Cultural Consciousness and Theatrical Creation in Postwar Modern Greek Theatre: The “Hellenism Syndrom” phase

The search for cultural identity is an ever-lasting demand for the Greek dramatology.

During the post-war years the presence of this search is intensive, and the variety of its forms and versions depends each time on the specific historical and social conditions.

On the basis of this quest for theatrical and, furthermore, cultural consciousness, and on condition that the theatre consists of the production of an objective reality on stage, we proceed to the analysis of our subject.

The distinction of the “Modern Greek Theatre” into phases – although there is little differentiation from other selections and criteria of previous or contemporary theatrologists is theoretically defined as follows : The first phase, which is of primary interest to us, can be characterised by the ”Hellenism Syndrome”, that is the playwrights’ obsession with whatever native and local that ideologically refers to the principles of the left-wing political movement and historically lasts from about 1940 to 1956.

The second phase chronologically following begins in the middle 1950s until the middle of the next decade, and can be considered the period of cultural awareness. The third phase lies during the years before the 1967 dictatorship and reaches at least the end of the 1980s. This one is represented by the tendency to surpass Hellenism and could be called “Beyond Hellenism”.

Concluding these initial methodological points, we must elucidate the fact that the context and time limits of thepreviously mentioned phases are not strictly and absolutely defined. On the contrary, we notice an overlapping or a recurrent appearance of elements which naturally belong to another phase, anterior or posterior to the one in which they appear. This phenomenon – frequently remarked in the evolution of cultural events-consists a characteristic aspect ofthe modern Greek theatre in its durable search for historical and cultural identity.

The Hellenism Syndrom

The dramatic production included in the phase concerned is aesthetically rich, thematically wide and ideologically contradictive. Starting with N. Kazantzakis’s tragedies (“Konstantinos Paleologos” “Kapodistrias”) and Aggelos Terzakis’s historical dramas (“Theophano”, “The Cross and the Sword”) it reaches the days of V. Rotas ‘s patriotic drama (“Greek Youth”) and drama, produced by N. Pergialis (“Bridal Song”) and A.Damianos the contemporary version of the pastoral (“We shall Harvest in the Summer”) (Grammatas : 1992 220-239 ).

The sense of Hellenism forms the same intense demand as much in the tragedies and the historical dramas, with the ideological quest for “national consciousness” as in more recent versions of dramatology, which hold a social and, eventually, a social-class context of the term ” popular consciousness”.

The first case can be regarded as the extension of some older nationalistic outbursts, which pre-announce the reconnection of the historical present with the past, while the second case represents the contemporary ideological and cultural inquiries of the Greek society. As the representatives of the “consciousness of the nation” try to find and present the historical’composure and continuation of Hellenism through their works, those who express the “consciousness of the people”, denying the importance of such an attempt, search in the field of popular culture for the base of the present and future course of Hellenism.

 The second meaning of Hellenism, which is more widely accepted than the first, means the stimulation of the underlying strength of the people, the awakening of their spirit and conscience. The dramatologists who support it base their work on the role of “tradition” and overstress the value of artistic creation stemming solely from this. Thus the “popular expressionism” gets raised, introduced by K. Koun and ” The Theatre of Art ” ( K. Koun: 1943), as the turning of the theatrical world to new values and ideals of a pre-existing ideological era the ” people “, which comes to replace that of the ” nation “. All these considered, the sense of ” Hellenism” remains prevalent, since the dramatic concern as well as the stage orientations stay always attached to the expression of the constructive elements which consist the identity of “Hellenism”.

However, seeing that the social conditions have altered considerably after the Second World War and the civil war, the main demand, the obsession with everything that has to do with Greece, obtains different context which does not serve the needs and aims of the former social class any more, but those of the latter. Consequently, the interest in the ancient times, Byzantium or the recent historical past with the national Revolution in l821, which used to give meaning to ” Hellenism ” in the consciousness of a specific category of dramatists and audience, is now abandoned almost definitely.

The ideas and values expressed by that dramatic production, such as national freedom, national dreams, personal responsibility, evaluation of the soul and so on, are now left behind. New heroes, new values and new models of behaviour make their apearance, as an immediate consequence of the transformation of the context of “Hellenism” fron idealistic – thus diachronic – to purely social – that is, a principle historically bound to end. The quest for Hellenism is contained in an ideologically defined frame of reference respective to the beliefs of the left-wing ideologists. According to them, “Greek” is what ever “truthful”, ” progressive” and , eventually, “beneficial to the interests of the people and the social c1ass that represents the people. These beliefs bring them in contrast with the traditional “Hellenocentricism” as well as with anything ” coming from abroad”, since these elements are regarded as compulsively imposed on the conscience of the people by factors which derive from the ruling class.

