Ooh! He Said ‘Fuck’! He must be a revolutionary!

I’ve been pondering taboos for quite a while now; you’ll see a recent rumination from me at Nice skewering of Humour as Virtue Signalling.

In the West latterly, we exult in people breaking taboos, as if being a rebel and a taboo-breaker is its own reward. You know,

Well, people tell me love is for fools.
Here I go, I’m breaking all the rules.
It seems so easy. (Seems so easy, seems so easy, seems so easy.)
It’s so doggone easy

Well, you’re breaking the rules against sounding like a goddamn hick, anyway.

What’s that? A horrible prejudiced thing to say? Yes, of course it is. That’s a taboo. Not “falling in lurve”. Not premarital petting. Not whatever bizarre fantasy version of 50s America is being portrayed in Footloose. We congratulate ourselves for breaking taboos—and the minute everyone’s breaking a taboo, it no longer is much of a taboo now, is it.

Saying “fuck”. Not a taboo.

Talking about sex. Not a taboo.

Used to be a taboo, sure. But that doesn’t say much.

As Nick Nicholas’ answer to Is Greek pop culture less interested in the Middle Ages than Western pop culture? describes, I’ve just picked up a copy of the new edition of Stephanos Sachlikis’ poetry. (Greek-speakers, see the review in Η μισογυνική και άσεμνη ποίηση του Κρητικού Στέφανου Σαχλίκη (14ος αι.)) Sachlikis wrote in the 1370s, and he was the first Christian Greek poet to use rhyme.

I say “first Christian Greek poet”, because the first poet to use rhyme in Greek at all was Rumi. Yes, that Rumi. Nick Nicholas’ answer to How are Rumi’s poems in Greek?

Sachlikis’ poems are about his dissolute youth; the Black Death had been and gone when he was a teenager, death was everywhere, so he partied hard, and spent his money on gambling and prostitutes. He ended up in jail, where he wrote his poems, and after he got out of jail, he retired to his feudal property in the countryside.

He said “fuck” a lot, and he talked about sex. Which means he’s filthy. In fact, his editors call him the filthiest writer in Greek up until the surrealist free-for-all sex romp of Andreas EmbirikosMegas Anatolikos. I’m not convinced he should beat out the scatology of the Mass of the Beardless Man (Spanos), but I guess that depends on whether you think scatology or pornography is filthier.

Just because he’s filthy, doesn’t mean he’s a revolutionary. The editor points out that scholars from the GDR and USSR paid him attention, hoping to find hints that he was some rebel trying to undermine The System. But he was no such thing: once he got to his farm, he was just as scathing about the peasantry he was exploiting. And when he was in jail, he was a complete snob about his jailers’ drunkenness.

Just because he’s filthy doesn’t mean he’s our kindred spirit either. The posthumous lecture from the editor talks about how obscure Sachlikes is, and he speculates that Greeks might latch on to him because he’s filthy, because his profanity sounds so fresh and modern, because Modern Greeks, too, swear a lot. And I have seen several essays singling out his Parliament of Whores for how delightfully modern it sounds:

Γαμιέται η Κουταγιώταινα κι ο σκύλος της γαυγίζει
και κλαίσι τα παιδάκια της κι εκείνη χαχανίζει.
Η χήρα η Καψαμπέλαινα έναι όπου την μαυλίζει
και τρώ’ την ώς το κόκαλον, διά να την συργουλίζει.
Στου Κουταγιώτη την αυλή κέρατα ξεφυτρώνουν,
κόπελος έν’ στο σπίτιν του, δι’ αυτούνον εξεστρώνουν,
και λέγουν της: «Πολιτική, διατί δεν σε γκαστρώνουν;»

They’re fucking Koutayotis’ wife. Dogs bark,
her kids cry, and she thinks it such a lark.
Old Kapsambelis’ widow is her pimp;
she flatters cash from her till she goes limp.
In Koutayotis’ yard the cuck horns grow.
A bastard’s in his house and in the know.
They tell her: “Whore, why won’t your belly show?”

But the editor Panayotakis did drop a hint that, again, we’re being misled. A very cryptic hint: His swearing may sound like it echoes contemporary Greek realities (καθημερινότητα), but Greek readers will be disappointed to find that he is not of our time.

