Later that evening I had the privilege of meeting some Greek women, friends of Seferiades' sister. Here again I was impressed by the absence of those glaring defects which make even the most beautiful American woman or English woman seem positively ugly. The Greek woman, even if she is cultured, is first and foremost a woman. She sheds a distinct fragrance; she warms and thrills you. ... The ordinary Greek girl whom one sees on the street is superior in every way to her American counterpart; above all she has character and race, a combination which makes for deathless beauty and forever distinguishes the descendants of ancient peoples from the bastard offshoots of the new world,"
- Henry Miller, The Colossus of Marousi, 1941-
Before we rashly interpret the above as nourishment for some kind of Greek aloofness, it is worth noting that the great American writer was referring to the Greek women he met during his visit in pre-WW II Greece. A time when Greek society had not yet been ground through the gears of Industry and the demoralization it sustained during its closer association with Western style mass media of the post war era.
Not that it was all roses for the Greek woman of the countryside, who, beyond working in the fields, raising children and keeping house, often had to sustain the pressures of an authoritative husband and an equally strict society. On the contrary, life was unforgivingly difficult. However, she was indeed the cornerstone of the family, as well as a flowing stream of culture that she bequeathed to her offspring with her every move and gesture, whether it was her needlework for her daughter's dowry or her often exaggerated adoration towards her son and all that it entailed.
If Hellenism had survived all the difficulties of its long past as something to be envied by all observant travellers it was largely due to the Greek family securely anchored around the Greek woman, mother and wife. From the Spartan mother who instilled in her son the sense of honour that came with the shield she handed him, the Macedonian women who had rushed to help their men in battle and were thus awarded the right to wear a helmeted head dress (as they still do in traditional costume) by Alexander the Great, to the Hepeirot women who carried on their backs food and ammo to supply their sons fighting the Italian forces in Albania, the woman of Greece has always risen above circumstances against all the plights that marked the country and will always constitute a point of reference of self-sacrifice and inexhaustible love and affection.
All is well up to this point, but nowadays all points of reference are being uprooted just as humankind is wrested from nature and traditions only to be thrown into large cities where there are no social hearths of human measures in which one can distinguish him/herself according to the virtues of his/her sex and nature. In such cities woman is fragmented, writhing in confusion beyond the identity of mother and wife, like that of a worker, a professional, a politician, as well as that of one who in all aspects of life must incessantly strive to achieve superficial beauty as ordained and deceivingly promoted by the mass media. Through the great hoax of "equality" woman is levelled down, thus losing her most significant substance - that of the nucleus of a human society.
As things may stand, the female of our species still exercises the greatest power over the formation of society. When her femininity and substance are altered, the very infrastructure of society is accordingly mutated, since the main pillar of this structure is family, an institution inseparable from the mother. Quite prophetically did Henry Miller condemn in his above work, as well as in his "Air Conditioned Nightmare," the dubious route that human development had taken in his country, since today serious crime in the U.S.A. has even reached the classrooms of elementary schools; and this due to the absence of a healthy society rooted in strong family institutions.
As is the case with anything powerful, woman is also a source of beneficial or destructive potential. That is to say, the more beautiful of the two sexes may have always been a fountain of inspiration, creation, a symbol of fertility, birth, tenderness and affection, but she has also been regarded as a source of temptation, conflict, cause for wars (Helen of Troy), a symbol of transgression (Eve, Pandora). These contrasts attributed to the female of our species make her as beautiful and as dangerous as the sea and fire. Hence the Greek tenet "Beware of fire, women and the sea."
Oh, foam-embroidered, hissing matron, furl-unfurling Sea,
you storm unleashing, undulating blanket of the deep,
what passions, yearnings, secret longings have you surged to sleep,
what barnacled, forsaken wrecks do in your bosom lie
embraced by curving billows, lulled to slumber by your sigh.
And you bright dancers, swirling swayers, all-engulfing Flames,
who men and mighty gods bewitch, vivaciously entice,
the light that you endow them with is paid at costly price,
for you Hyperion's daughters, fiery hoarders, lick and lash
at all that you insatiably devour and turn to ash.
Oh, Woman, what's the sea or flame comparing them to you,
for I'm tossed and cast much like a ship that flows along your wake,
whose course is plotted out along the swells that form your shape.
And like a flame your feline aura's wrapped around my soul.Oh, element-begotten femme, I tremble at your call!
-Panagiotis Terpandros Zachariou- 1995