Inspired by their family’s Greek roots and their love for the region, two Greek-American brothers are looking to explore the modern legacy of what connects the Eastern Mediterranean with their new storytelling platform, called Levendeia.
“The Eastern Mediterranean is fascinating,” says Mark Mathews, a Columbia University Middle Eastern Studies Major and co-founder of the site with his brother Sean. “It faces a host of challenges, but it is also ripe with energy and creativity.”
“The idea behind Levendeia,” he explains, “is to look for the things that unite countries in the region, their distinct Mediterranean essence and bring that to life through story telling.”
The brothers say the name of the platform, Levendeia, is intended to showcase the interconnectedness of countries in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Originally an Italian word, “levantino or levanti,” was used by Venetian sailors to describe people, and particularly sailors, of the East during early Ottoman times. The word eventually took on a negative connotation in Italian to describe brigands and raiders of the sea.
But in the East, an entirely new meaning arose. In Greece, Turkey, and the Arab world, the word actually came to be associated with gallant bravery. The Ottoman Navy called their sailors Levends (pronounced Lewend in Arabic).
In Arabic, the word continues to be used as a first name, and in Turkey, in addition to the upscale neighborhood of Levent in Istanbul, the word can describe “a strapping and good-looking young man.”
Throughout Greece, the word has maintained its positive connotation, and in addition to variations of it being used as a last name, such as Leventis, it may be used to describe those with valor and a passion for living life in full.
“It’s interesting to see the progression of this word through the region,” Mark Mathews said. “I ask my Greek friends or Turkish friends about it, and while the meanings are similar, each seems to have a slightly different take on it.”
The two young Greek-Americans decided to examine the region through a new perspective based on their time spent living, working and traveling throughout Greece, Turkey, and the Arab countries of the Levant.
“Anyone who has spent time in the region, who takes the time to understand its history, can see there is so much that unites the countries here,” Sean Mathews told the Greek Reporter.
With part of the brothers’ Greek family history coming from the island of Oinousses, near Chios, they grew up with fascinating stories of seafaring and trade. “Our Grand-Pappou was a sailor. As little kids, our Pappou loved to tell us stories about sailors in the Mediterranean,” Sean Mathews said.
When the boys started traveling and studying more about the Eastern Mediterranean they began to see how connected their history and culture was with others.
“Today, if you visit Palestine or Lebanon you will find they know more about products like Mastiha from Chios, which they use in their ice cream and desserts, than countries in Western Europe,” Sean shared with Greek Reporter.
“We have had conversations with people in cities like Beirut or Amman, and when we discuss our Greek roots there is this immediate link that forms,” he added. “Of course there are the obvious things, like the role of the Greek Orthodox Church, the food, the drinks — but there is also a shared mentality.”
Levendeia seeks to examine how this mentality is brought into positive light by art, entrepreneurship, and lifestyle. The platform aims to bring together people from all countries in the region, regardless of religion or country of origin, and create a hub for storytelling.
“Whether I’m in Athens or Istanbul, I meet and speak with young people our age who have this desire to grow their business and make changes in their cities, but they have an awareness of their past. There is a conscious effort to push for reform and change, but also find a way to make sure it coexists with tradition and respect for that past,” Mark Mathews said.