restricted access The Sea as Metaphorical Space in Modern Greek Literature
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The Sea as Metaphorical Space in Modern Greek Literature Roderick Beaton Greeks, despite the physical proximity of so many of them to the sea and their economic dependence on it, have surprisingly little to say about the sea in their literature. There are of course significant exceptions to this, as was ably demonstrated by many contributors to the literature panels at the 1987 Modern Greek Studies Association symposium on "Greece, Greeks and the Sea" (MGSA 1987). If one is prepared to go back far enough in time there is always the Odyssey, which among other things is the world's first sea story. But if one considers Greek literature since the 12th century as a whole, the most interesting discovery is not that KarkavÃ-tsas, Vlámi, Kóndoglu, Kavvad Ã-as and a handful of others have written stories and poems about the sea, or that many more writers, such as Hortátsis, Kornáros, Papadiam ándis, Seferis and Elytis, have made more or less interesting references to the subject; but rather that these are the exceptions which prove the rule: there is no established tradition of writing about the sea in Greek. There is no Greek Defoe (despite the aspirations of Kóndoglu), no Greek Melville, no Greek Treasure Isfond, no Greek Conrad; not even a Greek Masefield. If we include oral folk poetry and tales within the scope of literature, as I believe in principle we must, there are in Greek no sea shanties, no tales of Sindbad the sailor, or so few that again it is their rarity that attracts our attention. This very general observation serves as a reminder that one cannot with impunity account for literary phenomena by recourse to a mechanical model of environmental determinism. The forms taken by the formal discourse of a culture cannot be predicted from the material and social concerns of that culture. But this does not mean, as is sometimes suggested, that literary discourse is a wholly enclosed system, governed only by internal laws and entirely incapable of referring to the world in which it is produced and read.1 It is by no means inadmissible from an open-minded theoretical standpoint on the issue of referentiality, to examine the historical progress of a single Journal of Modern Greek Studies, Volume 7, 1989. 253 254 Roderick Beaton extratextual referent, the sea, as it has been taken up by Greek literary discourse since the 17th century. One important distinction has to be made, however, as I shall not be primarily concerned here with the relatively restricted body of texts which take the sea directly as their object. This is the distinction made by Wim Bakker and Dia Philippides between figurative and literal references to the sea (1988: 97 and passim). I prefer, however, to see the difference as one of degree, rather than an absolute one of kind (cf. Derrida 1978: 112),2 since many of the references to the sea that I will be considering are not constructed out of formal tropes, and therefore also include an element of literal reference. If one tries to apply the distinction to oral folk poetry, the absence of literal reference to the sea contrasts with a fairly stable metaphorical reference which appears to be standard in a number of specific contexts . The former is confined to those songs, surprisingly few in number , which relate directly to seafaring. We have a rowing song from Karpathos (KiriakÃ-dis 1978: 10-11), which also typifies another category of song under-represented in the collections, namely work songs. From various islands in the Aegean we have fishermen's distichs (e.g. Zaharfu-Mamalinga 1986: 91—95). And we have an extraordinarily small corpus, when compared to the volume oÃ-kléftika collected, labelled in the Academy of Athens collection as "piratikd" (1962: 292294 ; cf. 471-476). Either the seafaring communities like those of Idra and Psará in the early 19th century, and Syros in the latter part of the same century, had no developed oral tradition of their own, or for some reason it has been systematically ignored by the collectors. Although it is possible that more songs might have existed in arvanitika, and been passed...


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