Modernist Icon Co-opted :
Backgrounds to Fotis Kontoglou, Artist and Man of Letters
It must have been no mean accomplishment for a man like Fotis Kontoglou (1895 – 1965) to have started out as a displaced person, travel, study and work as he did in countless cities on three continents, see himself lionized in life and almost canonized in death. Born in a Greek community in Turkey, he came to know Greece, Spain, Egypt, Belgium and France, he founded societies, directed journals, befriended or mentored important actors, artists and architects, yet he earned himself only a skewed appreciation as a writer and close to benign neglect as a translator. The scale as well as the range of some of his accomplishments could bear rehearsing if for no other reason than to limn the vast areas of interests he pursued as well as the number and kind of people he drew to himself as collaborators and devotees. 1
Kontoglou received international acclaim in 1914 for his illustrations of the French translation of Knut Hamsun’s Hunger. Not content with being editor in chief of the Athenian publisher Eleftheroudakis, Kontoglou traveled to the monastic enclave of Mt. Athos to transcribe and prepare both a public exhibition and a book on the art of the monasteries. 1922 through 1924 are the years of the writing of the picaresque Πέδρο Κἀζας and the prose poems and translations in Βασάντα. He received commissions to paint portraits of art patrons, do stage sets for the Greek National theater, draw excavations in Sparta, restore murals in Mistra, participate in the 19th Venice Biennale and work as a consultant in the founding of the Coptic Museum in Egypt. Molière’s Les Fourberies de Scapin in Kontoglou’s translation was performed by the Greek National Theater in 1937. In the long list of church decorating that he did with the assistance of such future artist-writers as Yannis Tsarouchis and Nikos Engonopoulos he helped turn around the then prevalent church iconography back to the lost tradition of the “Byzantines,” the latter having been interpellated by about one hundred years of Nazarene eclecticism!2 Kontoglou’s life-long inspiration from the Eastern Orthodox saints’ lives(the Synaxaristis), the Philokalia collection of sermons, anecdotes, and homilies, and the Patrologia Graeca could be shown to affect his creative writing, his reminiscences, travelogues, even the Asia Minor folk astrology and demonology he wrote about. The testimonials of those who knew and worked with him leave no doubt: he was the real thing. He embodied the type of Greek who had no qualms projecting his ethnocentric worldview even when making statements regarding the pre- or non-Christian worlds.3
The consistency with which Kontoglou modeled his “Greekness” during the latter half of his life was in enormous demand among the progressive intellectuals in Greece of the post-1922 period.4 The generation of writers that came immediately before him was one of late romantics who insisted on the most conservative and idealized uses of the Greek past. Resisting them and resisting elitist formations was a handful of equally dedicated activists who demanded acceptance of the contemporary spoken (the demotiki) vernacular as the official medium of both state functions and of church ritual. It is easy to understand why purist (or katharevousa) sentimentalism, in other words, the attraction to the archaizing idiom of the state and its legal and ecclesiastical establishments would not go away without a fight. Chronologically, if not ideologically, Kontoglou comes in the wake of pro-demotiki reformers like Yannis Psycharis (1854-1929), Alexandros Pallis (1851-1935) and Argyris Eftaliotis 1849-1923), the latter two having translated ancient Greek classics into Modern Greek.
