For the Artistic-Historical context of the Idea of “Union” in the Works of C. Montis

 (“The pain is inspiration to the artists of a word”)srong>[1]


      The literary work of Greek poet Costas Montis (1918-2004) coincides with the difficult epoch of historic-political breakthroughs on the island of Cyprus in the second half of the 20th  century. On the one hand, the events that developed as a result of national-liberation battles of 1955-1959 have become a defining factor of modern Cypriot history. On the other hand, they played a crucial role in Montis’ life and literary creativity. It should be emphasized that the discussions of historians, sociologists, diplomats or artists about this important stage of the history of the island leads to different positions. To the present day, the diversity of opinions is caused by the "reasonableness" of motives, aims and means as well as the expediency of the sacrifice. However, the aim of our research is to shed the light on the fact that Monti's entire work is the assertion of the opposite.

     If we consider C. Montis’ active involvement in the life of island, we will not be surprised by the domination of historical topics in his works. Moreover, perhaps the situation created in Cyprus gave no other choice. Within the framework of the article, it is important for us to outline the main aspects of the national-liberation struggle and the idea of ​​"Enosis", which initiates a long and a continuous chain of C. Montis’ poetic work. The main tools for the representation of an artistic-literary introspection are laconic, epigrammatic lines - "minutes". By using this method, C. Montis facilitates the restoration of the historical realities of the 20th century with a full intensity of poetic dramatism, which was "omitted" by the history, willfully or unwittingly. This fact distinguishes Montis from the modern Greek poets and represents the charm of his poetry.


One minor, poor district

The history passed twice, passed three times

And nothing was found to be noted [Μόντης, 1987: 215].

Cypriot rebellion

And suddenly, the freedom pushed us

As a classmate, who met us in the street [Μόντης, 1993: Γ ': 175].


That was when liberty followed our fist.

It was when the freedom united our fists [Μόντης, 1993: Γ ': 90].


Freedom needs a lot of insomnia and vigilance, my friends,

Do not remove an eye even for a minute. Do not relax [Μόντης, 1987: 559].


"With hearts, boys and somewhere will lead us

With hearts, boys and God is merciful [Μόντης, 1987: 175].


Your past is my wrinkles, please,

One-by-one, your past orderly arranged! [Μόντης, 1987:178]


      The "minutes" taken from different  poetic collections reveal the importance of 1955-1959 for Montis’ life and work. This is a quote from one of his interviews: "The struggle for liberation influenced my work, which was carelessly left. I did not publish books during this period and a temporary emptiness emerged in my literary career. Only at the end of the battle appeared "minutes". Perhaps, the lack of time (caused by my active involvement in the struggle for liberation) had given the stimulus to create them. I wrote and afterwards, published the works (poetic or prose) related to the "EOKA" battles, believing that they would contain an essential spiritual foundation and in combination with many other reasons strengthen, purify and justify the battle. I believed that via these writings I made a necessary contribution to the fight "[Κιτρομηλίδης, 1997: 28]. Because of the emotional and more expressive nature of the poetry, these sentiments are even more evident in the "minutes" dedicated to the heroes of EOKA, which were called "fighting songs" by Montis.

Evagoras Pallikarides

When I read your story

I was burning with the heat that night [Μόντης, 1987: 424].

Iakovos Patatsos

We? Who are we?

Maybe we will read with the sorrow (strong? Good, strong)

Maybe we will judge with the pain (and even this, for how long?)

Maybe the more soft-hearted ones  – spend the night awake (but how many nights?)

Nothing more.

The rest is the best of a mother's grown son [Μόντης, 1987: 425].

                                                                        Grigoris Afxentiou

That morning the man would change the name of the mountains [Μόντης, Α '1987: 496].

                                                                        Grigoris Afxentiou

That “no” could not repeat even the “echo”,

It was very hard to move [Μόντης, 1987: 455].

