In his book, The Many Faces of Hellenic Culture: Greek Culture Outside Modern Greece, Billy Cotsis Explores Hellenic culture around the globe.
Meet Billy Cotsis
Born in 1977, Billy Cotsis is a Greek-Australian, born and raised in Sydney. His parents hail from Lesvos — very close to Asia Minor — modern day Turkey. He first visited Turkey when he was 22 and became very interested in the story of Smyrna where his grandfather (and namesake) Vasilli lived for a time.
Billy Cotsis is part travel writer, part historian, part worldwide Hellenic ambassador, part raconteur — and always interesting. He has written between 250 to 300 articles mainly as a feature writer, published in Australia, Greece, the UK and US. Currently, he writes for Neos Kosmos and before that since 1995, with O Kosmos. “Faces” is his first book.
He writes a blog about Hellenic history, called Hellenic Travels to the past. He also writes about his 65 Greek island visits. Billy travels to multiple continents looking for evidence of ancient Greek culture and connecting with Greek communities worldwide.
A passion for Greek history
Billy spoke about his passion for history.
“Alexander the Great, Phillip II, Pericles, Cleopatra, Seleucis, and also Rome, all piqued my interest. I wanted to learn about Greece. When I discovered medieval Greece — the Byzantine Empire — my learning went to another level. I see Byzantium as part of the Greek journey and identity and its 1100 years of history fascinating. Constantinople is arguably the greatest Greek city ever, just shading Athens. Yes, I realize that this is a controversial point to make. Once you read up on the city of Constantine between the Seventh Century BC to 1453, you may have the same conclusion.”
His passion for Hellenic culture and history grows with every trip. He’s been to some far off places, discovering firsthand, that Greeks are everywhere. And in every corner of the world, Greek hospitality thrives.
“I was in Beirut, being driven around by the Greek youth. We had just been out to a Lebanese restaurant and I lamented that I didn’t get the chance to dance Greek in Lebanon. They stopped the car, everyone stepped out … someone played Greek music and we danced in the middle of the road. It’s rude to say no to peculiar cultural habits in the Middle East, and a passerby joined in.”
In the Ukraine where he wasn’t able to visit the Greek museum – it was Sunday and it was closed. Someone made a phone call. The curator arrived, so he wouldn’t miss it.
“She was wearing the Greek costume of the local Hellenes. Her greeting was not ‘ti kanete‘ — it was in local Greek prose. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be granted a visit and a personal recital of Greek poetry.”
Inspiration for “Faces”
Back in 1999, a family story inspired this journey.
“My late aunty told me that my pappou was born in the village of Karagatsi in Aivali, Turkey, which is just a boat ride away from Lesvos. That is probably where the moment — or the insanity — to uncover the extent of the Greek world began. When I went there, despite the language barrier, I felt as though I belonged. The people of Turkey made me feel welcome. Pappou Vasilis had made his way to Greece via Smyrna (Izmir) as a refugee. Smyrna is where my maternal Yiayia Cassandra has heritage. I took the opportunity to visit Smyrna too, a city that was lost to Greece in 1922 after the catastrophe of an unnecessary war. From this moment on, I knew that I would slowly find ways to bring Hellenic stories back to Australia.”
Each discovery compels Billy to share the stories, and to learn more.
“Every country I have explored has some sort of Hellenic story to tell. My role is to ensure their history is not forgotten. The Hellenes who spread Hellenism from the Straits of Gibraltar to India deserve an audience. Their ancestors and their Greek culture must be preserved.”
The Many Faces of Hellenic Culture: Greek culture outside modern Greece is organized by location, and begins in Africa. I knew that there was a large and flourishing Greek community in Alexandria up until very recently — I worked for a time with a Greek Brit who was born there. I also know there are Greeks in South Africa. Did you know there are spectacular Greek ruins in Libya and Tunisia? On his travels Billy met the current head of the Greek church in Tunisia in addition to visiting the ruins in ancient Carthage. He gives a brief history of Greek settlements in Cyrene (modern Libya) that lasted for centuries and where Erastothenes and St. Mark the Evangelist were born. He tells you where to go and what to see in Alexandria. Billy visits a Greek club there and the house of the Greek poet Cavafy.
He also travels to London (where he lived for a time), Brussels, Hungary, New Zealand, Cyprus, Astoria in New York, Bulgaria, Georgia (the country), and Scotland.
REVIEW of The Many Faces of Hellenic Culture
If you are a Greek like me who is in touch with your Hellenic background, you probably find yourself always looking for signs of the presence or influence of fellow Greeks. If, on your travels, you’ve ever looked for signs of Hellenic culture and influence, or wondered about Greeks in other parts of the world, then this book is for you.
If you are interested in Greek history and its connection to modern living Greek communities today, put Billy Cotsis’ book on your list. There’s a lot of fascinating information here, and it proves that Greeks are indeed everywhere. It may just ignite your passion for travel and discovery.
By: Billy Cotsis
Amazon Digital Services LLC.