Nysiros holds secrets of life and death

I’ll never know what drove Anthoula to take her own life.     

A young woman, she’s rumored to have stood on the balcony of her family home facing the Aegean Sea, and, gazing into the water, she poured flammable liquid on her self. Some say she waited until the man she loved appeared in a boat making its way into the harbor of the Village of Pali, on the Island of Nysiros, Greece, before she struck the match.     

And then, she lit up. Became one with fire, suffering excruciating pain until shock or some other part of the immune system “took pity on her” and removed all consciousness. She died. No letter found. No reason given; no legacy to pass on to generations like mine that want to know more of its heritage. The good . . . and the bad.     

My Cousin, George, recently told me our Aunt Anthoula ended her life out of “Love.” That she wanted to make her boyfriend “jealous.”     

I didn’t buy it. Her’s was an act of desperation, a reaching out when all reason for living proved futile. Perhaps even painful. But I said nothing to the senior member of the Contoveros clan. That’s the tradition among Greeks. Defer to your elders.     

Anthoula was in her mid-20s, the youngest of eight children my Greek grandparents had raised. George Contoveros was my grandfather. His father was Achilles. I know this, only because Greeks “from the Old Country” named the first-born male after the grandfather. My oldest brother was named George, my father, Achilles. The older Achilles, my great-grandfather and his brother, Paul, had 26 children between the two of them, according to Cousin George Contoveros, who was born on the island before his immediate family immigrated to America, settling  in Queens, New York.     

The tragedy took place after my father had left the island at age 15, never having known his younger sister, Anthoula. He returned only once, some 5o years later. His mother and father had passed on, and the property left to him ended up in someone else’s hands.     

Nisyros was formed from an eruption of the earth some 160,000 years ago, according to scientists studying the Greek island. It is within what is called the Dodecanese archipelago, situated south of Kos. Today, no more than 1,000 souls occupy the island.       


Nisyros: 'Stefanos' crater attracts tourists (Click to enlarge)

Nisyros island is a remnant of a prehistoric volcanic field from which the largest eruption in the eastern Mediterranean (Kos plateau tuff) devastated the entire Dodecanese islands,” according to Wikipedia. “Although the last magmatic volcanic activity on Nisyros dates back at least 25,000 years, the present . . . activity encompasses high seismic unrest . . . Violent earthquakes and steam blasts accompanied the most recent eruptions in 1871-1873 and 1887 and left large crater holes behind. In 1996 and 1997 seismic activity started with earthquakes of magnitudes up to 5.5.”     

An “earthquake” on a different scale shook my ancestors when they discovered what Anthoula had done. I can only imagine the crying and wailing of the old Greek women, the stoic painful looks the men shared — all wondering if there was anything anyone could have done to prevent such a travesty.     

And then, the cover-up. How it was hushed up. Never spoken of in the New World. Unless . . .  or until . . . someone poked a skeleton in the closet, wanting to shed light on the darkness.     

Anthoula. May you rest in Peace. And may your soul find the loving and compassionate connection you felt was missing years ago.     

Your fond nephew, michael j

11 comments on “Nysiros holds secrets of life and death

  1. Maria says:

    Hello Michael. We’ve heard of this story from our grandfather John, your father’s brother, you came to our house in Astoria, my mom is Georgia, your cousin.

    Wow! Some story!


    • contoveros says:

      Hello Maria,

      We have to compare notes. I got the story only recently from George, our cousin, who passed away too soon in life. There must be more than what the family initially told us. Maybe we could hold some sort of spiritual reading — a shamanic journey, perhaps — to contact those in the know and find out what really happened to that lonely and desperate woman, our ancestor who saw naught but the dark side of life.

      Michael J Contos,
      aka (also known as): Contoveros


  2. george contoveros says:

    That is some story. I read a little about you and we share a lot of similarities.


  3. ellocogringo says:

    Hi Mr M
    Can’t say much about this, just be aware such things happen, and wonder. Truly mind boggling.


    • contoveros says:


      Things like this happen in most families. Too bad it’s swept under the rug, rather than discussed in the open so that all might find some benefit from such a tragedy.


      michael j


  4. cally says:

    WOW!!! thank you for sending this to me.. There are many mysteries about our family and you have uncovered and written about it so perfectly. I would love to meet you on the island and share more…..much agape….your cousin, cally


    • contoveros says:


      The mere sound of your name reminds me of all the good that is Greek. (With a little Italian from your mother’s side!) Yes, my dear cousin, we must get together and help fill in some of the blanks, perhaps dig out some history our fathers would not discuss, but we, their children, want to know and need to understand.

      Thanks for the visit here. See you in New York, Greece or even in Philadelphia should our paths cross in our journeys . . .

      michael j
      to a real


  5. souldipper says:

    I’m told, and I believe, that God wonderfully and mercifully, deals with retroactive prayers and solicitations.

    Thank God. Blessings to you, Anthoula.


  6. Helen T says:

    Sad and beautiful story. I worried about your absence for several days.


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