Monday, 1 October 2007
Karteroumen: a lesson in Stoic endurance
While in New York last week to attend the opening of the 62nd session of the UN General Assembly, President Tassos Papadopoulos found time to inaugurate the Cyprus Global Distinguished Professorship on History and Theory of Justice at New York University, the first holder of which is the renowned Aristotle scholar, Richard Sorabji.
In his speech at NYU, Tassos said ‘Cyprus is proud to have been part of Hellenic civilisation without interruption for more than 3,000 years and has contributed to its achievements, its aura and radiance’, drawing attention in particular to the example of Zeno of Kitium (Larnaca), the Cypriot founder of the Stoic school of philosophy.
Tassos said ‘we owe to Zeno the moral perspective that compels us to associate political justice with individual human rights’, and explained in relation to the Turkish occupation of Cyprus ‘that the application of the rule of law in international relations [is the only way] small states like Cyprus can seek justice and protection against the use of force’.
Now, Zeno’s teachings, as Tassos called them, also lay great emphasis on the virtue of karteria – i.e. endurance, steadfastness, forbearance, perseverance, doing what is right even though painful – which comes to Stoicism via Homer – Odysseus embodies karteric virtues – Socrates, Aristotle and the Cynics, and from the Stoics finds its way into Christian ethics, to the example of the Christian martyrs and the monastic tradition.
Karteroumen – the present tense, in Cypriot dialect, of the verb ‘kartero’ – which in modern Greek means to wait patiently or long for something – is also a poem by the Cypriot poet Dimitris Lipertis (1866-1937).
Καρτερούμεν μέραν νύχταν
να φυσήσει ένας αέρας
στουν τον τόπον πο'ν καμένος
τζι' εν θωρεί ποτέ δροσιάν
Για να φέξει καρτερούμεν
το φως τζιήνης της μέρας
πο'ν να φέρει στον καθ' έναν
τζιαι δροσιάν τζαι ποσπασιάν
We long day and night
for a cool breeze to blow
in this scorched place
which has never seen shade
We long for a dawn to break
and a light to shine
which will bring shade to us all
and an end to our troubles.
For Lipertis, that which would have brought shade and better days to Cyprus, that which was longed for, was an end to British colonial rule and union with Greece; but since the Turkish invasion of Cyprus the longing of the poem has come to mean a longing for an end to the Turkish occupation, a preparedness to endure the pain of being a refugee and a steadfast determination to return to the towns and villages brutally seized by the Turkish army in 1974.
Not surprisingly, Lipertis’ poem, as set to music by Dimitris Lagios – the brilliant composer who died aged 38 in 1991 and was so in love with Cyprus that he requested that half his ashes be scattered in the sea of his home island, Zakynthos, and the rest in the Cypriot sea – and sung by Giorgos Dalaras (see video above), has become Cyprus’ unofficial national anthem against the Turkish occupation.