What are the main characteristics of the poetic speech? How do female poets who often have an international education, who speak and write their poems in other languages, perceive and process the country’s literary tradition? And how do young new generations face the challenges of modern forms of communication? These were the main questions that Massimo Cazzulo, editor of the poetry anthology Voci di Donne Poetesse Greche d’ Oggi recently published by ETP Books tries to answer.
The anthology Voci di Donne is the continuation of Viaggio nella poesia greca contemporanea, which was published in 2020. Both anthologies include poets born from 1974 onwards and mainly those who appeared on the literary scene after 2000. Overall, 37 poets were presented for the first time in Italian translation. The decision to include in the anthology only female poets who have published their work since the last one or two decades constitutes a step further towards the knowledge of an interesting, original and still unexplored lyrical panorama; an extremely varied world in terms of themes, sensibilities and linguistic codes.
Indeed, the anthology aims to present to the Italian audience some of the most mature, despite their age, and original voices of the current lyrical panorama so that Italian readers are acquainted with the diversity and high quality of contemporary Greek poetry, previously known through major poets such as Cavafy, Ritsos, Elytis and Seferis. In the introductory note, emphasis is laid on the latest poetic and artistic trends in Greece, focusing on new themes and an original use of language by most of the female poets included in the anthology.
Τhe eleven female poets included in the anthology are presented in such a way as to enable the reader to delve into their poetry within the broader literary and ideological framework, with special emphasis on the use of language and expressive originality. “Choosing which female poets to include in the anthology was the most demanding and time-consuming process given that it was difficult to orient myself through this great richness of modern Greek poetry. Ireadalot, newspapers, book reviews, literary magazines, I discussed with scholars and writers in Greece, and finally chose the poems that in my opinion were the most suitable for the purpose of the anthology. Although I am aware that as many equally good female poets have been left out. But such are the anthologies”, Massimo Cazzulo told Reading Greece.
At the same time, the poetic production at least of the last decade enables us to come into contact with other arts: painting, cinema, theatre, music, since one of the most important trends of literature nowadays is intermediality, that is the hybridization of artistic languages, the mixing of various artistic forms, the interweaving of their expressive codes, producing an extremely interesting and original result that is definitely worth exploring.
Zizi Salimpa was born in Athens. She studied economics at the Law School of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. She holds a Master’s Degree and a PhD in economic and social history (Paris I – Panthéon – Sorbonne). She has also pursued postgraduate studies in economics at INSEAD, specializing in international financial markets and labor economics. She was a senior executive in the foreign network of National Bank in the field of labor relations and human resources management. She worked at the Historical Archive and the National Bank of Greece Cultural Foundation.
She has taught economic history at the University of Peloponnese, history at the Hellenic Open University and labor relations at the Post-Graduate Sociology Department of Panteion University. She has published articles and research papers in English and French. She has also written scientific books both in Greece and France, on economic and social history. In 2012 she founded Thines, a small independent publishing house.
Τhines is a small independent publishing house known for the high quality of its publications. How did you embark on such a venture? What is the story behind this publishing venture?
The creation and operation of Thines Publications constitutes a personal challenge, a step beyond my professional experience in the publishing market, in the Νational Bank of Greece Cultural Foundation, as an apprentice of Emmanuel Kasdaglis. At Thines we lay great emphasis on both the content and the design, that is the aesthetics of every book. Being a publisher is quite a demanding profession since it requires various distinct skills and knowledge. Above all, it requires love, dedication, passion for work and plenty of time. You have to trust your instincts and build solid working relationships with the people around you.
"We publish few, we publish the best", this is the policy of Thines. I reckon that time is an important element in publishing a book: time to read, because we read all the manuscripts that are sent to us; time to find new, fresh ideas and to develop exciting designs; time next to the author, to bring out his/her best self – writing, editing, proofreading; time to create the team that will frame the book for its design, illustration, typographic/philological and scientific editing where required; time to promote the book to the reading public, to the press, to bookstores. We stand by our writers and are proud of it.
Τo date, we have published 24 books and have received 4 awards-commendations by Greek and international organizations (EBGE award for O Δρόμος για το Αλταμόν [La Route d’Altamont] by Gabrielle Roy and Αστικά Δύστυχα [Urban Misfortunes] by Dimitris Gkioulos, IBBY Award for Ο Φύλλος [Fyllos] by Elena Glossioti, which was included in the White Ravens Books international catalogue in 2016), which certifies to the high quality of our books.
Which are the main categories Thines specialize in? Which are the criteria based upon you decide on the publication of a book? Which are the main challenges you are faced with?
Literature is the core of Thines Publications. As for foreign literature, we pay particular attention to Francophone authors, with the aim of promoting them to Greek readers. We have already published Francophone authors such as Dany Laferrière, Pierre Loti and Gabrielle Roy. Emerging writers are of particular interest to us when they contribute to the circulation of fresh ideas and opinions with social impact. And I assure you that promoting an author's work to the wider public is a great challenge for us.
It has been argued that the recent socio-economic crisis has broken the ties connecting part of the readers with the choices and orientation of traditional publishers, creating an aesthetic and intellectual space that may certainly grow? In this respect, which are the advantages that small independent publishing houses have to offer?
What is impressive is the emergence of small, independent publishing houses during the crisis, which I reckon that are increasingly leaving their mark on the book market with notable publications both in terms of content and aesthetics.
Small publishing houses do not have different planning, market research and promotion departments, so additional costs are avoided. Proper capital management and awareness of business risks is an important issue for small publishing houses. The close ties of professional collaboration among partners create ideal conditions for the book. A prerequisite for the head of a small publishing house is to be familiar with the different kinds of books he/she publishes and to avail the respective theoretical tools and knowledge. As a publisher, I closely supervise all stages "from manuscript to print", “from printing to readers”. The aim is a book’s long life and not just its momentary commercial success.
What is to be expected from Thines in 2023?
2023 is expected to be a fruitful year for Thines publications. We are working feverishly on it. At the beginning of the year, we will publish in Greek the collective book Οsons la fraternité. Les écrivains aux côtés des migrants, edited by Michel le Bris – co-founder of newspaper Liberation and partner of Jean Paul Sartre in Gallimard Editions, and Patrick Chamoiseau– famous Francophone writer and essayist. In the book, thirty writers and artists from various countries narrate their personal testimonies on migration. Among them are Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio (Literature Nobel Prize 2008), Christiane Marie Taubira, former Minister of Justice, and the distinguished historian Pascal Blanchard.
In the series of Francophone literature, Les Impatientes (Goncourt prize for high school students, 2020) by the Francophone, and famous for her struggles in favor of women, Djaili Amadou Amal from Cameroon, will be published. She is the first woman from Africa to receive this award, while she has also been awarded as the best African writer of the year 2019.
A novel by Giorgos Liolios will be published in the Greek prose series. In the poetry series, the books of Dimitris Gkioulos and Elina Afentaki are to be expected. Calliope Stara's book titled ζεστό, ζυμωτό ψωμί [warm, doughy bread] will enrich the Youth Literature series. Our project titled With a book, we travel on the history of Greek railways will continue. The project is based on Giorgos Liolios’s book Σιδηρόδρομος σφυρίζων εις την πεδιάδα. Η σιδηροδρομική ιστορία της Βέροιας [Α railway passing through the valley. The railway history of Veroia]. And, of course book presentations and events for books already published will continue unabated.
It has been argued that what the Greek book market lacks is a concrete and purposeful state book policy. What should be done at an institutional policy level for the promotion of Greek books?
Let me make a common wish: that Greek books are published abroad under the best conditions!
