26 August 2022
August is Women in Translation Month, a 2014 initiative aimed at celebrating and promoting women writers in translation, as well as their translators and publishers. As in previous years, we are highlighting a selection of books from across the European collections that we have recently enjoyed. We hope you enjoy them too.
Bianca Bellova, The Lake, translated by Alex Zucker (Cardigan: Parthian, 2022) ELD.DS.698424
Chosen by Olga Topol, Curator Czech, Slavonic and East European Collections
The Lake won the Czech Magnesia Litera Book of the Year Award and the EU Prize for Literature in 2017. It is a surreal coming of age story that questions the relationship between humans and nature. In a fictional world set somewhere in between a post-apocalyptic future and the post-USSR past, a boy is trying to uncover the mystery of his mother’s disappearance. It is a vivid tale about a devastated, cruel world in which a child is growing into a man while searching for his identity. Dark and beautiful.
Stefania Auci, The Florios of Sicily: a novel, translated by Katherine Gregor (HarperCollins, 2020). Awaiting shelfmark
Chosen by Valentina Mirabella, Curator Romance Collections
Stefania Auci’s bestselling novel The Florios of Sicily tells the story of an entrepreneurial family that, starting from poverty in the early 19th century, built a fortune exporting Sicilian products such as Marsala wine and invented canned tuna as we know it. This is a well-documented saga, linking decades of Italian history to the Florio dynasty, which shook the feudal immobility and introduced industrialization in Sicily. Auci is particularly good at describing the places and underlining the role of women. We owe the English translation to Katherine Gregor who, impressively, is a literary translator from Italian, French and, on occasion, Russian.
Kiki Dimoula, The Brazen Plagiarist: Selected Poems, translated by Cecile Inglessis Margellos and Rika Lesser (New Haven, Conn.; London: Yale University Press, 2012), YC.2013.a.11561
Chosen by Lydia Georgiadou, Curator Modern Greek Collections
The Brazen Plagiarist is the first English translation of a wide selection of poems from across Kiki Dimoula’s oeuvre bringing together some of her most captivating and poignant works. The highly-praised and multi-award winning Greek poet embarks on a journey to a ‘magnificent’ though ‘unknown to her’ language, ‘filled with apprehension’ but grateful to be ‘accompanied by an excellent letter of introduction – their translation’. Award-winning translators Cecile Inglessis Margellos and Rika Lesser, whom Dimoula herself considers ‘heroic’, indeed rise to the challenge of recreating the poet’s mysteriously uncanny yet inexplicably familiar writing.
29 April 2021
The Four Gospels of Metropolitan Jakov of Serres is one of the most prominent and finely decorated Serbian mediaeval codices, produced in 1354-55, during the greatest ascent of the Serbian mediaeval state, in the reign of Stefan Dušan, King of Serbia (1331-46) and “Emperor of the Serbs and Greeks” (1346-55). This codex has recently been digitized.
Headpiece of the Gospel of St Mark decorated with birds in coloured vine scrolls on a gold background. A coloured initial with interlace and foliate decoration at the beginning of the Gospel. Add.MS.39626, f. 89r
The military success of Stefan Dušan was crowned with the conquest of the city of Serres in 1345. The Serbian mediaeval state incorporated large parts of the Byzantine Empire, almost all of Macedonia, Khalkidhiki, Epirus and Thessaly, as well as Mount Athos, the centre of monastic and spiritual life.
After the conquest of Serres, Stefan Dušan was crowned Emperor in 1346, and Jakov, the former abbot of the Monastery of the Holy Archangels near Prizren, was proclaimed the Metropolitan of Serres. Jakov remained a Metropolitan until his death, between 1360 and 1365. Shortly after the conquest, the city of Serres became a prominent literary, artistic and political centre of the Serbian Empire, along with other major centres such as Novo Brdo, Prizren, Skopje and Prilep.
The contacts between the Serbian monks, scribes and illuminators and the Greek scribes resulted in the adoption and exchange of stylistic and artistic expressions of the masters in the time of the Palaeologus dynasty of the Byzantine Empire.
Kephalaia (numbered chapters) to the Gospel of St Luke. Each Gospel is preceded by kephalaia. The heading is in uncial and text is in semi-uncial script. Add.MS.39626, f. 142r
The Gospels of Metropolitan Jakov of Serres was produced on parchment and has 302 leaves and a mediaeval parchment flyleaf. It consists of the four Gospels preceded by a colophon. At the end of the Gospels are synaxarion and menology (lists of Gospel readings for the liturgical year) and octoechos (weekly cycle of hymns). The dimensions of the codex are 315 x 225 mm.
The Gospels are decorated with five large and five smaller head-pieces, four lavishly decorated initials and three drawings in the colophon.
Headpiece of the Gospel of St Luke. The headpiece is painted in the upper part of the page at the beginning of each of the Gospels. Add.MS.39626, f. 145r
The Gospel of St John with floral decoration on gold background. Add.MS.39626, f. 229r
Full page illustration of Jakov the Metropolitan of Serres. Add.MS.39626, f. 292v
Inscription stating that the codex was made in 1355 for Jakov in his Metropolitan church at Serres, in the time of Tsar Stefan Dušan, his wife Helena, a sister of Tsar Ivan Alexander of Bulgaria, their son the King Uroš, and the Patriarch Joanikije (d. 1354). Add.MS.39626, f. 293
The Gospels of Metropolitan Jakov of Serres were created under his patronage in the monastery of St. Theodore as a product of the Serres scriptorium. The manuscript is written in Serbian Church Slavonic and was the work of a single scribe. In the colophon Kalist Rasoder is recorded as the scribe and the Metropolitan as the patron of the codex.
