Contemporary Literature In Greece
( Originally Published 1913 )
"To pass from the study of Homer to the business of the world is to step out of a palace of enchantment into the cold gray light of a polar day. But the spells in which this enchanter deals have no affinity with that drug from Egypt which drowns the spirit in effeminate indifference; rather, they are the remedial specific, which, freshening the understanding by contact with the truth and strength of nature, should both improve its vigilance against decay and danger, and increase its vigor and resolution for the discharge of duty."
WILLIAM EWART GLADSTONE.
A NATION'S literature is, by virtue of some spiritual alchemy, the most potent and penetrating among the controlling influences of any period of history; and its quality is an unerring touchstone of the life of the day. It is the glory of Greece that she is not alone living on her splendid and unrivaled past, but that the same eager idealism that manifested itself in the philosophy of Plato and the sculpture of Pheidias pours its force to-day into forms of literary expression. The dominating insistence of lofty ideals has never lost its vitality. The phenomena of the stellar universe where velocities and energies in furious career are yet holding each other in check, — where perpetual ovement creates perpetual readjustment, — is typical of the Grecian kingdom for the past twenty-four centuries. Art, philosophy, and ethics have united in this influence. Poet, prophet, and philosopher have never lost their spiritual sway. The wish of Admetus, that the voice and music of Orpheus were his that he might charm the daughter of Demeter and her lord with his songs and thus bring them forth from Hades, is typical of the mental attitude of the Hellenes through every age, and of an attitude that was never more ardent than in the twentieth century. The immortal literary monuments of Greece have never lost their con-trolling power over the people. The high and universal order of general education insures intellectual susceptibility and the spiritual genius of the Golden Age is held as the illumination and the living ideal of contemporary life. The comprehension of modern Greece in any adequate degree is only achieved by following the Hellenic race from an early date. Modern civilization owes to that of the Greek an incalculable debt and the problems of contemporary life relate themselves, almost without exception, to those that confronted the dwellers on the shores of the Mediterranean more than two thousand years ago. Dr. Platon Drakoules, a Greek who retains active interests in Athens although for some years he has made London his home, responded to an invitation from Oxford to deliver two lectures' on matters pertaining to the literature of his country. In his opening address Dr. Drakoules observed that, "The Greek mind considers youth as endless, and life as deathless," and he proceeded to say:
"This belief has been the determining fact in literary history, and has existed for centuries as the dominant passion of the race. . . . The great majority of Greeks have never ceased to believe that they are destined to become for a second time a great nation, and a great force in the destinies of mankind. . . . Whatever may be the political importance of contemporary Greece, and whatever may be her fate in her present ordeal, her reappearance as an independent nation with a special character, with a literary activity that often betrays the impress of true Hellenism, with a language that consists in the development of elements deeply rooted in the heart of that older form of Greek, is a most remarkable phenomenon, the production of which can be traced to the conscious desire of the nation to resuscitate itself. I may say in this place that modern Greek literature is a product of the conscious endeavor of modern Greeks to regain freedom in the same way as ancient Greek literature was a product of the genius which the ancient Greeks had for freedom, limited as that freedom was to a portion of the community."
This freedom, the freedom of the spirit, is alluded to by Plato in the Phoedo, in which he represents Socrates as saying: "Whosoever seem to have excelled in holy living, these are they who are set free and released from these earthly places as from prisons and fare upward to that pure habitation and make their dwelling-place in yonder land. . . . Therefore we must do our utmost to gain in life a share in virtue and wisdom. For the prize is noble, and the hope is great." This freedom, being of the spirit, may be attained during the sojourn in the physical world, and its liberating energy is the power of thought.
The kingdom of Greece now includes more than two and a half million people, besides those Greeks who live in various other countries. For more than two thousand years their language, their traditions, and their religion have been transmitted from generation to generation, and from century to century in an almost unbroken chain. It is a curious fact that during this period the Greek language has undergone less change than has the English language in the period between Chaucer and Tennyson.
