Hello! Handshake, high five, fist bump. These ways of greeting a friend or new acquaintance seem so natural and unremarkable now, but how did these gestures originate in the first place?
The handshake dates back the farthest. Archaeological relics suggest that handshakes were practiced in ancient Greece in the 5th century B.C. It was a symbol of peace, showing that you were not carrying a weapon. In Berlin’s Pergamon Museum, the most-visited in Germany, a 5th-century funereal relic shows two soldiers shaking hands. At the Acropolis, in Athens, Greece, a 5th-century stone slab depicts Hera and Athena shaking hands.
The Greek poet Homer describes handshaking several times as displays of trust in his epics TheOdyssey and The Iliad. During the Roman era, the handshake evolved to more of an arm grab. Knights in Medieval Europe may have added the shaking of hands up and down as a clever way to dislodge any hidden weapons.
Some historians suggest that modern-day handshaking became popularized by 17th century Quakers, who believed the gesture to be more egalitarian than a hat tip or a bow, according to History.com. In some 17th century marriage portraits, the husband and wife are seen shaking hands as a symbol of their legally binding commitment. By the Victorian era, etiquette guides instructed that the handshake should be firm. While most English-first and Scandinavian countries prefer a firm handshake, in some countries too firm a grip is considered rude and aggressive. Some Asian countries prefer a more gentle touch.
In contrast with the ancient ritual of handshaking, the origins of the high five date back only to last century. And slapping five actually started not up high but down low. The low five has been a fixture of the African American culture since the Jazz Age, as a response to “slap me some skin.” In the 1927 movie The Jazz Singer, Al Jolson slaps low fives to celebrate a Broadway audition.
There’s even a National High Five Day, #NH5D, launched by the University of Virigina to promote youth health and just generally spread good cheer. National High Five Day occurs on the third Thursday of April (coming on the 19th this year). The founders of that day concocted a back story of the high-five’s origin that briefly gained traction on the internet: That a basketball player named Lamont Sleets Jr. had seen his father, Lamont Senior, slapping palms with five veteran brothers from the Vietnam War. And that Junior had incorporated the high five into games as a homage to his father. It was pure fiction, as an ESPN magazine reporter found out when he tracked down Lamont Jr. in 2011. Oh.
In fact, it was Glenn Burke, an outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who did an impromptu high-five in front of fans in a game against the Houston Astros in October 1977. Burke held up his hand to greet teammate Dusty Baker, who was rounding the bases off his 30th home run. The Dogders were the first team to have four players with 30 home runs.
“His hand was up in the air, and he was arching way back,” Baker told ESPN. “So I reached up and hit his hand. It seemed like the thing to do.” Burke then stepped to the plate and hit his first home in the major league, and Baker high-fived him. The high five became a thing with the L.A. Dodgers and soon sports at large.
The fist bump is the most modern invention. Like the high five, it has its origins in sports. Some trace it to the boxing ring, where opponents touch gloves before a match. Others point to basketball. In the 1970s, star Fred Campbell of the Baltimore Bullets popularized the gesture by giving it his own exuberant flair.
In 2008, Barack Obama brought the fist bump to political headlines when he bumped his wife, Michelle, after his nomination, prompting detractors to denounce it as a “terrorist fist jab.” (Barack Obama was notably passionate about basketball.) The Washington Post called it “the fist bump heard ’round the world.”
The Canadians were quick to embrace the fist bump, or “pound,” as a healthy alternative to germ-spreading handshake, especially during flu season. “It’s a nice replacement of the handshake because you can’t just refuse to shake someone’s hand. It’s rude and seems almost un-Canadian,” Tom Feasby, the dean of medicine at the University of Calgary, told the CBC News in 2009.
Whatever you choose—handshake, high five, fist bump—works just as well for departures, too. Goodbye!
E.L. Hamilton has written about pop culture for a variety of magazines and newspapers, including Rolling Stone, Seventeen, Cosmopolitan, the New York Post and the New York Daily News. She lives in central New Jersey, just west of New York City
This is the land of the Maniots, a clannish community said to be descended from Spartans, the legendary warriors of Ancient Greece.
“Here is your lalaggi,” said Giorgos Oikonomeas, handing me a crispy dough strip deep fried in extra-virgin olive oil. He had the build of a warrior – sturdy and broad-shouldered – but his wrinkled face was warm and relaxed.
Oikonomeas grew up in the village of Neochori on the Mani Peninsula’s north-west coast and never left. He spent his life running a kafeneio (a traditional Greek coffee house); now retired, he no longer serves customers, but rather spends his mornings at the kafeneio exchanging news with friends about family and occasionally politics.
