Sample “Greek Key” Design
The notion of living to the fullest by grabbing on to life and holding it tight can be traced to ancient Greece. Research conducted by my colleagues and I into the ways that Greeks, from ancient times to the present day, embrace the fullness of life along the path to meaning can be viewed as a display of how life becomes art and how art, in turn, can become life.
Take, for example, the decorative Greek design commonly known as the “Greek key.” Typically we see this ornamental pattern, which consists of repeated, continuous vertical and horizontal lines (often in relief), used artistically as a decorative border on buildings, clothing, pottery, and other artifacts.
The Greek key has deep roots in ancient Greece. This decorative element was referred to as a meander, or meandros, in ancient times and had profound meaning. The word “meander” came to refer to the twisting and turning path of the Maeander River (also spelled Meander), which is in what is now southwestern Turkey. Since then, meander has also been used to describe a winding pattern or design.
Over time, it has taken on new meanings and usages, suggesting that to meander is analogous to moving aimlessly and idly without any fixed direction or purpose. Hence, we now hear uninspiring phrases, such as “meandering through life,” to describe a form of aimless wandering judged to be devoid of authentic meaning.
For some twenty-five hundred years, the true origin, interpretation, and use of the Greek key, or meandros, have remained locked away. Thanks to the groundbreaking research of two individuals in modern Greece, the true meaning and significance of the ancient Greek meandros have finally seen the light of day.
In this regard, Michael Kalopoulos, a Greek scholar in the history of religion, found that the meandros was not intended to simply be a decorative symbol for use in art. On the contrary, the historical and mythological origins of the meandros revealed that it was a special handgrip used in ancient Greek gymnastics, especially in the sport of wrestling; in the “pankration,” a Greek martial art that was a popular event in the earliest Olympic Games; and in battle.
Source: Global Meaning Institute, used with permission
According to Kalopoulos, on a physical plane, the meandros grip was the unique coupling of the hands (see sample depiction in the figure) that was a powerful way to hold combatants securely. On a much higher, metaphysical level, the meandros grip was a manifestation of the heroic and resilient Greek spirit. Metaphorically-speaking, it enabled ancient Greeks to challenge the gods. The symbol of the meandros was a reminder that human beings held in their hands, literally and figuratively, the capacity to face with confidence whatever happened to come their way in life.
Against the most formidable of odds, both internal and external, the meandros reminded the Greeks that they and no one else held the secret to their ultimate destiny. Relying on the meandros grip also meant that they had a purpose in life and, as a result, were not “meandering” through life or wandering aimlessly, as the term is commonly (mis)understood to mean to this very day.
The second source of enlightenment regarding the Greek key came from what at first seemed to be an unlikely source. A popular Greek singer, Giannis Miliokas, took a leave of absence from music to study the origins of the meandros. In 2010, he published a book, Meandros: The Unknown Gymnastics of the Ancient Greeks. In it, Miliokas describes, in similar fashion to Kalopoulos, the meandros grip both as a technique for subduing and securing opponents of different kinds and as a symbol of the capacity of human beings to overcome adversity no matter how great the odds.
Both Miliokas and Kalopoulos, moreover, noted that even the famous ancient Greek philosopher Plato, who was an avid wrestler, was aware of the meandros grip. Miliokas goes further by suggesting that the meandros grip symbolizes unity and strength within one’s being, as well as in meaningful connections with others. He also reveals the many health benefits in body, mind, and spirit that result from exercising the meandros grip in all areas of life.
The true meaning of the Greek key, or meandros, reminds us to grab on to life and live it to the fullest. Viewed in this context, the commonly heard saying, “get a grip,” takes on an entirely different meaning, one that is both aspirational and inspirational, by challenging us to embrace all of life—all the ups and downs, joys and sorrows—not simply tiptoe or wander aimlessly through it.
So, now ask yourself: are you facing with confidence whatever happens to come your way in life? In other words, are you embracing the fullness of life?