Contemporary Greek literature ranges over the usual forms of history, biography, fiction, poetry, and essays; and while there is work in nearly all these lines not lacking in claim to distinction, little of it is known to the world in general for one reason : the literature of the Greeks of today is not published in books, but in periodicals. Not, of course, exclusively, but so largely that a liberal share of the poetry, creative romance, essays, and history are issued in periodical form in the daily or weekly press. In Athens the daily newspapers are matter of far more importance than their legitimate function, or, rather, legitimate function of the daily press in other cities, — that of giving the news of the day. With a population of hardly two hundred thousand, there are not less than eighteen daily newspapers, with several weekly journals. They are published in Greek and in French; the latter being chiefly sought by the visitors and sojourners. Among the more important morning papers are the Athenai, the Acropolis, the Chronos, Patris, Neon Asty, and Kairoi, while the leading afternoon journals are the Experini, the Ephemeris, and the Hestia. One journal, entitled Roméos, is de-voted exclusively to poetry, and its editor, George Soures, is also its sole contributor. M. Soures is a marked character in Athens. He is a wit, he is extremely versatile, and his gift of good-humored satire has made him a popular favorite. He is by no means always too fastidious for the less critical, while his undeniable cleverness makes the reading of his unique weekly sheet a matter of information which few can afford to miss. The advertisements sent to his paper are transformed by him into rhyme, so that every announcement and item, as well as his own matter, appear as verse. M. Soures has an extraordinary instinct for the kind of commentary the people like to read, and his paper is the most unique thing on the continent. He is said to be a native of Chios, one of the islands, but he himself denies any knowledge of his birthplace. It is to the daily press that the Greek, for the most part, looks for his science, his fiction, and his history, as well as for the news of the moment. Popular fiction is an unfailing feature of the newspapers; not less are the lengthy and learned scientific treatises and archaeological records.
In the spring of 1913 the London and Paris journals arrived from seven to nine days after their publication. Ordinarily the time on the way would not be so long, but on account of the war the harbor-lights in all the ports were not permitted to burn, so the steamers coming from Trieste down the Adriatic, or from Marseilles and Naples, must lay off all night outside any port at which they were scheduled to stop, if they did not arrive in time to clear by daylight. Even at best, the London papers would be nearly or quite a week reaching Greece, and this isolation from great centers contributes greatly to the establishment of a world of its own in Athens. Greece is practically an island, subject to all the delays and unforeseen exigencies of communication by water alone, since she has no connection by rail with continental Europe. The cable and telegraphic service of Athens are very pre-carious, and the city journals are not large subscribers to these conveniences.
There is an exclusive news service called L'Agence d'Athènes, which supplies the Bourse and other public places. It is really a bureau of information served to the government and finance, to hotels, and the more important clubs. The editor is a well-known and highly-esteemed Greek, M. Perdikides, a man of accomplished culture, high intelligence, and polished courtesy. Few visitors in Athens fail to meet this distinguished journalist, whom to know is by way of a liberal education. Athens has more than one woman journalist, of whom the most important is Mlle. Jeanne Stephanopoli, the editor of a semi-weekly journal called Le Messager d'Athènes, which has a large circulation all over Greece, and to some extent in France, and is owned by M. Stephanopoli, the father of the clever editor. Another journal in the French language, which holds a high rank as an authority in literature, politics, and finance, is Les Nouvelles de Grèce, of whom the editor and proprietor is M. Zographides, who was educated for the bar, but has yielded to his taste and capacity for a high order of journalism. The Neon Asty is an offshoot from the old Asty, and the policy of its editor, M. Kaklamanos, is currently said to be, in a manner of the utmost simplicity, that of the opposite view. The policy of this Athenian publication reminds one of the musical accomplishments of the man who knew two tunes; one of which was "Old Hundred," and the other was n't! The Kairoi (The Times) is the oldest journal in Athens, although it dates back only to about 1875. The revenues of an Athenian journal are somewhat hampered from the fact that if a subscriber is also an advertiser, he expects his advertisements to be inserted free of charge. A corresponding method in America would involve a singular discrepancy in the counting-room, and would not tend to the cheerfulness of those who manipulate its finances. One of the evening papers of Athens is the Astrape, (Flash-of-Lightning), a title that would not be inappropriate to some of our particularly enterprising dailies in the United States. The Acropolis is one of the ablest and most reliable of morning papers in Athens, and is eagerly sought. Its editor, M. Gabrilides, is an authority on economics, and he cultivates a vital interest in the ethical problems of society at large. He is particularly well informed regarding economic and financial enterprises in foreign countries; and his information to date during the inception and early progress of the Panama Canal was singularly accurate and full, and presented in a dispassionate manner that made his journal a really greater authority on the matter than were many of the American journals.
