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The right stuff

Gathering infos

It is requisite for me to see where I am going, in order to go where I want.”

Romain Rolland

In the columns of the Greek newspaper “Athletic Echo“, a text was published in succession, whose editor, journalist Timos Moraitis, claimed that it was the “lost” biography of the famous Greek wrestler and weightlifter. That publication took place in 1951.

The “Athletic Echo” logo

 The journalist, in his preface, claims that these rare handwritten pages came into his possession through some of the wrestler’s relatives whom he does not name. He also says that the completely illiterate athlete set out to learn a few letters about ten years before he died, in order to leave as a legacy to future generations his memoirs. In yet another page of the same newspaper, it is stated that Coutalianos    during the days when he was seriously ill in a hospital of

Constantinople, he dictated to a cleric that he remembered the important events of his sporting life. Nevertheless, the fact that no photocopy of these – supposedly – handwritten pages was published, makes us suspicious of the content of the publications titled “Coutaliano’s Biography”. However, for the most part, that is, what we managed to compare with reliable and contemporary sources of the athlete, these publications seem to be valid for the most part and that is why we started the process of highlighting them, leaving them to the judgement of our readers. Exactly how Coutalianos’ memoirs were written is something that preoccupied us and continues to preoccupy us. If we take into account what is reported in the columns of the “Athletic Echo“, a scholar expatriate, a resident of New York called Georgios Kastritsis, allegedly received these manuscripts from the athlete’s sons who had assumed the debt – following the father’s last wish them- to publish his memoirs. The scholar who received the envelope of manuscripts, after studying them thoroughly, thought it appropriate to mail them to Greece, to a friend and old classmate named L. Calfarenzo, whom he considered more suitable for writing such a work. In this adventurous way was compiled that book which is rumored to have once been circulated in the USA and whose fate we do not know.

Four years later, in 1955, another newspaper will publish an additional biography of the athlete. It was about the “Marmarina News“, published by the folklorist Nik. Sot. Lampadaridis.

The title of the newspaper “Marmarina News”

A little earlier, in 1933, a long interview was published in the columns of the Greek newspaper “Patris” which we could say looks like a “biographical testimony”. This is what the son of Panagis Coutalianos Hellin allegedly told the journalist Giorgos Boukouvala. The Greek, a wrestler himself, like both his father and his brothers, had arrived in Greece after wandering for years. We know that he eventually settled in a poor neighborhood of Piraeus, that is where he was discovered by the aforementioned journalist. In the long published interview, we identified some inaccuracies    that    weaken the validity of what is reported. In our narrative, however, we have taken care to retain only such of the evidence as we have been able to cross, and those which have been free from exaggeration. Especially what is related to the tour of Panagis in old Russia, is highly revealing, interesting and rather reliable. It remains    however    all these elements we “fished out” to be cross-referenced in the future with archival material from the Russian newspapers of the time, which for us was extremely difficult – to the point of impossible – mainly because of the war conditions that prevail in the territories of Ukraine    and Crimea, places through which we know that Panagis Coutalianos passed triumphantly, making wonderful appearances.

Newspaper “Patris”

The reservoir of our most reliable information about the life and activities of Coutalianos could not be other than what was published about him at the time he lived. Tracing the athlete’s tracks, we tried to follow them step by step from the beginning of his career to the end of his life. Most of all, the satirical-political newspaper “Aristofanis” published by the journalist Panagiotis Pigadiotis helped us. In the pages of this newspaper, a long interview of the athlete himself is published, the content of which enlightens us about all the important events of his life, up to 1884, that is, the year he visited Greece as a triumphant and world champion after many      adventures.

The journalist P.Pigadiotis
The logo of “Aristofanis” newspaper

In the context of our research, however, we discovered some additional more comprehensive biographical references. In the page of the Greek newspaper “Akropolis” with publication date of 12-5-1884, we find such a source in an article entitled “Neos Iraklis” (New Hercules), while equally important are those published in the American newspaper Buffalo NY Courier / 13 -1-1889, under the title “The Story of Antonio Panay and his pupil, Greek George“.

The “Akropolis” newspaper published by B. Gabrielides
The logo of the “Buffalo Courier”

Of course, there were also writers who wanted to approach the subject in a fictional way, on the one hand because they did not have sufficient sources at their disposal    and on the other hand because they wanted in some way    to save at least all those oral traditions that followed the athlete’s reputation. Euripos Drosos is the author of such a popular story that was published by the publisher Aristophanes Papadimitriou, as well as Edmonds Laniel, whose writings were published by the “Dionysos” house (Originally published by “Keravnos” house). Of course, the Latin-born name of the author as well as his absence both from the international and from the Greek article-editing, makes us believe that this particular person had reasons to “hide” behind a pseudonym.

The cover of the historical novel of E. Drosos
The cover of the first edition of the historical novel “The Coutalianos” by Edmond Laniel

Fictional reports on the life of Coutalianos were also published by the Athenian newspaper “Athlitismos” (1935), the magazine “Thesaurus” (1947) and the magazine “Bouquet” (1929).

On its front page (right side) the newspaper “Athlitismos” advertises the story of Coutalianos. On the left is a photo of the popular wrestler Jim Londos which is accompanied by an extensive article.
Thesaurus” magazine advertisement for the publication of Coutalianos’ historical novel
A historical novel about Coutalianos in the magazine “Bouquet

Furthermore for Coutalianos many monographs and intresting articles have been written, the most important of which are those of Fotis Kontoglou, Dimitres Oikonomides – in his book “the road with the square stone, Athens, 1949”, Sotiris Spatharis who in his memoirs mentions two episodes of Coutaliano’s life (Crete University Publications, 2020) and also by  P. Samaras, Helias Petropoulos, S. Vasiliou, S. Milesis  and many others.

The great painter F. Kontoglou signs his article related to Coutalianos.

The book cover of “The Road with Square Stones”, by the autor D. Oikonomides

In 2002, the signatory of this article began the process of publishing an essay on the life of Coutalianos, in the magazine Davlos (issue 251), presenting at the same time the previously unpublished photograph that he was lucky enough to have in his possession. Through this article, we proceeded to publish some findings that emerged from the research we carried out in the archives of Greek newspapers that were not yet digitized at the time. The main goal of this essay, however, was to expand our research, through elements that would arise from our communication with other researchers who would happen to read it. We did not fail to mention this pursuit of ours in the epilogue of our essay, but we did not receive a response from anyone, so we continued our “journey through time”, without companions.

Davlos magazine logo

Panagis    Coutalianos acted in an era that  is characterized by historians as the Second Industrial Revolution (1870-1914). We are talking about an era in which the various patents that are developed help people to migrate en masse to distant destinations and to be informed very quickly about events that were happening on the other side of the world, possibilities that seemed completely unimaginable to the people of earlier times. But adapting to these new data was not easy. Panagis’s migration went to completely unknown places and met people whose culture he did not know, nor whose names he could not pronounce very well. So when he is asked to describe events and situations to journalists, he is unable to be precise. He paraphrases with his Greek accent the names of the locations and the athletes he encountered, making the task of the researcher difficult to decipher the words and concepts. So for example, the Italian wrestler Raffetto, is mentioned in all the newspapers with his name falsified as Rapeto, Pepero or otherwise, but also various    cities    with the names of which the Greeks of the time were not familiar, are pronounced -and then written- with way extremely difficult to understand.

Nevertheless, the methodical approach to data collection and the comparison of sources gradually opened up the horizons of our research, and this is how it became possible to write a biography that we believe reliably fills a small gap in the international literature of wrestling and weightlifting.

Kostas Michos

Kostas Michos



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