(BEING CONTINUED FROM 11/03/16)
Ancient Greeks in Modern Greek songs:
The case of Sokrates
In twentieth-century Greek song production antiquity has been negotiated in a number
of selective albeit, in some cases, parallel ways. For example, in state-sponsored
compositions intended for particular contexts the ancient ancestors are collectively
invoked as models to be emulated (military songs) or eternal glories to be prided on
(Eurovision song contests). Characters from mythology, on the other hand, usually
appear when their story provides an edifying parallel to be exploited either in a lighthearted
(Photeinakis’ Nine girls) or a more sophisticated manner (Gatsos’
Persephone’s nightmare). Finally, the reader comes across the use of ancient
philosophers as wise men (Eustathiou’s Diogenes the wise) or familiar figures of the
Attic landscape (Lades’ Sacred Way).
The most emblematic philosophical figure of all provides the subject for the
present paper. Sokrates features in a few songs normally in the presence of other
ancients. Two compositions, however, merit special attention for they focus almost
exclusively on him, at the same time representing the two main strands in Socratic
reception: (a) Mister Teacher (1972) is a surrealistic dialogue between a
schoolteacher and his students who want to learn about the teachings of Plato and
Sokrates (!): this ingenious piece of mock-wisdom literature exploits fully the motif of
Sokrates the wise teacher; (b) Sokrates, Greece’s Eurovision song for the 1979
contest, is a narrative “hymn” praising Sokrates as a martyr of philosophy, victim of
social prejudice, and forerunner of Christ: the song pays homage to a powerful
Socratic image born in the first Christian centuries and current throughout the
Byzantine times up until the Enlightenment.
The paper ends with a brief comment on Sokrates’ unexpected appearance in a
hip-hop 2004 song.
The Image of Medea in Modern Greek Poetry
The paper aims to investigate the literary image of Medea, a heroine of some Modern
Greek poems. Medea’s image, interpreted in many different ways, has been popular
among writers for thousands of years. Medea, who contained within herself mutually
contradictory traits, was an ideal vehicle through whom authors and artists could
explore what modern scholarship has called the problem of “self” and “other”.1
Greek poets – Kostis Palamas, Petros Vlastos, Giorgos Seferis, Andreas
Embirikos, Nikos Engonopoulos and later – Petros Pieris, Konstantinos Bouras and
others in one way or other refer to the theme of Medea. The poets revived the myth
about Medea and the comparative approaches of the poems that refer to Medea bring
out all that is tragic and ambivalent in her nature. Medea attracts the attention of poets
mainly as a symbol of the terrible murder, but poets also are interested in the image of
Medea as of a traitor daughter, as loving wife, as abandoned women left alone in a
foreign country, or as a representative of Barbarian world. In the late 1990-ies,
Modern Greek playwrights started to take vigorous interest in the Medea’s character.
There are various motivations. Some authors are more concerned with discharging
Medea from moral responsibility; others turn her image into a certain symbol of
accomplishment of the so-called feminist ideas.
Bearing in mind many various interpretations, the 20th century Greek poets
mainly are inspired by Euripidean version of Medea’s image, but toward the end of
the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century in the Greek poetry the new
interpretations of Medea’s image occur and disorganization of the Hellenocentric approach can be observed. Nevertheless, the rehabilitated image of Medea is mainly
met in Modern Greek theatre plays rather then in Modern Greek poetry.
The Dorian side of the Greek legacy in Kazantzakis and Karagatsis
Philhellenism values in Greek antiquity its contribution to civilisation. With regard to
the traditional antinomy, in classical Greece, between Athens and the Dorians, it
clearly prefers Athens.
It is interesting to see that in two novels by leading modernist authors, ΣΤΑ ΠΑΛΑΤΙΑ ΤΗΣ ΚΝΩΣΣΟΥ (1940? 1943?) by Kazantzakis, and ΑΜΡΙ Α ΜΟΥΓΚΟΥ (1954) by
Karagatsis, the Dorians are appreciated, albeit in very different ways, precisely for
their struggle against civilisation, but for freedom and dignity.
Both novels are situated within a colonial framework. Kazantzakis’ novel may be read
at an allegorical level, where Minoan Crete stands for the Western European colonial
powers, and poor and little Athens for modern Greece, which has to fight for its
independence. The Dorians, playing, as Fanis Kakridis has convincingly pointed out,
the role of the Soviet Russians, are the natural allies of the Athenians. It is their
destiny to destroy, with the brutal violence of a primitive race, colonial hegemony. In
two generations’ time, the Dorians will assimilate to Greeks, and thus give Greece the
energy needed to create a bright new Greek culture.
