If you ever wanted to understand a Greek, de Bernières does a bit of a better job than My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
Do you think that you’re going to get a nice amenable girl and that every path will be strewn with petals? Don’t you remember asking me why it is that Greeks smile when they are angry? Well, let me tell you something, young man. Every Greek, man, woman, and child, has two Greeks inside. We even have technical terms for them. They are a part of us, as inevitable as the fact that we all write poetry and the fact that every one of us thinks that he knows everything that there is to know. We are all hospitable to strangers, we are all nostalgic for something, our mothers all treat their grown sons like babies, our sons all treat their mothers as sacred and beat their wives, we all hate solitude, we all try to find out from a stranger whether or not we are related, we all use every long word that we know as often as we possibly can, we all go out for a walk in the evening so that we can look over each other’s’ fences, we all think that we are equal to the best. Do you understand?
The captain was perplexed, “you didn’t tell me about the two Greeks inside every Greek.”
I’ll tell you about the Hellene first. The Hellene has a quality that we call the “sophrosune”. This Greek avoids excess; he seeks harmony, and cultivates a sense of proportion. He believes in reason, he is the spiritual heir of Plato and Pythagoras. These Greeks are suspicious of their own natural impulsiveness and love change for the sake of change, and they assert discipline over themselves in order to avoid spontaneously going out of control. They love education for its own sake, do not take power and money into consideration when assessing someone’s worth, scrupulously obey the law, suspect that Athens is the only important place in the world, detest dishonourable compromise, and consider themselves to be quintessentially European. This is from the blood of our ancient ancestors that still flows in us.
But side by side with the Hellene, we have to live with the Romoi. The Romoi are improvisers, they seek power and money, and they aren’t rational because they act on intuition and instinct, so that they make a mess of everything. They don’t pay taxes and only obey the law when there is no alternative, they look on education as a way of getting ahead, will always compromise an ideal for self-interest, and they like getting drunk, and dancing, and singing, and breaking bottles over each other’s heads. And they have a viciousness and brutality that I can only convey to you by saying that it compares very unfavourably to your actions in Ethiopia.
Romoi and Hellene alike will both gladly die for Greece, but the Hellene will fight wisely and humanely, and the Romoi will use every subterfuge and barbarity, and happily throw away the lives of their own men, rather like your Mussolini. In fact, they calculate their glory by number that were sent to their death, and a bloodless victory a disappointment.
– Captain Corelli’s Mandolin: Louis de Bernières (1994)