Greek Literature, Modern
GREEK LITERATURE, MODERN
The literary image of the Jew was molded in Greece by the Jews themselves, by Greek non-Jews and, indirectly, by the Turks. In ancient Greece, Jews were referred to as a "community of philosophers." In the Hellenistic period there was some anti-Jewish writing; but, in the main, Jews and Greeks enjoyed a friendly cultural relationship (see *Hellenistic Jewish Literature; *Greek Literature, Ancient).
Influence of the Bible
Probably no work contributed more to the harmonious relationship between *Hellenism and Judaism than the *Septuagint. But in the *Byzantine Empire, fanatical rulers enacted anti-Jewish decrees which altered the image of the Jew and even threatened his survival, e.g., the anti-Jewish decrees of Constantine i, Novella 146 of *Justinian, as well as the anti-Jewish enactments of Basil i (867–886), as described in the Chronicle of *Ahimaaz b. Paltiel. The Greek Jews and the newly arrived Sephardi exiles from Spain, welcomed by Sultan Bajazet ii, fared well under the *Ottoman Empire. Hebrew studies became popular and talmudic schools multiplied. Important achievements were an anonymous Polyglot Pentateuch (1547), the Book of Job (1576), and a medieval Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible in 1576 (see *Judeo-Greek). Jewish writing was revived again in the 18th and even more in the 19th centuries. Hebrew education was popularized in both synagogue and home by the Judeo-Greek translations. Among 20th-century Greek writers, G. Th. Vafopoulos wrote a tragedy based on the story of Esther (1934). Kosta Papapanayiotou published two dramas, one about Esther and the other about Rizpah, in 1963. Nikos Kazantzakis, in his Sodhoma kye Ghomorra (1956), relates the age of the Bible to the modern world which, in his view, has reverted to the corruption of the past. Despite his preference for the Old Testament over the New, Kazantzakis distorts rabbinic Judaism and the character of his own Jewish contemporaries. Ioanna Dhriva Maravelidhou, in her verse drama Esther (1967), pays homage to those Jews in the Persian Empire who were prepared for any sacrifice to preserve the idea of one God. In his book Simon Bar Kochba, published in 1966, Vassos Kaloyannis dealt with the epic Jewish struggle against Rome.
The Figure of the Jew in Modern Greek Literature
Contemporary prejudice marks the poetic "Story of the Little Jewess Marcada" (Venice, 1627), which tells of the heroine's abduction by her Christian lover and her subsequent apostasy. I thisia tou Avraam ("The Sacrifice of Abraham," 1696), a mystery play probably written in 1635 by the Cretan Kornaros (d. 1677), is the only masterpiece by a Greek of that time. The earliest surviving edition was printed in Venice in 1713. It may have been based on an earlier Italian drama and reveals both the influence of the Bible and a humanistic treatment of the Jew. In the Thisia, which continues to be revived in Greece almost annually and has been translated into all the major European languages, the author presents an anthropomorphic God and depicts Abraham not as a Hebrew patriarch but as a distraught father torn between love for his son and love of God.
For the next three centuries Greek writers devoted their efforts to liberating their country from the Turks. As a strategic measure against the revolutionary tide which finally led to the successful War of Greek Independence (1821–32), the Turks created a climate of covert hostility between Greek and Jew. It was not until almost all of Greece was liberated that a humanistic treatment of the Jew was again found in Greek literature. The novelist Gregorios Xenopoulos wrote a drama entitled Rachel (1909) on the expulsion of the Jews from Zante; Konstantinos Cavafy, the Alexandrian Greek poet, wrote a poem, in which he philosophized ironically on the dangers of Jewish assimilation; and Nikolaos D. Vizinos published several refutations of the *blood libel.
The one Greek writer to portray the Jew in universal terms was Nikos Kazantzakis who devotes a chapter to the Russian Jew in his travel book Ti idha sti Rousia ("What I Saw in Russia," 1928). Here he sees the Jew as a rebel and revolutionary by force of historical circumstance. In his autobiographical Anafora ston Greko (1961; Report to Greco, 1965) he shows profound sympathy for the suffering of the German Jewish students he met in Berlin. In Jerusalem, he longed not only for his own God but also for the Old Testament God, and he visited Mount Sinai to hear His voice as Moses heard it. Kazantzakis nevertheless remained bitterly opposed to Zionism, which he considered a reactionary delusion. Elsewhere, he showed admiration for Eliezer *Ben-Yehuda, the father of the Hebrew revival. In the novel with the Hebrew title Todah Rabbah (1934, English translation 1956), Kazantzakis portrays the Russian Jew as "one facet of a single consciousness that experienced and mirrored the complex, fluid, many-sided reality of the Soviet Union."
