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Portrait of Spyros Roumeliotis and Polyxeni Papoutsi
Photographer unknown, c. 1952 Photograph, 6 x 8 cm Private collection
In 1957 Mr. Spyros Roumeliotis left Chalcis, on the Greek island of Euboea, to join the thousands of miners who formed the social and genetic pool of Limburg. Like many men then as now, Roumeliotis had to leave his wife, Polyxeni, behind. The couple signified their wish to be reunited by tearing their only photograph in two, so that the husband could carry the image of his wife, and the wife could keep the image of her husband at home.
A year later, Polyxeni arrived to Belgium with their two children, and they stitched the portrait back together with needle and thread. This gesture marks an historical return as well as a reunion across geographical distance. Ancient Greeks used to mark contracts through material symbola, which frequently consisted of a token made of clay or bone and divided into halves. Contracting parties would break these tokens so as to be able to guarantee their identities upon rejoining the two fragments (Shell 1993: 32ff.).
This is the origin of the concept of the symbol: the power of a fragment to recall a unity or whole which is not visible, as described in Aristophanes’s speech in Plato’s Symposium: each of us is “a mere tally of a person, one of two sides of a filleted fish, one half of an original whole” (2008: 24 [191D]). CM