Raising the sun over Greece

I am finding it difficult to write at the moment, partly due to the fact it’s winter and that always slows me down, and partly due to having a lot going on in my life recently. There are many things I want to blog about though that, come the spring, I hope to be able to cover: visits to Crete, Osios Loukas and Naxos; Minoan palaces and artefacts; and an account of my recent pilgrimage to Mt Athos, amongst other things. In the meantime, here’s a translation of a poem I came across recently thanks to my Greek tutor. It’s by a twentieth century poet called Angelos Sikelianos who had a house at Delphi and in the late 20s and early 30s tried to revive a Delphic festival.

The poem was written in 1945 as Greece was emerging from the war and the Nazi occupation and expresses the hope of a restoration of the country. Of course at that stage, the Civil War had not started and little did Sikelianos realise that the country had to suffer even more before it could start to renew itself. The central image of raising the sun has a very personal resonance for me in these dark days of winter.

“Spiritual March”

“Forward: help raise the sun over Greece;
forward, help raise the sun over the world!
Do you see its wheel stuck deep in the mud
And do you see its axle stuck deep in blood!
Forward, lads, you can’t raise the sun on your own
push with your knees and chest, let’s get it out of the blood
Look, let us lean on it, blood-brothers!
Forward, brothers, let it surround us with its fire!
Forward, forward, let its flame enfold us, my brothers!

Forward, creators!… Support your forward movement
With heads and feet, don’t let the sun sink!
Help me too, brothers, so I don’t sink with it…
What else can I do, it’s above me and inside me and around me,
I can’t do anything but revolve in a sacred vertigo with it!…

Thousands of bulls’ rumps support its base:
a double-headed eagle above me shakes
its wings and its cry roars
in my head, beside me and inside my soul,
and the far off and near-at-hand are all one to me now!…
Unprecedented, deep harmonies surround me! Forward, comrades,
Help me raise it, so that the Sun Spirit can come into being!

The new Word is approaching and will colour everything
in its new flame, mind and body, pure steel…
Our earth has been fertilised enough with human flesh…
Let us not let our rich and fertile lands
dry out from this deep blood bath,
richer and deeper than the first autumn rains!
Tomorrow each of us will go out with twelve pairs of oxen
to plough this blood-drenched earth…
May the bay tree flower over it and the tree of life spring up,
and our Vineyard stretch out to the ends of the earth…

Forward, lads, you can’t raise the sun on your own…
Push with your knees and chest, let’s get it out of the mud;
Push with your chest and knees, let’s get it out of the blood;
Push with hands and heads, so that the Sun Spirit blazes forth!”

 

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Roman mosaics of the Villa Romana Del Casale in Sicily (2)

This is my second post on the Roman mosaics of the Villa Romana del Casale in Sicily – the first can be found here.

Probably the most famous mosaic in the villa is that of the so-called ‘bikini girls’, a group of eight girls engaged in various types of sporting activity, apparently wearing bikinis. This was though apparently standard wear for girls taking part in athletics contests. It’s unusual in its subject matter and is full of life and movement. It’s quite a contrast with the formality of many of the other mosaics in the villa.

The portion of geometric patterned mosaic in the top left hand corner of the room shows that at some later date the owners decided to cover over the mosaic of the girls. In other parts of the villa some of the mosaics were also later covered with a layer of concrete. Perhaps tastes change or, in a Christian era, the mosaic was seen to be too immodest.

The girl in the middle of the bottom row  wears a laurel crown and holds a palm frond, clearly she is being crowned the victor in these games.

One of the rooms has a depiction of children fishing from boats:

Another room has a whole mosaic dedicated to the watery theme based around Poseidon

At the centre of the villa is the basilica, an audience room, where the Master of the estate would have received visitors, probably seated on a throne under the apse. Today all that is left is the floor and part of the walls.

As you can see in the picture below the floor is very uneven in places. This seems odd because none of the other floors in the villa show anything like the buckling that is evident here. Originally the floor and the walls were covered with polished marbles from all over the  Roman Empire in the Mediterranean, including Egypt, Greece, Asia Minor and Syria. Evidence once again of the power and wealth of the original builders and owners of the villa.

One room has a mosaic depicting Ulysses giving a draft of wine to the Cyclops:

In the Master or Mistress’s private rooms there are some interesting portraits:

An image in a bedroom with a bit of seaside postcard erotica:

A dining room with depictions of fruit:

Finally a couple of mosaics of children, one of them playing games

and one of them engaged in a chariot race in a hippodrome:

Apart from wealth, the original owner must have had access to very skilled craftsmen to undertake such extensive mosaic work to such a high standard. It is now believed that many of the craftsmen came from parts of the Roman Empire in Africa.

Roman mosaics of the Villa Romana Del Casale in Sicily (1)

The Villa Romana del Casale is about 5km south west of Piazza Armerina in eastern Sicily and is the site of a 4th century AD Roman estate. It was inhabited until about the 12th century when it was covered by a mudslide and was not rediscovered until the mid 20th century.

The villa has some of the most extensive and high quality mosaics in Italy. Originally, the site was the main centre of a latifundium (a large estate). It is not known who the owner/builder of the villa was, though whoever it was may have had Imperial connections. They certainly had pots of money, as it is estimated that it took 50-60 years to complete the mosaics. I’m sure we’ve all known builders like that…

At the entrance to the villa are a set of baths with dressing area, massage room and hot and cold pools. One of the most interesting mosaics shows the mistress (domina) of the house walking to the baths with two servant girls and possibly two sons or slave boys.

