2 readers online now  |  69 million page views

The transcending character of the Greek dimension

Reader comment on item: Turkey in Cyprus vs. Israel in Gaza
in response to reader comment: Byzantion was not Greek

Submitted by Christos D. Katsetos (United States), Aug 4, 2010 at 06:14

Struggling with questions of Modern Greek identity, Mr/Ms Oguztolga has recited a rather familiar line of argumentation regarding Greek identity and continuity. One's obvious prejudice notwithstanding, his/her confusion is --in part-- justified as it is exacerbated by the ambiguity of the term "Greek" introduced by contemporary Greeks themselves. After all, for the most part of the 20th century to date, Greeks have clearly reasserted themselves as "Hellenes," a term bearing a clear identity slant towards their ancient rather than their medieval ancestors in Eastern Romanity (Byzantium) who identified themselves as "Romaioi" (Romans or Rum in Turkish and Arabic).

The issue is critically reappraised in the treatise by Dr Hélène Ahrweiler titled "The Hellenic Europe: Problems of Greek Continuity" [1]. http://www.myriobiblos.gr/texts/english/1821_problems_of_greek.html Indeed, Greek means different things to different people. Isocrates' concept of Greekness, which is based both on 'education', but, also, equally so, on "upbringing," is encapsulated in Ahrweiler's notion of Greekness or Hellenikotita, which is defined "not only by the inanimate structures that belong to bygone times but by the living tradition." In my view, the definitions of Greek and "barbaros" ("varvaros") (barbarian or foreign) have gone through critical evolutionary phases and permutations, many illustrious Greeks having once been barbaroi [2]. Whether in classical, Hellenistic, Roman/Byzantine, or post-Byzantine/modern times, the barbaroi [foreiners] had the potential to become Greek and conversely, as history has shown, a plethora of purported "ethnic" Greeks "by birth/blood" had/have, also, become barbaroi [the (in)famous Zaganos (Zaganuz) Pasha and Barbaros Hayrettin Pasha and plentiful other janissaries being "exemplary examples" in this regard].

Turning to the openly biased and simplistic claim that Greek/Hellenic antiquity shares nothing with the Eastern Roman empire (Byzantium) aside from the language, I would point out in this connection, the case of Graeco-Roman-'Byzantine' continuity with respect to Medicine and Pharmacognocy as exemplified in the traditions of the Alexandrian Herophilus of Chalcedon, Galen of Ephesus [3], Dioscorides [4], Artemidorus [5], Soranus of Ephesus [6], Oribasius of Pergamus [7], Aetius of Amida [8], Paul of Aegina [9], Theophanes and Ioannes Actuarius [10], Nicolaus Myrepsus [11], Joannes Argyropoulos [12] and countless others. Although the usage of the Greek language in the Eastern Roman Empire is tantamount to an apotheosis of Greek continuity throughout the Byzantine millennium, it should be recognized that in the medieval, but even more so, in the post-medieval (or early modern) historical context, the concept of Greekness is not solely language-dependent.

To this end, the notion that Greek language is the "dividing line" between Greek and non-Greek is tenuous and fundamentally flawed, for it disregards the post Byzantine dimension of Rômiosynê, the natural precursor of Modern Greek identity, which is, in an ontogenetic sense, based on the pillars of the Eastern Orthodox Church. During the long and tortuous Ottoman years, the Mother Church had brought into its orbit a geographically diversified and polyglot flock of Orthodox Christians, the Rôméikê Ecumenê (viz. the post-medieval Greek Orthodox World), as part of the longstanding tradition of the Rum Millet. This centuries-enduring cultural tradition stands as a living testament and vivid reminder of the transcending character and inclusiveness of Rômiosynê, the medieval and modern Greek dimension. Graikoi, Armanji/Vlachs, Sarakatchans, Arvanites, Arvanitovlachs (Karagkounides), Karamanlides, Pontic Romaioi, Romaioi of the Caucuses, Cretans and Cypriots, we are all Greeks/Hellenes and part of the Génos thanks -in large part- to the tenacity and steadfastness of the Mother Church. The divergent/antithetical examples of the Turkish-speaking Christian Orthodox Karamanlides and the Greek speaking Pontic Muslims illustrate that in the context of the post-medieval Ottoman milletsystem, language per se cannot be construed a priori as a signature of national or ethnic identity. Instead, religion and related spiritual values and cultural traditions [also known, in Greek, as the "Parakatathêkê"] would appear to be a more tangible factor by far.

