Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Encyclopedia Britannica 1911 on Greeks

"The Greeks display great intellectual vivacity; they are clever, inquisitive, quick-witted and ingenious, but not profound; sustained mental industry and careful accuracy are distasteful to them, and their aversion to manual labour is still more marked. Even the agricultural class is but moderately industrious; abundant opportunities for relaxation are provided by the numerous church festivals.

The desire for instruction is intense even in the lowest ranks of the community; rhetorical and literary accomplishments possess a greater attraction for the majority than the fields of modern science. The number of persons who seek to qualify for the learned professions is excessive; they form a superfluous element in the community, an educated proletariat, attaching themselves to the various political parties in the hope of obtaining state employment and spending an idle existence in the cafes and the streets when their party is out of power. 

In disposition the Greeks are lively, cheerful, plausible, tactful, sympathetic; very affable with strangers, hospitable, kind to their servants and dependants, remarkably temperate and frugal in their habits, amiable and united in family life. Drunkenness is almost unknown, thrift is universally practised; the standard of sexual morality is high, especially in the rural -districts, where illegitimacy is extremely rare. 

The faults of the Greeks must in a large degree be attributed to their prolonged subjection to alien races; their cleverness often degenerates into cunning, their ready invention into mendacity, their thrift into avarice, their fertility of resource into trickery and fraud. Dishonesty is not a national vice, but many who would scorn to steal will not hesitate to compass illicit gains by duplicity and misrepresentation; deceit, indeed, is often practised gratuitously for the mere intellectual satisfaction which it affords. In the astuteness of their monetary dealings the Greeks proverbially surpass the Jews, but fall short of the Armenians; their remarkable aptitude for business is sometimes marred by a certain short-sightedness which pursues immediate profits at the cost of ulterior advantages. Their vanity and egoism, which are admitted by even the most favourable observers, render them jealous, exacting, and peculiarly susceptible to flattery. 

In common with other southern European peoples the Greeks are extremely excitable; their assionate disposition is prone to take offence at slight provocation, and trivial quarrels not infrequently result in homicide. They are religious, but by no means fanatical, except in regard to politico-religious questions affecting their national aims. 

In general the Greeks may be described as a clever, ambitious and versatile people, capable of great effort and sacrifice, but deficient in some of the more solid qualities which make for national greatness".


  1. I thought it was just the climate !!!!

    That was amusing to read - good find.

  2. 100 years, the same "deficiencies".But is it possible to change something? And how?


  3. And your point is what....?

  4. Thank you for drawing my attention to this article. I have the 1911 Britannica - the famous edition before the company was bought by the Americans. This is indeed a small part of what is written about Greeks by James David Bourchier of Kings College, Cambridge, Irish journalist and political activist who worked for The Times as the newspaper's Balkan correspondent, a trusted advisor of Tzar Ferdinand of Bulgaria. He acted as an intermediary between the Balkan states at the conclusion of the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913.. The entry on both classical and modern Greece is among the longest in the whole 1911 edition. Fascinating.

    1. I had hesitated a lot before posting this excerpt. I feared that I might have fallen victim to a fake and might get very embarrassed. After all, it seemed a bit far-fetched that someone would have written 100 years ago something which sounds so applicable even today. Thank you for confirming that it is not a fake!

      PS: On the other hand, if one reads "Democracy in America" by Alexis de Tocqueville today, one would never guess that it was written 180 years ago.

  5. I'm impressed as well as saddened. Apparently we haven't changed much over the course of a hundred years. What a shame.