Zeus, Aphrodite, Poseidon. The names of the members of the ancient Greek pantheon are known to the English-speaking world. But, it goes without saying, that these names are pronounced differently in (modern) Greek. Here is how Greeks call the Greek gods and goddesses we know from our favorite myths.
It was a hot and humid summer morning in Crete. A group of hikers had already started walking by the sea towards the castle of Frangokastello, near the town of Sfakia. Everything was quiet and all they could hear was the song of the cicadas and the relaxing sound of waves.
As soon as they reached the Venetian fort, they spent some time staring at the ripples forming on the sea surface. But it didn’t take long till they all instinctively turned their heads towards the nearby monastery of Agios Charalambos. What they saw left them frozen in fear. Tall shadowy figures holding medieval weapons started sprinting towards them. Some of these warriors looked as if they rode phantom horses.
The hikers couldn’t speak nor move; they stood there mesmerized by the group of phantom warriors that ran towards them. The closer the shadows appeared to be, the smaller they become. And just like that, few meters away from them, they disappeared. Later that day, they learned from the locals that they were lucky enough to experience seeing the Drosoulites, the phantom warriors of Crete.
The Greek Folktale of Drosoulites | Greek Folklore
According to a local legend, a group of Greek fighters who lost their lives during the battle of Frangkokastello, still haunt the area. They appear as ghost fighters on some spring or summer mornings, surprising those who visit the castle and the nearby area. There are countless reports of locals and visitors who have witnessed this phenomenon. Some of them, had never heard of the legend but still saw the shadowy figures approaching the castle. Their appearance usually lasts for ten minutes, according to reports.
The battle of Frangkocastello occurred during the years of the Greek war for freedom and specifically on May 17, 1828. The army consisted of 350 men and was led by Hatzimichalis Dalianis from Epirus. The army protected the fort for more than seven days and continued fighting even when victory seemed unrealistic. They all died in the battlefield.
Although this phenomenon is linked to the battle of 1828, the castle’s history is much longer than that. Just few kilometers away from Sfakia, Frangkokastello was built in 1374 to protect Venetian nobles from pirates during the Frankokratia, the era during which French and Italian states were established on the territory of the Byzantine Empire.
Since the appearance of Drosoulites has been reported multiple times over the past two centuries, it is more than a local folktale. Scientists have tried to debunk the myth, with the most common explanation being that it is simply a meteorological phenomenon.
To be more precise, it is believed that it is a mirage from the coast of North Africa. However, there is no definite or clear answer. What we do know is that it occurs on late May or early June, usually in the morning, when the weather is humid and warm.
What do you think of this folk legend? Is there a similar folktale where you come from? Leave a comment in the comment section.
Greeks are generally considered open, friendly, and approachable. They may reveal intimate things about themselves and invite you over for dinner right after your initial meeting. But, don’t be fooled, building a strong friendship or business partnership with a Greek man or woman requires work, patience, and a clear understanding of the Greek cultural dimensions.
How Easy Is It to Make Friends in Greece?
As a foreigner, making friends in Greece is neither too hard, nor too easy. According to an InterNations survey from 2021, the country is the 32nd friendliest country for expats in a list of 65 countries. That places Greece somewhere in the middle. Helinika will help you navigate through the cultural dos and don’ts and win the heart of the Greek(s) you seek friendship or business partnership with.
Actions That Will Make a Greek Like You
Ask about them and their family. The Greek culture is more on the collectivistic, rather than on the individualistic side. If you know a Greek person’s family, partner, or very close friends, you may ask them how these people are doing. Greek people usually see themselves as part of a group and showing disinterest about the other members of their close group, may be interpreted as disinterest about them as well. A small talk between Greeks usually goes as follows: “Τι κάνεις; Τα παιδιά; Ο/Η σύζυγος, όλοι καλά;” (translation: “How are you? The children? (What about) the spouse, is everyone alright?”. It goes without saying that if the Greek person of interest hasn’t revealed details about their family life, you don’t have to ask how his or her family is doing. Lastly, not asking about the person’s family members is not considered rude. However, considering his/her family in your conversations, will help you win the Greek’s heart!
