Giorgos Skambardonis has published twelve short story collections and seven novels. He received the State Award for Best Short Story Collection in 1993 for his book Η Στενωπός των Υφασμάτων [The alley of fabrics] and the Diavazo Magazine Award in 2004 for his Επί ψύλλου κρεμάμενος [Hanging on flea]. His novels Γερνάω επιτυχώς [Growing up successfully] and Ουζερί Τσιτσάνης [Tsitsanis Ouzeri] were put to the stage at the Νational Theatre of Northern Greece, and was turned into a movie in 2015 by Manousos Manousakis.
He was the screenwriter of “It’s a long road” by Pantelis Voulgaris in cooperation with the director. Hewas the editor of the newspaper Thessaloniki and the Magazines Θ-97, Tamarix, Hilia Dentra, Panselinos (which received the «European Newspaper Design Awards 2000») and Epiloges of the Sunday edition of Macedonia. In 2010 he received the Botsis Foundation Award and in 2012 the Best Short Story Award by the Petros Haris Foundation of the Academy of Athens for his book Περιπολών περί πολλών τυρβάζω [Strolling and deeply reflecting].
Your latest writing venture Ήλιος με ξιφολόγχες [Sun with bayonets] brings us back to Thessaloniki of the interwar period. Tell us a few things about the book?
It is a novel inspired by the political and social conflicts in interwar Thessaloniki, specifically from the first half of 1931 onwards. The rise of fascism and communism, the involvement of foreign powers, strikes, murders and confrontations that culminate in the first major pogrom against the city’s Jews, in the arson of the Campbell district. It is a novel that combines spy with detective fiction, the romantic with the existential element, it is a coming-of-age story, but also a foreshadowing of the gloomy future that was to follow.
You have characterized the book as a ‘flowing kaleidoscope’, commenting on its autobiographical elements. Could you elaborate on that?
It is indeed a flowing kaleidoscope of the interwar era. The autobiographical element is always present, indirectly, in every book, transfigured and diffused through the suffering heroes.
How does literature converse with History? How does the past converse with the present and the future in your books?
In History there are many constants as there are numerous variables. There are some laws and their constant variation, just like in human behavior. Some elements are repeated while new ones arise, depending on the respective occasions and the uniqueness of the "ego" of the heroes. These are inevitably reflected on literature; the protagonists suffer in a similar way, while the uniqueness of their own separate existence, their unique character is also brought to the forefront.
What about language? What role does language play in your writings?
Language plays a pivotal role. There is no literary style without it. And each character always has his/her own linguistic characteristics that distinguish them. Language, the choice of words, plays a catalyst role in the correct formulation, the rhythm, the deeper meaning and the literary style of each writer.
Since your first book in 1992 to the present, more than thirty years later, what has changed and what has remained the same in your writings? Are there recurrent points of reference in your books?
Since 1992, there has been a constant anxiety within me to evolve, to go, every time, at least half a step further. It is not easy because it requires constant vigilance and rejection of the acquired. Avoiding mannerism and stagnation. One must have the rigor to cut, to constantly surpass oneself, to move forward. Otherwisewritinghasnomeaning.
Novels, short story collections, screen plays, newspapers, literary magazines, a life dedicated to writing. What is that binds all these different attributes together?
The writing itself, the language, the anxiety to express in many ways what moves me, what bothers me, what inspires me, or what upsets me. More so those that cause me awe, awe for life. For the miracle and tragedy of existence.
Does contemporary Greek literature have the potential to move beyond national borders? How crucial is the role of translation in this respect? What is lost and what is saved in the process?
Translation into other languages, difficult though it may be, is at the same time important even if it is not perfect. It also depends on the translator. We all know it's a very difficult task. But, nevertheless, there is always profit, even if some elements are lost along the way. We too read the great foreign authors from mediocre, perhaps, translations, but, in essence, the final profit is incalculable.
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou
Α festival of words, sounds, lyrics, music, movement and short films, the 9th Athens World Poetry Festival titled “Poetry on the Road” (24-27 September) aims once again to transform the city of Athens into a large poetic canvas with the participation of Greek and foreign poets. Organized by the literary organization Poets’ Circle, the Festival constitutes a major literary event, which aspires to change the country’s image around the world, making Athens a leading international literary hub, as well as a travel destination for poetry lovers.
When the Poets’ Circle was founded in 2012, it set as its primary goal the continuous and public communication of poetry with the wider public. Within this framework, the Athens World Poetry Festival was materialized, featuring, ever since, the ‘dream team’ of world poetry, with internationally renowned poets from around the world. During the festival, numerous public events – such as readings, workshops, music, visual arts and more – are hosted at several venues around the city so that poetry becomes a vital part of everyday life, emphasizing on the importance of poetry in difficult times, while also contributing to the extroversion of the Greek poetry, to dialogue between different traditions and the promotion of Greek cultural traditions abroad.
This year’s Festival begins on September 24, with the screening of the documentary film “Poetry finds you” at the Αthens Concert Hall. Fifteen Greek and foreign poets, will give readings of the poems they love, actors will recite verses, while the melodies played live will complement the festive atmosphere during an evening full of words, sounds, verses, music, movement, videos. Among the poets that will participate are: Anastassis Vistonitis, Zefi Daraki, Antonis Makrydimitris, Pantelis Boukalas, Konstantinos Bouras, Titos Patrikios, Dimitra C. Christodoulou, Tozan Alkan, Krystyna Dabrowska, Nataliya Dovhopol, Ricardo Duranti, Knut Odegaard, Alicia Stallings, Syam Sudhakar, Mosab Abu Toha.
This year the festival will host 51 Greek and foreign poets from 13 countries, which will attempt to interpret the world through poetry and read their poems in seven venues around Athens and Piraeus (Athens Concert Hall, Benaki Museum, Epi Lexi bookstore, Purple Squirrel bookstore, the House of Cyprus and Mandra Kokkinias). An important moment of the festival will be the “Barbara Fields-Siotis’ award ceremony, in memory of Barbara Fields-Siotis (1939-2019), a woman who has been throughout her life a dedicated reader, advocate and patron of poetry. This year, the award will be given to Greek poet Giorgos Blanas.
t’s always time for poetry. Because poetry is not a lesser art, but the melting pot of human language. At the 9th Athens World Poetry Festival, we will hear languages of many nations, listening closely to the planet’s concerns. Stay tuned and enjoy the festivities!
Greek folk tales descend from Aesop and Greek antiquity, as well as medieval storytelling in the pivotal south-east Mediterranean world that linked Christianity, Islam and Byzantium. These tales, told by folk narrators throughout Greek-speaking regions up to our times, are wondrous, whimsical stories about doughty youths and frightful monsters, resourceful maidens and animals gifted with human speech. The tales weave substantive motifs, characters, and forms into a rich tapestry capturing the temperament and ethos of the Greek folk psyche.
Greek Folk Tales (Aiora Press, 2023), translated by Alexander Zaphiriou*, comprises a selection of some of the most well-known folk tales that make up the rich Greek folk tradition passed down to us by word of mouth inextricably linked to the Greek countryside, narrated during long winters or summer starry nights. “The obvious challenge was orality”, says Zaphiriou. “Storytellers were entertainers just like the ancient bards declaiming Homeric rhapsodies. A written rendering of the stories has to hold on to the sense of their being spoken narratives”. Heroic human deeds and adventures, animals with the power of speech, fairies [neraides in Greek], witches, nymphs, goblins [kallikantzaroi in Greek] make up a rich kaleidoscope of Greek folklore that English-speaking readers will have the chance to delve into and get familiar with.
The folk tales included in the volume were collected in the late-nineteenth to mid-twentieth century. They were found in Greek-speaking lands, including Asia Minor and Cyprus. A few have been borrowed from traditions beyond Greece, while some have come down to us from antiquity, including Aesop-like fables with speaking animal characters. A full spectrum of Greek folk tales exists in the work of G.A. Megas (1893-1976), ethnographer, professor at Athens University and first president of the Hellenic Ethnographic Society, and Nikolaos G. Politis (1852-1921), Megas’s teacher and forerunner. “They did for Greek tales what the Brothers Grimm did for German Märchen (folk tales)”, Zaphiriou points out.
*Alexander Zaphiriou studied Comparative Literature at Columbia University, in New York. Ηe has worked as an interpreter for the Council of Europe, the IMF, and other international organizations since the ‘90s. He has translated fiction and non-fiction from and to English and Greek. His compilation Myths Behind Words was published by Aiora Press in 2018.
Read more: READING GREECE: Aiora Press, a Publishing House that Promotes Greek Literature beyond National Borders; BOOK OF THE MONTH: ‘Greek Folk Songs’ - A Bilingual Edition that Sheds Light on the Greek Demotic Tradition; BOOK OF THE MONTH: Rebetika – Songs from the Old Greek Underworld
Born in Stefanesti-Ilfov-Romania in 1949, Elena Lazăr graduated from the School of Classical Languages of the University of Bucharest. She has worked as an editor for two important state publishers (Univers Publishers, Encyclopaedic and Scientific Publishing House) (1972-1999). Since 1991, she is the owner and director of the Romanian publishing house OMONIA, which consistently promotes Modern Greek literature in Romania. She is a founding member and vice-chairman of the Romanian Society of Greek Studies, vice-chairman of the Romanian branch of the International Society “The Friends of Nikos Kazantzakis”, member of the Romanian Writers’ Union (2005), and an Honorary member of the Hellenic Authors’ Society.
