Posts Tagged ‘language’

Giorgos Seferis’ Speech

at the Nobel Banquet at the City Hall in Stockholm, December 10, 1963 (Translation)


“I feel at this moment that I am a living contradiction. The Swedish Academy has decided that my efforts in a language famous through the centuries but not widespread in its present form are worthy of this high distinction. It is paying homage to my language – and in return I express my gratitude in a foreign language. I hope you will accept the excuses I am making to myself.

I belong to a small country. A rocky promontory in the Mediterranean, it has nothing to distinguish it but the efforts of its people, the sea, and the light of the sun. It is a small country, but its tradition is immense and has been handed down through the centuries without interruption. The Greek language has never ceased to be spoken. It has undergone the changes that all living things experience, but there has never been a gap. This tradition is characterized by love of the human; justice is its norm. In the tightly organized classical tragedies the man who exceeds his measure is punished by the Erinyes. And this norm of justice holds even in the realm of nature.

«Helios will not overstep his measure»; says Heraclitus, «otherwise the Erinyes, the ministers of Justice, will find him out». A modern scientist might profit by pondering this aphorism of the Ionian philosopher. I am moved by the realization that the sense of justice penetrated the Greek mind to such an extent that it became a law of the physical world. One of my masters exclaimed at the beginning of the last century, «We are lost because we have been unjust» He was an unlettered man, who did not learn to write until the age of thirty-five. But in the Greece of our day the oral tradition goes back as far as the written tradition, and so does poetry. I find it significant that Sweden wishes to honour not only this poetry, but poetry in general, even when it originates in a small people. For I think that poetry is necessary to this modern world in which we are afflicted by fear and disquiet. Poetry has its roots in human breath – and what would we be if our breath were diminished? Poetry is an act of confidence – and who knows whether our unease is not due to a lack of confidence?

Last year, around this table, it was said that there is an enormous difference between the discoveries of modern science and those of literature, but little difference between modern and Greek dramas. Indeed, the behaviour of human beings does not seem to have changed. And I should add that today we need to listen to that human voice which we call poetry, that voice which is constantly in danger of being extinguished through lack of love, but is always reborn. Threatened, it has always found a refuge; denied, it has always instinctively taken root again in unexpected places. It recognizes no small nor large parts of the world; its place is in the hearts of men the world over. It has the charm of escaping from the vicious circle of custom. I owe gratitude to the Swedish Academy for being aware of these facts; for being aware that languages which are said to have restricted circulation should not become barriers which might stifle the beating of the human heart; and for being a true Areopagus, able «to judge with solemn truth life’s ill-appointed lot», to quote Shelley, who, it is said, inspired Alfred Nobel, whose grandeur of heart redeems inevitable violence.

In our gradually shrinking world, everyone is in need of all the others. We must look for man wherever we can find him. When on his way to Thebes Oedipus encountered the Sphinx, his answer to its riddle was: «Man». That simple word destroyed the monster. We have many monsters to destroy. Let us think of the answer of Oedipus.”


~From Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967, Editor Horst Frenz,

ElsevierPublishingCompany, Amsterdam, 1969



Ομιλία Γεωργίου Σεφέρη στη Σουηδική Ακαδημία κατά την απονομή του Βραβείου Νόμπελ, 10-12-1963

“Τούτη την ώρα αισθάνομαι πως είμαι ο ίδιος μια αντίφαση. Αλήθεια, η Σουηδική Ακαδημία έκρινε πως η προσπάθειά μου σε μια γλώσσα περιλάλητη επί αιώνες, αλλά στην παρούσα μορφή της περιορισμένη, άξιζε αυτή την υψηλή διάκριση. Θέλησε να τιμήσει τη γλώσσα μου, και να – εκφράζω τώρα τις ευχαριστίες μου σε ξένη γλώσσα. Σας παρακαλώ να μου δώσετε τη συγγνώμη που ζητώ πρώτα-πρώτα από τον εαυτό μου.

Ανήκω σε μια χώρα μικρή. Ένα πέτρινο ακρωτήρι στη Μεσόγειο, που δεν έχει άλλο αγαθό παρά τον αγώνα του λαού του, τη θάλασσα, και το φως του ήλιου. Είναι μικρός ο τόπος μας, αλλά η παράδοσή του είναι τεράστια και το πράγμα που μας χαρακτηρίζει είναι ότι μας παραδόθηκε χωρίς διακοπή. Η ελληνική γλώσσα δεν έπαψε ποτέ της να μιλιέται. Δέχτηκε τις αλλοιώσεις που δέχεται καθετί ζωντανό, αλλά δεν παρουσιάζει κανένα χάσμα. Άλλο χαρακτηριστικό αυτής της παράδοσης είναι η αγάπη της για την ανθρωπιά· κανόνας της είναι η δικαιοσύνη. Στην αρχαία τραγωδία, την οργανωμένη με τόση ακρίβεια, ο άνθρωπος που ξεπερνά το μέτρο, πρέπει να τιμωρηθεί από τις Ερινύες. Ο ίδιος νόμος ισχύει και όταν ακόμα πρόκειται για φυσικά φαινόμενα: “Ήλιος ουχ υπερβήσεται μέτρα” λέει ο Ηράκλειτος, “ει δε μη, Ερινύες μιν Δίκης επίκουροι εξευρήσουσιν”.

