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300 > Greeks in Astoria, NY say “the power of being Greek” March 11, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greek Diaspora, Movies Life.

300film1.jpg  Astoria is going wild for “300” the big-budget Hollywood movie based on a heroic battle in ancient Greece that allowed democracy to flourish.

At least one group of 50 Greek-American buddies, many of them from Queens’ famed Greek neighborhood, literally invaded Manhattan for the opening-night show of the superhyped movie. The Warner Bros film tells the story of 300 Spartans led by King Leonidas in the battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C., one of history’s most famous last stands.

“We have a whole Greek contingent going,” said Peter Lagonikos, an Astoria lawyer whose parents emigrated to New York from Sparta.

Astoria cafe owner Harry Panagiopopoulos, 28, said, “We’ve been talking about it for the past year. It’s a big deal for Greek heritage. It’s one of the greatest stories of all time.”

Because they’d have to go barechested, the gang of New York Greeks, from as far away as Long Island, aren’t going to dress up as Spartan warriors. Even so, the atmosphere at the  AMC Loews Lincoln Square IMAX theater at 68th St. and Broadway is expected to be raucous.

“I can only imagine the mood of this crowd leaving the theater,” said City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), an Italian-American who is joining them for the late-night showing. “I’m an honorary Greek,” said Vallone. “We have more Greeks in Astoria than anywhere outside of Athens.”

Lagonikos’ older brother, John, is dead serious about his heritage. “It was one of the major battles that was fought for democracy as we know it,” said John Lagonikos, 35, a doctor who lives in Nassau County. “If they hadn’t stopped the army, who knows what the world would be like today?” he said.

History’s accounts of the battle tell of a small but brave Spartan force, they were eventually slaughtered, using the narrow Thermopylae pass to block an advancing army of hundreds of thousand of Persians. Leonidas’ soldiers held off the Persians long enough to allow retreating Greek armies to prepare for the next battle, one that determined the outcome of the war and allowed Greek civilization to flourish.

The Lagonikos brothers grew up in a home with statues of Leonidas in their living room. “He was a real figure, of almost mythical proportions,” Peter Lagonikos said with pride. Panagiopopoulos said, “It makes me feel … the power of being Greek.”

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