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou
On the occasion of the Tirana Book Fair 2022 (16-20 November), a meeting point for writers, poets, translators and readers, Reading Greece spoke to Sofia Deligiorgi, Head of the Greek Language Department of the University of Tirana, about the initiatives undertaken at an academic level for the promotion of Greek language, literature and culture in Albania, the ‘elective affinities’ between the two countries and cultures, and the crucial role of Modern Greek Studies Departments in the promotion of literature beyond national borders.
You are Head of the Greek Studies Department of the University of Tirana. Tell us a few things about your academic involvement in Greek culture and language.
I am an Associate Professor and Head of the Greek Language Department, Foreign Languages Faculty, of the University of Tirana. In recent years, I perform my duties both as a member of the Senate of the University of Tirana and Head of the Standing Committee for the Awarding of the Scientific Title "Doctor". I have twenty years of work experience as a teacher and researcher in the field of the Greek language, while at the same time I was also the Head of the Balkan and Slavic Languages Department. In 2018, this Department was upgraded to the official chair of the Greek Language Department.
I completed my studies in Greek Language, Literature and Culture at the Eqerem Cabej University of Gjirokastër in 1999 and continued with my postgraduate studies in 2006 on “Phraseological Parallels of Greek and Albanian (for body parts)” at the Foreign Languages Faculty (University of Tirana). Later, in 2011, I completed my doctoral studies and my thesis was titled "Lexical and Semantic Interference of Greek to Albanian, Lexical and Semantic Interference of Albanian to Greek", at the Foreign Languages Faculty (University of Tirana), In 2016 I received the academic title of Associate Professor at the Foreign Languages Faculty.
My teaching and research areas include: linguistics and communication (Morphology, Lexicology, Dialectology, Tourism Intercultural Communication). I have participated in many national/international scientific conferences, programmes both in Albania and abroad, as well as in research programmes in Dropull, Sarandë, for the collection of dialectal and folklore material of the area, a project that has been funded by the Alexander S. Onassis Benefit Foundation Foundation (2015) [DIALECTOLOGICAL FIELDWORK RESEARCH LN THE GREEK SPEAKING AREAS OF SOUTHERN ALBANIA].
In addition, as President of the Department, I maintain a teaching collaboration with the University of Sofia, ST. Klement Ohridski (Bachelor), with a cycle of lectures and a collaboration with the University of Turin, Italy, in the framework of the Erasmus+ programme. Finally, I am the author of the textbooks "My language 5" and "My language 6" for students of the Greek national minority in Albania, approved by the Albanian Ministry of Education of (2012) and responsible for editing the translation of the "Greek Contemporary Poetry Anthology in Albanian", a project funded by the Alexander S. Onassis Benefit Foundation.
Which are the main initiatives/ projects undertaken by the Department for the promotion of Greek culture and language?
First, allow me to make a short presentation of the Greek Language Department of the University of Tirana. The initiative for the creation of the Greek Language Department began in 1998, initially as part of the Slavic and Balkan Languages Faculty, and in 2019 as the official Modern Greek Language Chair, based on the curriculum of the respective departments of Greek universities.
At present, within the framework of the Albanian legislation, which adopted the Bologna Agreement for universities, it offers a three-year Bachelor's degree in "Greek Language, Literature and Culture", a Scientific Post-Graduate degree for “Teachers of Greek Language, Literature and Culture for secondary and tertiary education”, a Post-Graduate Degree on “Translation and Interpretation” and on “Tourism Intercultural Communication”.
In its 24 years of operation, the Department counts 500 graduates, while at the same time it has developed noteworthy cultural, scientific, creative and publishing activity inside and outside the country by developing cooperation agreements with important institutions such as the Onassis Foundation, the Greek Embassy in Tirana, the Greek-Albanian Schools “Arsakeio” and Protagonistes”, the Hellenic Foundation for Culture, as well as numerous Greek universities such as the University of Ioannina, the Aristotle University, the Democritus University and the Ionian University.
Summer courses have also been held for Greek language students at the University of Ioannina and the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, as well as student and professor exchanges within the Erasmus+ programme.
Through the various proposals on both theoretical and practical issues, the aim of the Greek Language Department is to promote an image of the potential that modern Greek studies have around the world, how they are shaped locally in interaction with the societies where they are introduced, how we will be able to attract students who do not necessarily have roots or special ties with Greece, except for their love for Greek culture.
In 2021 you have signed a Memorandum of Agreement and Cooperation with the Department of Foreign Language, Translation and Interpretation of the Ionian University. How can such actions contribute to the development of scientific, cultural and social relations between the two Departments, and more generally between the two countries?
On 17/06/2021, the Greek Language Department of the University of Tirana and the Department of Foreign Languages, Translation and Interpretation of the Ionian University signed a Memorandum of Understanding and Cooperation with the aim of promoting international cooperation in higher education, research and innovation.
In the context of multilingualism and research or the need of the labor market for professional translators and interpreters in the Greek and Albanian languages, adding English as an international language, we proceeded with an undergraduate study programme titled “Translation and Interpretation in the Greek and English Language”. The programme will prepare translators for Albania, Greece, and beyond, since Albania has started negotiations for the European Union.
More specifically, we agreed on the conclusion and mutual encouragement of beneficial scientific, technological, educational and other relations, which translate into: student exchange and study abroad programmes, establishment of joint degree programmes, exchange of academic staff for the purpose of research, teaching and delivery of specific courses in the areas of specialisation, the establishment of joint research programmes, cooperation in educational or financial support activities funded by third parties, exchange of graduate students in the context of specific research programs or courses of special interest and gravity, exchange of scientific and educational bibliography produced by one or both parties, as well as exchange of material for relevant and up-to-date research topics and finally the organization of conferences, seminars and symposia of mutual interest for the two institutions.
We expect, always within the legislative frameworks of both sides, for a double degree, which will make this programme more attractive and affordable for our prospective students.
Albanian and Greek languages have always imported and exported from one another, while this linguistic and cultural interaction has both a diachronic and synchronic dimension. What is that unites the two countries both historically in the present?
There have certainly been linguistic exchanges between the two languages since both the Albanian and the Greek people are two of the most ancient peoples of Europe and have had direct and multiple contacts (historical, military, geographical, economic, political, linguistic, etc.) for at least 3,000 years. These contacts have reached their peak during the last two decades. In Albania there is a national Greek minority, which constitutes a vital bridge of mutual understanding, friendship and cooperation between Greek and Albania, while, at the same time, after the fall of communism in Albania in 1991, a large number of economic refugees and migrants arrived in Greece. In addition, the economic, military, cultural contacts, etc., especially the investments made by the Greek capital in Albania unite the forces of the two countries and use the advantages of the cross-border region to achieve benefits for both countries.
Sociologically, politically, geographically and educationally, on both sides of the border, there has been created a bilingual situation which requires and enforces the publication of Greek-Albanian and Albanian-Greek dictionaries, textbooks, bilingual grammar books etc.
What about literature? In what ways does Greek literature attract the interest of an Albanian audience? And in turn, what is that makes Albanian literature appealing to Greek readers?
Delving into the history and culture of a neighboring country, with which there are several common codes vis-à-visculture, history, customs and traditions, may constitute a fertile ground for communication between the two parts. Greek literature attracts the interest of the Albanian audience because both well-known and emerging Greek writers depict a geographical, cultural and social landscape with which Albanian readers can discover “elective affinities”.
Accordingly, Albanian literature may attract the attention of the Greek public since through the pages of literary works, there are depicted, in a literary perspective, both timeless and current issues that concern the Albanian society, while also providing an exhaustive image of its nature, both historically and politically, culturally etc. In this way, it is possible to enrich the views of readers for their neighboring people and to create bridges of understanding.