Cook for them or ask them out for dinner. The best business deals, romantic relationships, and friendships are usually paired with food. Greeks, like most Mediterranean cultures, revolve around food and cooking. If you are a good cook, invite the Greek of interest over for dinner. If not, invite him/her out at a good restaurant. It doesn’t have to be fancy nor expensive; but the food quality must be top-notch. Food is taken seriously in Greece and people can discuss for hours at the dinner table, even after having finished their meals. Normally, Greeks order or cook different dishes, place them at the center of the table, and share them all together, instead of ordering individual dishes for each person. This is another detail to keep in mind.
Offer to pay/return the favor, even when reassured you don’t have to. Philotimo is an admired characteristic in Greece. Everyone wants friends who have this attribute. A person with philotimo is an honorable person who doesn’t accept gifts, help, and other offerings easily. Having a small argument with the person who wants to pay for your dinner or offer you something for free is usually expected. If the other person insists, you can then accept their offer. And no matter what the other person says, you should always try to return the favor at some point. Even if they have reassured you that you don’t have to. Not doing so is not the end of the world – but you won’t be seen as a person with philotimo in their eyes. This may seem complex and unnecessary to someone who comes from a low context culture, where communication is usually direct. However, when meeting with Greeks, you should be able to “read the room” and understand people’s expectations, without being told what these expectations are.
Allow them to pamper you. Have you ever heard of the Benjamin Franklin effect? You know, the one that suggests that a person who does a favor for you will like you more than the person you do a favor for? Well, it definitely works with the Greeks. When visiting a Greek person’s home, let them pamper you as they like. Greek philoxenia requires them to offer you something to drink and something to eat. If you stay the night, they will probably offer you fresh towels and bedding and they will prepare breakfast for you. Of course, you don’t have to eat at their place, but try not to reject every single thing they offer to you. Otherwise, you will be considered an “ακατάδεκτος” – an adjective that could be translated as “someone who doesn’t accept offerings”. Trust me, it will be hard to make friends with Greeks if they think they can’t pamper you at all.
Things to Avoid – a.k.a “How to Make a Greek Dislike You”
Avoid criticizing someone close to them. In individualistic cultures, a person’s actions reflect their own personality, mood, and thinking, unless they are minors. In collectivistic cultures, a person’s actions reflect their entire environment – friends, family, community. Greece is somewhere in the middle but does lean towards collectivism. Although an adult’s actions are judged individually at the courthouse, when it comes to ethical criticism, someone’s wrongdoings will bring shame to everyone close to them. If someone commits a crime, their family members might self-isolate for a while, regardless of whether they were involved in the crime or not. The actions of the individual have consequences for the entire group. For this exact reason, when meeting a Greek person, avoid being overly critical towards people who are somehow related to them. They will take it personally. Yes, they may recognize, for example, that their cousin is a dishonest business owner who lies about his or her products’ real value. However, calling them out in front of your potential friend, client, or business partner, will seem like an attack to the entire family. The same goes with friend groups. Unless you are already integrated into the group, avoid criticizing a member at the presence of another member.
Don’t visit them empty handed. Unless you are already good friends and visit each other regularly, avoid visiting a Greek person’s house empty handed. Especially when you visit their house for the very first time. You can bring a dessert, a meal you prepared at home, a bottle of wine, some flowers, or a home accessory. That is especially expected when visiting someone who is of older age, since young people tend to overlook these details.
Don’t disrespect them at their home/office. Greeks will often tell you to feel at home at their place. Philoxenia, hospitality, is taken very seriously in Greece but not only from the hosts’ side. A visitor is also expected to respect the space of the host by trying not to make a mess, accepting some pampering, and asking for permission before visiting other rooms in the house – even if it’s the bathroom. Of course, this doesn’t apply when visiting someone who is already a very close friend. If the Greek host lives with others, acknowledging them and/or making small talk with them, is expected.