The volatility of this idea would be demonstrated in the streets of Athens during the twin “Evangeliká” and “Oresteiaká” clashes of 1901 and 1903, quite conceivably a world unfortunate first: loss of life over the issue of translation conceived and preached as both cultural and religious sacrilege.5
Kontoglou’s earliest published translations in a book cryptically titled Βασάντα—Sanskrit for “Spring”; coming out almost one whole generation after the “Evangeliká” and “Oresteiaká” language incidents—deserves to be examined in close juxtaposition to the 1915 Pallis book titled Κούφια Καρύδια [Hollow Walnuts].6 Pallis’ deceptively thin forerunner of Kontoglou’s Βασάντα was printed on India paper, and produced in the same red clothbound format as the Oxford University Press Homeri Opera. Κούφια Καρύδια was published in Liverpool, and by a miracle of distribution reached Greek private and public libraries everywhere from Alexandria to Bucharest, and from Odessa to Marseilles. The by-line “Lekas Arvanitis” and the “Malliaros” qualifier on the title page waved a doubly intense red flag of ethnic impurity, “Arvanitis” as a last name being un nome parlante for “Albanian;” Malliaros—hirsute, uncouth or unkempt—standing for the despiser of katharevousa. The book had no table of contents. It displayed a few pen and ink sketches and photographs, a Jean Moréas facsimile autograph and, most egregiously, a Greek uncial font throughout with no accents or other diacritical marks.7
Κούφια Καρύδια opens with a translation of Euripides’ satyr play The Cyclops, in a mix of verse and prose, just like Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice translation that follows. The book goes on with hefty doses of Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War and Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Pallis the philologist’s personal point of view is apparent throughout the book, beginning with the apparatus criticus to the translations from the Classical Greek and continuing with the reprinting of reviews of his books in the languages they were written. The meddley is rounded off with more translations from Hans Christian Andersen, Robert Burns, Thomas Hood, Byron, and Heine among many others. In it there are also parodies, poémes de dedicace, epigrams, love songs and bouts of invective leveled at katharevousa diehards from academia and the clergy.
Kontoglou’s Βασάντα miscellany is also illustrated, like Pallis’, with woodcuts, vignettes, black and white reproductions of paintings, and photographs. In addition to the translations it contains dreams, letters, personal essays on Mt Athos monasteries, and several prose poems. In many respects Kontoglou’s debut re-states and re-affirms Pallis’ “Hollow Walnuts” message: albeit couched in a minor key, Βασάντα made clear that the medium of “demotiki” would be the medium of the future, an idiom able to serve a boundless spectrum of creative impulses from the most ancient to the most recent, able to do so without attracting undue attention to itself as the medium of expression.
Kontoglou’s translations in the Βασάντα begin with chapters 3, 6, 8, 30, 38, 39, 40, 41, and 42 from the Old Testament book of Job, and selections from the book of Psalms, some rendered in verse, some in prose. By starting out with the authorial indication “David” and the Προοιμοιακὸς [Ouverture] psalm no. 103 out of numerical sequence, Kontoglou seems to create the semblance of a short devotional Ἀκολουθία [Sequentia] consisting of psalms 3, 6, 8, 17, 68, 87, 88, 89, 101, 102, 136, 142, 145, 148, 150.8
Βασάντα continues with “Robinson Crusoe” chapter selections but without mention of the author. Three Shakespearean fragments come next, two scenes each from Timon of Athens and Hamlet, and one from Act II of As you Like It. The analogy to Pallis’ translation of the Merchant of Venice should be obvious by now. Two paragraphs, finally, from Bernardin de Saint Pierre’s “Preface” to his Études de la nature and a short Glossary of Greek expressions bring the book to a close.9
The titles of Kontoglou’s first two books, Πέδρο Κάζας and Βασάντα, first off, do little to prepare the reader for contents Greek. The hispanic undertones of the former, and the Far Eastern adumbrations of the latter promise to deliver good doses of orientalism and nostalgia. Kontoglou’s momentum to ignore the home grown varieties of post-impressionism and symbolism was clear enough but it was short lived. It could not possibly compare to the wholesale interrogation of the western esthetic canon that was being carried out in western Europe.10 Music, architecture, the theater, the visual arts were being reset and reconfigured to their very foundations. The most cursory examination of the scene from Marinetti’s Futurist manifesto, to the Dadas and the Surrealists, to the Apollinaire, Joyce, Pound, Eliot and Pirandello front, would make Kontoglou’s early creations seem anaemic, even by his compatriots’ local standards. By 1915 Nikos Kazantzakis, Angelos Sikelianos and Kostas Varnalis had already made dramatic new entrances on the demotiki stage. In many respects, and contrary to this ferment, Kontoglou turned himself and his cohorts into an “arts and crafts” movement that, very much in the spirit of William Morris and his pre-Rafaelite precursors, re-invented the Middle Ages.
