Zenovia’s secret (Chapter 3)
Posted by: Maria Atalanti
Published on: 19/06/2022Back to Blog
This text is the product of fiction. None of the characters described are real.
Melbourne – Australia, June 2019
The next day, Zena, at 7.45 in the evening, was outside the Institute where Alexis Ioannou was teaching. Even though she was concerned that she could not understand Greek at all, and how she would be able to follow the lesson in a class, that had been going on for a long time, she decided to enter.
She walked into the class, before Alexis came, and began to observe the other students. They were a total of ten at the time and they were talking to each other. The four seemed Greeks, three others of European origin and to her surprise they were three Asians. That made a big impression on her. All of them were adults, between twenty-five and forty years old.
-What Asians are doing in a class of Greek language? she thought.
Alexis joined along with two or three others, probably Greeks. As soon as he saw her he popped a bright smile and went to greet her. He took her hand and said to her:
-I’m so glad you came! Today we will study a poem by Elytis, one of the greatest Greek poets of the 20th century. He has also been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Don’t worry if you don’t understand. It doesn’t matter. We can talk later, after class and see how I can help you reach the level of this class. I’m sure you’ll remember even those few Greek you learned from your father. It’s like someone who doesn’t know how to swim and is thrown into the deep. He will be forced to swim.
Then he introduced her to the other students. She was surprised to realize that one of the Asians was a professor of Chinese at the University of Melbourne and the rest quite educated people.
-What am I doing here! She thought.
Buts she decided to stay for the first lesson.
Alexis took a book, opened it on a page and gave it to her.
-Try to follow the text, even if you don’t understand he said. I’ll explain to you afterwards.
He sat down among his students and began to read:
Greek the language they gave me;
poor the house on Homer’s shores…
My only care my language
on Homer’s shores…
There breams and perches
wind beaten verbs,
green streams in azurre ones
what I saw in my inwards
with the first words of Sirenes
with the first black chills…
My only care my language,
with the first black chills…
There pomegranates, quinces
Dark haired Gods, uncles and cousins
emptying oil into the huge vessels
And breaths from the ravine
scenting wicker and lentisk
broom and ginger root,
with the first singing of finches
with the very first Glory to Thee…
My only care my language,
with the very first Glory to Thee!..
There laurels and palm leaves
censer and incense
blessing the swords and muskets
on the soil paved with vine leaves,
the smell of roasting lamb,
glass clinks and “Christ is risen”
with the first fireworks of the Greeks!
with the first lyrics of the Hymn…
My only care my language,
With the first lyrics of the Hymn! *
Of course, she did not understand a word. Only the phrase ” Greek the language they gave me” had any meaning for her. She felt a lot of discomfort. She wanted to leave. But for the first time in her life, she was embarrassed to do so. Her classmates commented in Greek on the poem, as much as they could, and then she realized that they did not speak Greek very well either.
When the time passed and the lesson was over, Zena did not leave to talk to Alexis. He was conversing with some other students, so she proceeded to the Chinese professor and asked him how he decided to attend Greek language courses. Why?
-Because Greek, along with Chinese and a few other languages in the world, are the first languages and the oldest cells of civilization, he replied. Do not forget that the fathers of our philosophies, Confucius and Socrates lived around the same time and taught similar things in a different way.
Zena thanked him puzzled.
-Is there any other culture than the one I knew so far? She thought. Has my obsession with dealing only with the present, distance me from other interesting topics?
-What are you thinking and you’re so troubled? Alexis teased her. Come, let’s go and have a coffee and talk about the lesson.
Soon they both sat in a café, sipping hot chocolate, since in the southern hemisphere it was winter, Alexis asked her how she felt today in class.
-How do you want me to feel? Zena wondered. I didn’t understand a word. The only phrase I understood was: The Language Given to me was Greek… If I wasn’t embarrassed I would have left.
-That’s all I’d like you to understand. It is a phrase spoken by a very great poet, wanting to declare the greatness of his language. Then, in simple words, he describes the poor country of Greece, its antiquity through the reference to Homer, erotic love, without even mentioning it, simply with the sound of words, the Greek landscape, the struggles for the freedom and the religion of the Greeks, Christianity. You don’t have to understand more now. What I would like from you is just to study the lyrics: Greek the language they gave me; poor the house on Homer’s shores…. You can find the online translation for the whole poem, but it doesn’t matter. It is important to understand these two verses and read about Homer as well. We will study more the poem in the next lesson.
-It seems strange to me that I am sitting here with you and having this conversation. My own philosophy, so far, is that everything that has to do with languages, history, and religions, etc., divides people and causes hostility and wars. Now, in the 21st century we live in, our concern must be our planet to have something to bequeath to the next generation. In the way we act, we will destroy the land that gave birth to us.
