by Andreani Eliophotou
As published in Volume 9, No 1, March. 2012
The shocking historical paradox of the 20th century that took place in Cyprus – the expulsion of Cypriot Hellenism from its land in 1974, purportedly at a time of human rights, with the contribution of the Metropolitan Hellenism and during an era of Independence, driven out from where it had been rooted and had lived for three millennia oppressed by a long line of conquerors – has dismembered us both psychically and physically, and slashed our time in two, as we experienced its destruction and consequences, the defeat, the death, the barbarity, the uprooting, and the shame of treason.
However paradoxical this was not inexplicable, for it was nothing but the outcome, the last of the recurring crises, which followed the formation of the Republic of Cyprus in 1960. In reality, the Republic of Cyprus, in the eyes of those who would have implemented it, emerged as a given, un-justified State, founded on manifest injustice. This meant an unprecedented devaluation of justice – devaluation in the sense described by Professor Leonidas Georgakopoulos: “This constitution was instituted, interpreted, implemented – as much as it was implemented – and indicted for lacking even the most rudimentary serious study of the conditions and consequences of its institution, interpretation, institution or reversion.” This was a first contradiction. The second was subsequent to the first – since we had not realized that freedom was no more than the awareness of our limitations – was the unilateral, on the part of Cyprus, indictment of the Agreements, which in turn proved golden, despite the unequivocal disagreement of Greece, in other words the first dissension between the two countries: Greece and Cyprus, between the Nation and the State.
This dissension constituted, according to historian and ethnologist Theodoros Papadopoulos, the sharpest intellectual of post-war Cyprus, the crisis of Cypriot conscience. In his article of the same name, published in 1964, where he defines the meaning, the historical reason, and the consequences of this crisis, he writes: “The contradictory, toward Metropolitan Hellenism, crisis of Cypriot conscience could have fatal historical consequences as the recent developments of the Cyprus problem have shown, for they have revealed sample of the perils to which a politically small unit is exposed upon entering the complex and hazardous system of international relations without political or technical experience. This constitutes a serious enough reason for Cypriot leaders and people to face the reality of this contradiction and its perils, to see it as an indivisible part of the entire political problem and to make their goal its elimination through the crystallization of a unified and consistent political stance toward Metropolitan Hellenism.”
Of course, intellect wields little influence on political behavior in the Hellenic world, especially when in Greece a military dictatorship ruled, and in Cyprus a charismatic Despot.
The dissension escalated into a violent opposition, a civil conflict with the well-known results. The above introduction was offered here as a very brief explanatory framework of the events.
Before we attempt to outline how Cypriot literature has recorded the traumatic experience of 1974, we offer the following initial observations:
(a) Cypriot literature during the last 50 years has yielded a much richer poetic harvest than prose, especially after 1974;
(b) We will not offer characterizations and distinctions on the literary generation of each decade, as is the method that is typically followed by certain specialized researchers of our literature;
(c) In order to give unity and depth to our effort we will look at this related literary production through certain basic parameters or logical categories, such as familiar place and geographical stigma, time as historical continuity and cultural identity, and human ethos as the defining characteristic of the times. Of course, we will also look at how the art of the language – the most universal of the arts and “more philosophic than history” according to Aristotle – transcends the tragedy of 1974 in the intellectual arena.
While history typically focuses on the important things, literature is interested in both small and large, preserving the human adventure directly and indirectly.
Historical events have defined the content, style, technique and methodology of Cypriot writing, poetry and prose, since they have given it an individualit and an identity that Pitsa Galazi calls “the locality of its Hellinicity.”