She was awarded prizes for translation in Greece (1994, 2020) and Romania (1994, 2003, 2018), and named Ambassador of Hellenism (Athens, 2005) and Officier de l’Ordre de la Bienfaisance (2011). She has translated 66 works of Modern Greek literature: essays, short stories, novels (Grigorios Xenopoulos, Angelos Terzakis, Nikos Kazantzakis, Tasos Athanasiadis, Galateia Saranti, Ioulia Iatridi, Eleni Ladia, Nikos Themelis etc.) and poetry (Complete works of C. P. Cavafy, 2 vols., Kostas Karyotakis, Michalis Pieris, Antonis Fostieris a.o.). She is the author of nine books: Panorama of Modern Greek Literature (1987, the second edition 2001), Panorama of Cypriot Literature (1999), Masterpieces of Modern Greek Literature (2003), The Greek Letters in Romania.1837-2005 (2005) etc., and has published over 100 articles concerning Greek Letters in the Romanian literary press.
For more than 30 years, Omonia Editions have decisively contributed to the promotion of Greek literature in Romania. Tell us a few things about the publishing house, its story and its major work.
Omonia Editions was founded in 1991, in the wave of excitement following the change of regime and the fall of communism. At that time, 4500 (!) publishing houses were founded – which speaks for itself about the Romanians' thirst for communication with world culture. Now there are about 800 publishing houses and fortunately Omonia managed to continue its activity, despite the adversities of the transition period, despite the fact that there is no recipe for "how to become a capitalist without capital". Our only capital in the beginning was the translations of Greek literature that were waiting to be published.
In today's publishing landscape, Omonia is the only publishing house in Romania, and at the moment the only one in Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, whose main purpose is the promotion of Greek Letters in a country where Hellenism feels at home. In the Romanian book market, Omonia is the only publishing house that exclusively publishes translations of modern Greek literature and books (by Greek, Greek-Cypriot, Romanian and foreign authors and researchers) about Greece, Cyprus and Hellenism in Romania. Our effort focuses on introducing the Romanian readership with the leading intellectual creations of a neighboring culture. Seeking to expand the range of its activities, since 1999 Omonia created a series of books titled "LIBRARY OF NEW GREEK LITERATURE", offering readers masterpieces of Greece and Cyprus not only in the field of literature, but also in the field of history, philosophy, fine arts, etc.
Ηοw did your personal involvement with Greek language and culture start? What remains your driving force so many decades later?
As a classical philologist, my desire to learn about the evolution of ancient Greek was natural, although, in Ceausescu's time, it was a utopia to have dreams of travel and such. But fate smiled on me in the summer of 1976 when I won a scholarship (by sending a letter - in ancient Greek, of course! – of 2000 words on the subject of "why I want to visit Greece") by the Ministry of Culture and Science (the minister at the time was K. Trypanis).That was my first contact with modern Greek and from then on, I decided to learn it properly. Fortunately, on the way back I found the Grammar of Triantafyllidis in the library (I have copied it by hand!) and with its help I tried to read and translate The Purple City (Menexedenia Politeia) by Angelos Terzakis and others were soon to follow. All these 47 years my life have been identified with Greece, with Greek Letters, with their history. To such an extent that I can say, without exaggerating, that Greek Letters are my second home, the home of my soul.
As for the second part of your question, I should point out that for the Romanian translator or neo-Hellenist there are so many priorities to motivate us that we cannot lay down our arms. We must continue the rich tradition that unites us and keep Romanians' interest in Greek Letters strong. Bearing in mind that several works of Greek literature (such as the Filotheou Parerga by Nikolaos Mavrokordatos or the Lyrics of Athanasios Christopoulos, the new Anacreon, as he is known), were born in our area.
Tell us a few things about the book titles Omonia has published over the years. What is to be expected in the foreseeable future?
Ιn its 32 years of operation, Omonia has published a total of 300 books. 130 among them are translations of modern Greek literature. The translations published under the auspices of Omonia constitute about two-thirds of all translations of Greek works published in Romania during the last three decades. All the main literary genres are present each with its major representatives. Prose comes first, followed by poetry and essays. Bilingual editions of Greek and Cypriot poets hold a special place. Our bilingual editions are a useful course/translation tool, encouraging readers/users to find themselves other, better solutions for each verse.
In the "Library of Modern Greek Literature" series one may find classics such as Kostis Palamas or C.P. Cavafy, Kostas Ouranis or Kostas Karyotakis, Georgios Vizyinos or Grigorios Xenopoulos. The generation of the 1930s is richly represented, with Karagatsis, Venezis, Petsali-Diomidi or Seferis (with his nove lSix Nights on the Acropolis) but also with Engonopoulos or Empirikos. The most translated author in Οmonia, I would say the emblem of our publishing house, is Cavafy (he holds the first position in the whole of Romania as well), with 13 publications. Cavafy is also the first Greek author whose Collected Works were published in Romanian and this is a unique publishing project for which we are proud. Αnother successful venture of ours is an album titled The Poetic Alphabet of Cavafy which constitutes a unique case in the international bibliography of the Alexandrian poet. 24 poems (one poem for each letter of the Greek alphabet) by Cavafy are presented in 12 languages (even in Latin!), the first of which is Greek. The edition, which was published with the support of the great benefactor Aikaterini Sofianou, is the culmination of our activity – it was presented both in Athens (at the Theocharakis Foundation) and in the Library of Alexandria, the birthplace of the poet.
As for future plans, I should mention an edition dedicated to a personality who distinguished himself in the history of Romania in the 19th century, but is also known in Greece. He is the initiator and founder of Arsakeio. The publication will be bilingual, so that it is accessible to Greek experts and readers.
What is that makes Greek literature appealing in Romania? What do Romanian readers opt for and how have their preferences evolved during the years?
An important chapter of Greek literature has, as already mentioned, its roots in the area of today's Romania. For a period of two centuries, there has been a symbiosis of Romanian and Greek literature, a fact that significantly contributes to how consistently well-received Greek literature is by Romanian readers. The Greek press (in the 19th century, 31 Greek newspapers were printed and circulated in various Romanian cities) also played an important role in the promotion of modern Greek literature in the country. The two cultures with their respective literatures have always been in dialogue, a fruitful dialogue with various interactions awaiting researchers from both sides – the conclusions of their research will be among the most eloquent, I assure them. A dialogue that owes a lot to the translations made over the years. The most translated Greek authors are poet C.P. Cavafy (his first poems were translated into Romanian in 1939!) and prose writer Nikos Kazantzakis, a friend of the Greek-Romanian-French Panait Istrati.
Which are the main challenges you have been faced with all these years regarding the publication of Greek literature in Romania? How did you respond to these challenges?
There were indeed many challenges, from the selection of the book to be translated, bureaucratic hurdles, finding the most suitable translator, preparing the publication etc. to the promotion of the book in the Romanian market. We could make a special calendar with the story behind each edition! There were books that waited years to be published, while others were published immediately. There were books that were republished, while others still have copies available. Each book had its own course. But I'm not worried, I'm not despairing. Eventually the reader will be found. And if there remain copies due to publishing miscalculations, they will find their way in prefectural, school or special libraries. Another challenge is discovering and encouraging new translators. A guarantee for the continuity of the tradition is the initiation of new Hellenists into the secrets of translation. They are translators who made their debut in Omonia but for the continuation of their activity they need encouragement both from the more experienced translators as well as from the publishing house or sponsors.
If, during the approximately 45 years of the communist regime, the book was generally well-circulated and in demand due to the lack of other "temptations" of the mass-media, today the book market faces countless difficulties of many kinds (e.g., political censorship replaced by financial censorship) and the selection of translated titles requires Romanian translators and publishers to be more careful than ever.At the same time, the preferences of the new generations of readers are rapidly shifting from the classical genre to modernism and post-modernism, so publishers and translators should try to present the new trends that are noted in the evolution of Greek literature.
To what extent does translation and the promotion of a national literature beyond national borders has the potential to contribute to a closer understanding between two cultures? In this respect, could a publishing house act as a cultural ambassador between two countries?
The role of translation in bringing together two peoples and two cultures is undoubtedly pivotal; its crucial contribution to the dialogue and communication between cultures has been proven for centuries now. In Romania, more than 40% of the total publishing production refers to translations of all kinds from all corners of the world. Given that the orientation of the reader in the world of translated editions is becoming more difficult, the role of the publisher as a cultural ambassador will also be increasingly important. The role of large publishing houses is beyond question, but at the same time the contribution of small publishers specialized in a cultural and literary field is enlightening, facilitating orientation in the labyrinth of world literature.
