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Filotimo - Philotimo

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Definition: Just what is filotimo? The word, also spelled philotimo, was once called "Greek's most untranslatable word" by HellenicComserve. While there are some other contenders for that honor, including "kefi", filotimo comes close to the top of the list. Let's see what it means - or, at least, point to the meaning.

Recently, "Filotimo" was chosen as the title of a book celebrating Greece, published in Germany by German Health Ministry executive Andreas Deffner. German and Greek relations have been strained by the recent Greek financial crisis and the austerity imposed on Greece as a result of it, largely enforced by Germany. The Greek News Agenda quoted Deffner as defining Filotimo as "two or three positive thoughts, a litre of joy of life, 500 grams of hospitality, a whole ripe friendship, ten drops of helpfulness, a little pride, dignity and sense of duty." This light-hearted definition points toward the meaning.

In Greek, filo or philo means "friend" and also has the meaning of "to like". To be a Philhellene is to be someone who likes Greece, Greeks, and Greek culture. "Timo" means honor, so filotimo, on the surface, means an honorable friend. But the concept encompasses everything that would be embodied in that honorable friend and the bond of friendship between two or more such honorable friends. In Greece, it also draws on the ancient models of ideal action, the "laws" of hospitality, and the bonds and responsibilities between equals. It also relates to the idea of xenophilia, the affection for and obligation to foreigners - which in ancient Greece was essentially anyone from another town, even if they spoke Greek, plus visitors from much farther away.

The novel by Nikos Kazantzakis, "Zorba the Greek" (originally titled Life and Adventures of Alexis Zorbas) may be read as a literary example of a character, Alexis Zorba, who lives by the principles of filotimo. This collection of quotes from Zorba also sheds light on the concept of filotimo, though it is never named as such.

Filotimo and Xenophilia

My friend George Stavroulakis on Crete once told me that, based on the principles of xenophilia, that if he saw both his son and a foreigner drowning at the same time, he would be obliged to save the foreigner. The native child would be expected to know better and avoid the danger in the first place, and to be better able to handle the local conditions if anything did happen. It would be a much greater dishonor to allow the unwitting foreigner (already at such a disadvantage at not being born Greek - or better, Cretan) to go under, no matter the personal cost.

This sounds like one of those patriotic adages unlikely to be proved in practice, but not this time. Oddly enough, I personally benefited from this attitude in a similar situation. A couple of years after my conversation with George, I was in a boating mishap off of Plakias Bay and I was rescued in high winds and increasing seas by a Greek jetskier who had been taking his 8- and 9-year old boys for a ride around the bay. To help us, he had his boys jump off the jetski and left them to swim around alone in the increasingly turbulent waters while taking us to shore. So it's not just theoretical virtues that are embodied in xenophilia and filotimo. And it's one more reason to love, and admire, Greece and the Greeks.

In Greek letters, filotimo is φιλότιμο. You may need Greek fonts enabled on your computer to see Greek letters. You can also find Greek letter codes here. More on Filotimo from Christopher Xenopoulos Janus

Also Known As: embodying honor
Alternate Spellings: philotimo
Common Misspellings: felotimo, felotemo, phyllotimo
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