Several Greek prose writers as well as known Greek poets have been translated. Albanian translations of modern Greek literature include works by various Greek writers, poetry and short story collections, as well as anthologies where some Greek writers are included. Overall, there are around 140 translated book titles in the field of prose, poetry and theatre, and 4 world literature anthologies that include various Greek poets and prose writers. From the 140 translated editions, around 80 works are prose (novels, short story collections), and 60 publications of Greek poetry, 6 poetry anthologies, 3 short story anthologies and 4 theatrical plays.
As for bilingual editions, there are nine poetry collections, in Greek and Albanian, of Odysseus Elytis, C.P. Cavafy and many Cypriot poets.
Is there a way for the challenges of integrating Greek literature in the international field to be met? What is the role of Modern Greek Studies in this respect?
The history of translations of Greek literature is undeniably long, as it begins already in the 19th century and covers most of major European languages (let us mention as typical examples Nikos Kazantzakis, C.P. Cavafy, Giorgos Seferis and Odysseus Εlytis). Today, however, although Greek literature continues to have a steady presence in important book fairs around the world, while events and conferences are organized with authors, translators, publishers, universities and journalists, the image of Greek literature abroad seems to be quite stagnant. Demand for Greek titles by foreign markets remains scarce so far.
In recent years, several well-known, award-winning literary works and writers have been presented to the Albanian reader through translations. I would say that publishers make a considerable effort not only to translate Greek authors, but also to present and promote translated works to a wide audience. By inviting the writers themselves and by organizing different panels and events with experts in all fields. Our Department always participates in such events either with professors who have a rich translation activity or through the participation of our alumni and students. Appropriate marketing strategies by a National Book Centre are necessary to dynamically promote the Greek book abroad. The existence of good translations has a decisive role to play in the promotion of Greek literary works abroad.
We are witness to a significant increase in the efforts of Albanian culture scholars to translate the elite of Greek culture into Albanian. In this respect, we can definitely say that the role of Modern Greek Studies Departments is crucial, since they provide the future translators, scholars and modern Greek literature professors. Through scientific research and teaching, philology students learn how to use the methods of approach and the tools of their scientific work, so that they can meet the requirements for publishing, analyzing and interpreting literary texts. Through these, it will be possible to familiarize the foreign reading public with classical and modern Greek literature.
*Ιnterview by Athina Rossoglou
Catherine Kernan is a printmaker, painter and author who lives and worksin Boston, US. She is co-founder and partner of Mixit Print Studio, a professional open rental printmaking studio in Somerville, Massachusetts, and co-author of Singular & Serial: Contemporary Monotype and Monoprint. She has degrees from Cooper Union in New York City and the University of Wisconsin (Madison) and she has been awarded residencies at the Scuola Internazionale di Grafica in Venice, the Ballinglen Arts Foundation in Ireland, the MacDowell artist's residency program and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Her work is regularly exhibited in private galleries across the US and UK and at international juried exhibitions and invitational shows. She has collaborated with the Greek Institute in Boston under the guidance of the late Director, the well-known educator and translator Athan H. Anagnostopoulos, who dedicated many years to "The Treasure of the Greek Language" project.
Left: Vayia, Patmos 9/4/ 2021, watercolor, 10” x 10”; right: Catherine Kernan
In 1973, while in her early 20s, she backpacked through Europe sketching continuously and eventually landing on Patmos in the Dodecanese. She stayed there for nine months, painting daily until she ran out of watercolor paper. This time on the island allowed her to build the self-discipline and drive to pursue art as a profession: to become an artist. By recording her impressions in brushwork or pen and ink, she developed her own visual language to identify and celebrate a place that transformed her. Profound and seminal, the experience inspired her to return to the United States to complete her undergraduate and graduate degrees in art, and to continue studying the Greek language.
Although unable to return every year, she made some eight more trips of varying lengths to Greece in 1976, 1983, 1985, 1992, 1998, 2017, 2019, and 2021. On shorter trips, usually weeks, she filled sketchbook after sketchbook with paintings and drawings, finding herself often drawn to the same rock formations, land patterns, vegetative configurations, luminous light and sea surfaces that originally enchanted her.
Left: Poster for the Exhibition AN ARTIST IN GREECE: Travel Sketches, Paintings, and Prints 1973-2021; right: Levadi Geranou, Patmos 9/5/2021, watercolor, 10” x 10”
This visual diary of her trips to Greece chronicle the emerging specificity of her experience andis currently exhibited at the premises of the Embassy of Greece in Washington DC until December 6, titled AN ARTIST IN GREECE: Travel Sketches, Paintings, and Prints 1973-2021. Greek News Agenda spoke with Catherine Kernan regarding her relationship with Greece, her exhibition and her plans for the future.
As the artist stated at the opening ceremony: "Looking through my sketchbooks, I recall the heat of the stone walls and rocks where I sat, the coolness of the trees that sheltered me, the pungent smells of rosemary, basil, and oregano, the events of the particular day, the rocky paths I climbed, and the people I met along the way".
Survival, 1998; oil painting on board, 10” x 13”; survival by accommodation, trees take shape from the ceaseless wind.
The Embassy of Greece to the USA, in Washington DC, is hosting the exhibition An Artist in Greece. Tell us about this work.
This show brings together a selection of artwork done during and inspired by my visits to Greece over a span of 48 years. In my professional career I exhibit frequently. My work is sold through many galleries and art consultants. This exhibit is different and very personal in that none of the pieces are for sale; they will be returned to my sketchbooks to preserve the record of my connection to Greece.
It was a fortunate confluence of circumstances that made this exhibit possible, all traced back to friends from 1973 in Greece whose diplomat son introduced me to Eleni Petroula. She was subsequently posted to Washington and made the arrangements for this exhibit.
Cutaway III, 1992, multi-plate intaglio etching, 23” x 30.5”; from a suite of five intaglio etchings based on memories of Patmos with the interplay of land forms and horizon.
How did your relationship with Greece start? What does Greece mean to you?
I first went to Greece in 1973 to visit a cousin who was living on Patmos, and I stayed for nine months. That sojourn led to lasting friendships, a commitment to making art, and to an abiding interest in the Greek language.
You have collaborated with the Greek Institute in Boston. Tell us about this collaboration
My involvement with the Greek Institute in Cambridge, MA goes back many years. I started by taking some classes, and while Athan Anagnostopoulos (d.2020) was the irector I was active in a translating group with him. Ancillary to the language studies, I did various art related projects for the Greek Institute to accompany translations and just for fun.
Greek Alphabet Monotype, 2008, 22.5” x 30”; a project for The Greek Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Apart from being an artist you are also a fine arts printer. How are these two combined?
Fine arts printers are artists, just as sculptors or painters or photographers are artists. Printmaking is an art medium that can be very spontaneous, or very controlled. In my practice as an artist I draw and paint and make prints, (etchings, woodcuts, monoprint) and most of my images are based on drawings and paintings done while traveling.
Any plans for the future?
I hope to continue visiting Greece as often as possible, and I would like to visit more places. My intention is to continue the record of my visits through continuing to draw on every trip.
Olive in the Valley of the Monks, 1999; intaglio etching, 7”x 9.5”, An ancient olive tree that has survived many ravages of time and weather
Co-presented with the Hellenic Society Prometheas, the exhibition AN ARTIST IN GREECE: Travel Sketches, Paintings, and Prints 1973-2021 will be on view at the Embassy’s premises on weekdays from October 14 to December 6, 2022 (11:00am to 3:00pm). For more info, visit the webpage of the Embassy of Greece in Washington DC.
