WHAT’S IN A TITLE?
Ah. The book is called Daughter of Odysseus.
Wasn’t he an ancient Greek hero? This sounds like an interesting book. I love ancient Greek history. Is it really about his daughter? It must be! I wonder what she is like? A strong woman like her father Odysseus?
W. . .Wait. It starts off at a crowded bar in a city called Melbourne? In Australia? The land Down Under? But. . .
Where’s Melbourne? And what is that bizarre song playing in the background?
And who is this Christine? Is she the daughter of. . .wait? There is no Odysseus and her father, who is barely seen in the novel, comes across as weak and almost invisible. Hardly an Odysseus-like character.
I’m confused. I’m disappointed. It is not what I expected.
The title is misleading.
WHY THE TITLE?
It is said that titles are what helps determine whether your book will be read and whether it will grab a customer’s interest. And readers of my novel have commented that they wanted to read my book because they’re interested in Ancient Greece and well. . .it sounds like an interesting read because it is about a daughter of one of the greatest heroes of the Ancient World.
Is the title misleading? Well no. Although it could be seen as misleading. Misleading for those who interpret the title literally.
Why Daughter of Odysseus?
Because Christine is the Daughter of Odysseus—spiritually and symbolically speaking.
As I mentioned on my website: www.daughterofodysseus.com:
Christine is based on me—of course, with lots of embellishments—and her story parallels my journey to the motherland and my attempts to establish my roots in the land of Plato and Leonidas.
Gradually, after being exposed to the writings of Homer (again), I came to see Christine’s journey as similar to Odysseus’, in the sense that they were both searching for ‘home’ and had to fight to get to this home. Paralleling Christine with Odysseus came easily, and I relished creating a female character that could stand in line with Ancient Greek heroes in her sufferings and determinations and perseverance.
Christine’s journey is Odysseus’ journey. The similarities, the imagery and symbolism from The Odyssey are subtly interwoven into the story. Both stories are about finding ‘home’ but they are more than that.
They are both stories of hope over despair, of perseverance despite temptations and obstacles. There are adventures and the joys of love, of needing to belong and a yearning to escape the mundane. They are stories about seeking companionship and understanding; of the need to tell stories within stories.
There are monsters and witches. Odysseus’ Cyclopes becomes an uncle who is akin to the brute beast. Circe is like her aunt in the village who practices magic and casts spells, it seems, upon Christine. The villagers, in all, become a type of Laistrygonians—those cannibal-like creatures that tormented Odysseus and his men.
The people of the nation, in general, are like the suitors in Odysseus’ palace who treat the owner like a beggar in rags. For Christine is too like a beggar in many ways, pleading to eat just the crumbs from the table of these Greeks surrounded by culture and history and paradise.
The story of the Wind King who gives Odysseus and his men a bag of wind that is sealed, only to be opened by the selfish men, letting loose all the winds from hell, is also interwove into the story:
A can crashed against the side of her window, frightening her into submission. The cool breeze of that morning had transformed, for just a moment, into a violent bluster, as if all the winds were let loose and steering Christine back to more trouble and heartache.
The bag had been slashed open. The bag, that which contained all the winds of hell, the hurricanes and the rough gales, now lay limply by her feet. The west wind, with its sweet tranquillity and warm breath, disappeared.
Who had opened it? Was it that lack of wisdom, of prudence, that led her precisely to this dilemma? Her illusions, her succumbing to temptation? Her lack of discernment towards the people around her? What was steering her away from her destination?
Christine wanted to fling her arms up in despair. Clutch at the door handle and flee from the car. From the stormy billows blowing her back violently to a people she thought were her solace and protection.
To a people who looked at her with scorn; as a plague and a curse. Who would so easily declare without mercy:
Take yourself away from us, your creeping thing; you who the gods detest, who even the sweet west wind Zephyrus abandons with haste.
Leave at once, for your voyage here is cursed by the heavens themselves.
(Daughter of Odysseus: Ithaka Found?)
And there is Ithaka. The destination. The goal for both characters. Odysseus’ Ithaka exists; it is an island in the Ionian Sea with beautiful beaches and a palace and ships and all the glories of island life.
Christine’s Ithaka exists, albeit symbolically. Greece, initially, is the physical place that becomes her destination, the nation that will fill the void in her empty existence.
But, as reality sets in, when she realises that the ‘grass is not always greener on the other side,’ what Ithaka is transforms. It becomes something loftier, taking on a philosophical and spiritual dimension, as Christine begins to realise at the end of her stay in Greece:
And there I can see Ithaka--there--in some intangible distance. That which symbolises home. . .life. . .that which truly belongs to me. This suppliant, this outcast. I grab it, but it slips through my fingers again and again. . .crumbling to dust. . .