We are as Spartan as can be
As my teeth sunk into the crisp flesh of the lalaggi, the dough melting on my tongue, Oikonomeas explained that I was savouring a snack that was likely eaten thousands of years ago by Greece’s infamous soldiers. “Lelegas, the first king of Sparta, was probably the first one to manufacture it,” he told me.
“If you want to get a taste of what life would have been like in Ancient Sparta, look no further,” he said. “We are as Spartan as can be.”
After defeating Athens in the Peloponnesian War, Sparta reached the apex of its power in the 5th Century BC. But its dominance was short-lived: in 371BC, the Spartans were defeated by soldiers from the city-state of Thebes, sparking the downfall of Sparta. But the Spartans living on the Mani peninsula, sheltered from the rest of the Peloponnese by the Taygetos mountains, held strong, defending their territory for centuries from the Thebans, and later Ottoman, Egyptian and Franc forces, among others. The Maniots as they became known were just as treacherous on the sea as they were on land, dabbling in small-time piracy and frequently travelling to other coastal nations as mercenaries. They were reputed to be so ruthless that many conquerors simply steered clear.
The region remained self-governing until the mid- to late 19th Century, when the Greek government reduced the peninsula’s autonomy. But it wasn’t until the 1970s, when construction of new roads opened the peninsula to the rest of the Peloponnese, that the Maniots began to embrace newcomers.
The Maniots were reputed to be so ruthless that many conquerors simply steered clear
The Maniots’ affinity for conflict wasn’t only directed at outsiders. During its time as an autonomous region, the peninsula was governed by different families, or clans; as these clans struggled for power, violent vendettas erupted that could last for years. “If a member of another family shamed one of your own, a family roundtable was gathered to decide upon the severity of the punishment,” Oikonomeas explained. “The punishment was inflicted on the whole clan and not just the perpetrator. Such was the Maniot sense of pride.” He noted that until recently Maniots would refer to their sons as ‘guns’ and their daughters as ‘barrels with gunpowder at the foundations of their house’.
Maniots now devote their lives to more peaceful endeavours such as olive farming. The region is known for its olive oil that’s fruity and full-bodied with a luscious golden-green hue; it’s used for everything from flavouring cheese to dressing anchovies to frying lalaggi.
However, the region’s ferocious past is not forgotten. The Ancient Spartan maxim ‘ι tan i epi tas’, a phrase first uttered by Gorgo, wife of Spartan King Leonidas, before the king led the stand against invading Persian troops at the battle of Thermopylae in 480BC, can be heard on a regular basis. The saying translates to ‘with the shield or on the shield’ – a reminder that there are only two ways home from war: either carrying one’s shield as a winner, or being carried on it as a casualty. The adage is still commonly used today, both as a vote of strength and as a warning.
That’s not the only reminder. Almost anyone who was born and raised on the Mani peninsula will tell you they have Spartan blood in their veins.
“Maniots descend from Ancient Spartans, full stop,” Oikonomeas said.
At 86, Oikonomeas still remembers his mother spooning hardboiled eggs into his mouth to make him stronger, insisting that as the only boy it was up to him to continue the family legacy. And he recalls watching his aunts gather the night before a family funeral to recite mourning songs at hair-raising frequencies, a ritual mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey.
But there’s no hard scientific evidence proving a direct link between today’s Maniots and the Ancient Spartans. Any trace of authentic Spartan DNA long ago disappeared; all that’s left of the warriors are their legends. Some historians and anthropologists say similarities between ancient and modern rituals – like the mourning songs – are strong indicators of a relationship between Ancient Spartans and modern Maniots, but Basil C Gounaris, professor of modern history at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, disagrees.
“Natural anthropology and history are not aligned,” Gounaris said. “Living in the same natural environment obviously leads the settlers to similar choices on many issues. But this has nothing to do with the DNA of the inhabitants.”
Sunburnt crowds trickled into the kafeneio while Oikonomeas sipped his coffee, watching nonchalantly as the establishment’s new proprietor tried to keep up with the increasing number of patrons. The kafeneio is small, but its privileged position right across the street from Neochori’s main square means it’s almost always busy. About 10 square wooden tables have been squeezed into the tiny space, while the clatter of dishes and the whoosh of espresso machines ensure there’s never silence.
“I spoke with a professor who challenged your claims about an unbroken lineage from Ancient Spartans,” I told him as I wiped fried pastry crumbs from my fingers.
Unfazed, Oikonomeas passed me another lalaggi. “‘ι tan i epi tas’, you may tell him.”