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Greek Literature: Modern  
 
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Although repressions from various sources have rendered homosexuality almost invisible in contemporary Greek society, there have been a few Greek poets and prose writers of both sexes who have treated homosexuality in their works.

Classical Greece has traditionally been viewed as the fertile field from which homosexual culture in the West has been nurtured. The modern state of Greece, however, seems somewhat reticent to accept homosexuality as a principal aspect of its culture.

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One might assume that extended foreign domination, the imposition of a military state, followed by a less than liberal socialist government, along with the Mediterranean focus on the traditional family as the primary social unit, nearly universal Christian orthodoxy, and a tendency toward machismo, have all contributed to rendering homosexuality almost invisible in contemporary Greek society.

This is not to say that homosexuality is absent in modern Greece. One need only travel to Mykonos during the summer months to realize a gay presence, and Western women still pilgrimage to the Mytilene mecca in search of Sapphic sisters.

Nor is it true that homosexuality never appears in contemporary Greek literature. In fact, one of Greece's greatest modern poets, Constantine Cavafy, has included homosexuality as a fundamental element of his poetics.

C. P. Cavafy

Greece is a country of poets, and Constantine Petrou Cavafy (1863-1933) has been called, by the esteemed Greek literary historian C. A. Trypanis, "the most original of all the modern Greek poets." A shy and reclusive man whose poetry was never commercially published during his lifetime, Cavafy spent most of his life in the Greek community of Alexandria, employed as a petty bureaucrat.

The major themes of Cavafy's work are philosophy, history, and hedonism, yet his disillusioned, ironically humane approach discounted Christianity, patriotism, and heterosexuality. E. M. Forster brilliantly described him as a poet at a "slight angle to the universe," and that peculiar perspective was the result of his gayness. Cavafy lived in a time well before liberation; he himself regarded his sexuality as at best a liability, at worst a perversion.

The poem "Walls" expresses perfectly Cavafy's feelings of isolation. Society "without a scrap of guilt" has built great, high walls around the poet who "can do nothing else, my brain deep gnawed by fate" "unwittingly shut off from all the world around."

In "The Windows," whose title ironically evokes traditional symbols of freedom and truth, the poet is living in "dark chambers," fearful of exposure to light that could bring to him "another form of tyranny."

"The City" mournfully describes the futility of attempting to escape one's past by geographic change.

In "Awaiting the Barbarians," Cavafy exposes traditional societies' implicit need for outcasts, "who serve a solution of some sort."

Even though Cavafy was tormented by his particular sexuality, there was no way he could squelch his natural desires. In "He Vows," the persona, after a night of debauchery, resolves "to lead a better life," but when night comes again, "quite helpless, there he goes again."

Cavafy was in love with the youthful male body at the height of its prime. He wrote many poems to fictitious, contemporary and historical men, sketching their desirable attributes: "blue eyes," "exquisite limbs," and "sweet lips."

But with the poet's atheism came a fear of time. Cavafy describes life in "Candles" as "a row of candles brightly lit"; he is fearful of turning to see "how fast the darkened line grows long, / how fast the burnt-down candles multiply."

In "An Old Man," Cavafy depicts an aged man, alone in a coffeeshop, regretting "all the urges he repressed . . . and all the splendid joys he sacrificed." "Now mocked by all the chances he has lost," he "falls asleep / leant up against the coffeeshop's hard tabletop." Only the artist can erase the pain of time; when the old man's poems are read by young "Ephebes," they are moved "by his depictions of the beautiful."

Dinos Christianopoulos

Dinos Christianopoulos (born Costandinos Dhimitriou in 1931) found his lyrical voice through Cavafy. Like his mentor, Christianopoulos has spent most of his life in his native surroundings, Thessaloniki, traveling only when absolutely necessary and only for the briefest periods.

Christianopoulos used Cavafy as a model for the poetic expression of his homosexuality, often imitating the older poet's use of historical scenes and personages to convey contemporary ideas and sensations, thereby making universal the emotions expressed.

Like Cavafy's, Christianopoulos's work is devoid of references to contemporary politics. The younger poet, however, as exemplified in his poem "The Splinter," expresses guilt at his "indifference about political matters." The poem documents the assassination of Gregory Lambrakis (1963), which our poet learns about, quite by accident, "returning from a date."

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