Is he a too-cool-for-school, komboloi-twirling petty thief of the 1920s? A barhopping fuckboy of the 90s? Is he someone contemporary Greeks would recognise, as someone they’d talk to in the street? Or least, someone they’d have heard songs about?

No, of course not. He’s a feudal lord from the 14th century. He’s a relentless misogynist; and while Greeks are quite familiar with misogyny, they’re not familiar any more with the moralising pre-Ottoman version. He relishes in talking of what sex workers get up to, but it’s a lot of venom and not a lot of fun; and it retreats back, in the end, to the cosily mediaeval notion of counsels to one’s son: Francis (Frandzeskis) is to avoid wandering at night, dice, and whores.

I’m looking forward to rereading Sachlikis’ poems in the new edition; and I will enjoy the language. But its salutary to be reminded that, just because he’s writing in my language, doesn’t make him my countryman: the past is always a foreign country.

With different taboos, that we are at pains to make any sense of.

Alkis Alkaios: Erotiko

I think I may end up setting up a separate blog, just for Greek song lyrics. The mysticism and allusiveness of Greek songs never ceases to enchant me.

Evangelos Lolos’ answer to What are the most “moving” and “emotional” Greek songs of all time? A rich harvest, with several songs I did not know, even if he did end it with a shout out to me.

Now, this—

—this sounds like a typical light zeimbekiko, right? And if it’s called “love song”, then it must be about, I dunno, I’m hanging out to meet you babe, why can’t you divorce your husband, or something.

Think again. And marvel at the profusion of interpretations offered at stixoi.info: Ερωτικό ( Με μια πιρόγα ) (the Greek lyrics site), including a quite plausible theory that it actually refers to the history of the postwar left in Greece. (The lyricist Alkis Alkaios was a member of the Greek Communist Party).

Lyrics: Alkis Alkaios. Music: Thanos Mikroutsikos. I’m tweaking the translation at stixoi.info: Love Song (Erotiko).

Thank you Evangelos Lolos.

You leave and come back in a canoe
In the hours when the rain grows fiercer
You sail in the land of the Visigoths
And the Hanging Gardens claim you
Yet slowly you saw your own wings off

Your naked body has been covered with salt
I brought you fresh water from Delphi
You said your life would be cut in two
And before I had the chance to deny you thrice
The key to paradise had rusted away

The caravan runs among the dust
And chases after your crazy shadow
How can a mind be calmed down with a shroud
How can the Mediterranean be bound with ropes,
Oh Love, which we used to call Antigone

What night song has taken away your light
And in which galaxy will I find you
This is Attica, a pallid quarry
And I am a cheap firing range
Where foreign soldiers practice, swearing

BNBR on this blog: No Naming

Another reminder to contributors to this blog:

BNBR applies to content on Quora; you can be reported for it, and you can be sanctioned for it.

Blog content is not supposed to be policed for BNBR as rigorously as other content, per Quora’s answer to Does Quora enforce its moderation policies on blog content and comments?. That’s why blogs like Why, Booty? are allowed to exist; saying someone’s question is silly outside of blogs is a BNBR offence, forwarding it to Why, Booty? isn’t. Even when it comes to content which aims to “attack, insult, and/or derogatorily label people”, a blog is only banned if that is seen to be the primary purpose of the blog.

That said, accusations against named individuals are playing with fire—not only when it comes to BNBR, but with regard to real-life law as well. (Have there been any lawsuits against Quora? One that has been dismissed, so far, but that doesn’t rule out others.)

I have disagreed with a fellow user on whether The Insurgency or Necrologue violate BNBR by promoting attacks against Quora the corporate entity. I would also disagree about criticisms of classes of users and behaviour: if we can say trolls are bad, we can also say Peacocks or Old Planters are bad—so long as we make a constructive, non-essentialist argument as to why.

But we can’t be naming people in this blog. However peacockish or ornery planter or trollish they are. Even if we’re right about them. Especially if we’re right about them.

Accordingly, we will not be accepting posts on this blog, which call out individuals or point to individual content for misdeeds, whatever the nature of those misdeeds are, and however well-founded the accusation is.