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou
The documentary film The New Greek Americans 1960–2018 (2019), focusing on the Americans of Greek descent and their relationship with their identity and their heritage, has won the 1st prize for an International Feature Length Documentary Film and the Special Award of the International Films Jury at the International Documentary Festival of Ierapetra (IDFI).
The film, a chronicle of the second and third-generation Greek Diaspora in the USA, is the final part of a trilogy series titled The Greeks of Southern California - Through the Century and Beyond. Written and directed by Anna Giannotis, the three documentary films –all narrated by Academy award-winning film and stage actress, Olympia Dukakis (1931-2021)– highlight the features of the Greek community in the United States, and especially the Los Angeles area.
The first part, The Pioneers: 1900-1942 (2002) received the prestigious Award of Excellence from the Film Advisory Board and the Best Documentary Award at the 2003 International Panorama of Independent Filmmakers Festival in Thessaloniki. The second part of the series, The Promise of Tomorrow: 1940-1960, released in 2009, won Best Feature Documentary in the 2010 Beverly Hills Film, TV & New Media Festival and also the Award of Excellence from the Hollywood Film Advisory Board.
The trilogy has been produced by the Greek Heritage Society of Southern California (GHS), a non-profit California corporation, established in 1985 to preserve the rich culture, heritage and traditions of Greek immigrants in Southern California. GHS documents the story of early Greek immigrants and highlights continuing generations, and has the goal to establish a Greek-American Archive and Resource Center.
On the occasion of the film’s recent distinctions, Greek News Agenda spoke* with GHS president, Bessie Karras-Lazaris and with the documentary’s director and producer, Anna Giannotis and Antonia Lianos.
Bessie Karras-Lazaris is the President of the Greek Heritage Society of Southern California. She was an associate producer/editor/translator for all three documentaries and has been a GHS Executive Board Member since 1997. She is a Professor at the Graduate Program in Linguistics at the California State University, Northridge (CSUN) and worked as the Director of Academic Programs, Student Success in the Intensive English Program and International Programs and Partnerships Program at CSUN. She first joined the Greek Heritage Society when asked to translate oral histories from Greek to English; those oral histories turned into the Greeks of Southern California documentary trilogy, where she worked on the production as well as the translations and subtitles.
Ms Karras-Lazaris, are the younger members of the Greek community showing interest in their heritage, and the history of their roots? Are they participating in the various activities and events hosted by your society?
Our organization was established in 1985, so as you may imagine, many of the original founders are now gone. For example, our longest running president and one of the original founders died only a few months ago at the age of 92. She was active and had a passion for GHS until the day she left us. As President, one of my goals has been to bring in a new generation of members who can keep the mission of GHS but accomplish our goals in new ways by bringing in new ideas.
I must say that I have been successful in accomplishing that goal. I have brought in a new generation of board members who have also brought in other new members, and the interest keeps growing. In January, we held a very successful historical photography exhibit, and our newest members were an enormous help. They helped with social media, graphics, displays, fund raising, and getting the word out to their peers. Most of all, they are excited to explore their roots, connect with their heritage, and improve their Greek language skills. Our new members are now in the process of creating social events to draw in a younger crowd, and they are full of ideas for future activities and projects.
Archbishop Iakovos in Selma, Alabama, when he marched with Martin Luther King (from the documentary film The New Greek Americans 1960–2018)
Your society has produced three documentaries, focused on three different generations of Greek-Americans. How would you compare the younger generations to the previous ones – both in terms of honoring their legacy and in terms of adapting to the society around them?
All three award-winning documentaries were narrated by academy-award winning actress, Olympia Dukakis. The first documentary, The Pioneers (1900-1942) is about the stories and struggles of the Greek immigrants. This group left Greece, primarily because of economic reasons, struggled to adapt to a new culture and language, but they succeeded in creating a positive life for themselves and a comfortable future for their families. The second film, The Promise of Tomorrow (1940-1960) is about first generation Greek Americans, the children of the immigrants. This generation and the time frame is an interesting one because this generation tried to assimilate, to fit into the community they lived in. Therefore, even though at home they had a strict upbringing and grew up in a very Greek household, outside the home, they wanted to fit in, to be American. Therefore, they faced the experience of having two identities, Greek in the house and American outside the house.
The third film, The New Greek Americans, explores a very large time period (1960-2018) where many historic and political changes took place that impacted the lives of second and third generation Greek Americans. Therefore, there are many stories that are told that reflect cultural differences between the home and the changing world. Again, we hear about the duality of being Greek and being American, but we also hear stories about how the newer generations are embracing their culture and their heritage. The question raised in the film is how will we maintain our culture, our heritage, and our language?
However, I am optimistic. There is a heightened interest in genealogy, where individuals want to discover their roots and learn where they are from. They want to embrace their culture in a number of different ways, through music, food, dance, and of course, travel. They want to know the stories of their grandparents, to collect things that represent the past and discover their significance, and they want to find others like them who share common roots. This heightened interest may be because they are detached from the struggles of the pioneers and first generation. They can now view and appreciate what came before. Also, this discovery is easier now because of social media, DNA testing, etc. I am optimistic that the new generation will have a lot to offer in terms of Greek Heritage. Their interest in rediscovering the past is refreshing.
Protests against the invasion of Cyprus (1974) in Los Angeles (from the documentary film The New Greek Americans 1960–2018)
Now that this very long project of the three documentaries is completed, are there any similar future projects? Where will you focus your efforts?
It took 20 years to complete our three films. Creating, producing, and funding three full-length documentaries was challenging in terms of content, time, and finances; but those of us who worked on the films clearly saw the importance of preserving our history and our heritage with this project. The work was definitely a labor of love. The last film in our trilogy, The New Greek Americans, for example, just won two awards at the 10th International Documentary Film Festival in Ierapetra, Crete. Our films do not only tell the story of Southern California. They tell the story of Greeks around the globe that many other ethnic groups can relate to.
The material for the films came from over 500 interviews we conducted to fulfill the original goal of the Greek Heritage Society, which was to collect and preserve oral histories. However, we had collected so much material, that those interviews became much more. That is when and why I joined the society, to work on the oral histories, but instead I became part of the production team of these wonderful films. Now it is time to continue with our original goal to create an oral history library with interviews, photos, and documents that tell the history of the Greeks of Southern California. Therefore, the project that we are now working on is to create a digital library, where we will archive video and audio interviews, photos, documents and more and provide access to the public so that anyone can access this important information and these fascinating stories.
Our collection keeps growing, and we keep adding more material to this wonderful oral history project. There is a great interest in our community in maintaining and sharing these important archives. To complete the digital library and maintain it, we need funding, so we have been holding events, which are also cultural events as a way of bringing our community together for this purpose. Our goal is not only to share these stories but also to preserve them and our heritage for generations to come.
The films’ director, Anna Giannotis, is a writer/producer, educator, filmmaker and actress. Apart from writing and directing the award-winning documentary trilogy produced by GHS, she has written and produced several plays, while she has been performing on stage since she was 18.
Ms Giannotis, in your opinion, do young contemporary Americans of Greek heritage embrace their roots as much as other American citizens with various ethnic backgrounds?
If you are referring to Gen Z (current ages 9-24) I can only speak from my observations as a Filmmaker (having interviewed several young Greek Americans) and my experience as a Filmmaking Instructor (non Greek students, 1st & 2nd generations of various cultures, who fall into that age range.)
The young Greek Americans are embracing the culture by participating in dance, Greek school, & church sponsored activities which include sports.
My students from various backgrounds often take family vacations to their country of origin which is a great experience for families who have emigrated to America to keep their children directly engaged with the extended overseas family. Young Greek American families are also doing the same by visiting the "horio" where a Yiayia or Pappou grew up.
Do you think that people born before and after the internet and new technologies' boom can be regarded as one generation?
This is an interesting question. Being part of the "Baby Boomer" generation, we were not exposed to the internet or social media until we reached middle age. Communication with relatives in Greece was infrequent either via letters, phone calls, or visits. Now with the explosion of technological communication it is so easy to communicate on a daily basis via email, FaceTime or Skype, and annual visits to Greece are more frequent. So, my generation experienced both pre and post technologies but we are still the generation of Post WWII.
Do you feel that the representation of Greek-Americans in the media and pop culture of the USA does them justice? Are there any stereotypes that you think should be put to rest?
I think the stereotypes of Greek Americans are becoming less offensive because of the accomplishments of each generation in every profession, political, and business area.
The opportunity that the first generations had to educate themselves, including veterans of war with the GI bill, and the hard work of their parents who sacrificed to afford their children a chance to attend college has changed the stereotypical uneducated immigrant who is trying to integrate into America life. Also, every sequential generation has adopted English as their first language so the discrimination that the early immigrants endured because of their thick accents does not exist.
But there are always a minority of individuals in any country who target groups with different customs, religious beliefs and cultural celebrations with distain. That stems from ignorance and can only be remedied by more interaction and communication among cultures.
Is there something that you feel you learned making this documentary, which you wouldn’t have figured out otherwise?
The Greek pride of each generation is profound and continuous. I grew up in a household that mirrored this but didn’t realize how many fellow Greek Americans from every generation felt the same deep pride.
