by Panos Ioannides

As published in Volume 9, No 2, June 2012

The translation work of the Cyprus PEN centre is the fruit of the love of a small group of enthusiasts of Cypriot literature and their belief in the indisputable worth and the durability of an appreciable number of works of our literature. A belief which activated and inspired the members of the group, to which I am honoured to belong, and induced them to work hard and selflessly for the widest possible projection of the work of our writers, living and dead, which, in the majority of cases, is born, lives in obscurity and is buried in the indifference of the uncultured surrounding space.

The awareness that only the important and unfairly treated art of the literary translation can set free and project the beauty to be found confined in the linguistic fetters of the original was the motivation of this working group, the first which our Centre formed immediately after its foundation in 1979. And this was because, apart from our strong desire to project internationally certain exceptional works, we believed that in doing this we could focus, albeit by reflection, the attention of our own public on these creators and of the most usually absent or amateur local criticism. We were, of course, mistaken in our belief because,  if to a degree we succeeded in our first objective of projection to the outside world, the second aim was never achieved, at least to the extent that we had hoped. Because unfortunately most of us are busy with other things.

The small group of pioneers who took on the responsibility for the translation work of the Centre set as its first aim the search for and enlistment of translators who met the requirements set down, as early as the 17th century, by John Dryden when he wrote that “The reason that we have so few versions which are tolerable is because there are so few who have all the talents requisite for translating, and that there is so little praise and so small encouragement for so considerable a part of learning.”

And, we would add, usually for such relatively small reward!

Fortunately we were lucky to find a few such hard-to-come-by people. Our first team of translators was composed of John Vickers, David Bailey and Christine Georghiades, and in time was joined by Irena Joannides, Rhea Frangofinou, Antis Panayiotou, Despina Pirketti and some others. Also, Eirena Adamidou Ioannidou made translations from English, and especially from French, for our Centre in the 1980s.

In the first phase of our translation and publication work, from 1981 to 1993, we brought out five Anthologies and five Year Books. The Year Books were also anthologies, but not systematic or theme-based. The Anthologies were published entirely in English while the Year Books, in addition to the English translations which formed the bulk of their content, also hosted translations into French and German.

In the Anthologies we tried, successfully I believe, to give the diachronic spectrum of the literary output of the country. Two of them were devoted to poetry. The one, entitled “27 Centuries of Cypriot Poetry”, covers Cypriot poetry from the time of Stasinos up the 20th century and also the most important but deceased poets. The other, entitled “Contemporary Cypriot Poetry”, contains select examples of the work of our major contemporary poets. The well-known poet and scholar Theoclis Kouyialis edited both these anthologies and wrote the prologues. There followed the publication of two Anthologies of prose, which Nikos Spanos, anthologist, poet and teacher, compiled and wrote the prologue to. The titles of these indicate their content: “Cypriot Prose Writers from Antiquity to 1950” and “22 Contemporary Cypriot Prose Writers”. The series of Anthologies was completed with a collection of five studies on Cypriot literature, covering all the genres cultivated in Cyprus. These studies were written by Kypros Chrysanthis (essay), Nikos Spanos (prose-writing), Eleni Antoniadi (theatre), Konstantinos Yiangoullis (folk poetry) and Kika Olympiou (poetry). The general editor was Andreas Sofocleous.

Apart from the Anthologies and Year Books, in this first phase of our venture into translation we added to our credit sheet, through bilateral collaboration with other PEN Centres, the publication of another two Cypriot Anthologies of short stories: one extensive and diachronic in Hungarian and a smaller one in Chinese, to mention the most important. At the same time, with the acquaintances and relationships which we cultivated through organising in Cyprus five international literary conferences, two of which, in 1981 and 1985, were devoted almost entirely to the art and role of translation – and with participants who included well-known names such as Kimon Friar (U.S.A.), Alexi Sola (Spain), Ye Chou-Han (China), Hans and Niki Eideneier (Germany), George Daniel (Canada), Roger and Tatiana Milliex (France), Liliana Stephanova (Bulgaria), Drako Giangar (Yugoslavia) and many others – we gave the opportunity to foreign translators to study our literature, to translate and to publish quite a number of texts in their own language.