Read also via Greek News Agenda: Creative Greece | George Petrides: "There is beauty not in spite of but because of imperfections"; Creative Greece│Greece in USA’s founder, Sozita Goudouna, on the Internationalization of Contemporary Greek Culture in the US
Artwork appears courtesy of the artist; intro image: Cutaway II, 1992, multi-plate intaglio etching, 23” x 30.5”
Maklena Nika is a Lecturer of Modern Greek Literature at the Greek Studies Department of the University of Tirana since 2006. Her academic interests focus on comparative literature, comparing Greek, French and Albanian surrealism. She is the president of the Society of Friends of Nikos Kazantzakis for Albania. She has translated major works of Greek literature into Albanian. She is among Delegates Awards Professionals of the Hellenic Foundation for Culture in recognition and cultivation of Greek Culture. Oxymoron (Toena Publications, 2020) is her second poetry collection.
You are Professor of Greek Literature at the Greek Studies Department of the University of Tirana. How did your academic involvement in Greek culture and language began?
Since 2006 I am a Lecturer of Greek literature in this department, after my studies in Greek philology. My love for the Greek language and literature is early, also due to my family ties. Undoubtedly, literature, and especially Greek literature, has been a very good companion in my life. I have always been intrigued by mythology, the mythic element that has been inherited in almost every contemporary literary work. However, my academic interests have focused more on modern literature, more specifically on Greek versus French surrealism. During my doctoral researches at the Aristotle University, Thessaloniki, I encountered many surrealist authors unknown to me, who still continue to excite my academic thinking.
Since 2009, you have been President of the International Society “Friends of Nikos Kazantzakis” (Albanian Branch). Tell us a few things about the scope and initiatives undertaken by the Society.
It is one of my most beautiful professional activities, because I can say with conviction that Nikos Kazantzakis is among my favorite writers, not only Greek, but also internationally. As it is well known, the Society has a very intensive activity around the world, and I would say the same for Albania or Kosovo. The main goal of the society and its branch in Albania is the promotion of the multidimensional work of the Greek author, the annual organization of a literary, scientific, promotional activity of his work and its translations in the Albanian language. Dozens of such activities have been organized, in cooperation with the Embassy of Greece in Tirana, where the main focus has been the familiarization and approach of the Albanian reader with this great philosopher of Greek Letters. It is a great honor for me to continue leading this society in Albania, which includes writers, translators, publishers, art critics, teachers, etc. In Albanian literature, Nikos Kazantzakis is the most translated writer, with more than 20 works.
Being a writer yourself, tell us a few things about the main themes your poetry touches upon?
I started writing poetry when I was a teenager, and my first publication was at the age of 20, a collection of poems in Albanian and French. The second edition was published after about 20 years, entitled "Oxymoron", Publishing House “Toena” 2020, a poetic collection which was warmly received and was nominated for the National Poetry Prize by the Ministry of Culture, Tirana. The main axis of my poems and poetic concerns is the concept of oxymoron, of opposites, often incompatible within the female soul, often absurd and confusing. These oxymorons are created within a sensitive soul that becomes poetic and philosophical from absence and presence, from memory and oblivion, from light and darkness. I am inspired by the myths that are demystified when the magic is lost, everything Dionysian and Apollonian, the sun and the moon, every feminine myth that hides inside me, every object and subject that excites my poetic nerve, every reality and surreality I experience, every freedom and slavery I invent and accept. Basically, my poems are my "dark" lunatic part and this helps me a lot to be in balance with the rhythm of life. I think I can say everything I need to through poetry. I hope that my poetry will be soon translated into Greek.
Greek and Albania share strong cultural ties. What is it that connects the two countries? Are there meeting points between the two cultures?
Albania and Greece as two neighboring countries have shared common histories throughout the centuries. In terms of culture, I could say that there are many meeting points and common points. Let's not forget that we are two Mediterranean countries with the same Balkan mentality, with the same historical and social concerns. The art and culture of a people are born from its suffering, from its history, from its mentality. It is at this point that the two cultures of our countries meet, resulting in literary products and works of art with the same aroma of the Ionian Sea.
Being a translator of Greek literature in Albanian, which have been the major challenges you have been faced with while translating Greek literary works?
One of my main commitments is the translation of Greek literature into the Albanian language. The works I have translated are among the most important works of Greek literature, such as Nikos Kazantzakis, Maro Douka, Alki Zei, Kostas Mourselas, Nikos Chrysos, some Greek poets, etc. The challenge as a translator has been multidimensional for every author and every work. To translate means to secretly communicate with the author, to feel the rhythm of his/her writing, to make the right stylistic choices with linguistic mathematical precision. When you translate, you are no longer a translator, you are already a creator, not authentic and independent, but closely connected and influenced by the work to be translated. You have to co-identify with an artist-writer who you don't know, but who holds his/her most precious thing, his/her soul, and thus the responsibility is very great. It is not only a responsibility to the author, but also to the reader, to the history. My challenges? Numerous; linguistic, stylistic, toponyms, bearing in mind that the Albanian and Greek languages are two very rich languages and the stylistic nuances have been the most difficult part for me, requiring various negotiations. If we were talking about translating poetry, I would add that the challenge is exhausting, but beautiful. You have to say a lot in limited linguistic and poetic material.
More specifically, what is that make Greek literature appealing to Albanian readers, and, vice versa, in what ways does Albanian literature attract the interest of a Greek audience?
Since 2007, in cooperation with the National Book Center, Thessaloniki, we have carried out a project with the main objective of recording the works of Greek literature translated in Albania from the 20th century until today. This project did not focus only on a simple numerical registration, but from the collected and processed data, several important conclusions were reached related to the translation trends throughout different historical periods (1900 - 1945, 1945 - 1990, decline of the communist system in Albania and 1990 until today), the policies of the publishing houses regarding the translation and promotion of Greek literature in Albania, the preferences of the Albanian reader for Greek literature, where I would no doubt emphasize on classical literature. This study still draws my attention to the recent translation developments of Greek literature in Albania, but also of Albanian literature in Greece. There are about 300 major titles of Greek literature that have been translated, representing the most important Greek writers. In recent years, the trend of translating contemporary literature and women's literature has been noticed. As for the Greek readers, I can say that they are interested in reading the most prominent names of Albanian literature, but also contemporary writers who combine myth with history.
How important is the role of translation in the dissemination of a literature beyond national borders? In general, could translation contribute to a better understanding between cultures and translators act as cultural ambassadors between countries?
Translation is a science of communication and only through art and literature the whole world becomes one. The translation of literature remains one of the most important means of communication between peoples, which contributes to the identification of the "other", to the recognition of the world beyond state borders, to the acceptance of cultural and expressive differences, to the interweaving of opposite and distant cultures. In short, books are the best ambassadors among peoples, who need no a diplomacy to converse, just letters...
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou
Life in the Tomb (1924) by Stratis Myrivilis is a landmark war novel, and by far the most famous work written in Greece on the subject of the First World War. Just like Erich Maria Remarque’s international best-seller All Quiet on the Western Front –which it predates– it is inspired by the author’s own harrowing experiences in the trenches.
Greece in WWI
The outbreak of the First World War found Greece already in a state of turmoil; already from the turn of the century, strong anti-monarchist sentiments were stirred, especially due to the king’s overt involvement in politics. This division, expressed in the tension between the Crown and Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos, was deepened during the Balkan Wars (1912-14).
