Electra as a modern Greek survivor: The figure of the tragic heroine in the poetry of Yannis Ritsos

Yannis Ritsos explored the character of the fifth-century BC tragic heroine Electra in three poems:

The Dead House (1959), Under the Shadow of the Mountain(1960) and Orestes (1962-66). All three were published in his collection The Fourth Dimension  (1972). In these poems Ritsos re-imagined the character of Electra from ancient Greek myth and tragedy and gave her a new voice in the format of the dramatic monologue thus retaining her association with both the dramatic stage and with theatrical logos.

One of the most notable features of Ritsos’ reception of Electra is that he portrays her as a survivor of war. Modern Greek identity, the reception of the classical past in the modern state and the impact on the arts of its turbulent history in the twentieth century all inform and shape his poetic reception of Electra.2

The dangers of an unquestioning reverence towards the past are highlighted in Ritsos’ poetry. Surviving is not enough: one must put down the burden of the past in order to be free to look forward to the future. Ritsos, however, also demonstrates how difficult that is because of the hold that the past has on the present. He demonstrates this both in terms of the classical source texts and contemporary events. Ritsos’ Electra personas are survivors of the wars that plagued Greece throughout its long history. They are surrounded by death, loss and the   ghosts of the past. Only by their death can they serve the future. Ritsos never offer  s his readers any solutions for the future, however, just questions. He thus reprises one of the main functions of ancient drama as a platform for the exploration of a variety of dilemmas.

Anastasia Bakogianni

The Christian Hellenism and linguistic archaism of Neofytos Doukas

The priest and teacher Neofytos Doukas (c.1760-1845) was one of the chief  proponents of linguistic archaism in modern Greece.

He believed that the Greeks (by which he meant the Orthodox Christians who recognized the Patriarchate of  Constantinople as their religious leader) should learn to speak Ancient Greek as their natural language. By doing so, he believed, they would be able to regain the wisdom,virtue and glory of the ancient Greeks. Doukas was a romantic religious nationalist who believed that all traces of Greek (and, even more so, non-Greek) culture that had developed in the Greek world since early Christian times should be effaced, so that the multilingual modern Orthodox Christians would be reborn as pristine Christian  Hellenes.

My paper will analyse the ideological pres uppositions behind Doukas’ rhetoric (with its mixture of pagan Greek, Jewish and Christian references) within the context of the Greek language question and nation-building and against the background of attitudes to the Ancient Greek language adopted by other leading contemporaneous Greek intellectuals, whether or not they represented the Orthodox Church. In particular, it will contrast Doukas’ Christian Hellenism with the secular Hellenism of  Korais. In view of the similarities between the religiously and nationalistically motivated attempts by Greeks and Jews to revive their ancient tongues as modern spoken languages, the paper will also compare and contrast Doukas’ failed attempt to revive Ancient Greek as a spoken language with the successful revival of Hebrew in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Peter Mackridge

The birth of music out of the spirit of tragedy: On the role of music in productions of ancient drama in twentieth-century Greece

The main purpose of this paper is to offer readings  of the ways that Greek composers depict ‘images’ of Greece in music for stage productions of ancient dramas and comedies in twentieth-century Greece, by taking into account the broader attitudes of  Greek archeology and of how Greeks view their past.

In modern Greece of the first decades of the twentieth century, the predominant notions of ‘Hellenism’, or ‘greekness’,interpret Greek history as an uninterrupted evolution from the classical past to Byzantium. In terms of music,continuity was believed to be found from ancient Greek music to Byzantine hymns and folk songs. This theory, supported by important  scholars and composers like George Pachtikos and Ioannis Sakellaridis who wrote  music for productions of  ancient dramas at that era, was also encouraged by foreign intellectuals such as Louis-Albert Bourgault-Ducoundray. The incorporation of folk songs and Byzantine modes into the musical means of narration became a central compositional practice for a large part of music written for ancient dramas throughout the twentieth century, with or without nationalistic undertones.

