Author: StJohn Piano
Published: 2017-11-06
Datafeed Article 18
This article has been digitally signed by Edgecase Datafeed.
1449 words - 173 lines - 5 pages

[excerpt: page 59]


Confused by our clumsy gestures of interpretation, history is never kind to those who expect anything of her. Under the formal pageant of events which we have dignified by our interest, the land changes very little, and the structure of the basic self of man hardly at all. In this landscape observed objects still retain a kind of mythological form - so that though chronologically we are separated from Ulysses by hundreds of years in time, yet we dwell in his shadow. Like earnest mastodons petrified in the forests of their own apparatus the archaeologists come and go, each with his pocket Odyssey and his lack of modern Greek. Diligently working upon the refuse-heaps of some township for a number of years they erect on the basis of a few sherds or a piece of dramatic drainage, a sickly and enfeebled portrait of a way of life. How true it is we cannot say; but if an Eskimo were asked to describe our way of life, deducing all his evidence from a search in a contemporary refuse dump, his picture might lack certain formidable essentials. Thus Ulysses can only be ratified as an historical figure with the help of the fishermen who to-day sit in the smoky tavern of 'The Dragon' playing cards and waiting for the wind to change. The Odyssey is a bore, badly constructed and shapeless, dignified by poetry everywhere degenerating into self-pity and rhetoric; the characters are stylized to the point of irritation, and their conventionalized drama serves simply as a decorative frame for the descriptive gift of the author which is a formidable piece of equipment.

Yet with what delightful and poignant accuracy does the poem describe the modern Greeks; it is a portrait of a nation which rings as clear to-day as when it was written. The loquacity, the shy cunning, the mendacity, the generosity, the cowardice and bravery, the almost comical inability of self-analysis. The unloving humour and the scolding. Nowhere is it possible to find a flaw.

[end of excerpt]

[excerpt: pages 62-65]


It is one of the peculiar sentimentalities of the historian, this perpetual desire to trace places and origins by the shallow facts of romance. Fano, a few hours north of Paleocastrizza, is supposed to be Calypso's island - 'the sea-girt isle set with trees'. Corcyra, then, is the home of the oar-loving Phaecians, and the place of Ulysses' meeting with Nausicaa. It is of course the final unkindness that the few scanty facts in Homer's record of the adventure do not offer the historian any help. For Ulysses on his raft, helped by a fair wind, took eighteen days to cover the few sea-miles separating Fano and Corcyra. At least if one is to be browbeaten by such absurdities. Zarian has effectively disposed of this kind of thing in his essay on Cowardice Among Historians, from which Theodore has translated the following passage: 'We refuse to be confounded by facts like these. Firstly it is necessary to this enchanted island that its landscape should be sweetened by such a fantasy, and secondly the Ancient Greeks had no sense either of time or distance. No reliance can be placed on their measurements, just as no reliance can be placed on the modern Greeks when they are dealing with space and time. Among the peasants to-day the duration of a cigarette is used to record distance in space. A peasant, asked how far a village is will reply: 'Two cigarettes'. If you reply that you do not smoke he will, with difficulty, hunt about in his mind for the words 'hours' or 'minutes', but it will be quite obvious from his use of them that he has only a very faint conception of what they mean. I maintain that the same holds true of the Ancient Greeks. Deft at the delineation of a psychology which has remained constant until to-day, Homer was all at sea when it came to accurate fact. Thus we are prepared to convict Homer of normal Greek mendacity rather than admit the suggestion that Ulysses did not land in this wave-washed cove, his skin bleached and worn like an old seashell from the exposure to the elements.'

To lovers of Paleocastrizza this passage will make a certain appeal; but perhaps this emphasis on Greek character will seem a little wearisome to those whose only interest in Greece begins and ends among the broken columns of prehistory. After all, one might say, what contact could exist between the refined and isolated life of Ancient Greece, and the haphazard life of the modern Greek living in the shadow of Europe, under the inferiority-complex of the top hat? One incident will provide an answer.

Anastasius knows that I am collecting peasant stories; the lunch hour of the workman is the time for smoking, lounging and storytelling, and from time to time when his work brings him into contact with the masons and plasterers of Vigla up the hill, he occasionally comes home with a story about St. Corcyra, or the tail of a haunted well.

Last week we were aware, during the evening, of an unusual disturbance in the family next door. Instead of retiring early to bed, the little oil lamp was burning until after midnight. We heard voices - the voice of Sky in particular - talking and laughing. There was a note of excitement; and the drone of Helen's voice reading aloud. It was unusual for them to stay up late and waste lamp oil, and it was particularly unusual for the children to be awake late.

Next morning Anastasius, still unshaven, appeared at the breakfast table and said with some enthusiasm that he wished my Greek were good enough for him to relate me an 'extraordinary' story; but it was rather complicated in its details. It was about a man called Odysseus who was washed up on an island. As he spoke I noticed that he was holding a small book crumpled in his hand. He handed it to me. It was a first-form primer as used by the village school; it was an account of the Odyssey written in very simple demotic Greek for school. Little Sky, he explained, had gone to school for the first time the day before, and had returned home at night with this book. In helping her read the first chapter he had suddenly found himself reading the story of Ulysses for the first time. To be sure, he had heard of Homer, but even now there seemed to be little connection in his mind between this delightful tale which had kept the whole family up until after midnight, and the revered name. 'It is such a pity', he kept repeating, 'that you will not understand it. It is one of the best things I have ever heard - this fable (παραμῦθι).'

When I told him as well as I could that I had already heard the story he was extremely doubtful.

'But the books', he said, 'are printed in Athens.'

'Yes, but the story is very old. In schools in England the children are made to read it.'

'About Odysseus?'


