March 25th is Greek Independence Day and with New York’s Greek Independence Day Parade coming up on Sunday March 30, let's revisit Greece through classic Greek literature and a few modern day favorites.
“The Iliad” by Homer: When delving into Greek literature, you might as well begin at the beginning. Homer’s tale of the Trojan War is blood-drenched and riveting. Fans of the classics may argue about which translation is best, but you can’t go wrong with Robert Fagles. If you prefer to read Greek, pick up a side by side translation with the ancient text on one side and the modern translation on the other.
“The Odyssey” by Homer: In this sequel to “The Iliad,” Odysseus takes the long way home to Ithaca after the Trojan War, and the ensuing adventures have inspired artists and writers ever since. Penelope fends off suitors at home while her husband eventually returns and is recognized by his dog.
“The Alexiad” by Anna Komnene: The Byzantine Empire was renowned for its high level of literacy, primary school was mandatory for boys and girls; so it should surprise no one that the emperor’s daughter wrote this detailed, if not exactly unbiased, history of her father’s reign.
“George Seferis: Collected Poems”: The poet captures the essence of Greece and Greek identity in skillfully-rendered, beautifully-wrought verse. Deceptively simple lines are charged with timeless, powerful emotion.
“To Lathos” by Antonis Samarakis: This politically-charged novel is perhaps Samarakis’s best-known book about a wrongfully-accused man in a police state. Published in 1965, it was translated into English in 1969 as “The Flaw” and adapted into a film in 1974.
“Complete Poems” by Constantine P. Cavafy: A complete edition of the Alexandrian Greek poet’s lush, sensual verse appeared in print only after his death. This new translation is by classicist David Mendelsohn.
“Zorba the Greek” by Nikos Kazantzakis: You’ve probably seen the classic film by director Michael Cacoyannis, and you probably get the Zorba theme by Mikis Theodorakis stuck in your head every so often, so why not read the book that inspired it all. You’ll be stunned by the violence, lyrical descriptions, and the differences between the film and the original text.
“Eleni” by Nicholas Gage: This book was adapted for the screen, but the film doesn’t quite capture the journalistic detail in Gage’s biography of his mother, a victim of the brutal Greek Civil War, the effects of which still haunt many Greeks to this day. The silence afterwards consumed many Greek villages where survivors of torture often lived side by side with their torturers who were never prosecuted for their crimes. Gage’s return to Greece to confront his mother’s murderer is extraordinary, powerful and true.
“Little Infamies” by Panos Karnezis: The author paints vivid, darkly comic, portraits of Greek life in his short story collection featuring a cast of characters in an unnamed Greek village. Karnezis, who writes in English, has subsequently written two novels with Greek themes. “The Maze”- about Greek soldiers in Anatolia in 1922, and “The Birthday Party”- about an Onassis-like tycoon, are both solid efforts by this promising, young author.
“The Greek War of Independence” by Peter H. Paroulakis: This illustrated history is a good starting point, and coffee table book, for anyone interested in learning how the Greeks won their independence from the Ottoman Empire.
My favorite is in Kos town, where gems of Greek literature await you only a short walk from the picturesque harbor and the Aegean Sea.
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