towards aristodikos


After quarrying, if the marble is not to be worked on immediately, it is buried back into the earth: so that it may stay fresh, retain its juices.


In the foundations of the house where, years ago, we used to spend our holidays, an ancient road had been found, with traces of a vehicle on the rock. And, next to it, a funerary stele. A block away, the archaeologists never so much as complained when I slipped in amongst them while they worked. And after they abandoned the site, I would go and hide small treasures there among the ruins: a torchlight, a square battery, a box of matches, a couple of toy cars. In case of emergency.

I was born opposite the Archaeological Museum. Ever since I was little, every time I went in, I would turn left and keep my head up, looking for the smile of the Kouroi.

Were these funerary statues a debt to the dead dictated by a higher order of things?

How did art give form to such desires?

Almost simultaneously, statues appeared in the temples of the gods as well as on graves. The funerary statue is both a form of the objective debt to the dead and a fulfilment of the spiritual need of the living to have before them the dead person's likeness.

On my way out, I would slide down the inclined marbles to the left and right of the forecourt's wide steps. The marble, slightly concave in the middle, worn smooth from wear, was almost soft – and invariably warm.


Aristodikos, the last Kouros, isn't smiling.

The eyes of Aristodikos are shadowed –not just literally, due to their sockets' curvature– but also metaphorically, as if by the shadow of memory.

At the Museum, we indeed come across him last in the sequence of Kouroi. Christos Karouzos –Director from 1942 to 1964, formidable archaeologist, unrivaled writer, lover of poetry– who loved and studied him, estimates that he died at the age of twenty five, around 500BC. On precious marble from Paros –the best for moulding the body–, his family asked for his form to be carved in full relief. They set it by the grave next to the road –as was the custom– at the edge of their estate in Mesogeia, in the locality of “Phinikia”. But twenty years later, they also laid the statue down to rest over the buried body, and covered it with soil. To save it from the Persians, about to burn down Attica from end to end, up to the Parthenon.

Almost intact, protected from the sun and rain, the statue then returned to earth.

It rose again 25 centuries later.

In 1944, the property owner sends over labourers to till his field. The plough hits on stone. Again and again. They get hold of hoes to dig it out, they unbury a body, whole.

Only the hands are missing. And the feet break off at the delicate ankles.

It would be ungrateful to complain about the degree of its preservation. Only the hands are entirely missing. Of the lesser wounds, the most annoying is the disfigurement of the eyes, lips and especially the nose, most probably caused by the frequent passing over of the plough.

For years the plough passed
over the face

Over and over the plough passed
on the face

They load the statue on a carriage, cover it with straw, take it to the Museum in secret. To the empty Museum: all the statues are already asleep, buried in the soil, under the floor of the halls, since the eve of the German invasion. (Months of secret toil, under Semni Karouzou's supervision.)

The monuments that were saved are “fortune's children”.


I still strive to see
what the hands held

bottle, cup
weapon or bridle

Or nothing –
Open palms
full of arrival

They might have held
fair opposites
Except they 're missing

Back to the earth
whence they emerged
idle they have returned
As prescribed
by the order of time

Now equidistant
they balance


The statue does not unfold its world outwards but has gathered its strength in, as if meditating on some inner stirring.

Karouzos, in his study on Aristodikos, includes a long list of attic sculptures from 550-480 BC. There, twice he refers to Rilke:

Stele of two siblings in New York and Berlin – incontestable seems the kinship of the girl's head with the “Rilke” head in the Louvre.
Male head Louvre 695 – which, according to Haussmann, may be the subject of Rilke's sonnet “Fruehe Apollo”

As sometimes between the yet leafless branches
a morning looks through that is already
radiant with spring: so nothing of his head
could prevent the splendour of all poems

from striking us with almost lethal force;
for there is yet no shadow in his gaze,
his temples are yet too cool for the laurel crown,
and only later from his eyebrows' arches

will the rose garden lift up on tall stems,
from which petals, loosened, one by one
will drift down on the trembling of his mouth,

which now is yet quiet, never-used, and gleaming
and only drinking something with its smile
as though its song were being instilled in him.