The playwright Spyros Melas turned to historical drama in Judas, first produced in Athens in 1934. In this play Judas is portrayed as a revolutionary leader who joins Jesus for the liberation of Judea. Manolis Georgiou Skoulidhis wrote I ipothesis Dreyfus ("The Dreyfus Case," 1960), in which he dramatized modern opinions about this famous trial. Pantelis Georgiou Prevelakyis, influenced by the ideology of his close friend Kazantzakis, wrote O Lazaros (1954), a drama in which he examined the attitude of an early Christian toward the new religion. A prose work by V. Ghazis on the Cain and Abel theme (1955) consists of seven allegorical accounts, the last of which predicts an eventual atomic war.
Several authors who were personally involved in World War ii wrote works dealing with the Nazi occupation of Greece and their concentration camp experiences. One was Elias Venezis, whose play, Block C, was published in 1945. Venezis' novel Okeanos ("Ocean," 1956) gives a sympathetic portrait of a Jewish stowaway from Smyrna bound for the United States. Jacob Kampaneli, who spent the years 1943–45 in the Mauthausen concentration camp, wrote the first draft of a prose work on his experiences in 1947 and published a final version in 1965. His pro-Jewish sympathies are very evident, since after the liberation he remained in the camp until all the Jewish survivors who wished to had immigrated to Palestine. Other works on the concentration camp theme are the play Epistrofi apo to Buchenwald ("Return from Buchenwald," 1948) by Sotiris Patatzis and a long poem by Takis Olympios, 40382 (1965), inspired by the number branded on the arm of a girl who survived Auschwitz. A volume of poems by Sophia Mavroídhi Papadhaki (1905– ), To louloudhi tis tefras ("The Flower of the Ashes," 1966), had its origin in a flower she saw growing among the ashes of Dachau. Papadhaki also wrote a life of David and short stories about Ruth and Jonah.
Vassos Kaloyannis was one of several non-Jewish authors to write about Jewish communities in Greece, which he did in his Larissa, Madre d'Israel ("Larissa, Mother of Israel," 1959). Demetrius Hatzis wrote about the Janina Jewish community in I mikri mas polis ("Our Small City") and the archimandrite Nikodemos Vafiadhis gave an account of the Jewish community of Didymotichon in his I israilitikyi kyinotis Dhidhimotichou (1954). The art critic Anghelos Georgios Procopiou, who spent a year in Israel, described his impressions of the country in his book O Laos tis Vivlou ("The People of the Bible"). The image of the Jew in Greek literature is still clearly identified with the history of Judaism and the Bible. In modern times, however, Greek authors are trying to create an emphatic, three-dimensional image of the Jew as a Greek citizen whose sufferings must not be forgotten. George Zoghrafakyis (1908–?), a non-Jewish writer from Salonika, who edited the works of Eliyia and published essays on modern Jewish figures such as *Herzl and *Agnon, should also be mentioned.
The Jewish Contribution to Greek Literature
Until World War ii Salonika was the center of Greco-Jewish culture and Jewish authors wrote mainly in *Ladino, the language spoken by the majority of the Jewish community. Among the very few Jewish writers in Greek, who, between the two world wars, sought to interpret their background and traditions in terms of the contemporary world were the prominent journalist Moisis *Caïmis and the brilliant and prolific poet Joseph *Eliyia. After World War ii Jewish writers in Greece showed a natural preoccupation with the tragic fate of their community during the Nazi occupation. J. Matarasso published the poignant Kye omos oli tous dhen pethanan ("Still They All have not Died," 1948); P. Chajidhimiou wrote a book of commemorative verse entitled Bene Israel (1957); and Joseph Matsas investigated the cultural achievements of the Jews in his native Janina. Although he wrote in French, Albert *Cohen, born in Corfu, used his native background as a setting for some of his novels.
Other Jewish writers returned to the path blazed earlier by Caïmis and Eliyia. They include the Zionist author Asher *Moissis; Raphael Konstantinis (1892–?), who edited two Jewish periodicals; Julius Caïmis; Joseph (Pepo) Sciaki; Baruch Schiby; and the outstandingly successful Nestoras *Matsas, who converted during World War ii but retained a burning interest in his Jewish heritage and the tragedy of his people.
