‘Love of honour’, its main translation, is a utilitarian yet inadequate attempt come convey the constellation the virtues squeezed right into the word’s four syllables.

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In his second summer in the lonesome Greek town of Tolo top top the east coastline of the Peloponnese, German an elderly civil servant and writer Andreas Deffner committed a cultural blunder the led him to the commemorated concept that Greek philotimo.

“Good morning, exactly how are you?’ Grandma Vangelió, owner of the pension wherein he to be staying, warmly greeted that one day.

“So, so,” Deffner sleepily answered.

Next point the German tourist knew, he was sweating over a key of delicious, steaming-hot chicken soup, the watchful eyes of Grandma Vangelió and also her daughter Irini glued on him. When Irini began wildly gesticulating at her brother Pericles, who had just arrived, Deffner damaged out in cold sweat. “What’ve ns done?” the asked, warily.


The first reference come philotimo dates back to the dawn the Greek classical duration (Credit: DEA/A. Vergani/Getty Images)

"You stated to Vangelió that you weren’t feeling well?" Pericles replied.

"I beg her pardon? I just said i was so, so.”

"If girlfriend answer ‘so, so’, locals think you"re sick and also their sense of philotimo urges castle to heal you, for this reason the chicken soup,” Pericles replied, roaring through laughter.

The guest sighed with relief. “This to be my first experience v philotimo, and also certainly no the last,” Deffner, who later wrote a book on the topic, told me.

The exact definition of philotimo is hotly debated, given that words belongs to the pantheon of Greek vocabulary items that defy straightforward explanation. ‘Love that honour’, its main translation, is a utilitarian yet poor attempt to convey the constellation of virtues squeezed right into the word’s four syllables. As soon as I asked miscellaneous Greeks about their own perception of philotimo, i received really different responses.

“Doing the appropriate thing,” Pinelopi Kalafati, a doctor, said me. “Loving and honouring God and your society,” stated priest Nikolas Papanikolaou. "Striving for perfection,” answered actor Kostis Thomopoulos. “Stepping the end from your comfort zone to assist someone in need,” argued Tatiana Papadopoulou, a volunteer in Malakasa detention camp because that refugees.


Philotimo was triggered by intense emotion and also some level of intimacy (Credit: Peter Eastland/Alamy)

It seems that not just does the word continue to be untranslatable, but even Greeks themselves have trouble agreeing ~ above a solitary definition.

“The mythology that accompanies this elusive concept is there is no precedent. Indeed, words cannot be translated precisely to any kind of other language,“ stated Vassilios ns Vertoudakis, lecturer in old Greek philology at the National and also Kapodistrian university of Athens. “All the same, philotimo has end up being one that the structure blocks of the Greek disposition since of the unique standing of greek in relation to what we contact the West.”

He described that philotimo originates from the old Greek indigenous philotimia (φιλοτιμία), of which the very first attested composed reference dates to the dawn that the Greek classical period (6th and also 7th century BC) in the works of lyric poet Pindar. For Pindar and other beforehand writers, the word meant love the honour or distinction, or ambition, however often in a an adverse way. In mythology, for example, Achilles" philotimo to be wounded once King Agamemnon took far Queen Briseis, his compensation for courage on the battlefield.

It was just after the consolidation the democracy in classical Athens about the 4th and fifth Centuries BC, as soon as competition was replaced by co-operation, the the word got a an ext positive connotation. At the time, “a guy with philotimo signified someone who loves to get the praises of his city, but very first serves the community,” Vertoudakis said.


The ide really took off roughly the 15th Century in the High center Ages, once Ottoman rulers enslaved Greece, compelled a large part that the population into subsistence farming through hefty taxation and minimal education, and cut each an ar off from both the rest of the country and also Western Europe.

“While the West was enduring Enlightenment and developing modern-day states the tied together individuals under the ascendancy of law and an abstract feeling of responsibility, the subjugated and also inward-looking Greeks to be bound by pride, localism and also interpersonal relationships,” Vertoudakis said. “Instead of occurring the sort of institutional consciousness checked out in west Europe, Greek areas were imbued with philotimo, which was triggered not by law and logic yet intense emotion and also some level of intimacy.”

And this emotionally side come the national character have the right to be viewed throughout contemporary Greek history. In might 1941, when the Axis powers released an airborne attack on the legendary Minoan island the Crete, locals no only got kitchen velvet or unsophisticated weapons to walk out and fight the enemy, but likewise trudged through the towering, rugged mountains and steep gorges that Crete to discover the best hideouts because that the British and also Australian soldiers. No the reality that they were half-starved as result of the Nazi-induced an excellent Famine nor the fatality penalty for sheltering soldiers fazed them; their feeling of duty, honour and also courage take it precedence.


Residents of Kos assist rescue refugees in the eastern Aegean Sea (Credit: Robert Harding/Getty Images)

Almost 76 year later, locals top top the archipelago of Lesbos, Chios and Kos, locations renowned for your beauty and touristic prowess – yet every in years of deep recession – have been jumping in watercrafts to rescue refugees getting to the east Aegean shores in droves. Some have also been witnessed plunging in icy waters together the rickety boats technique the islands.

“Why are you congratulating me, my children?” inquiry 86-year-old Emilia Kamvisi once journalists asked she why she and also her friends, 90-year-old Efstratia Mavrapidou and 86-year-old Maritsa Mavrapidou – who were later on nominated for the 2016 Nobel tranquility Prize – go to the coastline of Lesbos every work to aid weary mrs refugees and also their children. “What special am ns doing? i will not ~ you perform the same?” she continued.

Also nominated to be 41-year-old fisherman, Stratis Valiamos, who frequently takes his small wooden boat into the Aegean come rescue civilization off his own accord. “I’m out fishing, I have the right to see human being shouting for help. What can I do? Pretend ns can’t see? Pretend i can’t hear? it is the right thing to do”.

“We may not return through our nets full of fish, however our hearts space warm,” Diamantis Zannikos, a fisherman-rescuer from Chios called me. “We have actually philotimo.”


Fisherman Stratis Valiamos (right) supplies his watercraft to rescue refugees native the Aegean (Credit: Christian scientific research Monitor/Getty Images)

I am certain Kamvisi, Valiamos and Zannikos room all uninterested in whether philotimo is an emotionally crutch or an indefinable cultural trait. For the numerous fishermen, housewives, retirees, teachers, volunteers, artists and students who wait by the beach every work to market dry clothes, water, food and shelter, and open their arms and homes to people fleeing war and terror, the emotional and also moral satisfaction drawn from exhibiting philotimo far outweighs any attempt in ~ conceptualising it. For them, philotimo is merely a method of being.

The emotional and also moral satisfaction attracted from exhibiting philotimo much outweighs any type of attempt at conceptualising it

Deffner, meanwhile, is pack his suitcases because that one much more summer holiday v Grandma Vangelió and also family.

“What is your an interpretation of philotimo?” i asked him.

“Two to three positive thoughts, one litre zest because that life, 500 grams the hospitality, 10 fall of sympathy, an ounce of pride, dignity and your inner guide,” the replied.

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