The researchers’ conjecture is that Kalist Rasoder arrived in Serres from Mount Athos (most likely from the Hilandar Monastery), where he worked under the auspices of the Metropolitan. In the period of Serbian rule the proximity of Mount Athos enabled the close association of the Metropolitanate of Serres and the district lords with the Hilandar Monastery. A sudden rise and increased production of copying and artistic activities occurred in that time. Additionally, the influences of Thessaloniki and Trnovo were of great importance in selecting the letters and rich decoration, especially floral decoration, which is one of the primary characteristics of 14th century manuscripts.
Synaxarion (a list of Gospel readings for the liturgical year) decorated with a coloured headpiece above the text. Add.MS.39626, f. 294r
Table relating the lessons to the Octoechos cycle (weekly cycle of hymns) in red and black lettering in a table made of red and gold lines, and decorated with interweaving floral and geometric motifs. Add.MS.39626, f. 302v
This work is considered as one of the most beautiful examples of 14th-century manuscripts produced in the lavish art style during the reign of the Palaeologus dynasty. It is assumed that the Gospels of Metropolitan Jakov of Serres were donated to the monastery of St. Paul in 1365, while this area was still under Serbian rule. The significance and value of the manuscript was recognized by the Hon. Robert Curzon (1810-1873), traveller and collector of manuscripts, in the first half of the 19th century. During a visit to the monastery of St Paul on Mount Athos the codex was presented to him together with the Gospels of Tsar Ivan Alexander.
These codices were later bequeathed to the British Museum Library (now the British Library) in 1917.
Branka Vranešević, Associate Professor, University of Belgrade, Faculty of Philosophy, Department of Art History
Milan Grba, Lead Curator South East European Collections
Ralph A. Cleminson, Union catalogue of Cyrillic manuscripts in British and Irish collections. The Anne Pennington catalogue. (London, 1988) 2725.e.600.
Zaga Gavrilović, ‘The Gospels of Jakov of Serres (London, BL Add. MS 39626), the Family of Branković and the Monastery of St Paul, Mount Athos’, in Through the Looking Glass. Byzantium through British eyes. (Aldershot 2000), 135–144. YC.2000.a.6271.
28 January 2020
This week marks the 40th anniversary of the death of the Greek author Stratis Tsirkas, who commemorated the struggles of his country during and after the Second World War.
Woodcut portrait of Stratis Tsirkas, ca 1970. Frontispiece from Stratis Tsirkas, To Eikosiena stē neoellēnikē pezographia: Solōmos kai Makrygiannēs (Athens, 2011) YA.2011.a.4072
Born Yiannis Hatziandreas in Cairo, then a city with a substantial Greek community, on 23 July 1911, he received a commercial education but was an avid reader from an early age and began publishing both translations and original texts in journals while working as a factory manager in Upper Egypt. His time in the region inspired his first published collection of poems, Fellahin, which appeared in 1937. The following year he moved to Alexandria, where he became involved in literary and communist circles, and published more volumes of verse. His first collection of short stories appeared in 1944.
Tsirkas was actively involved in the Communist Party’s anti-fascist initiative and edited its journal, Hellēn (‘The Greek’). The 1944 mutiny of the Greek fleet and army and its brutal suppression became a major theme in his writing in the decades that followed. In 1958 his study of Cavafy, Ho Kavafis kai hē epokhē tou (‘Cavafy and his Era’) won the State Award for biography, and was followed by a work on another poet, George Seferis. His friendship with Cavafy was also the inspiration for Ho politikos Kavafis (‘Cavafy the politician’ (Athens, 1971) X.709/15555).
Title page of Ho Kavafis kai hē epokhē tou (Athens, 1958) 11866.f.18.)
In 1961 he published Hē leskhē (‘The Club’) the first volume in his most famous work, the trilogy Akyvernētes politeies (‘Drifting Cities’), as a result of which he was expelled from the Communist Party. The second volume, Ariagnē (‘Ariadne’) followed in 1962, and the third, Hē nikhterida (‘The Bat’) in 1965, by which time Tsirkas had settled in Athens. The three novels take place in Jerusalem, Cairo, and Alexandria respectively, with an epilogue in mainland Greece, after the end of the Civil War. The historical thread linking them is the efforts of the Greek left-wing movement to resist both external and internal reactionary forces and to aid resistance within mainland Greece, culminating in the destruction of the Greek navy in the harbour of Alexandria, when the commanders declared their intention of joining the mainland resistance. At that time a speedy German withdrawal was not in the interests of the British, who were afraid of the increasing power of the left-wing resistance government, and they treated their Greek allies, who had fought alongside them against Rommel, as enemies.