And she learns, like Odysseus, that it is the journey that matters—not the destination. For Odysseus, our hero, what was important were precisely those years of wandering that tormented him, but that enabled him to transform and be transformed—to grow and reason, to develop and mature, to experiences every iota of one’s senses and intellect. Not the journey. Not Ithaka. For that is the end. That is where one becomes stunted and eventually dies.
No; one must pray for a long journey—a journey that always begins and ends but begins again; a journey where you learn with every strength of your being. A journey that intoxicates you with the mysteries of life and the depth of human and divine wisdom. . .
Ithaka gave you the marvellous journey.
Without her you wouldn't have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.
(Ithaka by Cavafy)
ON RACISM AND HERITAGE IN DAUGHTER OF ODYSSEUS
‘At least I’m not a wog….’;
‘You Greeks killed yourselves through intermarriage…’ (snicker, snicker);
‘You look African…You have black blood…’ (snicker snicker);
‘The Greeks today are mongrels. We Germans are the real Greeks,’ (even though the Germans are descendants of Assyrians – another story);
Are you glad you’re Greek?’ (with a look of pity on their face);
‘Are you white?’ (says the young lad with malice – not that I care either way);
‘Dirty fucking wog…’ (with a spit);
‘When we white nationalists take over Europe, we will take the best of the Greek women for ourselves…’ (Greeks not being ‘white’ of course);
Imagine a man in his forties degrading you in public – literally yelling in your direction - pointing out some ‘ethnic feature’; his goal is to dehumanise you, ostracise you from the wider society and make you feel ugly, worthless and inferior. All this for revenge. Of course, this man perceives himself to be superior and of pure blood.
You must be Jewish because of your ‘features’ and therefore, must be degraded, mocked and belittled.
‘Are you Jewish…?’
‘Even wogs have big noses…’ (yup, these freaks exist. And there are Jews with small noses, but, that’s another story altogether dear reader).
Ah, what is this you ask? Just a taste of what I have had to experience as a Greek woman in Australia.
But it continues; this merry circle of hate and malice continues and grows and now flourishes insidiously.
Ethnic division and hatred, tensions and hostility, nasty stereotypes and spite are, not surprisingly, very noticeable on social media. The reason is obvious: it is through social media that people express their true feelings – when their mask of civility and fake political correctness is discarded; hiding behind a screen, people can state how they really feel. And it’s often not pretty.
Of course, there is the hostility towards Islam, there are the Black Lives Matter movements, the growth of White Nationalism, the horrific treatment of the Palestinians. There is snickering and slander and resentment and diabolical hatred.
There is the rise of populism in Europe, followed by violence and the rise of the ‘right’ due to (forced) multiculturalism. There is fear and anger and confusion.
One has to look at the hatred towards Donald Trump as reflective of ‘white supremacy’ to see how this issue causes unbelievable anger.
There are notions of ‘The Great Replacement;’ Europeans who fear they will become minorities in their ancestral lands. There are feelings of revenge and ‘karma is a bitch’ by those who have suffered from colonialism.
‘The British are becoming a minority in many parts of Britain,’ say the white nationalist with alarm.
‘They get what they deserve. It is karma,’ says an Indian with a sense of vengeance.
I am beginning to think that humanity is more divided than ever.
2. We need to belong:
We learn very early on that, in the midst of depression, Christine feels alienated from the land she was born in. Perhaps it is her depression that accentuates this feeling; perhaps it was always going to happen.
Perhaps the longing for roots and heritage and knowing the mysterious past is just too intrinsic within each of us and Christine becomes deeply attuned to this. After all, to quote the great Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis:
THE CRY IS not yours. It is not you talking, but innumerable ancestors talking with your mouth. It is not you who desire, but innumerable generations of descendants longing with your heart.
You are not free. Myriad invisible hands hold your hands and direct them; when you rise in anger, a great-grandfather froths at your mouth; when you make love, an ancestral caveman growls with lust; when you sleep, tombs open in your memory till your skull brims with ghosts…
(The Saviours of God)
Kazantzakis paints a spectacular image of an individual who is not isolated, not stranded and drifting here and there and nowhere; no, this individual contains the blood and flesh and memories and desires and sins of their ancestors.
Kazantzakis’ writings here influence greatly the determination of Christine; indeed, I draw a lot of inspiration from them. His image of her ancestors crying to her to – Finish our work! Finish our work! – is thrilling – so is his concept that we are to enrich the ancestral body and bring to it new hopes and ideas and fresh sorrows.