Music written for productions of ancient drama in modern Greece distanced itself from the mainstream of European operatic tradition. Productions of ancient  drama and comedy in twentieth-century Greece, as I Will attempt to prove,deliberately and systematically avoided the adaptation of operatic forms. Also, symphonic music in productions of ancient dramas was introduced as early as the interwar period. However, characteristics like folk tradition and byzantine music, non-western elements, a more lyrical approach due to respect of the words, the use of magnetic tapes and electronic sounds and other experimental approaches formed alternative approaches to ancient drama as musical theatre, especially from 1960s onwards, by important composers like Jani Christou,Jannis Xenakis, Theodoros Antoniou, Argyris Kounadis, Giorgos Kouroupos and so forth.

Anastasia Siopsi

Classical vs. Byzantine pasts in the nineteenth century: Athenian monuments and archaeological practice

This paper examines the changing role of Byzantium in the Greek national narrative of the nineteenth century and its relation to archaeological practice. The Modern Greek state, influenced by the European admiration for classical Greece, chose to emphasize cultural continuity with the classical past. In contrast, Byzantium was viewed as a long dark age, an alien past, which interfered with the efforts of the reborn state to establish an unbroken link with classical antiquity. Thus, the ‘purification’ of Athens was carried out by archaeologists who shared these views and felt little sympathy for the material remains of the Byzantine era.

Concern for the protection of the Byzantine monuments was slow to develop.

It went hand in hand with the re-discovery and rehabilitation of Byzantium, a slow process which gained momentum in the 1850s with the  work of Zambelios and Paparrigopoulos. The inclusion of Byzantium into the national narrative influenced the direction of Greek archaeology which gradually began to lose its exclusive classical emphasis. Still, the demolition of medieval structures such as the Frankish tower at the Propylaia (1875) did not stop. However  , there was considerable opposition and the dismantling of the tower sparked an intense debate, a debate which will be examined here in some detail. A few years later, the Christian Archaeological Society was established, and the programmatic destruction of the remains of Medieval Greece gradually came to an end.

The incorporation of the Byzantine past into the national narrative brought about a new perspective, a fusion between Orthodoxy  and Hellenism, an indigenous rather than a European version of national history.

The treatment of the material record of Byzantium in the course of the nineteenth  century will be viewed within this broader context of evolving national ideals.

Effie F. Athanassopoulos

Re-imagining Greek antiquity in 1821: Shelley’s Hellas in its literary and political context

The last large-scale completed work by the English poet P.B. Shelley is a poem in dramatic form, entitled Hellas  (written in autumn 1821, published the following spring). Shelley’s model for his poetic tribute to insurgent Greece was Aeschylus’ Persians. In its well-known Preface, Shelley provocatively declares that ‘We are all Greeks,’ and states the Romantic claim of a general European indebtedness to Greek antiquity in memorable and extravagant terms. The poem elevates ancient Greece,after the manner of Winckelmann, to the status of a timeless ideal, standing outside history. Anticipating the later celebration by another visionary poet, Angelos Sikelianos, of a ‘higher Greece’, the poem ends not with the political assurance of Aeschylus’ play, but rather with wistful hope that even if the political cause is lost, the transcendent reality of Greece will somehow still be vindicated. The significance of the poem’s use of antiquity arises a) out of Shelley’s dialogue with Byron, whose championship of the classical form for tragedy he had rejected, but here tried out for his own purposes, b) Shelley’s contemporaneous role in urging Byron towards an active part in the Revolution, and c) the impact on both Percy and Mary Shelley of their recent friendship with Alexandros Mavrokordatos, the dedicatee of Hellas, until his departure for Greece in June 1821. A series of letters from Mavrokordatos to Mary Shelley, mostly unpublished, in the Bodleian Library, reveals the extent to which she and her husband were informed and felt involved in the progress of the Revolution at that time. It has also been suggested that the liberal/nationalist orientation of this influential figure in the Greek Revolution may have  owed something to this friendship.

Roderick Beaton

SOURCE Re-imagining the Past Antiquity and Modern Greek Culture CONFERENCE


About sooteris kyritsis

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