Venizelos’s disagreement with Constantine I over Greece’s stance in WWI (with the former wanting to side with the Allies and the latter insisting on neutrality) led to the "National Schism", with the country split between two governments. Greece was eventually united and officially joined the Allies in 1917; its involvement proved beneficial for the national causes, since it was rewarded with territorial acquisitions – although a large part of these were subsequently lost to Turkey in the Greco-Turkish War that followed.
Eleftherios Venizelos with French General Auguste Gérôme, inspecting the Greek Army, December 1918 (From Le Miroir n°222 via Wikimedia Commons)
To date, WWI and the Greek involvement in it is not often discussed in the country's public discourse. The "Great War" is largely perceived as a foreign conflict, unlike WWII, where Greeks spontaneously united against armies invading their own lands. Overshadowed by the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922 and the ensuing tragedy known as the Asia Minor Catastrophe, as well as eclipsed by the heroic deeds of the Greek Army and Resistance in WWII, the First World War remains largely "unsung" in Greece, making Life in the Tomb all the more valuable for its depiction of an important chapter in the country’s history.
Myrivilis was one of the most prominent representatives of the so-called Generation of the '30s, Greece’s dominant Modernist movement in Arts and Letters, which combined folk and modern artistic elements in a quest for the concept of "Greekness".
Born Efstratios Stamatopoulos in a village on the island of Lesbos (at the time still part of the Ottoman Empire) in 1890, he received an education there and became a schoolmaster, before deciding to enroll at the University of Athens in 1912. Later that year, however, he would volunteer to fight in the Balkan Wars (where Greece and its allies faced the Ottoman Empire and then Bulgaria). He was wounded in the Battle of Kilkis–Lachanas against Bulgaria in 1913 (Second Balkan War), receiving a medal for his service; he consequently returned to Lesbos and settled in Mytilene, the island’s capital.
In Mytilene, he worked at the newspaper Salpinx (Trumpet) writing vignettes. There he published his first book, a short story collection, under the pen name Myrivilis, which he had used since his first venture as a writer (a short story for a contest); the pseudonym was inspired by the name of a mountain slope in his home village, and he kept it for his entire career.
Myrivilis was an ardent supporter of Eleftherios Venizelos. When Greece entered the "Great War", he once again enlisted to fight on the Macedonian Front; during his service, he starts writing his book, inspired by his own experiences. In 1920, he married Eleni Dimitriou, a young Greek refugee from Asia Minor. He also fought in the Greco-Turkish War; following Greece’s defeat in 1922, he returned to Lesbos and resumed his collaboration with Salpinx and other local newspapers, publishing short stories, articles, vignettes and poems.
In 1923 he founded the weekly newspaper Kambana (Bell), where he was editor-in-chief and expressed the antimilitarist ideas he had developed through his experiences in combat; Life in the Tomb was first published in this newspaper.
In 1923, Ilias Venezis, a young Greek from Anatolia, arrived in Lesbos to join his refugee family, having just been released from the notorious Turkish Labour Battalions in Asia Minor; Myrivilis met him and incited him to record his experiences as a survivor of the labour camps. The result was the autobiographical novel Number 31328: The Book of Slavery, which Myrivilis would publish in Kambana in serialised form, in 1924. Venezis would go on to become a successful writer –also part of the "Generation of the '30s"– especially famous for his book Land of Aeolia.
Myrivilis moved to Athens with his wife and children in 1932; there he continued working for newspapers and magazines (including some of the capitals most important printed media, like Kathimerini, Acropolis and Nea Hestia), and became a member of the Journalists’ Union of Athens. Later he would also collaborate with Athens Radio Station, the first radio station in Greece, while from 1946 to 1950 he was Programme Director at the National Radio Foundation, the country's public state broadcaster.
Apart from Life in the Tomb, which remains his most important and famous book, his most prominent works include the novels The schoolmistress with the golden eyes (1933) and The mermaid Madonna (1949), which form –together with Life in the Tomb– , an unofficial trilogy on Greek (war) history of the first quarter of the 20th century; they are in fact his only works to have appeared in English.
In 1940, he shared with Ilias Venezis the prize for best novel (for The blue book and Serenity, respectively) at the 1939 State Prizes for Literature. In 1958, he became a member of the Academy of Athens. He was a three-time nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature (1960, 1962, 1963). In the final years of his life he suffered from cancer; he died in Athens on 19 July 1969 from bronchopneumonia.
Greek troops at Strymon River (near the Bulgarian borders), 1917/18 (via Wikimedia Commons)
Life in the Tomb
Inspired by the format of the epistolary novel, Myrivilis wrote the book as a series of letters addressed by the young Sergeant Antonis Kostoulas to his loved one, and supposedly discovered following his death in combat. In these letters (some of which mostly resemble diary entries) Kostoulas describes his experiences from the trench warfare on the Macedonian Front in 1917-1918.
Drawing from his own life, the author presents the realities of war through various anecdotes, creating a heterogeneous but vivid narrative. He portrays the horrors and bloodshed of the front, while also offering his unique perspective into the human condition. Through his tragic, but also bittersweet and –even, sometimes– funny stories he foregrounds "the voice of the soldier", dismissing and the fables of "pseudo-chivalry" presented by those who decide to wage war out of "fear, fanaticism or vainglorious conceit". As John Taylor writes in his book Into the Heart of European Poetry (2008), Life in the Tomb is "the diary of a volunteer who lose his illusion and grows capable of the most penetrating self-observation".
The book draws its title from a famous phrase used in the Greek Orthodox Matins of Holy and Great Saturday, celebrated on Good Friday night, a service known as The Lamentation at the Tomb; it is the first verse of the first section of the Enkomia ("Lamentations/Praises"), sung before the Epitaphios (an icon symbolising the body of Jesus Christ following his deposition from the cross). The words I zoi en tafo ("Life in the grave/tomb") are part of the phrase which roughly translates as "Christ, Thou (who art) Life hast been laid in a grave".
In Greek, the word tafos (grave) is similar to the word tafros, which means "ditch" or "moat", but was also used to signify "trench". Hence, the title is a pun, alluding to the soldiers’ lives in the trenches, but also to their potential death, as well as the loss of their youth, innocence and hopes.
A chapter of the book was published in the newspaper Nea Ellada (New Greece) in Thessaloniki in 1917, when Myrivilis was still in active service. The novel was serialised in the Mytilini-based newspaper Kambana, from April 1923 to January 1924, and then released in a single volume in 1924.
Six more editions followed (in 1930, ’32, ’46,’49, ’54 and 1955), sometimes with significant changes, including the addition and/or the split of chapters by the author, which even result in the addition of characters and storylines. Myrivilis basically saw his magnum opus as a work in progress throughout his life. The first and second –notably more concise– editions are today available in Greek. It was in fact the 1930 edition (the second one, which already had 16 more chapters than the first one) that had made Myrivilis a household name, thanks to its impressive success.
The book has been translated into 14 languages; it first translation was in Albanian, in 1932. It has since appeared in French, Serbian, Russian, Romanian, Polish, Czech, Italian, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Turkish, German and Spanish. It was published in English in 1977, translated by Peter A. Bien; it was based on the book’s third edition, which featured 57 chapters. C.M. Woodhouse had written in the Times Literary Supplement that the translator had "turned a Greek masterpiece into something not much less than an English one".
Nikos Kourmoulis studied Sociology at the University of Liverpool. He has worked for over twenty years in newspapers, magazines and the radio. He works as a cultural editor in the newspaper "TA NEA". The short story collection [Stillness] is his first writing venture.
Your first literary writing venture Άπνοια [Stillness] was recently published by Keimena. Tell us a few things about the book. Could you elaborate on the the title?
