by Frangiski Ambatzopoulou

As published in In Focus, Vol. 11, No 1, March 2014 

In the following study I will examine the unpublished literary translations of a great personality of Cyprus, Christodoulos Galatopoulos, who was best known as the mayor of Paphos and the founder of the Palamas celebrations in Cyprus, and less so as the creator of a voluminous and important poetic work.

Galatopoulos is considered a prison writer because most of his published and unpublished work was produced in incarceration, including the monumental poetic composition of 10,000 fifteen-syllable verses, World Song, which was published in 2004 through the efforts of Michalis Pieris and Stamatia Laoumtzi.1 During that time Galatopoulos also wrote the poems of his first collections, prose fiction, and a substantial number of essays on politics and economics. In prison he also worked systematically in translation.

These translations are part of Galatopoulos’ creative undertaking during the five-year term that he served at Nicosia Central Prison, from December 1931 to 1936, as a result of his action in the 1931 October Uprising against colonial rule. They include the entirety of Milton’s Paradise Lost (only Part I was published in 1939 by Govostis Publications, accompanied by an extensive introduction and commentary), poems by Byron (The Prisoner of Chillon, and excerpts from Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and The Curse of Minevra), Shelley’s Adonaïs, Daphnaïda by the Elizabethan Edmund Spenser, sonnets by Elizabeth Browning, Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” and Edgar Allan Poe’s “Ulalume.”

These prison works, written in leather-bound notebooks in blue pencil since the use of ink was forbidden in prison, were donated by his grandson and heir to the Cultural Centre of the University of Cyprus. They include his unpublished translations, which were kindly made available to me for the purposes of the present work by the Center’s Director, Professor Michalis Pieris.

The poet and the translator

The work of Galatopoulos has generated conflicting reviews and has not yet received, in my opinion, the recognition it deserves. His poetry collections published between 1936 and 1939 were looked upon with great reservations by Greek critics – Spandonides, Paraschos, Rodhas – and criticised for a sloppy style and verbosity.2 Similarly negative views were recently put forth by Kehagioglou and Papaleontiou in History of Modern Cypriot Literature, where Galatopoulos’ writing is described as “carelessly written, longwinded and blustering,” his language as exceedingly sophisticated, boisterous and exoteric, while his poetic composition World Song that – due to a difficult to explain oversight is referred to as World Epic – is deemed “overestimated by researchers.”3 I note here that non-Greek Neo-Hellenists have expressed admiration precisely for Galatopoulos’ language and for his great word formation skill.

An examination of issues related to his translation choices such as whose work he translated, the purpose of these translations, his translation theory and practice  – issues that Galatopoulos addresses, as translators usually do, in the foreword of Milton’s Paradise Lost – has led me to the conclusion that his translation work, beyond its actual aesthetic value, prompts new questions and a reconsideration of his entire literary endeavour.

In the preface he states, for example, that his goal had been fidelity and that he avoided Pallis’ choices in his translation of The Iliad, where many liberties were taken with the original: “I have strived to render the text almost verse by verse […] he gave a translation, which tries to wrap itself into the framework allowed by the text.”4 Yet, in the same preface, he deeply ponders, as a result of Milton, the relationship between poetry and politics, even poetry as a mystical experience of revolutionary messages, prophetic and messianic, inspired by powerful emotions.

The following note in the margins of the unpublished manuscript of the translation of Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage is also indicative of his approach to translation and artistic creation: “Only Great Pain and Great Anguish enable me to work better; I mean especially in poetry. Today was one of those days. The disappointment of not being able to see my loved ones, as I had hoped, has given me this translation of Childe Harold and others. June 3, 1933.”

Prison writings 

Within the limited space of this paper, I will not reflect on his translation work from an aesthetic standpoint, but from the standpoint of the history of ideas and of cross-cultural relations.

Within this scope, I begin with the observation that Galatopoulos (1902-1953), whilst imprisoned by the British for his action in the October Uprising, translated English poets in parallel to writing original poetry and studies against British colonialism politics. Was this particular pursuit motivated by a love of English poets  – a sentiment shared by the important Greek-speaking poets of his time – or by an agenda for intellectual and political action? Some evidence in support can be found primarily in a rare document  – an until recently unpublished autobiographical prison chronicle written in English immediately after his release – a translation in Greek of which was published last year under the title In the Flames of the Governorate.5  This text prompts a reconsideration of not only Galatopoulos’ personality and activity during the 1931 uprising and his long imprisonment, but also of many other issues related to the political, cultural and literary history of Cyprus, including the island’s inter-communal relations during British rule.