'And Penelope?'

'All the same people.'

He looked so doubtful and unconvinced that I took him into the drawing-room and found the big English translation of the Odyssey with the ancient Greek medallions on the cover. He spelt out the name of Homer and shook his head uneasily.

'I don't understand', he said uneasily. 'Then is the story true?'

'Quite true', I said. 'When Odysseus reached here from Fano - '

'What is that?' he said eagerly. 'What is that?'

'Don't you know that it was here that Nausicaa lived, that the palace of the King was in Corcyra?'

'Before God?'

'Before God. You know Paleocastrizza?'


'You know the first of the three bays, before the hotel?'


'There they met. Odysseus arrived there from Fano where at that time Calypso lived.'

His concern and pleasure were delightful to watch. He stood uncertainly in the doorway holding the primer in his hand, not knowing what to say. 'I do not understand', he said once more. 'It is very strange.'

Later I saw him walk down the cobbled path to where old Father Nicholas sat on a chair, his blue trousered legs set apart manfully. His stick lay across his right knee. On his left knee he was balancing a plate of bread and onions. I saw Anastasius showing him the little book and repeating what I had told him. Two days later he asked me on the next trip around the island to take him and Sky, because he wanted to see the place where Odysseus had been washed up.

[end of excerpt]

[start of notes]

These excerpts are taken from Prospero's Cell by Lawrence Durrell (Chapter V: History and Conjecture). I have transcribed them from a paper copy in my possession using my dictation system [paywalled].

[From one of the first few pages:]
First published in mcmxlv
by Faber and Faber Limited
24 Russell Square London W.C.I
First published as this edition mcmlxii
Reprinted mcmlxiii
Printed in Great Britain by
John Dickens and Co Ltd, Northampton
All rights reserved

In the original text, the capital I in the postcode W.C.I was only half the height of the other capitals, so I think that it signifies "1" rather than "I". In the UK postcode system, there is a postcode area named WC (Western Central [London]) but none named WCI.

Let's turn the dates from Roman numerals into Arabic numerals.

m = 1000
c = 100
l = 50
x = 10
v = 5
i = 1

Method: Proceed from left to right, adding each new number to a running total. Exception: If a number is followed by a larger number, don't add it to the running total. Instead, subtract it from the larger number that follows it, and add the result to the running total.

= m + cm + xl + v
= 1000 + (1000-100) + (50-10) + 5
= 1000 + 900 + 40 + 5
= 1945

= m + cm + l + x + i + i
= 1000 + (1000-100) + 50 + 10 + 1 + 1
= 1000 + 900 + 50 + 10 + 1 + 1
= 1962

= m + cm + l + x + i + i + i
= 1000 + (1000-100) + 50 + 10 + 1 + 1 + 1
= 1000 + 900 + 50 + 10 + 1 + 1 + 1
= 1963

So Prospero's Cell was first published in 1945 and my paper copy is a 1963 reprint of the 1962 edition.

Corcyra is a Greek island in the Ionian Sea. It is also known as Corfu.

Lawrence Durrell was the eldest brother of Gerald Durrell, who wrote My Family and Other Animals, which was also a memoir of life on Corfu.

Changes from the original text:
- I have removed word-breaking hyphens.
- I have not preserved the original line breaks. I treat each paragraph as a single line.
- I have not preserved page divisions or page numbers.
- I have replaced the original indentation at the start of each paragraph with an empty line after each paragraph.
- I have substituted a hyphen with a space either side of it ( - ) for the em dash used in the original text. I have also made this substitution for the double em dash.
- In the original text, the single quotation marks were curled to indicate whether they were positioned at the start or end of a phrase/sentence/sentence_group. I have replaced them with straight quotation marks.
- I have replaced curled apostrophes with straight single quotation marks.
- I have moved punctuation out from between quotation marks if it is not relevant to the text within those quotation marks.
- The first character of the first word "Confused" in the first excerpt was much larger in the original text.
- In the original text, the Greek word παραμῦθι originally had a rounded circumflex (an "inverted breve") over the 'u'. I have replaced the inverted breve with a tilde '~' and I treat the entire glyph ('u' + '~') as the Unicode code point U+1FE6 GREEK SMALL LETTER UPSILON WITH PERISPOMENI. (Note: On my local machine, the corresponding UTF-8 byte sequence e1bfa6 is rendered as an upsilon with an inverted breve. I don't know how widespread this is among current glyph libraries.) I made this change for two reasons:

1) A lack of the appropriate glyphs. For presentation in HTML, my ASCII-based encoding for Greek is rendered into UTF-8. It uses a selection of glyphs from U0370 (Greek and Coptic) and U1F00 (Greek Extended), neither of which includes glyphs for Greek vowels with inverted breves. Small and capital glyphs for a, e, i, o, and u with inverted breves are available in U0180 (Latin Extended-B), but this list does not include η, ω, a capital 'Y' (which is the capital form of 'u' in Greek), or glyphs with an inverted breve combined with various other diacritical marks. Also, the Greek glyphs α ε ι ο υ look rather different from the Latin glyphs a e i o u.

2) From some reading on the subject, it seems that over time the tilde came to replace the inverted breve. I quote from Harry Foundalis: [link]

The circumflex mark lost its pointy tip in handwriting, becoming a mere curved line. Further, with the advent of typography, and long after the raisings and lowerings of the pitch in voice had been dropped from the language, it acquired an extra hook at its end, thus turning into a tilde ( ~ ). This final form of it is the one used in Greece in modern times when the polytonic system was still official (until 1982), and today when the need arises to print ancient, older Greek, or ecclesiastical* texts.

* The Greek Orthodox Church still uses the polytonic system officially.

[end of notes]