Συλλογίζομαι πως δεν αποκλείεται ολωσδιόλου να ωφεληθεί ένας σύγχρονος επιστήμων, αν στοχαστεί τούτο το απόφθεγμα του Ίωνα φιλοσόφου. Όσο για μένα συγκινούμαι παρατηρώντας πως η συνείδηση της δικαιοσύνης είχε τόσο πολύ διαποτίσει την ελληνική ψυχή, ώστε να γίνει κανόνας και του φυσικού κόσμου. Και ένας από τους διδασκάλους μου (εννοεί τον Μακρυγιάννη), των αρχών του περασμένου αιώνα, γράφει: “…θα χαθούμε γιατί αδικήσαμε…” Αυτός ο άνθρωπος ήταν αγράμματος· είχε μάθει να γράφει στα τριανταπέντε χρόνια της ηλικίας του. Αλλά στην Ελλάδα των ημερών μας, η προφορική παράδοση πηγαίνει μακριά στα περασμένα όσο και η γραπτή. Το ίδιο και η ποίηση. Είναι για μένα σημαντικό το γεγονός ότι η Σουηδία θέλησε να τιμήσει και τούτη την ποίηση και όλη την ποίηση γενικά, ακόμη και όταν αναβρύζει ανάμεσα σ’ ένα λαό περιορισμένο. Γιατί πιστεύω πως τούτος ο σύγχρονος κόσμος όπου ζούμε, ο τυραννισμένος από το φόβο και την ανησυχία, τη χρειάζεται την ποίηση. Η ποίηση έχει τις ρίζες της στην ανθρώπινη ανάσα, και τι θα γινόμασταν αν η πνοή μας λιγόστευε; Είναι μια πράξη εμπιστοσύνης κι ένας Θεός το ξέρει αν τα δεινά μας δεν τα χρωστάμε στη στέρηση εμπιστοσύνης.

Παρατήρησαν, τον περασμένο χρόνο γύρω από τούτο το τραπέζι, την πολύ μεγάλη διαφορά ανάμεσα στις ανακαλύψεις της σύγχρονης επιστήμης και στη λογοτεχνία· παρατήρησαν πως ανάμεσα σ’ ένα αρχαίο ελληνικό δράμα και ένα σημερινό, η διαφορά είναι λίγη. Ναι, η συμπεριφορά του  ανθρώπου δε μοιάζει να έχει αλλάξει βασικά. Και πρέπει να προσθέσω πως νιώθει πάντα την ανάγκη ν’ ακούσει τούτη την ανθρώπινη φωνή που ονομάζουμε ποίηση. Αυτή τη φωνή που κινδυνεύει να σβήσει κάθε στιγμή από στέρηση αγάπης και ολοένα ξαναγεννιέται. Κυνηγημένη, ξέρει πού να βρει καταφύγιο· απαρνημένη, έχει το ένστικτο να πάει να ριζώσει στους πιο απροσδόκητους τόπους. Γι’ αυτή δεν υπάρχουν μεγάλα και μικρά μέρη του κόσμου. Το βασίλειό της είναι στις καρδιές όλων των ανθρώπων της γης. Έχει τη χάρη να αποφεύγει πάντα τη συνήθεια, αυτή τη βιομηχανία. Χρωστώ την ευγνωμοσύνη μου στη Σουηδική Ακαδημία που ένιωσε αυτά τα πράγματα· που ένιωσε πως οι γλώσσες, οι λεγόμενες περιορισμένης χρήσης, δεν πρέπει να καταντούν φράχτες όπου πνίγεται ο παλμός της ανθρώπινης καρδιάς· που έγινε ένας Άρειος Πάγος ικανός: να κρίνει με αλήθεια επίσημη την άδικη μοίρα της ζωής, για να θυμηθώ τον Σέλεϋ, τον εμπνευστή, καθώς μας λένε, του Αλφρέδου Νόμπελ, αυτού του ανθρώπου που μπόρεσε να εξαγοράσει την αναπόφευκτη βία με τη μεγαλοσύνη της καρδιάς του.
Σ’ αυτόν τον κόσμο, που ολοένα στενεύει, ο καθένας μας χρειάζεται όλους τους άλλους. Πρέπει ν’ αναζητήσουμε τον άνθρωπο, όπου κι αν βρίσκεται. Όταν, στο δρόμο της Θήβας, ο Οιδίπους συνάντησε τη Σφίγγα, κι αυτή του έθεσε το αίνιγμά της, η απόκρισή του ήταν: ο άνθρωπος. Τούτη η απλή λέξη χάλασε το τέρας. Έχουμε πολλά τέρατα να καταστρέψουμε.

Ας συλλογιστούμε την απόκριση του Οιδίποδα.”

