Byzantine & Modern Greek MSt/MPhil Programme

Core Seminar

Greek Literature and Culture in/after the 19th century: Themes, texts and contexts

This is the core postgraduate seminar in Modern Greek, runs in Michaelmas term, and counts as one of your Special Subjects. It is advisable that all students interested in the modern period follow this seminar [Students with an interest in the Byzantine and Early Modern periods, should ask further advice before they make their final choices.]

The aim of the seminar is to discuss and analyse Greek literary and cultural texts of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. We will start from larger themes, most of them reminiscent of old debates in Modern Greek studies (such as, for instance, storytelling, the influence of Classics, the forging of a Neohellenic identity, or the difference between generations). However, our approach will be more theoretical and, as much as we can, more geared towards creative discussions of literary and cultural texts and their contexts.

Students who want to work independently in their second term and devise their own focus of research, will be able to take this option for a second term, adding a subtitle with the specific theme that they will approach in Hilary.

Special Subjects

These are the options available in 2017-18. Not all options will be available in all years, and some course content might change.

Story-Telling in Byzantium

People in the middle ages loved telling each other stories. Popular tales include the Alexander Romance, the Life of Aesop, Joseph and Aseneth, Digenis Akritis, the numerous saints’ lives, the memoirs of Kekaumenos, and oriental tales, such as Stephanitis and Ichnilatis, Syntipas, and Barlaam and Joasaph. However, all these stories have come down to us as texts, transmitted in manuscript copies; there are obviously no recordings of oral performances. Can we reconstruct the oral settings? How are the narratives structured? What can we say about their audiences?

(Convenor: Prof. Lauxtermann)

The Greeks of Venice

The Greek community in Venice played a significant role in the cultural life of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. Venice was a staple market for merchandise from and to the Levant; young Greeks were sent to nearby Padua for their education; and books were printed in Venice and circulated in the Greek-speaking world. The first language debate takes place in the mid-16th century between Nikolaos Sophianos and Pachomios Roussanos; the Venetian printers develop a standardised form of Greek long before the creation of SMG; the first bestsellers in vernacular Greek begin to appear: Kartanos, Anthos Chariton, Damaskinos Stouditis, etc. The first dictionary of vernacular Greek appears in 1527; the first grammar of vernacular Greek is written in the 1540s. Possible topics for discussion would include the formation of a diasporic identity; the creation of a new koine; the production of the earliest prints; and the trade with the Levant.

(Convenor: Prof. Lauxtermann)

Struggling with the Classics

From its best known literature to the 2004 ‘welcome-home’ Olympic Games, ancient Greece has been the most important ‘other’ of Modern Greek identity and culture. In this course students will be encouraged to identify how classical texts and myths have been used (and re-used) in the modern Greek context (esp. in the 20th century), as well as examining the different ways in which the ‘shadow of the great forefathers’ has been handled in a search for identity. Part of the focus will be on writers such as Sikelianos and Seferis, who sought a contemporary Greek voice through the exploration and reworking of ancient myth and literature, and part on re-writings of classical texts in diverse styles, such as Kazantzakis’ Odyssey, Ritsos’, Eleni and Fakinou’s The Seventh Garment, as well as texts that foreground the affinity of contemporary Greeks with the ancient ruins around them (Galanakis’ Minotauros). Although literary texts will be the primary focus, other forms of cultural texts will be discussed, including films such as Theo Angelopoulos’ Travelling Players, or the recent Mourning Rock by Philipos Koutsaftis.

(Convenor: Prof. Papanikolaou)

Literature and Politics in 20th century Greece (Not offered in 2017-18)

The division between the Left and the Right in Greek society has shaped a large part of its cultural production, at least in the second half of the 20th century. This course will study the different ways in which this division was expressed in literature after the Civil War as well as in texts dealing with the 1967-1974 dictatorship. Main texts will include Tsirkas’ The Lost Spring; Fragkias’ Pest; Alexandrou’s The Box; Alki Zei’s Achilles’ Fiancé; the poetry of Ritsos, Anagnostakis, Patrikios, Alexandrou; Kotzias’ Jaguar; the collection 18 Texts. Students will be encouraged to compare these texts with a variety of other materials, ranging from texts on politics and ideology to films (eg. Happy Day by Pantelis Voulgaris), songs and performances (especially those of Mikis Theodorakis and Dionysis Savvopoulos). Of particular theoretical interest will be the relationship between writing and censorship (imposed or self-imposed by regimes or by the quest for ideological purity).

(Convenor: Prof. Papanikolaou)

C.P.Cavafy and the writing of (homo)sexuality

Even though central to the poetry and poetics of C.P.Cavafy, the issue of sexuality has not been adequately addressed in the literary study of his work. This course will start by reading the poems and personal notes of C.P.Cavafy through Foucault’s History of Sexuality and various theoretical texts from the field of queer studies (especially Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet). Maintaining this theoretical framework, we will also consider similarities and differences in the construction of (homo)sexuality in Cavafy and such writers as Paul Valéry, Arthur Rimbaud, Marcel Proust, Oscar Wilde and André Gide. Students may also pursue a study of the intertextual links between Cavafy and a series of gay writers and critics of the 20th century, in Greece (Lapathiotis, Hristianopoulos, Aslanoglou, Ioannou) and abroad (E.M.Forster, William Plomer, W.H. Auden, James Merrill, Mark Doty).

(Convenor: Prof. Papanikolaou)

The Remembrance of National History

What does it mean to remember events that one never experienced? Why is the fall of Constantinople or the Asia Minor Catastrophe considered traumatic by contemporary Greeks? What determines how national history is constructed and commemorated? This course brings together literary, psychoanalytical, sociological and architectural insights on mourning and loss, individual and collective memory, trauma and monumentality with a close reading of important moments in Greek history. Works of Sigmund Freud, Maurice Halbwachs, Pierre Nora, Benedict Anderson, Eric Hobsbawm, Paul Ricoeur complement the novels of Dimitris Vikelas, Georgios Vizyinos, Alki Zei, Dimitris Hatzis, films by Theo Angelopoulos, Nikos Perakis and Stefanos Tsivopoulos and articles on continuity and classical heritage, the civil war, footage of parades organized by the military regime of 1967, and ethnographies on monuments and spatial poetics, to facilitate a discussion of the work of memory in relation to Greece’s actual or imaginary past.

(Convenors: Kostas Skordyles et al.)

Subscribe to Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages