This Past Week in History: April 28th to May 4th

A photograph of the poet Constantine P. Cavafy from the Cavafy Archive. (Photo: Cavafy Archive Onassis Foundation)

April 29th:

On this day in 1863, Constantine P. Cavafy, the Egyptian-Greek poet, journalist, and civil servant was born, the ninth child of Constantinopolitan parents, in Alexandria, Egypt. Interestingly enough, 70 years later in 1933, Cavafy also died on this day. C.P. Cavafy became one of the most important figures not only in Greek poetry but in Western poetry as well. Cavafy lived in England for much of his adolescence, and developed both a command of the English language and a preference for the writings of William Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde. He then moved between Alexandria, Liverpool and Constantinople. During his lifetime Cavafy was an obscure poet, living in relative seclusion and publishing little of his work. His most important poetry was written after his 40th birthday. A short collection of his poetry was privately printed in the early 1900s and reprinted with new verse a few years later, but that was the extent of his published poetry. He never offered a volume of his poems for sale during his lifetime. Instead he distributed privately printed pamphlets to friends and relatives. A skeptic, he denied or ridiculed traditional values of Christianity, patriotism, and heterosexuality, though he was ill at ease with his own nonconformity. His language is a mixture of the refined and stilted “official” Greek called Katharevousa, inherited from the Byzantines, and the Demotic, or spoken, tongue. His style and tone are intimate and realistic. The lyric treatment he gave to familiar historical themes made him popular and influential after his death.

May 1st:

On this day in 1946, the Paris Peace Conference concluded that the islands of the Dodecanese should be returned to Greece by Italy. Italian rule over the Dodecanese, which lasted for over twenty years – officially beginning in 1923 with the Treaty of Lausanne, was “firm and efficient but never popular.” Italian became the official language, and in 1925 the Dodecanesians were obliged to take Italian citizenship. In response to such restrictions, significant numbers of islanders migrated to the United States. The generation of islanders that remained under that regime was largely bilingual as a result. After World War II, the islands temporarily came under British occupation, with Greek participation. The conference of foreign ministers in Paris agreed in 1946 that the islands should pass to Greece and were formally ceded in 1947.

Also on this day in 1925, Cyprus became a British Crown Colony with a top British administrator, the high commissioner, becoming governor. At first a protectorate, Cyprus was annexed by Britain on the outbreak of war with the Ottoman Empire in 1914 before becoming a Crown Colony. From the 1930s, Greek Cypriots campaigned for enosis (union with Greece), a movement that came to be led in the 1950s by Archbishop Makarios. The UK proposed instead (in 1948, 1954, and 1955) various forms of internal self-government, all of which were deemed unacceptable by the Greek Cypriot Ethnarchy Council. In 1955, the National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters (EOKA) began armed resistance against the UK. Turkey helped the Turkish Cypriot leaders establish the Cyprus Is Turkish Party and the Turkish Resistance Organisation, and the fighting ultimately became inter-communal. In 1960, the UK negotiated an independence agreement with Greece and Turkey, under which the three powers guaranteed to protect the integrity of Cyprus, which was to be allowed neither to unite with any other country nor to be partitioned. Cyprus, which had not taken part in these negotiations, became independent as the Republic of Cyprus.

May 4th:

On this day in 1913, Lady Katherine Brandram, Princess of Greece, the last surviving great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, was born in the New Royal Palace in Athens. Princess Katherine of Greece was the youngest child of King Constantine I of the Hellenes and Princess Sophie of Prussia.  She lived a life of exile – moving from Greece to Switzerland to Italy to England and then to South Africa (all before the age of 28). In Cape Town, Katherine worked as a nurse at a hospital, where she was known as “Sister Katherine” and for a time she cared for soldiers who had lost their sight. After World War II, Katherine returned to England, sailing the last leg of her trip from Egypt to England on the ship liner Ascania. On board, she met Major Richard Campbell Brandram MC, an officer in the British Royal Artillery. They were engaged three weeks after they arrived in England. According to her obituary in The Daily Telegraph, “Lady Katherine lived quietly but remained in close touch with her own [Greek] and the British royal families. She attended the Queen’s wedding to Prince Philip (her first cousin), and was a guest at the service to mark Prince Philip’s 80th birthday at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, in 2001.” Princess Katherine lived to the age of 94.

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