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  • Perspectives on the Greek Village
  • Sharon E. J. Gerstel

How does one define a village? How does the village—through habitation, nomenclature, or imagination—anchor people to a specific place and to a meaningful identity? How does the memory of the village bind together those in diaspora, even generations after they have abandoned their homes? How do villagers see themselves, and how are they seen by others? The five papers in this special section, addressing these questions, derive from a symposium, "The Greek Village," held at UCLA in February 2019. The aim of the symposium was to present new research on the Greek village, from its earliest manifestations in the ancient world to its appearance in the modern day. The Greek village has been a frequent subject of interest to anthropologists, who have written extensively about rituals, kinship structures, work, gender, migration, and identity. Increasingly, the subject of the Greek village has come under the scrutiny of archaeologists and architectural historians, who have carefully traced the material remains of villages and households in order to reconstruct the lives of those who lived outside of more intensively studied cities and towns.

The symposium from which these papers derive came at a time of crisis when many were returning to the Greek village to seek renewal and authenticity. Outside the academy, the Greek village has become the setting for films and television commercials, offering the modern audience a view that is simultaneously nostalgic and troubling. The Greek submission for the best international feature category in the 92nd Academy Awards, When Tomatoes Met Wagner, a documentary directed by Marianna Economou (who studied anthropology, photojournalism, and film production in London), is a study of the nearly abandoned remote village of Elias in Karditsa (Thessaly), which has a population of 33 residents.1 The film focuses on the attempts of a small number of villagers to save their chorio by producing artisanal tomato and honey products for export. The challenges to the village's survival are best articulated by one elderly woman who says, "There is no future here. When the elderly like me die, then their children will leave. They can't stay here. There is no life in our village. There is no life." The film accurately captures the troubled sentiments [End Page vii] expressed by elderly villagers throughout Greece while at the same time honoring the efforts of younger, enterprising villagers to promote bio-agriculture, a movement that is being embraced in many small choria as a means of securing the future.

In recent years, representations of the village have entered popular culture and media. Television commercials in Greece—for example, "Apple Goes to Greece," filmed in the Mani—use village settings and villagers—a yiayia, fisherman, priest, shepherd, etc.—as a way to connect urban Greeks—who are asked to purchase iPhones—to family, to their past, and to their essential Greekness. Others, like a series of commercials for NOVA Greece directed by Yorgos Lanthimos—which include a donkey-riding yiayia, a man who steals chickens, and a Greeklish-speaking, television-watching police officer—present stereotypes of villagers (the strong grandmother, the thief, the bumbling officer) to sell satellite TV subscriptions. A series of commercials directed by Phoivos Kontoyiannis for Kotsovolos with the tag line "I do have Black Friday in my Village," uses the chorio as a mechanism to humorously illustrate the coexistence of modernity and tradition. Many of the films and commercials set in the village introduce common themes of memory, innocence, and identity.

The five essays in this special section form a critical engagement with these themes and others: the construction and imagination of villages; continuity and rupture in village history; the limits of village space and its extension beyond a physical site; the place of the village within a larger territory, empire, or state; the effects of war, economic crises, and depopulation on the village and, conversely, the impact of tourism and reconstruction; and behaviors or attitudes that characterize villagers and work to their detriment or advantage. Cultural biases against villages and villagers are addressed, yet villages and villagers are also viewed as enterprising and generative. The Greek village—as viewed by the authors in this...


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