A semi-monthly magazine, the Panathenaia, is a literary review with illustrations, and with much critical excellence. The Historical and Ethnological Society also issue a journal at irregular intervals, something after the manner of the publication of the "Journal of Speculative Philosophy" by its founder and editor, the late Hon. William Torrey Harris, whose distinction as being for many years the Superintendent of Public Instruction in the United States was second to his great distinction, both in his own country and in Europe, as the leading Hegelian of his time.
The Greeks do not share the prevailing taste for fiction, preferring of all literature that of history. Historical work occupies almost the same generally popular place in Greece that novels do in America. For the Americans are essentially a novel-reading nation, and one in which light fiction is more in demand than in any other country. Next to history, works of science are most in demand in Greece. Chemistry and medicine are the two branches in which the greatest interest is manifested, with jurisprudence as a close second to medicine. The proportion of physicians and lawyers to the population as a whole is so large that accurate statistics would seem wildly exaggerated. More of the young men go to Paris and Vienna for special study in these two professions than in any other line.
Modern Greece has produced no great novelist, although Spiridion Zampelios is a writer of distinction in the art of fiction. The scene of one of his works is laid in Crete, and the social panorama, with all its subtle values, is portrayed. M. Zampelios is also one of the most able of the translators among Greek men of letters. That rare gift of the divining power renders him an especially sympathetic translator, as was Longfellow. Among the well-known writers of the short story are Drosines, Karlavitzos, Ephthaliotis, and Xenoupoulos.
Few modern writers in Greece have equaled Spyridion Tricoupis, the author of an incomparable history of the Greek revolution. A monumental work is a History of the Greek Nation, in five large volumes, by M. Paparregopoulos, first published some twenty-five years ago, and of which over twenty thousand copies have been sold. Another notable Greek history is by Professor Lampros, and it has met with phenomenal success. The author is one of the most famous lecturers among the Greeks, and at his courses on medieval and other epochs of history the hall is crowded. Another learned and popular lecturer on historical themes is Professor Karolides, whose university lectures, though given to the students, also attract a large following of the citizens.
Biography, both in its completeness and in memoirs, receives much attention in the latter-day literature of Greece. The life of Gennadios Scholarios, the assumed name for the priesthood of George Kortesios, who will be remembered as the first patriarch after the conquest, and the priest of whom it is said that he might "have saved Constantinople from the Turks, but that he preferred to save Orthodoxy from Catholicism," has been written by Tryphon Evangelides, and ranks as among the most important works in biographical literature. The memoirs of Spyridon Pilikas and of Alexander Rhizos Rhangabe (written by his son) are among other notable works.
Philology is another favorite pursuit among Greek writers, who are never weary of discussing classical language; and the History of Greek Literature and Language by Professors Mistriotis and Kontors, the Greek Metres by Professor Semitelos, and work of this nature by M. Bikelas and M. Polites (the latter the editor of a Greek Conversational Lexicon), are all works that merit attention. M. Bikelas is a versatile author, who has made a name for himself as a poet, an essayist, a writer of fiction, and a translator, besides his contributions to philological scholarship.