Avoid being inflexible. Flexibility is key when meeting the Greeks. An appointment may change last minute, someone might arrive later or earlier and sticking to the schedule is not always a priority. Losing your temper and accusing them for this, will not help at all. If the other person is constantly changing their mind, try persuading them to stick to the plan without making any accusations. Patience is key.
(ο) μπαγλαμάς – this small Greek musical instrument is often used to describe people that are… unimportant and useless.
(ο) κουραμπιές – this Christmas delicacy has been used as a funny insult. A Greek actress named Dimitra Matsouka once admitted calling a fellow driver she argued with “κουραμπιέ”. The phrase “ναι τον είπα κουραμπιέ” (yes, I called him kourabie) instantly became a meme.
(η) κουφαλίτσα – literally translated as “little tree hollow”, it is used to describe people who are deceptive and sneaky but, at the same time, they are not dangerous or evil. The term was popularized by a Greek tv-series.
(η) τσαπερδόνα – from the Italian “sopra donna”, this Greek word is used to describe women who are overly flirty. It is used in a playful way and it is not considered offensive. You should not mix it up with offensive slurs that refer to women’s sexuality.
(ο) μπουμπούνας – this Greek insult describes someone who is a bit stupid in a funny rather than an offensive way.
(o) γάιδαρος/ (η) γαϊδάρα – donkeys are beloved animals in Greece. However, they are considered stubborn, and they are therefore used to describe people who have this quality. At the same time, a “γάιδαρος” in Greek is also a taker who never gives to others or returns favors.
είναι στον κόσμο του/της – he/she is in his/her own cosmos (world). This phrase is used when someone is absent-minded and/or does not pay attention to non-verbal cues and does not “read” the room.
τρεις λαλούν και δυο χορεύουν – three (people) are singing and two are dancing. This creative insult is used during a conversation when someone says something that is unrelated to the subject or when someone has probably not understood what the other person talked about.
Arta is a picturesque town in Epirus region in northwestern Greece. The area is rich in folktales from Greece’s recent past. Its vast green forests and gigantic mountains have inspired locals to tell stories of fairies and other mythical creatures. But there is one story that stands out the most: the story of the so-called haunted bridge of Arta.
The Bridge of Arta
A long time ago, the Romans built a bridge over the Arachthos river near Arta. This bridge was reconstructed many times over the years and is still standing in the 21st Century. Its most recent reconstruction was during the 17th Century, when a peculiar folk song that narrated the story of the bridge appeared for the first time.
The story talked about hauntings and human sacrifice, although the latter was not a local custom. Some people say that this folktale was meant to scare the Ottoman Turks away from the area, although others see a resemblance to other similar stories from around the world. But what is this story even talking about?
According to a 17th Century legend, when the Ottomans reached Epirus, they wanted to reconstruct some of the works of the Romans that had been destroyed over the years. Their project included a beautiful stone bridge that crossed Aracthos river near the town of Arta.
A group of local men was assigned with this difficult task, since the stone bridge was in ruins and only its foundations were still standing. The master mason was a young, skilled worker who was newly married. He was ambitious and determined to reconstruct the bridge as fast as possible. However, rebuilding the bridge was proven to be an impossible task.
One day, a nightingale flew over the builders and stood on a nearby branch. But the bird did not start chattering as expected. It started speaking with a clear human voice and revealed what should be done to complete the bridge. According to the bird, a human must be sacrificed on the spot to haunt the place. The haunting would keep the bridge stable and safe.
“(It shouldn’t be) an orphan, a stranger, or a traveler.”, the bird explained, but rather the beautiful and beloved wife of the master mason.
As soon as the man heard that, he started worrying and told the nightingale to tell his wife to take her time with preparing his lunch and come much later than usual to visit him on the construction site. But the bird misheard him and told his wife to get ready quickly and run straight to the bridge.
The young woman arrived at the scene and immediately noticed that her husband seemed sad and anxious. One of the builders told her that he accidentally dropped his ring in the foundations of the bridge and that is why he feels blue.
