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Greek-American Stories: Anthems and Traditions

I’ll bet you have little or no information about the history of the Greek national anthem. Well, I looked it up for you and decided to share what I learned. It was written by Dionysios Solomos in 1823. At the time the Turks were around since…well, way too long. In fact, they were doing what they know best how to do – slaughtering, grabbing lands, and making their obnoxious presence throughout Europe from about the same time Columbus was sailing around, spending Queen Isabella’s money and making a nuisance of himself wherever he and his motley crew landed. All that excitement occurred around 1492.

By 1821 the Greeks were fed up with the tyrannical Turks. It took four hundred years to get fed up, but then the Greek war of independence began under the leadership of Demitrios and Alexander Ipsilanti and a few other patriots. Many European countries agreed that Greece should be free, too!

Then, in 1823, Zakynthos-born poet extraordinaire, Dionysios Solomos sat down and began writing about life under the Turks, the grasping, oppressive injustices – all in poetic style. When completed, the work contained 158 stanzas. When you think about it, one has to concede that here was a man who couldn’t have had regular employment.

Finally, the lengthy poem was accepted as a beautiful, historical reflection of Greece’s miseries under Ottoman Empire. People were aroused by the expressive emotions within each stanza and their enthusiasm caught the attention of Greece’s incoming leaders. It was proclaimed as the Greek national anthem – but it had to be set to music. I mean, standing in front of an audience or a meeting while reciting 158 stanzas anywhere is time consuming and exhausting, no matter the emotional content.

So, composer musician, Nicholaos Mantzaros, whose employment record, too, is sketchy, wrote the music. But, officials realized that during important meetings or events, when the band began playing a few stanzas, people started fainting by the 90th. It was realized that, maybe, it was overdoing patriotism.

At one soccer game, the players looked up and saw that there was no audience by the 123rd stanza. It is not unusual to hear spectators shout, “let’s play ball!” when the intermission seemed too long. But, when spectators shouted, “let’s play ball” while the anthem was being played, that’s when it was decided to do something about it.

So, not wishing to insult the memory of Solomos, the officials decided, after negotiations, to reduce the anthem when played publically, to one stanza. That pleased not only the athletes at sporting events, but the venders who needed to sell the hot dogs while still hot.

After some research, I learned that the country that had the shortest anthem was Japan – four lines. It’s called, ‘Kimigayo’ and was written in 1896. But, they didn’t have wild sports events or a lot of meetings where hundreds or thousands of people gather like the rest of Europe and the United States, where sports and politics get the most coverage on the news.

The American anthem was written by Francis Scott Key, a slave-owning lawyer, who was imprisoned on a British ship when he tried to get a friend of his out of prison. But, instead, he was tossed in the cell next to his friend’s. His cell had a ringside seat of Fort McHenry, where the British were waging war. So, watching the, “Rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air,” and, “the twilight’s last gleaming,” he got so excited he sat and wrote all night. Who can sleep with so much noise, anyway? Besides! Sitting in a jail cell with no TV, no room service, gets pretty boring. The American anthem is sung at important events and baseball games. And, it’s a good thing, too! It became a tradition for various celebrities to get booked to sing and show off their range of voice at those crowded arenas. Besides! It’s only one stanza!

Denmark has two national anthems. Don’t ask why! And, the country with no national anthem is Australia. I guess it’s because, being mainly English in origin, they could hardly sing, ‘God praise the king,’ when he was the one that sent them into exile in Australia in the first place. So, they figured, “let’s get straight to business.”

We are lucky to stand with respect for two anthems: Greek and American. They both reflect a glorious and honorable past!



MAY 27TH: On this day in 1963, Grigoris Lambrakis, a Greek politician, doctor, athlete, and faculty member of the Medical School of Athens passed away after he was attacked.

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