-I agree with you completely. But the study of languages, especially ancient languages, brings us into contact with the structural components of our culture. It helps us to understand who we are and having this knowledge to be able to correct the mistakes of the past. It is not history and religions that cause wars. It is their exploitation by the skillful megalomaniacs of all times, who seduce the crowds with big words and pompous expressions, as, we fight for our country or our religion and become heroes – a very popular argument to convince people to kill each other, while they are left untouched. But let’s leave that. It is a big issue that we cannot solve. What we can do is educate ourselves. Education broadens the horizons of a person, helps them to see behind the pompous words and gives them discernment. And to somehow discharge the atmosphere, I am asking you: do you know what your name means: Zenovia?
-You find me completely unprepared. I’ve never thought about it. It’s just a name. I imagine there would have been some great person with that name and people continued it to honor her.
-You’re right about that. Zenovia was the queen of Palmyra, an ancient city in Syria. There was also a saint with this name, but the origin of the name did not start from them. It existed. Your name is ancient Greek and is a word composition. The first synthetic comes from “Zeus”, which is the name of the Father of gods and humans, according to the ancient Greek mythology. It is an ancient Indo-European name, and a relative root exists in many ancient languages. It was originally related to heaven and light. Inclined this name, it changes completely and becomes: Dios. This perhaps correlates it with the Latin “dies”, which means day. The second synthetic is the word “vios”, i.e., life. In short, your name means the life of the one who dominates the sky and the light. And seeing how much fire you have inside you, it suits you perfectly!
Zena did not know what to say. This was a new world for her.
-You managed to impress me! I admit it. And your own name? Alexis. Does it mean anything?
-Of course. Initially, it is nickname for the Alexander. And that’s a word composition. It consists of the dictionary prefix “alexi”, which means to repel and protect, and the word “anir” which means man. In short, he is the one who protects men. It is an ancient Greek name with Mycenaean origin. And of course, it is the name of the great general Alexander. Do you know about Alexander the Great?
-Your name suits you, too! You have the power of protection within you. Even me, you make feel safe. I know, in fact I have heard of this great general, but as I told you I am not interested in wars. Neither those which are won, nor those which were perished.
Looking at her watch she added:
-It’s too late. I must go. I’ve enjoyed our conversation very much! But one more thing: Does the name Demetrios mean something?
-The original name was Demetra, i.e., the female of Demetrios. Demetra was the goddess of agriculture and in her, our ancient ancestors, saw the cycles of the seasons. It is also a word composition and has as a second synthetic the word metir (mother) and as the first synthetic the word Da (Earth). In a few words, the name Demetra means mother earth.
-I am speechless. Demetrios was my father’s name and he raised me with so much affection and care! For me he was mother earth. How much it all fits in! But I must leave. Good evening Alexis.
-Good evening. Will you come for the next lesson?
-Of course, I will come. I want to explore the world of the Greek language! It’s very interesting.
Arriving at her apartment, Zenobia felt light and alive. A new horizon had opened in front of her.
-Ah father, even after death you guide me! She said aloud. And what a man this Alexis is! Too interesting guy. Let’s see where this trip will take me.
She sat down on her computer and began to read her messages. The one that caught her attention was one of her father’s lawyer. He advised her to start the process for the sale of the company “Dem. Vas. Construction Co.” and suggested to her several ways to do so to have the greatest benefit.
She did not hesitate at all. In her mind it was clear what should be done. She wrote:
Thank you for your advice and I am sure that all you have in mind is my well-understood interest. My father always told me to trust you because you are an honest lawyer and a good man.
My instructions to you are the ones below. I know you probably don’t agree with me, but that was my father’s wish and mine:
You will start negotiating with my father’s associates and key executives of his company, Mr. Nick Georgiou, and Mr. Jacob Papadopoulos. These people have worked hard for the company for many years and supported my father when he was sick and could not perform. They deserve to be the ones who will manage the company in the future.
At first you will approach them, and you will see if they are interested, them or their children. We will be flexible with the price and the ways of repayment. They certainly do not have much capital to make available. You, I am sure, know how to do the negotiation. The only condition I am putting in place is to keep the company under the name given to it by my father, until it is dissolved.
I will always be here and discuss with you whatever comes up. For some time, I will not travel, I will remain in Melbourne, to settle various family matters.
My decision is final and there is no point to try to dissuade me.
Thank you for always being a good friend for my father and for me.
She looked at the message for a few seconds, made sure she wrote what she wanted to say, and pressed SEND.
She got up and walked into the bathroom. After taking a hot shower she prepared a cup of tea and sat in her favorite armchair, looking at the River Yarra. She could see the lights of the cars that were moving and the colorful lighting from the buildings that were reflected in the river. She loved this city! This was her town; this was her homeland. Why should she add to her life names like Alexandria and Cyprus?
-It’s too late, she thought. That box of letters and photographs, her father’s wish, but above all Zenovia’s eyes had put her on the road. The journey had begun.
When she lay down to sleep, two phrases, she had heard today, sounded in her mind:
… but Greek along with Chinese and some other languages in the world, are the first languages and the oldest cells of civilization,
… the study of languages, especially ancient languages, brings us into contact with the structural components of our culture.
-“Ancient civilization cells”, “structural components of civilization”, she whispered. A new world for me. I will explore it.
And she slept as those phrases sounded in her mind.
Babiniotis Dictionary of the Modern Greek Language