We saw in Part One of this blog series (http://www.vasilikim.com/blog/on-racism-and-heritage-in-daughter-of-odysseus) that Christine longs for something more than what this alien land of Australia can offer her. With its alien spirits and wandering ancestors and strange spirituality:
She came to the same conclusion as before: this land meant nothing to her. She twitched with an overwhelming desire to burst into tears. She could not relate to this land; she did not look upon it and feel the divine speaking through her, feel the spirit of her ancestors crying out to her. Yet she wanted to.
The physical and spiritual pain overwhelmed her, as if she were undergoing a spiritual transformation, an initiation into a new world to which she had to prove worthy.
She longed more than anything to gaze upon crystal blue waters infused with myths and holiness—waters that healed her, which soothed her soul and her shattered nerves. She wanted to hear voices—sweet, gentle voices singing a song of her ancestors long gone. Lily-like voices resounding around her, leading her towards a beautiful land in the far horizon.
But instead of a song, there was silence.
(Daughter of Odysseus: Ithaka Calling)
Christine’s sense of alienation might lie in deep existential philosophising and the spirit of her ancestors crying within her, as Kazantzakis says: Your visible body is the living men, women, and children of your own race. Yet it is her experience as an ethnic woman in a land of Anglo-Saxons that, no doubt, causes this alienation and despair to intensify to harrowing degrees. That creates a sense of desperation within because she knows, she knows this is not how she should be living, how she should be treated.
Christine, with her uniqueness and exotic beauty and dreams and aspirations and intelligence and compassion, Christine in all her faults, deserves to feel human…
She felt fresh, alive, and even desirable. Desirable and employable. Perhaps she did have potential and that here was the start she needed: the new beginning, her exit from the Tomb—the Cocoon—or whatever it is that contained her.
At that instant, she had transformed. She was no longer betrayed, broken and bitter Christine.
She was a nymph of old, revelling in the Resurrection of the Dead. She was the Spring Goddess Chloris, bedecked in sparkling gold, illuminating a world shrouded in shadows and bringing with her a world of colour and light.
A butterfly brushed her arm. A swallow flittered before her. The sky winked with joy as trees blossomed.
A carpet of flowers lay before her feet. Stretching her arms above her, she dove into the cascade of velvety petals, disappearing forever.
(Daughter of Odysseus: Ithaka Calling)
An image of optimistic joy. Things start to look up for the young Christine as we see her leave her new employer and walk down the central heart of her city of Adelaide.
Alas, her sense of hope and bliss soon dissipate because of black words spoken from a black heart full of mystifying hate and rage:
‘Watch where you’re fuckin’ going!’
The voice was rough, jarring, and hateful. It shattered the illusion that was her comforting joy a few seconds ago.
‘Dirty fuckin’ wog,’ the man raged, spitting at her to emphasise his disgust. ‘Dirty fuckin’ wog,’ he repeated, just in case she had not heard him. With that, he marched away, leaving behind him a trail of crushing words, syllables, and letters.
A young man with white blond hair and pasty white skin that ached for the kiss of sunlight, that ached for life and beauty. He slouched away, snarling as he turned to look at her one more time.
He left his wounded victim where he found her, as people looked at her as if she were an exhibit at a zoo, laughing, smirking and pitying.
‘Dirty fucking wog.’
The words ricocheted off the stones and the fountains and even the Malls Balls in the distance, declaring to all--
You are the Other. You are less than human.
(Daughter of Odysseus: Ithaka Calling)
Only someone who has experienced such hate and dehumanisation in public (but in private as well) can truly understand how traumatic this was for Christine. For it was not just the words, as vile as they were; it was the gesture of spitting, it was the private snickering and the looks of pity. It was a public declaration to all that Christine was not one of ‘them’, let alone human.
The spitting was a form of violence in itself, perhaps worse than punching or kicking a victim:
“Spitting in someone's face is probably considered one of the worst things you can do. It's obviously a form of violence, very confrontational, perhaps the most violent you can be against someone without actually hitting them.”
The young man, however, achieves his sadistic goal:
The sea of petals disappeared; she was now drowning in murky waters, drifting towards a monstrous whirlpool. She was being dragged down to the netherworld, where there was no light, no hope.
She walked faster, head bowed and knees trembling. Pretending, pretending she could not see or hear. She longed to run back to Chic Boutique, into the arms of Spiros. There, he would hold her, and she would sink into the black satin shirt. He would whisper in her ears, tell her she was desirable, beautiful, as he lifted her top and caressed her breasts. He would make love to her and take her to another realm of existence. Away, away from this world she hated. A world where she did not belong, a world that made her feel ugly, useless, unloved.
