poetry

Roderick Beaton, “Asia Minor in the Life and Work of George Seferis”

Published: April 16, 2022

A Celebration of National Poetry Month

In May 1944, at the height of a new crisis facing the Greek government in exile during World War II, which he served as a high-ranking diplomat, George Seferis confided these thoughts to his Alexandrian Greek friend Timos Malanos: ‘It might surprise you if I tell you that the event that has affected me more than anything is the Asia Minor Catastrophe. . . . From the age of 13 I’ve never ceased to be a refugee.’ This talk describes Seferis’s early life in Smyrna and the seaside village of Skala tou Vourla, and the ways in which he came to reflect on both, in later essays and poems. Moving forward to the end of the 1940s, the story resumes when the poet returned to his birthplace while serving in the Greek embassy in Ankara. During this period, traveling widely in Asia Minor, Seferis experienced what he termed a ‘wider Hellenism’, one that encompassed the Hellenistic expansion in the wake of the conquests of Alexander the Great and continued throughout the millennium of the Byzantine Empire. From these later experiences, and the poems, essays, and diaries that he wrote at the time, it emerges that, for Seferis, Asia Minor had become not only his own ‘lost homeland’ and that of his family and more than a million of his contemporaries: it was also the ‘lost homeland’ of Hellenism itself, whose heartland it had been for many centuries.

Roderick Beaton grew up in Edinburgh and studied English Literature at Cambridge, before specializing in Modern Greek studies. For thirty years until his retirement, he held the Koraes Chair of Modern Greek and Byzantine History, Language and Literature at King’s College London, and is now Emeritus. Beaton is the author of several books of non-fiction, one novel, and several translations of fiction and poetry, all of them connected to Greece and the Greek-speaking world. He is a four-time winner of the Runciman Award, and his books have been shortlisted for the Duff Cooper Prize and the Cundill History Prize. He is a Fellow of the British Academy (FBA), a Fellow of King’s College (FKC), and Commander of the Order of Honour of the Hellenic Republic. From 2019 to 2021 he served as a member of the Committee “GREECE 2021,” charged by the Greek government with overseeing events commemorating the 200th anniversary of the start of the Greek Revolution in 1821, and from September to December 2021 as A.G. Leventis Visiting Professor in Greek at the University of Edinburgh. His latest book, The Greeks: A Global History, is published by Basic Books (October 2021).

This event will be introduced by Her Excellency Alexandra Papadopoulou, Ambassador of Greece to the United States.

Exclusive poetry reading by renowned Greek actor Stelios Mainas (Tetarti 04:45, Mystikes Diadromes, The island)