20 Weird, Crazy and Incredible Facts About Greece
After forty years of living in Greece, I thought I knew all there was to know about Greece and the Greeks, but underneath, every tidbit of information, there’s yet another story, and even more weird and crazy facts than before! Here are just a few of the most bizarre, hard to believe, positively mind-blowing facts which I’ve recently come across.
By Susan Athanasakou
- Greeks love sex – Confirmed by Durex themselves
Hey, let’s go for coffee – Sexy Greek!
Well, I had my suspicions about that, but now it’s official, according to the company “Durex”, Greeks have the most sex in the world, and have held that title for the last ten years!
- Greeks were first to go “The Full Monty”
Apollon Marsyas and Loucy Matli in Daphnis Kai Chloe (1931)
Never people to be shy, Greeks performed the first nude scene in the history of European cinema, which was aired in the film “Daphnis and Chloe”, shown in cinemas in 1931. “Daphnis and Chloe,” was the only work known by Longus, or Longos, a second century Greek novelist.
The story goes like this; Lanonas, a Greek shepherd, finds an abandoned baby boy, and then along comes another shepherd; Dyaitas, who finds an abandoned baby girl. The two babies grow up together and eventually, yes, you guessed it, fall in love.
- Greeks stick together
‘Till death us do part.’ – Photo by Sarah
With so much going on between the sheets – see fact number 1, it’s no surprise that Greece has the lowest divorce rate in Europe, on the other hand, they have the highest rate of abortion in Europe, this could be due to the next fact; read on!
4. Sneezing prevents you becoming pregnant
‘Atishoo atishoowe, all fall down.’
Soranus, an ancient Greek physician, swore by sneezing as a form of contraception. It was the women’s responsibility – not much changed there then, – and after making love, women were told to squat, sneeze and rinse; atishoo! If this was not successful, the next time they were advised to use plan B; rub honey, or cedar resin over your privates. What a sticky mess, and enough to put anyone off; maybe plan B worked!
- The Doctor knows best
Hippocrates, father of Western medicine, considered the human body to be just a bag of fluid, each fluid having its own special taste, urine, for example was said to be akin to fig juice.
To Hippocrates’ way of thinking, the best way to diagnose an ailment was to chew on a bit of earwax or sip a wee dram of vomit, to see if it was sweet or bitter, and rub offending phlegm between thumb and forefinger, to check its consistency. Now that’s called being dedicated to your profession!
- We’ve run out of pebbles
“Three stones are enough” – those smiles will soon be wiped off their faces!
Before the invention of loo paper, or before yesterday’s newspapers, what was one to do after morning ablutions?
Pebbles were kept in piles, next to wherever the lavatory was located, and, always ones to save a drachma here and there, the saying went – “Three stones are enough to wipe”
Ancient Greeks, not people to waste natural resources, used sea sponges tied to a stick (I could say something about something on a stick here, but, I’ll refrain), lesser mortals, without access to sponges, or the ones who lived inland, gathered pebbles.
If someone had really got your goat – literally, to wreak revenge – pots were smashed, the enemy’s name written on the shards, and then used as pebbles.
- Will the real Santa Claus please stand up
Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus
The original Santa Claus; Saint Nicholas, was born a Greek, on the fifteenth of March 270, in Patara in Lycia in modern day Turkey.
He died, on the sixth of December 343, which is now celebrated as the feast day of Saint Nicholas. His reputation for generosity was boundless; his giving of gifts was usually done secretly, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him. Today, we are more likely to hang up our stockings!
- Hands off our columns
Marble columns of the Parthenon, Acropolis, Athens Greece
One day, on the Acropolis, whilst fighting for their independence from the Turks, the Greeks succeeded in surrounding the Turkish stronghold, which caused a panic amongst the Turks; they were running low on ammunition.
In desperation the Turks began to smash the marble columns to smithereens, so as to get to the lead inside, and use it for bullets. On witnessing the desecration of their sacred Parthenon, the Greeks yelled out; “Here are the bullets, don’t touch our columns.” And they directly sent ammunition over to the Turks.
- No women allowed
Greek Orthodox Monk, and Greek Orthodox cats, on Mount Athos
Women and even female animals are prohibited from setting foot in any of the twenty monasteries of Mount Athos – A mountain and peninsula in Halkidiki, Northern Greece – which houses more than one thousand four hundred monks.
This is not an actual written law, but is the “Avaton” a monastic principle, which is respected. There is a legislation which prohibits eunuchs and beardless youths from entering the monasteries.
- People forget to die
Ikaria, where people forget to die
In the North Aegean Sea is the island of Ikaria, the island of longevity, where people, so they say, forget to die. Ikaria is one of the five “Blue Zones” -places where the highest number of people live to a hundred – the other four being the Barbagia region, in Sardinia, the Nycoya Peninsula, Costa Rica, the Seventh Day Adventists of Loma Linda, California, and Okinawa, Japan. On Ikaria people sleep late, get up late, take frequent naps, wear no watches and pay no heed to time.
They live off the land; herbs for flavor, and also medication, goat’s milk, fresh fruit and vegetables, beans, lentils, honey; a type found only on Ikaria, very little meat, plenty of local wine, the true “Mediterranean Diet”.
