Bohemian sailor and his final resting place, the ocean.
The Atlantic Ocean. Photo by Leila Cordeiro Pereira

“Do good and throw it in the sea”


“Do good and throw it in the sea” (ΚΑΝΕ ΤΟ ΚΑΛΟ ΚΑΙ ΡΙΞΤΟ ΣΤΟ ΓΙΑΛΟ). This is a Greek proverb I love. It means do a good deed and let nobody know about it. It is actually the Christian way.

“But when you do merciful deeds, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand does.” Try not to expect recognition and gratitude. Just do it and forget it the next moment. Don’t keep records of charities, of donations or of the help you gave to others.

Let the sea wash it like your footprints on the sand.

Cairn on beach
Crete, Greece. Image by Leonhard Niederwimmer, public domain

Recently, I have started having second thoughts about the proverb “the robe doesn’t make the monk,” which exists in many languages. In Greek, it is actually “the robe doesn’t make the priest” (ΤΟ ΡΑΣΟ ΔΕΝ ΚΑΝΕΙ ΤΟΝ ΠΑΠΑ).

I object because I see that, in reality, the robe mirrors what we are. Our appearance betrays our modest or boastful self. Our cleanliness shows our respect to others and to life in general. Our shabbiness is a sign of the opposite.

In my humble opinion, the robe does make the monk. Or the priest.

There is another phrase in Greek which is used very often: “When you don’t have someone to bring you a glass of water” (ΝΑ ΜΗΝ ΕΧΕΙΣ ΚΑΠΟΙΟΝ ΝΑ ΣΟΥ ΦΕΡΕΙ ΕΝΑ ΠΟΤΗΡΙ ΝΕΡΟ). It denotes those who live alone, who don’t have anyone to care for them.

As I grow older, I see the truth of this phrase. When you come home tired from work, it is so important to be able to ask somebody to bring you the proverbial glass of water. Or the literal one. This glass of water tastes so good because it contains drops of the other person’s love and care.

And then there’s “clarity is wisdom” (ΣΟΦΟΝ ΤΟ ΣΑΦΕΣ). It shows that when we use our words in a clear way, we are wise people. It sounds strange, but I guess it is right. Do I need to explain it further? No, I think it is quite clear.

Ripple. Poetry wave
Ripple. Poetry wave. Public domain photo

An ancient Greek proverb is “when you speak laconically, you are a philosopher” (ΤΟ ΛΑΚΩΝΙΖΕΙΝ ΕΣΤΙ ΦΙΛΟΣΟΦΕΙΝ). It is equally clear and wise, isn’t it?

The Spartans, inhabitants of the region of Laconia, were notorious for their disgust towards every luxury, towards anything superfluous. This is how “laconic” became a synonym for austerity of words.

Admirable people. The opposite of talkative or garrulous.

And now we come to “everything bad is mixed with something good,” or “every cloud has a silver lining.” You probably don’t agree. When I was a child, I myself used to disagree with what adults were telling me using the Greek proverb “every obstacle is for the best” (ΚΑΘΕ ΕΜΠΟΔΙΟ ΓΙΑ ΚΑΛΟ). I was impatient to immediately reach this “best” part, which I couldn’t yet see in the horizon.

But their commonplace proverb contained so much wisdom.

The obstacles were hidden blessings, as would be revealed to me later on.

When I insisted on the wrong person, the wrong job, the wrong decision, when my disappointment was big or enormous, my parents and grandparents would patiently repeat this proverb, or its variation, “everything bad is mixed with something good” (ΟΥΔΕΝ ΚΑΚΟΝ ΑΜΙΓΕΣ ΚΑΛΟΥ).

And now I know what they meant. I have learnt my lesson.

Lito Seizani contributes giving personal insights into being an every-day tourist. She is the author of "The Ideal Bench", which is available on Amazon.

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