Our ancient and modern history are interwoven into a fabric that, I believe, will endure through the ages. Our American democracy is based on the fundamentals of ancient Greek ideals. Contributions in science, the arts, and politics stem from our ancestors! The courageous Greeks’ struggle for independence and freedom in modern history is a badge of honor and we are eternally grateful for their endurance. Greek pride is visceral.
We recently interviewed Maria Cominis about her play Women of Zalongo, in which you have starred. How was your experience? What would you say that such a production has to offer to young Greek-Americans, especially women?
Thank you for asking this question. First of all, Maria Cominis’ play was a remarkable theatre experience for the audiences as well as the actors. I’m not making this up. My friends and family who attended were sometimes speechless or exuberant and sometimes both! We played on a beautiful university stage, in a smaller house in Los Angeles, and for a limited time in New York City at the prestigious Herbert Bergorf Playwrights’ Theatre.
Some of us (the actors) were of Greek background or of another deep rooted culture and we could all relate to the story of several generations of women from one family who fight to overcome tyranny, suppression, and independence.
I played a Yiayia (Yiayia Mimi) from the old world (c. Early 1900’s near Constantinople) trying to keep my family from starvation and enslavement.
The story travels back and forth to modern times in a brilliantly executed story that touched all age groups. Many of the younger generation did not know the history of how Greeks endured over Ottoman rule, especially the women. This play was educational as well as entertaining and my hope is for more opportunities to stage Women of Zalongo throughout the US and abroad.
The producer of The New Greek Americans –and of the previous documentary, The Promise of Tomorrow– Antonia Lianos, has had a 30-year career as an accomplished Producer and Executive in the entertainment industry, working or consulting for several companies including Paramount Pictures, Jim Henson Studios, Spelling Entertainment, Republic Pictures, Saturn Software, and Liberty International; she was an Executive Producer on the feature film Winchester starring Helen Mirren and a Producer on the documentary Soundies: A Musical History.
Ms Lianos, how did it feel to be honored with two awards at the Ierapetra Film Festival?
It was just over 100 years ago that my grandparents immigrated from Crete to America. So, for me, being honored with two awards at the Ierapetra Film Festival in Crete for a film that documents the many ways my children and other Greek-Americans celebrate their rich Greek culture was particularly poignant. By continuing the Greek traditions, no matter how few or how small, then these generations honor the memory of my grandparents and every brave, fearless Greek immigrant who imprinted themselves on the colorful tapestry of the United States. May their memory be eternal.
Is there something that you feel you learned making this documentary, which you wouldn’t have figured out otherwise?
Producing this film gave me insight to the cultural consciousness of the younger generations. When participating in Greek cultural activities, third and even fourth generation Greek Americans have a stronger, more prideful sense of identity than I ever had as a second-generation Greek-American. Not that I was embarrassed by my Greek heritage, but I always had to make excuses as to why our religion and traditions were different, why the food was strange, why we were so loud. Now, my children and their friends don’t make excuses, they display the Greek culture with vigor, explain how their Greek heritage shaped American culture and proudly claim their place as Greek-Americans.
Read also via Greek News Agenda: #BlackHistoryMonth | Greek Americans and the Civil Rights Movement; Alexander Kitroeff: "Greek Diaspora has affected the history of host countries around the world"; Yiorgos Anagnostou on Greek America, Greek American studies and the diasporic perspective as syncretism and hybridity; "Women of Zalongo": a play about the ongoing struggle of women for autonomy
*Interview by Nefeli Mosaidi (Intro photo: Contemporary Greek School students at the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Los Angeles [from the documentary film The New Greek Americans 1960–2018]; photos appear courtesy of Bessie Karras-Lazaris, Anna Giannotis and Antonia Lianos)
The established annual appointment of book lovers, the 51st Book Festival, opens its gates on September 1 and will run through September 17, with thousands of book titles for every taste and age and dozens of presentations, discussions with authors and parallel events.
210 publishers and 275 stands will participate in the country’s biggest festival in Pedion tou Areos, while 180 cultural events, concerts, theatre performances and interactive educational events will take place inaugurating a new era in the life of the Park. Themed “Woman – A Multifaceted Narrative”, this year’s festival pays tribute to the contribution of women in Arts and Letters, while it also focuses on the challenges women have been faced with over the years to the present.
Against a background of thousands of books, visitors will have the opportunity to enjoy a number of cultural events among which: a concert with renowned Greek singer Eleni Dimou, a concert by the Marios Strofalis Quartet & Irini Tumbaki, a concert with the soprano Christy Kathariou, a children’s theater show “The Carnival of the Animals” by the METHEXIS theater production company, a Karagiozis show from the “Nikolas Tzivelekis” Shadow Theatre, an event of the Hellenic Academy of Comics, and a two-day event for first-time writers. The poster and the cover of the catalog of the 51st Book Festival 2023 are decorated with the work of the leading Greek painter, Giorgos Rorris.
The 51st Book Festival is an organization of the Association of Book Publishers (S.EK.B), the Region of Attica and the Organization of Culture, Sports & Youth of the Municipality of Athens (OPANDA), in cooperation with Petite Paris d' Athene and the Network for Children’s Rights. It is held under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture, the Municipality of Athens, the Hellenic Foundation for Culture and the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry, with the support of Vestart.
The official opening will take place on Monday, September 4, 2023 at 20:00. It is more than certain that the 51st Book Festival will succeed, for one more year, in fulfilling its spiritual, social and cultural goal, with the support of all those who work for the production and promotion of the book, but, above all, with the support of readers and book lovers. Stay tuned and enjoy the festivities!
Louis A. Ruprecht Jr. is the inaugural holder of the William M. Suttles Chair of Religious Studies in the Department of Anthropology, as well as the Director of the Center for Hellenic Studies at Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia (USA). Professor Ruprecht's latest book is Reach Without Grasping: Anne Carson's Classical Desires (Rowman and Littlefield, 2022). He is currently working on a new book project tentatively entitled The Renaissance Sappho: Fulvio Orsini's Songs of Nine Illustrious Women (1568). For his work bringing ancient ideas to modern-day scholars through the Georgia State University Center for Hellenic Studies, Dr. Ruprecht has been granted Greece’s order of merit, the Gold Cross of the Order of the Phoenix.
Professor Ruprecht spoke to Rethinking Greece* on the concept of "cosmopolitan Hellenism" utilized in the Center for Hellenic Studies at Georgia State University as a way to re-imagine the Greek experience as an essential piece of world heritage, belonging equally to everyone; on katharsis as transformation in relation to tragedy; on the transformative moral value of Greek tragedy and its political consequences in modern democracies; on how religious concerns with "pagan art" were transcended by belief in the spiritual power of ideal beauty and the virtues of classical art; on Sappho’s understanding of the tragic and transformative dimension of eros; and finally, on the future of Classics departments in U.S. Universities. As professor Ruprecht notes, "most successful Classics programs seem to me to have moved beyond strictly philological and strictly classicizing approaches to the ancient world, and to have harnessed the resources of anthropology, among other disciplines, to enable ancient materials to speak to more contemporary concerns. Particularly noteworthy has been the application of the categories of identity to the ancient world: race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, and class."
You have been the director of the Center for Hellenic Studies at Georgia State University since 2012. What is the place of Hellenic Studies in a modern University? How can ancient Greek culture and history illuminate contemporary concerns?
The term “Hellenic” is ambiguous, but this ambiguity can be both fruitful and productive. The term is far less familiar to the North American public than “Greek,” and thus it tends to need some explanation. My own view is that the term properly encompasses everything from the earliest Bronze Age Mediterranean materials, the marvels of the Classical and Hellenistic periods, the uncanny encyclopedic celebration of Greek culture and language in the Roman period, the crowning Byzantine achievements, and so on, up to and including the modern poetic contributions of Constantine Cavafy (1863-1933), George Seferis (1900-1971) and Odysseas Elytis (1911-1996), not to mention stunning contemporary Greek achievements in cinema, music and theater. It is a rich and expansive legacy, indeed.
From an institutional perspective, this legacy has tended to be divided between Classics and/or Classical Studies departments, which cover the antiquities, and Modern Greek Studies departments, which cover mostly the previous two centuries. The Byzantine material has tended to be short-changed by such institutional arrangements.
I concluded Was Greek Thought Religious? with a chapter devoted to the revival of the Greek Olympics in 1896. The Modern Olympics seem to me to be the most dramatic and global example of a Neohellenic movement in world history. It is remarkable for this very reason that the history of the Olympic Revival has been so largely forgotten in little more than a century. Religion, as it turns out, is shot through Olympic history.
The ancient Olympics were established as a religious ritual event at the sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia in (or around) 776 BCE. They were prohibited by the Christian emperor, Theodosius, for religious reasons in 393 CE. An essential part of the case for their revival in 1896 was also religious, as is clear in the speeches and writings of their “Renovateur,” Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937). In short, the Olympics were created, then cancelled, and then revived, all for religious reasons.