     In 1925 Cyprus was officially announced as the colony of Great Britain. It is noteworthy that the poet of a mutinous character even during his pupillary years took part in the famous rebellion of “October" of 1931. I the following year, he sold his family property in Amakhosto and entered the Faculty of Law at the University of Athens. However, Montis knew that due to the restrictions imposed on Cyprus, the youth educated in Athens was severely persecuted by the political governance of England. Advocacy was forbidden, especially, after "October" uprising [Παστελλάς, 1984: 190]. This was the smallest challenge for the poet, who had a tragic biography. He consecutively opposed any obstacle. “Generally, the pain dominates in my creative work  -  that's what I have born from childhood. Our family life was full of peripeteias: I lost my two elder brothers, I was 8 years old and my father said: "I’ve lost two central pillars, and I’ve stayed with nothing, but this column". I have lost my mother, two sisters and at the age of fifteen, my father. Here is the pain I have shared. Unfortunately, I had the trouble to be a good pupil in the gymnasium, to get all the prizes, which existed. I was an orphan and I had no advisors. Despite the prohibition, I entered the Faculty of Law. The government saw the threat in those young men, who were trained as lawyers in Athens, because Khadzipavlos and Theodotos were the lawyers. The British forces were waiting all the coups from this site. The employment of citizens educated in Athens was prohibited in Cyprus.  I asked Archbishop Kyrillos II for advice. He gave a bad advice. He said: "Go, Montis, wherever you want and you do not know, maybe in four years a union will come" and I went to Athens, I came back and the union seemed to be nowhere. Afterwards, I was forced to do all types of works and these are the pains that occasionally occur in my poetry. On the one hand, the pain is the inspiration for the artists. Joy cannot inspire in the same way. You have to pay for the excitement of a reader. You must cry 10 times for making him/her cry once. You must be agitated 10 times for making him/her feel the same even once.  For the sake of success you have to pay in such a way and afterwards, the time will come and all of these will cost a lot" [Μόντης, 1999: 406].

    The national-liberation war of 1955-1959 against Britain ended with a partial success. The British epoch was ended under the leadership and efforts of National Organization of Cypriot Fighters (E.O.K.A.), which strived to reunite Greece. Costas Montis was a political adviser of this organization in Nicosia. The expel of British people from the island and gaining of  the independence in 1960 did not mean the full victory of the Cypriots, because the union with Greece remained untenable. Monti's effort was not limited to the national-liberation battles. He reinforced the idea of ​​liberty and "union" with the poetry of “minutes”. His attempt is nothing more than airing those historical events that are actual as well as vital for his modernity.


"Which "state", gentlemen, which "state"

We step on a "continuous" pile of the states2 [Μόντης, 1987: 83].


How unanimously agreed,

How all agreed unanimously.

What a deep idea lies in one  rectangular piece of cloth,

What is the idea of ​​a quadrangular piece of cloth, which flutters? [Μόντης, 1987: 536]


Put all in the row and punish them with death!

This should be done! [Μόντης, Γ '1993: 90]


These battles are absolutely in vain.

- I know. That's why I’ve intervened.

That's why I’ve intervened [Μόντης, 2003: 74].



"Do you know how many people were missed by the history up to the present day?"

Now, we already know where the history gets

Its sources" [Μόντης, 1987: 188].


"How many multi-syllable, extended  stories

can hold one-syllable now" [Μόντης, 2003: 123].


It does not take notes, became impudent,

Became impudent and intervenes [Μόντης, 1987: 584].


What does it mean "the history will write"?

                               It is excluded, not to write! [Μόντης, 1987: 188]

      In the artistic context of a historical reality, Montis’ work is the interpretation of past experiences with poetic devices. Therefore, it is necessary to revive an "alternative reality" for the maintenance of the national identity of the Cypriots and for changing the historic present. Our doubt is reinforced  with the researchers' remark, that Montis focuses on destructurisation of the past and history (Loizidis, Athanasopulu) in the traditional sense. According to Montis’s estimation, the importance of the modern history has been "undoubtedly" exaggerated. This fact initiates his personal protest. The history should not be allowed to "absorb" a person and his aspiration to change today's reality. Supposedly, for this reason Montis states, "history is not written by historians. The writers write history. From them you will learn the truth" [Κιτρομηλίδης, 1997: 29].

