Twenty-two novels with multiple reprints. Theatrical plays, thirteen poetry collections, essays on Elytis and Beckett. Books that have been translated into French, Swedish, and English, but also a life that looks like a novel. The occasion for our meeting with Maria Lampadaridou Pothou, this great lady of Literature, is the participation of her novel “The Wooden Wall” (Patakis publications) in the European list of recommended books “Readers of Europe Reading List”. This is an initiative of the Council Library in cooperation with the Croatian Presidency of the Council of the EU, to stimulate literacy in the midst of the pandemic. A condition for any proposal from EU countries was that in the proposed novels there should be a symbolism about the dilemmas of humanity in times of crisis.
Mrs. Lampadaridou Pothou speaks to us from her homeland, Lemnos. From there she started, in a post-war Greece, to find herself in the avant-garde Paris, studying aesthetics and theater history at the Sorbonne with a scholarship from the French government. The first play she saw in the City of Light was “Happy Days” by Samuel Beckett (1906-1989). That same night she wrote to the great Irish writer and began a correspondence with him, which lasted until the end of his life. Later, when she returned to Greece, she felt the need to transcend the darkness of Western nihilism.
“I searched the Greek light and the transcendence of the Ionian visionaries in the poetry of Odysseus Elytis,” she says, speaking to Vimagazino. In one of the letters they exchanged, the great Greek Nobel laureate writes: “At last after tons of critical nonsense, someone who understands what is being read. Bravo and bravo again”.
Mrs. Lampadaridou Pothou, how do you feel that your novel “The Wooden Wall” was introduced in the European list of recommended books “Readers of Europe Reading List”?
“I was very surprised but also moved when the permanent representative of Greece in the European Union, the ambassador Mr. Ioannis Vrailas, announced the news to me. The book was chosen for its “pure values” he told me. I feel deeply grateful. I struggled a lot to retrieve these “pure values” from the distant past, to bring them into a dimension of the present time. I choose to read to you an excerpt from the text that was posted on the site of the Council of the European Union. Among other things, he writes: “[…] We can draw inspiration from Themistocles, a shining historical example of how visionary thinking, resilience, innovation, openness, and inclusion can help overcome the most unfavourable odds. More importantly, Themistocles’s success was predicated on the values of democracy and social participation, which were born in Ancient Greece and constitute the foundation of our European Union. […] ‘The Wooden Wall’ offers inspiration in these trying times and reminds us of the timeless value of democratic principles. Ancient Greek literary works need no introduction. But modern Greek literature has also produced several masterpieces, not least the works of two Nobel Prize laureates – Giorgos Seferis and Odysseas Elytis”.
In “The Wooden Wall” you essentially take us back to the turbulent times of the Persian Wars…
“It is a book that has taken me to the depths of time, searching in the ruins of history to find what does not die with death. I wanted the facts to be original, in their archetypal poetry. A verse, sometimes, opened paths for me to walk, like that of Aeschylus, “θεόθεν γὰρ κατὰ Μοῖρ᾽ἐκράτησεν”, “all that happened was from the gods and Fate”. I tried to find those references that bring the ancient world to the present, as it does not only dominate modern thought but also philosophically and cosmologically establishes all the modern wonders of science”.
Are you very fascinated by Ancient Greece?
“I found an irresistible charm. Because, the different perception of life, the different philosophy, was the result of unique intelligence. I tried to find the memory of blood, in order to retrieve those elements that compose a collective archetypal memory in the same place, in the same land, guided by the speech of the great Ephesian, Heraclitus: “ὅσα οὔτε εἴδομεν οὔτ’ ἐλάβομεν, ταῦτα φέρομεν”, “what we did not see neither received, we carry with us ”. I had no other ways of communication with that distant world except my poetry, which is my initiation, my immersion in it. Nobody can know what today’s world would be like, if Persian imperialism, with its immense riches and its servile spirit, had prevailed at that moment. Certainly the world today would be different. It was the clash of two different cultures, two different worlds, and the “few” free men prevailed.
By the way, I would like to thank Patakis Publications, the distinguished Mrs. Anna Pataki, who published this 600-page book in the midst of the crisis, as well as other important books for me, such as the novel “The City has been taken…”, “Paths of my Angel”, which are pages from the diaries I kept for a lifetime, but also “The Angel of Ashes”, an Orphic novel that is the journey of the soul to Nekya”.
In your book “The City has been taken…” with the 23 reprints you record minute by minute the epic of the Fall of Constantinople. These days it is tragically current…
“It was fated for me to witness one more time the agony and the hubris. What hurts the most is indifference. The church of Hagia Sophia is an ecumenical symbol. And yet, helpless, it was surrendered to the mercy of the new plunder. Not plunder of gold and silver, but of the sanctity of historical memory. At that time, it was betrayed by Pope Nicholas V, promising assistance, in exchange for the unifying liturgy of the filioque, which he never sent. But Hagia Sophia does not exist in the temporality of ephemeral human life. It exists within the dimensions of the Eternal. And so it shall continue to exist, as an heirloom of Memory and Blood. Untouched by blasphemous hands”.
This summer, the inauguration of the Hall of Lemnos’ Benefactors and the Lending Library took place, two projects which were both realized on your own initiative. And as we know, it was preceded by the creation of a hall in Sachtourio Megaron, which has your name.
“To be honored by your home is the highest honor, I had said at the opening of the Hall that has my name and which was donated to me by the Municipality of Lemnos to house my writing memorabilia. These three projects of love were accomplished in the restored Sachtourio Megaron, donated to the municipality by the benefactress Olga Sachtouri. And everything was completed with the generosity and support of the mayor of Lemnos Mr. Dimitrios Marinakis. It was in 2017 when he announced to me that he wanted to set up a Lending Library and I suggested that I would donate my own books. I have already sent seven hundred of my own books and with them, it will start its operation. But I was looking forward to the Hall of the Great Benefactors to be completed, for which I spent a lot of energy and time so that the inauguration could happen at the same time.
It was a collective need of the island to honor, even with a delay of a century, those who had left Lemnos as poor children, in the years of the Turkish occupation, and became respectable citizens in the countries where they went, without ever forgetting in the slightest their enslaved homeland. And they built schools and churches, “they were brave or brave in essence”. And this summer, on the 15th of August, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, the inauguration took place”.
Truthfully, are you afraid of the coronavirus?
“I belong to the vulnerable groups. But, “To Each His Own”. And my weapon against it was to demystify it. But first I treaded on somewhat metaphysical paths, stemming from the wisdom of the ancient world. Man with his arrogance commits Hubris, as he goes beyond the “human measure” according to Herodotus. And then he accepts the punishment, the “taint” or “agos”. And to think how much arrogance man has shown in the last century, how much disrespect towards Nature”.
And you wrote a fairy tale about COVID-19…
“A fairy tale for adults! A surreal tale taking place in an irrational and unexplainable place where the sages of the world search for the “code” to delete the trap. I hope that everything we experience today, someday will reach an end. And that man will come out of this adventure wiser. Our lives are full of evil wizards and we need the “magic” of the fairy tales to exorcise them. Fairy tales are not only to make the child’s hours magical but also to heal the adult from the wounds of maturity. “Αἰὼν παῖς ἐστι παίζων, πεσσεύων”, “Eternity, is a child playing checkers,” said Heraclitus”.
It is published in VIMAgazino, 20 September 2020