An examination of the entire body of his prison writings –  a large portion of which is purely political, i.e. proposals to the English Governor mainly on economic issues –  clearly indicates that Galatopoulos was concerned both with poetry and politics. In any case, his interest in politics began immediately after his return from England. In 1926, at the age of 24, he was elected to Parliament and published a political newspaper while, before leaving for prison, he made sure to bring along with him not only poetry books but also books on politics. What Galatopoulos wrote during incarceration differs greatly from what the poet Tefkros Anthias wrote in prison, also in 1932. Anthias wrote prison memoirs (published in the newspaper Proini in 1937, and this year in a book)6 that led me to the writings of another famous prisoner, Antonio Gramsci, and his views on hegemony, subjugation and hetero-determination that formed the basis for post-colonial literary theory.

The Rosicrucianism of Christodoulos Galatopoulos

In my search for keys to Galatopoulos’ spiritual development, I was struck by one particular piece of information: Upon his return from England to Paphos, he founded a Rosicrucian lodge named “Diogenes,” which remained in operation until 1930. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any relevant information in his records. I did discover, however, that the Cinyras Lodge had been operating in Paphos since 1923 – it was one of the many Masonic lodges, which flourished in Cyprus after the British occupation of 1878. Evidence of the existence of lodges can be traced as far back as the 17th century, but they were banned by the Church.7  The Cyniras Lodge was founded by Dr. Ioannis Karageorgiades, a protagonist in the history of Cypriot lodges of this period and a founding member of most.8

The important element for my research, however, was that in 1925 Ioannis Karageorgiades published a translation of Milton’s Paradise Lost in katharvousa and in prose.9 A careful reading of the prefaces that Karageorgiades and Galatopoulos wrote about their respective translations reveals fundamental differences of opinion.

Karageorgiades interprets the struggle of Satan and of God’s fallen angels according to the official Christian view, which disallows any sympathy for them. On the contrary, Galatopoulos, who utilizes an extremely rich English and French bibliography in his analysis of this epic poem, considers Satan a rebel against an omnipotent authority and adopts Hippolytus Taine’ interpretation, which sees Milton’s Satan as the hero of the lost paradise and God as the power of the oppressive and unjust reign of Charles I. It is also quite telling that, according to his autobiographical chronicle, Galatopoulos recited the verses of the wronged and rebellious Satan in prison.

I would dare speculate that even the establishment of the Rosicrucian lodge was an expression of Galatopoulos’ rebellious attitude toward those he calls in his chronicle the “local cliques” and British collaborators, as well as toward the official Church – although he maintained relationships of respect and friendship with many members of the clergy. Moreover, it is certain that Rosicrucianism, which brought together many European poets, was based on very different principles to the Masonic lodges, which operated under the auspices of the Grand Lodge in Greece and England and where the primary goal was the insertion of their members into already structured networks and the facilitation of their relationships with the British “owing to the programmatic principles of brotherhood, social equality, and religious freedom.”10

The Rosicrucian fraternities of Europe at the beginning of the 20th century had a more spiritual program, which was more appealing to artists. According to the outstanding study by Frances Yates, the secret Rosicrucian societies or fraternities of the 17th century were Christian associations that selected a way of thinking akin to occult philosophy. Already since the Renaissance “the union of religious vision with the scientific took the form of that curiously dynamic alchemical movement, with symbolism more fitting to a living religious experience compared to the Aristotelian doctrines on form and matter.”11 As Christopher Macintosh observes, the Rosicrucians sought to improve the world through a combination of economic reform, enlightened education, and spiritual health for the attainment of inner perfection.12 Their members led a reformist vision, which included all facets of human activity, while the teachings of the theoreticians of Rosicrucianism inspired poets like Shelley, Yates, Rilke, and our own Sikelianos, as well as people with revolutionary political action such as the Englishman John Hargrave.13

Galatopoulos writes in prison: “I was overtaken by a feeling of pantheistic love, which awakened the old Rosicrucian philosophy within my soul. I returned to my cell feeling calm and relatively contented. I read some of the poem “The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot, who is one of my favourite poets…” (Ibid. p. 199)

The translations: the poetic politics of universalism

At first glance, the poetic and translation work of Galatopoulos seems to seek the joining of the Cypriot region with the literary tradition of the ethnic center by adopting the language of Solomos and Palamas. However, his decision to translate English poets points me in a different direction. I am under the impression that he places his translations within a body of work where national boundaries are shifted and expanded to supranational.