What went wrong? Was this to be expected? France and England in those days was not all post-“Demoiselles d’Avignon.” As a matter of fact, the entire continent from St. Petersburg to Lisbon was awash in circuits of lectures and societies delving on astral planes, ectoplasmic materializations, “research” and séances that, in essence, were expounding a variety of “spiritualities,” most of them with auras and fields of perception attending.11
Over the same period of time that Kontoglou was entering his Greek “modernist” conservatism, Nikolai Berdiaeff (1874-1948) and Pavel Florensky (1882-1937) were being cited for making Eastern Orthodox inroads in western Europe. It was a picture that was never balanced, however, with the almost universal currency of esoterism among the western modernists. Since the middle of the nineteenth century, perhaps starting with Victor Hugo’s Orientales (1829) and overlapping with Walter Pater, the Decadents, the Esthetes and the Communists of every stripe, to bypass the established spiritual Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic paradigm, and to be directly or indirectly anti-Christian was tantamount to being “scientific,” “revolutionary” and therefore “modern.”
The “prophetic” or “seer” artists known as the Nabis, the Fauves, and even the Naifs, had collectively created an ambience in turn-of-the century Paris that spelled out post-ecclesiastical modernism’s insistence on special ways of “seeing,” of questioning illusionist three-dimensionality, and of valuing abstraction. The Greek painters abroad who thought that these criteria fit the practice of old Byzantine painting like a glove did little more than adopt that tradition to work with and launch from (as Georges Rouault had done with his apprenticeship in stained glass, Mark Chagall with the Jewish-Russian village life, and Picasso with the Spanish and African primitives). The group of artists clustering around Spyros Papaloukas’ and Nikos Hadzikyriakos-Ghikas’ journal Τὸ Τρίτο Μάτι [The Third Eye] promoted talk of ἁρμονικὲς χαράξεις [harmonic tracings] that better defined their innovative vision, and probably protected it from the facile equating with the Byzantine style Kontoglou’s circles would have translated them into. Kontoglou, on the other hand, had no need of a new terminology. The Byzantine art he had studied and adopted came ready-packed with antiperspectival flatness, depictions of incorporeal beings—Νέφη Μαρτύρων [Clouds of Witnesses]; Ἅγιοι Ἀσώματοι or Ταξιάρχαι [i.e., Archangel “Saints” Michael and Gabriel; Captains of the Heavely Hosts], for instance—arrayed in multiple hierarchies, set in anti-realist guilded spaces, and complete with auras, mandorlas and halos.
The corrected view of the pervasive non-Christian sense of “spirituality” in the visual arts might begin with such figures as Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) who referred to numerology and syncretistic religions in his correspondence but was also aware of Swedenborg; Edvard Munch (1863-1944) who knew Swedenborg’s theories of auras; Paul Klee (1879-1940), a confirmed Steinerite by 1909, who met and exhibited jointly with Wassily Kandinsky in 1911; Marsden Hartley (1877-1943) had read mystics like Richard Rolle, Jacob Boehme and R. M. Bucke’s Cosmic Consciousness, published in 1901; Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) had read Albert Poisson’s Théories et symboles des alchimistes for his painting “Spring,” 1891. Of this ferment the Greek critical and art historical scene knew next to nothing, and whenever Symbolism was mentioned—and it was mentioned a lot a propos of the poet Kostas Karyotakis (1896-1928)—the allusion was mostly to Paul Verlaine and Albert Samain, not to Albert Aurier, Odilon Redon or Gustave Moreau. The rise of most movements in the arts and literature that spanned the last decades of the nineteenth century and the first of the twentieth has been attributed to nothing more complex than Bloomean anxieties of influence and youthful experimentation. The quests for parallel, extra-Christian “spiritualities” that led so many artists to non-representational art forms have not been genealogized to the proper widely spread psychic scientism and folk orientalism of that time period until very recently. 12