The decade of the Independence yields a rich literary harvest, which includes our classics I would say, within a climate of collective action, enthusiasm, elation and multifaceted ascent: social, economic and artistic. Poets and prose writers of the pre-independence period such as Costas Montis, Manos Kralis, Theodosis Pierides, Kypros Chrysanthis, Yiorgos Philippou-Pierides, or Lina Solomonidou continue to create alongside new poets such as Theoklis Kouyialis, Phivos Stavrides, Sofocles Lazarou, Pantelis Mechanikos, Andreas Pastelas, and along prose writers such as Panos Ioannides, Evi Meleagrou, Rina Katselli and Yiannis Katsouris.
Meanwhile, in the above-mentioned recurring crises, prematurely matured new poets move Cypriot poetry forward with a quick pace and with contemplative and lyrical verses: Michalis Pashiardis, Anthos Lykavgis, Kyriakos Charalambides, Pitsa Galazi, Theodosis Nikolaou, Costas Michaelides, Kyriakos Plisis, Costas Vasiliou, among many others.
The unrelenting crises and threats imbue the atmosphere with insecurity, volatility, anxiety and stress, awakening a sense of grave danger, the analgesia of death:
Now at the heads of our beds fever has settled
Now at the heads of our beds death has leaned
We are at the doorstep of Asia
Under our touch we feel the stone
-Costas Montis, First Letter to Mother, 1965
Here, along with his fears, the poet palpates the historical fate of Cypriot Hellenism, which is defined by its stigma on the geopolitical map. Situated between three continents and surrounded by empires (Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, Arabs, Ottomans, British), Cyprus is separated from Metropolitan Hellenism, and even though it finds itself at the mercy of any and every conqueror, it manages to preserve its Hellenic identity for centuries. As heavy, coarse and cruel as a boulder is the historical fate of Cypriot Hellenism – the place of conflict between History and Geography is Cyprus. Hellenism has survived for millennia holding onto the vision of History, albeit simultaneously subjugated to Geography. Its fate culminates on July and August 1974, when the land is ruined at the foundations: dead, missing, uprooting, destruction, barbarism, defeat, shame and humiliation for the entire Hellenism.
“Out of explosions of bombs the verses were leaping,” Costas Montis tells us. “Embittered within the self.” The poor, suffering land deposits its calamity in poetry.
Along with the direct rendition and recreation of the horrific and dreadful – in works such as “Taste of death,” “Tanks,” “Writing of anguish,” “Liturgy of the Dead Present,” “Refugee in my own land” – the Cypriot writer also recognizes our responsibility for the events and indicts, depositing his/her testimony against the moral decay of the post-independence period in the first person plural: the hypocrisy, the individualism, the selfishness, the sellout mentality of the post independence society. Two works of prose published in 1975, the collection of short stories by Yiorgos Philippou-Pierides Time of Wealth, and the novella by Andis Rhoditis Nouvordia, skillfully render these characteristics. In Nouvordia, the ironically derogatory onomatopoeia of Cyprus, the writer records with comical hyperbolae the flattery that had been elevated to a science.
“Poetry and prose,” Nikos Orfanides notes, “which Cyprus deposits at a blistering pace after 1974, moves within the axes of the historical ‘vision’ and disillusionment – elements that penetrate the tragedy of our existence as a peripheral and exiled Hellenism of suffering, and the slaughter in the place of history.”
Consequently, the themes of Cypriot literature center and insist on the place of history and of the historical ordeal.
In the meantime, new poetic voices emerge: Nikos Orfanides, Lefkios Zafiriou, Clairie Angelidou, Mona Savvidou-Theodoulou, Antonis Pillas, and many others. But the most tragic figure of the calamity is the country itself: the mutilated body of Cyprus transposes the traumatic incision onto the human body, more consciously and more harshly so in poetry; poetry feels this trauma as an incision in time and in historical continuity:
“We have no history,
it has been choked by waves of pirates
we have no statues,
foreigners take them as booty.”
-Louis Perentos, (Anthology of Cypriot Writers, Poetry, page 93)
or “the wall of history has collapsed. And now we are homeless.”