The impressions of the war and a long-term observation of historic processes led the poet to break a twenty-year long pause of his prosaic work. In 1964 the novella-chronicle “Closed doors" was published, which can be considered as a sample of modern Greek historical prose. The cycle of the struggle of liberation in Cyprus not only crafted his literal work, but also led to some kind of a "rebellion" and a "coup" in his work. Montis gave time to the history to tell the story about Cypriot heroes. However, after five years from the end of the fight, he preferred returning to a national topic, where still dominated the idea of the “union”. In the prologue of the work, the author gives the explanation: "My last collection of stories "A humble life” was published in 1944. Since then, I have not been systematically occupied with stories. The life full of agony, thrill and frustration fragmented my orderliness and separated me from the center…  The drawers were in the same condition as they had been left twenty years ago, full of half ended stories, plans, beginnings, titles of the stories. Hence, suddenly, appeared the struggle that conquered me and penetrated into the depth of my soul in order to unite the partition. It was inadmissible to be silent. Someone had to utter, someone, who experienced those unrepeatable four years" [Μόντης, 1964: 3].

     The formation of the public memory with the “history” written by heroes (Koutalianos, "Digenis" Giorgios Grivas) is read in the novella "Closed doors", where the brutality of the war is presented on the example of the tragedy of one family. In this historical composition, the author tries to preserve and strengthen the national identity. In the first lines we read: "When (in 1955) the revolution started in Cyprus, when suddenly stepped out a small island to expel the British people, three of us were the pupils of the gymnasium. I was in the third form, Stallo in the fourth and Nikos in the fifth   -  three descendants of the family, a closely intertwined step… I was spending a careless life of fifteen years old teenager, with awakenings, with the first bass in the voice, with widened eyes, wishes, joys and excitement ...  As for a political anxiety and a long controversy on the island, it aimed at turning the yoke of foreigners. Various, uncompromising, but peaceful struggles (can be said, otherwise how could it be with the Great Empire, which governed us?). All of these was fateful (fateful?) for us, for children (and truly, when starts the childhood and when does it end?). That January, something like a habit and a tradition, something that has been closely woven into our lives since the very beginning, something chronic that flowed quietly, obediently, without excitements and aggravations, almost assimilated, unnoticed, which forced us to jump up from the beds early in the morning, at 4 pm, once or twice per year, to join the prayers at dawn in holy Church of Phaneromeni and to stage a triumphal procession with the Greek flags, beating drums and blowing trumpets (what an exciting feeling – everyone will look at us: a father, a mother, neighbors and all of them) (These trumpets were blowing our age - fifteenth - to come back) in front of the Consulate (there was only one Consulate for us), to agitate at the Church of Phaneromeni with the exclamations  “union”, the reason  for freedom, which occasionally responded to a national intention and the goal of all Greek territories, which were still out of the borders of a free homeland" [Μόντης, 1987: 1539].

      Montis, like a historian, describes the Englishmen’s regime in Cyprus with an exemplary precision. 15-year-old young man, the narrator with a revolutionary attitude towards this injustice, revives the latest history of the island, a tragic picture granted to Cypriot by the history and the destiny. The author presents moods and ideological tendencies of the society via the memories of its minor members. An individual memory or the process of the formation of a national identity of a hero is generalized in the whole community and expresses an emotional attitude towards the existed reality in present. Therefore, the contemporaneousness (not the past) determines and chooses from the history a topical problematic and establishes a historical memory in the society in this way.

     The smaller nations are more chained to the past. Probably, this is stipulated by their permanent defensive wars and dramatic historical peripetias. We agree that if the history is the remembrance of the past, it is also a choice of something that must be forgotten. A weakened relation between the past and the present often leads to the crisis of identity. It is restored in the form of the nostalgia for the past and becomes especially strong, when the society is in political, cultural and economic crisis. By the method of returning back to the past, novella "Closed doors" presents a public opinion more emotionally and interestingly. Despite the dramatic results, Montis does not betray the atmosphere of unity of the Cypriots against common enemy (British colonists) and the idea of "union”.

      Why it became necessary to revive an invisible side of history in an artistic work? For offering the so-called “alternative history” to the public? It is necessary to note the fact that Costas Montis’ inspiration and another encouraging source was the autobiographical, traveling book "Bitter lemons" of British poet and novelist Lawrence Durrell. It is interesting to get acquainted with the "second objective reality" and a radically different attitude revealed by Durrell in relation to the actions of “EOKA” against British governance. The book "Bitter lemons" was published in London in 1957. It describes the years (1953-1956) spent by Lawrence Durrell in Cyprus, where he initially worked as a teacher of English, an editor of Cyprus Review and a press-informational head of British Administrative Government, because he was fluent in Greek. Despite the author's instructions that the book is non-political, it is extensively related to the crisis and "troubled years" that were caused by "Enosis" entailed to the island by "EOKA" in 1955.