Alarmed by her libidinous train of thought, Christine pushed Spiros out of her mind. And as she crossed the road and made her way towards her bus stop, she became filled with unspeakable fury, by a desperate and frenzied urge to thrust her fists into that young man’s face, into all their faces. She was not dirty—or a wog, for that matter.
Wog. The ethnic slur that Greeks, Italians and other Mediterranean Europeans tolerated from the first moment they entered this country.
Western Oriental Gentlemen.
Dirty, greasy, subhuman. Christine had been called far worse in the past, but this attack distressed her terribly.
Could such intolerance, such hate still exist for fellow Europeans in this country?
Christine reflected on how much she resented this country. She wouldn’t care if she left it, for it was not her country; it was the country of the British race that claimed it, colonised it and reduced the original inhabitants to strangers in their own land.
Who in their arrogance did not see that they too were now being colonised.
It was not her country, but what was? For that matter, who was she? Who was Christine? Who was she in the eyes of the stranger who derided her for bumping into him down a busy mall?
(Daughter of Odysseus: Ithaka Calling)
4. She heeds the call:
Despite incidences such as these, despite the attempts to strip her of her dignity and reduce her to a sick, twisted racial stereotype with the wrong colour hair and eyes and skin, the wrong nose and who knows what else – despite all of this – Christine retains her sense of humanity and most of all – her longing…
To understand herself within the context of her people’s history and humanity. To not give in to the hate around her and disappear, assimilate and, in turn, betray the ancestors clutching at her with cries she simply cannot ignore:
IT IS NOT enough to hear the tumult of ancestors within you. It is not enough to feel them battling at the threshold of your mind. All rush to clutch your warm brain and to climb once more into the light of day.
(The Saviours of God)
And so the journey, the search for home and hearth and heritage begins; the need to give flesh and substance to the ancestors that came before you and to continue their work. To be a beautiful leaf on the ‘great tree’ of your people and to flourish as you always intended.
So here I am. Ready to fly to Greece—true to the wandering spirit of my ancestors, who roamed the world in search of truth and wisdom—in search of new knowledge, in search of a home abandoned a long time ago…
Such restlessness—such desire within me.
I must pay heed to the restless spirit within me, as expressed in the great Odysseus, and make my way home.
(Daughter of Odysseus: Ithaka Calling)
ON RACISM AND HERITAGE IN DAUGHTER OF ODYSSEUS.
I don’t like this word. Racism. Why you say?
It would have to be one of the most misused and abused words. Its origins are dubious (some say it was invented by a communist mass murderer who himself would have been labelled a ‘racist’). Others will argue that there are no races therefore there can’t be racism.
Some say there is a sinister agenda behind the use of the word, and many dread being labelled as ‘racist.’
Some say that only whites are racist and can’t themselves be victims of racism. This simply is not true; we are ALL potential victims of ethnic hatred and discrimination
I won’t delve into these arguments. What I do know is that there are different ethnicities, races, tribal groups amongst humanity. In the same way there are cats, but there are subspecies of cats: tigers, lions, cheetahs, panthers, jaguars and the good old humble domestic cat.
Differences exist. Humans have for centuries lived in geographical locations amongst people of their own race/ethnicity/tribe. That this race shares similar physical characteristics as well as customs and cultural traits.
It is common for people to gravitate towards their own even in multi-ethnic countries such as the U.S.A, Canada and Australia. This includes friendship and marriage/relations.
So, when people who were once geographically isolated from another group of people, now live in the same location as that group, there is going to be an element of hostility. It is inevitable I believe, as humans are tribalistic deep down. You don’t have to agree with me, but when things get tough, utopian ideas such as ‘We are all the same’ etc won’t hold. This is unfortunate but the truth.
So, there is going to be what is now known as ‘racism’: hostility and hatred towards that which is different because of their ‘race’ and/or ethnic heritage. European colonisation, tragically, was rooted in racial superiority which means if there is a ‘superior’, there is going to be an ‘inferior.’ Colonial literature gives a good glimpse of the hatred displayed by, for example, the British towards the Indians and other ‘natives.’ It is vile to say the least.
Australia itself was built on the conquering of the white British of a land once occupied by the Aboriginal people. You could not get two more opposing tribes of people, so utterly unlike in radical ways. Unlike in appearance, clearly, but in spirituality and customs and attitude towards the land.
The conquest of Australia was brutal. There was genocide, there was a strong belief rooted in Darwinian theory that the Aboriginals would die out and the ‘half-castes’ would eventually be bred so that their Aboriginal ‘blood’ would be ‘weeded out.’ Yes, this description is evil, but what the British did was evil. Yet the British insist they are the bastions of freedom and democracy.