The tragedy is seen through the eyes of the protagonist, Manos Simonidis, a communist intellectual divided between loyalty to the left-wing cause (though he cannot accept blind obedience to its rigid Stalinist precepts) and the lure of ‘decadent’ cosmopolitan values with their aura of existential meaninglessness. In the end, as a committed Greek, Manos can only choose action, although he despises his leaders and the cause itself is hopeless.
Chapter opening with decorated initial from Hē leskhē, 4th ed. (Athens, 1973) X.909/84060
In Hē leskhē, Manos, hiding in a Jerusalem pension run by a German-Jewish refugee, falls in love with Emmy, the wife of an Austrian minister-in-exile, but loses her to another man and is recalled to action by his party's ideological leader, ‘The Little Man’, who unscrupulously uses others for his own ends under the pretext of ideology. In Ariagnē, wounded in a bomber attack, he is sheltered by Ariagne Saridis, head of a working-class family in a poor district of Cairo, and continues to write pamphlets. Ariagne’s family is a microcosm of the turbulence outside; some of its members belong to the right, others to the left, some are black marketeers, and some fight in the regular army or the resistance. She gives Manos the strength he requires to carry on with his mission, and in Hē nikhterida, after surviving a forced march through the desert, he arrives in Alexandria, and encounters Nancy Campbell, a Scottish noblewoman who becomes active in the resistance, before participating in the naval uprising. The story ends with the crushing of the revolt and the realization of the movement’s members that civil war is now inevitable.
In the coda, the survivors gather in Thessaloniki to hold a wake for their comrades who were tortured, executed or killed during the Civil War and the subsequent right-wing reign of terror. All the best men are dead; the women are left to mourn, struggling to survive and raise their children alone.
Tsirkas actively opposed the dictatorship, and during the rule of the colonels he devoted himself to translation. When censorship was lifted he played a leading part in producing the anti-junta 18 Texts and New Texts, and contributed to the anti-dictatorship journal Synechia.
Hē chamenē anoixē (‘The Lost Spring’), published in 1976 and set in Athens, was intended to be the first part of a new trilogy which Tsirkas never completed. Its hero is a left-wing refugee returning to the city after the tumultuous events of 1965, and it is fascinating to consider how Tsirkas would have developed the theme – and indeed, had he lived, how he would have described the collapse of the Greek economy in the next century. No doubt he would have continued to sum up his country’s future in the words, ‘Wherever there’s suffering and sweat and tears, there’s humanity, isn’t there?’
Susan Halstead Subject Librarian (Social Sciences), Research Services
Stratis Tsirkas, Akyvernētes politeies.
1: Hē leschē. 4th ed. (Athens, 1973) X.909/84060.
2. Ariagnē. 6th ed. (Athens, 1974) YA.1995.a.11045.
3. Hē nychterida. 6th ed. (Athens, 1974) X.950/46877
English translation of the complete trilogy by Kay Cicellis, Drifting Cities (New York, 1974) X.981/11651
Stratis Tsirkas, Hē chamenē anoixē: mythistorēma. (Athens, 1976) X.909/37874
Stratis Tsirkas, Ta poiēmata (Athens, 1981) X.950/34436
Eleni Papargyriou, ‘The Poetics of Transit: Exile, Diaspora and Repatriation in Stratis Tzirkas’s Novels’, in Greek diaspora and migration since 1700: society, politics and culture, edited by Dimitris Tziovas (Farnham, 2007) pp. 193-204. YC.2009.a.14560.
25 October 2018
Throughout the early 19th century, the contrast between the glories of ancient Greece and the servile humiliation imposed on modern Greeks by the Ottoman Empire was a frequent theme for poets there and abroad. Lord Byron, before going off to join the cause of Greek independence, lamented in his poem ‘The Isles of Greece’:
'Tis something, in the dearth of fame,
Though linked among a fettered race,
To feel at least a patriot's shame,
while in Germany Friedrich Hölderlin was writing in his novel Hyperion of the struggles of a young Greek to raise awareness of his country’s plight and find a place in the wider world. The fight for national autonomy and liberation, however, was just one aspect of the Greek endeavour to recreate the splendours of past ages. As well as its reputation for freedom and democracy, ancient Greece had been renowned for the richness of its language and literature and the prowess of its athletes as displayed in its many festivals, including the Isthmian, Delian, Pythian and, of course, the Olympic Games.
Portrait of Panagiotis Soutsos (from Wikimedia Commons)
It was in this field that the poet Panagiotis Soutsos was especially active. Born in 1806 in Constantinople, he belonged to a distinguished family of Phanariote origins, with a brother, Alexandros, and a sister, Aikaterini, who were also writers. This privileged background enabled the brothers to study at the famous school of Chios under Neophytos Vamvas, who translated the Bible into modern Greek, and to enjoy opportunities to travel unusual among Greeks at that time. In 1820, on the death of their father, they joined their uncle in Transylvania, and set out to Paris with a letter of introduction from him to Adamantios Korais, a leading figure in the Greek Enlightenment whose linguistic work laid the foundations of a purified form of the language known as Katharevousa. It was in this that Soutsos wrote the first version of his poem Ὁ Ὁδοιπόρος (‘The Wayfarer’) in 1831, although the subsequent ones of 1842, 1851 and 1864 included increasing numbers of archaisms. This ‘tragedy in five acts’ is in fact a poem in dialogue describing the love of the Wayfarer and his sweetheart Ralou and their tragic end, and is regarded as one of the seminal works of the First Athenian School which flourished between 1830 and 1880 in Athens and the Ionian Isles. Because of the origins of many of its members, it was also known as the Phanariotic School.
