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Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Romios or Hellene?

I don't know if the late Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor was the first to come up with the theory of the "Helleno-Romaic Dilemma" in his book Roumeli, Travels in Northern Greece, 1966, but it has proved to be an influential idea, taken up by Nicholas Gage in Hellas, A Portrait of Greece (1971; 1987) and by Louis de Bernieres in his novel, Captain Corelli's Mandolin.

Plenty of Greek writers and poets have written about the Romioi and Romiosyni (a word that can be translated inadequately as Greekness), but the comparison that Paddy Leigh Fermor makes, based on his idea that 'inside every Greek dwell two figures in opposition', may be original. He draws up two parallel lists of 64 characteristics, under two columns headed The Romios and The Hellene.

Here are a few examples:

No 11. The Romios: Retention of Romaic customs.
The Hellene: Adoption of Western customs, abhorrence of Romaic orientation.

No 12. The Romios: Distrust of the law. Readiness to bypass it by manoeuvre, favouritism or by any of the bad old short-cuts.
The Hellene: Respect for the law. Hesitation, on principle, to bypass it by the means opposite.

No 19. The Romios: Looking on Greece as outside Europe.
The Hellene: Looking on Greece as part of Europe.

There are many interesting or provocative comparisons. Read Chapter 3 of Roumeli for further insights from a great Philhellene.

Nicholas Gage writes, in Hellas, pp 34-36:

"The average Greek sees himself as two people...He even calls himself by different names to distinguish the two opposing personalities. When he feels noble, courageous, or creative, he calls himself a Hellene...when he feels devious, obstinate, or selfish, he calls himself a Romios..."

Question. Is this supposed dilemma or dichotomy in the Greek character or personality valid?

The Greek text of Yannis Ritsos' poem, Romiosyni

Gail Holst, on the poem and Theodorakis's setting

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