Before I proceed to the second phase of our translation/publication work I would like to state something obvious: that our path was not strewn with laurels and roses. Nor is it today, although in the meantime we have found some regular support, mainly from the Cultural Service of the Ministry of Education and Culture. We faced very many difficulties, especially in the first stages, in our endeavour to secure from the private sector – the state sector at that time turned a completely deaf ear to our requests – the grants required to finance the costs of translation and publication. I do not include in the costs the remuneration of the scholars/anthologists or of the editors because they worked, and still work, without payment or for very little. We secured the necessary sums in this period from the Bank of Cyprus, The Cyprus Popular Bank and the Hellenic Mining Company, who, with a willingness that the official state had not shown, initially supported our endeavours.

The second and more important phase of the contribution of PEN to the field in question began in 1993. The publication in the meantime of the series of volumes in English and other languages, which I mentioned above – despite the faults, omissions and errors which they certainly have – and some of our successes, such as the publication of Cypriot Anthologies in foreign languages (German, French, Rumanian, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Chinese, Finnish and Spanish), the publication of translations of Cypriot literature in foreign magazines and newspapers, encouraging reviews in the international press and specialised journals, successes achieved with bilateral agreements and the active assistance of the enterprising Translation Committee of International PEN, on the one hand steeled our resolve to continue and to upgrade our translation and publishing work and, on the other, they persuaded the Cultural Service of the Ministry of Education – with the dynamic intervention of its then Director Yiannis Katsouris, a member of our Centre – to approve the partial but systematic sponsorship of it. Thus, in 1993, already having a team of translators and the requisite experience, we embarked on our next great initiative: the publication of the series “Literary Profiles” in English. Initially the Ministry of Education financed in part this series. During the first phase the grant awarded (Cy£500 for each title) covered one third of the whole cost of each profile which, it should be noted, was then Cy£1250 – 1400, depending on the number of pages. When Mrs Klairi Angelidou was Minister of Education the grant was increased by Cy£250 and then increased again, a little later on, by her successor Ouranios Ioannides and his close associates, Dr Petros Kareklas, Director General off the Ministry, and Dr Stelios Hadjistyllis, Director of Cultural Services, to Cy£900. As is evident, this amount did not cover the whole cost, with the result that the debit side of our account increased with every new title, obliging us continuously to seek complementary sponsorships here and abroad (from International PEN, UNESCO and the International Union of Translators of Literature), funding which, it should be noted, was not always forthcoming and when it was, was given sparingly and with considerable delay. I add at this point that two literary profiles (Andreas Christofides and Rina Katselli) were financed by the Anastasios Leventis Foundation on the recommendation of the Member of the House of Representatives, politician and enlightened appreciator of literature, Tassos Papadopoulos.

From 1993, when the series of “Literary Profiles” was inaugurated with a monograph on Costas Montis, written by the essayist and poet Nikos Orphanides, it has continued uninterrupted with the publication of an average of three titles a year. These short monographs are 48-60 pages long and contain a critical presentation of the writer’s work, a list of works, some pages of selected criticism and a sample anthology of texts. Till now 51 profiles have been published in English and one book in Greek which contains studies by Mona Savvidou-Theodoulou on the following six Cypriot poets: Antonakis Evgeniou, Evroulla Pericleous Papadopoulou, Yiorgos Petrousis, Ianthe Theocharidou, Elli Kyriakidou and Costas Georgallides.

In a special appendix at the end of this note there is a list of the foreign language editions of our Centre and of the profiles/monographs which have been published to date in English.

The monographs of PEN have been and are being written by well-known Cypriot and Greek academics and scholars of our literature. I mention a few: Yiorgos Kechagioglou, Photis Demetrakopoulos, Chara Bakonikola Georgopoulou, Lefteris Papaleontiou, Doros Theodoulou, Yiorgos Ioannides, Nikos Orphanides, Costas Hadjigeorgiou, Thomas Symeon, Costas Nikolaides, Themis Theocharous, Andreas Hadjithomas,  Irena Joannides, Theoclis Kouyialis, Rina Katselli, Chrysanthos Chrysanthou et al.

The translations are made by our translators in close cooperation with the writers of the profiles and also with the writers presented. On the part of the Board of PEN, which is responsible for the programming and organising of publications, adopting what the French Greek scholar and translator Jacques Lacarrière so aptly wrote, “In translation it is very important that the bonds between the translator and the author are not solely professional but go deeper”, does its utmost to encourage this kind of profitable relationship between the two poles of the work of translating. With a spirit of warmth, and quite often friendship, translators and scholars/anthologists analyse, illumine and process words and metaphors and equate as far as possible the rhythms of poems or prose with those of the original etc. If the writers are no longer alive, the final working over and polishing of the translation takes place in collaboration with the authors of the monographs and/or with other scholars who have studied the specific work.

