Theatrical Tricks

Theatrical machinery – devices used for theatrical effects – are much older than you might think. They were used on stage since the beginning of the history of theater. Here are some of the tricks ancient Greeks used to help the audience get fully immersed into the play.

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Ancient Greek Stage Machinery:

  1. Mechane
  2. Periaktos
  3. Ekkyklema
  4. Theologeion
  5. Anapiesma (Trap)
  6. Vronteio & Keravnoskopeion
  7. Other Theatrical Tricks

Mechane/ Deus ex Machina

You may know this machine with its latin name “Deus ex Machina”. “Mechane” or “Aiorima” was a crane used in ancient Greek drama. Ancient Greek tragedies would often require the intervention of a god or goddess in times of crisis. The divine character would hang over the stage with the help of the mechane and provide a solution to the tragic character’s problem. Euripides, the most alternative tragedian, used the aiorima for a non-divine character – Medea. Since then, mechane has been used to land any type of character on stage, if the plot requires them to fly around.  

Periaktos

Periaktos -often seen in plural as periaktoi – was a wooden device that rapidly changed the theatrical scenes. It had the shape of a triangle with three different backgrounds painted on each side. The periaktos would rotate, changing the set of each scene. This device gained popularity during the Renaissance period and that is when theatrical designers, such as Nicola Sabbatini, were admired for their work.

Ekkyklema

Ancient tragedies often delt with the darkest side of the human psyche. The plot usually included violent crimes, including murder. But depicting such devious scenes was not allowed. That is why they would use a wheeled platform called ekkyklema to remove and reintroduce characters on stage. For example, a character would be rolled out of the scene before his murder and pushed back in while laying on the ground.  

Theologeion

Theologeion was a stage trick similar to mechane. It was a raised platform which was very well disguised as part of the scene. Actors who played divine characters would climb up these platforms and spoke the word of god from above.

Anapiesma (Trap)

Anapiesma was the ancient Greek version of the stage trap we know today. It was a concealed opening under the stage floor, where actors and props would be hidden before they appeared on stage. Such traps are used even today.

Vronteio & Keravnoskopeion

In ancient Greek drama, weather changes often symbolized the mood of the gods and goddesses. Storms would take place when a character committed hybris. Tragedians would employ two devices to mimic the sounds and lightnings of a stormy weather: vronteio and keravnoskopeion. The first was a metal box full of rocks that was shaken to produce loud noises. The second was a type of periaktos that had a side with a mirroring effect. It was used to reflect the sunlight in a way that resembled a lightning.

Other Theatrical Tricks

Ancient Greeks constructed their theaters amphitheatrically. The goal was that everyone could see and hear whatever happened on stage. The locations were chosen carefully, and Greek theaters still have incredible acoustic. The acoustic did not only occur naturally but also with the construction of obstruction behind the stage. This happened in order to enhance the physical phenomenon of reflection, which causes echoes.

If you enjoyed watching this video, feel free to like, share, and subscribe. Stay tuned because, next week, we will be covering the plot of our first tragedy.

Here is How Greeks Pronounce These Greek Islands

Have you ever wondered whether native Greek speakers pronounce the names of Greek islands the same way as you do? This video will help you figure out the correct pronunciation.

Pronouncing Greek Islands’ Names:

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The Names of the Islands Written in Greek:

  • Κρήτη
  • Ζάκυνθος
  • Κορφού/ Κέρκυρα
  • Θήρα/ Σαντορίνη
  • Πάρος
  • Αντίπαρος
  • Κεφαλονιά// Κεφαλληνία
  • Ρόδος
  • Εύβοια
  • Σάμος
  • Σαμοθράκη
  • Κύθνος
  • Σπέτσες
  • Ύδρα
  • Αίγινα
  • Κίμωλος
  • Σκιάθος
  • Λέσβος
  • Χίος
  • Κάρπαθος

Greek Drama Ep.2: Introducing the Greek Tragedians (Euripides, Aeschylus, Sophocles)

Last time, we discussed the basics of ancient Greek theater. The history of drama, its peak years with the Dionysian competitions, and the formation of the three distinct types of drama, which are tragedy, comedy, and satyr. Today, Helinika is introducing the big- three ancient Greek tragedians: Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides. Before we get started, make sure you are subscribed to this YouTube channel and never miss a video in the future.