There was a group of learned Greeks who were religious teachers and social reformers and intense patriots, rather than, in the strict sense, men of letters, and yet whom no attempt, however fragmentary, to comment on literary activities in Greece could omit. They were a group that stood for culture, for classical scholarship, and for moral ideals. They included the Patriarch Kortesios (Gennadios Scholarios), already mentioned, and Eparchos, George Gemistos, Laskaris, Mousouros, and others less known, who drew around them men enthusiastic in their devotion to new ideals of humanity and with a passion for reform. Of these George Gemistos, a native of Sparta, was attracted to a special study of Zoroaster. He assumed the name of Plethon (full), and de-voted himself to expounding the differences between Plato and Aristotle. He embraced the Platonic philosophy as the rule of political life, and he gave himself to profound study and teaching of ethics and sociological applications. Plethon's teaching came to the knowledge of Cosimo di' Medici, in Florence, and fascinated that powerful leader of Florentine life. The Platonic Academy in Florence, founded by Cosimo (il Vecchio), held its meetings in the famous Orti Oricellari, after the death of Lorenzo (il Magnifico), the site of which until within the past century could still be visited, the entrance being in the Via della Scala. Under Cosimo (Pater Patriae) the meetings of the Platonic Academy were among the most brilliant literary splendors of Florence. Although the grounds of the Orti Oricellari were sold to the Marquis General Venturi, and a new street cut across the site of the palace, the grottoes still remain in the garden, and a subterranean Pantheon may still be visited. Cosimo di' Medici and his school regarded Plethon as the greatest man of the fifteenth century. Plethon established a college of initiates and introduced some of the ancient rites of the Eleusinian Mysteries; but he incited the intense hostility of Gennadius Scholarios, and his comparatively early death closed the controversy.
The two men who are said to have created modern Greek literature are Koraes and Regas. They were not only literary, but political men, somewhat as Mr. Gladstone stood for both letters and statesmanship. Regas was born about the middle of the eighteenth century in Thessaly, and both Regas and Koraes were not only writers of incalculable influence, but are regarded as the two great leaders of the cause of political independence of Greece. In a biography of Regas the author says of his instruct-ors that in them was combined a love of letters with a love for country, and joining these two aspirations in all their teaching, they kept alive the national hopes. "The lives of these two men, could they be written," continues the biographer of Regas, "would be the secret inner history of the Greek people during the years of slavery, at a period when to the casual observation of strangers it seemed only a question of time before they would be merged into the race of the conqueror and all individuality wiped out." Regas was, indeed, a felicitous combination of the seer and the reformer. He had the infinite strength, as irresistible as it is enduring, of a profound inner conviction of the reality of divine decrees. He believed in God and the divine law. In accordance with this law must life be lived, and all efforts carried forward. Regas was the Sir Galahad of his time.
"His strength was as the strength of ten Because his heart was pure."
His poetry was inspired by the purest and the most intense patriotism, and by his lofty conceptions of destiny. He was thus easily first of the modern national poets. His character reveals itself in his words to the Bey Parvanoglou, whom he set free, and to whom he said: "Do not fear, friend, either the menaces or the armies of any tyrant. You will have the help of that God who hears every day the groaning of myriads of men, beholds their tears, and who will not leave evil doers unchastened. He who is inspired to resist tyranny, and is moved with the desire to set free any of God's creatures, — to take them out of the power of impious tyrants, lo! God is with him; then, what need he fear?" Like most heroes, Regas was also a. martyr, and in the midst of his enthusiasm for devising plans to liberate Greece, he fell into the hands of the Austrians and was imprisoned at Trieste. Shortly after, the Austrian Government put him in the hands of the Turks. There were few deliberations or delays, and in 1798 he was put to death by a Turkish decree. But the Hellenic ideal for which he lived and died could not be extinguished. The last words of Regas were: "I have sown the needful seed; the day of fruition is not distant."
The keynote of Greek inspiration as ex-pressed in poetic form is almost invariably that of religious feeling or of an intense and romantic patriotism. The poetry of sentiment, of interpretation of nature, or the poetry of love, in the highest personal sense, is far less known in Greek literature. This is a curious and a very striking fact, which is indefinitely suggestive of character. The strongest emotions of the Hellenes seem to be awakened by deeds of daring. The neo-Hellenic literature owes its origin, indeed, to the struggle of the nation and the church combined, to liberate Greece from the Turkish rule. The impulse to wrest Greece from this domination by Turkey assumed the two-fold form of an enthusiasm for general education, funds for which church and people united to provide, and in the lofty poetic expression, known as the Klephtic.
