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Modernism: Representations of National Culture

Ahmet Ersoy
Maciej Górny
Vangelis Kechriotis

Chapter III. Literary representations of the “national character”

Alexandros Papadiamantis: Easter chanter

Alexandros Papadiamantis
Traduction de Mary Kitroeff

Texte intégral

1Title: Λαμπριάτικος Ψάλτης (Easter chanter)

2Originally published: newspaper ’Aκρόπολις, 1893

3Language: Greek

4The excerpt used is from Panayotis Moullas, Α.Παπαδιαμάντης Αυτοβιογραφούμενος (Athens: Εστία 1999), pp. 100–103.

About the author

5Alexandros Papadiamantis: [Skiathos (central Greece) 1851 – Skiathos 1911]: short story writer and translator. He was the third son of the priest Adamantios, hence the family name (papa-Diamantis). His mother was the offspring of a well-off family from the Peloponnese. His father was very much influenced by the teaching of Kolyvades, a very conservative version of Orthodoxy. Alexandros accompanied his father to religious ceremonies, an experience which marked his life. He received his primary education in his hometown, at the Aegean island of Skiathos. Later, he left for Athens, where he graduated from the Varvakion school. In 1874, he enrolled at the School of Philosophy at the University of Athens but he never graduated. From a very young age, he learned English and French on his own, to such a perfection that his later translations of foreign novels were of the highest quality. In 1876, he used his studies as a pretext not to return to Skiathos. From 1882 to 1898, he worked as a translator for the first Athenian daily ’Eφημερίς (Newspaper) edited by the well-known playwright Dimitrios Koromilas (1850–1898). In 1884, he started working for the most popular newspaper of the time, ’Aκρόπολις (Akropolis), edited by the most prominent journalist of the period Vlassis Gavriilidis (1848–1920). Papadiamantis enjoyed great success: every time he published a short story, it was considered a literary event. In 1895, however, his father died and Alexandros began visiting his hometown Skiathos more often. In 1902, he finally retired there and wrote his most famous novel Ἡφόνισσα (The murder woman). His religious sentiments made him abstain from social gatherings, hence his nickname Κοσμοκαλόγερος (A monk within society). A figure of a stoic and humble outlook, Papadiamantis always preferred to make friends with poor people, among whom he felt more at ease than within the literary circles. It was his religious spirituality that also moved him towards short story writing. He argued that this genre was much closer to his personality as an introvert and self-sufficient man, attached to religious worship and Byzantine liturgy. A few years before his death, Papadiamantis had already gained the reputation he deserved. His contribution is appreciated by diverse audiences, ranging from religious circles to leftist intellectuals. During the last two decades, a series of studies have focused on the psychoanalytic dimension of his work. At the same time, his name has been turned into an instrument of touristic propaganda by the inhabitants of Skiathos, whose island is now publicized as ‘the island of Papadiamantis’.

6Main works: Ἡ Μετανάστις [The immigrant] (1882) Οἱ Ἐμποροι τν Ἐθνῶν [The Merchants of Nations] (1883); γυφτοπούλα [The gypsy girl] (1884); Ὅνειρο στó κῦμα [Dream on the waves] (1900) φόνισσα [The woman killer], (1904); he also translated Ἔγκλημα καί Τιμωρία [Crime and Punishment] by Dostoyevski (in installments 1888–1891).


7The 1880s was a period of political stability and economic growth. Harilaos Trikoupis (1832–1896), the prime minister for many years, had set out an ambitious program of social and financial modernization. However, after the world economic recession of the 1870s, which had also affected Greek society, thousands of people had gradually abandoned their hometowns and villages and had been squeezed into the miserable neighborhoods of the capital where they sought for a better future. In order to deal with the problem, Trikoupis’ fiscal policy aimed at reinforcing agricultural production through protectionist measures. Yet, these measures did not hamper the wave of immigration to Athens and other cities of the Hellenic Kingdom. Moreover, the initiation of numerous construction projects (railways, channels, schools) offered new jobs to the unemployed, and, thus, accelerated urban population growth. This movement was also sustained by the first significant development of food manufacturing, especially of grape products, and also by the exploitation of mines. For the first time, Greece ceased to be an exclusively agricultural country and offered to its population new means of employment.