What those reasons were is a fundamentally historical question. As I noted above, Hellenism-viewed as a vast archive of cultural experience--also provided a spiritual foundation for modern internationalism and cosmopolitanism, alike. In the specific case of the Olympics, we may notice that sport trades in the currency of limitation: limits imposed by rules; limits imposed by lines and boundaries; limits imposed by our physical embodiment itself. It is the careful choreography of such limits that enables transcendence to come into view. We must have something to transcend, after all. This, I suggest, is one reason that athletics was an important cultural site as well as a source of reflection among philosophers and religious thinkers alike in antiquity, and why it continues to be so today.
In your speech accepting Greece’s order of merit, the Golden Cross of the Order of the Phoenix, you noted that “Greek tragedy was intended to be a raft of democratic hope.” Could you expand on that?
The phrase, “a raft of hope,” comes from Ralph Ellison (1914-1994), in the new Preface he composed for the 30th anniversary edition of his classic novel, Invisible Man. In addition to being the author of powerful fiction examining the dynamics of race and ethnicity in the United States, Ellison was arguably the finest democratic essayist the US produced after the Second World War. Here is the passage in question:
"So if the ideal of achieving a true political equality eludes us in reality--as it continues to do--there is still available that fictional vision of an ideal democracy in which the actual combines with the ideal and gives us representations of a state of things in which the highly placed and the lowly, the black and the white, the Northerner and the Southerner, the native born and the immigrant combine to tell us of transcendent truths and possibilities such as those discovered when Mark Twain set Huck and Jim afloat on the raft.
Which suggested to me that a novel could be fashioned as a raft of hope, perception and entertainment that might help keep us afloat as we tried to negotiate the snags and whirlpools that mark our nation’s vacillating course toward and away from the democratic ideal1."
It seems to me that what Ellison saw as the role of the novel in modern democratic societies was fulfilled in the ancient Athenian democracy by their dramatic festivals. In the Poetics, Aristotle’s reflections on ancient Greek tragedy, he observed that tragedy is an imitation of an action that is:
"serious, complete, and has a certain magnitude. It takes the form of showing rather than telling. Through pity and fear [di’eleou kai phobou] it manages the katharsis of these emotions. (Poetics 1449b25)."
There has been a great deal of discussion of that term, katharsis, which was partly a medical term that suggested a purging, or cleansing, in the medical context. That cannot be the meaning here, since tragedy does not eliminate the emotions of pity and fear. We still pity Antigone at the end of her tragedy, and we still fear the awful fate that led Oedipus to disaster. I prefer to think of katharsis as “transformation” in relation to tragedy. The Greek audience that witnessed the plays of Sophocles and others left the Theater of Dionysus with their pity and fear transformed into something else, something we might best think of as “compassion.”
That is the transformative moral value of Greek tragedy, and it suggests that tragedy explores a very particular kind of pain and suffering. Tragedy explores the full range of possibilities of what free human beings may choose to do; there is often a great deal of pain created by their choices. But pain and suffering are tragedy’s first word, not the last. Tragedy is ultimately a hopeful genre, since tragedy puts forms of suffering on display, like Oedipus’s, that can be redemptive. Sophocles shows us that, after all of his ordeals, Oedipus became a god of sorts in the sacred grove at Colonus, and his spirit became an enduring blessing to the city of Athens. His suffering was transformed into redemption, and the horror that people first felt when confronted with Oedipus’s fateful curse was transformed into compassion and care.
The superb Broadway theater critic, Walter Kerr (1913-1996), published a ground-breaking study entitled Tragedy and Comedy in 1967. His argument sounds counter-intuitive until you think about it. Tragedy, he argues, is prior to comedy. Historically speaking, the tragic festivals in Athens were created more than one generation before the comic festivals. Kerr also insists that tragedy is philosophically prior. His reasons for saying so are complex. Comedies do not end well, and tragedies do not end badly. Tragedies, in fact, may end in all sorts of different ways; the ending is not the point of a tragedy. In reality, tragedies point beyond their endings to a new and more open future. They transcend the boundaries of the stage where they are performed. Comedy, by contrast, remains on stage and is rooted to the ground. Comedy is fundamentally cruel; it invites us to laugh at what terrifies us. Comedy offers no future; it simply grinds to a halt and the curtain closes. Without a future there can be no hope. “Tragedy is the genre than promises a happy ending,” Kerr concludes. “It is also the form that is realistic about the matter2.”
I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the concept of tragedy in ancient Athens, in early Christianity, and in modern moral philosophy. I was fortunate to have been able to live in Athens for the two years that I was researching and writing. That work eventually became my first book, Tragic Posture and Tragic Vision: Against the Modern Failure of Nerve, published in 1994. I was especially struck by the way Athenian tragedy provided a model for the Synoptic gospels. There, too, we witness tremendous suffering in the depiction of Christ’s Passion, but the form of suffering placed on display, as awful as it is, was believed to point to redemption. That is the mystery of transformative katharsis, and it has both political and religious consequence. The early Jesus movement was a community grounded in compassion and reconciling love. Modern democracies are grounded in compassionate social practices designed to elevate the values of equality and fraternity, to unleash the full possibilities of all our citizens.
The ancient Athenians saw the political and religious purposes of tragedy very clearly. The city sponsored the festivals each year and attendance was considered a civic duty. I have long wondered what a modern democratic analogue to that spirit of marvelous dramatic occasion in the Theater of Dionysus beneath the Athenian Acropolis might be. Ralph Ellison, as well as Cornel West, see this spirit of tragedy alive and well in the musical tradition of the Blues. Blues music also grew out of the tradition of Gospel music. These musical notes are all tragic, which is why they are ultimately grounded in compassion and hope, and why they may lay claim to redemptive love as a transcendent value.
One of your basic fields of research is religion and you have written on the complicated relationship between religion and art. Can you tell us more about that?
An older theory of “secularization” in the 1950s and 1960s suggested that religion was destined to go away in the modern age. Somehow, it was thought that traditional religious belief could not withstand the challenges of the new sciences of Astrophysics, Cosmology and Evolution. The social scientists who believed this had a very hard time explaining the rise and renewal of political religion around the world in 1979-1980. This did not happen only in India, Iran and Israel; it happened at the Vatican and it happened in the US as well. My former professor and close personal friend, Bruce B. Lawrence, wrote the first comparative study of this phenomenon, Defenders of God: the Fundamentalist Revolt Against the Modern Age, in 1990. Another close personal friend, Jeffrey Stout, has written the finest study yet produced on the limitations of this version of secularism and secularization, in a book entitled Democracy and Tradition, in 2004.
Clearly, religion has not simply gone away.
My own view of the modern era is that it represents a revolutionary period in which religion goes elsewhere, not away. Religious impulses and spiritual energies are never strictly contained within churches, synagogues, mosques, temples or what have you. I am especially struck by the ways in which traditionally religious energies have been placed in the service of art--both for artists who produce their works and for the viewers who make pilgrimage to see them. In a word, public art museums are one of the exceptional and novel places where religion has gone in the modern period.
Few contemporary visitors to public art museums today consider the religious curiosity of the collections at their inception. From the Parthenon Marbles in the British Museum, to the Winged Victory of Samothrace in the Louvre, the Apollo Belvedere and Laocoön Group in the Vatican Museums, and the Aeginetan Sculptures from the Temple of Aphaia now housed at the Glyptothek in Munich, Classical statuary constituted the heart (if not actually the soul) of most public art museums in the first several generations of what I consider to be the “museum era” (1767-1830).
In my book, Winckelmann and the Vatican’s First Profane Museum (2011) , as well as in subsequent articles published in 2018 and 2022, I have presented the archival evidence from the Vatican Library and the Vatican Library’s Secret Archives which confirms that Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768), better known as a Neoclassical evangelist and Art Historian, was also the semi-secret curator of the Vatican’s first “Profane Museum.” I was delighted that last special exhibition the Vatican Museums curated before the COVID lockdown focused on this story. “Winckelmann: Masterpieces Throughout the Vatican Museum” was on public display from November 9, 2018 through March 9, 2019.
Founded in 1767, expanded and completed in 1792, looted by French Revolutionary forces under Napoleon in 1796, and then later repatriated back to the Vatican in 1818, Winckelmann’s small museum first “curated the profane,” which in turn enabled the cultural and art-historical domestication of what until then had mainly been seen as “pagan idols.” I think that it is important for us to remember that these statues had not changed, in most cases, for several thousand years, except in those rare cases when they were restored. Rather, our ways of seeing these statues, the manner of our looking, has changed dramatically.
And so it was that these statues of Greek gods, goddesses and heroes, most of them rendered in the nude, were legitimated and domesticated in the symbolic capital of the Christian world (Rome). This happened in stages, but stages that were cumulative and that developed with surprising rapidity. These “pagan idols” would first be seen as “fine art,” then as exemplars of “ideal beauty,” then still later as “national treasure.” After Waterloo, all of the previous religious concerns about the Vatican’s Museo Profano had disappeared; the cardinals and the Pope simply wanted their national treasures back.
