Cyprus: Small Mediterranean Library
Xenia Andreou - 20/10/2003
In literary matters, Cyprus acts to a large extent as a satellite to the larger Greek (or Turkish) space. Although it has a fairly vigorous poetry tradition to contribute, it largely depends on the mainland when it comes to novels and prose. With very little of the already scant literary activity having been translated into other languages, visitors looking to discover the island's cultural face might have to look elsewhere, such as in art and history books.
Poetry and Prose
Costas Montis, A small Selection From His Poetry, Nicosia 2003
Costas Montis, Nobel Prize nominee and Corresponding Member of the Academy of Athens, is considered one of the greatest living Greek poets, and one who renewed in a unique way modernistic lyric poetry, and enriched Modern Greek poetry from the point of view of Cyprus. With an uninterrupted literary creation of 70 years, he has, in the words of a Greek professor, "been able to depict artistically the authentic rhythms, the temperature, and the action of the deepest historical and emotional fluctuations of the soul and breath of Cyprus and her people. In his powerful work he has recorded every vibration of the island (erotic, social, political), and all the thoughts of the people of Cyprus have been set down. He has made use of the whole wealth of the linguistic, historical, and cultural tradition of greater Hellenism, and entrenched in his work, with unprecedented poetic force, the indelible character of the deep-rooted values of the Greek nation".
Much of the author's prolific work has been translated into other languages. For more information on the man and his work, one may consult the English-language website set up by his daughter: The Official Website of Costas Montis.
Linos Ioannides, The time of the unexpected age, Aegeon/Koukida Publications, Nicosia 2001.
This young poet, now living and working in Greece, betrays his age with a maturity and experience that digs deep beyond his years. Following the author's voice in these poems, one crosses incessant landscapes - urban, countryside, abandonment, topographical, staircases, squares, inside an eye, of the air, water, the horizon, the past - footsteps that never stop, through or within rooms, doors and windows, up or down, but always return to the inevitable. His extraordinary surreal imagery and pace takes your breath away and leaves your head light to question the moment.
Niki Marangou, Selections from the Divan, translated and introduced by Stephanos Stephanides, Kochlias Publications, Nicosia 2001.
Writer and painter Niki Marangou was born in Limassol in 1948. Following her studies in sociology in West Berlin, she worked at the State Theatre of Cyprus for ten years. Since 1980, she directs Kochlias Bookshop in Nicosia. She has published books of prose, poetry and children's fairy tales and was awarded state prizes for poetry: From the Garden (1981), Beginning of Indiction (1987); and for prose: A Layer of Sand (1990), Is the Panther Alive? (2001). In 1998, she was awarded the Cavafy Poetry Prize in Alexandria. She has also had seven exhibitions of her painting work and participated in the Biennales of Cairo and Ljubljana. Stephanos Stephanides' translation of her latest collection of poems "caught fire with the rite of writing in each poem I read, and I desired to join the process of ritual invocation by transferring the ritual into another language." In these poems, Niki Marangou explores the link between the healing of ritual cleansing and the catharsis of art, and the "movement between places and spaces, from this shore to the one beyond, the movement back and forth across the boundaries in the multiple layers of our lives and cultures." The eastern Mediterranean is evoked in sensuous and sensual imagery, the spirits of its cross-cultural past ever-present. The poems, according to the translator, "also enact allegorical processes of loss and retrieval", with the possibility of the latter more prominent than "nostalgia at the loss and ruin of the past."
G. Philippou Pierides, The Tetralogy of Times, edited by Phoibos Stavrides, Bank of Cyprus Cultural Foundation, 1989. This volume brings together twenty-one short stories by one of the greatest literary figures of the 2nd half of the 20th century in Cyprus. Reprinted here are four of his collections of short stories: Still Times (1966), Hard Times (1963), A Time of Beatitude (1975), A Time of Trial (1978>, as well as three short stories. Read together, they give a panorama of modern Cypriot history: British rule, the struggle for independence, the 'half-hearted' independence of 1960, and finally the coup d'etat followed by the Turkish invasion in 1974. At the same time, however, these are not heavy, historical novels. The events it alludes to are always the backdrop to very ordinary human stories, and are only relevant to the extent that the affected the lives of the men and women that populated the neighbourhoods of towns and villages during these troubled times. This is the hard climate of an era, tenderly and patiently resurrected.