Rilke wrote this poem in Paris, on July 11, 1906. Although in May of that year his term as Rodin's secretary had ended following a rupture between the two men, his New Poems –the First Book (1907) of which opens with this sonnet– are written under the influence of the great sculptor who seems to have shown him anew how to see and how to reflect.

Three years earlier, near the end of his essay, Auguste Rodin, Rilke had said about his sculptures: “a great gesture seems to live and to force space to participate in its movement.”


Upon the pedestal, rises the youthful form of Aristodikos, slender in its deeper conception. With difficulty might it be said that he is standing. We would be closer to this image of a man imperceptibly moving, were we to say that he witholds movement. Nor is it possible to speak of a state arrived at but, rather, of a force in action.


Funerary statues stop, so far as we can see today, a little after 500BC, for sixty years or so. Archaeological research has almost unanimously conceded Milchhoefer's conjecture that a law that came out in Athens according to Cicero, “a fair while” after Solon, against the lavishness of funerary monuments, must indeed belong to this late archaic period, and possibly to Kleisthenes, as Hirschfeld subsequently hypothesized. Cicero's source is known to be Demetrius Phalereus and this vir eruditissimus in turn draws information and suggestions for his own radical restrictions on grave monuments from Plato and the preceding attic legislation. An attractive hypothesis, though no more, is that this law is contemporaneous and not unrelated to the law of ostracism.

I might almost not have existed


ARISTODIKO: the name of the dead in the genitive, on the statue's pedestal.

The mere name of a man is tantamount to anonymity.

The pedestal is preserved, and the name, and the plinth of the statue. But –a strange thing, unexpected for a work such as this– there is no funerary epigram to be found.

that does not reach out from the stone
speak up

Whose face?
Distance touches it
as pain returns
to its black owner

The eyes no longer
the most beautiful thing
from life renounced

Each morning
there survives a song
From dreams

Which one has dripped
on his half-parted lips
so he now sings, upright and whole?

Threshold of song
of a lost youth

breath of statues
silence of images

Space of the heart
suddenly so large

Note: This text (translated by Konstantine Matsoukas) is a fragment of a work in progress, re-contextualised for publication in NICE! Is return possible?, ed.: Salon de Vortex (Y. Grigoriadis & Y. Isidorou), 2016, together with the three pairs of my photographs that, in addition to my photograph of the statue, appear here. In italics, phrases from Ch. I. Carouzos's monograph, Aristodikos (1961). The translation of Rilke's poem is by Dylan Schenker [http://earlyapollo.blogspot.gr/2007/09/critical-analysis.html]; that of his essay, Auguste Rodin, by Jessie Lemont and Hans Trausil (1919).


2 poems @ "futures" + 1 poem @ poetry london

this love of Jan Sobieski
for his enemy’s beauty [1]

I won't, unfortunately, be able to assist at any of the launch events: tomorrow's, for issue 82 [Autumn 2015] of "Poetry London", or the two events for Futures: Poetry of the Greek Crisis (Penned in the Margins, London, 2015) in Oxford and London, later in the week.

But I greatly treasure the pleasure of having poems of mine appear in both publications. 

"Burning candle" (translated by myself and Stefanos Basigkal; its two final stanzas appear in [2], below), from my 2008 book (in Greek), The lifesaver (Kastaniotis editions), is published -thanks to editor Ahren Warner- in "Poetry London". And it's quite moving for me that, amongst the various poetic riches in the issue, there appear poems by two UK poets I have had the privilege to meet and translate: David Harsent and Fiona Sampson.