What Hans Belting has called the Era of Art, which was also the beginning of what I am calling the Museum Era, thus offers a surprising case study of the casual flirtation with pagan form that would have a very long subsequent cultural reach and influence, both in the Mediterranean world and beyond it. Religious concerns with pagan art were transcended by belief in the spiritual power of ideal beauty and the transcendent virtues of Classical Art.
Your work focuses on how Greek cultural forms have been adapted in later historical periods, and the subject of your seminar at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens next year will be Eros. How has the concept of Eros morphed since ancient times?
For many years I have taught a course entitled “Religion and Sexuality”; I think “Eros in Antiquity” might be a better name for the course, since the mystery with which I begin involves the question of how best to translate the Greek word, eros. It is striking, though unfortunate, that the term ‘erotic’ in modern English has a more narrowly sexual connotation. By contrast, the ancient Greek terms, erôs and ta erôtika, implied something like passionate and overwhelming desire, a desire that has the power to undo completely the person who experiences it.
Ta aphrodisia referred to a person’s sexual experiences in ancient Greek; ta erôtika referred to something else, something far more mysterious, and even sacred.
Sappho of Lesbos (who was poetically active sometime around 600 BCE) was famous, among other things, for her uncanny ability to coin new terms. She was the first to call eros “bittersweet” (literally, her term was “sweet-bitter,” glykypikron, in Aeolic Greek). In that poetic fragment (#130), Sappho also refers to eros as a “limb-loosener” (lusimelês).
The term is a rhetorical echo of the Homeric idiom for death, where a warrior who is struck by a javelin or a sword is said to have their limbs “unstrung.” The body collapses, no longer in control of itself, and the soul escapes groaning through the portal of the dying person’s mouth. Sappho takes this image off of the battlefield and places it dramatically within the human heart. Eros is not in our control; eros often seems to control us.
Sappho, like other Archaic Greek lyric poets, analogizes such an erotic experience to death. In her equally famous Love Triangle Fragment (#31), she says explicitly that the sight of her beloved speaking to someone else drives her nearly mad with physical symptoms, such that she seems nearly dead in her own mind. As Anne Carson puts this point, “change of self is loss of self to these poets3.”
Sappho’s genius, like Socrates’s, was to see change of self also as a form of soulful transformation. The power of eros lies in its capacity to transform us. This is a transformation that is painful, no matter how blessed it may also seem. Sappho’s term, ‘sweet-bitter’, captures this tragic and transformative dimension of ta erôtika quite well. The idea culminates in Socrates’s astonishing claim in the Phaedrus (244a-245c), that eros is indeed a madness, but that some forms of madness are actually gifts from the gods. Passionate desire is precisely such a gift, one that expands our moral and emotional horizons, generating new dimensions of compassion, and care. One can passionately desire another person; one can passionately desire a divine being. Ta erôtika possesses a vast range and a sacred symbolic dimension. Thus, even in antiquity, religion went elsewhere.
Anne Carson, whose Eros the Bittersweet I cited above, developed an entire philosophy of eros that was grounded in Sappho’s poetic fragments and Plato’s Phaedrus. She offers a lovely analogy between the wooing of knowledge and the wooing of love. Coming to love and coming to know both involve passionate desire; both necessarily transform and enlarge the self. These are experiences where the head and the heart are interwoven, and our attention becomes infinitely finer.
It would be hopelessly reductive to equate eros with sex, as some modern thinkers nonetheless attempted to do. We owe our modern conception of “sexual identity” to modern psychology, which became preoccupied with the concept in the later 19th century. The transformations involved in such a concept are extensive. Sex, after all, is something many people (not all) do. Sexual identity, by contrast, is something all people are (even “celibate” is a sexual identity).
The distinction between being and doing was a very significant one in ancient Greek philosophy. What I wish to point out is that our current version of the “culture wars,” at least in their sexual dimension, makes more sense if we pay attention to this distinction. Laws are designed to regulate activity, not identity. But the moral stakes of a debate necessarily increase when we are discussing our identity, who we are, rather than what we may or may not choose to do.
Ironically enough, when classical philology and psychology both emerged as university disciplines in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, then questions concerning Sappho’s sexuality became central, and newly controversial. Since she was from the island of Lesbos, and since she mused so passionately about the young women in her circle, the term ‘lesbian’ became associated with the new psychological category of sexual identity. Some Romantics lauded Sappho’s passions, whereas some Victorians found creative ways to de-eroticize her poetry, when they did not condemn it outright. This seesawing use of an ancient Greek poet to affirm or to counter contemporary moral views of human sexuality continued in subsequent centuries.
Michel Foucault’s four-volume History of Sexuality (1976-1984) attempted to tell that story. While it is a complicated story in Foucault’s telling, I think its moral is very elegant and quite simple. The sexual subject, Foucault concluded, is distinctively modern, a product of psychology and its interest in sexual identity formation. But the desiring subject is perennial. Sappho and Plato are two of desire’s most eloquent ancient proponents. As they knew well, eros changes the self, expanding its boundaries and its spiritual possibilities. We are rendered a larger and more encompassing self, one more capable of compassion and care.
What does the future look like for Hellenic Studies in US Universities?
In 1903, just seven years after the Modern Olympic Revival, the Sophomore women at Barnard College in New York City challenged the Freshmen women to a series of athletic and artistic competitions. Thus “Greek Games” were born at Barnard. They developed into an extraordinary cultural phenomenon, and were wildly popular with the broader public; they became one of the most sought-after tickets in Manhattan. The Barnard women dedicated the Games each year to a different Greek god, they composed music and poetry, they designed costumes, and even built chariots, all new for the competition each year.
In the revolutionary spring and summer of 1968, university students all across Europe and the US petitioned for radical changes to university curricula and other educational practices. At Columbia University, just across the street from Barnard on Broadway, university students occupied the administration buildings and held out for weeks before being forcibly expelled. Their demands were many, including: better wages for university staff; more just university practices of acquiring property in the Morningside neighborhood; disengagement of the university from its military contracts; and the creation of new curricular programs in African American Studies and Women’s Studies.
The student occupation at Columbia just so happened to begin on the week in April when Greek Games were scheduled to be held at Barnard College. In solidarity with their students across the street, the Barnard women cancelled their 1968 Greek games. The following year they cancelled Greek Games permanently, deeming them “no longer relevant” to student concerns.
At this historical remove, we can well understand what the Barnard women were thinking. They were rejecting the traditional ways in which Greek had been taught at Barnard and elsewhere since Classics was established in the 19th century and Greek Games were established in 1903. They rejected the antiquated rhetoric claiming Greek civilization as the “greatest culture” and ancient Greece as the unique “childhood of Europe.” They rejected the implicit classism and elitism of classical learning. They wished to replace these classicizing sensibilities with more multicultural and multi-ethnic ones. We have these students to thank for the creation of African American Studies and Women’s Studies departments throughout the US (and also in Europe). But one of the unintended consequences of these curricular reforms was the marginalizing of Classics and Classical Studies.
It was never an Either-Or proposition, but it began to seem that way. Now, more than a generation after those crucial curricular reforms, we are in a better position to re-frame these curricular proposals in the form of a Both-And question. There is no incompatibility between having robust programs in African American or Africana Studies, in Women’s Studies, and in Classical Studies.
For the past thirty years, the most successful Classics programs seem to me to have moved beyond strictly philological and strictly classicizing approaches to the ancient world, and to have harnessed the resources of anthropology, among other disciplines, to enable ancient materials to speak to more contemporary concerns. Particularly noteworthy has been the application of the categories of identity to the ancient world: race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, and class. Ancient Greece provides a marvelous and extensive archive of reflection on all of these concepts and concerns. I suggested an important dimension of Greece’s different-ness in its erotic reflections in my previous remarks, for example.
The goal now is to present Hellenism’s continued relevance in new terms: as decidedly cosmopolitan; and as an essential piece of World Heritage. That is how we have attempted to present Hellenism at Georgia State University under the aegis of our Center for Hellenic Studies. The proposal continues to bear fruit.
*Interview to: Ioulia Livaditi
Τhe 11th Thessalian Poetry Festival opens its gates from 21 to 25 August with the participation of a great number of Greek and foreign poets, musicians and artists, in five days full of poetry readings, artistic events and live music performances.
Organized by the publishing house Thraka, which this year celebrates its 10 years of operation, in collaboration with the Mayoralty of Culture and Science of the Municipality of Larissa, and held in four cities in Thessaly – Larissa, Volos, Trikala and Karditsa – the festival’s aim is to gather new talented poetic voices alongside already established poets in order to bring a renewed interest in culture and poetry and to act as a meeting point for poets of different generations, countries, and cultural traditions. In the words of the festival’s director, Thanos Gogos, “from ancient times to the present, poetry has been a means of expressing love from humanity to humanity. It is a deeply human phenomenon rooted in the desire to create and express, in the very need to exist, but also a deeply social phenomenon; an invitation to connect, to embrace, to understand each other, since poetry does not exist without those who read and reflect on it”.