The young wife didn’t think twice before jumping into the construction to search for the ring. And that is when the masons started throwing mortar and lime and rocks at the opening to build over the old foundations. The woman realized that she was trapped into the building and the men continued with the constructions without hearing her cries for help.
And that is when she revealed that her sisters had a similar fate to hers, all being sacrificed in a similar manner across Europe. The woman started cursing the bridge and the masons, saying that it will shake and cause people to fall into the river as soon as they step foot on it.
“Maiden, change your word and give another curse
for you have a one dear brother who may cross this bridge.”, someone told her over the rubble.
The woman then remembered her youngest brother and immediately took the curse back. She couldn’t risk her brother dying too.
“May the bridge shake, like the wild mountains do
May crossing pedestrians fall, like the wild birds do
for I have a brother abroad who may cross this bridge.”, she exclaimed. And the bridge has indeed survived to this day.
This particular story and the folksong that goes with it, are of particular interest. Why would a Christian Orthodox population in the 17th Century come up with a story about human sacrifice? And why would a haunting keep a bridge stable?
People from Arta often say that the story was made up to convince the Ottomans that the bridge was haunted and therefore they should avoid crossing it. In fact, there is no proof or even speculation that people engaged in rituals that involved human sacrifice in Byzantine and Ottoman Greece. However, this folktale somehow involves the archetype of the beautiful maiden who is sacrificed for the greater good. A pattern that we find in many ancient legends that have survived over the years.
The folktale of Arta remind us of two ancient Greek legends in particular: the one of princess Iphigeneia and the one of princess Antigone. Iphigeneia was a legendary maiden that was going to be sacrificed by her father who wanted to sail safely to Troy, but managed to escape with the help of goddess Artemis. Antigone, on the other hand, was a young woman that was sentenced to death for disobeying the laws of her uncle – she was thrown alive into an underground cave to die slowly, just like the maiden of Arta who was captured alive in the bridge’s foundations.
Although human sacrifice was not a local custom at that time, small animal sacrifices did occur in many villages in the Balkan peninsula before and during the Ottoman occupation. Birds, chickens, or roosters were killed at the foundations or doorsteps of newly built houses to protect the owners from earthquakes, floods, but also ghosts and evil spirits. They believed that the animal would haunt the construction and the building would not collapse. These customs were not allowed by the Christian Orthodox Church, however, some people continued doing them over the years.
The foundations of buildings seem to be of particular interest in Greek and European folklore. In some Greek villages, locals would allow snakes to find refuge in the foundations of their homes. The snakes were considered protectors of the homes and were very much welcomed to co-exist with humans. They would eat all the rats and mice that would try to enter the house.
Believe it or not, stories similar to the bridge of Arta exist all around the world. Have you ever heard of the Irish-American song named “London Bridge Is Falling Down”? The song implies that no matter how good the materials the masons use are, the bridge of London will always collapse. What’s essential is a human to guard it all day and night – a human that will be sacrificed in its foundations. In Sweden, there is a folktale that says that children were buried alive to stop the spread of a disease in a small town.
Are these stories true or imaginative? Also, are there any similar folktales in the part of the world where you come from? Leave a comment in the comment section.
Every language has words and phrases that are either funny or can be used for some smart comebacks. Here is a list of the funniest Greek words you should start using.
Funny Greek Words and Phrases:
Αμπελοφιλοσοφίες (οι): “vine philosophies” a.k.a drunk philosophical conversations or (metaphorically) ideas that sound smart but are actually stupid. Example: «Άσε μας με τις αμπελοφιλοσοφίες σου.» (Stop with your vine philosophies).
Πιασ’ τ’ αβγό και κούρευ’ το (πιάσε το αβγό και κούρεψε το): “take the egg and shave it” a.k.a the situation is difficult to handle or the task is impossible. Example: «Να επισκευάσω την πόρτα; Πιάσ’ τ’ αβγό και κούρευτ’ το!» (Repair the door? Take the egg and shave it).