In terms of textual practice, a comparable case of—more than probably unintentional—cultural co-optation is evident in Kontoglou’s Βασάντα gathering of the Psalms. At first blush Kontoglou’s Psalm 6:6 “ . . . κανένας δὲ σὲ θυμᾶται σὰν πεθαίνει· μέσ᾽ στὸν Ἅδη ποιὸς θὰ σοῦ ξομολογηθεῖ” is a straightforward rendering of the Septuagint “. . . οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν τῷ θανάτῳ ὁ μνημονεύων σου· ἐν δὲ τῷ ᾅδῃ τίς ἐξομολογήσεταί σοι;” The crux lies in the last verb. Who among speakers of modern Greek would need it translated? “Ἐξομολογοῦμαι” has been in Greek idiomatic usage undoubtedly since the Septuagint and one could hardly think of synonyms other than those of “admission of a thought or deed” or, to put it differently, other than the uses to which the word is put in the context of the confessional. The Septuagint has been around Christian Hellenism for so long that it is well nigh impossible to imagine any shifts in the meaning the Greek words underwent in the process of the cooptation of the Jewish scriptures into those of Christianity. Just like the Latin compound “confiteor” in the Vulgate, the Greek of the “Seventy” meant nothing more than what the Greek compound says: [ἐξ-] ὁμο – [λέγ-] λογέω, which is to “say or state the same thing. . . as.” High as the word is in terms of frequency in Modern Greek and in its current sense, it has lost part of the wider Hellenistic denotation of “acknowledging gratitude.” In the long centuries before the word described the Ἐξομολόγησις, or Christian sacrament of Confession, the sixth line in the Hebrew Psalm implied simply “the dead are unable even to say ‘thanks’.”13
As with the Christian appropriation of a “back-translated” if poorly misunderstood Hebrew concept in the Septuagint Psalms, likewise the “spirituality” so eagerly lavished upon Kontoglou time and again had very little to do with the initial non-Christian, foundational osmoses in his environment. Spirituality was, eventually, to be given the kind of traditionalist interpretation that the Kontoglou adulations are full of in the Μνήμη book. His lifelong grandstanding on the indisputably superior doctrinal merits of Eastern Orthodox Christianity over every other confession is generously mirrored back in the contents of the Μνήμη volume dedicated to his memory. In article after article, Kontoglou is held up as a lover of “roots” and of the good old pre-modern traditional values. Out of forty contributions in the book there is scarcely a line of comment on him as a translator. Mention should be made here of the fact that quite apart from the Βασάντα anthology Kontoglou published two important translations of non-fiction from the French, one dealing with the “theology” of the Byzantine icon, the other with the mystical side of Blaise Pascal. In Takis Papatsonis’ article “Ὁ διὰ Χριστὸν σαλός” [Τhe Fool for Christ], in the Μνήμη volume, while clearly echoing Kontoglou’s title of his Pascal translation, Papatsonis refers to Kontoglou himself as the kind of Fool for Christ that he had become rather than to the text he had produced as a translator!14
The traditionalist turn in Kontoglou’s visual work is not without precedent in the history of literature. Apollinarius of Laodicea (310-361 CE), by paraphrasing the Psalms of David into Homeric Greek, did so primarily because he believed it was the only way to do justice to the poetry of the Hebrew originals. In his preface Apollinarius declares he was persuaded that the Psalms in his heroic hexameters would help them reach more nations on the earth. Emanuel Roidis (1836-1904), closer in time to Kontoglou, although a vocal defender of the demotiki idiom and of Yannis Psycharis, chose a form of katharevousa for his irreverent send up Pope Joan. The time would come during Kontoglou’s conservative apogee that katharevousa would be employed again, con gusto, by several of his younger contemporaries and with lasting results, one would want to add. Beside the obvious factor of estrangement or defamiliarization that any writer would seek—not to speak of the greater irony a surrrealist poet would seek—it is conceivable that drafting a retrograde medium in the interest of the greater, Apollinarian propagation of the poetic artifact may have been the reason for the adoption of the post-Pallis, passée katharevousa by Andreas Embeirikos, for example, in his writings.15
Poets of the Kazantzakis’ and Sikelianos’ persuasion were never fazed.16 They persisted in Pallis’ heavily adjectival, quasi-demotic epic creations and translations for many years to come. Writers of prose fiction, on the other hand, like Ilias Venezis, whose style Mario Vitti attributes, in great part, to Kontoglou’s influence, would turn out to be occasionally sentimental, more or less in the manner of the Βασάντα prose poems, but decidedly avoiding Pallis’ recherche folksiness. The turgid decibels of Kazantzakis’ Dante translations, for instance, would eventually give way to the translation work of Giorgos Seferis and Odysseus Elytis. Perhaps because the Βασάντα is such a potpourri of genres and effects it managed to serve as a quiet exemplar of moderation to the written demotiki that the Generation of the Thirties, in the main, would soon claim for its own.