What is the origin of Greek expression “I threw a black stone behind me” (Eριξα μαύρη πέτρα πίσω μου)?

You know how Quora questions are really just an excuse for us to write interesting stuff?

This is how this answer came about.

I was reminded of this question, and Konstantinos Konstantinides’ answer, when I used the phrase with him today. I went googling, because the account given in his link didn’t sound convincing: it didn’t have any specifics to it.

I’ve found enough in the following link to corroborate it, and it’s such an astounding story, that I’m using this question as an excuse to share it.

So, Konstantinos’ answer says that Greeks would curse a bad event by throwing black stones at the site where the deed happened, with their backs turned. They would ritually curse by saying “anathema” as they cast the stone, and the pile of stones itself would be called an “anathema”, or an “anathematistra” (an anathematiser).

Hence, if you’re cursing a place, and vowing never to set foot in it again, you might as well be throwing a black stone at it, behind you (as you turn your back on it and leave it).

So: Ανάθεμα και κατάρα στον… σατανά Βενιζέλο

It’s December 12, 1916. Greece is split between its pro-German King, and its pro-Entente Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos, who is about to enter Greece into WWI on the side of the Entente. Venizelos has just declared a coup against the King, and has set up his own government in Salonica. There has been armed conflict between French and Greek troops in Athens in the previous week. Greeks refer to this time as the National Schism. The supporters of the King in Athens are livid.

Livid enough to head down to the the open space which is now the Pedion tou Areos, Athens’ “Field of Mars”, featuring a sculpture of Athena.

The Field of Mars was then called the Polygon, a commons where Athenians could relax: it was not yet officially a park, and it did not yet feature a sculpture of Athena. Where the sculpture of Athena is now, the supporters of the King had dug a big hole. In that hole, they’d placed a boulder. On that boulder, they’d placed a bleeding bull’s head. On that bull’s head, they’d placed a marble inscription: “Anathema to the traitor and his co-conspirators.”

Crowds of royalists gathered at the Polygon with black banners, “each bearing the stone of anathema, holding it in their hands, arms, or shoulders. Wherever there was a stone to be found, regardless of size, they grabbed it. An unending row of carts with hills of stones is being dragged towards the Polygon.” And some of those carts were dragged along by enterpreneurs: “Five cents a white stone, ten cents a black stone!” (Which corroborates that black stones were valued in making the curse stick.)

Someone eventually brings an effigy of Venizelos along, whereupon people start giving the insulting Mountza gesture, and throwing stones: “Anathema and a curse upon the traitor!” “May the earth reject his miserable corpse!”

A modern iteration of the People showing the People’s House the People’s Mountza.

A contemporary cartoonist wishing Venizelos himself was on the anathema pile.

The Archbishop of Athens saw fit to turn up, and cast either a single stone, or four stones to the four points of the horizon, chanting “Against Eleftherios Venizelos, who has arrested archpriests and plotted against Crown and Country, let there be anathema.”

By the next day, Venizelos’ anathema pile looked like this:

When Venizelos came back to Athens in June 1917, the anathema pile was still there, with furtive flower offerings left at night. Venizelos wanted the pile left there. “I do not want the proof of the anathema to be lost! I’ll put guards there! The stones should stay as they are, so that passers-by can see them and understand how vain and foolish Church curses are!”

“But,” the ex-mayor of Athens retorted, “this is ugliness right in the middle of the Field of Mars.”

“We’ll just have to put up with that ugliness, Mr. Benakis. We’ll put up with it for the instruction of the people: they should learn both what the Church’s curse and the Church’s blessing is worth, when the Church is conscripted by political animosity.”

The site of the anathema pile. Now featuring the goddess of instruction, instead of instruction.

Should the position of “Top Writer” be limited to only those who make important intellectual contributions to Quora?

Quora has awarded the Quill in strange ways.

Quora has awarded the Quill to writers with piercing intellect. Quora has awarded the Quill to pablum-peddling peacocks.

Quora has awarded the Quill to established scholars. Quora has awarded the Quill to ordinary Joes.

Quora has awarded the Quill to people spreading well-founded scholarship. Quora has awarded the Quill to people advocating variants of the Phantom time conspiracy theory.

Quora has awarded the Quill to gnomes and monitors and community contributors. Quora has awarded the Quill to fly-by celebrities on the basis of one session.

And yes, Quora has awarded the Quill to people who write good knowledge, and Quora has awarded the Quill to people who write good anecdotes.

I can name examples of all of the above, but not publicly, because of BNBR.

Unlike another answerer, I don’t think all that have received the Quill deserve the Quill; but my aims for Quora are not Quora’s aims. Quora awards the Quill for its own purposes. Whatever the hubris of 2010 was (“Quora will replace Wikipedia! Quora will replace Google!”), Quora’s mission is not restricted to “spreading knowledge”; it also involves getting eyeballs to advertisers. And it involves funnelling listicle articles for republication to the Buzzfeeds of this world.

And in many ways, I’m happy that Quora is not restricted to “spreading knowledge”, and that people can tell anecdotes here. For those who smirk “if you want Facebook, you know where to find it”, I can only retort “if you want StackExchange, you know where to find it.” Quora is not StackExchange, and it does not need to be.

Just as my aims for Quora are not Quora’s aims, Quora’s aims are not my aims; and I’m grateful to the bots of the Quora feed that I am largely insulated from the Top Writers writing stuff I don’t want to hear from. Some people come here for the Chicken Soup For The Soul pap and the Listicles; I don’t, and I rarely see it. Some TWs grow entitled and complacent, opine on anything they feel like, and are neither Nice nor Respectful when called on it. Them, I mute, if they don’t mute me first.

Use Quora for your own ends, and don’t make Quora’s aims your aims. The Quill means that a bot picked a writer from a pile using some stats, in accordance to some witches’ brew of quantitative criteria, and some staffer OK’d them. If you’re depending on quills to pick who’s worth reading, you’re missing out.

If you’re like me, and you follow people despite having a quill rather than because of it, well, maybe we’re missing out too. 🙂

Is Greek pop culture less interested in the Middle Ages than Western pop culture?

I’m OP. I’ve asked this, because I’ve seen an erudite claim that this is the case, from the 80s, and am wondering whether it was true then, and is true now.

The claim comes from the recent edition of Stephanos Sachlikis’ poetry. (You know someone’s obscure when their Latin Wikipedia entry is 5 times longer than their English one.) The edition is based on Nikolaos M. Panagiotakis’ work; Panagiotakis died 20 years ago. Its preface includes a lecture Panagiotakis gave 30 years ago, in 1986.

In that lecture, Panagiotakis says that the number of Greeks who would be interested in Sachlikis, however foul-mouthed he was, was minimal, because Greek pop culture was indifferent to the Middle Ages. He contrasted that with the popularity of the Middle Ages in English and German pop culture, and “in the past forty years” (so since WWII) in France and Italy as well. As evidence, he mentioned that his fellow Greeks read Umberto Eco’s Name Of The Rose looking for political judgements, because they were unable culturally to read it for what it was: “a clumsy detective novel written by a brilliant mediaevalist.”

He also predicted that as fads come and go, the Western Middle Ages—and even the Greek Middle Ages (which is not just Byzantine but also French and Italian rule) could eventually become fashionable in Greece.

Now, there has been a little historical fiction set in the Middle Ages in Greek; I’m thinking in particular of Princess Isabeau, published in 1937 and set in the Peloponnese of 1293, about Isabella of Villehardouin. And of course in high culture, Kostis Palamas worked Basil II into his poetic mythology, and Cavafy cherry-picked episodes from the Byzantine as well as the Hellenistic era. And when I was a kid, Porphyry and Blood was a historical soap about Romanos IV Diogenes, which made Michael Psellos a villain.

(As has happened with so many old TV shows, the tapes have been wiped, and the show has not been preserved. I caught the last ever screening, in 1981.)

EDIT: Add “In hoc signo vinces”, about Constantine the Great, from 1973, from the same soapie-peddler, Nikos Foskolos: Εν τούτω νίκα.

But I suspect Panagiotakis was onto something: there doesn’t seem to have been in Greece or Cyprus the profusion of mediaeval-related novels, let alone hit TV series or dinner theatre restaurants, that there have been in Western Europe.