"The picture presented by Greek activities between the sixteenth and the nineteenth centuries shows these prominent points," says Dr. Drakoules. "A vigorous and well-regulated university at Constantinople, under the aegis of the patriarchate, sets the example of founding schools in various parts of the Greek world. An endless series of publications on all subjects, and especially editions of classic authors with a view to their ideas, not restricted to grammar, as hitherto, engenders a craving for reading; and probably to that cause is due the fact that the modern Greeks, after the Anglo-Saxons, are the most voracious readers. A class of learned and ardent men, who from interpreters of the Sultan become hospodars or princes of the Danubian dominions of the Porte, having thus, in the graphic expression of Rangaves, `fashioned a scepter out of their own chains,' found colleges and academies in which the best of the Greeks have taught; they translate foreign works, collect libraries, and speak invariably in the purest Greek possible. These are the Faniarotes, so called from Fanari, the then fashionable suburb of Constantinople, and the seat of the patriarchate after the conquest. During this period nearly every Greek town could boast of an efficient college, and the men whom these colleges produced exercised a very great influence on the moral tone of the nation. They inspired in it a principle of self-help, which replaced the old Byzantine disposition of laissez-faire. By their earnestness, initiative and faith, they succeeded in transforming within two generations the mode of thought of their race. A refreshing current of idealism permeated the Greek world through their exertions."
The death of Regas only intensified the ardor of the Greeks for wider knowledge and for freedom. The effect is seen to be so marked, indeed, that it recalls to the student of this period the lines from Emily Dickinson:
"A death-blow is a life-blow to some;
The influence of the man after withdrawal from the physical world is often far more effective. So it was with that of Regas. Another school of instructors and inspirers at once sprang up. Eminent among them were Bardalachos, Konstandas, Proios, Photiades, Gennadius, Philippides, Doukas, and Psallidas. Like the war troubadours of another age and another clime, they went about, not singing songs, but lecturing in the colleges at Janina, Corfu, Smyrna, Salonica, Adrianopolis, Larissa, and other places; inculcating with brilliant energy and unfaltering purpose the highest ideals of liberty, equality, national brotherhood, — the absolute fraternity of one hope, one faith; and "all the sceptered spirits of the past" seemed to unite in their efforts. The impassioned love of liberty that has characterized the Greeks from the days of Pericles to the present time, has been unintermittent, unbroken, unchanged, unless it were to glow with a constantly renewed ardor, through all the centuries.
Among this group of the new teachers of the age, and greatest among them, was Koraes. His name stands resplendent in the history of modern Greece. His work was twofold, for the purity of the language, and for the moral elevation of life. Two schools of language followed the national movement in literary activity: that of the Purists, who aimed to restore the classical tongue, and that of the Romaic (vernacular), which has never been taught, from that day to this, but which is universally spoken, and has been evolved as the romance languages have been evolved from the Latin. This Romaic may be considered as on parallel lines with the modern European languages, and only the fact that no great writers have arisen to employ it and embalm it in a literature has prevented its taking the same place in Greece that the language bearing the stamp of Dante and his school has taken in Italy. But the efforts to adapt it to contemporary literature have been too inconsequential to achieve that purpose. Koraes considered that the classical purity of the language went hand in hand and was inseparable from the moral elevation of the race. The prevailing national sentiment of the Greeks has always agreed with the convictions of Koraes. It has been the aim, never for a moment obscured, to imitate the classical writers, and to keep alive and in constant use their diction. In this fastidious demand the Greeks had a worthy modern successor in Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes. "The wonderful instrument, the great organ, language," was to him the same transcendent and all-important vehicle. "An artist who works in marble or colors has them all to himself and his tribe," said Dr. Holmes; "but the man who moulds his thought in verse has to employ the materials vulgarized by everybody's use, and glorify them by his handling. I don't know that you must break any bones in a poet's mechanism before his thought can dance in rhythm,," continued the Autocrat, "but read your Mil-ton and see what training, what patient labor, it took before he could shape our common speech into his majestic harmonies." Elsewhere Dr. Holmes has declared that he always thought it natural that any celestial message should demand a language of its own, "only to be under-stood by divine illumination," and in this faith he was at one with the Greeks. The relation of literature and language is hardly more identical that that of language and life. When a nation's current literary expression in the daily press and in the concoctions under the guise of fiction degenerates into