Ψαροκώσταινα (η): “Fish Kostena” a.k.a a poor and uncultured person or place – named after a 19th century old lady named Kostena from the town of Psara. Example: «Μένουμε στην ψαροκώσταινα της Ευρώπης.» (We reside in Europe’s fish Kostena).
Κάγκουρας (ο): “Kangaroo man” a.k.a a man who wears a funny pack and tunes his vehicles. Example: «Τι φοράς; Σαν κάγκουρας είσαι.» (What are you wearing? You look like a kangaroo man).
Ψωροευρώ (τα): “Poor people’s euros” a.k.a an amount of money that is too less to make you rich. Example: «Δουλεύει όλη μέρα για μερικά ψωροευρώ.» (He/she works all day for some poor people’s money).
Έφαγα πόρτα: “I ate a door” a.k.a someone slammed a door in my face or simply denied me access to a place. «Δεν μπήκα στο κλαμπ. Έφαγα πόρτα.» (I did not enter the club. I ate a door).
Which phrase are you going to use from now on? Leave a comment down below. If you are new to this channel, make sure to subscribe and check the rest of my videos. Till next time!
In ancient Greece, they were called “Nymphs”. In modern Greek folklore, they are known as “Neraides”. Described as “extraordinarily beautiful”, neraides are supernatural beings associated with the elements of nature. But who are they exactly? Are they nice or dangerous?
Apart from heroes and Olympian gods and goddesses, ancient Greek myths involve different mythical creatures, including fairies. Ancient Greek fairies were called “nymphs”. According to various legends, nymphs were very beautiful women who were related to gods, such as Zeus and Hermes. But they were also mortals. Nymphs often resided in sacred trees that people treated with great respect. These trees looked extraordinary and wise. When a nymph died, her tree also did.
Nymphs were divided into different subgroups:
Meliae, were the ash tree nymphs;
Dryads, were the oak tree nymphs;
Naiads, were the freshwater nymphs;
Nereids, were the sea nymphs;
Oreads, were the mountain nymphs.
There are countless stories featuring nymphs in ancient Greek mythology. Hylas, Hercules’ friend, was accidentally drowned by a nymph named Ephydatia who fell in love with him, hugged him, and dragged him down a lake, causing him to suffocate. Daphne is another well-known nymph; god Apollon was once chasing her in the woods, when the gods fell pity for her and transformed her into the plant with the same name. Nymphs would also spend a lot of time with the male nature spirits, the satyrs, who would often chase them into the woods.
As time passed by, nymphs started being called “neraides” and started being associated with the fairies of western European folklore. Since neraides are associated to nature, in Medieval times they were thought to be pagan deities.
Are Greek Fairies Dangerous?
Neraides are generally not considered evil but rather playful and sometimes mischievous. However, in some parts of Greece, they were often feared and there are countless stories across the country that present neraides as dangerous.
For example, in the Cyclades, such as Mykonos, the fairies of the wind dance in circles around midday, causing people to have sunstrokes and get dizzy. In other places, neraides may grab you to dance with them, which may result in you losing your senses, your voice, or even your ability to think clearly. A person who returned home from the woods looking dizzy and confused was often called “neraidoparmenos” (abducted by fairies).
In other parts of Greece, neraides manage to get into people’s homes and search for new dresses to steal. A soon-to-be-bride should be very careful at night. In some Greek villages, it is believed that bridal gowns that are not stored in wardrobes during the night can be stolen by the neraides. Neraides can also “steal” young men who wonder alone in nature. They will flirt with them and lead them into different realms. If the men return, they are not the same anymore.
This fear for the neraides often stems from the transition from paganism to Christianity, which often led people to associate mythological creatures to demonic entities.
The most common folktale from modern Greece, however, is that of the Neraida who got tricked into marrying a mortal man. Greek fairies normally like to roam freely away from busy towns and cities. They prefer staying with their own kind and dance and play by streams, lakes, and rivers. They sometimes flirt with mortal men but they never want to settle down.
