NEW YORK – The men and women who make contributions and sacrifices for the well-being of a community and the preservation of its heritage are called heroes. Among them are the authors who convey its history to future generations – and the translators who make the story of the homeland accessible to its diaspora.
Nicholas G. Itsines was the featured speaker at the Hellenic Cultural Center of the Archdiocese on January 11. He is not only the translator of History the Island of Kos: Ancient -Medieval- Modern, the magisterial tome written by the distinguished scholar Vasilis S. Hatzivasiliou, but its benefactor as well.
Itsines contributed $7000 to the endeavor, and the purchase price of the book merely offsets the printing costs.
The Emcee was John Sakellis, past president of the Pancoan Society “Hippocrates,” which organized the event along with the Federation Of Dodecanese Societies and other community organizations. He was the first of a number of speakers who emphasized the importance of translating books of that kind so that the community’s children and grandchildren can learn about and appreciate their heritage.
Guests included Archimandrite Ierotheos Zacharis, Abbot of the monastery of St. Irene Chrysovalantou, who offered the invocation, Fr. Nektarios Papazafiropoulos, the Dean of St. Demetrios Cathedral, who blessed the Vasilopita that was cut after the speaking program, and representatives of numerous community organizations.
Manolis Cassotis, from the neighboring Dodecanese island of Karpathos is the president of the national Dodecanese Council of America. He is a dear friend and colleague of Itsines, and he spoke about the importance of translators of important books. He presented an overview of the book’s subject matter, which includes Kos’ cultural, political, and economic history over the past 8000 years.
Kos’ prehistoric residents had roots in Asia Minor, and the island was later absorbed into Minoan, Mycenaean and Hellenic civilizations. The bulk of the book is about the classical period and thereafter, although fascinating mythological references are included.
Life under the island’s many conquerors, including the Ottoman period, is described by Hatzivasileiou. The Koans persevered and endured and distinguished themselves through the centuries in fields like commerce to medicine. The artifacts of its rich ancient culture are complemented by the art and architecture of the Byzantine and later periods.
Koans fought for Greek independence and participated in the resistance against the German and Italian occupations even though the end of those conflicts left them cut off from the homeland. They were finally united with the Modern Greek state in 1948.
The guests learned about the life and work of Hatzivasiliou, who was described as a “humble historian, lawyer and man,” and Cassotis returned to the podium to introduce Itsines – Sakellis later read his biography.
Itsines thanked Cassotis, Sakellis, and all who contributed to the success of the event and proceeded to share insights about the work of translation with the audience.
He quoted a description of a translator as straddling two worlds and provided some examples of Greek words that were difficult to translate. He was in continuous consultation with Hatzivasiliou because a work of that kind is not amenable to free translation – Itsines strove for precision.
The translation of the 700 page book was done over a period of almost 15 years –10,000 hours were devoted to the task.
Itsines, who earned his BA at Hellenic College/Holy Cross and an MA and PhD in Byzantine and Medieval history at Fordham University, is a stalwart of the Holy Trinity- St. Nicholas Parish in Staten Island, where he is the choir director.
Fr. Ierotheos Papazafiropoulos congratulated the author and translator and also the Koan societies for contributions that will benefit the community across America, especially future generations. He declared that “everything else is forgotten by the written word and books endure.”
George Andriotis, president of the Pan Dodecanesian Society, said the book and its promotion is an example of the value of the work of the community’s syllogoi and offered his warmest congratulations.
Educator Demosthenes Triantafilou, who had recommended translating the book and read Hatzivasiliou’s bio, also offered greetings and congratulations, as did Christopher Coroneos. the Greek-American environmental engineer Columbia University research associate who in 2014 was elected mayor of another neighbor of Kos, the island of Nisyros.
He expressed thanks for invitation to participate in the event and also acknowledged the importance of the book, which became part of his library in 1995. He noted that it illuminated the history not only of Kos but the entire Dodecanesian island group.
Maria Stelletos, the treasurer of the Pancoan Society briefly addressed the gathering and said how pleased she was with the turnout “which shows the interest that exists in the history of Kos and the support for its organizations.”
Stelletos said, “What I take away from today’s presentations is that the book and its translation were labors of love. If my generation reads it, it will be a good guide for where we are going.