Two poems from my upcoming (in Greek), third book, Poland (Kastaniotis editions), translated by myself, appear in the stimulating and provocative anthology that Theodoros Chiotis edited for Penned in the Margins: "Łazienki" and "Jan III" [whose opening lines appear in [1], above].

But before dozing yesterday I forgot
blew out the flame – the wall
got splashed above the second pillow

with melted candle wax
Nothing then could comfort me – as if
it were a human being – and I were to blame [2]

[the photograph was taken in Poland, in 2008 - from my ongoing visual diary]


3 poems @ hotel amerika

Just before lowering his bow
the violinist sees his mother
straightening his collar before the parade

this love

As everyone got up to leave
we stayed put quietly in our seats


Very happy that translations of three poems of mine -"Cadenza" (from my first Greek book, The lifesaver; translated by myself and Stefanos Basigkal), "Chinese movie" (from the second, Uncovered; translated by Moira Egan), and "Jan III" (as yet unpublished in Greek)- appear in the current, 13th volume of "Hotel Amerika" (editor, David Lazar) - amongst a wonderfully diverse and exciting selection of poetry, essays, fiction, trans-genre texts, etc.

(A few lines from each poem form the collage at the top.)

[photograph from my ongoing visual diary, here]


2 poems @ drunkenboat

issue 19 of "drunken boat" hosts "the orchard" and "in summer, he":


Salt on his chest and sand on his back
the sun wedged in his eye
all day he wanders
and you have no rest
A sun with heavy eyelashes
animal gait
He goes out walking on his own
in the summer noon
Dogs stop in their tracks
turn round and curl up in the doorways
Men shut up in their bedrooms
sweat in their sleep
His steps melt the asphalt
Women hear him coming
and close the windows tight
Children stop their games
Run to the shutters
They only see his bare feet
The city swelters in the sun
the walls are peeling
Its only freshness, he
– taking alone to the streets
I first came upon him a full moon
at the end of a passage
between two whitewashed walls –
the quick-lime, his shirt
the moon hanging above
The second time I met him
at the opposite end of that passage
shirtless and
with the sun on his head
The wall curved behind him
a huge palm
pushed him towards me
The way was narrow
I pressed against the whitewash
– he didn’t even notice
Third time I saw him from afar
walk on the asphalt
barefoot –
in early morning’s yellow light
The road skirted the rock
above the sea
Suddenly he paused
and started down the slope
–almost vertical– running
without grabbing onto the bushes
He reached the water –
he stares, hands in his pockets
Now nothing’s wanting –
a precipitous thyme
the thickly flowing heatwave
the water’s scales
The sea swells like a face
that’s holding back its tears
He stands he won’t go in

- both from my first book of poems, The lifesaver [To sossivio], Kastaniotis Editions, 2008, and both translated by myself and Stephanos Basigkal.

[photo: p.i., viii.2008 - from my ongoing visual diary]


no oracles here

Is attempting to translate poetry at the site where Apollo's priests used to translate Pythia's mutterings into equivocal verses, a good idea - or an affront to the God who led the Muses?

At any rate, we tried, and enjoyed it too: at the European Cultural Center of Delphi last week, a group of Greek poets (Socrates Kabouropoulos and Vassilis Manoussakis -the Workshop's co-organisers-, Krystalli Glyniadakis, Panayotis Ioannidis, Dimitra Kotoula, Aris Koutougkos, Angelos Parthenis, Kallia Papadaki, and Thanassis Polyzoidis) and translator Elena Stagkouraki, translated into Greek, poems by anglophone poets Moira Egan, Elaine Feinstein, Adrianne Kalfopoulou and Fiona Sampsonand were translated by them, as well as by translator Richard Pierce. Three days of hard work - and no kidding: at the rate of one poem per two hours, I felt ravenous at 14:00, despite a hearty breakfast at 9:00. (Blessed be "Bacchus"' divine cooking!) Then we revised in the afternoon (my swimming things remained unused, in the trunk of the car), before each evening's reading to the fading sound of the cicadas, and the waning evening light.