In Karagatsis’ novel, the colonial framework is that of South-East Africa at the
end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. The Greek
adventurer Andreas, of aristocratic, ultimately Venetian stock, is driven by the same aristocratic ideology as Nyota, his Masai warrior associate, who is explicitly
compared to a Dorian. Both Andreas and Nyota clash with the colonial regime, and
Andreas’ attitude towards the Africans is felt by them to be typically different from
the behaviour of the colonizers: Greeks are different.
In this way, the Dorian component of Greek identity is highlighted in both
novels as the part that stands for permanent rebellion against an oppressive society,
even though the ideological framework of the two novels is very different.
Gunnar De Boel
Plato, Seferis and Heaney: Poetry as redress
The nekyia, talking with the dead, is a familiar metaphor in classical reception.
Conjuring a shade is an attempt to understand the past, influence the present or see
into the future, to seek guidance, reconciliation or revenge. Unlike metamorphosis
(another powerful trope of reception) it is explicitly concerned with justification and
knowledge. Plato, re-inventing the Homeric katabasis and nekyia, moralised the
afterlife; his eschatalogical fables introduce an ethics of judgement and punishment
and therefore of redress.
My paper examines Seferis’ «ΕΠΙ ΑΣΠΑΛΑΘΩΝ » and Heaney’s rejoinder, “To
George Seferis in the Underworld”, in the light of Heaney’s essay The Redress of
Poetry. Acknowledging the poets’ broader engagement with classical texts (in
particular Seferis with Homer, Heaney with Vergil) I concentrate on their use of Plato
as “the court of appeal through which poetic imagination seeks to redress whatever is
wrong . . . in the prevailing conditions”. I argue that a classically-inspired poetry of
redress will have several distinctive features: an insistence on the local, specific and
topical; direct reference or address to a classical author; some engagement with the
source language; a consciousness of the pressures of testimony.
A hallmark of Heaney’s poetics is the weaving of language back into
landscape; his reading of « ΕΠΙ ΑΣΠΑΛΑΘΩΝ » reveals correspondences between two
national poetries. The interplay of language and political violence in Ireland gives a
special edge to his understanding of Greece. Alongside his own “much-contested”
political poems (e.g. “Punishment”, “Whatever You Say Say Nothing”), «ΕΠΙ ΑΣΠΑΛΑΘΩΝ » strikes him as dangerously unequivocal, lacking any shade of doubt.
However, Heaney’s reservations about declarative utterance should not be read as a
reproach to Seferis (as some have argued) but as a surprised awareness of the two
poets’ dissimilar uses of a classical authority.
The ‘New Hellenism’ of Constantine Cavafy
In an earlier paper, I tried to explain Constantine Cavafy’s fascination with the
Hellenistic world during the last two centuries BCE, when the Hellenistic kingdoms
were being gradually subjected to Roman rule, as a device he used to explore aspects
of his own sense of marginalization as the subject of a great empire and as a
homosexual – a condition in which he eventually learned to glory as a liberating
intellectual force. In the present paper, I want to describe this complex reevaluation
in more detail, by linking Cavafy more closely to the historiographic debates of his
About the depth of Cavafy’s interest in the late Hellenistic monarchies there
can be no doubt. Nearly a sixth of his surviving poetry is linked to this era, and many
of his best known poems – such as “Orophernes” (1904) and “Of Demetrius Soter” (1915) – consider events that are familiar, in our time as in Cavafy’s, only to experts.
If I am correct in believing that Cavafy used these poems in order to explore troubling
aspects of his own era, but in a way that avoided direct political or social
confrontation, then the question arises as to how he reached this intellectual point
d’appui. I believe that in some respects he did so in part as a response to
contemporary debates about the nature of “Hellenism,” of what it was to be Greek.
A major starting point is the later nineteenth-century understanding of the
Hellenistic world in relation to classical Greece – which still served, of course, as an
academic paradigm for European liberal values. The Hellenistic world was
undeniably awkward for this paradigm: the sudden dramatic conquests by Alexander
the Great, followed by a century and a half in which the ancient city-states of the
Greek motherland were largely eclipsed by the great Hellenistic monarchies of
Macedonia and the Seleucid and Ptolemaic empires, who, between them, dominated
the Eastern Mediterranean’s political and intellectual life before the rise of Rome.
Though nineteenth-century historians hotly debated this problem, the
dominant liberal answer was given by the great English historian George Grote in his
magisterial 12-volume History of Greece.
Bruce W. Frier
(TO BE CONTINUED)
SOURCE Re-imagining the Past Antiquity and Modern Greek Culture CONFERENCE
1 Sarah Iles Johnston, “Introduction”, in James J. Clauss & Sarah Iles Johnston (eds): Medea, Essays on Medea in Myth, Literature, Philosophy and Art, Princeton University Press, New Jersey 1997, p. 7.