Stillness is a collection of eight short stories, which I have been writing systematically for the past four years. It took me a while to come up with the short story form. It happened when I was able to clearly hear the voices of the protagonists, who were asking for their autonomy. I'm very interested in everyday people, those who live and breathe on the fringes of society and not those who are in the forefront. Their inner journeys, their needs, their passions and their faults. The "noiseless" people who, however, have more essential things to narrate about our fluid era. I placed the characters in the near future, because this allowed me to free them from the context of the present and thus enable them to talk more comfortably about what hurts them.
In the first place, I was looking for the bridge that would act as the binding thread of the stories. And how this would be achieved by the title alone. If I don't have a title, I can't proceed with writing whatever text. Looking over my notes again and again, I also recalled my own feelings. I ended up with Stillness, because it captures the existential condition of everyday life around me. A feeling of dead end and at the same time an internal mobility towards a new narrative. Meanwhile, the climate change that completely overturns existing living standards (prolonged drought on the one hand or unbearable cold on the other), was constantly on my mind. As for the cover, we chose a painting by Yves Klein, which elliptically conveyed these feelings.
In her review of the book, Eugenia Bogianou commented that you “created fluid and evolving heroes, characterized by complexity and ambiguity. But also by an ‘apnea’, a stillness that seems to permeate all aspects of their lives until an unexpected event forces them to move outside their protective shell”. Which are the main issues your heroes are confronted with? Which are the main issues you delve into through your characters?
I would like to thank Eugenia Bogianou for the comment. Indeed, we live in a complicated world. At least in the metropoles where my narrative unfolds. The moral dilemmas of the early 20th century still concern us today in a different way. Back then, everything moved along the Good-Bad axis. Today such notions have become more fluid. We are many things, like hopefully the characters of Stillness, and not a singular ecosystem. What prevails in the environment we live in is impulse, an uncontrollable temper, a “instead”, identities, violence etc. Plus, we are entering the metaverse universe; that is, contradictory concepts and feelings since most certainties have collapsed and are trying to be established from scratch. That’s where the characters of the books are built and despite the complexity, I looked for something simple at their core: to find their dramatic need. What governs their existence. The traumas that define them.
The characters are overwhelmed by tensions. Sharp objects that have been sewn inside them over the years and still bleed. They try to do the right thing and most of all to see what right means. Is there substance or is it yet another title? What does love or loss mean, and how are they formed? In order to lead them to the small revelation they are looking for, each short story is mediated by an external "abnormality" in the daily flow of the characters: a random shift change, an earthquake, an unexpected news, a sudden memory lapse, the discovery of a corpse, etc. Thus, time flows elsewhere and the characters of the book follow it to see where it will take them. They enter their dark spot and make a new compass. Which will either make them live differently, or bring them to the brink of dissolution.
Your stories are set in a dystopic multicultural metropolis of the future where roads have no names,while your heroes seem to exist outside time, they can be met everywhere, anywhere anytime. What purpose does this choice of yours serve?
Stillness suggests possibilities, insinuations and disruptions, which capture more efficiently the inner tension of both the characters and the plot. A dystopian style, as well as other readings, follow as a result of psychic changes. When I write, I tend to start from one point only to end up to different other. I avoid making up my mind beforehand so as to avoid any kind of ideological engagement. I insist on the spontaneity of things, I let the characters lead me into their environment. Which, in the book, is a big metropolis, let's say Athens. Which we see a few years later be called “Clepsydra”. Because in an everchanging society, the characters don’t have much time to act. Of course, “Clepsydra” is multicultural like all major capitals. It breathes through the mixing of the streams of its inhabitants.
As I was writing the first few lines, I thought that we already live in a hyper-communicative digital universe. The characters in the book, even more so. The memory of people weakens and tends towards oblivion. Sometimes they claim it, but either they don't really care, or they rudely retract it. In contemporary everyday life, the first thing we necessarily remember, even before our name, are passwords. In the short stories, these codes are the usernames of the streets.They mean so much more than a classic name. They have gained practicality for another reason: the characters live only in the present. The past is only an experience. They look back when they reminisce. But they aren’t really aware of it. In "Clepsydra", everything is renewed, not necessarily in the right direction. But passwords are gateways. Heroes still choose to be "proportionate". Their passions leave them no other room.They are on the fringes of development. The main body of the social framework has rejected them, but they have also rejected it. You can still meet them today, in many countries. Their basic feelings have not changed. They struggle to find their meaning and this is timeless.
What about language? How crucial is its role in depicting the inner labyrinthine paths of your literary characters?
Language is everything in a book. It is its Ark. I often feel trapped by language, because it knows me too well. Language brings out all your weaknesses and at the same time it can take you where you couldn’t even conceive on paper. I have worked hard on language. Initially in audio format. I tried to listen to each character’s words individually. The way they articulate their thoughts. The way they use speech to get where they want. And, at the same time, what they cannot bear to express. Because language includes gestures, silences, facial movements, ways of walking etc. The way each character talks is what allows him/her to have potential, to develop. I was interested in a language that is varied. Some characters speak more sharply, others are more wordy, aggressive or soft. It depends on where they come from and what their psychic condition is. That is why there are both folk and more scholarly elements in the language I chose. At a second level, I tried to depict the inner labyrinth, as you say. Language should follow the characters’ mood swings and to give shape to the challenges that await them. This is way I wanted to be specific and at the same time centrifugal. To step on the concrete and to discover the association.
In the era of online communication, what role do the social media play in the way people read and write?
The way we read is changing. Information accumulates often at the expense οf real knowledge. Which requires effort and research. Scrolling has largely replaced page turning. The internet user usually absorbs news headlines or articles rather than their actual content. That said, due to the many obligations of the average citizen during the day, the speeds of everyday life, free time is limited. Books, like any artistic creation, though, still requires time. Thus, numerous publishers turn to books that are easily digestible and simplistic. Aiming to fit in the minimal space available to the reader.
There are still many unsolved issues to delve into. Because art aims to make people think and not just entertain themselves. The form of speech on social media, and especially on facebook, is mainly self-referential. Especially in Greece, users have an opinion about everything, based on which they interpret things that surround them, even the artistic content of a book that they may be unaware of.This Ego that judges everything has influenced the writing process to a certain extent. This is how we see, for example, titles being published that are more or less autofiction. Experience is their starting point and a means to itself.
Fake news circulating on social media has also played its part. Several young people in particular have identified them with fiction. Which is wrong, because they are completely opposite acts. Still, the paper holds up. And the book survives because it has the ability to be a timeless object. It is the battlefield of the values of human adventure. The various online reading groups have played an important role on a global scale in saving reading. That said, an author even today cannot stop writing stories. Each of us has at least one inside him/her. Words always find a way to communicate with what we have forgotten, confront our passions and unlock our desires.
How does Greek literature converse with world literature? Where does the national/local interweave with the global?
Greek literature, starting from the end of the 19th century, has undergone various phases and acquired numerous expressions. It cannot easily be classified and has several discontinuities. It is usually separated by years and generations. Something that is still being used although it is obviously outdated. Τhe element that still prevails is History. In Greece, most things contain History as a field of political opposition, healing or as a means to bring passions, divisions and aspirations to the forefront. In this respect, Greece may have followed the new literary trends (let us not forget that numerous Greek writers lived in Europe for years), but these trends were incorporated only in part and to certain hosts. A case in point in terms of concurrency with foreign trends is the movement of surrealism.
