The Greek Interpreter Is...

...What Holmes Would Call a Singular Story

"If the art of the detective began and ended in reasoning from an arm-chair, my brother would be the greatest criminal agent that ever lived."

The Greek Interpreter first appeared in the Strand Magazine in September, 1893.

In fact, here's how it looked in the Strand Magazine:

The Greek Interpreter in the Strand Magazine in September, 1893

While The Greek Interpreter does not have the electrifying deductions and ending that some other Sherlock Holmes stories have, it has something very unique: it introduces Sherlock Holmes' brother - Mycroft. 

You see, in all the other stories, Sherlock Holmes is like an 'island' - you have no idea about his family at all.

In this one, Holmes makes Watson meet his talented brother Mycroft, and even talks about his grandmother.

When I read that, I was like - 'Ah, so Holmes is a real person with real family members...'

So yes, that's definitely one reason to read The Greek Interpreter: to learn more about Holmes' family - especially his brother.

Take a peek at my overall ratings for The Greek Interpreter:

Introduction/Initial deduction

9/10

Mystery and Weirdness in the Problem

8/10

The Showcasing of Holmes' Deductive Powers

7/10

The Drama in the Story or Twist in the End

6/10


What's the Mystery/Problem Here?

Mr. Melas lives in the same building as Mycroft -  Sherlock Holmes' brother.

This Melas dude has a huge problem on his hands.

That means 'sign the papers or else' in Greek

As you might guess, he is a Greek interpreter.

His problem is that some suspicious looking guy has taken him to a secretive place and asked him to translate - death threats into Greek.

So basically he was forced to say things like, "Sign these papers or we'll kill you" to someone, in Greek.

Our guy Melas has himself also been issued a death threat.

He's been told something to this effect: Don't tell anyone about what happened or else...

Obviously Melas is one worried guy.

As if this isn't enough, the police, who should be helping him actively, aren't believing what he's saying. 

There are quite a few questions to answer.

Who has made Melas threaten a Greek man and why? Where was he taken?

And yes, who's that beautiful woman whom Melas noticed in the place where he was made to issue death threats?

Dear old Holmes needs to figure it all out...


Magical Moments From The Greek Interpreter

1 The Moment When We Hear About Mycroft and Holmes' Ancestry For the First Time Ever

Almost everything that we know about Sherlock Holmes' family is from The Greek Interpreter.

He never tells us about his mom and dad or how childhood was for him. The closest he comes to talking about his family is when he says:

"My ancestors were country squires, who appear to have led much the same life as is natural to their class...my grandmother...was the sister of Vernet, the French artist."

Mycroft - Sherlock Holmes' brother

In all probability, this is the artist 'Vernet' that Holmes is talking about. 

Then Sherlock Holmes mentions his genius brother Mycroft who he says 'has better powers of observation than I.' 

(Mycroft is the guy in the picture.)

This moment, when Holmes finally discloses at least something about his family, is magical.

That moment makes him more human, me thinks.

2 The Moment When Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes Deduce the Deuce Out of a Man in Front of Them!

There's this interesting conversation that Sherlock and Mycroft have in The Greek Interpreter that's just - superb.

Here's that magical conversation:

 "Look at these two men who are coming towards us..."


“The billiard-marker and the other?”


“Precisely. What do you make of the other?”


“An old soldier, I perceive,” said Sherlock.


“And very recently discharged,” remarked the brother.


“Served in India, I see.”


“And a non-commissioned officer.”


“Royal Artillery, I fancy,” said Sherlock.


“And a widower.”


“But with a child.”


“Children, my dear boy, children.”

Imagine two Sherlock Holmeses deducing the deuce of the person in front - that's what happens here.

Mycroft is as incredible at observation and deduction as Sherlock Holmes - if not a step ahead. Both of them together deduce that the man in front of them is a widower, a non-commissioned officer who served in India, and the father of two children!

Seeing these two men notice minute details and deduce tons of stuff makes you say - "How the heck?'

 3 The Moment When Sherlock Holmes Makes the Carriage Deduction

When Sherlock Holmes and the police reach the culprits' house, Holmes says:

“Our birds are flown and the nest empty."

He says that even before they have entered the house!

How does he do know that the birds have flown?

Well, he sees that there are wheel-tracks going into the house and coming out of the house. But, the wheel tracks going out - are very much deeper. 

That tells Holmes that the culprits have departed with their luggage.

A simple deduction - but cool enough to make it to my 'magical moments' list.

(By the way, based on Melas' description, this is how I think the carriage in which the culprits depart looks. It's most probably a 'landau' carriage.)

A Landau Carriage

Thanks Tomas E., for the original version of this picture.


The Greek Interpreter: Cool Trivia!

1 The Greek Interpreter is One of the Five Sherlock Holmes Stories Featured on British Stamps!

Sherlock Holmes has appeared on the stamps of many countries. He's appeared on Canadian stamps in 1991, South African stamps in 2000, Swiss stamps in 2007, Monaco stamps in 2009...

Now where does The Greek Interpreter fit in? It is one of the only five Sherlock Holmes stories that have been featured on stamps issued by Great Britain. 