The Chronicle of Leontios Machairas
One of the most important and entertaining historical accounts of the mediaeval history of Cyprus is the Chronicle of Leontios Machairas, written around 1458 AD. Little is known about the author himself other than that he was always close to the royal court and spoke French, the language of the then rulers of Cyprus. He chose, however, to write the chronicle in Greek with an intense mediaeval Cypriot dialect involvement, dispersed with bastardised Latin and French words.
In his six books, he starts with a brief description of earlier historical periods (Byzantine, the Third Crusade and the occupation by Richard the Lionheart), but the bulk of the work concentrates on the late Lusignan rule of Cyprus, covering a period of 60-70 years, with the greatest detail devoted to the reign of Peter I and the events that lead to the weakening of the Lusignan dynasty and the attacks on the island by the Saracens of Egypt.
The Chronicle was translated into mainland Greek by Konstantinos Sathas, from the Venetian text (of the three saved manuscripts), in 1873. It has also been translated into English by R.Dawkins in 1932 (Oxford), and more recently into Italian. Apart from the fascinating story that unfolds in the book, there is also a wealth of information on various saints of Cyprus, miracles of the time, aspects of daily living and descriptions and activities of the nobility.
Robert Holland, Britain and the Revolt in Cyprus 1954-1959, Clarendon Press, 1998.
Cypriot history in the 20th century can be described as nothing less than traumatic, as the island struggled out of the hands of a colonial Empire, into an unwanted independence (rather than the dual, but conflicting, self-determination dreams of the Greek majority and Turkish minority for union with Greece or Turkey respectively), a coup d'etat, invasion, occupation, partition.
Robert Holland's thoroughly researched book on the evolution of the island's anti-colonial political struggle is the best analysis to date. It is also essential reading to understand what happened next and why.
Dr Holland, Reader in Imperial and Commonwealth History at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies of the University of London, reconstructs in the most lively manner the 'inner history' of a violent colonial Emergency, providing a case-study of the dilemmas posed by the challenge of 'terrorism' overseas after 1945, and considers the effects of the revolt on the politics of the surrounding region, offering a fresh perspective on Mediterranean and Middle Eastern developments, including the involvement of NATO and the US, in the age of the Suez Crisis and its aftermath.
Brendan O'Malley and Ian Craig, The Cyprus Conspiracy: America, Espionage and the Turkish Invasion I.B. Tauris, London 1999. A gripping read on the period preceding the Greek Junta coup d'etat and the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, The Cyprus Conspiracy builds up to the fateful summer days of 1974 by seeking to place events on the island within a much broader Cold War context. Playing down the 'ethnic hatreds' argument cited in his defence by US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (though they undoubtedly provided the backdrop and the spark for events), the book lays out the vital strategic importance of Cyprus to western planners, be it the British chiefs of staff using it as a base for their dwindling Middle Eastern power, or the American spies using its electronic facilities to monitor Soviet nuclear missile tests at the height of the arms race.
Again and again the book underlines the crucial importance of British military facilities in Cyprus, initially to Britain itself, but increasingly to the United States through a 1947 agreement on the exchange of intelligence, and how this inevitably affected US long and short-term policies over the island.
Andreas Stylianou and Judith A. Stylianou, Painted Churches of Cyprus: Treasures of Byzantine Art, A.G.Leventis Foundation, Nicosia, 1985, 1997 (second edition).
The Byzantine churches of Cyprus are, in the authors' own words, "veritable galleries of Byzantine art." Since the first edition of the book, public interest, both local and foreign, in such art has grown immensely. Happily, in the same period, the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus, the Ministry of Works of Greece and the Dumbarton Oakes Institute of Byzantine Studies of Harvard University have done much in the way of cleaning and restoring, which in no case involved any repainting: what is extraordinary, despite the passage of time and the vicissitudes of the island's history, in most of the rural churches of Cyprus the original wall-paintings have survived, with their intense pigments practically intact. These are not only of great value in themselves, but also provide a most precious documentation of the development of Byzantine art. Every period and style is represented and many are precisely dated. No other area of comparable size can offer so comprehensive a series.