This observation lends credence to the Patriarchal definition of Greekness expressed by the symbolic terms 'Génos' and 'Rômiosynê', membership to which is based solely on consciousness regardless of genealogical/racial/tribal and/or linguistic correlates.


The Patriarchal Decree of 1864 is quite explicit in this regard. "I glossa esti gnorisma ti lian epousiodes kai sfaleron, ef' ou ouden dikaioma ethemeliothi " [13] ("Language is an utterly insignificant and fallacious attribute upon which no claim [for a distinct ethnic or national identity] can be founded") [13] The fundamental relationship between Orthodox Christianity and Greek identity, eloquently encapsulated in the words of pre-eminent Byzantinist Sir Steven Runciman: "The story of the Greeks under Turkish rule is unedifying and melancholy. Yet, in spite of its faults and weaknesses, the Church survived; and so long as the Church survived Hellenism would not die." [14] And indeed Hellenism did not die, in keeping with the wishful prophecy made in the time-honored Pontic Greek lamentation dating back five centuries ago: "I Romania ki an perase anthei kai ferei ki'allo" [15] (Even though Romania [Medieval Greece/Hellenism] faded away, it still blooms and blossoms) [15] Footnotes: [1] From her book The Making of Europe, Lectures and Studies. Athens 2000, Nea Synora, Livanis Publishing Organization. [2] A propos the classical usage of the word barbaros it is worth recalling that "so far as Herodotus was concerned, the division between Greeks and barbaroi was not, as later Greeks would see it, an uncrossable gulf. Rather, it was a matter of evolution; many of the people who were now Greek had once been barbaroi, and the barbaroi had the potential to become Greek." Excerpted from a review by Antony G. Keen of Pericles Georges's book titled _Barbarian Asia and the Greek Experience_. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994 (ISBN 0-8018-4734-6), which appeared in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review 95.10.14 http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/bmcr/1995/95.10.14.html [3] http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/greek/greek_galen.html [4] Dioscorides wrote the classical text Peri Ulhs Iatrikhs, a.k.a. Materia Medica http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/greek/greek_dioscorides.html [5] http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/greek/greek_artemidorus.html [6] Blau JN. Soranus of Ephesus on migraine. Lancet1999;353:678; Galanakis E. Apgar score and Soranus of Ephesus. Lancet 1998;352:2012-3; Sutton C. Hysterectomy: a historical perspective. Baillieres Clin Obstet Gynaecol. 1997;11:1-22; Dunn PM. Soranus of Ephesus (circa AD 98-138) and perinatal care in Roman times. Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed. 1995;73:F51-2. [7] Raeder I. Oribasii collectionum medicarum reliquiae, vol 3. Lipsiae of Berolini: Teubner, 1931: 19-22; Lascaratos J, Assimakopoulos D. Surgery on the larynx and pharynx in Byzantium (AD 324-1453): early scientific descriptions of these operations. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg2000; 122: 579-583 [8] As a tribute to the tradition of Soranus of Ephesus and the Greek speaking world, mention should be made of the contributions of Aetios of Amida in obstetrics and gynecology in VI century Roman Empire ['Byzantium']. The last tome of the 16th volume series _The Tetrabiblon_ is devoted to obstetrics and gynaecology. Aetios is known, among other things, for his methods of contraception. http://www.csulb.edu/projects/showcase/fall96/essington.html Ricci, J. _Aetios of Amida: The Gynecology and Obstetrics of the Sixth Century A.A._, Toronto 1957; Temkin, O. _Soranus' Gynecology_, Baltimore: