It isn’t true that everything concerned with death is linked only to feelings of sorrow. The sepulchral epigrams from the seventh book of the Palatine Anthology, which concern shipwrecks and those lost at sea, in their melancholy density – as with two or four or six verses the dead sailor’s entire biography is given – also bears joyful examples of a humanism that responds to revolting and, in general, premature death with a sepulchral monument. This is a virtual cenotaph, which faces down the τετρηχυία turbulent sea by raising magical Ancient Greek poetry to preserve, all that which constitutes a person drowned at sea: name, age and at times family antecedents.

These dramatic narratives condensed down to a few verses about the violent disruption of life during the struggle of man with the invincible monster that is the sea, could be expanded to be made into short stories, novels, expansive narrative poems or even epics. It is worth noting that we encounter echoes of these in corresponding Modern Greek marine funeral songs or laments and in narrative songs of folk poetry accompanied there by the appropriate emotional intensity for the form.

The creation of these epigrams is spread out over a very broad spectrum of time, which has its starting point in the Early Archaic period (the older authors in the anthology include the lyric greats of antiquity: Sappho, Anacreon and Simonides) and extends to Byzantine times (the last of the epigram writers is Agathias the Scholastic, who lived in the reign of Justinian). Amongst these

Plato – who as an epigram writer earns the title of poet philosopher; the Lyric poet Simonides, the greatest of the epigram writers; the exceptional Alexandrine poet Kallimachos; the erotic Asclepiades; and many more: major and minor, known and certain amongst them anonymous, who composed these elegiac poems on behalf of those close to the dead (most often for the bereaved parents), who mourn the loss of youth, fallen to the wild waters of the restless sea; and other times for strangers (such as Leontichos in Kallimachos’ exceptional epigram), who see their own miserable existence mirrored in the tragic end of the dead foreign sailor.

It is worth noting the geographic expanse within which these tragic shipwrecks take place. These are mainly the waters of the Aegean Sea, which permanently bring to mind the sweeping verse by Aeschylus, which is still current in today’s melancholy events:

we see the Aegean blooming with our dead.

But there is also no lack of references to the Ionian Sea as well as broader references to the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea as well.

The place names of the epigrams all chart a geographical lamentation of watery graves: from Chios, Lesbos, the rocks of Icaria, Naxos, Andros, Skiathos, Kyme in Euboea, Torone in the Chalkidike peninsula, to the shores of Ionia (Miletos and Phocaea) and from Salamis in Cyprus to Scheria (the mythical name of Corfu) in the Ionian Sea and as far as the Libyan Sea.

The sailors, such as Lenaeos, Niketas, Cleisthenes, Eumaros; the boatman Pyrrhus; the fisherman Ierokleides; the elderly Theris, who was buried by his fellow fishermen; young Cleodemos; the travelling young woman Lysidike; General Promachos; Demonax, the pride of Cyprus, lost Cavafy’s Eme along with his goods, far from his people; the newly-married Polyanthos, found dead travelling

the waters of Torone; the poor seaman Lysis; all these, named or anonymous yet all mentioned in the sepulchral epigrams, together compose a gallery with portraits of those lost at sea – poetic Fayum portraits responding poetically to the dark depths of a watery grave.

Including a translation attempts to render this virtual gallery real to the senses, while the same purpose is also served by the fake titles within brackets, which make the translated text autonomous from the original text, although only poetically.

Most of the epigrams – with the exception of the few that have been set out in Iambic metres – have been translated in anapaestic imparisyllabic verses, in order to give a sense of their nature as laments.

The translations have at times used words and expressions of the original, occasionally they utilize for their poetical function adjectives as used by Papadiamantis, from the work of the great author from Skiathos, who dealt with great empathy with the drama of those who went without funerary psalm, shroud or lamentation and were wrecked in the waves, and at other times they use expressions from Modern Greek demotic folk songs congruent in their sense of lamentation with the expressions of the sepulchral epigrams.

The visual arts reading by painter Georgios Xenos consists of an exceptionally active – current and yet beyond time – artistic commentary that uses broad strokes almost cave-painting-like to highlight the tragedy of man in the age-long battle with the aqueous element, contributing with the silent poetry of his drawings to the emotional paintings that speak loud and clear that are the sepulchral epigrams.

Tassoula Karageorgiou


Georgios Xenos

With unexpected perspectives,
like arms open wide in all dimensions
conditions in the void are extremely dangerous.

The sea is moody, intractable, tragic,
tender, dangerous, vindictive,
inexhaustible like freedom
It sounds like a fugue, a sonata, a requiem…
It speaks all languages
and never grows quiet…