And on the fourth day, the fruit of our toil was presented -together with Greek translations of poems by Michael Symmons Roberts, who could not make it to Delphi, as well as work by other Greek poets, translated on previous years- in the packed garden of the always welcoming Athens Center, in collaboration with the British Council.

It was strange, and incredibly rewarding, to experience relationships growing through the traffic of shared words and working side by side; one can't help but wish for more.

[photo: p.i., 2006]


words [do it]

i am curating a series of monthly poetry readings [in greek], that began in december 2011 in "parapera" multi-space, and will continue at the "104" centre for literature and the arts

"words [do it]" mean to let the poets themselves speak their words, those of poets they've translated, and of poets they love
at the first evening, last december, 9 poets read poems they love and that give them strength
on 22 february 2012, poets katerina anghelaki-rooke and danai sioziou will read their own poems, poems they've translated, as well as poems they love, and they'll talk about their relationship to words


not the 3rd athens biennale

the 3rd athens biennale, 'monodrome', was for me clearly the most interesting so far - also the most curatorially coherent. the choice of main venue -the now disused 'diplareios' school [that used to train students in various crafts] located in the middle of one of the most problematic parts of athens' centre- was both inspired and defining

there was a constant and incredibly fruitful dialogue between the works of art and the building itself, its history -as we know it, as it appears graffittied on its walls, or exhibited in its archives-, the buildings around it, and the views from its windows as one ascended its floors

i therefore chose to concentrate on the building, its surroundings, and the views one sees as one walks along its various rooms


the new economy

managing one's home: that's what "economy" meant in the first place; money came later - and is the least of it


'les mains d' hypnos' @ "icono-poeisis"

a first draft / extract from les mains d' hypnos [hypnos' hands; where "hypnos" in greek is both "sleep" and the mythical brother of death] -two handbound 'noteboks' of photographs of hands facing poetry by rene char [his 1946 book, feuillets d' hypnos [hypnos' leaves]]- with which i'm taking part in the group exhibition "icono-poeisis" [m.cacoyannis foundation, athens, 11-26 march 2011]


non è mai troppo tardi

today's photograph on troppotardi [che poi non è mai]

[p.i., ii.2011]


in land

this spectator of patrice chereau's 'faces and bodies' has been sighted again in 'land'

[photo: p.i., paris, i.2011]


23 lights for 2011

The “Pedion tou Areos” [Mars’ Fields] Park of Athens –one of the two largest in the city– has been during the past several years, and still is, under re-landscaping. However, parts of it have been gradually opening to the public since last September. And on Christmas eve, the low headlights on the street side of Leoforos Alexandras were on for the first time. 

This New Year’s eve, having spent a lovely early evening drinking tea with a seldom –until now, at least– seen friend, I returned home. Very peaceful, I decided to stay in. Washed the dishes, made only a single phone call, read the year’s –and decade’s– rather somber review in the paper. I was toying with the idea of going to bed early – but then thought I should go out and realize the idea I had on Christmas eve.

I photographed –with no pretensions to ‘art’– each single headlight on the street side, using identical conditions: the lower part of the frame rests on the top of the marble ledge; each headlight is placed in the middle of the bottom edge.

All photographs were taken by me standing on the pavement lane for the blind.

The Park’s re-landscaping has been a long time coming, unfortunately. Fortunately, its principal architect, Alexandros Tombazis, is a respected figure – and received the highest number of votes amongst candidates with the party that won the recent municipal elections. Those results were a great relief, and many hopes hang on them.

The headlights end at the site of Athena’s statue, erected in 1952 to honour British, Australian and New Zealand soldiers who were killed on Greek soil during WWII. It now looks over a –perhaps regrettably rather too geometrical, but certainly mythologically appropriate– olive grove. The skaters, who used to love the marble pavement in front of it, will have, I hear, their specially designed area.

The lights are on. There’s work to be done.