The hypocrisy is mind-boggling.
(Note, I am not condemning the British as a whole: I don’t believe in generalisations and know there is good and evil amongst all peoples).
Into this land of genocide and racial supremacy came the Greeks, this southern European people whose dark hair and dark features distinguish them from the northern Europeans. Yes, there are fair Greeks but they can easily blend in.
The southern Europeans were treated cruelly. Of course, there were the racial slurs: wog, greaseball, spaghetti eaters, dagoes etc etc. Words spoken with pure hate.
There was the bullying, the humiliation of those with ‘ethnic’ features, the fear that the Greeks and other non-Anglos would take over the country.
Some Greek women, just to survive psychologically, completely assimilated, married Anglo-men and abandoned their heritage.
This was my reality as a Greek-Australian. Yes, I experienced kindness and compassion from people of British and other descent; I am not generalising by any means. But when you experience ostracism, dehumanization and nastiness because of how you are born (something beyond your control), a part of you dies.
I have had some shockingly nasty things said to me, and often by northern Europeans who insist on their ‘purity.’ What shocked me was the sheer malevolence of their words and tone.
I look Greek. I look ‘ethnic.’ I don’t look northern European. I have relatives that do, and they can fly under the radar, but not me. When I say ethnic, I do mean large dark eyes, olive skin and, yes, an ‘Aquiline’ nose. I have a Romanesque nose in a land of small, snub noses. And it has been pointed out to me – many times. And somehow it makes me less than human.
Yes, humans are a weird bunch.
As Kermit the Frog once said: ‘It’s not easy being green.’
Well, it’s not easy being ‘ethnic.’
As I already said, a part of me has died with what I have experienced. My innocence, my sense of worth and humanity. It is still with me; it will always be with me. I have experienced vitriolic racism even as a teacher, and this just in the last few years. By students, by those students I sought to elevate and inspire and help in so many ways. The hatred that poured forth was really like a slap in the face.
Some people have the ability to shrug it off. They are tough. I admire them. I am sensitive and words do hurt. Whoever invented the saying: Sticks and Stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me, was a liar. Words hurt, brutally so.
As the Bible says:
And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity.
For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea,
is tamed and has been tamed by mankind.
But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men,
Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing.
(Epistle of James)
Ethnic. The Other. An exotic plant amidst sunflowers. This has been my experience. This is the experience of Christine, the heroine of Daughter of Odysseus.
She is a heroine, no doubt. She suffers but strives and perseveres; always perseveres.
2. Greek? Who cares?
When we first meet Christine, as a teenage girl on the threshold of adulthood, we meet a character who had not given much thought to her Greek heritage. Ironically, of course, as this is what created her sense of ‘otherness’ and suffering.
You see, Christine sees herself as normal; just another teenage girl obsessed with pop stars and socialising and checking out hot young men. The fact that others pointed out her differences hurt her no doubt, but she still tries to live a normal life.
But her Greekness is always there, like the air she breathes. Subconsciously. So, as she prepares for an evening out on that Christmas Eve, she reflects on the night ahead at a gathering known as ‘Greek Night’:
It was not uncommon for Greek girls to lose their virginity on nights like these. Greek Nights, when the young Greek-Australians of Adelaide gathered at a designated bar to share in their Greekness, the latest hits from Greece played alongside traditional songs and created a bond. People joined hands and danced traditional dances in circles, as brothers and sisters sharing the same ancestral heritage. They were united . . . for a few minutes.
Christine relished these moments. Something within her stirred—she couldn’t quite put her finger on what. She had never given much thought to her Greek heritage. It was just something that was there, like air. Greek School was a boring chore to make her parents happy; Greek Dances were a time to dress up and admire young men from afar.
But hands joining to dance the Kalamatianós was akin to a secret magical rite.
(Daughter of Odysseus: Ithaka Calling)
Born in Australia, thousands of kilometres away from her ancestral homeland, yet something as simple as dancing with others of the same ethnic background transforms Christine into another person. Something stirs within her, the blood essence, her ancestors moving within her, call it what you will.
It is something intrinsic to all of us. It is magical and worthy of preservation.
3. Is this my homeland?
It is only as Christine plunges into severe depression that she begins to delve deep into philosophical concepts such as: who am I, where am I, what is the meaning of life?
She was born in Adelaide, Australia. She lived in the suburbs, on land once belonging to another tribe. Now taken over by another tribe. Both tribes extrinsic to her.
