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How do you feel when a foreigner knows much more about your country than you do?
Nikos Tsiforos was a Greek humorist, who wrote a series of humour pieces covering all of Greek Mythology. I’ve cited his collection here a couple of times. At the end of the 640 pp book, he wrote this.
Few of us Greeks know Greek Mythology well. (Before I started studying it to write it up, I was an almost complete dunce too.) They teach it to us so superficially and perfunctorily in school. But we should know it, even if not perfectly. Our mythology is ourselves, our yesterdays, our todays and our tomorrows.
I was in Olympia once. And I have the tendency of studying up on the historical sites I visit, so I’m not a complete ignoramus. So I was walking around the Altis, and flattered myself to be telling my companions that I knew all about it. And I saw a bunch of foreigners. There was an old man among them, and he was speaking to them about Olympia in German. Because I can speak German, I stopped to listen to him.
And then I realised that I was a complete idiot when it came to knowing about Olympia. The man knew Greek history and mythology to the last detail. And he knew the site stone by stone. And he was a foreigner: Swiss.
I did not say a word. I just listened, and then felt deep shame. And that’s why I wrote this mythology.
Let someone else write up Joyce’s depiction of how Stephen Dedalus resents Haines knowing more about Irish culture than he did in Ulysses. That was couched in colonialism, and in Joyce’s rejection of folklore as a source of identity.
Me? I’m been involved in Modern Greek linguistics, and I’ve known Germans who know bits of my language’s history far better than I. I’ve known Ukrainians more fluent than I. I’ve known Britons more thorough than I. How do I feel?
Grateful. They didn’t have to. It’s not my personal property. I’m glad they share in what I get joy from. I’m glad they chose to, where I was merely bequeathed it.