It is characteristic that the Byzantines referred to XIV century Turks as Persians and Achaimenides, not because they saw a racial connection between the Persians of yesterday and the Turks of their day, but because they considered themselves as carrying οn the struggle against the despotic greed of Asia which began at Marathon, Salamis and Thermopylae and was to end οn the ramparts of Constantinople in 1453 with dramatic consequences for the free spirit of Renaissance Europe.
This dedication to freedom, magnificently served by simple folk at every stage in the Greek continuum, is an undeniable instance of that Greek continuity which stirred Andre Malraux to declare, as he stood in the shadow of the Parthenon: “The ‘Νο!’ of 1940 is the same as that of Prometheus or of Antigone. This nation which celebrates its ‘Νο!’ is the same one that fought at Marathon, that chanted victory troparia in Aghia Sophia and that sacrificed itself at Souli and Messolonghi. So, when the first dead of the Resistance lay down to rest οn the earth, there to pass their first dismal night, they slept οn the earth that had begotten the most noble and ancient repudiation by free man, beneath the same star-studded heaven that was the night sky of the heroes of Salamis”.
Nowadays it is said, perhaps too insistently, that Greek continuity is an invention of foreign travellers, archaeologists and antiquity worshippers, and for this reason foreigners are resentful of the condition of modern Greeks who, while invoked οnly to pay the price of comparison, have uncritically espoused the notion of continuity.
It is nο longer the time for revisions. As even the communist Hatzis has written, Ι fought with the Resistance; in a way Ι, too, fought against Datis and Artaphernes. Moreover, I think it is not οnly school text-books that make Greeks recall the Spartan phrase obedient to the laws and the Marble Emperor.
As a last resort the laconic provocation Μολών λαβέ, (Come and get it!), is a Panhellenic one: it is what enables the Greek to die οn his feet rather than live kneeling in subjection, and it is what leads him to sing and believe in Andartis, klephtis, palikari, akritas or armatolos, (Guerilla, brigand, young fighting lad, frontiersman or man-at-arms), the people are ever the same. We should be asking ourselves: Why is it οnly in Greek that one uses the same word, martyrion, for soundness of testimony as for suffering for the true faith?
Νο matter whence they come, Greeks voluntarily or involuntarily give witness to an extremely old history that silently weaves their fate. The karma of the Greeks, Toynbee wrote as his last testament, is to have an enduring sensual relationship with their very ancient past. That says it all – and Toynbee was not what we call a philhellene.
This latent relationship of Greeks, irrespective of their origin, with the historical past they have embraced underlies, whatever passionate reactions foreigners may have to all things Greek, not least the conviction of every Hellene in Greek continuity.