[Apologies for the variations in light and some of the angles of the shots – conditions were not ideal]

There’s also a communal family loo:

Some interesting geometric mosaics:

The mosaic floors also make use of intriguing trompe-l’oeil effects in the borders:

One long corridor that leads towards the basilica features a whole range of wild animals:

Thee are also some quite brutal hunting scenes which remind me of the equally savage animal depictions in the mosaics of the Great Palace in Istanbul that I covered in an earlier post.

The most impressive mosaic is one huge, continuous scene in the corridor in front of the basilica (the reception room of the villa). It depicts the hunting, capture and transfer from Africa to Rome of a huge variety of wild animals for display and combat in the Circus games.

 

‘Take that, for letting that valuable specimen get away!”

They obviously packed the animals carefully to protect them on the sea journey to Rome.

Obviously some animals were more difficult than others to bring on board ship:

At one part of the mosaic there are two richly dressed figures surveying the scene. It is possible that the one on the left is the owner of the villa:

Our country is closed by Seferis

This poem was published in Seferis’s 1935 collection of poems, Mythistorima (Fiction). As with the Ritsos poem I translated here I find strong resonances with the political and social situation in our own country at the moment.

I was puzzled by what Seferis meant when he said that Greece was ‘closed’ and it was not until I understood the mythological reference in the penultimate verse that it became clear. He seems to be implying that Greece is closed off from the outside world by the Clashing Rocks, perhaps by the Metaxas dictatorship.

The rocks not only kill those who try to escape, but are also killing the people who still live in Greece because they are cutting it off from the rest of the world, causing rivers, springs and wells to dry up, and everything to become stagnant and hollow. Everything has closed in on the country, including the mountains and the sky, creating a feeling of claustrophobia. There is not even any spiritual support in this situation, as even religion has a hollow echo when people bow their heads in worship to the empty cisterns. It is as if people are becoming alienated from their past and any understanding of how they have come to be what they are.

This closing of the country also causes people to forget that they are alive and how they have in the past achieved the simplest of things, like building. This extends to people understanding how to relate to others (eg in marriage) and to have children. The evidence of what the Clashing Rocks are doing is provided by the images of the smashed wood and floating bodies from ships crushed by the rocks coming together.

In mythology the action of the rocks was destroyed by Jason, but in this pessimistic poem there is no sense of a hero who can bring the situation to an end. Nor is there any hero to rescue us in our situation either.

Our country is closed 

Our country is closed, day and night,
everything: mountains that have cover,
The low sky.

We don’t have rivers, we don’t have
wells, we don’t have springs.
Just a few cisterns,
even these are empty,
that echo when we bow to them.

A stagnant, hollow echo,
like our solitude,
like our love,
like our bodies.

It seems strange to us
that once we could build our homes,
shacks and sheepfolds.

And our weddings, cool
wedding crowns and fingers
are becoming puzzles
inexplicable to our minds.
How were our children born, how did they grow strong?

We don’t have rivers, we don’t have
wells, we don’t have springs.
Just a few cisterns,
even these are empty,
that echo when we bow to them.

Our country is closed.
Τwo black Clashing Rocks*
are closing it.

On the harbours on Sundays,
when we go down to take the air,
we see smashed wood lit up by the sunset,
from journeys that were not finished,
and bodies that no longer know
how to love.

*Note: the Symplegades (Clashing Rocks), also known as the Cyanean Rocks, were, according to Greek mythology, a pair of rocks at the Bosphorus that clashed together randomly. They were defeated by Jason and the Argonauts, who would have been lost and killed by the rocks except for Phineus‘ advice. Jason let a dove fly between the rocks and it lost only its tail feathers. The Argonauts rowed mightily to get through and lost only part of the stern ornament. After that, the Symplegades stopped moving permanently. (Wikipedia)  

On the set of the film ‘Kazantzakis’ by Giannis Smaragdis

Wandering around the back streets of Irakleio at the end of a two week holiday in Crete back in 2016, we came across a strange sight. On the edge of a dusty square, dominated by a church a young man in black clothes was being lynched in a mulberry tree. Or rather he was standing on a step-ladder whilst a roadie fixed up the harness that would support him when he was eventually hanged. We had come across the shooting of a scene from a film or TV programme that looked as it was set in the nineteenth century when Crete was under Ottoman rule. Various other characters were waiting around in the square for their bit of the scene:


 We found seats at a local cafe to watch them shoot the scene, but they were still setting up when we left three-quarters of an hour later, without a clapboard being clapped.

About a year later, I found a You tube clip of a scene that featured the characters and setting we had seen in that square in Irakleio. It was from Giannis Smaragdis’s film Kazantzakis that was released in November 2017. I’m looking forward to seeing the whole thing when I can find a copy of it.

With so many leaves by Giannis Ritsos

Centuries old plane tree in the centre of the village of Helicarnasos, Crete

With so many leaves the sun waves ‘good morning’ to you
with so many pennons the sky shines on and on
for those amongst the weapons and those in the earth.

Keep quiet, the bells will ring in a while.

Under the earth, in their crucified hands,
they hold the bell rope,
they are waiting for the time, they are waiting to sound the resurrection
this earth is theirs and ours
no one can take it from us.

Keep quiet, the bells will ring in a while.