On the Unhappiness of Being Greek

On the Unhappiness of Being Greek

Required reading for anyone wishing to understand how the Greek crisis came about and what it means to be Greek today written by a controversial patriot and native of Greece.


If Noam Chomsky and Gore Vidal have a Greek analogue, it is Nikos Dimou, one of the most fertile minds of his generation.

This book is a series of 193 mostly brief, often cutting and at times satirical aphorisms about Greece and Greeks. In the postscript, Dimou writes: I have tried, simply, to articulate my observations in such a way so that serious people will find them to be serious, while less serious ones will find them less serious. I am now tortured by the possibility that the exact opposite will occur.

According to its author, Nikos Dimou: “This book is not a humorous collection of aphorisms about the shortcomings of Greeks — but a bitter reflection on their tragic destiny…(it is) the product of a man who cares deeply for his country, and tries to help his fellow citizens fulfil the Delphic motto: ‘Know thyself.’”

This book has also earned Dimou the label anti-Hellene, and he came to be known as a gadfly at best and a traitor at worst.. While he is at times viciously blunt, and while many of his observations are clearly debatable, Dimou always exudes a love for Greece in his text, a love more pure, many readers have observed, than that of the most ardent (self-proclaimed) patriots.

One of his pertinent reflections highlighted in The Economist (UK Christmas Special 2012) is "Any race believing itself to be descended from the Ancient Greeks, would be automatically unhappy. Unless it could either forget them or surpass them."

First published in 1975, the book became an overnight bestseller in Greece and is currently in its 31st edition having sold over 110,000 copies. An instant bestseller in Germany (Kunstmann, 2012) where it has gone on to sell more than 25,000 copies, the book has also been published in France (Payot, 2012), Italy (Castelvecchi, 2012), Spain (Anagrama, 2012), and Turkey (Istos, 2013).


“Painfully relevant to understanding the current crisis engulfing (Greece) and the continent.” ~ , Die Welt

"The most succesfull non-fiction book in Greek after the Antiquity" ~ , Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

"A revelation!" ~ , Die Presse

"Only the Gods know why it took almost forty years until -at last-this book appeared in Germany." ~ , Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

"This small volume shows how little German readers know about Greece." ~ , Suddeutsche Zeitung

"(Dimou's book) offers a glimpse of Greek mentality." ~ , Il Sole 24 Ore

A classic book … a bitter path towards self-knowledge … it examines with idiosyncratic sarcasm the subject of Modern Greek identity … a truly patriotic book. Dimou places himself at the right distance from his subject observing Greeks as they truly are.  ~ Alexandros Stergiopoulos, Eleftherotypia Newspaper

Nikos Dimou had a different kind of unhappiness in mind when he wrote On the Unhappiness of Being Greek back in 1975 … yet all the symptoms he described at the time contributed greatly towards Greece’s present predicament. The mentality that was developed … the national identity that was formed after the military dictatorship … we are still suffering from the same symptoms and very soon we will find ourselves just as unhappy (as we were back in 1975).   ~ Chrystalla Chatzidimitriou, O Fileleftheros Newspaper

The 30th edition of On the Unhappiness of Being Greek has just come out making this classic book a legend. There couldn’t be a better time for this new edition. I grew up with this book. In fact we grew up together. I was a student when I first discovered it and now I am what they call a middle-aged man. The only difference between us is that, unlike myself, Nikos Dimou’s book of aphorisms –having gone against time and change- has remained the same. One cause for unhappiness for us Greeks is that this book has continued to be just as current as it was when it was first published … another cause for unhappiness is the way the book was received back then … especially by certain so called experts. They didn’t see it as it really was (small bitter lessons for those who love Greece and maintain the irrational hope that somehow miraculously it will be saved) but as the exact opposite: a book that lays blame for no reason at all (all blame is unreasonable in Greece, it goes without saying). Along with those experts appeared the demagogues as well. These people never read books, they just argue about the books they never read. For all those good patriots this book was deemed to be dangerous. In the 90s … everything that went against their attitudes, which were propagated in all the controlled media, was naturally labelled as ‘dangerous’. It didn’t help that Nikos Dimou was always in a peculiar black list … because he had many flaws. First of all he was an advertising man and a successful one at that. Secondly, as his work has shown, he was never one to go with the flow of our nation’s typical ideologies.  On the contrary he fought against them as much as he could. Even worse, he never barricaded himself behind a particular caste, group, union or leftish ideology group so to be able to take part in the game. He remained the sensitive man that he was, who insisted on voicing his own opinions, (which is the reason why he did not last long in most newspapers and magazines he worked for.) … I owe this man a lot and this is the least I can do to thank him for his poems, photographs, newspaper and magazine columns, the breath of fresh air he’s been in our lives for so many years now. And rather unfortunately his remains the freshest voice in today’s free presses. So now that the banners of the fight have been ripped apart, now that the allure of the great expectations of those propagating Greekness and anything Greek has worn off, the book has reappeared. And it is indispensable to us. On the Unhappiness of Being Greek has now become a classic best-seller and is again in the line of duty for a reason: it is high time young Greeks learned the reasons of our unhappiness so as to make their best in the coming decades to turn this book into a funny and bitter memory of all the lost years. I am happy this book has come out again. I am truly unhappy it remains so current.   ~ www.eyelands.gr, www.eyelands.gr

On the Unhappiness of Being Greek was the title of one of Nikos Dimou’s books that had caused a stir in the years following the military dictatorship. There was a line in the book: Whenever a Greek looks at himself in the mirror, he sees either Alexander the Great or Kolokotronis (hero of the Greek War of Independence) or (at least) Onassis. Never Karaghiozis (comic puppet character from the Greek popular shadow theatre.) The truth of this observation has been corroborated many times in the past and it continues to be corroborated. For three consecutive decades, this country’s indigenous residents have been refusing to accept that their participation in supranational organisations was not by way of compliment. They were not accepted in these organisations because of their nation’s grandeur. It was an agreement with obligations for both sides: especially in the case of the European Union. … Our agreement with the European Union presupposes rights and obligations, too. We have claimed our rights. Our obligations have now prompted the creation of a fund.  In today’s Europe it is a misfortune to say that you are Greek. ~ George Lakopoulos, www.protagon.gr

Nikos Dimou
Nikos Dimou Nikos Dimou is Greek, has published 61 books that have sold about half a million copies in Greece. He is multiligual (mother tongue French,...

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