NEW YORK – The exhibition space of Cyprus’ Consulate General was packed on October 21 for a lecture titled “Odysseas Elytis and Cyprus” by Prof. Marios Pourgouris.
Amb. Vasilios Philippou, the Consul General of Cyprus, welcomed the guests and spoke of the life and works of the Nobel Prize-winning writer and his special relationship with Cyprus. He quoted Elytis’ apology when he was not able to keep his first promise to visit the island: “I want to go and worship its soil.”
The Consulate’s Lambrini Giannatsou was Emcee, and there were greetings by Thomas Pappathomas, Busch Campus Dean and Professor of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, Rutgers University, and by Fr. Nicholas Samaras representing Archbishop Demetrios.
Fr. Samaras said that the Archbishop “always taught us that poetry, and literature, and music is essential to the higher aspiration of humanity, which is coming closer to God.”
The guests were delighted by a greeting by Cypriot singing star Anna Vissi.
Papathomas spoke about the Elytis Chair Fund, represented at the event by its chairman, Prof. Panos Georgopoulos, and the Modern Greek Studies Program of Rutgers University, which cooperated with the consulate in the presentation of lecture along with the Cyprus Federation of America, PSEKA and with the Hellenic American leadership Council (HALC).
Papathomas thanked HALC founder Nikos Mouyiaris for his $400,000 grant for the Elitis chair, which was matched by another $200,000 by the community.
Pourgouris was visibly moved to return to the space and the people he knew well during his tenures teaching at Rutgers and Brown Universities. He noted the political dimension of the relationship to Cyprus of an artist who tried not to be tangled up with politics. Elytis found refuge during his first two trips to the island during the Greek Junta period. Greek intellectuals associated the disputes of Cyprus’s President Archbishop Makarios and Athens with opposition to the dictatorship.
After Makarios’ death, the poet declared that “his fighting spirit and perseverance and beauty is drawn from the great reservoir of the Cypriot people.” Elytis also protested the junta by rejecting a prize with the then-substantial sum of one million drachmas, and turning down membership in the Academy of Athens.
After winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1979, Cyprus was one of the two countries whose invitation to visit he accepted. He also went to Spain because “they celebrated my award as if I were Spanish. “
Pourgouris devoted a portion of the lecture to Elytis’ literary achievements – “he pushed to the limits the Greek language. He did what nobody had done before.”
He also mentioned Elytis’ theories of art. The latter meditated on the resilience of nations through the millennia and concluded that language is a powerful tool and weapon for survival. He also believed that a nation’s art and literature is inspired by its geography, a theory he developed in the 1950s when we spent time with artists like Picasso.
The physical environment of a people is internalized, and externalized again in its architecture, a process responsible for its authenticity. The great French Cathedral of Notre Dame at Chartres would look completely out of place in Greece, he said.
Elystis also thought deeply about the criteria by which continuity and discontinuity are judged to hold diachronically in cultures. He did not believe that the neo-classical buildings of America and Europe have substantial connections with ancient Greece – they are mere imitations. It is in the folk traditions of the Greeks, especially their poetry, where the soul of the Ancient Greece can be felt.
The lecture was followed by moving readings of Elytis’ writing by Amb. Philippou, Cypriot-American poet Polys Kyriakou, and retired Cypriot ambassador Achilleas Antoniades. The reception was provided by the Pan Gregorian Enterprises.