Category Archives: Greek mythology

A #Greek Bearing Gifts: On #Kindness, #Homeric Epics, and Culture. #MondayBlogs

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“Beware of Greeks bearing gifts,” a phrase once commonly heard amid the every day lexicon of collective American vocabulary dates back to a time when just about everyone read and studied the classics. The quote is, of course, a reference to Homer’s Iliad, and the Greek army who hid themselves within a giant wooden horse presented to the Trojans as a peace-making gift. Obviously, this present, which led to the downfall of Troy, turned out to be an unwelcome care package.

They say only the victors of wars write history, and yet gift-bearing Greeks were met with wariness for centuries after the battle and the Homeric epics that followed. Now that the phrase “beware of Greeks bearing gifts” has fallen out of common usage, no longer are we Greeks who show up at birthday parties with wrapped boxes met with skeptical smirks, and that’s certainly a good thing. 😉 Yet, and on a serious note, in today’s culture we are often skeptical of those who bear gifts in the form of a kind gesture. The cynical among us automatically look for an ulterior motive or a sign of weakness when someone expresses an unprompted gesture of good will. A cynical person might think, “What is this other person expecting in return?” or “Why are they trying to get close to me?” It’s one thing to have a healthy guard up, and another to live life in a vacuum of paranoia. I chose to believe that a majority of people are good, and I think I’m happier because of that.

Despite the trickery displayed by the ancient Greeks in the Iliad, we are presented with a different view of gift-bearing Greeks in Homer’s other epic, the Odyssey. Set in the years post Trojan war as the Greek hero Odysseus struggles in his journey back to Greece after such a long period away from home, we see him time and time again rely on the kindness of both friends and strangers alike. The ancient Greeks treasured the concept of kindness, of helping others, both because it was virtuous and because they knew that there would come an occasion when they would find themselves in need of a helping hand.

Modern day Greeks are known for their hospitality, their kindness to strangers, through open-hearted displays of philotimo. A recent image that perfectly expresses this is the widely circulated photograph of three elderly women from the island of Lesvos, a hotspot of entry for Syrian refugees fleeing to Greece. In the picture making internet rounds, the three women sit on a bench, one of them feeding a bottle to an infant cradled in her arms, while her two companions look on lovingly. Next to their bench stands a Syrian woman, the infant’s mother, contently gazing out in the distance while enjoying a moment’s rest. In this photo we see true kindness at work, the far-reaching impact of a small, positive gesture.

As much as Greek culture is one built upon the concept of hospitality, it is also one–like many Mediterranean cultures–built on superstition. Just as I have witnessed hospitality in my travels back to Greece, so have I seen bitter feuds between family and friends in the wake of a supposed glance from the “evil eye.”

Among Greek men–born of the land’s hardscrabble, arid terrain–there is a tendency toward machismo and leery suspicion of outsiders. Perhaps it’s a mechanism of defense, and yet it can lead to a cold, closed heart. In turn, you are left with a life of bitterness, and what kind of life is that? As a man of Greek descent, I refuse to follow suit. Many times I have felt alone, only to look around and suddenly find myself surrounded by loved ones, family and friends alike. The kindness I have shown, the kindness I live by, is ever reflected back at me. For that reason, my heart will always remain open, remain generous, and optimistic. I will be a Greek bearing gifts.

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Being Icarus: On #Halloween, Book Releases, & #GreekMyth. #MondayBlogs #Booktrope #writer

"Icarus" by Frank Frazetta

“Icarus” by Frank Frazetta

I’ve got my wings, the apparatuses fitted to my back with wax, and I’m armed with the wise advice to avoid soaring close to the sun. And still I lose momentum, unable to resist the gravitational pull, my biggest danger not that glowing orb in the sky but the firm ground below it. I can’t afford to crash, so I just keep treading air. To hover is enough for now.

It’s mid-October. Not only is Halloween looming in the near future, but my debut novel, Wings of Wax, for which I revealed the cover last week, is scheduled to hit shelves in a mere month-and-a-half! I’m ecstatic, and somewhat frazzled as I scramble to tie-up loose ends, do what I can to build momentum for release day. The closest thing I can compare the feeling to is anticipating an exam that you know you’ve studied for, though it’s down to the wire and you worry there’s more you could do to prepare–take another glance at those flash cards, try to decipher the chicken-scratch scrawl passing for notes in your binder. The deadline looms, and though you’re reasonably confident in your ability to ace the test, nevertheless the beads of sweat moisten your forehead.

Still, I’m more joyous than nervous. I’ve been waiting a long time for this opportunity, this moment, and it’s almost here. The knowledge of that fact has been a beacon as of late, guiding my flight as I glide through some stormy skies. I’ve recently encountered some turbulence in my personal life, but the book release date is keeping me centered, giving me something to look forward to as I weather these clouds, confident that they’ll give way to blue skies again eventually. And, hey, it’s almost Halloween.

I must admit I’m pretty indifferent to the 31st of October. Not since a child have I really dressed up, and who needs Trick-or-Treating when you can just go out and buy your own candy? I’ve spent the past few Halloweens at home, handing out snack-sized Snickers bars to kids dressed as everything from I-Phones to classic vampires. The funniest, and often most clever, costumes tend to be worn by parents toting infants. Last Halloween, I opened the door to find on my porch a mother dressed as a kangaroo, her baby peeking out of her pouch in full “joey” regalia. Then a Facebook friend posted a photo of her little one dressed as a pea pod, which I thought was pretty great. These sights always inspire to me to reflect on my own costumes of years past. I’ve been a zombie, a vampire, a werewolf. I remember trekking to pre-school in a devil costume, proudly touting my trident; my artist-mother having creatively painted my face with little flames. I wish I could find that photo. It was a cool get-up for a four-year-old.

Around that same era of my childhood, I often wore a navy-blue knit cap with plush silver wings sewn to the sides. Despite being named after the Hellenic sun deity, I proudly went around like a young Hermes, messenger god in the ancient Greek pantheon. No matter that it wasn’t Halloween, I was determined to fly. Such desire is still with me today.

October 31 is a time to play pretend, create your own character as we writers do every time we start a new story, begin a new book. In one sense Wings of Wax is a story about costumes, about the personas we adopt and wear until we learn how to embrace our authentic selves. In another sense it’s a story about flight–actual and metaphorical–and the heights we’re able to reach when stop sabotaging ourselves from getting off the ground. So this, Halloween, inspired by Angelo’s plight in Wings of Wax, I will be Icarus. A wiser, more cautious Icarus, staying wary of the sun’s heat.

I’ve long been passionate about Greek history and mythology. It’s from where my name originates, after all. As I may or may not have mentioned in a previous blog, there was a period in my childhood when my dad would relay to me from memory excerpts of Homer’s Iliad as a bedtime stories. I believe those epics influence my dreams, the ones that arrive during both sleep and waking hours. In autumns past I flirted with the idea of being a Spartan warrior for Halloween. Another year, I considered crowning my head with an olive wreath to go as an ancient philosopher. I never seemed to get around to assembling those outfits, however.

But this Halloween I will be Icarus, a version of him without the tragic descent. Maybe I’ll purchase a pair of wings. Or perhaps I’ll forgo a costume once again in favor of simply focusing on the idea of flight and reflecting on the  meaning of the Icarus myth. Either way, I will keep soaring, and I in staying airborne, I have all of you to thank: My friends, my loved ones, my family, my readers. This is a journey we take together. You keep me strong, you keep me lucid. We’ll reach this grand destination together.