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Literature

Michaelides’ Poetry Commemorating Cyprus’ Role in 1821

For many, the celebration of the bicentennial of 1821 often brings to mind March 25th and historic places in mainland Greece, the Peloponnese, and islands such as Hydra and Chios, but Cyprus was also part of the Greek War of Independence.

Archbishop Kyprianos of Cyprus was initiated into the Filiki Etairia in 1818 and by 1820, Alexander Ypsilantis contacted him in order for Cyprus to join the struggle. Archbishop Kyprianos suggested support through money and supplies, but when the war broke out in Greece, many left Cyprus to join the fight and proclamations were distributed throughout the island.

The local pasha, angered by the Cypriot response to the call to arms, confiscated weapons and arrested many prominent Cypriots. On July 9, 1821, the gates of Nicosia were shut and 470 Cypriots were executed by beheading or hanging, including Bishop Chrysanthos of Paphos, Bishop Meletios of Kition, and Bishop Lavrentios of Kyrenia. Archbishop Kyprianos was publicly hanged from a tree opposite the former palace of the Lusignan Kings of Cyprus. The events leading up to his execution inspired the epic poem titled 9th of July 1821, written in the Cypriot dialect by Vasilis Michaelides, considered the national poet of Cyprus.

The powerful poem, written in the late 19th century, brings history to life in the dynamic and expressive dialect of the island. Some attempts have been made to translate the poem into English, but the original Cypriot is quite moving for those who read Greek. The full text of the poem is available online along with an audio version for listeners to experience in the true accent: http://www.erevos.com/enati/enati.htm.

Michaelides was born in Lefkoniko, a village in the Famagusta District of Cyprus, between 1849 and 1853, the exact date is not known for certain. In 1862, he moved to Nicosia to attend secondary school. He had showed an early interest in art and his father sent him Nicosia to train as an iconographer. Michaelides lived there with his uncle, who later became the Metropolitan of Kition, and they then moved to Larnaca where Michaelides was drawn more towards poetry than painting.

In 1873, he published his first poems Usury (Η Τοκογλυφία) and Nightingales and Owls (Αηδόνια και Κουκουβάγιες). In 1875, he moved to Naples, Italy to continue his studies in painting. Michaelides left Italy in 1877 and went to Greece where he enlisted as a volunteer in the Greek army and fought for the liberation of Thessaly. With the end of Ottoman rule of Cyprus in 1878, he returned to Limassol, and began to write for the local newspaper Alithia (Truth).

Among his well-known poems are H Anerada (The Fairy) and H Chiotissa (The Woman from Chios). Besides his works written in the Cypriot dialect, Michaelides also wrote in Demotic Greek and Katharevousa. His first poetry collection, H Asthenis Lyra, was published in 1882.

Later in life, he struggled with alcoholism, but still managed to publish another poetry collection titled Poems in 1911. His final poem, To oroman tou Romiou (The vision of the Greek), was published in January 1917 and Michaelides passed away in December of that year.

In recent years, Michaelides’ poetry has been set to music and performed by well-known artists. Alkinoos Ioannides sang H Anerada set to music by Cypriot composer Larkos Larkou who has composed several songs based on Michaelides poems. Phyto Stratis, Artistic and Music Director of Cyprus New York Productions, has composed a new song, titled July 9th, based on the poem by Michaelides, which premiered on June 26 at the event Here’s to the Heroes commemorating the bicentennial of 1821 and Cyprus’ role in the Greek War of Independence.

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