From then on, both the particularities of national identity building and the three milestones of modern Greek History (Occupation, Civil War, Dictatorship) played a pivotal role in Greek literature. This doesn’t mean that there were no writers who, from time to time, used new expressive tools, promoting a special morphology and whose influence mostly on new writers was noticeable. In recent years, new challenges, both at a social and an individual level, have shaped new approaches to writing. Greek literature has turned its «lens» towards the inner self, going deep and asking questions from the past to the present and vice versa. New writers see even more pressing the need to connect with Europe, to be translated (something terribly missing) and to share their thoughts in the international environment.
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou
Jose Antonio Moreno Jurado was born in Seville in 1946. He is a poet, essayist and translator of Byzantine and modern Greek prose and poetry in Spanish. He taught modern Greek and Byzantine literature at the University of Seville for five years. He is an ardent researcher and translator of the works of major Greek poets Odysseus Elytis and George Seferis. He has published more than twenty poetry collections and literary works, as well as studies and essays on Modern Greek poetry and literature.
In 1973 he was awarded the Adonáis Poetry Prize for his work Ditirambos para mi propia burla and, in 1985, the Juan Ramón Jiménez International Poetry Prize for his book Bajar a la memoria. In 2019 he was named an honorary member of the Thessaloniki Writers' Society, while he is also an honorary member of the Literary and Critical Group of Cyprus since 2020 and the Hellenic Authors’ Society since 2021. In 2021 he received the ‘Thanasis Nakas’ Award for his life’s work, within the framework of the Jean Moreas Awards.
Your multifaceted work on ancient Greek, Byzantine and modern Greek literature is so extensive that you could be rightly described as a major ambassador of Greek Letters to the Spanish-speaking world. What triggered your interest in the study of the Greek language and more specifically the Greek literature?
I started learning Modern Greek before finishing Classical Philology at the University of Seville. At a time when we had no teachers, grammars or dictionaries.
It was then that I took my first trip to Athens. In the window of a bookstore in Solonos, I noticed the cover of an exquisite book. It was just a photo of a girl naked from the waist up; with her back turned and her head slightly tilted. Her hair was quite long, very dark, almost velvety, gently curled in very specific places. I had no choice but to walk into the bookstore and buy it. Just for the cover. I could easily read its title, Maria Nefeli, although I didn’t know what it meant, and the name of the author, Odysseus Elytis, a complete stranger to me.
Since then, I have bought a thousand books, so many suitcases loaded with books and magazines. A few months later, I presented my study on Elytis and my PhD thesis on Seferis. These were my first two studies dedicated to modern Greek literature at the University of Seville.
Some of my fellow students, serious university professors today, used to tell me every time they met me: “You're crazy if you continue to deal with modern Greek literature. You won't achieve anything. Moreover, in the Greek language, there is no more literature and thought than that of the classical authors. Don't waste your time on such nonsense." Fortunately, these perceptions have changed in Spain over the years.
With the help of Elytis, I finally translated Maria Nefeli, which was published in Madrid. Over time, there followed translations of the classical era (Plato, Aristotle, Aristophanes), of the Byzantine era (Prodromos, courtly literature, Romanos the Melodist, The chronicles of Galaxidi, the Akathist Hymn), of Cypriot literature (Petrarchism), of the Cretan Renaissance (Εrotokritos) and of most recent times (first and second post-war generations, and a 800-page poetry collection from XI century to the present).
That is, a whole life dedicated to Greek literature.
A poet, a researcher, an essayist, a translator. Where do all these attributes meet? Would you say that love for language and culture is the binding thread?
How such an extensive and persistent work be explained if not for my love for the language and culture of this people. First of all, because language, as Seferis used to say, is the same in essence from Homer to our days, although it has obviously suffered the changes of times and has undergone different natural phases. A language in constant motion, always alive, like life itself. A language in endless development. And this has always fascinated me.
Your latest writing venture, the bilingual anthology titled Κάθοδος στη μνήμη – Bajar a la memoria was recently published by Ekati. Tell us a few things about the book. More generally, which are the main themes your poetry delves into? Would you say that your poetry bears the influence of both ancient and contemporary Greek literature?
In 2008, a collection of my poems titled At the end of the road was published in Thessaloniki by Romi Editions, translated by Stelios Karayannis, Anna Stergiou, Stavros Guirgenis and Tassos Passalis. The book was presented in Thessaloniki, Serres and Edessa. In 2021, Twenty moments of lucidity was published (Grafima Editions), translated by Stavros Guirgenis. In 2022, Κάθοδος στη μνήμη – Bajar a la memoria (Ekati Books), translated by Stelios Karayannis, is a compilation of all my books. At the moment, a publication of Phaedrus is underway by Endymion Editions, translated by Vassilis Laliotis.
I must confess that there are two clear influences in my poetry: on the one hand, my own tradition, which I learned and read steadily from my youth; on the other hand, the Byzantine tradition and of course the teachings of Elytis and Seferis. The first taught me the way of image and metaphor, very close to surrealism and the dream world. The second taught me the simplicity of the poem and the seriousness. Through my own tradition, I closely followed the steps of San Juan de la Cruz, Garcilaso, Quevedo, Bécquer and the poets of the generation of 1927, that is Lorca, Alberti and Dámaso. And it was always a great pleasure to read the work of Juan Ramón Jiménez.
You are responsible for the collection ‘El Árbol de la luz’(Padilla Books), which already comprises more than 25 books by contemporary Greek poets. Tell us a few things about this venture.
‘El Árbol de la luz’ isaseriesof small books published in Seville by Padilla Libros. A series dedicated to modern Greek poetry. More precisely, a poetry written in Greek. I am the only one who translates the poets and we have already published 25 books. They all have the same look and only the color of each book changes. Poets of Athens, Thessaloniki, Patras, Larissa, Tinos and Cyprus.
Yet, I should also mention another series, in the same publishing company, called ‘SerieMínima’. There were published The Akathist Hymn, The chronicles of Galaxidi, On tenderness by Kostas Tsirópoulos, Α walk around Seville by Kostas Ouranis, The Gospel of Thomas, and two contemporary female poets, Zosi Zografidou and Liana Sakelliou.
Are there literary ties that unite Greece and Spain? In this respect, how important is the role of translation in the dissemination of a literature beyond national borders? In general, could translation contribute to a better understanding between cultures and translators act as cultural ambassadors between countries?
I cannot, nor dare, call myself an ambassador. I'm just a man who loves his job. And I am only trying to create a rapprochement between two literatures that have many elements in common. There is still a lack, in the field of comparative literature, of serious studies about the two cultures. For my part, I only want to build a bridge between two cultures. But Idon't know who will walk on it.
I prefer not to touch on other issues related to our contemporary world. For instance, who and how many people read poetry today in Spain and in Greece. That’s why governments need to pay very close attention to education.
I clearly remember, when I accompanied Elytis on his visit to the House Museum of Juan Ramón Jiménez and later to La Rabida (from where Christopher Columbus set out for America), how the poet, leaning against a huge window facing the sea, told me in low voice, “This sky, so dazzling blue, is also the sky of Greece”. And now I myself add, “What about poetry?”
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou
Α Greek “bohemian” poet, one of the “cursed poets” of Greek literature, Napoleon Lapathiotis (1881-1944) is considered one of the most important poets of the neo-symbolist and neo-romantic school. A controversial figure due to his gay sexual orientation, his communist sympathies, and his addiction to drugs, he was at the same time a national icon whose lifestyle created a scandal in the conservative society of his times.
A fan of Oscar Wilde, the sensitive, romantic but sharp poet wrote poems clearly influenced by aestheticism, while much later his melancholic mood leads him to symbolism. His poetry thus became a window to human condition. He wrote in a simple yet touching way about basic emotions such as love, joy, sadness, pain, memory, disappointment, death, etc. His daring lyrics, his constant search for pleasure and his declared homosexuality are provocative, his elegant and sophisticated appearance attracts attention.