The representatives of these beliefs put their creation, explicitly or implicitly, in the service of a apecific political purpose, presenting in this way an intensely ideologically charged work of art – with no intention, 4 4 however, of undervaluing the genuine aspect of their concerns and aesthetic development. Their action takes place in the contemporary Greek reality, fitting the needs of the society at the time. Since the style of life in the country is mostly agricultural and the population semi-urban, the dramatic focus of the plays is mainly rural. Examples which illustrate this fact are the swamp in ” We Shall Harvest in the Summer” by A . Damianos or the plain in , “Dance on the ‘Wheat” , by I. Kabanellis and in “Bridal Song” by N . Pergia1is, which express the demand for “Hellenism” in the most representative way as it was formed in the consciousness of the left-wing ideologists : depletion of types, morales and costumes from the Greek countryside, stage production of values and situations which derive from tradition and the people’s fighting disposition, all of which can consist a counter- weight to the ideas and principles of the ruling class. This quest for “Hellenism”, which is of an “assisting” character, concentrates on the following terms, arising from a new hierarchy.

This hierarchy includes “a priori” constructed conceptional entries, politically and socially modified, such as : people, tradition, popular culture, closed agricultural or semi-urban society of the Greek countryside. In such an open agricultural space , taken as the field for the development of the dramatic plot in the plays of the respective category, the heroes as persons in action are charged with ideas and ideals, such as :restricted family life with faith in the values of tradition, living relation to the past, static conception of the institutions and of relationships. Tradition and the indigenous reality are unquestioned values that the heroes intend to apply to their actions. In this way, Hellenism becomes again the new “Siren” that charms the left-wing Ulysses. In the name of an idea that is the same as the term of Hellenism, but different from its meaning ( “people” instead of “nation” ), the dramatologists of this phase get imprisoned in the restricted horizon of their own experience – like the previous once whose work these come to overturn.

 Rejecting the challenge of their time to expand their inspiration and artistic vision further than the strict limits of time and place of their personal experience, they get nailed down to the frame of a representative , however, but restricted in style and genre dramatology. Nevertheless, the changes that have taken place in society and ideology influence the theatrical activity as well, and the latter is led to the creation of new theatrical places and stages, a fact that has already begun since the times of the German occupation and the first post civil-war years. At the beginning of this phase, V. Rotas establishes the “Theatrical Studies School ” in 1942 which will function for a short time, while in the same year K. Koun set up the “Theatre of Art ” so as to represent the “popular expressionism” artistically, and present plays written by new Greek playwrights, like G. Sevasticoglou ( ” Konstantinou and Hellen’s “, “Angela” ) . Right after the independence, in that general atmosphere of euphoria, several temporary theatrical groups arise to express the aesthetic and artistic orientations 5 5 of the left political party. (Grammatas 1990, 131-134 ). The “Theatrical Studies School ” of V. Rotas , that reopens in 1945 , and the “Theatrical Company of the United Artists” which aims at presenting performances which respond to the contemporary concerns of’ a wider popular audience- according to its declarationare examples of such theatrical schemata (Spathis :l983, 58; Balls :1972, 10-12).

The dispersing of the groups, for clearly political reasons, is followed by the establishment of a new one with the same ideological mission. This is the “Realistic Theatre” which starts in 1949 with the help of the youth organisation of the communist party ( EPON ) with a view to gathering close together all the ” progressive ” people in the world of the theatre, who were not allowed to reveal themselves for political reasons. The “Theatrical Company of the United Artists” as much as the “Realistic Theatre” put emphasis on the Greek production, presenting plays such as “We Shall Harvest in the Summer” by A. Damianos, ” Rigas Velestinlis” by V. Rotas, ” Makriyannis” by D . Photiadis and ” Bridal Song” by N. Pergialis. These theatrical schemata represent in the most characteristic way the trend of “The Hellenism Syndrom “, dominant at the time as a basic cultural and ideological subject for the drama , which is striving to find its identity,- as the whole society is trying to do – after the painful experiences of the second World War and the consequent civil war. The following years, with the development of new social conditions, brought about a new state of reality at the theatre. Now, the average urban citizen comes into focus as the main dramatic persona, and the new version of the drama of morales becomes the prominent theatrical genre. ( Grammatas :1987 , 156 – 181 ) .


GRAMATAS TH .: ” Lower and middle-class attitude and Marginalisation as ideological 

Factors in Modern Greek Theatre” in : Modern Greek Theatre. History- Dramatology. Athens, Koultoura .1987, 156-181.

– Modern Greek Theatre and Society. The Conflict between the Young and the System in the Greek Theatre in the 20th Century. Athens, St. Vassilopoulos: 1990 .

– “Aspects of the theatrical space and the attachment of dramatology to the contemporary Greek theatre. in: History and Theory in Theatrical Research. Athens, Tolidis Bros: 1992, 209-220.

– “Problems of defining phases in modern Greek theatre. The phase of the “Hellenism Syndrom” in: History and Theory in Theatrical Research. Athens, Tolidis Bros: 1992, 221-239.

THEATRE OF ART: 1942 – 1972, Athens. Theatre Company, 1972.

KOKORIS P. “K. Koun’s role in the formation of the Greek version of theatrical modernism”. Ekkyklema 21 (1989) 34-40.

KOUN K. The Social Position and the Aesthetic Policy of the “Theatre of Art”. Athens, Ikaros: 1943.

BALIS D. “The social drama in Greece”. Open Theatre 3 (1972), 7-21.

SPATHIS D. The Modern Greek Theatre, Reprinted after the edition: “Greece, History, Culture” Vol. 10, Athens: 1983.