A festival of phalluses and how they grind the pepper in Greece

Well, I never expected learning Greek to be so mind-broadening.

My tutor, Maria, asks me what I would like to do this week and, as I pause to think, she says: “I know, we’ll do the piece about phalluses!” I think I must have misheard her, but before I can clarify, she disappears to print something off her computer.

As it turns out, I hadn’t misheard her at all. The piece of Greek she has printed off is all about the strange festival held in the town of Tirnavos in Thessalia on the last day before the beginning of Lent. It’s know in Greek as Clean Monday, but in the case of this particular town it is called Dirty Monday, for reasons which will shortly become clear.

The custom allegedly dates back to the phallus processions that took place as part of the worship of Dionysus in Ancient Greece. In the town square a cauldron is set up. Bands play and people are treated to tsipouro (raki) at tables. There are phalluses everywhere in all sizes. Dirty songs are sung, dirty jokes are told and ‘things are called by their real names’ and not by euphemisms. People are invited to come and stir the bourani (spinach, nettle, flour and vinegar soup) that is being cooked in the cauldron and then have a taste of it followed by a shot of tsipouro from the inevitable phallus-shaped, ceramic tumbler. Wikipedia adds the following detail: ‘Next to the cauldron, there is rocking throne in the shape of a phallus, which attracts flocks of laughing festivalgoers’.

Two villagers lead the singing and dancing: one is the oldest villager and the other is called the Kavoukas who represents the god, Pan. He wears animal skins on his legs and is hung with bells and phalluses.

Not surprisingly the Orthodox Church strongly disapproves of this festival and has in the past tried to suppress it, but with no success.

Me: “Do both men and women take part in this festival?”

Maria: “Yes, of course.”

Not for the first time in my encounters with Greece and its culture, I am lost for words.

One of the songs they sing, which is known and sung throughout Greece, is called How they grind the pepper. Here’s my translation of it – and I apologise in advance to any of my readers who are easily shocked.

How they grind the pepper

How they gri-, my fine friend,

How they grind the pepper;

How they grind the pepper

The devil’s own monks.

With their kn-, my fine friend,

With their knee they grind it.

With their knee they grind it

And they pound it up fine.

Come and mock, you fine young men,

With your broad and short swords.

With their no-, my fine friend,

With their nose, they grind it.

With their nose they grind it

And they pound it up fine.

Come and mock, you fine young men,

With your broad and short swords.

With their ton-, my fine friend,

With their tongue they grind it.

With their tongue they grind it

And they pound it up fine.

Come and mock, you fine young men,

With your broad and short swords.

With their ar-, my fine friend,

With their arse they grind it.

With their arse they grind it.

And they pound it up fine.

Come and mock, you fine young men,

With your broad and short swords.

With their pri-, my fine friend,

With their prick they grind it.

With their prick they grind it.

And they pound it up fine.

Come and mock, you fine young men,

With your broad and short swords.

You can find a very good video of the song (performed by Domna Samiou) and the dance that goes with it here on You Tube.

 

 

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