On 11 March this year my father passed away from prostate cancer after several weeks in a hospital in central Athens. As we sat around his bed, I remember thinking that I was watching 3,000 years of Greek history slowly perish before my eyes. My father was an only child, and I am British. His line of Greeks is at an end.
Now fires have ravaged Greece and the olive trees that stood in my ancestral village for centuries have burnt to the ground. This year has seen the almost literal burning away of my roots: because if I am British, I am also a Greek — of sorts. This much is inescapable. My name is Patrikarakos, Pa-tri-ka-ra-kos, which falls — like a slab of Cycladic marble — between me and those I meet. So luminously foreign, so palpably un-English. I remember as a child reading that Ian Fleming had chosen the name James Bond for the main character of a spy novel he wanted to write because its two blunt monosyllables were, he said, ‘brief, unromantic, Anglo-Saxon and very masculine’. What then of my endless syllables and vulgar vowels, which fuse together in ululating cadences, and sound so alien — and presumably feminine — to British ears?
If my name screams ‘foreign’ to the British it signals something else to Greeks. Its stem — ‘akos’ means only one thing: that I originate in the Mani, a region of the Peloponnese in southern Greece. The origins of the word ‘Mani’ mean ‘a sparse and treeless place’ — and it’s apt. The land is hot and arid, the terrain mountainous and inaccessible. It was only relatively recently that a road able to reach many of its villages was built. Previously they had been accessible only by sea.
The people, who claim descent from the ancient Spartans, are notoriously ungovernable.