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The Iberian absence: translations of Modern Greek literature in Europe during the first half of the 20th century

Abstract: This essay analyses the genres and authors of Modern Greek Literature translated into various European languages from 1900 to the 1950s in order to show how they differed between Western and Eastern Europe. In the process, it aims to shed light on the reasons for the almost complete absence of translations into Iberian languages.

Keywords: Translation history, Modern Greek literature, Iberian languages, European languages

Os escritores fazem as literaturas nacionais, e os tradutores fazem a literatura universal.

[Writers make national literatures; translators make universal literature.]

Jose Saramago


Until the 1820s, European readers were mostly (if not totally) unaware of Modern Greek literature. In fact, Romanian was the only relatively common language of translation from Modern Greek, following a tradition that had started in the middle of the 17th century with the translation of mainly religious and philosophical texts (Lazar 215). The Greek Revolution and subsequent War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire (1821-1832) put Greece on the map for Western Europeans (Vasiliadis 17), who began to translate traditional songs, patriotic poems and war chants (Politis, Alexis 21-40) largely into French and German.

Translations of Modern Greek texts began to appear in Iberian languages in the 1850s (Hatsigueorgulu de Hassiotis 407-408), with the first translation into Spanish being that of Alexandras Ypsilantis’ patriotic song El Pajarillo (1848-1850). The first translations into Catalan appeared in 1881 and increased rapidly until the number of translations into Catalan exceeded those into Spanish. This phenomenon cannot simply be explained by the general Western European trend. Instead, it can be linked to the Catalan nationalist awakening (Renaixen^a), which encouraged relations with Greece for two main reasons: a) the rediscovery of a historical Catalan presence in Greece through the Aragonese conquests of Athens and parts of Central Greece and the Peloponnese during the 14th century, and b) the political and linguistic similarities between Catalonia and Greece, namely the struggle for independence and the conflict between purists and demotists (Ayensa i Prat 474ff; Gesti Bautista 160ff; Portulas 243). For mysterious reasons, however, translations into both Catalan and Spanish nearly disappeared from 1900 onward (Gesti Bautista 160; Hatsigueorguiu de Hassiotis 410) and did not pick up again until the 1950s. Translations into Portuguese, by contrast, first appeared in the 1940s.

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