the language of hoodlums, a corresponding degeneration of the general life can hardly be escaped. A people's language is the unerring touchstone of its quality of life. All who uphold and long to perpetuate and still further exalt noble standards will sympathize with the Greeks in their appreciation of the beauty and dignity of the ancient diction. Such attraction does it possess for the cultivated people that for more than forty years past they have adopted it for use in the schools, in the universities, in Parliament, in the language of all the state departments, and for exclusive use in the pulpit and in religious teaching. This fidelity is largely due to the influence of Koraes. The common literary dialect that was much in vogue at the beginning of the nineteenth century, a dialect greatly influenced by the Romaic, was taken by Koraes as the basis of his efforts for the reformation to classic standards. So influential were his efforts that a little resume of his personal life cannot fail to interest all who trace this problem of language in Grecian history. Adamantios Koraes was a native of Smyrna, where he was born in 1748, the son of a merchant, and a grandson of a noted poet and scholar, Antonios Koraes. The youth received his early education at the Evangelical school in Smyrna, under the leadership of a priest, Hierotheos Dendrinos, of Ithaca. Adamantios Koraes became a doctor of medicine and took up his residence in Paris, where he became famous for his philosophic and philological works, and his splendid editorship of the classics. He was distinguished as a scholar; and his essential aim and purpose were the restoration and rebuilding of the Greek tongue.
"He based his reform not on any abstract principle but on a practical fact of linguistic science," says Dr. Drakoules, in allusion to this remarkable man, "and did within a few years what ordinary carefulness in speaking would only have done through ages. His school effected the reform, guided by the knowledge that the Greek language possesses a wealth of forms very intelligible to all and full of life, and therefore fit to replace the importations forced into it by historical events which reminded of days of ignorance and degradation. On the other hand its characteristic modernity in the analytical nature of construction was retained, because this is not a result of corruption, but a natural development of tendencies inherent in all language. Discrimination between what is corruption and what is development has been the guiding principle that restored the language to a form which is more classic and more elegant than the New Testament Greek, though less classic than Plutarch. This gift of discrimination is what those Greek philologists lack who, while there is no idealizing influence on the popular language such as Dante's was on the Italian speech," continues Dr. Drakoules, "want us to recognize certain forms and expressions which have no other claim on our attention except that they grew on the lips of people who have not had the opportunity to learn how to speak their own tongue. Just as modern art depends on classical models for its perfection, so the modern Greek language depends on the Attic dialect for purity. . . . The unreformed language resulting from want of proper education is still in use, but its area is decreasing every year, and it is dying out under the influence of good journalism, school and college lectures, political and other debates, sermons, and, not least, reading of foreign books, which are always translated into the reformed diction."
It must be kept in mind that this divergence of the Greek into the pure and the Romaic really began as early as the tenth century. The aspects of the struggle of to-day between the two forms is the evolutionary outcome, or, rather, continuance, for the final outcome is not even yet revealed. For Greece has a strong argument for the Romaic in the existence of a rich and forcible feature of the Klephtic poetry, in which the vernacular is enshrined with an undeniable charm and richness. This is a vigorous literary inheritance that cannot be ignored. Poets themselves give preference, so far as this school of modern Greek poetry is concerned, to the Romaic form in which it is given. The residence of Koraes in Paris continued through the period of the French Revolution, which he regarded as a crisis that owed its entire inspiration and controlling causes to Hellenism. To him it was the manifestation of a resolution to realize the ideals of Greece. To what degree is the present ideal of France in her watchword of "Liberté, Egalité, et Fraternité," indebted to Hellenic inspiration? The question is not without interest.
The Klephtic poetry was largely of Ionian origin. The most celebrated single poem is the Ode to Liberty of Dionysios Solomnos, who lived between 1798 and 1857, during which period he produced more than one volume of poetic work. He was born in Zante, of a family distinguished in Crete, and as a lad of ten years he was sent to Italy, where he was educated in. the Italian language, in which most of his early poems were written. Returning to his native country when a youth of twenty, he entered with unbounded enthusiasm and fervent patriotism into all that made for the national progress. His Ode to Liberty so mirrored the spirit of the Greek Revolution that the opening stanzas have been set to music and are the national song of Greece. This Ode' (translated by Florence MacPherson) consists of more than eighty stanzas.
