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This article is taken from PN Review 9, Volume 6 Number 1, September - October 1979.

Past and Present: Thoughts on Seferis Michael Cayley

BY PROFESSION Seferis was a diplomat, and the aroma of diplomacy hangs round his approach to literature. His essays reveal him as a peacemaker, stressing the unity rather than the divisions of the European literary heritage. A recurring theme in them is the continuity of Greek culture, from Aeschylus to Makriyannis, from Homer to the folk tradition. He refused to accept the existence of the chasm which some Greek critics saw "separating and isolating the classics from the non-classics." He interpreted the term "classics" as denoting not ancient authors but simply "good artists". Accordingly he was a non-combattant in the Battle of the Books between Ancients and Moderns which was being waged in the Greece of the 1930s.

The same refusal to admit the existence of great divides parting sections of the European literary heritage from each other led him to draw out similarities between Cavafy and T. S. Eliot and to emphasize that European civilization "is basically an offspring of the values of Hellenism." And indeed Greece owed to Western Europe the survival of much of its heritage: "The best among us studied in or went to the West and tried to bring back to liberated Greece the heritage that had left our country in order to be preserved." In his own poetic output Seferis plunders the works of the West as readily as those of his native land. Translating "The Waste Land" and other works of T. S. Eliot into Greek, using a quotation from ...


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