1. Diverse hands contribute to the commemorative volume Μνήμη Κόντογλου, Δέκα χρόνια ἀπὸ τὴν κοίμησή του: Κείμενα γιὰ τὸ πρόσωπο καὶ τὸ ἔργο του [Kontoglou, In Memoriam. Ten Years Since His Dormition: Texts Regarding His Personality and His Oeuvre], Ἀθήνα: Ἀστήρ, 1975. This Who’s Who of the Greek intelligentsia opens and ends with detailed chronologies of Kontoglou’s art and publications compiled by Thanasis Th. Niarchos, pp. 9-11 and 329-333.
The sheer volume of good craftsmanship in combination with the range of publication venues of Wallace Stevens’ Opus Posthumous might go a long way towards explaining how the intervening years between Kontoglou’s demise and his memorializing helped his iconicity. Yannis Tsarouchis, Nikos Engonopoulos, Yannis Moralis, Spyros Vasileiou to mention just a few of his acolytes and protégés, were fast becoming icons themselves during this decade. His writer friend Ilias Venezis had achieved national renown already in the nineteen fifties; his equally accomplished fellow church painter Spyros Papaloukas never did become a household name.
2. The most authoritative evaluation of Kontoglou’s painterly byzantinism is by Manolis Hadzidakis, “Φώτης Κόντογλου: Ὁ τελευταῖος ἀντικλασσικός” [Fotis Kontoglou: The Last Anti-Classicist], Μνήμη, supra, pp. 119-122; on the basis of Kontoglou’s stated preferences and his actual implementation, Hadzidakis concludes that his models were not the classicizing periods of Byzantine art but rather those of the late 16th Century, naif and monastic church painters.
On the Nazarene presence even on Mt. Athos, consult Agioritiki Estia, 3rd Scientific Conference, “From Dionysios of Phourna to Photis Kontoglou and the Contemporary Iconography Workshops of Mount Athos,” November 2008. See especially Session “C” covering the 1859-1963 period: Savas Pantzaridis, “The Artistic Workshops of Sacred Painting on Mount Athos During the Nazarene Style Period.”
For Kontoglou’s contemporaries, Nikos Hadzikyriakos-Ghikas, Michalis Tompros, Giorgos Gounaropoulos, Kostis Parthenis et al., reviewed in light of dictator Ioannis Metaxas’ government decisions to commission, fund and control arts projects imitating the slightly earlier Italian fascist example, see Εὐγένιος Δ. Ματθιόπουλος, “4η Αὐγούστου καὶ Εἰκαστικὲς Τέχνες” [The ‘August 4’ Coup and the Visual Arts], Καθημερινή [Kathimerini, Athens daily], January 9, 2005. Manolis Hadzidakis, Μνήμη, supra, p. 119, comes close to suggesting the surprising fact that Kontoglou was so compelling a presence by the time of Metaxas’ interventionism in the arts it was he who dictated the future design of churches in Greece and the byzantine style of their interior decoration
A brief sampling of reproductions of Kontoglou’s work, including the decoration of the interior of his own house, Δημήτρης Παπαστάμος, Φώτης Κόντογλου, Ἀθήνα: Ἐθνικὴ Πινακοθήκη, 1978; Kontoglou’s imaginary “Τίμων ὁ Μισάνθρωπος” [Timon the Misanthrope] painting in this show is the companion piece to the Shakespeare translation fragment “Timon of Athens” in Βασάντα.
3. Mario Vitti, Ἡ Γενεὰ του Τριάντα, [The Generation of the Thirties], Ἀθήνα: Ἑρμῆς, 1977, pp. 199-200. Vitti makes pertinent references to the phenomenon of the quest for Italianità and hispanidad in neighboring Italy and Spain respectively. The individual possessed of “Ἑλληνικότητα” had also to come across as romantically uncontrived and as spontaneously “genuine” as possible. At this juncture one might profitably read T. W. Adorno’s 1964—but discussed as early as the nineteen thirties—The Jargon of Authenticity, as the pseudo-philosophical backing for an entire spectrum of fascist anthropological presumptions.