Here Galatopoulos diverges from Post-colonial theorists, according to whom the writings of the colonized seek to challenge, undermine and overthrow colonial rule by expressing the desire for liberation from the occupier and by advancing nationalism in their own original works.14

In his intellectual, mystical and poetic pursuits, however, Galatopoulos deviates from this line and undermines British rule by other means. With his choices in his original works such as World Song and in his translations, he literally proposes a scheme wherein the relationship between colonialist and colonized is placed on new ground, which requires the utilization of the Greek Cypriots’ cultural identity and their connection to ancient Greek culture through millennia, and looks to a history that includes not only Greece but also other ancient neighbouring civilizations. In his poetry, Galatopoulos amasses an arsenal from ancient, English and world literature and mythology, and constructs a complex and extremely rich symbolic matrix of myths, archetypes and traditions that he integrates into his own vision.

In his prison chronicle, which addresses British readers, Galatopoulos regularly emphasizes their debt to Hellenic culture. He adorns his narration with quotations from Byron’s poems about Greece and from Shelley’s lyrical drama Hellas, in whose preface the English romantic poet wrote the famous phrase “We are all Hellenes.”15

In this autobiographical text Galatopoulos is seen reciting Homeric verses and Cypriot folk songs. English and Greek poems coexist, creating a framework for the alternative management of the issues of locality and of an ethnically oriented poetry beyond the ethnic norm.

He writes: “Oh! How many times, while walking among the sacred ruins of the temple (The Temple of Aphrodite in Palepaphos, Kouklia), have I chanced upon broken hydrias and clay pigeons. Oh! How many times have I whispered, with my lips between the cyclopean ruins, the following verses from Byron’s poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, crowning my melancholic thoughts in this way.” (Ibid. p. 122)

And while in prison: “Oh! I have read a few verses from Adonaïs! Sweet Keats has come to mind. How many times have I recited Adonaïs and cried ‘Hellas’ out loud!” (Ibid, p 230).

Cyprus, Greece, the World

The translations that Galatopoulos crafted in prison were enlisted in the same undertaking, albeit from the opposite direction. Here, he does not demonstrate to the British their debt to Greece, but wishes to demonstrate to the Greeks how deeply indebted their oppressors are to Hellenic culture. In this way, in my opinion, he is attempting to bring universality to locality.

The undermining of British rule through the work of English poets constitutes the political action of utmost importance that also drives his translations. And in proposing an epic poem like Paradise Lost to Greek readers, he also opens the road for his own World Song.

In World Song, which he wished to see translated into other languages, it is certainly not by accident that the modern Cypriot Prometheus  – a populist revolutionary and opponent of authority, which is represented by the supreme ruler Jupiter  – meets not only Aeschylus’ Prometheus, but also Milton’s Satan, as well as Goethe’s Prometheus, and especially Percy Bysshe Shelley’s unbound Prometheus, as well as the Prometheus of the French Rosicrucian Joséphin Péladan. Contrary to all previous incarnations, Galatopoulos’ Prometheus spreads his wings in a broader horizon of a popular uprising against authority and every type of oppression and political corruption.

Yet, he simultaneously cultivates an image of the poet-prophet, for whom the mystical experience – as he writes somewhere – is equivalent to the poetic. His Messianism brings him close, not so much to Palamas, but to Sikelianos and Empirikos.

In my opinion, Galatopoulos’ use of Demotic Greek does not demonstrate the tendency for verbosity for which he is reproached, rather his belief in the alchemy of the verse of an Rimbaud that is exhibited more clearly in his translations of Coleridge and Poe, where he literally tries to build a dream atmosphere, a world of mystical visions with words such as πυρόφλογος (fiery-blazed), πυροφωτοχυμένος (fire-light cascade), μυριόγλωσσος (one thousand-tongued), ομιχλολάμψη (spark of fog), αστρομάνα (star-mother), ονειρόκοσμος (dream world), στερνοσύγνεφο (lastcloud), δασοδρόσι (forestdew), etc.