8In intellectual terms, the press was a new and important factor in determining the novel trends in intellectual life. The increasingly literate Athenian public supported the publication of many newspapers, which publicized not only political issues but also intellectual debate. This public was eager to learn and follow new trends, especially those that originated from the West. The newspapers responded to this need, by attracting writers, sometimes on a fully professional basis, and using their talent in order to entertain and instruct their audience with stories short enough to appear on one or two pages, or in sequels. Writers, who, up to that point, had dealt only with historical novels shifted their interest. Figures such as Dimitrios Vikelas (1835–1908), a prominent publicist who also played a key role in the revival of the Olympic games of 1896 in Athens and the Constantinopolitan novelist Georgios Vizyinos (1849–1896), developed the new genre. However, one of the basic features of these short stories was their exclusive interest in rural life and local traditions. This was connected both to the nostalgia, widespread particularly among lower class urban populations, for their place of origin, and also to the anxiety regarding the loss of the real essence of the nation which was intrinsically related to rural life. In fact, the Athenian press referred to diverse Greek regions, by way of formatting an ideal anthropogeography.

9It is within this social and intellectual atmosphere that Papadiamantis composed his short stories. However, unlike his contemporaries, he insisted on depicting many of his stories with a strong religious color. The stories he wrote on Christmas and Easter constitute a large part of his work. The story ‘Easter chanter’ was written for the Easter of 1893. It is the story of a poor peasant from Skiathos, who accompanied the local priests as a chanter. The peasant had promised one of the priests that he would make it to a remote small church where a group of shepherds would gather to celebrate the night of Christ’s resurrection. However, Papadiamantis, even before beginning his narration, made the effort to express his harsh criticism against those who despised Orthodoxy and religious stories, and those who tried to imitate western manners. In his view, these people were alienated from the essence of the nation, namely its customs and religion. A Greek does not have the right to be an atheist or a cosmopolitan, since he “then would resemble a dwarf who stands on his toes in order to look as tall as a giant.”

10Papadiamantis’ attachment to Orthodoxy has been the basis of a significant intellectual discourse regarding national identity and cultural tradition. During the last fifty years this discourse has been taken over by intellectuals who, despite significant differences among them, generally bear strong religious sentiments and are identified as neo-Orthodox. They argue for the originality of Greek popular culture, considering Orthodoxy as its indispensable component. Intellectuals such as Zisimos Lorentzatos, Stelios Ramfos, and Christos Giannaras perceive modern Greek history as an incessant conflict among the East and the West; a conflict that began with the Conquest of Constantinople by the Crusaders, in 1204. Eventually, Constantinople fell under Ottoman rule, which was considered more tolerant towards the Orthodox than the Catholics. The supporters of neo-Orthodoxy today consider the creation of the modern Greek state as the triumph of the West against the East, and as the total enslavement of Hellenism which culminated with the accession of Greece into the European Union.


Easter Chanter

12[…] Here then is the cause of their discomfort—and how naively do they confess it, do they externalize it. To be a guest in a kingly manner in the mansions of a great nobleman and not to drink a toast to the landlord! To enjoy (imperial hospitality and a memorable meal) and not express thanks to the host! But for the short stories I sometimes publish at Christmas or Easter, I was truly inspired by my memories and my feelings, which delight and move my own self—and perhaps a few select lovers of reading. And that this kind exists is proved by the fact that the two leading newspapers of the capital, as well as the one and only magazine, host seasonal short stories during those days. Besides, almost nowhere will you find that I have sought a forced position or plot in order to galvanize the reader’s curiosity. Wherever mention is made of Greeks living in foreign lands returning after a long absence or sending letters with material solace to their loved ones, all this is based on reality, since all those who have lived in seaside and maritime locations in Greece know very well that, especially on the days preceding holidays, many Greeks living abroad, though usually appearing cold and encased in a hard outer shell, suddenly remember their loved ones, and either return home, or, if they are hampered by their sense of honor to visit their families pretending to be something they are not, it is not rare for them to write all kinds of tall tales to their elderly mothers and sisters. In other stories, mention is made of the social and familial customs related to the holidays, while in others the weak plot revolves around some modernizing and pernicious custom. What is so improbable about all this?

