The Many Faces of Hellenic Culture
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The Many Faces of Hellenic Culture
“The Many Faces of Hellenic Culture” is the first book from freelance writer and short film director, Billy Cotsis who doubles as a feature writer at Neos Kosmos.
Billy has travelled to over 48 countries and 58 Greek islands, allowing him to bring together a collection of tales on Hellenism that exists outside of Greece. The stories are unique; they combine elements of history with a slant on our Byzantine heritage and the lives of the subject Hellenes that he interviews.
From antiquity until late Byzantine times, the Greeks founded hundreds of colonies in the Mediterranean, Black Sea, Asia Minor and the Middle East. A number of these towns survive to this day, with many of the inhabitants speaking a dialect of Greek and maintaining differing aspects of Greek history and culture.
This 200 page book covers the Greek speakers in 8 regions: Africa, Asia, Balkans, Black Sea, Europe, Mediterranean, Oceania, New York. Hopefully it will be your entry point to the vast Hellenic world that exists outside of modern Greece and Cyprus.
In my own words
Every country I have explored has some sort of Hellenic story to tell. My role is to ensure their history is not forgotten. The Hellenes who spread Hellenism from the Straits of Gibraltar to India deserve an audience. Their ancestors and their Greek culture must be preserved.
The Many Faces of Hellenism (Hellenic Culture) is a collection of tales from my own experiences to magical locations from across the globe that even the history books have forgotten. I use the word ‘magical’ because what the people of these Hellenic communities have achieved seems to defy belief. Hellenic culture surviving against a background of a dwindling Diaspora and the absence of government assistance; and
the Hellenic language enduring despite native speakers being a rarity in many of these regions.
When are you blessed to have the heritage I have, you must do something with it. I was born in Sydney, in 1977. My parents were born on the island of Lesbos next to the coast of Turkey which we in the Greek world have known as Asia Minor. They in turn have heritage from Asia Minor.
I had no real urge to visit Turkey until my late aunty told me that my pappou was born in the village of Karagatsi in Aivali which is just a boat ride away from Lesbos. That is probably where the moment, or the insanity, to uncover the extent of the Greek world began.
I was 22 at the time and took a boat ride to Turkey. Despite the language barrier, I felt as though I belonged here. The people of Turkey made me feel welcome, making the pilgrimage to Karagatsi pleasant. Pappou Vasilis, had made his way to Greece via Smyrna (Izmir) as a refugee. Smyrna is where my maternal giagia Cassandra has heritage. I took the opportunity to visit Smyrna too, a city that was lost to Greece in 1922 after the catastrophe of an unnecessary war.
From this moment on, I knew that I would slowly find ways to bring Hellenic stories back to Australia.
The chance to tell a story. Many of these places contain people who are living, breathing statues; a connection to our ancient and Byzantine past. The fact is many of us around the world would have no idea that Greek speakers held territory in Africa (Ceuta) until 711 AD, or that around the Sea of Azov (Ukraine) there are 100,000 Greek speakers. Many call themselves Roman! That is a connection to Byzantium.
You know, turning up in a country such as Syria before the war desperate to get to a village a thousand miles away. No one would hire a car to a foreigner and I was nearly beaten up in Lattakia for being….. British! I spoke English, anyway, you get to this village called Al Hammidayah near the Lebanese border. I was met by ferocious looking Cretan Muslim men. One is a butcher with a long knife. My thoughts were, “far out, Im screwed…..” As soon as I spoke Greek there was a smile and warmth. By the end of my visit there I’m offered accommodation and a marriage proposal. These are just some of the amazing experiences I have had. They are experiences I want to write about.
A favourite chapter in the book
Europe is a favourite as it covers some important communities including the Greeks and Philiki Eteria of Odessa. This is where modern Greece, to an extent, had foundations. The communist Greeks in Hungary and what they went through due to the Civil War, the longevity of Hellenes in Romania and travelling through former Greek colonies in Spain and France; they are all part of a fond collection. I can’t go past what I experienced in Magna Graecia. Speaking to people whose dialect of Greek that I could barely understand, they in turn could barely understand me. These people were in the heart of a remote mountain, over 2700 years of Hellenic history.
I was in Beirut, being driven around by the Greek youth. We had just been out to a Lebanese restaurant and I lamented that I didn’t get the chance to dance Greek in Lebanon. They stopped the car, everyone stepped out.... someone played Greek music and we danced in the middle of the road. It’s rude to say no to peculiar cultural habits in the Middle East, and a passerby joined in.
Another time I was in the Ukraine and I was slightly annoyed that I had missed the chance to see the Greek museum as it was closed. My friend made a phone call, it was a Sunday. Within an hour we had driven to the Greek museum and the curator came to greet us on her day off.... she was wearing the Greek costume of the local Hellenes. Her greeting was not “ti kanete,” it was in local Greek prose. I could not believe how lucky I was to be granted a visit and a personal recital of Greek poetry.
This is the debut title for Billy Cotsis. Book 2 is due out at the end of the year and then another book in 2017 which is not connected to Greek themes will follow. This month we premiere a short film we did with Over the Hill Productions. It’s called “Bromance: Zorba gets a Girlfriend.” We have a documentary on Lesvos due in April and then in June I will be in Ethiopia to research the Greek community there.
Writer for various Greek publications over two decades including Neos Kosmos and O Kosmos and overseas publications.
Award winning short film director which includes 7 projects.
Nominated for NSW Multicultural and Indigenous Awards, Best Journalist 2015
Freelance interviewer for Meraki TV, Foxtel
Public servant who oversees a community development team
Has lived in London and Greece