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Today is Good Friday, the Christian anniversary of the crucifixion of Jesus. This year, Greek Orthodox Christians as well as Roman Catholics and Protestants will be celebrating Easter on the same Sunday. Greeks call it Pascha, the name of the Jewish holiday Pesach, which is still going on as I write this, celebrating Jewish liberation from slavery in pharaonic Egypt. Both Easter and Pesach are descendants of pagan holidays celebrating the arrival of spring, the resurrection of dormant vegetation in the Northern Hemisphere, and the birth of many animals and birds. Both Pesach and Easter are celebrated with eggs; in the Greek tradition the eggs are colored red. I wrote about Easter eggs in Jonathan's Coffeeblog last year.
I have also written about solstices being celebrated with bonfires, lights, and fireworks. A few days ago a strange headline attracted my attention: "Police detain 30 and seize 250,000 explosives in past week on Crete". No less than a million fireworks were reportedly confiscated in Athens. The use of fire to celebrate equinoxes (the first day of spring and fall) didn't surprise me: the Brits celebrate the onset of autumn with a Guy Fawkes Day bonfire. I was surprised, however by the sheer quantity of Greek Easter fireworks reported, and the serious crackdown by Greek police. Then I remembered something called Greek Fire.
The Eastern Roman Empire, called Byzantine by scholars because its capital Constantinople was originally called Byzantium, lasted from the years 286 to 1543 of the Christian era. One reason it lasted so long was that it had a secret weapon. Amazingly, the weapon is still secret. How they did it is still unknown. The weapon, essentially a large naval flamethrower, was called Greek Fire.
Is there any connection between modern Greek fireworks and the Greek Fire of the Eastern Roman Empire, other then the fact that they are both a form of pyrotechnics? I am not aware of any such connection, but an ancient custom on the Greek Island of Chios intrigues me. The custom is called Rouketopolemos, which can be translated without a dictionary as "rocket polemics." As it turns out, however, "polemos" in Greek means more than mere heated rhetorical argument. It means: war. And how is Rouketopolemos celebrated? Rockets are used by the polemicists to try to knock down the bell towers of their opponents' churches. Hmmm… It may not be Greek fire but is certainly is Greek firepower. And then I thought of Prometheus, the Titan (supergod) of Ancient Greeks, who was punished for giving fire to mankind. And of course of thought of the recent movie hit about the Battle of Thermopylae. In any case, to the polemicists of Chios, and to everyone else, I offer a hearty Kalo Pascha. That's Greek for Happy Easter. I'll think of the Greek Easter on the next Fourth of July.Permanent Link to This Entry | | Technorati Tag: Pyrotechnics blog comments powered by Disqus Comments (View)
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