For its motto Solomnos prefaced it with the lines from Dante:
"Libertà vo cantando, ch' è si cara
The opening stanzas are as follows:
"Well I know thee by the keen edge
"From the sacred ashes rising
"All thy land with gladness shouted
"And unto the clouds uplifted
The poet alludes to the United States in one stanza:
"Heartily with joy salute thee
And still another stanza in this lengthy poem runs:
"Dewy breezes of the morning,
Making all due allowance for the signal loss poetry must always sustain in translation, it is yet difficult to see in these stanzas anything quite justifying the enthusiasm they excite in Greece. Comparing this ode with the patriotic poems written by Lowell; the ever thrilling and fiery lyric The Present Crisis; the Commemoration Ode; and the vital songs of 'Whittier in the national stress and storm; to say nothing of other poets, American, English, German, French, Italian, . . . if one still further extends the field of comparison, the work of Solomnos seems less great than the estimation in which it is held. But the versification in another tongue is responsible for almost any poetic loss. It is said that in a poem entitled Lampros Solomnos revealed exceptional power, and an ode that he wrote on the death of Lord Byron at Missolonghi, in 1826, is much quoted in the latter-day Hellenic literature.
Constantine Kokkinakes, a poet who was born in Chios in 1781, and who lived until 1831, is the author of a famous War-Song, whose motif was the brotherhood of the Hellenes; and Andreas Kalvos, a native of Zante, born in 1790, is well known for a vivid Elegy on the Sacred Battalion.
"Never may storm-clouds
"But with her silvery tears
"Fortune that reft from you
"Hellenes of your birthland,
Two brothers, Alexander and Panagiotes Soutos, natives of Constantinople, and belonging to a distinguished Greek family, were both poets and men of letters, producing romances, drama, and lyric and narrative poems. The brothers were both educated in France and Italy, and their poetic work shows unmistakable influences of Beranger and Lamartine, and also of Byron. But they hold a distinctive place as the writers who initiated the romantic school in modern Greek literature. A poem entitled The Roumeliote Veteran, by the elder Soutos, closes with these lines :
"And through all, upraised to Heaven steadfastly our eyes. had we
But unto the tyrants never would we bow our neck or knee. You remember, O my comrades, will you keep in mind the story
Of our hero days of glory!"
A poem on the death of Miaoules, by Panagiotes Soutos, contains this stanza.
"Thou on our strand art buried, by the grave
Another poet of the century just passed was Alexander Rhizos Rhangabes, born in Constantinople in 1810, and who was educated in Germany. He has served Greece as envoy to Berlin, and besides his poetic work he has written much on education and archaeology, in which science he has distinguished himself as one of the authorities of his country.
George Zalakostas was born in Epirus, but educated in Italy, where his father removed in 1807, when the future poet was but three years of age. He became an officer in the Italian army, but died in 1857, at the age of fifty-three. His most important poem is called The Straits of Prevesa, and he did some notable work as a translator, the songs in Sir Bulwer Lytton's Last Days of Pompeii being among his translations.
Aristotle Valaorites, born in Leucadia in 1824, and educated at Corfu and in Paris, is ranked as the most typically national poet of modern Greece. He was a descendant of a noted Epirote captain, who enlisted under the standard of Venice to fight the Turks, and who afterward lived in the Ionian Isles, where he died in 1718. His grandson, the poet, never forgot his lineage, and was devoted to Epirus as his true fatherland, whose vigorous dialect he loved to employ in his poems, and whose general life, the life of the peasants, fishermen, and shepherds, he studied, that he might become their interpreter. "Above all," says his biographer, "Valaorites sought out and strove to reproduce the legends and records of the struggles of the armatoloi and klephts against the Turks. He was an enthusiast for `the Great Idea;' the dream of his life was that the Greeks should win back in a second war of liberation the whole inheritance of their fathers." He died in 1879, leaving several volumes of his works, the most important of which bears the title of Mnemosyna. One of his most ambitious poems has for its theme a tragic episode at the court of Ali Pasha.
