Valentine’s Day is a wonderful time to share the love of books with your beloved. Flowers and chocolates only last so long, but a literary-inspired gift will last a lifetime. Here are a few bookish gifts to surprise your loved one with on Valentine’s Day.
Poetry, though often overlooked, can be a lovely gift for Valentine’s Day. The simplest poem can express in a few words the deeply felt emotions most people find difficult to articulate in their day to day lives. The constancy of human nature makes even the love poems of remote antiquity seem immediate and eternal at the same time. In more recent times, gifted Greek poets emerged who found inspiration in the past and also forged their own dynamic, Modern Greek voice.
Kostas Krystallis was a 19th century poet born in Epirus, who fled Ottoman oppression to work several different jobs in Athens all while writing remarkable poems. His poetry was inspired by nature and the pastoral life he had witnessed in his native Epirus. The charming Ela Voskoula Ela (Come, Shepherdess, Come) is a fine example of his work. The wooing of the shepherdess by the poem’s narrator fits in nicely with a Valentine’s Day theme, as does the pining of the shepherdess for her husband in the poem To Parapono tis Voskopoulas (The Shepherdess’s Complaint). These poems are available online through Project Gutenberg.
Selected Poems by Odysseus Elytis is a wonderful gift for the poetry lover. The passion and emotion in the poems is extraordinary, as one would expect in the work of the Nobel Prize-winning poet. One of his best known poems, Marina of the Rocks begins with the powerfully-charged line, “You have a taste of tempest on your lips.” The poem is available online in Greek and English on the Poetry International Rotterdam website.
The Odyssey by Homer may not be the first romantic love story that springs to mind this Valentine’s Day, but the epic poem hinges on the devotion of a faithful wife, Penelope, to her husband Odysseus. The return of Odysseus has inspired countless artists over the centuries. The Romantic era from the late 18th century through the 19th century found the devoted married couple’s love story quite captivating. Paintings and prints of the touching reunion scene between husband and wife appealed to the romantic spirit of the age. A jigsaw puzzle version of the Return of Odysseus to his Wife Penelope, available online, makes a unique gift for Valentine’s Day.
Romance novels might seem an obvious choice for the bibliophile in your life this Valentine’s Day. It might surprise some readers to learn that the ancient Greeks invented the genre. A testament to their popularity over the centuries, five romance novels survive intact from antiquity, copied by enthusiastic scholars who translated the ancient Greek manuscripts into Latin and then into various modern languages, including English. Callirhoe by Chariton, Leucippe and Clitophon by Achilles Tatius, Daphnis and Chloe by Longus, The Ephesian Tale by Xenophon of Ephesus, and Aethiopica or Theagenes and Chariclea by Heliodorus of Emesa all share common themes of love and fidelity. Pirates and abductions feature prominently as well in these action-packed, ancient romance novels which influenced later novels from the Byzantine era up to the present day. English translations of the ancient novels are available online and in digital format. Look for the editions which include the Greek version side by side with the translation if you’d like to practice your Ancient Greek.