Title-page of Ὁ Ὁδοιπόρος (Athens, 1864) 1608/2101.
Of equal importance was Ὁ Λέανδρος (‘Leander’) in 1834, a novel which adopted the epistolary form used by Hölderlin and comes to a similarly pathetic conclusion as the hero writes to his friend Charilaos, ‘Hear the hour of midnight, signifying: This is the hour of my death; I am coming, death! Why are you calling me? I am coming. I take up my weapon…’, typical of the Greek Romantic movement in its patriotic theme and the influence of French Romanticism.
Title-page of Ὁ Λέανδρος (Athens, 1834) 1458.b.25.
It was prudent of Soutsos to concentrate on his literary activities, as his professional life was not a success. Settling in Nauplion (Nafplio) in 1833, he embarked on a political career and was appointed secretary of the senate by Ioannis Kapodistrias, but lost his position through his outspoken opposition to the latter’s policies. In any event, his progress was blocked by the heterogeneous law of 1843, barring citizens born in occupied territories from employment in the public sector, and his political views became increasingly conservative.
However, in the year of his arrival in Nauplion, then the capital of the newly-independent Greek state, he wrote a poem with still more far-reaching effects. Its title, ‘Dialogue of the Dead’, recalls Lucian of Samosata’s work of a similar title, and it portrays the spirit of Plato returning to Greece to gaze upon it in despair with the words: ‘Where are all your theatres and marble statues? / Where are your Olympic Games?’ Two years later, he followed this up with a letter to the Greek Minister of the Interior, Ioannis Kolettis, proposing that 25 March, the anniversary of the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence, should be declared a national holiday, marked by festivities including a revival of the ancient Olympics. Early the next year a wealthy Greek merchant based in Romania, Evangelis Zappas, offered to fund the Olympic revival, complete with cash prizes for the victors. On 13 July 1856 Soutsos published an article unveiling Zappas’ proposal to the public, and on 15 November 1859 the first modern Olympic Games took place in Athens.
It was not only in politics that Soutsos stirred up controversy. His cosmopolitan outlook and French contacts had made him aware of Ernest Renan’s Vie de Jésus (1863), and his second novel, Charitine, or The Beauty of the Christian Faith, subtitled ‘Antidote to the nonsense of Ernest Renan against the deity of Jesus Christ’ (Athens, 1864; 4823.aa.43) launched an impassioned attack on it, as might be expected from the author of The Messiah, or the Sufferings of Jesus Christ.
Title-page of The Messiah (Athens, 1839) 1343.i.13
In linguistic matters, too, Soutsos provoked disputes. In 1853 he expounded his opinions on language in his essay New School of the Written Word, or Resurrection of the Ancient Greek Language Understood by All, advocating the revival of Ancient Greek and dismissing Demotic Greek as not universally intelligible. The academic Konstantinos Asopios retaliated with The Soutseia, or Mr Panagiotis Soutsos scrutinized as a Grammarian, Philologist, Schoolmaster, Metrician and Poet, leading to a torrent of pamphlets by other scholars all exposing one another’s alleged shortcomings and promoting their own systems.
Despite this and the trials of increasing ill health, financial losses and marital troubles, by the time of his death on 25 October 1868 Soutsos had seen his Olympic vision realised and his work translated into German as early as 1844 – a further chapter in the mutual fascination between Greece and Germany throughout the 19th century.
Title-page of Ode: Erinnerung an die wiedererstandene Hellas (Wrocław, 1844) 1461.h.3., a parallel Greek and German language edition
Susan Halstead. Subject Librarian (Social sciences) Research Services
11 May 2018
If we are to believe the legends, to be a prominent figure in the development of Greek drama is to be almost guaranteed a sticky end; Sophocles was said to have choked on a grape, Aeschylus to have been hit on the head by a tortoise dropped by an eagle, and Euripides to have been attacked by a pack of hounds. The premature death of Costantinos Chatzopoulos was less dramatic but no less unfortunate for the modern Greek theatre. In 1920, he was returning with his family from Greece to Munich, where they had lived for several years, to collect the possessions which they had left behind on their precipitate departure in 1914. While travelling on the Montenegro, an Italian steamer, he was suddenly overcome by a violent attack of food poisoning and died shortly afterwards.
When Chatzopoulos was born on 11 May 1868, Greece was still a poor and culturally backward country, cut off from the rest of Europe for linguistic and historical reasons. Little had changed since Byron and Hölderlin had expressed their frustration at the incapacity of the Greeks to live up to the glorious reputation of their forefathers and throw off the Ottoman yoke. When Athens was declared the capital in 1834 it had only 10,000 inhabitants; as late as 1907 the illiteracy rate was 40.5% among men and 82% among women.
Although Chatzopoulos’s father was a farmer from Agrinio, three of the seven children went into literature; Costantinos’s younger brother Dimitris became a writer and Zacharias a journalist. Costantinos did his military service in the Balkans, studied law at the University of Athens, and practised this profession briefly (1891-93) before an inheritance enabled him to devote himself to writing. In 1898 he published a volume of poetry, Tragoudia tēs erēmias (‘Songs of Solitude’) under the pseudonym Petros Vasilikos.
