The Metaphysics of Feasts as a Policy Guide: In Search of Hellenic Multilateralism

Greece had a record-setting summer in terms of tourism. The decision to gradually live with COVID-19 (since the zero tolerance lockdowns and restrictions proved to be ineffective) led to the resumption of many beloved summer events, including traditional feasts. This news was enthusiastically welcomed by feast-goers of all ages if the photos and videos trending on social media are any indicator.

This resumption came with novelties serving a variety of purposes, some of which don’t fit well with this ancient and quintessentially Hellenic institution. For example, in the interests of boosting revenue, some villages held their feasts on a different day than that of their patron saint, in order not to miss the summer crowds.

While the material needs of the common treasury might justify this…under the condition that the actual feast day of the local saint is also celebrated no less brilliantly, there are other novelties being implemented that run more afoul.

This column’s author chuckled, but was nonetheless troubled to read about the celebration of the first-ever vegan feast on his native island. The organizers of this alien initiative were likely influenced by the global trends currently promoting this dietary habit as an alternative lifestyle. Plus, it seems sophisticated and trendy.

The humor in this arises from the fact that the Greek feast represents the quintessential expression of necessary and fruitful coexistence among rival factions, like farmers and breeders. From ancient times until the present day, an unspoken rivalry exists between them for control of the land. Anyone who has ever tended to a vineyard or field has inevitably at times become angry with some breeder whose livestock wandered onto the land and ruined the crop.

Likewise, breeders, who are constantly in search of open space to feed their herds grow irritated with farmers – especially newbies – who don’t take the precaution of fencing-off their property or plant in disputed areas.

And yet, these rivals are deeply dependent upon one another, because they are in a symbiotic relationship. The wild herds living on the mountains graze on overgrown vegetation, thus safeguarding the area from wildfires, while farmers produce the food that sustains these animals during the difficult winter months. Besides that, humanity learned the art of pruning through these wild animals and their insatiable appetite…

This symbiosis becomes abundantly clear in the institution of feasts, where you can’t have a proper celebration without the intoxicating gift of the vineyard…which, nonetheless, cannot be ingested on an empty stomach. Therefore, it is accompanied by goat, lamb, or other delicacies, and so, with stomachs filled from the food and spirits lifted by the wine, revelers turn to dancing and the feast is complete!

Fasting feasts are rare…with the best known one probably being the feast of St. John on August 29th, but even that one features the traditional dish of octopus and pilaf, which  accompanies wine just fine.

No disrespect to the vegan movement, but it’s hard to celebrate and dance with soy and almond milk. Veganism might sound trendy at the moment, but it doesn’t meet the requirements of a traditional Greek festival.

Even worse, though, it abolishes the metaphysical aspect of the feast – the fruitful coexistence and unity of rivals – which Hellenism showcased throughout its long and creative historical journey. By excluding a vital sector of society – breeders – veganism promotes unilateralism (a type of Manichaeism present in both the West and East, causing its fair share of problems) over multilateralism, which was traditionally espoused by Hellenism! And so, even if it’s stylish, strictly from a cultural standpoint, a vegan feast is unacceptable by Hellenic standards.

This objection may appear like a trifling detail, but it’s these details that sometimes determine the outcome of major events. This helps us understand why Hesiod (Works and Days, 609) encouraged Persians to embrace wine over their mainstream wheat-based drink (a type of beer) in order to combat the tyranny of the Great King. By propagating the art of winemaking, he essentially hoped to spark a cultural revolution (since, ethnologically speaking, those Barbarian peoples hailed from different tribes and were not considered a single ethnic group) that would introduce the gifts of Dionysus. Thus, they would be laying the theological, cultural, and commercial foundations to destabilize the Persian Empire.

As noted by the ever-memorable journalist and author Dimitrios Miliadis, “the flatlands (wheatfields) don’t provide the security needed for…revolution! On the other hand, mountainous settlements are not easily subjected to tyranny. Mountainous Souli, Mani, and Arcadia served as the basis for the Greek Revolution of 1821.”

And while the Great King is no threat in our era, there are still overbearing superpowers out there, and beyond them, Big Brother, who persistently tries to systematically yet stealthily impose his own form of cultural tyranny, thus neutralizing any inclination towards revolution. The upholding of longstanding cultural traditions represents one of the most effective forms of defense against this devious enemy.

Of course, these thoughts are submitted not only with respect to the novelties observed at local feasts. Watching Turkey rabidly wage a hybrid war against Greece, including the weaponization of illegal migrants, as well as the evident danger posed by Greece’s ongoing steep population decline, one wonders how the planned overwhelming of Hellas via uncontrolled foreign settlers can be countered.

Aside from the adoption of stricter migration policies by Greece (mandating economic migrants to apply for residency from their country of origin upon penalty of deportation) and more effective border patrolling (border walls, drones, arrests, and harsh punishments for traffickers), a cultural strategy must also be devised that will enable peaceful coexistence for those who do end up staying. Otherwise, tragic attacks against young victims like Myrto or Nicoletta, leaving them paralyzed or dead will become all too common, together with ghettoes that are off limits to mainstream society, and perhaps even uprisings in cities and islands.

This threat presently exists because there were people who chose to follow the unilateralism of Big Brother and globalization, looked to line their pockets (self-serving NGOs, vendors seeking lucrative government contracts), and wanted to appear trendy and progressive. Without an effective strategy that takes into account the critical cultural dimensions necessary for coexistence, Greece’s migrant policy will be little more than a feast for political buzzards and unscrupulous profiteers.


Follow me on Twitter @CTripoulas.S


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