Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Grigoris Afxentiou: 'emanating from the depths of Greek history'



Today is the 52nd anniversary of the Battle of Macheras, the outcome of which was the death of Grigoris Afxentiou, EOKA's second in command, and the pre-eminent hero of the struggle to rid Cyprus of British colonial rule and unite the island with Greece. Previous Hellenic Antidote articles on Afxentiou are here.

Above is an excerpt from a Cyprus TV documentary on Afxentiou. You can see the whole of the documentary here. I've previously made available the clip, which shows footage from and describes the Battle of the Macheras, but now I've added English subtitles.

I've also translated the opening verses to Yiannis Ritsos' long poem: Farewell. The last hours of Grigoris Afxentiou in the burning cave.

As I've stated in a previous post, this poem, written in the same month as Afxentiou's sacrifice, reveals the hero’s ecstatic state of mind as for 10 hours under siege in his hideout he meditates on his life and on his decision to die. It is shocking to consider that during those 10 hours fighting, wounded, in pain, Afxentiou must have considered again and again giving himself up, imagined living and returning to his home and family, and yet he would not be deflected by love of life and instead remained committed to his own death. The whole poem can be read in Greek here.

Farewell. The last hours of Grigoris Afxentiou in the burning cave

The lies are over – yours and ours

The queen of flames approaches. You can't

Distinguish anymore if it's the mastic tree, the fern or thyme
that's burning. The fire approaches.


But I
must find time to distinguish

To see, to calculate, to think –
(About who? Myself? The others?) I must.
Before my death I need this final piece of knowledge,
The knowledge of my own death, so that I might die.


The other four have left. Farewell. What peace and quiet – as if
here a child was to be born or a martyr to die, and you're
waiting
to hear a huge cry (the child's or God's), a cry clearer than silence
Which will bring down the walls of the past, the future and the present, so you can recall, prophesy, live with, a timeless moment, everything. But nothing.

g
Update: A reader from Seattle wrote to me about Ritsos' poem to point out that the line 'Before my death I need this final piece of knowledge,
The knowledge of my own death, so that I can die'
reflects the heart of Plato's philosophy, which is, my reader writes: 'the study of death and knowing how to die'.

g Further update: Thanks to my reader from Seattle, Dr Michael Aristidou, for providing a clarification regarding my above statement on the nature of Plato's view on 'studying death and knowing how to die'

Michael points out that it is
Plato's conception of the role of philosophy and not Plato's philosophy as such that is concerned with 'studying death and knowing how to die'. A more accurate statement would read:

A reader from Seattle wrote to me about Ritsos' poem to point out that the line

'Before my death I need this final piece of knowledge,
The knowledge of my own death, so that I can die'

reflects the heart of Plato's definition (and essence) of philosophy, which is, my reader writes: 'the study of death and knowing how to die'.


Also see this post, Plato, philosophy and death.


2 comments:

Stavros said...

Thanks for writng this beautiful post about Afxentiou. May his memory be eternal.

Anonymous said...

Poem from an ashamed British lady from long standing services family:

O what a brave and noble deed
the hunting of the dread Afxention,
Now is the story told of how he died
This stubborn monster in his holy lair,
and how a gentle shepherd led them there,
The Duke of Wellington's,The King's OWn Yorkshire Light, The Royal Berkshire's in their noble might
All to Mahkeros monastery rocks
Where all entreaties to surrender failed
(plus a few bursts of sub-machine gun fire).
As a divirsion, these three regiments to whit
The Duke of Wellington's, The King's Own Yorkshire Light, The Royal Berkshire's, summoning their courage,
Remembering glories past,
Dug them a shaft into the living tomb
of dread Afxention
And poured down petrol, then to spark it off
With high explosives and with Very lights-
And so, at last- heard silence-
Now did Lieutenant Shuttleworth go in
(The former Rugby International)
and found the evidence of better sport
Than ever Rugby was, the burned
And mutilated corpse- the terrorist- Afxention