The same atmosphere also prevails in his own poetry, which is often dark because he believes in spontaneous and genuine inspiration – he repeatedly states that he had wanted to rework his translations but not his poems, because this element would be lost. Visionary, messianic, rebellious, deeply symbolic, and closer to Rilke than to Palamas, Galatopoulos converts – within an utopian vision – the relationship of mutual competition between colonizers and colonized into one of universal brotherhood where Homerian verses, Cypriot folk songs, and the Greece of Shelley and Byron deliver the “Greatest lesson.”

He writes the following in his prison chronicle: “I tried whistling a Cypriot folk song. I tried whispering some of my favourite verses from Lord Byron’s poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage… In my cell I started reciting verses from Shelley’s Hellas. From the other cells prisoners began shouting out, urging me to continue more clearly so that they, too, could enjoy them.” (Ibid. p. 104)

Translated by Irena Joannides


1. Christodoulos Galatopoulos, World Song, Philological Supervision: Michalis Pieris-Stamatia Laoumtzi, Cyprus 2004.
2. Biographical notes and reviews on his work are included in the study by Ant. I. Soteriades, Christodoulos Galatopoulos (1902-1953), Freedom Fighter-Poet, Paphos, 1993. Especially useful is also the tribute to Galatopoulos published in the magazine Kypriakos Logos, no. 9, 51-52, May-August 1977. See also the study by Costas M. Proussis, Subjects and Personalities of Cypriot Literature, Cultural Foundation of the Bank of Cyprus, 1990, pp. 171-179.
3. Giorgos Kehagioglou-Lefteris Papaleontiou, History of Modern Cypriot Literature, Center for Scientific Research, Nicosia 2010, p. 329.
4. Milton’s Paradise Lost, Volume I. Translation into Demotic Greek in fifteen-syllable verse with an introduction to Milton and explicatory notes: Chr. Galatopoulos, Govotsis Publications, Athens [1939-1940].
5. Christodoulos Galatopoulos, In the Flames of the Governorate. The Unpublished Diary of Christodoulos Galatopoulos about the October Uprising of 1931. Introduction and editorial supervision: Andreas Cl. Sophocleous, En Typois Publications, Nicosia 2011.
6. Tefkros Anthias, How I lived for Eighteen Months in the Central Prison. Introduction-Editorial Supervision: Andreas Cl. Sophocleous, En Typois Publications, Nicosia 2011.
7. G.P. Papacharalambous, “Masonry in Cyprus from the Middle of the 18th Century.” Cypriot Studies, Volume 31, 1967, pp. 83-92.
8. Ioannis Karageorgiades presents important information in his book Studies on Masonry, Limassol, Cyprus, 1926. Christoforos Tornarites, Speech in the Souvenir Album of the Celebratory White Conference of April 10, 1923, in Limassol, Cyprus, on the Masonic Jubilee of Hon. Bro. Ioannes G. Karageorgiades 33, published by Chr. G. Tornarites, MD, Kyrikas Press.
9. Milton, Paradise Lost, Translation: Ioannis G. Karageorgiades, MD, Limassol, Cyprus, publisher Georgios Ch. Ypsilantis, 1925.
10. See Elias Hadjipanayiotis-Sangmeister, Masonry in 18th Century Greek Society and Letters, Periplous, Athens 2010, p. 100.
11. See Frances Yates, Rosicrucian Ill, Translation: Yiannis Kastanaras, Koukkida, Athens 2010, p. 369.
12. Christopher Macintosh, The Rosicrucians: The History, Traditions, and Rituals of an Esoteric Order, Translation: Dem. Polychronis, Pyrinos Cosmos, Athens 1999.
13. See the wonderful study by Elli Philokyprou, “Under the shadow of the Logos of the Creator,” Syngrisi, 6 (1995), pp. 54-77.
14. Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture, Routledge, London 1994.
15. P.B. Shelley, Hellas (1821), bilingual publication, Translation: M. Byron Raizis, Syllogos Pros Diadosi Ofelimon Vivlion, Athens 1987.







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