The History of a Vendetta
A vendetta begins and ends with a murder. A raw yet ritualised mechanism of justice that took root wherever the rule of law was absent or weak and persisted from antiquity right up until the modern era. For Yatromanokis it becomes a mechanism with which to explore a transitional period in Greek history that polarised the nation for the best part of a century.
The novel is set in Crete, in the space between the two world wars where, under the influence of Greece’s arch-reformer Eleftherios Venizelos, the country was undergoing a chaotic modernisation. It is told from the point of view of Grigoris, the lame and rather simple son of the murderer Dikeos and victim of the inevitable reprisal from the family of the murdered Zervos.
The motivations for the killing are slowly unravelled in a non-linear fashion. Grigoris’ life is not only flashing before his eyes, giving him freedom over time, but in response to his disability he has trained his mind to move freely where his body cannot. Through fragmented recollections we begin to trace the divergent paths of the murderer and the murdered; from shared beginnings as volunteers in Venizelos’ civil guard we see how Zervos was able to take advantage of the nascent capitalism and how Dikeos was to suffer from it.
Translator Helen Cavanagh has done a superb job in rendering the novel’s detached, almost forensic style. The careful depiction of events and its frequent forays into cultural, historical and even scientific wisdom evokes Herodotus. Coupled with Grigoris’ freedom of space and time we have a narrative that is at once grounded and otherworldly. One might struggle to gain traction at first but once you do its possibilities become apparent.
Grigoris’ simplicity has also liberated him from perspective and context. Folk tales are afforded the same importance as theories on capital, the activities of people are considered with the same attention and weight as the activities of Zervos’ silkworms. This throws up beautiful, almost kaleidoscopic patterns of interconnectivity. With unassuming materials it conjures a staggering depth.
Although the sweep of Modern Greek history is central to the novel, and a short timeline is included at the rear of the book; such is Yatromanolakis’ achievement here that no real knowledge is required to appreciate it. He has created an accessible, tangible world and its themes are deftly elevated to universality. This is a remarkable little book, authentically earthly and astonishingly ambitious.
Luttwak is not a Historian nor a Byzantinist – that’s evident throughout The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire. He is, though, a savvy political and military thinker and he applies himself to the Empire’s thousand year struggle against limitless enemies in an energetic way.
Apparently in his previous, similar volume on the Early Roman Empire he made a misstep in describing a ‘Deep lying’ defense strategy. Here his thesis is far less controversial (perhaps self evident) that, as their military power waned, the Byzantines had to adopt more considered, indirect ways to manage their enemies.
There are omissions and strangely American sensibilities, nevertheless The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire is terrifically interesting. Nowhere more so than in Luttwak’s analysis of the Byzantine military manuals. It’s here that he teases out the Grand Strategy and illustrates the great panoply of techniques deployed against the barbarians: Defeat but don’t destroy (what fills the vacuum could be worse); the use of bribery and the sowing of discord; the importance of the navy and so on. Good stuff.
The Grand Strategy of the Byzatine Empire, available at AbeBooks from £12…
Having studied Byzantine history, I cannot help seeing history (where applicable) from the Byzantine perspective. This is tremendously beneficial; in most cases the Byzantine/later roman perspective is more interesting, more illuminating and more mature. At the same time it can be quite frustrating because, relatively speaking, it is a minority position. The majority of historians and history texts tend to be neglectful of the Empire, much to their and our detriment.
This came to mind when reading Shlomo Sand’s The Invention of the Jewish People. A fascinating study of the history of the Jews and how Jewish scholarship became intertwined with Israeli state-building.
It covers all the issues you might expect: Zionism, the Khazar question etc. But it also makes an interesting assertion that reinforces the importance and influence of the Roman/Byzantine empire. Not only are Christianity and Islam inextricably linked with it, but the peculiar nature and extraordinary capacities of the Empire also gave us the Judaism we are now familiar with.
In tracing the movements of the Jewish peoples, Sand shows that, contrary to the idea that admittance to the Jewish faith is and always has been exclusive, during early roman times they were proselytising at a fantastic rate. The infrastructure of the Empire and it’s religious tolerance created an atmosphere in which Judaism could prosper and quickly, as so many sources show, become a huge problem – almost identical to the later proliferation of Christianity.
The Invention of the Jewish People was thus a curious read. One that often displayed the kind of solipsism that frustrates, yet one that also exemplifies the importance of the grand, macroscopic view that emphasizes the importance of Roman/Byzantine history that properly unlocks the past and explains the present.
Invention of the jewish people, available at AbeBooks…