Obsessing over authenticity

The unseasonably mild temperature proved beneficial to Athens on Sunday. The city’s Marathon broke all records in terms of participants, whether Greek, foreign, famous or unknown.

Runners in the unknowns category, including those dressed as Greek “tsoliades” in memory of Spyros Louis, winner of the first modern Olympic marathon in 1896, and those clad in antiquity-inspired gear as a tribute to Pheidippides (the Greek soldier to whom the phrase “We have won” [“Nikomen”] has been wrongly attributed) ran in a bid to enjoy a day in the city, usually impossible to master due to traffic, as well as get more acquainted with the region of Attica.

In the famous and semi-famous category, which included politicians and personalities from local show business, the reason for taking part was less the opportunity to take in the authentic route and test their own limits and more to be seen and be admired by the unknowns. Business as usual. Besides, that was the easy part.

What seems nearly impossible to get over is our persistence, if not our obsession, with the idea of “authenticity.” That was after all the official definition of the Athens Marathon: “the Authentic.” In our minds, in our structured-with-rules consciousness, authenticity is fully identified with antiquity, in its most glorified version of course – in other words in its most idealized version. This was reflected in comments made by politicians who attended the event: The ones who ran in the Marathon and those who rushed to the Kallimarmaro Stadium driven by the desire for publicity. Almost everyone felt it was necessary to mention the usual trivialities.

What we mean (and long for) when we refer to something authentic, worthy and admirable, is the old. And we seem to come across more authenticity as we dwell more and more on the past. The new, in whatever form, is judged as mediocre at best, and at worst (which is usually the case) as a bad copy, something illegitimate. For a long time this was the case in the depreciation of the people’s language, the so-called “demotic” vis-a-vis the “katharevousa,” which was supposedly more authentic, or at least an heir to authenticity, when in fact it was a made-up idiom rarely used in real life, even by its most fervent supporters.

We recognize the same logic in the rhetoric which defines today’s Greece as “little Greece,” the idea being that the country is insignificant when compared to the empire of Alexander or Byzantium. But why not trust this “little Greece” a little? We don’t need to wear chitons in our dreams, jeans are fine too, as long as we can come up with a dream for a common future, something which brings people together rather than tears them apart.

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