Dr. Theodore Aphentoules, a Cretan, and later a professor in the University of Athens, is especially the interpreter of Crete in song. He was born in 1835 and died in 1893, leaving a high reputation as a savant and a patriot, as well as of a poet with much claim to distinction, In his connection with the University of Athens he united the chairs of medicine and botany.
Achilles Paraschos is a genuine Athenian, born and educated in Athens, who has been one of the most popular poets in Greece for the past forty years.
George Drosines is another of the poets whose lyrics are highly regarded in Athens, and who has written much prose in the way of stories, sketches, and folklore. Among his best-known lyrics are The Fortune Teller, The Osier Bough, Snows, and some personal poems of an order not common in Greek poetry.
Perhaps the best English translations of modern Greek are those by Elizabeth Mayhew Edmonds and by Florence MacPherson, both of whom are highly commended by Dr. Drakoules. This eminent Greek also commends the poems of Achilles Paraschos for their spirit, originality, and strong nationalism. Dr. Drakoules points out that the ceremonial rites of the church play a great part in the work of this poet, and he quotes the first lines (in translation) of a poem addressed to the Virgin:
"Within thy quiet church I come again,
Two Greek poets who died in early youth, Dimitrios Paparegopoulos (a son of the distinguished historian) and Spiridion Vassiliades, both lyrists, have left a pathetic promise of genius unfulfilled. Dr. Drakoules regards Vassiliades as being somewhat akin to Euripides in the quality of his dramatic talent. "One of the sweetest of natural singers," says Dr. Drakoules, "was Elias Tantalides, a native of Constantinople, who was deprived of his eye-sight when quite young. There is no tone of discontent or impatience in the large number of poems that he wrote, which reflect a gentle disposition. A stanza from his Hymn to May may be cited as a single instance of regret. His remembrance of bygone days, when he was able to see and gather flowers in the early hours of Mayday, embitters his feeling so as to call his present life `a wretched existence instead of a desirable death,' yet in that very stanza he describes his calamity as ` divinely ordained,' and the last word of the lines embodies his philosophical interpretation of it as a heaven-sent chastisement. Tantalides was one of the most learned of men of the age," continues Dr. Drakoules, "and lectured in the Theological College of Chalke at Constantinople, to the end of his long life."
One of the most perfect lyrists that Greece has produced is George Vizienos, whose charming little picture of a spring evening in Athens, translated by Mrs. Edmonds, is as follows :
"The sun to the west declining
"The owlet her cry beginneth
"A comely flock descendeth
"With their ditty the pipe doth mingle
"See the lake where the sturdy fishers
"With the strong oar's measured beating
"When the pale moon forthwith lavishly,
"And the stars, their looks down-bending,
The island of Cephalonia has the distinction of producing the most notable humorists of Greece, the most famous of whom is Andreas Laskaratos. There are, too, a group of younger poets, whose work gives promise, among whom are Strateges, Kambyses, Stephanou, Polemes, Mano, Zetouniates, Palamas, and others.
Athens has not lost her classic love for poetry. Homer called the divine Athena of the Parthenon "the goddess of many thoughts;" and the poetic expression of thought is now, as then, held in reverence. The art of poetry is encouraged by the University of Athens, and is fostered by competitions, and by prizes offered by citizens. But the latest poetic expression reveals a tendency to contemplation and to philosophic speculation which is a result of the growing influence of Western ideals. The production of dramatic poetry is not very great, although Rhangabes, Zampelius, and Angelos Vlachos have all made some contribution to the creative drama; but more notable than these is the enthusiasm for translating great foreign masterpieces, as plays from Shakespeare, rendered with singular artistic perfection by Demetrios Bikelas, and the translation of Faust by Probelegios.
Athens, as studied in this second decade of the twentieth century, still maintains herself as the city of genius whom Pindar celebrated as "the city brilliant, immortal, violet-crowned, like the Muses and the Graces."