Short story: A bird of white and black by Ian Latham

by Ian Latham

I woke from the cold to the blue of the sky and sea, the creaking of the rigging, the white light before the sun rose. The sea was flat and comforting as it stretched to the edge of the isthmus. It seemed so large that our small boat was as a splinter of wood floating in a lake. And there in the distance you could see it; the greatest city in the world; a city that sat like a clenched fist slammed upon the sea.

It was almost a year since last we had left. Most of us were still here. Not a bad effort if you think what we went through. We had shown them, though. Throughout Dalmatia we had harried and attacked them; the barbarians and the apostates. And they; this rabble that lived like pigs. How could they resist? And why should they?

For if we never returned, our souls would live forever in heaven. And if we returned it would be to a procession decked by the standards of the city and its saints. And the priest would lead us to the great church with the icon of the virgin and take our gifts and give thanks. If they died, their soul would search forever for a home. They had no god. No
one would ever remember them.

The men on deck were starting to stir. They were wooden headed from last night but they were happy. They would sleep at home tonight. They would see their women and their kids. Except Con. He didn’t seem to have a family. He didn’t seem that excited to be back. His Greek was terrible. And most strangely he had that very fine tattoo of that strange bird standing on two legs with its head turned to one side.

I had never seen one finer. A bird of white and black. Above it were letters not of Greek but seemingly not Latin. Where was this man from? It had washed around my mind for months. I walked over to him and sat down. After the pleasantries, I asked him where his family was from. He looked at me a bit blankly. ‘My family are from beyond the sea’.

By this stage the others were beginning to crowd around. One of the sailors asked if his family was from Africa. Another asked him whether they came from the lands to the east. There wasn’t anything further away than that. They were laughing. He lolled his head back and said no.

‘My family are from beyond the sea. Further than the land of silk. Further.”

The others grew interested. ‘Are they Greeks? asked a number.

‘Yes, They think so, but not Greeks as you would know.’

It was extraordinary. Greeks beyond the sea. Why had we not heard of them before? Perhaps this man was not well; possessed by some spirit. I laughed: ‘And what can these Greeks tell us? These Greeks across the seas.’

He looked up as if sad. He said: ‘They could tell you how Byzantium was overrun by those from the east. They could tell you how Constantinople was attacked and finally fell. They could tell you how the Church was desecrated and the emperor killed. They could tell you how the Greeks were slaves for centuries.’

It had become so quiet that the noise of the boat seemed deafening. Such talk must be blasphemy but none wished him to stop. ‘And the Greeks.  What of them?’ a number asked. ‘Oh the Greeks. They will survive. The world will become much bigger and the Greeks will live throughout it. Their language and their churches will continue. But this will never be seen as Greek again.’

The others drifted away without speaking. And as if by plan, they went back to their conversations as if the last had never happened. I did the same.

We never spoke of it again. Yet as we walked up to the church later that day, I couldn’t purge a feeling of unease.


  1. Its abviously a story about Phil Dimitriadis.

  2. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Sorry to disappoint you Dips, but I had nothing to do with this one.

    I like the creativity of Ian’s story and more of this kind of allegorical writing should be read by the footy public. My interpretation as an Australian from a Greek family who follows the Pies is thus:

    The deference to some sort of Utopian Hellenic race that could be linked to a Football team (race) on the other side of the world is amusing.

    There is myth perpetuation at various levels:

    1. That Greeks are somehow superior and have become victims. Collingwood receives equal billing allegorically. Other clubs have conspired to destroy them.

    2. The Magpie tattoo a symbol of so-called purity, lost and disseminated among a group of people who think they are Greek in a faraway land.

    3. The link between Christianity and Greekness juxtaposed with Eastern barbarism. Ancient Greeks were Polytheistic or Agnostic and Christianity tried to subvert this, brutally at times.

    4. Not all Greeks and Collingwood fans are any longer sure of what it really means to identify with either race or team. The meanings have changed and too many myths have been believed to the detriment of both race, team and fans.

    5. Anglo Hellenophiles mean well but they see Greekness through a Nietzschean prism that is seductive yet ultimately unrealistic.

    Why can’t we link footy to Egyptian, Mayan or Nordic mythemes? I may sound hypocritical because I’ve played that game too. Ultimately, it’s time to search for new perspectives because Greek based ideology has only taken Western thought so far; in life and sport.

    That is my humble and extremely subjective view Ian. The fact that you got me thinking about these issues means your piece struck a chord. Well done and keep writing!

  3. johnharms says

    And Phil I thought it was from the first draft of Zorba – the one Nikos Kazantzakis threw away.

  4. johnharms says


    Otherwise I was trying to work out whether it had its origins in Homer, Chaucer, the ancient mariner, Popeye, et al.

  5. Phil Dimitriadis says

    I can’t recall Zorba being drafted Harmsy. I thought he was a free agent!

  6. Phil Dimitriadis says

    The fact that you link Homer with Popeye says a lot about what we’re dealing with here! A combination of myth, history, place, pop culture family and political ideology gives fans meaning.

  7. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Would love to hear from Ian to understand the authorial side of the story.

  8. Phil, Zorba is a RL commentator in Sydney — Peter Peters (Panoutas Peterides).

  9. I reckon Con in this story has ancestral links to Joffa.

  10. You could be on to something there Dips.

    Apparently Joffa sings to the sweetness of the Siren(s) when the Pies prevail and wails to the Siren(s) like Ulysses when the opposition takes the Cream (Disraeli Gears)

  11. WAG, at Geelong we just go down to the river to pray.

  12. JTH, oh ye of little faith.

    Remember the great soothsayer Keating. “This will be the sweetest victory af all”.

    The handicapper is not in calf again by any chance. That would be a good sign. (for all other Cat supporters any way)

    Go Cats.

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