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Aeschylus: The Father of Tragedy | Greek Drama

Our understanding of the earliest Greek tragedies comes from Aeschylus. He is the tragedian who gave great power to the art of tragedy. He added more characters than usual in his plays and added more interactions between them. He basically introduced the theatrical dialogues and the concept of the protagonist and deuteragonist (second actor). That is why he is known as the “father of tragedy”.

Aeschylus was born in 525 BC in the city of Eleusis, just few kilometers away from Athens. He came from a noble family and, before his theatrical career, he worked at a vineyard. He was a respectable member of the Athenian community.

The tragedian had also fought at the battle of Marathon against the Persians in 490 BC, where he lost his brother. One of his most well-known works are “Persai” (The Persians), the only ancient Greek tragedy that was inspired by real events, rather than ancient Greek mythology.

Aeschylus died in 455 BC in Sicily. It is rumored that he died under comico-tragical circumstances. He was allegedly walking on a field, when a turtle fell on his head and killed him. According to the story, an eagle had caught the turtle and dropped it on the ground to break its shell; a technique that eagles often use to eat their pray.

Popular Works from Aeschylus:

There are many tragedies attributed to Aeschylus. Many of them have not been saved (e.g. Myrmidons, Nereids etc.). Here are some popular tragedies by the “father of tragedy”:

  • The Persians
  • Seven Against Thebes
  • The Suppliants
  • The Oresteia
  • Prometheus Bound

Sophocles: A Successful Tragedian | Greek Drama

Sophocles was one of the most successful playwrights in the Dionysian competitions. He won 24 out of the 30 theatrical competitions he participated in. He is attributed with adding a third actor on stage and reducing the importance of the chorus – the dancing choir – in the plot. The plays now started to resemble more the theatrical plays we watch today.

The Greek dramatist was born in 497 BC in Colonus, in the outskirts of Athens. He was born into wealth and his father was an armor manufacturer. He died at the age of 91 in 406 BC in Athens. There are several urban legends on how he died. Athenians would say that he choked on a grape or that he tried to recite a long sentence from one of his plays, without pausing to take a breath.

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Popular Works from Sophocles:

Sophocles wrote over 120 plays but few have been saved:

  • Ajax
  • Antigone
  • Women of Trachis
  • Oedipus Rex
  • Electra
  • Philoctetes
  • Oedipus at Colonus

Euripides: The Misunderstood Tragedian | Greek Drama

Euripides is now one of the greatest ancient Greek tragedians, but he needed time and hard work to be recognized as such. He was the youngest of the big-three and the one who was ridiculed the most at the start of his career. He was the target of the “father of comedy”, Aristophanes.

The tragedian is attributed with many theatrical innovations. He represented mythical heroes as ordinary people. The audience could identify with their suffering. He shocked his colleagues with how he represented women: as humans with real and complicated personalities. Women were as virtuous as men, if not more. “I would rather stand three times with a shield in battle than give birth once.” – his heroine Medea says.

Euripides was the “most tragic” of the poets. He cared for the misunderstood and the misfits more than he cared for the war heroes. He died in 406 BC at the age of 74 in the Greek kingdom of Macedonia. Some say he was struck by lightning. Others, that the cold winter in the northern part of Greece were to blame.

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Popular Works from Euripides:

Euripides wrote between 92 to 95 plays, from which eighteen survived. Some of his most popular plays are:

  • Medea
  • Electra
  • The Trojan Women
  • Helen
  • Iphigeneia in Tauris
  • Iphigeneia in Aulis
  • Bacchae
  • Orestes

Stay tuned till the next episode. We will be discovering the tricks ancient tragedians used to help the audience get immersed into the plot. Did they use any machines? If you enjoyed this video, feel free to comment and like.