Every year, the board of the festival chooses a theme – an idea or a message that we want to emphasize with the festival’s program. This act is not merely decorative or superficially conceptual, but rather purposeful and rooted in a belief that culture can be an active co-creator of its context, and in some way, affect its surroundings. “This year’s theme, love, was chosen because love is the root of everything that is good. In a time of destruction, polarization, violence, loneliness, and exploitation, love is a force that can heal us both individually and collectively – and poetry is one of the most impactful, the strongest, but also the most tender, manifestations of love”, stated Marija Dejanović, the festival’s assistant director and part of the organizing team, which also comprises Thanos Gogos, Efstathia P, Afroditi Sereti, Christos Koltsidas, Lina Fitili and Nina Kapsali.
The program includes poetry readings by 58 Greek and 14 international poets. Regarding the Greek poets, the program combines the living classics, the middle-generation poets with strong, established voices, and a younger generation of authors who have already showed great potential. Besides the age and gender balance in the program, which is a rarely-seen, but much needed phenomenon, the program also makes sure to include excellent Thessalian poets, thus balancing the representation of great local poetic forces, and their peers from the other regions of Greece.
These are the Greek poets who are participating in the program:Costas Ladavos, Sotiris Pastakas, Dimitra Christodoulou, Niki Halkiadaki, Lina Fitili, Antonis Balasopoulos, Pavlina Marvin, Vasilis Moschos, Alexandros Stefanidis,Nikos Varalis, Angeliki Thanou, Sokratis Kabouropoulos, Eleni Kosma, Apostolos Pantsas, Lina Fitili, Elena Psaralidou, Haritini Malissova, Mina Patrinou, Dimitra Saharidou,Vagia Kalfa, Viki Brousali, Vangelis Tasiopoulos,Dimitris Vasilakis, Georgia Diakou, Christos Koltsidas, Ilias Bartziokas, Vangelis Brianas, Panayiotis Nanos, Rania Orfanakou, Viki Triantafilou, Katerina Iliopoulou, Antonis Skiathas, Ilias Kefalas, Irini Rinioti, Spiros Chairetis, Efstathia P. (tria epsilon),Agathoklis Azelis, Georgia Koloveloni, Vaso Christodoulou,Koula Adaloglou, Petros Gkolitsis, Sofia Gourgouliani, Thanos Gogos, Eleni Laki, Anna Manolopoulou, Chrisa Mastrodimou,Dimitris Athanaselos, Chrisa Alexiou, Eleni Anastasopoulou, Labros Anagnostopoulos, Ioanna Giannakopoulou, Pinelopi Zardouka, Pavlos Kastanaras, Ilias Kourkoutas, Efthimios Lentzas, Labros Papadimas, Giorgos Saratsis.
From the international poets, there are the French Academy “Heredia” Award-winning poet Joël Vernet, as well as the German poet Ron Winkler who is considered to be one of the major voices of European contemporary eco-poetry. Tatev Chakhian, a poet who deals with issues of migration, and Madara Gruntmane, a Latvian feminist poet who writes about gender-related violence and mental health, will also be present. In the festival’s program are also included the Oxford-based classicist scholar and poet from Portugal, Tatiana Faia, whose work presents and reinvents the motives from the classical world, multiply awarded Croatian poet and playwrite Marija Dejanović, as well as many other great poets, such as Sergej Harlamov (SI), Lara Mitraković (HR), John Tripoulas (US), Ivana Maksić (RS), Efe Duyan (TR), Don Schofield (US), Ardita Jatru (AL), and Dragica Anta Đipalo Patsea (RS).
During the first day of the festival, there will take place the opening of the contemporary art exhibition titled “Love Stories” designed and curated by Antigoni Kapsali at the Diachronic Museum of Larissa. The exhibition consists of visual objects known as "artist books" that explore the concept of love. Artist books are works of art that utilize the form or concept of the book and are three-dimensional constructions in various visual styles depending on the artistic style of their creator. Thus, the exhibition consists of two types of exhibits. The physical, three-dimensional, presence of the work preserves the "traditional immediacy" that characterizes the relationship between visual work and audience. Its digital version penetrates the personal space of the viewer - recipient, creating another level of interaction.
Τhe festival’s programme also includes the award of two prizes: the Makis Lachanas Award to Sotiris Pastakas for his valuable contribution to Greek poetry and the Thraka Award for the best unpublished first poetry collection to be announced during the festival’s inaugural ceremony. During the festival, there will be a presentation of two international literary residencies programs: Ulysses’ Shelter (founded by Creative Europe) and "Counterpoint: narrating migration from the Periphery as Centre" (financed by the EFFEA). The programme also includes the presentation of the Greek queer poetry anthology (published in cooperation with Rosa Luxemburg Greece Stiftung Office in Greece), as well as audiovisual poetic performances by Sissy Doutsiou and Tasos Sagris, and live music events by live music by Dimitris Bournakas and Kostas Kostoulis (Larissa), Spiros Kavalieratos (Volos, Makrinitsa) and Eleni Alexiou (Trikala).
Τhe festival is organized with the support and under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture and Sports and the Thessaly Region, as well as with the support of the Municipality of Trikala, the Municipality of Lake Plastiras, Magniton Kivotos, the Diachronic Museum of Larissa, the French Institute of Larissa and the Cultural Center οf Teachers of the Larissa Region, Kierion Hotel, Dionysos Hotel and Kaltsas Bookstore. In the words of Panos Sapkas, Deputy Mayor of Culture of Larissa, “the Thessalian Poetry Festival can play an important role in the closest possible relationship between people and poetry, but also in the interaction between poets and ultimately in the spiritual uplift of the country. And this is the real value of the festival. It’s a festival that we created with a lot of effort and care, and which gradually acquired a pan-Hellenic and international character, making our city a center of poetry in Greece”.
Read also: Ulysses’ Shelter: Building Literary Bridges Across Countries; Reading Greece: Thanos Gogos on Literature as a Means to Balance in Emotionally Turbulent Times and Struggle in Socially Dynamic Ones; Reading Greece: Marija Dejanović on Art as Inherently Political and Poetry as a Form of Writing that Can Create a Radically Different Reality; Reading Greece: Efstathia P. (tria epsilon) on Bringing the Voices of Women to the Forefront as a Means to Reshape Reality
Founded in 2017 World Poetry Books is a non-profit and charitable organization based in New Work City and affiliated with the Humanities Institute at the University of Connecticut (Storrs). It is committed to publishing exceptional translations of poetry from a broad range of languages and traditions, bringing the work of modern masters, emerging voices, and pioneering innovators from around the world to English-language readers in affordable trade editions.
Its titles are reviewed and excerpted widely – in The New York Review of Books, The Paris Review, The New Yorker, Plume, Poetry Daily, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, The Los Angeles Review, LitHub, Circumference, and World Literature Today, among others — and several have received awards, including the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation. Working together with the Translation Program at UConn, it offers publishing internships, sponsor and administer student translation awards and summer research grants, organize translation events for guest speakers, and lend logistical support to the program's magazine World Poetry Review.
Reading Greece* spoke to the publisher of World Poetry Books, Peter Constantine, a distinguished literary translator about its scope and initiatives, the Greek titles that have been translated so far, and the forthcoming ones, as well as about the interest of English-speaking readers to Greek literature.
World Poetry Books has published exceptional translations of Greek titles. Tell us a few things about this interest in Greek literature?
Peter Constantine, the publisher of World Poetry Books, is a well-known literary translator who has over the last decades worked extensively on introducing Modern Greek literature, particularly Greek poetry, to an American and British readership. Among his awards have been the Hellenic Association of Translators of Greek Literature Award and the Constantinides Memorial Translation Prize of the Modern Greek Studies Association.
Peter Constantine was one of the editors of the anthology A Century of Greek Poetry: 1900-2000, and of The Greek Poets: Homer to the Present, published by W.W. Norton in 2009. He also leads, with Karen Emmerich, the annual Modern Greek Literary Translation Workshops at the Department of Hellenic Studies in Princeton, preparing new generations of translators of Modern Greek literature. World Poetry Books has subsequently published titles on which participants had worked on during these workshops.
What about the Greek series? Which titles have you published so far?
The first title published by World Poetry Books was Homerica (2017), by the Greek poet Phoebe Giannisi, translated by Brian Sneeden, who was then to become the editor of the press. In this sense, World Poetry Books was founded by two translators specializing in Modern Greek poetry and translation. The second title published by World Poetry Books was Rose Fear (2017) by Maria Laina, translated by Sarah McCann, who was one of the participants of Princeton’s Greek Translation Workshops. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation provided World Poetry Books with a grant for the publication of these and subsequent Greek and European language titles.
These two first titles achieved much visibility when the American poet Anne Carson chose them as favorite books of 2017. World Poetry Books subsequently published Edmund Keeley’s poems from the Greek Anthology, Nakedness Is My End (2018). Edmund Keeley was the single most influential 20th century translator and champion of modern Greek poetry in the English-speaking world. His translation of Nakedness Is My End was particularly notable as it was his first ever translation from Ancient Greek, and a major crowning event of his career. It was, unfortunately, to be his last book, as he passed away in February of 2022.