The Jew in Modern Greek Literature
Frequent references are to be found in modern Greek literature to the Jewish people in general and more specifically to Greek Jews and the Holocaust. A number of the authors concerned emanate from or had close connections with Thessaloniki (Salonika) or Ioannina with their famed Jewish communities. The works are often inspired by personal experiences based on relations with Jewish friends annihilated in the Holocaust. Many of these appeared in the 1960s with the stimulation of public interest through the trial of the Nazi Dr. Merten in Greece and the *Eichmann trial in Israel.
Traditional Greek language and literature created a mass of negative stereotypes of the Jew, as found in proverbs, folksongs, and the shadow-theater. The figure of the Jew in this pre-modern literature has often no relation to reality. This has often passed into modern works. In the words of the outstanding writer Yiorgos Ioannou in 1979, "The still unstable modern Greek society does not even have the time and strength to collect its energy to combat the poisonous luxury of antisemitism and racial discrimination."
However, other voices were heard also in the past. The national poet of Greece, Dionysios Solomos (1798–1857), published in 1822 a series of sonnets inspired by the Bible. In one of these he compared the revolutionary Greek nation to Zion reborn. The poet K.P. Kavafi (1863–1933) wrote two poems about the Jews of the Hellenistic period. In the poem "About the Jew – 50 b.c.e.," his protagonist is the imaginary Ianthis Antoniou who desires that "there always will be Jews, holy Jews." The second poem relates to Alexander Yannai and his wife, Hellenizing rulers of the Jewish state at the end of the Hasmonean era. Kostas Palamas (1852–1943) extravagantly praised the Zionist movement and was deeply impressed by Max Nordau. Alexander Papadiamantis (1851–1911) started from negative positions but revised his views, notably in his article "The Repercussion of Sense" where he reacted to the 1891 pogrom of the Jews in Corfu.
Of all the later writers, pride of place goes to Nikos Kazantzakis (1883–1957) who relates in his autobiography Relation to Greco that he persuaded his father to permit him to study Hebrew with the rabbi of Irakleon but was prevented due to the prejudices of the rest of his family. He also presents impressions of travelers from Jerusalem and Sinai who expound on the virtues of the Jewish people. In the memoirs of his mature age, he speaks of his bond with the German Jew, Rachel Lipstein, which is also indirectly reflected in his novels Christ Recrucified and Captain Michael.
Of later works, mention should be made of the fictional biography by M. Karagatsi (1908–1960) King Laskos, whose hero is in charge of a boatload of Jewish immigrants trying to beat the British blockade of Palestine, and the novel Sergio and Bacchante which pays tribute to the role of Jews in modern civilization. Ilia Venezi (1904–1973) wrote travel impressions from modern Israel as well as stories against the background of the 1948 Arab-Israel War. Yianni Berati (1904–1968) in his book The Wide River writes of the heroism of the Greek Jewish soldiers in the Greco-Italian War of 1940. Dimitri Yatha (1907–1979), the leading theatrical author, writer, and humorist, describes his recollections of a Jewish family of bankers in his The Land of the Sea. Strati Mirivili (1892–1963) also refers to Jewish soldiers in the anti-war chronicle Life in a Grave. Kosma Politi (1893–1974) preserved aspects of the Jewish community of Izmir in his book To a Western European Pilgrim. Dimitri Hatzi (1914–1981) described the Jewish community of Ionnina in his story "Shabetai Kabilli" in his book The End of our Small City, and Toli Kazantzi in his narrations sketches the coexistence of Greeks and Jews in pre-War Salonika.
A body of poetic work has been inspired by the Holocaust. Among the poets mention should be made of Manoli Anagnostaki (b. 1925), Taki Barvitsioti (b. 1916), Nino Kokkalidou-Nahmia (b. 1922), I.A. Nikolaidi (b. 1936), Marino Charalambous (b. 1937), Dino Christianopoulo (b. 1931), Yiorgos Ioannou (1927–1985), G. Th. Vafopoulou (b. 1903), the surrealistic Niko Engonopoulo (1910–1986), George Kaftantzi (b. 1920), Prodromo Markoglou (b. 1935), and Kimona Tzalla (1917–1988). Outstanding is the poem of Zoe Karelli (b. 1901), "Israel," which harks back to the sufferings of the Jews in biblical times and links them with the tragic fate of the Jews of Salonika. She seeks the causes of antisemitism and of the Holocaust, showing the common element throughout history, and also shows how Jews always maintained a discreet strength in their resistance to persecutions.