Hagiographical appraisals of Kontoglou that elide his thoroughgoing archaisms with “modernism” are still to be found in Δημήτρης Κοσμόπουλος, “Ὁ λογοτέχνης Κόντογλου καὶ ὁ ἑλληνικὸς μοντερνισμὸς” [Kontoglou, Man of Letters, and Greek Modernism] in Τὰ ὅρια τῆς φωνῆς: Δοκίμια γιὰ τὴν νεοελληνικὴ λογοτεχνία [The Voice’s Limits: Essays on Modern Greek Literature], Athens: Kedros, 2002.
4. Vitti mentions Kontoglou twice, on pp. 210 and 227. The first time in conjunction with a general tendency among Greek writers between the two world wars to seek the spontaneity, naturalness and simplicity found in the writings of the self-taught memorialist General Yannis Makrygiannis (1794-1864). The second, Vitti cites a section from Kontoglou’s “Μία δοκιμὴ γιὰ ἁπλὸ ὕφος” [Assaying a Plain Style], in Ὁ Λόγος, Constantinople, vol. 3, 1921, p. 635. Kontoglou discusses his translating the first few pages of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe as follows «Δὲν εἶναι πολὺ ὄμορφα ἀφτὰ τὰ λόγια; Πόσο ἐπιτήδεια κάνει τὶς φράσεις του μὲ τὰ λίγα μέσα ποὺ ἔχει στὸ χέρι! Ἐγὼ νὰ πῶς τὸ βάφτισα: Τὸ ἀντρίκιο γράψιμο». “Aren’t these simple words beautiful? How deftly he turns out his phrases with the few means at his disposal! 'Manly writing' is what I christened this.” Vitti echoes back the Generation of the Thirties’ attempts at a signature “voice” as a quest for the “revirgination” of the Greek language.
Had Ilias Venezis or Kontoglou read Rousseau’s 1762 iconoclastic novel Émile, ou de l’éducation? Émile’s private instructor is eager to have his young student grow up with a strong sense of self reliance and an independent mind. Consequently, Émile is forbidden from reading any books, except Robinson Crusoe! Rousseau’s own agenda is beginning to show at this point. Humanity can and should achieve the mythological state of primal innocence if it would shake itself free of the vestiges of “civilized” conventions and institutions, literary and otherwise.
5. The “Εὐαγγελικά,” and “Ὀρεστειακά” riots, named after the publication into demotiki Greek of the N. T. Gospels by Alexandros Pallis, and of Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy by Georgios Sotiriadis, respectively. September 9, 1901, at least 7 people were killed, 70 wounded and 22 arrested by gendarmes firing into demonstrators clamoring against Pallis’ translation of the N. T. Gospels appearing in installments of the Athens newspaper Akropolis.
Between November 6 and 9, 1903, downtown Athens protesters of the demotiki prose translation of the Oresteia by Sotiriadis, being performed by the Greek National Theater, were fired upon by army units leaving 2 dead and 7 wounded. In their violence these events are perhaps second only to the 1546 Etiènne Dolet’s burning at the stake for mistranslating Plato (in ways that would disprove the doctrine of the immortality of the soul), see J. E. Sandys’ History of Classical Scholarship, Cambridge, 1908, vol II, p.180.
6. Βασάντα, Athens: Χ. Γανιάρης, 1924. Interest in things Sanskrit in Greece had been pioneered by Κωνσταντίνος Θεοτόκης (1872-1923) who did translations from it into Modern Greek. Bible translations into varying shades of pre-Nineteenth century Modern Greek may go back to at least Ἰωαννίκιος Καρτάνος (published in 1536), Μάξιμος Καλλιπολίτης (published in 1638), and Λιβέριος Κωλέττης (1685-1738).
The Κούφια Καρύδια [Hollow Walnuts] title page reads Λέκα Ἀρβανίτη, Μαλλιαροῦ [Ἀλέξανδρος Πάλλης, pseud.] , Liverpool: The Liverpool Booksellers, 1915 [Oxford U. P., in the colophon]. In its variegated contents and aggressive demoticism Κούφια Καρύδια can trace its antecedent to Yannis Psycharis’ demotiki “travelogue” Τὸ Ταξίδι μου, [My Journey], (1888), and that, further back to Dimitrios Vyzantios’ linguistic pastiche Βαβυλωνία (1836).