      It is especially important for us to get acquainted with a historic reality and the British official’s assessment of this period, which reveals that the movement of “unity” with Greece and the desire to overthrow the British yoke entailed a full chaos and violence on a peace-loving island. According to the British official’s assessment, similar actions were not legitimated and a process supervised by nationalist forces was called an "irrational feast", while EOKA was treated as a group of terrorists. He could not understand the Cypriot's "idealism" and "unbridled" enthusiasm for "Enosis" as well as idealization of the Greek violators from Athens. They believed that Greek land was a paradise on the earth" [Durrell, 1957: 114]. It is true that "the pupils in the gymnasiums equally express their desire of unity with Greece and a true love for England" [Durrell, 1957: 131-132]. However, "the Enosis became a constant feature of the Cypriot life from the time when we first came on the island and it continued in such a way...  The issue of “unity” "resembled the deeper emotions of the Greek heart and everything told about it (how hysterical it could be) expressed sincere wishes and aspirations” [Durrell, 1957: 177, 184].

     It is interesting that Lawrence Durrell casts doubts on the Greek origin of the Cypriots and argues that their spoken language is not "authentically Greek" (correct). His solid argument relies on the theory of the British traveler of the 19th century, which argues about the non-Hellenic origin  of the Christian population of Cyprus (they are not the Greeks - neither physiognomically, nor spiritually). Cyprus itself is more oriental than its landscape (a geographical location) [Mas, 2003:237]. Bearing all of these in mind, Durrell is more surprised with "the slogan that is written everywhere in the small villages - "Enosis and only Enosis" [Durrell, 1957: 177, 184]. Therefore, Lawrence as well as the entire administrative government of Britain considered the radio of Athens more hostile than EOKA and its "terrorist leader" “Digenis" (Georgios Grivas). The Greek press together with this "new god of the metal" (radio) caused hysteria in young people. This "poison" was constantly poured into the easily manipulated population [Mas, 2003: 236]. In contrast to this, the author depicts Andreas, “the progressively-thinking Greek inhabitant of Cyprus”, who has learned nothing about this political-social disorder and obediently waits for the answer to the question: "Tell me, sir, will England solve this issue soon and will it be possible to live peacefully? I am already worrying about boys. Apparently, they spend all school-time on singing nationalist songs and participating in demonstrations. It will be soon over, won’t it? "He sighed and I sighed together with him" [Durrell, 1957:141].

      Considering the English or the Greek literary variations, it can be resolutely said that the idea of "Enosis" was the main thought of the Cypriot society in the second half of the 20th  century. It was the ideology, which pushed towards an active action. As we see on the example of life and work of Costas Montis, forgotten topics can be revived in artistic works and root deeply in public consciousness. These facts greatly enhances our interest in the literary works of this poet.

     Therefore, the artistic-historical context of the idea of "Enosis" was developed by Montis in the novella "Closed doors". It is noteworthy that the story of the fate of punishment was presented in the metaphorical title of the novella. At the time of the creation of the work (1964), the main motive of the struggles of "EOKA" - unification with Greece - was left behind a closed door, while the Cyprus was recognized as an independent state. We believe that this stage of Montis’ work creates a transitional stage of the development of the idea of “unity”, which demands the tying of the knot in the following poetic works. In this novella the author “puts the key” of his creative work, which is tirelessly developed by him for the next 30 years in the letters to his mother. The expectation of the mother to the missing people, the agony and the silence – it was the first sample, which was later expanded into poetic compositions comprising  more than 2000 lines: "A letter to mother" (1965), "The second letter to mother" (1972) "The third letter to mother" (1980), whose study and profound analysis assures us that during a long poetic work, the concept of "Enosis" remains the main motive of Monti's work. However, decades later the poet's feelings changed as in the "Minutes" and in the final letter addressed to his mother, which was published in 1980. There is a clear nostalgia, the failure of the idea of "Enosis" and a radically altered historical picture.

If you knew how had locked this door,

Which had locked! [Μόντης, 1987: 183]


We lost the ruler,

Which showed straight lines [Μόντης, Ε '1999: 72].