I would like to add here that many of the monographs which our Centre has published to date are already available in Greek as well, divided among elegant, easy-to-handle volumes entitled “Logotechnica Porteta: Kyprioi Poiites kai Pezographoi” and also that new volumes are always being added to this monumental series, thus making Cypriot literature accessible to the Greek-speaking reading public as well.

During the last few years, PEN has added to its very important work of translation and publication the quarterly cultural magazine in English “In Focus”, which presents the work of Cypriot writers, members of the Centre, artists and other creators. The magazine, which is sent through the Press and Information Office and the Overseas Cypriots Service to tens of centres of Greek Studies, institutions and personalities of the arts and letters in more than 75 countries, has pretensions to promoting Cypriot literature and we believe does so effectively.

In spite of financial problems and the various other obstacles which we have met and continue to face, we believe that our translations, in parallel with the serious and responsible work which is done by translators of our literature and by some centres of Greek Studies abroad, have helped to strengthen the faint literary dot of Cyprus in the cultural atlas. They have allowed foreign critics, academics, publishers and other interested people to get to know somewhat better the work of our writers, to host Cypriot poetry and prose in anthologies, magazines and specialised newspapers, to make use of texts at seminars or in the courses of study which are concerned with Greek literature as a whole or Cypriot literature in particular.

I conclude the award of distinctions to the translation and publication work of Cyprus PEN with an eloquent quotation from a letter from the former General Secretary and Vice President of International PEN, Alex Blokh: “The editions of your centre,” Mr Blokh writes, “which we often republish in the magazine “PEN INTERNATIONAL”, give shape and form to our knowledge of the literary stature of the island. As for your latest initiatives, the publication of literary profiles in English and the quarterly magazine “In Focus”, I can assure you that they have, in an effective way, succeeded in their aim, which is the promotion of Cypriot literature and to make it known to the international reading public. You have shown the way in which a small PEN Centre can serve the literature of its country and at the same time enjoy and strengthen its international links.”

Translated by Christine Georghiades



Anthologies, Minutes of Seminars, PEN Reviews, “In Focus” magazine:

  • 23 Centuries of Cypriot Poetry (Anthology)
  • Contemporary Cypriot Poetry (Anthology)
  • Cypriot Prose Writers up to 1950 (Anthology)
  • 22 Contemporary Cypriot Prose Writers (Anthology)
  • Five Short Essays on Cypriot Literature
  • Cyprus PEN Review Nos. 1, 2, 3 &4
  • International Writers’ Seminar: Minutes of the Seminar (4-8.11.1985)
  • The Cultural and Spiritual Values of the Mediterranean World, Minutes of the Seminar, 1999
  • Europe Writes History: Essays from 14 European Countries (2005)
  • In Focus magazine, 34 issues to present

Literary Profiles Series:

  • Costas Montis
  • Pantelis Mechanikos
  • Kypros Chrysanthis
  • Klitos Ioannides
  • Lina Solomonidou
  • Yiannis Katsouris
  • Panos Ioannides
  • Yiorgos Philippou-Pierides
  • Klairi Angelidou
  • Nayia Roussou
  • Theoklis Kouyialis
  • Iacovos Kythreotis
  • Niki Ladaki-Philippou
  • Achilleas Pyliotis
  • Andreas Christofides
  • Costas Proussis
  • Rina Katselli
  • Christakis Georgiou
  • Costas Vassiliou
  • Vera Korfioti
  • Nikos Orphanides
  • Yiorgos Moleskis
  • Mona Savvidou-Theodoulou
  • Sophocles Lazarou
  • Andreas Sofocleous
  • Nikos Nikolaides
  • Nikos Kranidiotis
  • Evgenia Palaiologou Petronda
  • Emilios Hourmouzios
  • Glafkos Alithersis
  • Michalis Pashiardis
  • Kyriakos Charalambides
  • Dina Katsouri
  • Niki Marangou
  • Theodosis Nikolaou
  • Tefkros Anthias
  • Theodosis Pierides
  • Christos Hadjipapas
  • Maria Pyliotou
  • Myrianthi Papaonisiforou
  • Roula Ioannidou Stavrou
  • Maroula Avraamidou
  • Andreas Pastellas
  • Yiannis Papadopoulos
  • Manos Kralis
  • Pitsa Galazi
  • Panikos Peonides
  • Elli Peonidou
  • Andreas Petrides
  • Petros Stylianou
  • Demetris Gotsis


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