Among prose writers who have been affected by the Holocaust are G. Th. Vafopoulouy in his Pages of Autobiographies; Ilia Venezi (1904–1973) in the fictionalized biography Archbishop Damaskinos; the diary of Iakavou Kampanelli (b. 1922) Mauthausen; the tender novel Tziokonta of Nikou Kokantzi (b. 1927); Nikou Bakala (b. 1927) in his novel The Big Square and works by Vasili Vasilikou (b. 1934), Georgou Theotoka (1905–1966), Yianni Lambrinou (1909–1949), Nestoria Matsa (b. 1932), Kostoulas Mitropoulou (b. 1940), I.M. Papagiotopoulou (1901–1981), Yianni Starki (1919–1987), and Friksou Tzioba (b. 1919).
The major author who wrote of the Holocaust of Salonika Jewry is Yiorgos Ioannou. In his poems "Iliotropia" (1954) and "The Thousand Trees" (1963), he describes the last night of a Jewish family who lived in a nearby apartment and of his grief over their unbelievable disappearance. His book For the Honor (1964) describes the leveling of the old Jewish cemetery of Salonika. In The Sarcophagus (1971), Our Own Blood (1978), and The Capital of the Refugees (1984), he wonders at the persecution of the Jews in his neighborhood which culminated in the pillage of their homes and the testimony of his own father, a railroad worker, who experienced at first hand the songs sung on the journeys to the death camps from inside the sealed animal wagons.
All these works face the Jews with reverence and treat their suffering with the utmost respect and sympathy, emanating from the recognition of a longtime harmonious symbiosis.
Noted Gentile Greek authors who wrote about Greek Jewry include Lily Zografos, who focuses on Jews in the Holocaust in I Evrai Kapote (Mikael) ("The Jews Once, Mikael," 1966) and elsewhere in Antignosi, Ta thekanikia tou kapitalismou ("Bad Sense, The Crutches of Capitalism," 1974); Yiorgos Zografakis, who published biographies of the military war hero Colonel Mordechai Frizis or the early 20th century Ioanniote poet and author Josep Eliyia; Dimitri Hatzi, who in the form of short stories colorfully depicted Ioanniote Jewry in the early 20th century several decades before its destruction in the Holocaust; or the literature professor Frangiski Ambatzopolou who wrote about Greek Jewish Holocaust survivors in modern Greek literature, I Logotechnia Os Martitiria, Ellines Pezografi Yia to Yenoktonia Ton Evraion, Anthologia ("The Literature of Testimonies, Greek Prose Writers on Horrific Events of the Jews, Anthology," 1995), and translated into Greek testimonies of Greek Holocaust survivors published in Hebrew in Israel and added a few testimonies of remaining survivors in Salonika.
Several Greek Jews can be included among popular Greek authors.
Nestoras *Matsas wrote a biography of Alexander the Great, To Hirografo Tis Babilonas, Megalexandro Apomnimonevmata ("The Manuscript of Babylon, the Memoirs of Alexander the Great," 1980), and about his experience hiding as a young boy in Athens during World War ii in Avto to paidi pethane avrio, Imerologio Katochis ("That Boy Died Tomorrow, A Diary of the Occupation," 1987), and in I Istoria Ton Hamenon Peristerion: Imerogio Enos Paidou Ston Emfilio ("The History of the Lost Pigeon: Diary of a Boy in the Civil War," 1995). Michel Feis, born to a Jewish father in Cuomotini in 1957, wrote fictional accounts of Jewish life in Cuomotini through the centuries and generations, and published Avtobiografia, enos vivliou, Mithistorima ("The Autobiography of a Book, A Novel," 1995). He also wrote a book of short stories called From the Same Glass and Other Stories (1999), which won the State Short Story Award in 2000, and two works on Giulio Caimi, a Jewish artist: Greek Landscapes (1993) and Giulio Caimi, A Man Suppressed. Recollections and Criticism. Selected Articles (1928–1976). Nina Kokkalidou-Nachmia has written over a dozen books since 1970 including the novel Tilefoniko Kentro ("Telephone Center," 1972), the children's book Ti nea, kirie Gate ("What's New, Sir Cat," 1984), Otan I Ellines Iortazoun ("When Greeks Celebrate," 1995), and Palia Thessaloniki Kai Istoriki Diadromi Tis D.E.Th. 1926–1989 ("Old Thessaloniki and Historical Journey of the Municipality of Thessaloniki 1926–1989," 1996), which depicts the Old Salonika and its Jews, musicians, and modern postwar life. She also wrote a moving book related to the Holocaust entitled Reina Zilberta, ena paidi sto geto tis Thessalonikis ("Reina Zilberta, a Girl in the Ghetto of Thessaloniki," 1996).
[Yitzchak Kerem (2nd ed.)]
"Greek Literature, Modern." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 21, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/greek-literature-modern
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