Homer in the Twentieth Century: Between World Literature and the Western Canon

By Barbara Graziosi; Emily Greenwood | Go to book overview
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10
Homer in the Greek Civil War (1946–1949)

David Ricks

I learned my Homer in Albania
up in the Metsovo mountains mantled in fir-trees
and wrapped in a bitter wind from Thrace
while in the distance the cannon echoed
with a sound like torrents in mid-winter hurling
themselves against their narrow-sided gorges
a shepherd stopped to listen—
'The distant shepherd
trembling hears the sound'—
as, thousands of years ago, he stood and heard it.1

In these lines by the Greek poet and cultural critic Zissimos Lorenzatos (1915–2004), personal experience and literary experience are yoked together just as Homer had yoked together peace and war in the simile quoted (Iliad 4.452 ff.); and though the passage refers to the Albanian campaign of 1940-1 rather than to the internecine war which would be waged in the same region, and beyond, later in the decade, the verses may be seen to usher in a new period of Greek writers' engagement with the Homeric poems.2 The royal road of this engagement, in independent Greece's major poets before 1940, and

1 In Argyriou 1979: 231; first publication 1955. All translations are my own.

2 Lorenzatos also of course plays with a paradox: why would a Greek—the
privileged heir to Homer, as it might seem—need to 'learn his Homer' in Albania,
a rugged place with a barbarous tongue? Lorenzatos's father produced a Homeric
dictionary: the son's lines are not a reproach, but do contain a clear sense that
literature is experienced through the furrows that life ploughs on one's back. The
Iliad's reference to the hard winters of Dodona, with its unwashed inhabitants
sleeping on the ground (16.234–5) may also be latent here. Well aware of the literary
possibilities of bringing Homer and Albania together is of course Ismail Kadare,
discussed by Barbara Graziosi in Ch. 5 of this volume.

-231-

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