The John Hopkins Press, 1956 (rep. 1991); Durling RJ. Addenda Lexicis, primarily from Aetius of Amida and Paul of Aegina. Glotta 1986;44:30-6. [9] http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/paul-aigina1.html Karpozilos A, Pavlidis N. The treatment of cancer in Greek antiquity. Eur J Cancer 2004; 40:2033-40; Lascaratos JG, Panourias IG, Sakas DE. Hydrocephalus according to Byzantine writers. Neurosurgery2004;55:214-20; Lascaratos J, Voros D, Tsiamis C. Paul of Aegina: landmark in surgical progress. World J Surg2003;27:1336; Lascaratos JG, Tsiamis C, Kostakis A. Surgery for inguinal hernia in Byzantine times (A.D. 324-1453): first scientific descriptions. World J Surg 2003;27:1165-9; Gurunluoglu R, Gurunluoglu A. Paul of Aegina: landmark in surgical progress. World J Surg 2003;27:18-25; Lascaratos J, Cohen M. Paul of Aegina. Plast Reconstr Surg 2002;110:1600-1; Poulakou-Rebelakou E, Marketos SG. Kidney disease in Byzantine medical texts. Am J Nephrol 1999;19:172-6; Lascaratos J. Otorhinolaryngological diseases in Byzantium (A.D. 324-1453): information from non-medical literary sources. J Laryngol Otol 1996;110:913-7; Sharpe WD. Mental disease in Paulus Aegineta's Epitome. Trans Stud Coll Physicians Phila. 1974;41:198-210; [10] Lascaratos J. Ophthalmology in Byzantium (10th - 15th centuries). Med Secoli 1999;11:391-403 [11] XIII century pharmacologist and physician, See _Code 1478_. National Athens Library, Athens, 957 [12] Touwaide A. The "letter... to a Cypriot physician" attributed to Johannes Argyropoulos (ca. 1448-1453). Med Secoli1999;11:585-601. [13] Diafotistikh Epitropi Oikoumenikou Patriarcheiou <> M. Gedeon, Eggrafa, o.p., s. 64-65] There are noteworthy examples of Bulgarian intellectuals, or individuals promoting the Bulgarian cause within the geographical region of Macedonia during the XIX century, who used Greek for their literary works. Grigor Stavrev Prlichev is a case in point [Matalas P., Ethnos kai Orthodoxia. Oi peripeteies mias schesis. Apo to <> sto Boulgariko Schisma. Panepisthmiakes Ekdoseis Kritis. Hrakleio, 2002]. According to Kônstantinos Paparrêgopoulos, the foremost Greek romantic historian of the XIX century, the Greek language is "... taught, comprehended, and spoken in Bulgaria and Slavic areas, mainly amongst the higher classes, as is in the purely Hellenic areas" [Paparrêgopoulos K. <>. Le Spectateur de l'Orient, Vol. I, 26 Aug/7 Sep., 1853, pp. 5-6] [14] Runciman S. _The Fall of Constantinople_. Cambridge University Press/Canto edition, 1990, p. 190; Also, see Runciman, S. _The Great Church in Captivity. A Study of the Patriarchate of Constantinople from the Eve of the Turkish Conquest to the Greek War of Independence_. Cambridge University Press, 1985 (ISBN: 0521313104) http://books.cambridge.org/0521313104.htm [15] XV century Pontic lament of the Fall of Constantinople


Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

Comment on this item

Mark my comment as a response to The transcending character of the Greek dimension by Christos D. Katsetos

Email me if someone replies to my comment

Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

See recent outstanding comments.

Follow Daniel Pipes

Facebook   Twitter   RSS   Join Mailing List

All materials by Daniel Pipes on this site: © 1968-2021 Daniel Pipes. daniel.pipes@gmail.com and @DanielPipes

Support Daniel Pipes' work with a tax-deductible donation to the Middle East Forum.Daniel J. Pipes

(The MEF is a publicly supported, nonprofit organization under section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code.

Contributions are tax deductible to the full extent allowed by law. Tax-ID 23-774-9796, approved Apr. 27, 1998.

For more information, view our IRS letter of determination.)