He was also active in the promotion of demotic Greek instead of the ‘sanitized’ Katharevousa, and in 1898-99 collaborated with Yiannis Cambisis on Technē (‘Art’), the first periodical in Greece to be written in Demotic. Its 12 issues contained translations of contemporary German and Scandinavian literature and critical theory, and bore witness to Chatzopoulos’s fascination with Nietzsche. He had studied German in Athens with the classicist Karl Dieterich, and in 1900 he made his first visit to Germany, wishing to improve his knowledge of the language in order to read German classics in the original.
Emerging from the narrow and constricting atmosphere of Greece, Chatzopoulos tended to view Wilhelmine Germany through rose-tinted spectacles, going so far as to describe it as a haven of personal freedom. It was during this stay that he met his future wife, the Finnish painter Sanny Häggman, and in the summer of 1901 he visited Finland. Over the next few years he embarked on a considerable career as a translator not only of German but of Scandinavian authors including Schiller, Lessing and above all Goethe, who enabled him, as he wrote to a friend, to ‘turn around and understand the Parthenon that stands right behind my window’.
The first permanent theatre in Athens had been established in 1840, but the profession of director was slow to develop. In 1901, however, the Royal Theatre was established with Thomas Oikonomou as its director. In this climate Chatzopoulos’s translations were eagerly welcomed, and made a considerable contribution to the development of the modern Greek theatre; they included Goethe’s Iphigenie auf Tauris (1910) and Faust (1916), Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s Elektra, Ibsen’s When We Dead Awaken, and works by Strindberg, Grillparzer, Gogol, Gerhart Hauptmann and Hermann Bang. Not surprisingly, as an Ibsen enthusiast he was one of the first to support women’s rights in Greece.
Unlike Hölderlin’s Hyperion, whose sojourn among the Germans proved a source of disillusion and disappointment, Chatzopoulos was eager to return, and went back in June 1905 with his wife and three-year-old daughter Senta to settle in Munich. They also spent time in Berlin, and only left Germany on the outbreak of war in 1914. During these years he made the transition from poetry to prose, publishing short stories such as Taso and O hyperanthrōpos (‘The Superman’), published as a collection in 1916, which reflected social change and growing urbanization during the reforms of Eleftherios Venizelos, who became prime minister of Greece in 1910.
Significantly, this coincided with Chatzopoulos’s growing interest in the ideas of Karl Marx. However, when the socialist ideals which he had cherished in Germany were confronted with the reality back in Greece after his reluctant return, Chatzopoulos was embittered by the realization that there was little chance of mobilizing the Greek labour force to create an effective organization. An article which he published in the Greek press also noted Heinrich Mann’s all-too-accurate depiction in Der Untertan (Leipzig, 1918; 012554.a.10; translated into English as Man of Straw) of the spirit of Imperial Germany and the threat which it posed in cultural and political terms. His career closed, as it began, with poetry; in the year of his death there appeared his two final collections, Aploi tropoi (‘Simple Ways’) and Bradinoi thruloi (‘Evening Legends’; Athens, 1920; X.908/18945).
Title-page of Aploi tropoi (Athens, 1936) 11409.l.35
He did not live to see Greek culture increasingly influenced by France rather than Germany, and his premature death protected him from witnessing developments in his second homeland which would have caused him anguish and deepened the schism between ideal and reality which many critics have identified in his work. Yet in his comparatively short life he not only captured images of a society in rapid transition but spun strong threads to weave it firmly into the fabric of wider European culture.
Susan Halstead (Subject Librarian: Social Sciences) Research Services.
10 October 2017
The Greeks had two words for us: ekphrasis (the verbal description of a work of art) and topothesia (the description of an imagined place).
As topothesia is the less common, look it up in your copy of Erasmus De copia:
Quae si verae sint, τoπoγραφιας appellari volunt, sin fictae, τoπoθεσιας. Prioris formae sunt: Carthiginis et portus apud Maronem descriptio; apud Plinium in Epistolis Laurentis villae; apud Statium Surretinum Polii et Tibertinum Manlii; posterioris: sedes Somni apud Ouidium; domes Famae et regia Solis apud eundem; inferorum et Caci domus apud Vergilium; Tenari apud Statium; domus apud Lucianum; regia Psyches apud Apuleium.
[If these descriptions are true, they are called topographias; if imagined, topothesias. In the first category are: the description of Carthage and its port in Virgil; of his Laurentine villa in the letters of Pliny; the villas of Polius in Sorrento and Manlius in Tivoli in Statius. The imagined include: the House of Sleep, the House of Fame, and the Palace of the Sun in Ovid [Met. 11.592; 12.39; 2.1]; Hell and the House of Cacus in Virgil [Aen. 6.268; 8. 225 ss]; Taenarum in Statius [Thebaid 2.32]; the house in Lucian [De domo]; and the Palace of Psyche in Apuleius [5.1-2].]
As nobody has seen the next world and lived to tell the tale, descriptions of the Other Side count as imagined descriptions.