Lapathiotis began writing poetry at the age of eleven. By 1907, his poems were already being published in magazines of the period. In 1907, along with others, he established the Igiso (Ἡγησώ, from the Attic Greek name Hēgēso) magazine, in which he published his works. In 1909, he graduated from the law school of the University of Athens.
In 1912 during the First balkan War, he was conscripted into the Greek army. In 1914 he published his controversial “Manifesto” in “Noumas”, a magazine of that era. Three years later, he published his poem “Kravgi” in “Rizospastis” and followed his father to Egypt where he met Constantine Cavafy. It is in the 1920s that he espoused the communist ideology. He returned to Athens shortly afterwards and continued to write poetry. However, his personality had drastically changed: he abused drugs and avoided being seen in public during the day, coming out only at night.
He wrote poems, novels, critiques, aesthetic texts, theatrical plays and articles, and was also involved in translation. In 1939 his collection of poems was published but the poet had descended into poverty and depression largely due to his continued drug abuse. On January 7, 1944, Lapathiotis killed himself with a revolver.
The 1985 the film Meteor and Shadow directed by Takis Spetsiotis was a poignant and harrowing account of the eccentric life and poignant death of the bohemian poet impersonated by the actor Takis Moschos. The film was based on a series of authentic documents and was set against the background of major historical events of a very important period of political and social developments in Greece, as well as the influences of European cultural events on our culture. The film won five prizes at Thessaloniki Film Festival 1985 - best film, best actor, best costumes and design, best make-up.
One of the milestones of 20th century Greek national narrative is the Asia Minor Catastrophe, i.e. the defeat of the Greek Army in the Greek-Turkish war (1919-1922) and the resulting wave of refugees of Greeks from Asia Minor to the Greek state. Literary representations of life in Asia Minor and of the refugee experience played a crucial role in that. Indeed, a significant number of widely-read and influential novels and short stories concerned with Asia Minor and the Asia Minor Catastrophe have appeared since 1922. Some of these texts are central to the canon of modern Greek literature.
Stratis Doukas’s A Prisoner of War’s Story (Greek title: Iστορία ενός αιχμαλώτου) – first printed in 1929 – is one of the most powerful literary accounts of the ordeal of those Greeks who were unable to escape in time across the Aegean to mainland Greece after the Asia Minor Catastrophe in 1922.
The narrative is based on the true story of Nikolas Kozakoglou, who is captured by the Turkish Army after the disaster and made to march for days with little food or water. On the march the Turkish soldiers mistreat the prisoners, strip them of all valuables, and leave the stragglers to the mercy of vengeful civilians. Eventually the prisoners are separated and given to local villages as slave labor. Kozakoglou and a companion escape, returning to their home village only to find it pillaged and destroyed. Disguising themselves as Turks in order to survive, they part company in search of work. After much wandering, Kozakoglou finds work as a shepherd and, claiming to be a Kosovar, he develops a close relationship with his kindly employer, who, surprisingly, is treated sympathetically in the narrative.
Living in constant fear of discovery, he manages to learn enough of Muslim ways to continue his charade through a series of narrow escapes until he finally saves the money he needs to leave. With the aid of his unwitting employer he secures travel papers and makes his way to Smyrna, where he manages to board a steamer bound for Constantinople. When the ship makes a stop at Mytilini he persuades the Greek officials that despite his convincing Turkish appearances he is really an Anatolian Greek, whereupon he is allowed to stay in Greece.
With asthmatic rhythm and the trepidation of the fleeting, the protagonist recounts the hardships, misfortunes and humiliations suffered, in a work that is sparse in language, but shocking for the events it reports and for the many others that implies. At the same time, the dispassionate portrayal of bare events removes the story from its wider historical context, rather emphasizing the epic struggle for an individual’s survival. It is a testimony to sheer human versatility and resilience and indirectly reveals how, although Greeks and Turks lived together on the whole peacefully in earlier times, they also remained deeply ignorant and suspicious of each other's religious practices.
A book that stands in direct dialog with literary textbooks and testimonies of the time (e.g. Ilias Venezis’s Number 31328), it can be seen as an episode of a larger epic, blurring the distinction between fact and fiction, legend and history. Carrying within it the a longing for repatriation, as a longing for peace, for the eradication of war instincts, for the brotherhood of peoples, it constitutes an important European example of 20th century anti-war literature.
An Italian Translation of the Book is Now Available
The book was recently translated in Italian by scholar Francesco Scalora (Aiora Books, 2022) under the title Storia di un prigioniero. On this occasion, Francesco Scalora spoke to Reading Greece about the importance of the book, which comes to fill an important gap regarding the familiarization of the Italian reader with a crucial chapter of Greek history.“The translation work undertaken by Italian Μοdern Greek scholars, thanks to which the promotion of Greek literature in Italy has been facilitated in the last seventy years, is indispensable. It’s due to their efforts that the most well-known Greek literary works have been and continue to be published, offering Italian readers the opportunity to enjoy Greek literary creation and culture. However, there was an important chapter of Greek history that greatly influenced Greek literature, which was missing among the works translated to date (both in poetry and in prose). That is the Asia Minor Catastrophe and the displacement of Greek communities that followed, which cast its heavy shadow on all subsequent literary production”.
“The centenary of the Asia Minor Catastrophe was for the Italian reader a great opportunity to be introduced through literature to a Greek historical event that is not so well-known abroad. Thus, in 2022, a number of related works such as Number 31328 by Ilias Venezis, Farewell Anatolia by Dido Sotiriou and A Prisoner of War’s Story by Stratis Doukas were published in translation. A Prisoner of War’s Story is definitely one of the most emblematic works of Greek prose. The years in which Doukas writes, as Mario Vitti emphasizes, are years in which some Greek writers, motivated by new ferments, promoted an intellectual renewal, reflected in the literary field by the adoption of innovative narrative methods, thus announcing the most contemporary work of the so-called Generation of the 1930s”.
As for the challenges he was faced with while translating the book, Scalora comments, “Achieving the right balance between a flat, simple narrative and the need to depict the seriousness of the painful historical events, Doukas conveys the message of the brutality of war through a testimony of personal survival, without resorting to excessive narrative and artistic embellishments that aim to emphasize the dramatic dimension of a historical event that is already tragic in itself. The result is a text that stands out for its expressive simplicity, for its folk-like spoken word. A text with an evocatively lyrical style, where the narrative-testimony, recorded as a historical document, and the author's literary art, come together, giving life to a text that, overcoming social, political and even more ideological-national reasons, becomes a universal message of humanity. The translator's duty lies in not betraying the message Doukas tried to convey, and in order to do so, he has to respect the expressive simplicity of the text”.
Stratis Doukas was born in 1895 on Moschonisi island, off the Asia Minor coast, and settled in Greece as a refugee after the Greek–Turkish war (1919–22). He served as a soldier in the Greek army in the First world war and in the ill-fated Asia Minor campaign. Together with his university friend Photis Kontoglou and with Stratis Myrivilis, he co-founded the Mytilene Club of Musical Arts. He conducted journalistic research that was published in numerous newspapers, and started writing literature in 1929, to later also take up painting.
A Prisoner of War’s Story, published in 1929, established his reputation as an innovative writer of a new unadorned first-person narrative style. His writing encompasses lyrical prose, arts journalism and studies of important figures in the visual arts, including a nearly biography of the sculptor Υannoulis Chalepas. Doukas died in Athens in 1983.