And it is as she wanders these streets that she plunges into almost a state of shock, an awareness that leaves her questioning. That something is not right. All of this, her being in this place, is smothering her.
She looks around her as she is wandering and is confronted with something macabre, something monstrous:
When did it come back? When did she first see the black clouds hovering above her, dispelling the light she’d revelled in that morning? They’d swooped over her so quickly, so unexpectedly that she’d fled the mall.
Or were they unexpected? Could depression be banished so easily, this demon of death, this black hound?
The streets led her here and there and nowhere. They took her past houses with high fences and closed doors. Past snarling dogs and old ladies with purple hair who smiled but looked through her. Past leering men with beer guts and flannel shirts: men wallowing in their sleaze, in their monotony.
Monotony . . . monotony. . . .
A car screeched by, and the gorgons inside glared at her, daring to turn her to stone. They hollered obscenities. She continued to wander, like a nomad, like the first inhabitants of this country.
(Daughter of Odysseus: Ithaka Calling)
Extreme perhaps. Is she really being smothered and harmed in any way? Surely her depression means she is looking at the world through distorted lenses that are a reflection of her blackened state of mind.
You see, Christine is not living life to her full potential as she should be, as she deserves. As we all deserve. So yes, she is being smothered, poisoned; she is drowning in a sea of nihilism and nothingness:
A land that had once been the home of the Aboriginal Tribes of the Great Adelaide Region, whose belief system taught that everything in the physical world was touched by the footprint of ancestral beings that had walked the Earth, shaping the landscape and establishing the rituals, rules and laws that guided them.
The spirits had disappeared; the storytelling and songs were silenced; and a foreign body now occupied the sacred land.
But the silence, the emptiness was deathly to her. Christine felt like a stranger, an alienated and isolated creature, segregated from this country, its people and its history. Neither indigenous Aboriginal nor descendant of the British colonists, there was nothing she could relate to, nothing that inspired her and infused her with purpose.
The thought of this—the first time she had had this thought—overwhelmed her. She panicked. Her breathing became rough, desperate. She imagined herself in fifty years’ time, roaming the same streets with the same feelings of mind-numbing nothingness.
Streets and suburbs that once upon a time felt like home were now hideous warts covering this country. All she could see was a dead heart and a people she could not understand.
(Daughter of Odysseus: Ithaka Calling)
She is stumbling, dazed as it were. As if true to the words of a Greek poet: that this is not my country but I ask, what is?
What do I wish? she wondered desperately. What do I want? I, who am exiled on this island?
The answer came instantaneously, as if it had been waiting to emerge all this time. She wanted a world transfigured, magical, and divine. She longed to see the Earth arise out of her chaos—beauty out of ugliness. She desired to walk the land of her ancestral beings, to find her roots and blossom, to bear rich fruits and thrive in her land.
(Daughter of Odysseus: Ithaka Calling)
And so, the search begins. A search that, at its heart, is to find a sense of belonging and pure joy and love. A search away from ethnic hatred, of racism and dehumanization. A search that, if it must, lead one to traverse seas and lands to find that concept that is intrinsic to humans. The search for home.
For Part Two, click on the below link:
(My character Christine from - Daughter of Odysseus - reflects on her identity)
‘There was a time when everything was still,’ Christine would say to her captivated audience with such eloquence and persuasiveness. She had a story to tell and how she longed to tell that story to anyone who cared to listen. . .
‘All the spirits of the earth were asleep—or almost all. The great Father of All Spirits was the only one awake. Gently, he awoke the Sun Mother. As she opened her eyes, a warm ray of light spread out towards the sleeping earth.
This story has resonated with me since I first heard it. Like me, the Aboriginals of Australia sought to understand their world, their land, their relationship with the physical and the sacred through telling stories of the creator and the seed power that permeated the earth. Nothing in the physical world was untouched by the footprints of the ancestral spiritual beings who walked the earth, shaping the landscape and establishing the rituals, rules and laws which guided them for centuries.
And then, as the narrative goes, an almost pristine existence was destroyed by the British, who came to Australia like the Ancient Israelite's entering the land of Canaan, seeking a land flowing with milk and honey (well, a prison for its burgeoning prison population thanks to draconian laws) and treating its native population with friendliness at first, then cruelty.
Not understanding the Aboriginal spiritual relation with the land, the British saw a land unconquered and available for the taking and therefore declared the land ‘Terra Nullius’—no one’s land. They tamed this hostile, arid land and transformed it into Little Britain, building modern European cities away from the uncivilized and threatening desert. This was an admirable achievement and showed a spirit of brilliant creativity, hard work and—dare I say it—technological supremacy. The Queen ruled as Head of State, and the White Australia Policy ensured that this small country of western origin remained just that.