A once well-known ekphrasis is the Table (or Tablet) of Cebes, alias Pinax. This describes a metal plate on which is depicted the whole life of man:
It was rather a circular enclosure, with two other such enclosures within it, one larger than the other. On the first circle was a gateway, near which was pictured a crowd of folk, and within it we saw a multitude of women. [...]
[An old man explains:]
This circle is called life. The great crowd you see standing beside the gate are those about to journey into life. The old man standing above the crowd holding a paper in his hand [...] is called Genius. He is giving advice [...]
That woman of affected appearance and smooth, plausible manner [...] is called Deceit and leads all men astray [...]
So, decidedly a text: what image could incorporate so much teeming detail?
But many people took ekphrasis as a challenge: various sculptors attempted the Shield of Achilles on the basis of Homer’s text; and some tried to make visual the Table of Cebes.
An example is the image below:
All educated people in the 17th century knew the Pinax: Milton, in his treatise Of Education includes it among the ‘easy and delightful books of education’.
Francisco de Quevedo was no exception.
In 1627 he issued his Sueños (Dreams), apocalyptic visions, loosely arranged but always biting vignettes of the folly and sins of man and woman, grotesque in a very baroque way. They were censored in subsequent editions because among other things Quevedo attacked priests. Like the Good Lord, he was no respecter of parsons (Acts 10.34), a biblical pun that would have been OK in the 15th century but would have got me into trouble in the 1600s.
They were translated by Sir Roger L’Estrange.
The first illustrations of the Dreams came in Brussels in 1669 in vol. I of Quevedo’s works.
Above and below: illustrations from Francisco de Quevedo, Obras ... Nueva impression corregida y ilustrada con muchas estampas muy donosas y apropriadas à la materia. [Edited by Pedro Aldrete Quevedo y Villegas.] (Antwerp, 1699) 635.g.3-5#
The plates are by Gaspar Bouttats (1640?-96?), who ‘invenit et fecit’, i.e. they are his own designs.
I was struck by the resemblance between the engraving of the Table and the depiction of Hell and the Last Judgment in the Dreams, particularly the numerous figures crowded into a steeply raking landscape.
The resemblance is almost certainly because both images are the work of artists from the Low Countries. Perhaps when reading the text of the Dreams Bouttats’s visual memory recalled images of the Pinax.
Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies
The Characters of Theophrastos. The Mimes of Herodas. The Tablet of Kebes. Translated with an introduction by R. Thomson Clark and 34 full page illustrations from Francis Howell’s edition of 1824. (London, ) 8464.aa.28.
Sagrario López Poza, ‘La Tabla de Cebes y los Sueños de Quevedo’, Edad de Oro, 13 (1994), 85-101. P.901/3635
Erasmus, De copia verborum ac rerum, ed. Betty I. Knott, Opera omnia Desiderii Erasmi Roterodami, Ordo I, tom. 6 (Amsterdam, 1988), p. 214
Enrique Gacto Fernández, ‘Sobre la censura literaria en el s. XVII: Cervantes, Quevedo y la Inquisición’, Revista de la Inquisición, 1 (1991), 11-61. ZA.9.a.6465
17 March 2017
The German poet Friedrich Hölderlin, whose personal vision of Greece inspired much of his poetry and whose life spanned the years of the Greek struggle for independence, wrote in his elegy ‘Brod und Wein’ (c.1800) the famous words ‘Wozu Dichter in dürftiger Zeit?’ These words, pondering the purpose of poets in times of crisis and oppression, would be only too applicable to the career of the Greek poet Takis Sinopoulos ,born 100 years ago today.
Sinopoulos was a 22-year-old medical student at the University of Athens when, in 1940, the Greco-Italian War broke out. During this and the two conflicts that followed – the German-Italian occupation (1941-44) and the Civil War (1945-49) – he served as a doctor in the Sixth Army hospital at Loutráki on the Corinthian Gulf, and then with fighting units during the guerrilla fighting of the Civil War. Despite the professional control and objectivity which he was forced to exercise in carrying out his medical duties, he was deeply affected by the horrors which he observed, and throughout the rest of his life he sought to process and purge them in his paintings and poetry.
Sinopoulos had come of age under the dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas, whose coup of 4 August 1936 led to a system modelled on Italian fascism where censorship was brutally enforced. It was not until 1951 that he wrote his first collection of poems, introducing images and themes which would recur throughout all his later works as he attempted to expunge the hallucinations which haunted him throughout his creative life. The first poem of all, ‘Elpenor’, recalls the fate of the first Greek hero to fall in the Trojan War, but also a terrifying vision which Sinopoulos experienced one blazing summer day in 1944 when he distinctly saw a childhood friend who had been killed in battle two years earlier.
The poems echo with the existential loneliness of humans even within friendship or erotic relationships, making true communication eternally impossible, and with the conviction that true happiness is unattainable, even when the figure of Helen of Troy, and all that she symbolizes, flickers through the pages of the Cantos (1953). The temptations of death and oblivion which they proclaim haunted him for several years afterwards, plunging him into a psychosomatic crisis in which he believed himself to be gravely ill. This suddenly resolved itself in 1956 with the publication of Hē gnōrimia me ton Max (‘Acquaintance with Max’), the only poem which he ever completed with such rapidity. Max is at once an alter ago, a builder of houses, and an elder brother with Christ-like qualities, but ultimately a figure who vanishes amid the images of burning and destruction, terror and death in life which reappear in Sinopoulos's later writings.