Kontoglou decorated a spacious lunette above a door of the Alexandros Pallis 1840 mansion in Yannena in 1930. (Black and white photograph reproduction in Μνήμη, supra, p. 155).
7. The unaccented, all-majuscule letterforms bring to mind the last majuscule hands of the Plato and the Sinaiticus codices. In Pallis’ times, the contrast to the prevalent Aldine minuscule —a formerly monastic cursive—couldn’t be greater. There is also, of course, the other mostly majuscule Greek letterform, but with accents, of the Complutensian Polyglot Bible (New Testament, 1514).
8. The numbering of the Psalms in Kontoglou’s translation indicates that he could not have used the version by Π. Ι. Μπρατσιώτης, ed., Ἡ Ἁγία Γραφή, Ἀθήνα: Ζωή, 1928, approved for the Church of Greece, which uses the slightly different numbering system for the Psalms. It is also surprising that Kontoglou did not use any liturgical sources—neither a Σύνοψις [Breviary] nor an Ὡρολόγιον [Book of Hours]—for his originals. Out of a total of 16 Psalms translated by him, only five are part of the forty invariably repeating (in clusters from at least two to seven) in the Vespers, Matins, Nonnes or Midnight services of the Eastern Orthodox church.
Clement Marot (1496-1544) also translated about one hundred Psalms into French between 1539-1544. These were set to music and sung in French language Reformed churches well into the 18th Century.
9. Bernardin de Saint Pierre’s (1737 – 1814) Études de la nature, 1784, may seem obscure now, but in pre-WWII Greece de Saint Pierre’s lachrymose romance Paul et Virginie was all the rage among Greek francophones.
10. Φώτης Κόντογλου, Πέδρο Κάζας, Αἰβαλί: Αἰολικὸς Ἀστήρ, 1920. The position of the acute on Kazas’ last name varies in all reprints of the book. The title is available in an excellent translation by David Conolly, in The Dedalus Book of Greek Fantasy, Cambridge: Dedalus Press, 2004.
11. Vitti, supra, p. 21-4, notes that following the Asia Minor 1922 military catastrophe a good number of Greek intellectuals, e.g., Giorgos Seferis, Kosmas Politis, Giorgos Theotokas, Kontoglou himself, far from arriving in Greece “in rags,” arrived . . . via Paris, France.
For the importance of the Paris sojourn to Kontoglou and to many of his acquaintances and their art, and of the “spiritual,” as the theosophists understood it, see Efthymia Georgiadou-Kountoura, “Springtime in Modern Greek Art,” Spyros Papaloukas: Exhibition Catalogue, Athens: B. and M. Theocharakis Foundation, 2007, pp. 21-27. One of the telling connections Georgiadou-Kountoura makes is to the artist and theorist Maurice Denis’ admiring references to Byzantine art in his “Notes sur l’Art Religieux” [Notes on Religious Art], 1939.
12. Shades of occultism in relation to the literary tradition of that era are surveyd by Leon Surette in The Birth of Modernism: Ezra Pound, T.S.Eliot, W.B.Yeats, and the Occult, Montreal: McGill-Queens U. P., 1993, p.78.
The “spirituality” behind the production of particular designs in the visual arts is rationalized and illustrated in Charles Webster Leadbeater, Thought Forms, 1905; and in W. Kandinsky, Über das Geistige in der Kunst [On the Spiritual in Art], 1912, both discussed in Maurice Tuchman, ed., et al., The Spiritual in Art - Abstract Art 1890-1985, New York: Abbeville Press, 1986 [Catalogue for the exhibition by the same title, held at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, November 1986-March 1987].
Greece had its own psychic research propagandist in the person of Angelos Tanagras (1877-1971).
13. Liddell-Scott, Greek-English Lexicon, s.v. “ἐξομολογέομαι,” Ι.2. The second hemistich of Psalm 6:5 / 6 in the Hebrew Bible reads “For in death there is no remembrance of Thee; in the nether-world who will give Thee thanks?” which is obviously the original for the King James version: “For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?”