The original people of the land were soon forgotten, exiled to the outskirts of growing cities, converted, terrorised, hunted down, so that this country became their prison too. Darwin’s theory of evolution, in fact, demanded this.
Thus, time passes: the establishment of a nation, the glory of war, the post-World War II boom and the influx of migrants from Eastern and Southern Europe.
This is where my story begins, where my creator planted me for reasons I am yet to fathom. Yet the Australia I grew up in was one undergoing a radical metamorphosis—a society changing from a purely British colony to a multicultural society. An ambiguous term, multi-cultural; an ambiguous and unrealistic concept, it meant the ruling Anglo-Celtic elite could dine in exotic restaurants, eating exotic foods and flaunting their ‘exotic’ lovers and thereby somehow make amends for the sins of colonialism.
Thus, they came, my parents, amidst the swinging 60s and the chance of a new life. Yet they preserved centuries-old traditions and values that distinguished them from the Anglo-Saxons, and they waited in patience to return to the motherland, prosperous beyond words. Discriminated against, accused of ‘taking over the country’ (I know, ludicrous!); some assimilating and eventually disappearing altogether. And slowly, these immigrants forgot their homeland, sought houses in suburbs with pretty picket fences. Anglo-Saxonized their names and abandoned the mother tongue. They sent their children to private schools to get a British Education of the highest sort; they established their roots in this land of the Great Spiritual Beings and British Supremacy. They did this whilst the Greeks in the motherland sang Songs of Freedom against a Military Dictatorship that took power in Greece and lived in fear of arrest and torture.
Black Australia, British Australia, and Multicultural Australia. Now what? A modern yet ancient land that seems to know neither its place nor its position in the world. Its people feel alienation within a land that perhaps, just perhaps, is foreign.
A country that I seek to understand, that has the grace and sophistication of a gawky teenager eagerly waiting for the wisdom and cultivation that adulthood brings.
As I confront this mosaic before me, I ask: where do I fit in this multi-faceted, vast continent? I, the daughter of the Hellenes, who resist assimilation, who will not allow the wisdom of my ancestors to be forgotten or ignored?
Mine is the life of a Greek Australian woman. I am the offspring of a fiercely patriotic Greek father who lives enclosed in an ethnic bubble and has no dealings with the Anglo-Australian population and refuses to learn their ‘barbaric’ tongue. The offspring of a mother who once upon a time longed to return home, grow old and be buried in the motherland, but who has resigned herself to the reality that Australia is to be her burial land; that this Greek woman will spend eternity among the alien spirits that once roamed this diverse terrain but now remain hidden in the land, weeping at the destruction and desolation of its children and the sacrilege against sacred ground.
‘Where are you from?’ ‘Are you Australian?’ Ah, how I detest these questions; how they eat away at me.
What am I? Neither Aboriginal nor a descendant of the British—now the true native people of Australia. Neither here nor there, neither Greek nor Australian. Juxtaposed between two worlds, I live an ambiguous existence. Born in a country that sees me as the ‘other’, I nevertheless cling to a Greek heritage and culture that appears strange to me; I seek to re-learn the mother tongue and find solace in the unbelievable Spirituality of the Greek Orthodox Church and the Byzantine heritage forgotten by the modern western world. I write of the Greek Community in Australia whilst studying the Great English Poets whom I love with a passion.
Alas, this ambiguous state is the norm for this young country, for its inhabitants.
Identity. You Greeks in the motherland do not need to worry about this. You know who you are. You know where you belong. In a land that has nurtured you and your ancestors for thousands of years. Among the majestic mountains and along the enigmatic sea that has enthralled your forefathers for centuries, that has infused the land with stories of nymphs and gods, stories of holy men and women working towards the Kingdom of God. The great Saints of the Church who continue to roam the land in all their miraculous glory, healing the sick and restoring faith to the doubters.
My vision will be fulfilled; I can feel it. Of climbing the steps to the Acropolis and exploring medieval towns. Scaling primordial mountains that once were the abode of the gods; exploring sacred land where my ancestors once came to listen to oracles that foretold great and tragic events
A flower uprooted from its nutritious soil—from its native soil—withers and eventually dies. Plucked up and displaced, forced to grow in an alien land that I have never truly felt at home with. Will things change for me? Only time will tell. . .
The Story Behind the Image
A reflection on a book cover.
I have to say, I struggled with the cover design of book two of my series, Daughter of Odysseus: Searching for Ithaka.
I know book covers are important; they are the introduction to the book, the image and design that encapsulates the words within the pages. They can entice, inspire and fascinate. They can be truly illustrious or downright tacky.