– Leap Years, Kypros Chrysanthis
Poetry also experiences the incision as a metastasis in space with the unreachable, the loss of familiar surroundings, and the inescapability of death in the dead zone, which severs Cyprus in two. We finally come to the realization that we are “present absentees” in our own land, as Heraclitus would say.
And so poetry serves in preserving the memory of familiar spaces, in filling the void, and in the verification of ethnic identity by plunging memory into historical time. The names of things, towns, villages and mountains, and toponyms operate in poetry’s utopic realms, condensing their meaning, action and three-thousand-year old history, turning them into myth and symbol. This is how Costas Montis sees Pentadactylos making a hand-gesturing, or how Clairie Angelidou loves the mountain as a beloved son, while Kyriakos Plisis demands at the end of “Writing of Anguish”:
May they be remembered
Akamas, Aipia, Soloi, Lampousa
Lapithos, Kyrenia, Chytroi, Afrodision
Urania, Achaion Akti, Salamis.
Bound by barbed wire, the city of Famagusta will be equated with the Kavafian city “Such as this city has become it follows us” (George Moleskis, Diavazo Magazine, “Tribute to Cypriot Literature,” September 2009, Issue 499). And from a place of mourning it finally becomes immortalized as The Reigning City, as a historical reality, free and alive in the souls of its people. And Kyrenia will live again “Through the mouths of Elders.” Love for the land shines ubiquitously, becoming worship, religion, and erotic union in wonderful verses.
Our land, a bow on the open sea
a love embrace has opened
between two mountains a hammock
an island shell that resounds the voices of Homer.
– “Cracks,” Costas Michaelides
Prose also radiates the love for the land “through a poetic sense of time-space” according to Alexis Ziras, along with the drama of those who have been uprooted in both communities as a result of the tragic incision in works such as Blue Whale by Rina Katselli, in The Unseen Aspect the short stories of Panos Ioannides, in Give Us Today by Giannis Katsouris, and in novel The Penultimate Season by Evi Meleagrou with its intense awareness of historic moments and the title’s ominous vision.
Hellenism was the first to discover that tragedy serves the highest accomplishments in human self-awareness and self-knowing, as well as in the catharsis through mercy and fear according to Aristotle’s definition. In its historical journey, Hellenism has suffered many calamities from the siege of Miletus to the Sicilian, and from the Asia Minor to the Cypriot tragedies. But it manages to heal its wounds and to transcend trauma through its inexhaustible psychic and intellectual powers.
In contemporary Cypriot poetry, according to the eminent Hellenist Eratosthenis Kapsiomenos, the trauma of the tragedy of 1974 is transcended by the historical experience.
“On the thematic field, the historical experience is composed of the categories of place and history. Together they synthesize the content of man’s self-awareness. Through memory, the history of millennia lives again and becomes condensed in the poetic conscience, present and palpable; there, it meets the memory of the land and of things, uniting the present and the future, becoming living consciousness of the creator, in other words; the poet, therefore, moves within a mythical universe where past and present coexist in the present moment, and constitute together a mythical synchronicity. Thus, the past takes on diachronic dimensions and the loss of continuity brought on by the tragic incision is transcended in the realm of the intellect through the continuity, the Hellenic diachronicity, or more simply of Hellenic eternity.
We realize, therefore, that the historical drama of the Turkish invasion and occupation is faced through the unruffled acceptance of the tragic aspect of the world, where uprooting is balanced by the experience of eternal continuity, and the deep anguish of loss is covered by “Hellenic tranquility.”
However, in order to maintain this tranquility, the balance of the classical statue is required, if not more.
Plato, in his last work Laws, addresses the poets of his time, the tragic poets: “You are therefore poets, as are we, opposing artists and competitors to you, of the most beautiful drama that is, by its nature, constituted by the true law, as also is our hope.” At this point poetry meets politics, while faith “in the ethics of conviction,” which characterizes the politician, meets faith in “the ethics of responsibility,” which characterizes the intellectual.