It should be obvious also that St. Jerome’s Vulgata bases itself on the Septuagint; it reads : “non est in morte qui memor sit tui in inferno autem quis confitebitur tibi;” in other words “ . . . who will confess to you.”
14. Φώτη Κόντογλου, Βίος καὶ πολιτεία τοῦ Βλασίου Πασκάλ, τοῦ διὰ Χριστὸν σαλοῦ [The Life and Times of Blaise Pascal, the Fool for Christ], Ἀθήνα: Ἀστήρ, 1947; and Leonide Ouspensky, Ἡ Εἰκόνα : Λίγα λόγια γιὰ τὴ δογματικὴ ἔννοιά της, [The Icon: A Few Words About Its Doctrinal Import] Λεωνίδα Οὐσπένσκη, Ἀθήνα: Ἀστήρ, 1952.
15. Raffaele Cantarella, ed., Poeti Bizantini, Milano: Vita e Pensiero, 1948, 2 vols. Greek text vol. 1, “Apollinario di Laodicea: Metafrasi dei Salmi,” pp. 8-10; and translation of Apollinarius’ translation into Italian, with an Introduction, vol. 2, pp. 51-53. Apollinarius’ translation poetics are discussed in the second chapter of Chrisoula Aguyranopoulou’s unpublished doctoral dissertation, Μεταφρασιμότητα καὶ ποίηση [Poetry and Translatability], Panteion University, Athens, July 2010.
16. For the French trained Greeks, Gérard de Nerval (1808-1855) and (José-Maria de Heredia (1842-1905) were the paragons of exalted lyricism. Nietzschean visionaries might include Angelos Sikelianos (1884-1951), Nikos Kazantzakis (1883 - 1957), and countless other adepts of the ornate demotiki like Kostas Varnalis (1883- 1974) and Panagis Lekatsas (1911-1970). The afflatus is Nietzsche’s, but the love of compound substantives (with demotiki accidence) that resulted in Pindar like constructions, were Pindar via Nietzche’s rediscovered Hölderlin translations!
The tendency in Pallis to use gratuitous phonological derivatives and unattested lexicons (e.g., χλίβεται, περικεφαλιά) is mentioned in Γιάννης Ψυχάρης’ review of the Pallis Iliad, in the Revue Critique, June 17, 1901 [reprinted in Κούφια Καρύδια, pp. 398-403]; Κωστὴς Παλαμᾶς in his review in Νέα Ἑστία, 1892 [reprinted in Κούφια Καρύδια, pp. 403-408] cites equally unfortunate forms such as Φτολεμαῖος, adding that the Greek language gains nothing from these coinages. Paolo Emilio Pavolini, reviewing Pallis’ modern Greek Iliad, in Atene e Roma, May 1905 [reprinted in Κούφια Καρύδια, pp. 409–411] points out the matching game Pallis plays with Homer’s compounds with wildly varying results from the very close “συγνεφοσυνάχτης,” to the extravagant “γλυκοφίλησε,” “γλυκογελᾶ,” and “θερμοπαρακαλιέται,” in which, not a single first part of the compound is required by the original.
Alexandros Argyriou in his survey of the history of the “language question” observes that “from the diverse aspects of of the Romantic Movement flourishing in Europe, Greek versifiers comprehended only the note of hyperbole . . . [thus] turning emotion into sentimentality . . . .” “The Style of a Language and the Language of a Style,” in Eighteen Texts: Writings by Contemporary Greek Authors, Willis Barnstone, ed., Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard U. P., 1972, pp. 169-182, esp., p. 173; essay translated by Kevin Andrews.
The widely circulating collection of folk songs edited by Nikolaos Politis (1852-1921), Ἐκλογαὶ ἀπὸ τὰ τραγούδια τοῦ ἑλληνικοῦ λαοῦ (1914) supplied the demotiki morphology and vocabulary the Nietzscheans needed for their essentially katharevousa renderings. We ought to keep in mind that the century spanning the middle of the Nineteenth through the middle of the Twentieth is the golden age of folklore studies in European culture. From the Karelia district to the Pyrenees, and from the Urals to the Appalachian mountains, fieldworkers gathered materials dealing with national identities but also with the migrations of themes as well as “pagan” survivals in oral and material traditions.
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