World Poetry Books went on to publish The Light That Burns Us (2021), by the Greek-Chechen poet Jazra Khaleed, edited by Karen Van Dyck, the debut English collection of one of Greece’s most radical and original poetic voices. Here, too, it is of note that many of the translations that Karen Van Dyck gathered in this anthology were by translators who had participated in Princeton’s Greek Translation Workshops led by Peter Constantine.
What is to be expected for World Poetry Books in the foreseeable future regarding the translation of Greek literature?
Upcoming World Poetry Books Greek titles are the bilingual editions:
We are continuing to look for new Greek poetry projects and are particularly interested in young Greek poets and new Greek voices.
And a more general question, are English-speaking readers interested in Greek literature? What new or different does it have to offer to the global literary society?
There is a strong and continued interest in contemporary Greek literature in the US and the UK. There are many reasons. I recently interviewed the Cypriot poet Eleni Kefala for Hopscotch Magazine, and after the interview discussed with her the sustained enthusiasm of the English-reading world for translated poetry originally written in Greek, and she made an interesting point that reminded me of discussions I had over the years with Edmund Keeley. Kefala pointed out that Contemporary Greek poetry is an interesting phenomenon because, although it’s written in a minor language, it builds on a vast linguistic and cultural tradition that stretches from antiquity to the present day.
In this sense, Greek poetry bears the weight of major traditions. the French philosopher Bernard de Chartres had already expressed this idea in his famous phrase “dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants.” Antiquity may be a giant, but modernity is more advanced, the modern philosophers argued, because it sits on a higher level and can thus see farther away. I suspect that English-speaking audiences may see modern Greek poetry in this light, that is, as a dwarf sitting on the shoulders of giants. I think this is at least partly responsible for their interest in contemporary Greek poetry.
The success of poetry collections such as The Light That Burns Us by the Greek-Chechen poet Jazra Khaleed, which we published in 2021, and Karen Van Dyck’s anthology of new Greek poetry Austerity Measures (Penguin, 2016), point to a particular interest abroad in Greece’s turbulent politics of the 20th century, new young poets’ response to economic instability and a far-reaching new cultural diversity, Greece being a country at the crossroads of cultures, religions, and worldviews.
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou
Kristina Gedgaudaitė is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie postdoctoral fellow at the University of Amsterdam. She has published a monograph based on her thesis titled “The Memory of Asia Minor in Contemporary Greek Culture” by Palgrave Macmillan Memory Studies Series (2021). Previously, she was a Mary Seeger O'Boyle postdoctoral research fellow at the Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies, Princeton University. Her research interests fall within the fields of 20th century Greek literature and culture, cultural memory, migration, comics and graphic novels.
Kristina Gedgaudaitė spoke to Rethinking Greece* on how representations of the Asia Minor refugee experience in popular Greek culture have changed through the decades, on her work on Soloup’s graphic novel Aivali, on why the graphic novel is an apt format to represent a difficult historical past and finally on the educational project Greek Studies Now.
Your most recent research project focused on the memory of the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922) in contemporary Greek culture. How have representations of Asia Minor refugee experience changed in popular culture through the decades? Was there a turning point when refugee memory found its place in Greek history?
The memory of the Greco-Turkish War always played an important role in Greek culture, yet this role has not been the same over the period of the last hundred years, as it changes shape in accordance with the needs of the communities by which it has been invoked. To illustrate this point, my book Memories of Asia Minor begins from the testimony of a refugee woman, Marianthe Karamousa, recorded by the Center for Asia Minor Studies; at a certain point of accounting her hardships, she laments that these experiences do not find a place in history. The testimony is recorded in 1962, that is forty years after the war, the same year when many commemoration ceremonies were held across Greece. It is also the year that some of the works that are today regarded as most prominent on this subject were published, such as Aivali, My Homeland by Fotis Kontoglou or Bloodied Earth (transl. Farewell Anatolia) by Dido Soteriou. Yet this refugee still felt that her experiences lay outside history, even at the moment of narrating those experiences for the historical record to the interviewer of the Centre for Asia Minor Studies. The testimony was published in the first volume of the Center for Asia Minor Studies' collection The Exodus in 1980; the decade of the 1980s can indeed be regarded as the moment when refugee experiences assume great significance in the public sphere. All this happens at a transnational conjuncture, when a human rights discourse is on the rise and there is increased attention to individual stories that lay claim to these rights. Yet, while certain experiences, such as the exodus from Smyrna become watershed moments in the history of the Greco-Turkish War, others, such as those of Turkish-speaking Christians that left Greece, never obtain the same visibility. In this context, the focus of my project is on the role memories of Asia Minor come to play in present-day Greece.
What is the role of memories of Asia Minor in contemporary Greek culture? How do they connect to Greek society’s current hopes and fears?
I view cultural memory as a toolbox, which can indeed provide tools to position oneself in history and to address the present in a certain way, be it to assume a distinct cultural identity, to provide a template for responding to present-day issues, or to advocate for recognition and social justice. The two examples of this process I focused on in my research are the history textbook edited by the team led by Maria Repousi and the 2015-2016 response to the currently ongoing refugee crisis. Both attracted wide public attention, albeit in different ways: the former leading to outcries of outrage, while the latter – to solidarity. Perhaps one could say that the underlying premise of my work was that we need to take such emotions seriously, to understand where they come from and where they lead.
It was also important for me to foreground that while memories operate within certain social, cultural and political frameworks, the meaning that they take on is ultimately determined in an encounter with others. During my research, I witnessed a number of occasions when cultural works dealing with refugee memories deemed alternative visions were embedded in the national culture, and vice versa – the works that were considered as reflective of nationalist discourses served as a meeting point for diverse viewpoints to emerge. Hence taking into account encounters with memories was important for showing that contingent futures of memory emerge from established views and openings to difference.
How does your work on Asia Minor memories connect to current global debates over contested pasts and refugeehood?
While this is not a new phenomenon, the declared refugee crisis in 2015 brought this issue to the foreground of European politics. Returning to the case of refugees from Asia Minor in this context, offers an interesting point of departure for considering what meanings of refugeehood persist when the initial sense of emergency and crisis that led to it are long gone.
Looking into the ways in which contemporary identity politics intertwine with questions about the past, and how claims of ownership over this past inevitably come endowed with specific demands for the future, resonates strongly with debates taking place in other global contexts, be it on exclusions and inclusions that characterize commemoration practices or the role of migratory heritage within national culture. Finally and importantly, the compulsory population exchange between Greece and Turkey served as a blueprint for executing a number of other displacements, most notably after World War II, and exploring those links offers a vantage point for viewing the legacies of war in the global context, beyond Greece and Turkey. I have made some steps in exploring the latter in my most recent work.
Your current research project deals with Greek comics and graphic novels. How did you get from researching memories of Asia Minor to comics?
Just as I was starting my research project on memories of Asia Minor, as part of my doctoral dissertation at the University of Oxford in 2014, Soloup’s graphic novel Aivali was published. I found it very engaging and particularly reflective of the ways in which the grandchildren of refugees relate to their cultural heritage. Just think of your own family memories: rarely they come as a full story, and much more often – as fragments, prompted by something in our everyday. It is then our task to piece those fragments together. This is a process which is often facilitated by delving into the archive to fill in the gaps in the story as well as a journey of return to the homelands of one’s ancestors. This is exactly what we see happening in the case of Soloup’s Aivali, but also other recent works on the topic.
The graphic novel is a particularly apt format to represent what dealing with a difficult historical past and what tis entails, which can be seen from the proliferation of such narratives across the globe. Graphic narrative is built around a number of tensions; between word and image, between single image and page as a whole, between representing and exposing the process of mediating representation. What is more, they often break down linear historical chronologies and as a result mange to expose history as a process with long lasting consequences beyond the event itself. The capacity of the comics medium to render history is what caught my initial interest and eventually led me to the wider exploration of comics and graphic novels as a means of artistic innovation and social critique in contemporary Greece, first conceived while on a postdoctoral fellowship at Princeton University, and currently continuing within the framework of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie individual fellowship, held at the University of Amsterdam.
You are one of the coordinators of the project Greek Studies Now. Could you tell us more about this project? What are the stakes for Modern Greek Studies in the current cultural conjecture?
Greek Studies Now started as an initiative between the University of Oxford and the University of Amsterdam in 2020, with Durham University joining as a third institutional partner in 2023. Yet from the very beginning it served as a network bringing together colleagues across different universities and career stages. The key question that this network addresses is how Greek studies can offer a vantage point for critical engagement with wider global contexts and debates. Over the course of three years since this network’s inception, the topics that were addressed in this framework ranged from eco-criticism to the trial of the Golden Dawn, from AIDS commemoration to Albanian-Greek identity, and much more. At the core of the network’s activities lies an invitation to think contrapuntally – weaving connections across topics, contexts, and disciplinary boundaries. Most importantly, I believe this kind of critical engagement with the present also invites reconsideration of one’s own role and positionality as a researcher. While this is certainly a much wider call, I see more and more colleagues who are active participants in the network activities to think through and engage with their research topics in various ways beyond academia.
* Interview to: Ioulia Livaditi