Here's a picture of the stamp featuring The Greek Interpreter, issued in 1993. You can also see all the Holmes stories featured on stamps issued by the United Kingdom.

British stamps featuring Sherlock Holmes

Isn't that interesting? Click here to take a good look at a larger picture that shows all 5 stamps clearly.

(Thanks to Trussel.com for this amazing data and the pictures.)

3 Who Were Country Squires Exactly?

Sherlock Holmes discloses something intriguing in The Greek Interpreter. He says his ancestors were Country Squires.

Now that made a question pop up in my head: who are/were Country Squires?

I put on my research hat and ran forth...

Whp were country squires?

So country squires were basically land-owners who called the shots in English villages.

They were a bit like mini-dictators - under whom the other villagers worked and toiled.

Today, of course, they don't have any special powers. And they don't own as much land as they did.

And so, while there are quite some people with the title 'Lord of the Manor' - the title is not of as much value as it once was.

4 Who Was This Diogenes After Whom the Diogenes Club is Named in the Story?

Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's brother - belongs to the imaginary Diogenes Club.

This is supposed to be an intriguing club for people who are just asocial. These are people who just don't want to interact with anyone else. They want to be left alone. 

No wonder then that there's a rule in The Diogenes Club: the members are not supposed to talk to each other no matter what.

I'm not sure such a club would be effective these days - with smartphones and the internet. But then you might not even need such a club today. All you'd need to do to be alone would be to switch off your phone and internet. 

Well, well - coming back to the topic: my curiosity was piqued by this 'Diogenes' guy.

Who was the Diogenes after whom this famous club is named in the stories?

Diogenes - also called Diogenes of Sinope - was a Greek philosopher. He lived from around 412 B.C. to 323 B.C. (quite a while ago).

Diogenes of Sinope

Diogenes was a Cynic - he felt that civilization and societal norms were a waste. He wanted people to go back to their simple, natural roots.

He kept no possessions and lived in incredible austerity, begging for a living. He ate in public when it was blasphemous to eat in public. He also said he was cosmopolitan - a citizen of the world - at a time when your 'place' was very important.

So what's the similarity between this Diogenes and our Diogenes Club?

I'd say there's one common thing: both of them are about being asocial. Both of them are about not doing what everyone else generally does.

Not that everything is the same when it comes to the real Diogenes and the Diogenes Club. The Diogenes Club doesn't exactly say 'no' to luxuries or talk about being a 'world citizen.' So there are a lot of differences too.

But both are about not following social norms. 

5 How Much Was 5 Sovereigns in Those Days?

Melas - the Greek interpreter in the story is paid 5 sovereigns by the crooks who employ him. They give him that money for translating their death threats to Greek.

But what exactly did 5 sovereigns mean then?

They were, simply put - 5 one pound coins.

From 1817 to 1932, 1 pound coins in Britain were made of 22 carat gold and they were called sovereigns.

In 1932, Britain stopped using gold in its currency. So, while there are sovereign coins nowadays, they are worth their weight in gold. They aren't really coins you use to buy things.

Take a peek at both the sides of the 1 sovereign coin below.

This coin is from 1849 - much before Holmes' time, but it gives a good enough idea of how sovereigns looked like.

Queen Victoria featured on a sovereign
The reverse side of a British sovereign

So well, how much would the 5 sovereigns paid to Melas be worth today?

According to Measuring Worth, those 5 sovereigns in the late 1880's should be worth around £ 485 or around $790 today. That's a huge amount for one 'translation session'!

Now this conversion is based on the value of 1 pound - then and now. But if you look at only the price of the gold content  in a sovereign, then that price of the gold content comes out to be around 180 pounds today.

Even that is a huge amount for an evening's worth of translation.

Of course, what those crooks do is wrong - they use Melas to speak out death threats - but they pay him handsomely. Maybe, they're thinking he'll keep his mouth shut if they pay him well.

6 What Was a Life-Preserver in Those Days?

One of the crooks who wants Melas to issue death threats uses a life-preserver to scare him.

Now in today's world, when you hear that word, you think of this thing on the right...

But obviously, the crook doesn't take out one of these flotation devices.

That's not scary by any standards. :-)

A life preserver today

Well, a Victorian life-preserver was actually a sort of club.

It was a foot long cane that had a ball of lead at one end. At the other end, there was a loop through which you could slip your wrist in. Here's how it looked like:

A Victorian life preserver - a club

It was used mostly by gentlemen who wanted to defend themselves against assailants.

The loop would ensure that you did not lose your grip on the life-preserver. The lead ball would ensure that a literally mind-blowing blow would be delivered. I mean come on - it's lead - it must have hit hard.

Unfortunately, criminals also started using life-preservers - to attack, just as ordinary people used it for self-defence. The crook in the story himself uses it to threaten Melas, the Greek interpreter.


So well, that's about The Greek Interpreter. Have some more interesting tit-bits about the story to add? Tell us all in the comments! 

(Psst. Not read The Greek Interpreter yet? Are you serious? Download it here...)




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