Theodor Kallifatides: «The classics are like the root of a tree. Can you live without roots? »

At the age of seventy-seven, Theodor Kallifatides, born in Molaoi, a town in the Greek region of Lakonia in 1938 and settled in Sweden since 1964, had to his credit a consolidated career as a writer, developed in practically all genres. He even wrote scripts and directed a movie, Kärleken (Love). But suddenly he fell into a creative crisis, aggravated when a friend snapped at him: “No one should write after seventy-five years.” Would you resign yourself to following this capricious sentence? He decided not to. He left Stockholm and moved to his native Greece in search of his roots and a language that he no longer fully mastered. The result of his adventure was the book Another life to live (Gutenberg Galaxy), written in Greek, and where that trip and that reunion fed its pages, in addition to reflecting on the situation of his beloved Hellas and of Europe and the problems that the afflict. The work, brief and intense, was superbly received. Mario Vargas Llosa pointed out about her: “It is a very beautiful book, that of a true spiritual death and resurrection, a miracle told with the calm naturalness with which a trivial and daily event is described.”

But, beyond the success, it supposed that Kallifatides surpassed the blockade and retaken the literature. This has enabled him to now offer us The Siege of Troy. And that with more than eighty years old, he maintains an enviable enthusiasm and young spirit, as he demonstrated in this interview, conducted in Spanish, a language that he has been studying for four months and in which he is not only fluent but also increasingly It is more attractive, like our culture and letters, declaring itself a reader of Cervantes and García Lorca, among others.

What led you to write this recreation of the “Iliad”?

The idea came to me long ago, about ten years ago. But the truth is that he did not know very well how to put it into practice. Homer is a god of literature and it was daring that a modest Greek emigrated to Sweden would ask him about it. It would be almost blasphemy and I would be accused of arrogance. but I have not at all intended to replace Homer. But it was clear to me that the men and women of today, especially the young, are reluctant to read Homer and the classics in general and find it difficult to understand them. This is mainly because unfortunately in our time it is not stimulated or prepared for the demanding and careful reading that the classics and works like the Iliad require. So what I especially want is for more people to meet her and feel the same fascination for the Iliad as I do.

When did you first read it?

As a child, a rapsoda went to school and recited passages from the play. Fantasy woke me up. Then, in high school, that fantasy and great admiration increased. I read it when I was fifteen and it was a wonderful experience.

Have you encountered much difficulty writing “The Siege of Troy”?

Yes, quite a few. Especially since he didn’t want to simply do a recreation of Homer’s work, and he didn’t have a plan for the structure of the book. The way was paved when it occurred to me to link the Iliad with the Nazi occupation of Greece during World War II. The horror of war is always the same.

What does the “Iliad” basically teach us?

For me it is one of the most firm anti-war works ever written. As Homer tells us, war is the source of all tears. In Europe – and you in Spain – the war tragedy has been strongly experienced. And today there are still contests in the world. It seems that men do not learn.

You point out that women are the first spoils of wars …

Women and children are its scapegoats. Although the suffering and horror reaches everyone.

Are the classics valued today as they deserve?

We must insist on it. The classics are like the root of a tree. Can you live without roots?

Why did you leave your country?

I love Greece, but there was no future there.

In “Another Life to Live” he confesses that “emigration is a kind of partial suicide. You do not die, but many things die within you ».

Yes. But sometimes there is no other choice, as it happened to me, than to commit that “suicide”. It is an inescapable necessity.

Also note that today even Jesus Christ would write a tweet …

Social networks are here and we cannot simply ignore or condemn them. But neither do we become their slaves. Personal relationships have become impoverished. We’re going too fast. It is necessary to think more calmly and be aware that before trying to change the world, we must change ourselves to be better.

Perhaps today above all sentimental relationships have been impoverished, in times of liquid love. What is the key to a marriage as long and happy as yours?

I could not tell. However, I believe that mutual respect and being friends are absolutely essential. Love is delicate and must be cared for with care and attention every day. For this, beautiful words and small daily gestures of affection are enough.

The same horror
In “The Siege of Troy” (Gutenberg Galaxy, 2020. 176 pages. 16.90 euros), Kallifatides intertwines two epochs: ancient Greece and the Europe of World War II. During this contest, a teacher relates, in the land of Homer, the “Iliad” to her students who listen to it fascinated, as we read the book. Centuries have passed, but the violence that nests in the darkest part of the human being never fails to sow destruction. .

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