13But most of the holiday short stories written by me have, if I may use the Latin term, a priori, such a subject matter, that is to say they are mostly religious. Where is the charm, I ask you, where is the power or originality in one’s going to the trouble of describing in detail how a village priest went to celebrate mass in an isolated chapel for the benefit of a tiny community of peasants or shepherds, who and how many participated in the feast, and what were the mores of the celebrants? This would be totally worthless and low in the opinion of the critics. To write about an old man who murdered his wife on Christmas day—without either the reader or the author even suspecting why he murdered her—is lofty and grand in some people’s estimation. After such a crime on this holy day, the subject is exhausted, and all the Christmas and Easter short stories should no longer see the light of day.

  • 1 Byzantine emperor (361–363 A.D.), who wished to suppress the Christian faith and resuscitate the a (...)

14No religion, for God’s sake! The Greek nation does not consist of Byzantines, do you understand? Modern-day Greeks are direct heirs of the ancients. Then they too became civilized and prospered. They are in step with the other nations. Where is the poetry in writing that Christ “accepts the worship of the poor people” or that the poor priest “offered God a sacrifice of praise”? And in describing the interior of the small temple, with its sleepy oil-lamps and the blackened figures of the Saints all around! We don’t understand these things. We want a short story which will be full of poetry, not prosaic reality. And how do you dare to write, while talking about Julian the Transgressor1, nailed to the wall by Saint Merkourios’s spear, such a blasphemous phrase: “Livid, the demented tyrant…,” when a different writer, of a different caliber, having published a historical fantasy drama years ago, prefixed to it a truly vulgar foreword, through which he crudely reviled the religion of his fathers—there was no reason then for one to be scandalized, because that was the fad of the day. But you dare to express yourself with such irreverent language about that Julian, the so-called Transgressor or Apostate—your impudence surpasses every limit. And yet the wise censurer did not perceive that my phrase was objective, as they are wont to say—that is to say it rendered, through words, the painter’s colors—or that any issue concerning the beliefs of the writer (who, nonetheless, does not deny that he shares the opinion of the Byzantine wall-painter) is completely redundant.

  • 2 A diminutive of the term Greek/Grecian in Latin (Graecus) which is used in a contemptuous sense.

15In order to bring this prologue to a close, we shall say in a word that: the modern-day nation did not advance, sadly, as much as they say it did. The Greek nation, or at least its enslaved part, is still far behind, while the part which is free cannot accelerate forward enough, without the whole being torn apart as it is already being torn apart, alas! The runner must wait for the one following, if he is to run safely; he who is free must help the prisoner or give him relief. The more time goes by, the more the free nation becomes, regrettably, unable to lend a hand to the enslaved nation. An Englishman, a German or a Frenchman can be a cosmopolitan or an anarchist or an atheist or whatever else. He has done his patriotic duty, he has built a great homeland. Now he is free to occupy himself, for the sake of luxury, with infidelity and pessimism. But a modern-day Graeculus2 who wishes to publicly be an atheist or a cosmopolitan, resembles a dwarf standing on tiptoe and stretching to become taller or to appear as a giant. The Greek nation, the enslaved nation, but the free one no less, has and will forever have the need for its religion.

16As for me, as long as I live and breathe and possess judiciousness, I will never cease, especially during these most resplendent days, to worshipfully praise my Christ, to lovingly describe nature and fondly illustrate the pure Greek mores. If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth. […]


1 Byzantine emperor (361–363 A.D.), who wished to suppress the Christian faith and resuscitate the ancient Greek religion.

2 A diminutive of the term Greek/Grecian in Latin (Graecus) which is used in a contemptuous sense.


Mary Kitroeff (Traducteur)

Le texte et les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont sous Licence OpenEdition Books, sauf mention contraire.


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