According to some local legends, neraides usually hide their silky hair under a thin veil that supposedly holds some of their powers. If a man manages to grab the fairy’s veil while dancing with her, she is then bound to stay with him. He can ask her to marry him and she has to follow him home. A very common Greek folktale that you can hear in every Greek village goes as follows:
Once upon a time, there was young man who fell in love with a beautiful woman he met in the woods. The woman was a neraida and was not planning on getting married and moving to the world of humans. But the man, let’s call him Alexis, was determined to marry the neraida.
An elder man told Alexis that a neraida can be captured by stealing her veil. Her veil holds all her supernatural powers. Without it, she cannot disappear, fly away, or transform herself into a tree. After hearing this, Alexis run deep into the forest and watched the fairies dance in circles. He waited for the right moment and as soon as the girl he liked turned her back to him, he grabbed her veil.
That is when the neraida realized that all her powers were now in the hands of the mortal man. She agreed to marry Alexis and followed him to his house. Although hesitant at first, the neraida started liking her new life. She and Alexis had many children together and she made many new friends in the village.
Ten years had passed and the woman seemed very happy in her marriage. One night there was a big celebration in the village. Alexis’ wife wanted to dance but she suggested to use her veil that her husband was still hiding from her for “no reason” all those years.
“We’ve been married for so long and you still don’t trust me. Just let me wear my veil for once”, the fairy told him.
Alexis realized what a fool he was for believing that his wife would try to leave now after being happily married for years and after giving birth to their children. He went into the house and unlocked a cupboard in which he kept her veil. He handed it to her with a smile and saw her dance like never before. She was glowing from happiness. As soon as the dance stopped, he blinked for a second and saw his wife disappear in front of his eyes. He never saw her again. The fairy was waiting all those years for her opportunity to flee.
This story varies from place to place, however, it narrates the story of a man who tricked a fairy into marrying him and ended up all alone in the end. A neraida will always wait for the opportunity to return to her world, far away from humans. In some villages, you may find people who may tell you that they are descendants of such fairies who were tricked into marrying a mortal man.
Are their stories real or fake? What do you believe?
If you like learning more about the Greek history, language, and culture, make sure to subscribe to Helinika’s YouTube channel. You can always like and share with a friend who loves stories like these.
You may have started learning Greek and you want to impress your fellow students, teachers, and the native speakers. Helinika comes to the rescue by providing you with a list of rare Greek words only avid speakers use. Some of these words might give an “it’s all Greek to me” reaction even to your Greek language teacher. Let’s get started.
Rare Greek Words That Will Upgrade Your Vocabulary
Αλεξιβρόχιο: synonym of «ομπρέλα» (umbrella).
Αμφίψωμο: synonym of «σάντουιτς» (sandwich).
Βαυκαλίζω: to fool someone with fake promises.
Δερματοστιξία: a synonym of «τατουάζ» (tattoo art).
Εκμαυλίζω: to corrupt someone.
Ευκαταφρόνητος: negligible, a person that is worth ignoring.
Ζοφερός: dark, a person or situation that instills fear and negative emotions.
Ιλαρός: synonym of «χαρούμενος» (happy).
Κίβδηλος: fraudulent, counterfeit.
Λεξιθηρία: what you are currently doing: looking for rare words to use.
Μονολιθικός: inflexible, someone who is unable to change his or her point of view.
Πτωχαλαζών: someone who is poor and arrogant at the same time.
Ταχυφαγείο: synonym of «φασφουντάδικο» (fast-food restaurant).
Φενάκη: synonym of «περούκα» (wig), fraud, deception.
Did you know any of these words? You can leave a comment down below. If the video was helpful, you can like, share, and subscribe!
In the past, we’ve seen how Greek loanwords are actually pronounced in Greek. Today, Helinika reveals how Greeks pronounce English and other foreign loanwords. Keep in mind that most of these words have a Greek equivalent – for example, «ασανσέρ» has a Greek synonym named «ανελκυστήρας», while «κομπιούτερ» can also be «υπολογιστής».
If you have watched Helinika’s Christmas-related videos, then you might already know two of these traditional Greek Christmas delicacies. Today, we see some of the most delicious traditional Greek Christmas dishes and desserts from different regions.