CULTURE

The Anglo-Hellenic Review roams the Greek world

Scholarship and literature on the Greek world remains abundant and diverse, judging by the biannual Anglo-Hellenic Review’s spring 2005 edition. With its emphasis on content over form – 30 very full pages of brief essays and expert reviews, thoughtful distillation of works of substance and spare ads – AHR remains likely the best, and certainly the most concise, such publication in English today. This issue (No. 31) skirts often-frequented subjects like British wartime exploits in Greece, homing in instead on contemporary Greek fiction, life in Byzantium, Cyprus – and a curious women’s picnic on Athos a century ago. Dimitris Tziovas’s essay, «Transcending Boundaries,» surveys Greek fiction since 1974; enough time to see plenty of changes in reader tastes, writerly interests, and publisher priorities. What he calls an «explosion of fiction» has overtaken poetry (the genre that produced both of Greece’s Nobel Prize winners) as the country’s literature of choice. Among other trends are: cultural history (e.g. minorities, Balkans) replacing pure political history, women emerging as best-selling writers, a «national» literature hiving off into popular and highbrow tangents, a burgeoning translation market both into and out of Greek, and a fragmentation and growing complexity of the market and of the contemporary Greek novel suggesting, he says, a more sophisticated, Westernized society. This overview is followed by Judith Herrin’s discussion of women’s lives in Byzantine times. Within an unsurprising context – women were educated little and kept close to home – they were less secluded than we may think, and enjoyed «quite a broad social experience.» Through the (mostly male) period sources come tantalizing glimpses of influence, whether with women inheriting (and in turn willing) property on their own, organizing themselves into weaving guilds, or preparing the dead for burial, where the «job of mourning was almost a professional female skill.» Adaptability is long a Cypriot trademark, as Gerald Cadogan’s lecture/essay on this geographical and historical crossroads underscores. Cyprus shows a «fundamental continuity» in its history and a marked ability to incorporate outsiders’ innovations into its own experience (most recently, by driving on the left). The island encompasses it all, from Aphrodite to Zeno – a range not just alphabetical but meaningful, as the goddess of love and the founder of stoicism are like philosophical bookends. A lyrical-humorous piece on a surreptitious female visit to Mt Athos is the delightful centerpiece, reprinted from its 1905 original in Thomas Cook Traveler’s Gazette. The piece was, and is, anonymous – perhaps unsurprisingly, since a woman wrote it (all female presence is normally banned from the place, which was then still under Turkish suzerainty; how their guide talked them past the guards remains a mystery). On land the party skulks past monastery windows lest a monk get shocked at the sight of a dress, tolerates a dubious garden breakfast of lettuce dipped in salt, and has a quick lookaround before monks descend on the boat for a little company and to sell souvenirs. The author and her companions could not even brag about the exploit later on for, as their captain said, «No one will believe you!» We do. Lively book reviews cover fully half the issue, some 30 titles in all, spanning the millennia. Here we get a sense of Oxbridge dons letting their hair down just a bit. «Translating Homer,» writes Richard Hunter, «must be a bit like climbing Everest… the now crowded path is strewn with the traces and unsightly litter of previous assaults.» Several books on Alexander are reviewed (along with Oliver Stone’s middling film, which Paul Cartledge rightly writes is «not half as bad as most critics have made it out to be, though it is not half as good, either, as it could or should have been.»). Modern subjects get good coverage, such as «A Century of Greek Poetry» and Mark Mazower’s «Salonica, City of Ghosts,» along with books by Maria Todorova and Louis de Bernieres. Arcana like sponge-diving and Aegean seals (stamps, not animals) get a look, as do two others, John Mole and Eleni Gage, who adopt the now-popular house renovation/cultural baptism approach to learning Greek ways. Rory MacLean takes the road (or air lane) less traveled in documenting his building of a very basic flying machine in Crete to mimic Icarus among the natives while recovering from life’s tragedies.