The earliest of Sinopoulos’s poems in the British Library’s holdings is To hasma tēs Iōannas kai tou Kōnstantinou (‘The song of Joanna and Constantine’). This took him seven years to write as he experimented with the imagery of the Song of Songs and the mingling of Eros and Thanatos in the disjointed narrative of a couple living in a farmhouse near his native village of Agoulinitsa, the shadowy figures of a mother-in-law, neighbour and dead child, and, once again, the futility of any attempt to build communications between them.
Although he continued to experiment with automatic writing to break his writer’s block, political events once again conspired to delay the publication of his next and perhaps greatest work until 1972. The military coup of April 1967 inevitably hampered freedom of expression, but provided an apt context in which to revisit Sinopoulous’s experiences as a doctor in the army with which he had served for almost five years. In Thessaly and Macedonia he had seen captured guerrillas shot without mercy and his own friends and comrades blown apart by mines and grenades, and had had to gather fragments of their bodies from the blasted trees and bushes where they had landed. The result was Nekrodeipnos (‘Deathfeast’, 1972). In an equally fractured landscape recalling Eliot’s Waste Land, the shades of the dead mingle with the banalities of contemporary life and nostalgic images of June evenings in Athens many years before. There are reminiscences of Homer’s catalogue of the ships in the litany of names of the dead who crowd around the poet, and even a direct encounter with God does little to relieve the overall bleakness of a climax in which the poet is certified as an ‘inhabitant of the eternal’.
Unlike the poets of the First World War, those of Greece’s decade of agony are less well known to English-speaking readers, although Kimon Friar produced a fine translation of a broad selection of Sinopoulos’s work in Landscape of Death: the selected poems of Takis Sinopoulos (Columbus, Ohio, 1979: X.950/6323). Through his evocation of scenes as poignant and horrifying as those of Goya’s Desastres de la Guerra, Sinopoulos, though unable to save the men whose tragedies he witnessed, could at least ensure that they would not be forgotten.
Susan Halstead, Content Specialist (Humanities & Social Sciences), Research Services
19 August 2016
As the 2016 Olympics draw towards their close, in the spirit of Olympic internationalism and respect between nations, we thought we’d pay a BL European Studies homage to the successes enjoyed by Team GB with images from our historic collections showing some of the sports in which British athletes have won gold this year.
Britain’s very first medal in Rio was a gold – for swimmer Adam Peaty. Clearly he didn’t learn from the clumsy figures in Melchisedech Thevenot’s manual L’art de nager, first published in 1696, some of whom appear to be drowning rather than swimming successfully:
The last of these looks as if he might have just executed a rather clumsy dive – not something you would find synchro diving winners Jack Laugher and Chris Mears doing. Diving developed as a sport in Sweden and Germany in the early 19th century, and was linked to the development of gymnastics, a sport where Britain won Olympic gold for the first time in Rio. In honour of Max Whitlock’s two winning disciplines, here are some 19th-century German pommel horse and floor exercises:
It’s been a good year all round for British tennis, with Andy Murray’s second Wimbledon singles title and successful defence of his 2012 Olympic one. In 18th-century France, his sport would have been jeu de paume, illustrated here, with some of the tools involved in racquet making, from an encyclopaedia of arts and professions:
Tennis is a rather stereotypically British sport, as is anything to do with horses, which brings us to dressage. Many of our books on ‘horse dancing’ are more haute école than modern Olympic dressage, but we think Charlotte Dujardin might recognise these moves from an 18th-century Spanish manual:
Equestrianism has long been seen as the sport of kings, but if there’s one discipline where Britain has ruled in Rio, it’s cycling. This illustration from a late 19th-century German book suggests that this too was once the pastime of princes, here Ludwig Ferdinand and Alfons of Bavaria, though Britain’s lycra-clad winners – too many to name individually – with their lightweight, high-tech machines, might find it harder going with tweeds, bow ties, boaters and heavy bikes.
Finally (and with apologies to all the wonderful medallists whose sports we’ve had to miss out) a reminder that the modern Olympics were the brainchild of a Frenchman, Pierre de Coubertin, and that the first modern Games in 1896 were held, like their ancient predecessors, in Greece – although in Athens, not Olympia, as this souvenir album, with Coubertin’s likeness on the cover, makes clear.
03 June 2016
Anda agora el mundo tal
que no se cual va tras cual
Now, who can say
Who’s the chaser
And who the prey?]
This emblem shows mice chasing cats and hares chasing dogs (or is it the other way round?).
Nowadays I think we’d think in terms of cats chasing dogs: after all, the two are natural antagonists, as in the film of 2001. And in the 18th century this Portuguese mock epic does indeed pit the cat against the dog:
(I wonder if the phrase “raining cats and dogs” refers to the commotion caused when cats and dogs fight.)
But cat vs dog isn’t the only bout in town.
Back at the dawn of literature, in Aesop’s fables, the protagonists are never cats and dogs. To further complicate the matter, cats aren’t cats. Olivia and Robert Temple argue:
Precision in the terminology also reveals facts such as that household pets in ancient Greece were not cats but domesticated polecats, or house-ferrets (galē). (The Complete Fables, p. xix).