Not only do the inhabitants of Ikaria live up to a hundred, but they are healthy with it, many working in the fields up to their nineties, and here’s a thing, most of the men smoke; heavily!
- Vrontados and the rocket wars
Every Easter Saturday two rival churches in Vrondatos
Every Easter Saturday two rival churches in Vrondatos, Greece engage in a “rocket war” with the aim to hit the other’s bell tower; they use up to 80,000 fireworks in the display. The rocket wars or the “Rouketopolemos” of the island of Chios, give Guy Fawkes Night in England, a run for its money!
Each Easter Saturday, at midnight, all hell is let loose, thousands of homemade rockets are fired, between two rival churches, Saint Marks and Panagias Ereithani, located on hilltops about four hundred meters apart, the object is to hit the bell tower of the rival church.
Days beforehand, all properties within the vicinity, are boarded up and protected with metal sheets and mesh. The origin of this wild custom goes back to the Ottoman era, and, up until 1889, when it was banned by the Ottomans, real canon’s were used!
- Sweat it out
Pills, potions and ointment
In ancient Greece, athletes performed naked, their bodies slathered with glistening olive oil. Considered to be the strongest and healthiest of Greeks by their fellow man, the sweat which they produced during competitions, was thought to have magical healing powers.
Slaves hung around the gymnasiums, where these highly-regarded athletes showed off their prowess, waiting for the events to come to an end, when they would rush to scrape, with special metal tools called “strigil”, the sweaty, oily mixture, known as “gloios’ from the skin of the worn out competitors. The “gloios” was bottled and sold as an ointment, which, when rubbed on the limbs or torso, calmed and relieved aches and pains.
- The curious story of how potatoes were introduced to Greece
Potatoes – Photographic Print by David Aubrey
After four hundred years of Turkish occupation, Greece’s first Prime Minister, in 1928, Ioannis Kapodistrias, wanted to do something for his country; he would introduce them to the potato. What a letdown for him, then, when, on arrival of the shipment, the Greeks showed no interest whatsoever in the potatoes.
After a long think, Kapodistrias, who knew the Greek mentality well, positioned a wall of armed guards around the potatoes, the Greeks, presuming this must mean the potatoes were of great value, began to steal them, and crops of potatoes gradually spread through Greece.
- All is not what it seems
In all their glorious colors
The pristine, gleaming white, marble monuments, temples and statues of Greece, which we see today, didn’t start out that way. Originally, when they were created, thousands of years ago, in ancient Greece, they were decorated with the brightest colors imaginable. Time and the weather have taken its toll, slowly eating away at the bright paint work, leaving us with the pure white we see today.
- Grounds for divorce
The terrible disease, leprosy, was contained in Greece, within the leper colony of Spinalonga, a tiny island off the coast of Crete, which was established in 1903 and closed in 1957. Even though a cure was discovered, available in the 1950s, and the disease has been eradicated in Greece, Leprosy was grounds for divorce in Greece up until 1983.
- Watered down wine
Water with the wine?
Ancient Greeks considered drinking undiluted wine a barbaric habit indeed, no Greek of any standing would ever drink wine as it came, straight from the barrel. Wine was to be appreciated and savored, not used as a means to become intoxicated and lose all self-esteem. The usual ratio was three parts water to one part wine, rather like wine with your water than water with your wine!
- Wine on tap
Let it flow – Custom Tapped Wine
It is said, that in the ancient Greek city of Sybaris, a wealthy city with a busy port and fertile lands, located in Magna Graecia, Southern Italy, Greeks were known for their hedonistic, luxurious and opulent lifestyle.
They went as far as to have pipelines,leading from the country vineyards, bringing wine straight into their homes. From this decadent, ancient city of Sybaris, originate the words “Sybarite” and “Sybaritic”
- Bring on the oxen
Ancient Greek Olympic Athletes
In ancient Greece, the Olympic Games were held in honor of Zeus, king of Greek gods. After a splendid opening ceremony, and the competing of athletes, the climax was the closing ceremony, where a hundred oxen were sacrificed to Zeus. After repetitive sacrifice, of so many oxen, the sacrificial altar was built from neither stone, nor wood, but was a mass of dried blood, flesh and fat.
- No speaka de lingo?
Many thousands of years ago, in ancient times, when Greek was the most common language spoken, to the Greeks, who thought themselves a cut above others, any other language, to them, sounded like “bar bar bar”. And so, to these heathens, to anyone who did not speak Greek, they gave the name barbarians, because they were just so, well, just so barbaric! And that is where we get the word barbarian, originally meaning anyone who did not speak Greek.
- Stupid is as stupid does
El Loco – The Fool, by Picasso
In ancient Athens, among the wise old men, the philosophers, top army men and revered statesmen, it was considered “not the done thing old chap”, to keep to yourself, not be present in public affairs, not to be a political animal, not a politician.
It was not correct to be a private person, an “Idiotes” (ΙΔΙΩΤΕΣ), a civilian, outside of public life. So, if you were not interested in politics or not a politician, you were an idiot! “Idiotes” (ΙΔΙΩΤΕΣ), in English means idiot, to my thinking; I should think it is rather the other way around today!
Aren’t there some gems in the above twenty facts? I shall keep on searching for more, any contributions welcome, I surely need to do a part two, the Greeks never fail to amaze! –
By Susan Athananasakou