Andreas and Judith Stylianou are internationally recognised as great experts on this subject. They have devoted a lifetime of research to it, not only in Cyprus but throughout the area of surviving Byzantine culture. The Painted Churches of Cyprus is the culmination of their long and careful studies, which have now restored the work of Cypriot painters to its proper place among the cultural achievements of the world. Seven of the churches are now on UNESCO's world heritage lists.
Rita Severis, Travelling Artists in Cyprus 1700-1960 Philip Wilson Publishers, 2000.
The Russian monk Basil Grigorovich Barskii, the Italian Luigi Mayer, the romantic Frenchman Louis Francois Cassa, the Austrian naturalists Seebot and Kotchy and the British Hercules Brabazon, Tristram Ellis, Gladys Peto and David Bomberg are but a few of the travelling artists that visited the island of Cyprus over a span of two and a half centuries. Their perceptions on paper and canvas present the island's past, which, as the author says "to sight lost, remains through their artwork, to memory dear." Rita Severis has chased their work in different lands to piece together a portrait of her island during the Ottoman and British periods. The artistic exploration by, and revelation of Cyprus to, the outside world forms a chapter in the history of the expansion of European interest - economic, cultural and political - into the eastern Mediterranean and Near East from the 18th century. On the whole, as the introduction to the book says, the subjects are topographical; the artistic record of Cyprus was exclusively for the benefit of non-Cypriots who until the mid-19th century were interested in the island for its landscape and its ruins, above all the spirit of Aphrodite. The choice of subject is sometimes patronising, the islanders and their rulers of little artistic interest, any more than of political or economic significance, although this underlying 'orientalism' is less marked than in other, more visited parts of the Middle East. The illustrations included throughout this account, however, generally depict a remarkable cultural mosaic, albeit one that rarely touches on the political upheavals the island has endured.
Anna Marangou (editor), Haigaz Mangoian 1907-1970. Cyprus Popular Bank, Nicosia, 1996.
Within its efforts to promote historical photography, the Cyprus Popular Bank published this album of photographs from the archives of Haigaz Mangoian, an Armenian photographer of Cyprus. It is at the same time a tribute to the Armenian community of the island.
The photographs demonstrate first and foremost the love of the photographer for his adopted country. Beyond that, they amount to a unique archive, an aesthetic journey into the past, but also a lesson in the social, economic and political status of colonial Cyprus. The curiosity of the photographer's eye not only roams the island in search of subject matter, but it also leads him up rooftops and high buildings, down hills and difficult paths, to capture more than the predictable, familiar view of postcard photographs. He thus recreates well-known landscapes and buildings into an unexpected spectacle, giving us the impression of total renewal.
Angelos Makrides, (catalogue), Nicosia Municipal Arts Centre, 1997.
This is a good place to start for those interested in the contemporary art scene on the island. This may only be a catalogue, but it speaks its own volumes about this particular artist's abilities and explorations. Makrides does art like few people do life: quietly and modestly but with the dynamism of wisdom. As one critic wrote: "The simplicity, the sincerity and the integrity of the creator and his creations speak for themselves in lively dialogue with the viewer, rendering any clarification superfluous."
Makrides was born in Yialousa in the Turkish-occupied Karpas peninsula in 1942 and studied sculpture at the Higher School of Fine Arts in Athens. He worked in Paris from 1967 to 1969, was back in Cyprus from 1969 to 1974, then left for Athens following the Turkish invasion. He returned to Cyprus in 1986 and since then has been living and working in Nicosia. Apart from exhibitions in Cyprus and Greece, he has participated in major international exhibitions around the world including the Biennale of Alexandria, Sao Paulo, Paris, Ljubljana and Venice.
Makrides is one of the island's most outstanding contemporary artists whose work has had a continuous, profound, even subversive influence on the development of plastic arts in Cyprus. His work is rich and diverse, dominated by the human subject and inspired by the eternal struggle between Male and Female, Good and Evil, Heaven and Earth, giving his creations a deeply universal character. In all this, he retains his Cypriot identity, lovingly embracing archaeological forms and enhancing them with the elements of contemporary art.