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Sunday, 01 November 2020

All the Way Back Home to Ancient Olympia

Written by Kevin Dimetres
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I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world.” – Diogenes


An undeciphered envelope and the bastardized version of my Greek family name were all that remained. It had been nearly one-hundred years since Eppocratis Dimitroulas left his Greek homeland, never to return again. The cultural connections disintegrated; the family relationships long lost. Three generations had passed since he left his family behind, long enough ago that his memory surely had faded into antiquity. But perhaps they still knew of him… Perhaps they knew of us?


Throughout my life people have enquired about my apparent Greek ethnicity; I’ve always embraced the perception with pride, but could never move beyond the unsettling guilt that the connections to my ancestral heritage had been lost. I never felt worthy of “being Greek,” yet I adored the cultural associations and historical accolades, such as Socratic philosophy, Olympic heroism, and the enquiring connection to Demeter, the Greek goddess of the harvest & fertility, affiliated with my family name while growing up in the transient metropolis of Washington, D.C. The time had come to earn that distinction and restore my family’s Greek roots.

We knew very little about my great-grandfather’s past. As the story goes, he left his village somewhere near Pyrgos, Elias, during his teenage years with one of his cousins, arriving in The Bronx in America. Immigration and customs officials butchered his name to Sam Dimetres, the spelling of our family surname remaining relatively unique to this day. Eventually settling in Springfield, MA, he adapted to American customs while effectively pressing the reset button on our family’s Greek heritage. We knew that his parents were named Petros and Georgia, and we believed that he had numerous siblings at the time of his departure.

An empty envelope sent from Greece and ornamented with Greek writing had been found a few years earlier in my grandmother’s basement; it was the sole relic remaining with any direct connection from my great-grandfather to his family. The envelope revealed the name of a village, Magoula, which we learned was located in the Peloponnesian countryside near Pyrgos, Elias. With the envelope in hand, a micro-fraction of our family tree at the ready, and an overabundance of hope, my immediate family embarked on our long-awaited journey to Greece.

We knew the likelihood of finding anyone who would have any recollection of Eppocratis Dimitroulas or knowledge of their direct ancestry to his parents, Petros & Georgia, was infinitesimally small, akin to a blindfolded, spun-out game of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. Even if we met a distant relative, who knew if we’d get along, or if we’d even be welcomed?

The odds were stacked against us, but we didn’t care; despite the negligible evidence and limited knowledge of the town beyond its location on a map, our optimism grew as large as the chances were slim, like a candle-blowing birthday cake wish that just might come true if wished hard enough.

This expedition to seek out my Greek family and ancestral homeland was three generations in the making, and the time was now. No amount of hope could be spared.

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Last modified on Sunday, 01 November 2020

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