ΠΗΓΗ: Το κείμενο στα Ελληνικά από τον Τόμο “Ένας αιώνας Νόμπελ. Οι ομιλίες των συγγραφέων που τιμήθηκαν με το Βραβείο Νόμπελ στον 20ό αιώνα”, (Επιμέλεια-Επίλογος: Θανάσης Θ. Νιάρχος), εκδ. Καστανιώτη, Αθήνα 2001

Myths or mythos for the ancient people was an allegoric vehicle to awaken the soul from its forgetful past for those who were spiritual and sensitive enough to recognize the veiled truth behind it.  The Greek word μύθος= myth, derives from the sound‘mou’=murmur, which we produce when our lips are closed and the word Μυστήριο=mystery= inexplicable, adjoins with it. Together they form a secret communicating organ for every soul who is ready to recollect the forgotten experience from their previous incarnations.

Every mystical truth when presented by a normal open concrete language, usually is misconceived and rejected by the undeveloped intellectually insensitive individuals.  For this reason philosophers, mystics, epic poets and even prose writers of all times used myths, allegorizes and parables to veil the truth from the unready ones and to unveil for those who were ready to understand.

The soul of man possesses the capabilities to recognize and respond to truth that the myth carries, even before the mind grasped and analyze it. Most of us have been touched with this type of phenomena in the past and especially in our youth, before our minds and souls have been wounded and cobbled by dogmatism and wrong education. Soul responds sensitively to truth and its poetical beauty that encompasses the myth –and which has been lost through countless incarnations. Here, we see clearly the Socratic theory that our soul pre-existed and that all knowledge is nothing more than αναθύμισης=anathimisis= recollections from the past.

The inclination for a certain talent and the easier understanding of some life issues, are nothing more than recollection, says the English Platonist Thomas Taylor. The aim of a myth is not to entertain the senses and the mind by telling interesting stories, but to awaken the soul from its lethargic past. The Greek word αλήθεια =alitheia= truth, is derived from the word λήθη= lithe= forget -and the letter a’ in the front which means to throw away the forgetful-ness. In other words, the meaning of this word it speaks clearly, that truth searching is nothing more then throwing away the forgetfulness of the past or ανάμνησης= anamnesis= remembrance, as Plato used to call.

Every free and undamaged soul wakes up joyfully like a child by listening to the poetic beauty and the truth that myth unveils.

It feels exited, like re-meeting old friends and known events from its forgotten past. This is the grace and the glory that the myth brings- and of which the ancient Hellenes have so generously endowed us with.

The exegesis (explanation) of myth is a valuable exercise for the wandering soul. Although initially it appears as a fable, nevertheless when analyzed, creates enthusiasm and reveals the depth and glory that contains.

Plato was one of the greatest skilful masters of myth producers with his brilliant written dialogues.  He often used myths, imaginations and metaphors to pass the knowledge and the deep mystery, which our life hides. He proceeded bit by bit in lengthy dialectic conversations, manufacturing with scrupulous care the foundations of truth, leaving no ignorance and microbes behind, neither allowing lies nor doubts to creep between his celestial edifices. Suddenly without notice or argument, he calmly finishes his intellectual masterpiece to glisten everlastingly in the minds and souls of humanity.

When Socrates was conversing with his friends about soul and knowledge, he introduced myths and metaphors experimentally and almost hesitatingly at first, as if he was entering a holy ground.  As he new well the misunderstanding of the myth initially by those unfamiliar and has taken the necessary steps to make it easier conceivable. Great care is needed to interpret a myth and especially Plato’s. When he speaks of a human soul turning to an animal, he doesn’t mean that man becomes a beast, but he wants to say that when man cares only for his sensual pleasures (hedonism), he descends voluntary to an animal level, without intellectual and spiritual thoughts as higher human being.

Soul is an abstract word without material substance. No language ever yet managed to outline its subtle nature. For this reason Plato often used symbols, myths and fantasies to lead the human intellect higher and closer to their soul. The myths in his dialogues of Gorgias, Phaedra, Pheudo, Republic and Symposium, are the most valuable treasures that he left us behind to read.

Homer with his story of Achilles heel did not mean surely that the only vulnerable spot of Achilles, was his heel, but he was allegorizing that for every bad act that we do, we will not escape our punishment no matter where we will hide our self’s, it will find us like in the secret venerable heel of king Achilles.

The well-known myth of Odysseus, who was wandering in the stormy sea for ten years before reaching his Ithaca home, meant that every soul goes through testing hurdles and sufferings before it reached intellectual awakening, of spiritual destination.

The ancient sphinx that gave a riddle to passing pedestrians with a risk of losing their life if not answering correctly had metaphoric meaning. It was saying that our life has new riddles daily to be solved, and if we don’t answer them correctly, our future life will not be safe.

Resuming for a moment the enormous and admirable Hellenic mythological inheritance, I ask myself with a heart yearning: Why we are not taught this valuable truth and analyze them from our young age? Why such enormous valuable treasures remain untaught and hidden away from our schools and societies today?  Although we see clearly the advanced of their culture, we remain indifferent and apathetic to learn or study them theoretically.

What would we loose by being taught the meanings of these mythological treasures from the past? Would it not be useful to know little more about the meaning of our present earthy existence, – rather to accept blind beliefs without any knowledge of our life purpose what so ever?

~Karalis Dimitris

South Africa
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