Terminological exactitude, or the translator’s age-old desire to outdo his predecessors?
Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies
Alberto Pimentel, Poemas herói-comicos portugueses (Porto, 1922)
Aesop, The complete fables; translated by Olivia and Robert Temple; with an introduction by Robert Temple. (London, 1998) YK.1998.a.7044
24 March 2016
Throughout Europe, the tradition of the Passion Play has a long history, reaching back to an age where it was a powerful means of bringing the dramatic events of the last week of Christ’s life before the eyes of those who could not read. Although the comparatively late Oberammergau Passionspiel is perhaps the best-known example, many others were performed in the Eastern as well as Western churches.
Bust of Nikos Kazantzakis in Heraklion (Image from Wikimedia Commons CC-BY.2.0)
It is one of these which the Cretan author Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957) describes in his novel Ho Christos xanastauronetai (1948). The British Library holds a numbered copy of the seventh edition signed by his widow Eleni Kazantzakis. It was translated into English in 1954 by Jonathan Griffin under the tile Christ Recrucified (12589.d.18), and ran into several subsequent editions.
Kazantzakis was born at a time when Crete was still part of the Ottoman Empire rather than the modern Greek state which had existed for just over 50 years, and the village of Lykovrissi (‘Wolf’s Spring’) in which he sets the action recalls his experience of growing up in a society where Greek and Turk, Christian and Muslim existed side by side in comparative harmony for the most part. What destabilizes the equilibrium of the community is not internal friction but the arrival of a group of refugees whose own village has been destroyed by the Turks. They reach Lykovrissi at a time when parts are being allocated for the next year’s Passion Play, performed every seven years, and these two events ignite the tumult which ultimately ends in bloodshed and self-sacrifice.
Throughout his life Kazantzakis was a spiritually questing and perpetually restless soul whose challenges to established religious dogma and practice caused him – like his hero Manolios – to face excommunication, though it was never actually pronounced. However, his later novel The Last Temptation of Christ (1955) caused such a furore that the Roman Catholic Church placed it on its index of forbidden books. Though controversial, his portrayal of Christ as a fully human being who understands and engages in the dilemmas of existence to the utmost is close to those of Kahlil Gibran and Dennis Potter, and provided the basis for Martin Scorsese’s film of the same name (1988). Christ Recrucified was also made into a film in 1957, Celui qui doit mourir, by Jules Dassin, with Melina Mercouri in the role of Katerina .
It was in another medium, though, that Christ Recrucified found additional dramatic expression. Throughout his life Kazantzakis had been a frequent traveller, and had lived in many countries, including the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. When the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů encountered his work, he immediately recognized its potential for an opera, and the two artists began a correspondence in French which is available in a Czech edition as Řecké pašije: osud jedné opery : korespondence Nikose Kazantzakise s Bohuslavem Martinů, edited by Růžena Dostálová and Aleš Březina (Prague, 2003; YF.2005.a.6912).
Bohuslav Martinů in 1942. Image from Bohuslav Martinu Centre in Policka, inventory number: PBM Fbm 115, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0 CZ)
Martinů composed the original version of his opera between 1954 and 1957, when memories were still fresh of the Slánský show trials and the worst excesses of political intolerance and corruption within a communist state where religion was actively suppressed. With no chance of staging it in Czechoslovakia, he offered it to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, but it was not until 1961 that a revised version received its premiere in Zürich, two years after the composer’s death. The Royal Opera House staged a production by David Pountney (in English) in 2004, conducted by Charles Mackerras, thus making amends for not producing it earlier as originally intended.
Kazantzakis himself, though disillusioned with Soviet communism and never a party member, had admired Lenin and the general principles which he believed communism represented, many of which find their way into his novel. As the year progresses, the villagers – Manolios, cast as Christ, Katerina, the widow and prostitute chosen as Mary Magdalene, and the various disciples, as well as Panayotaros, the Judas – gradually find themselves assuming the characteristics of the figures whom they portray, and embodying them in their actions towards one another and the starving refugees. The village priest Grigoris denies the fugitives shelter for fear of cholera, and sends them and their own priest Fotis to starve on the mountain of Sarakina. Manolios, regarded with suspicion by the village elders as a ‘Bolshevik’ and ‘Muscovite’, leads his neighbours to help them, and offers his life to save the village from the wrath of the local Agha following the murder of his boy favourite Yousouffaki, but it is Katerina who sacrifices hers, struck down by the Agha after claiming responsibility for a crime which she did not commit. As Manolios inspires others to leave their possessions and join him in a life of prayer and seclusion, the mob, headed by Panayotaros, kills Manolios on Christmas Eve as the refugees resume their flight, led by Father Fotis, who reflects, ‘When will You be born, my Christ, and not be crucified any more, but live among us for eternity?’
Though nominated nine times for the Nobel Prize in Literature, Kazantzakis never won the award. However, in this as in his other works, he proved himself to be not only a truly European but a universal figure, whose writings continue to raise existential issues of personal integrity and human responsibility – more timely than ever as a new stream of refugees pours into Greece in the weeks before another Easter.
Susan Halstead, Content Specialist (Humanities and Social Sciences), Research Engagement
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