I don’t even know whether the Society for Creative Anachronism flourishes in Greece. I know it flourishes in Australia, and I saw a TV show once where a bearded gentleman, in leather armour and a quite familiar accent, stared at the camera and said “Yeah, so we were playing the Byzantines, and they were playing the Crusaders, and, aaah, basically we kicked their arses, mate!”

That’s a historically ossified account. Very eager to know whether Game Of Thrones has landed on fertile ground in Greece, or whether its mediaevalism was novel to audiences.

Is Adam D’Angelo (founder of Quora) walking in Mark Zuckerberg’s footsteps?

This is a deliciously ambiguous question (from four years ago), even if the details do elucidate it.

Clearly Adam D’A and the Zuck have a similar fashion aesthetic:

Annual Intern Open House offers a look inside Quora by Quora on Life at Quora

Clearly the predictions of the question details from four years ago have come to pass:

Quora is not bringing any ads yet,same as how Facebook plans of not bringing any ads in the beginning.

Clearly they’re both sitting on a lot of money; and FWIW, D’A has played the long term game, as he has said in interviews, rather than make his cash immediately. And it’s working, with potentially Zuck-level income streams in the future (See Scott Welch’s answer to When do you think Quora is going to end?)

Quora were relying on VC charity for an uncharacteristically long time for a startup (six years!), but they’ve been savvier than we’ve thought. As long as the Quora marketing team keeps their eye on the ball more than their design team seems to have, D’A does not need to fear acquisition.

Because Quora has had a slow burn, and D’A doesn’t do publicity, he also doesn’t have to fear Aaron Sorkin writing a biopic about him, with Cheever as the Vinklevoss twins, Bodnick as Sean Parker, and I have no idea who would play Saverin…

Does Quora give any signs to those they want to become Top Writers?

There is a rumoured signal: Jonathan Brill is the TW liaison, among his other titles, and he makes a point of following all TWs. I have seen speculation (don’t remember where) that if Brill follows you, you are a candidate for the Quill.

Then again, Brill follows me too, and I’m a sans-culotte

Can Adam D’Angelo be banned on Quora?

Adam D’Angelo is a Top Writer on Quora. Whether ex officio or not is not for me to say, but I am not the first to have remarked on the overrepresentation of Quora employees among the ranks of the bequilled.

As we have recently found out (The tribunal of the marshals by Nick Nicholas on Gallery of Awesomery), all reports against Top Writers are reviewed by Jonathan Brill, before they are actioned.

Adam D’Angelo recruited Jonathan Brill to work at Quora, and Adam D’Angelo signs Brill’s paychecks.

… You tell me.

Of course, D’A is aloof enough from the day-to-day experience of Quora (like many of those potentially ex officio Top Writers), that this would not realistically come up anyway. Now, whether Marc Bodnick might have been censured during his time as a Quora employee: that’s a far more interesting question 🙂

Why doesn’t Judeo-Spanish use the letter Ñ?

Clyde Thogmartin is right in his answer that traditionally Judeo-Spanish is written in Hebrew (with the quite icky trigraph <ניי> for [ɲ]). But more to the point, even when it is written in Latin script, people writing it usually make a point of not using Spanish orthography: they are putting distance between their language and Christian Spanish. Thus, per Judaeo-Spanish, writers in Turkey usually spell it like Turkish, while the Israeli Autoridad Nasionala del Ladino spells it phonetically, using <ny> instead of <ñ>. (I would assume Turkish spelling would end up doing the same.)

Something similar occurred with 20th Latin transliteration of Yiddish: it has made a point of not resembling German orthography. (19th century Yiddish text even in Hebrew script, OTOH, was daytshmerish “Germanising”, particularly in retaining double consonants, and bits of that remain in use to this day.)

Exceptionally, Judeo-Spanish texts published in Spain do use Spanish orthography, but that is because they are primarily intended for modern Spanish speakers. There has been a proposal to use 1492 spelling of Spanish for Judeo-Spanish, which would retain <ñ>; but that appears to be marginal.

EDIT: SEE ALSO: Erik Painter’s answer to Why doesn’t Judeo-Spanish use the letter Ñ?