Students and faculty gathered in the Classics Library on Friday to listen to Pavlos Kavouras, professor of cultural anthropology and chair of the Department of Ethnomusicology and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Athens School of Music, speak about xenitia, or the state of being a foreigner.
“(When) someone migrates, where he goes he’s considered a foreigner,” Kavouras said. “When he returns his people consider him to be a foreigner. So he asks himself ‘Where do I belong?’ Once you’re affected by xenitia you are a foreigner in your old and new home. Always a foreigner.”
According to Greek mythology, Zeus was the king of Mount Olympus, the most powerful of the 12 primary Greek gods. Though he governed everything, he prominently acted as the protector of travelers and strangers, Kavouras said.
“The term xenitia is so pregnant with meaning, I’ve always believed that one could write the whole history of Greek culture by focusing on the idea of xenitia,” Kavouras said.
Kavouras also explored the concept’s cultural significance by analyzing song lyrics, covering approximately 100 years of Greek music. Kavouras talked about the shifting perspective of the songs and how they approach the significance of xenitia from different perspectives.
“To render xenitia in musical terms would be a whole ‘nother lecture," Kavouras said.
Through his sample of songs, Kavouras touched on the position of being an immigrant, as well as those left behind by the departed and those who return from home from abroad.
Vassilis Lambropoulos, University professor of comparative literature and classical studies, said the concept of xenitia can be easily applied to current events.
"The interesting thing about immigration is that it’s a tremendously timely topic,” Lambropoulos said. "We hear in the media every day about the waves of immigrants and refugees arriving in Europe, and most of them passing through Greece.”