Cyprus in 1974-1976

"And what will happen now?

 Let’s tear the old note-books to pieces,

Which are filled with colorful “Enosis”.

Let’s tear the old note-books to pieces,

Which are filled with adorned “Enosis”,

Jasmine, lemon flowers and daisies.

Let’s tear the old textbooks to pieces

with Greek flags,

Throw away the  favorite hat commemorating gymnasium

With a stripe "Enosis",

Throw away their ruler,

Bag, ball and bicycle,

With the written word "Enosis"?

Really, tell me what will happen now? "[Μόντης, 1987: 605]

To Enosis

Even if you have an idea, how you agitated me

Today, when I saw you suddenly,

After so many years, written on the wall of old,

 Poor house of Nicosia.

Even if you knew, what memories you’ve arisen,

What memories you’ve imprinted [Μόντης, 1987: 735].

Greek flag on Cyprus

"After all, go and uproot it! [Μόντης, 1987: 605]

The third letter to the mother

If you have seen at least, mother, when we were in trouble,

If you have seen at least, how we expected Greece!

The land never expected the first rain in August,

The drowned never clutched a moss,

The dying baby never looked for the mother's hand. […]

As we waited diving up to the neck

In the Sea of ​​Kyrenia,

Holding the breath, to be in time.

Leafing through his history,

Leafing through his history as the Gospel,

-“Here and again here" -

And we were waiting for it,

No, "It’s not possible not to come," we were saying,

No, "It’s not possible not to come," we were saying,

Right now will appear with its Spartans [..]

And indeed, one night the rumors were spread, that it came.

And what night was that, mother,

What a response,

What an echo all over the island!

We were hugging each other with tears, were jumping,

 Kissing and feeling,

Until the next day, until falling deep into the chasm,

And the breast was supposed to break,

The heart was thumping, wanted to slip out.

They have forgotten their children,

Brothers and fathers

And already, they were crying for Greece,

And they were laughing and crying.

And the teachers were saying "you see"?

And all of us saying "you see"?

Until the next day, until falling deep into the chasm, [...]

Because Greece did not come,

Because the message was the lie,

The lie was the reapportion of Greeks on Paphos,

Because we were told the lie by the heavens and the sea,

The lie by swallows and heart,

The lie by our histories,

The lie and only lie.

They said, Greece has another thing to do,

Some holidays,

And yet, we are far and was not able,

It worried, did not wait for,

Sincerely worried,

It was genuinely very sorry.

And our teachers have bowed their heads with a shame,

And the “text-books” bowed their heads with a shame,

And our teachers are already trembling,

And our “text-books” are already trembling,

When they approach the histories of Thermopylae and Salamina ...

I do not create poetry, mother,

I have copies [Μόντης, 1987: 917-918].

    Supposedly, it is difficult to find another Cypriot poet, who will bring the matter of the national issues so close to the heart and bear the mission to announce all important political or socio-historical facts, that were related to his homeland. Perhaps, for this reason “a poet of short things” (Costas Asiotis) was differently assessed ("the first great poet of a new, independent state" [Kategori: 1984: 11])  during the period of a  poetical maturity. The idea that Montis is the best poet in Cyprus does not demean the dignity of his contemporaneous poets: Kyriakos Charalambides, Pantelis Michanikos, Michael Pashiardis, Fivos Stavrides or others (mostly the Cypriot poets of an "independent generation"). However, “it should be mentioned that none of these poets presented so lively and completely our island, as Montis did" [Χριστοφίδης, 1984: 104], declares poet and philologist Andreas Christofides -  one of the most-respected scholars, who knew Montis very well and studied his poetry for many years.

     We believe that the subject of our research - Montis’ literary creations, his self-reliance and active struggle, closely intertwined with agitated, modern historical reality of the Cyprus - is extremely interesting and important. Moreover, “the prosody and the creativity style of this poet have no analogues" [Αγγελάτος, 1999: 409]. Despite this fact, only a little has been said about him in the Georgian language.

1 The quotation is given from the audio recording of the meeting of Costas Montis with the students of the Pedagogical Academy of Cyprus, which was held in spring of 1988 via the invitation of Philologist Lefkos Zafiriou. See the article Μόντης 1999, 405-407

2 The poem in the collection is dated 1962


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