We are well acquainted with Sappho’s legend. Few details of her life are confirmed, but thanks to her cult of personality (and people’s delight in salacious gossip), we can make out hazy images of her: holding a lyre, within a circle of young women, singing hymns to Aphrodite, falling—and failing—over and over again in love and in lust. Her reputation as lyric virtuosa has inspired hundreds of renditions of her poems, and thousands of words written about her in the course of literary history. So why visit her again and again?
A characteristic theme of Sappho’s poetry is the phenomenology of lust and heartbreak. In the many already extant translations of these poems, Sappho sometimes appears all too remote; she seems oracular, a high priestess reaching out to goddesses and girls of a bygone, mythic era. This is beautiful in its own right, but it contradicts her intense descriptions of physical sensation. The vision of a lover causing fire to run under one’s skin is an invention born of Sappho’s particular experience, and yet it is strikingly relatable. We should have Sappho brought to us as close as possible, thereby rendering her earthly and tangible. We should let her make us her confidant, an intimate rather than an audience member. Hence my aim with these translations—to render the drama of our pagan poet as immediate, sympathetic, incarnate.
Following Pound’s advice, I did not attempt to copy Sappho’s quantitative meter, but rather to approximate it in free verse, letting the form follow from content but always with a sensuous music underlying it all. Sappho’s world was a pagan one. She and her contemporaries sought out the divine in nature, and saw it oftentimes in the face of a lover. This seems justification enough for an engagement with her ancient art, to remind us of the vital importance of the ineffable in nature and in each other.
– Christina Farella
Originally published in ViMagazino, the magazine supplement to one of Greece’s largest and most popular Sunday newspapers, “The Black Box” is a wry allegory about the economic crisis that has devastated Greek society. Like Asteriou’s fiction in general, the story makes use of biting humor, a playful pastiche of genres, and provocative references from popular culture to creatively defy the hopelessness and cynicism of prevailing political discussions. His work has been described as “terrifyingly topical,” as well as “multidimensional” and “masterfully crafted.” These attributes are evident in the story, which is narrated in the voice of a weary, ineffectual police detective, who is frustrated at every turn by the missing suspect. Drawing from crime procedurals, folktales, and the lurking uncanniness of the Gothic ghost story, Asteriou weaves together a neo-magical realist fable with precision, economy, and an enviably light touch. As in most magical realist fiction, his characters are theatricalized types: the traveling American magician Balthazar, also known as Shirkgood or Lawrence, after Lawrence of Arabia, is but the most blatant embodiment of this idea of identity as multilayered performance. And it is precisely this playfully performative aspect of the story that remains with us at the end. What happened to Akis Konstantellos? To Balthazar? We are left without answers to these questions. Yet our frustration is perhaps outweighed by our wonderment: there is certainly something satisfying in the fact that the steadily increasing number of missing persons in the story are, to the end, able to defy the institutional mandates of discipline, reason, confession, and resolution.
– Patricia Felisa Barbeito
Something Will Happen, You’ll See, the 2010 short fiction collection by Christos Ikonomou from which “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” is taken, is a wrenching yet optimistic elegy to Greece’s working classes. It won the prestigious Best Short Story Collection State Award and was the most-reviewed Greek book of 2011.
Ikonomou takes us to the heart of the western suburbs of the port of Piraeus and builds sixteen luminous stories around characters such as pensioners, protesters, laborers, and the unemployed. The author’s greatest strength lies in his ability to convey silences, to interpret gestures and the unseen, and translate them into images both vivid and haunting.
Something Will Happen, You’ll See has been translated into Italian (Editori Riuniti, 2012), and the Italian newspaper La Repubblica described Christos Ikonomou as “the Greek Faulkner.” A German edition (C.H. Beck) is forthcoming.
George Pavlopoulos’ second novel evokes the ideological crisis of Europe, its ambivalence about its glorious past, and its mounting crisis of identity. The author takes us into the heart of a fragile Europe plagued by the death of -isms and the struggle between collectivism and individualism. Why do Europeans seem to be steeped in melancholy? What does the future hold for the next generation?
The story unfolds in a nameless city of unspecified locale, which in turns evokes Paris, London, and Berlin. It all starts at the historic cinema Steam, which is about to close down in order to be replaced by a contemporary museum: the brainchild of ruthless plutocrat Max Plinkie. At the core of the heterogeneous group that decides to spend the last night at the cinema as an act of protest is a group of close friends, former children of the wild ’60s. That night will turn out to be a unique opportunity for them to reminisce on the past and redefine their position in an ever-changing present. For young Lis, who stands as their natural successor, that night will serve as the impetus for a peculiar quest into her own identity. Armed with her camera, she will try to keep alive the images of a gradually vanishing world by embarking on a lonely and evocative journey whose path will be irrevocably marked by the presence of legendary artist, Flogenis.
It is the spring of 1897. Two ships set sail from the port of Gothenburg carrying Salomon Andre, Nils Strindberg, and Knut Fraenkel aboard. With them travels a team of skeptical meteorologists, suspicious journalists, overwrought engineers, and talented cartoonists. Their destination is the Arctic Sea. Soon the journey through the frozen North leads the three men to an enigmatic structure at the edge of the world, inside of which is a hot-air balloon. This is when the real journey begins. As the 20th century approaches and man’s domination over Earth nears completion, the three men seem determined to leave their mark on the new era through a bold undertaking; one which is entirely dependent on the mercy of the Northerly winds. Years later, through a succession of objects, impressions, and visits, the story continues…
A Mother and Father, a Man and a Woman, a Doctor and a Nurse, and an unfortunate victim all cross paths in a hospital and become intertwined in ways that push all boundaries of the appropriate and expected. Exploring the deeper comic underbellies of violence, sexuality, and caretaking, the playwright seeks to unburden the audience, to help them diminish their fear about moral issues, illness, and death.
(Alexi Kaye Campbell)
The Brooklyn Rail welcomes you to our web-exclusive section InTranslation, where we feature unpublished translations of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and dramatic writing. Launched in April 2007, InTranslation is a venue for outstanding work in translation and a resource for translators, authors, editors, and publishers seeking to collaborate.
We seek exceptional unpublished English translations from all languages.
Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry: Manuscripts of no longer than 20 pages (double-spaced).
Plays: Manuscripts of no longer than 30 pages (in left-justified format).