Seaward: The Sound of Eros and an Athenian Avenue to the Aegean

Phoebe Giannisi, translated by Konstantinos Matsoukas

Abstract


Τhe present paper deals with the imaginary relation of ancient and modern Athens with the sea. Using the material trace on the urban space, the road axis from the center towards the seafront, the paper focuses on the human body of the resident, and more specifically, its connection to the desire, to the pleasure and catharsis, which sea water symbolically entails. Seawards is no more than the construction of a brief, anthropological soundscape for this desire, using the sound of the music created to accompany the imaginary descent to the sea. As a method it ties together myths, poetry and popular music to create a polyphonic paradigm replete with emotions and atmospheres.

The paper is structured through different episodes related to the history of the city’s connection to the sea. The ancient episodes include first the mythic battle of Athena and Poseidon and its traces on Athenian acropolis, the ancient ritual of the Eleusinean mysteries ἅλαδεμύσται (“Seaward, initiates”), where crowds of people were descending from Athens to the sea in order to be washed and purified, and Plato’s preamble to the Symposion. The modern episodes take the way of Syngrou Avenue, the wide and straight thoroughfare connecting Athens with Phaleron, completed in the 1930’s. Heeding the call to write on erotic desire as following an Avenue towards the sea, George Seferis has left three poems related to Syngrou: Syngrou Avenue (1930), Syngrou Avenue II (1935), and A Word about Summer (1936). The poetic discourse of Seferis about the Syngrou Avenue overshadows the contemporary discourse of the margin, the songs by rembetes, which relish the sea physically without any ethical dilemma.

A kind of controversy is valid for all the episodes: a strong longing desire and a mourning are detected. The sea functions as a collective unconscious that encompasses the desire for the impossible.


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