I hope I don’t fall into the second category.
I ahhed and ummed about the final product and still do, to be honest. But I believe the book cover for Daughter of Odysseus: Searching for Ithaka, captures the story, its themes and motifs in vivid ways.
It is a cover rich in symbolism, from the owl sitting on top of the Greek column, to the mask floating within the waters of the sea; floating within the trail that represents the ship travelling and searching for home, for Ithaka.
Bird symbolism plays an important role in book two. Each part has a bird symbol: the cardinal, the owl, the peacock and the eagle. I chose the owl for the book cover because of its supernatural connotations, its association with the goddess Athena and its links to the concepts of Wisdom.
Athena was she who guided Odysseus throughout his journeys. She encouraged him, protected him, ensured he grew in wisdom and certainly stature. She transformed him physically many times, from a lowly beggar to a man akin more to a god.
The idea of Wisdom is also important. It is a theological and philosophical concept, appearing in the Old Testament through the Book of Proverbs, for example. Wisdom is symbolised as a woman calling passers-by to hear her voice, to discern truth and to walk in the paths of righteousness and justice. She is the opposite of Woman Folly and indeed is so important that the Bible says that she was with God at the beginning of Creation. Thus, Wisdom is associated with creation and her principles and laws can be found even in the lowliest of ants.
Although bird symbolism plays a key role, it does so in a subtle way, enhancing the theme and motifs of each part and giving us further insight into the life of Christine, the people around her and her journeys. The bird can appear at any given moment; in a painting, on a necklace, within the embrace of a lush forest:
From this scenery of pure loveliness, Christine caught a glimpse of a bird arrayed in the robes of heaven. She rubbed her eyes and looked again; sure enough, she could discern none other than a peacock standing erect; his dazzling cloak of feathers lying flat and encircling his body, his head with its shimmering blue upright and looking towards the bus, his coat of a hundred eyes that her ancestors would have seen as symbolising the ‘all-seeing God’—eyes that encapsulated the glories of the heavens above.
Such nobility, such grace, such confidence! This image of the peacock infused within her vivacity of spirit, mind and body. It inspired her to believe in her own self, to embrace the dignity and self-assurance that, surely, was buried deep within her and now ready to find fruition.
The column, of course, represents Greece. What could it represent otherwise? A land of crumbling ancient columns from temples dedicated to the gods and goddesses worshipped by my ancestors. Majestic structures of symmetrical perfection and aesthetic wonder. This is a book in Greece, about Greece, and ultimately the role Greece plays and has played in the history of humanity, as well as in the life of Christine. A mysterious land, multi-faceted, ancient yet intensely secular and materialistic. A world of pure spirituality and terrible moral corruption. A land of holy monks and not so holy people. A land rich in natural beauty, yet oftentimes full of people blind to this beauty.
The musical notes emanating from the trail of the ship, from within the deep recesses of the waters, symbolise the Sirens. The Sirens were water nymphs who, although bewitching to sailors, had the power to lure and destroy. It was their singing that held the power and that so entranced the traveller of the sea to forget their homes, their wives and children, only to be led to their death.
‘Woe to the innocent who hears that sound!’ Odysseus is warned.
Indeed, so powerful was their beauty and bewitching charm that Odysseus had to be tied to the mast in order to still be able to hear the Sirens singing. Of course, he begged to be untied upon hearing their voices, as he succumbed to feminine temptation and all its trappings.
There are metaphorical sirens in Searching for Ithaka trying to lull Christine away from her journey and from that which she is searching for. These sirens manifest themselves in many ways: through the people she meets, the moral corruption permeating Greece (and enticing her), the promises of pleasure and hedonism and materialistic superficiality. The temptation to not be who she truly is, to find a false Ithaka detrimental to her well-being and her soul. A temptation that leads to her spiritual death.
Parallel to these musical notes, on the back cover, is a golden mask floating menacingly in the waters. It is gold and shimmering and brilliant.
The symbolism of the mask is well-known: concealment, falsehood, illusion, disguise, deceit. There are masks all around Christine: on the people she meets, within herself, and ultimately, the mask she has created about the land of her ancestors, Greece. Masks that she must tear away and find the truth; masks that reveal a rotting body and a distortion of reality:
‘Look beyond the veil Christine,’ she could almost hear it say. ‘With Wisdom by your side, learn to see what others do not; tear off the masks of those around you—of the world around you. But most importantly, tear off the mask you are now wearing and look deep into your own self.’
A Book Cover should never be just a pretty picture or an afterthought. It must capture the story within and in a sense, be its own story. I hope I have achieved this.