Culture and Arts

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Culture and Arts

The island of Lesvos is a richly gifted land, both by nature and its inhabitants. Its natural beauties, climate and its fertile soil have given birth to a people with a profound sense of beauty and harmony from the depths of antiquity right up to the present. It is not by chance that even during mythological times Lesvos was known for its flourishing arts.

When Orpheus, the great musician and poet was killed in Thrace, It is said that his lyre was swept away by the waters of the Evros river and carried to the shores of Lesvos where the inhabitants found it and put it in a temple, a place where music and poetry were worshipped. Since then it is said that even the nightingales of Lesvos sing more sweetly and melodiously than any other spot on earth. So this area has given birth too and nourished poets the like of Sappho and Alcaeus in antiquity and Odysseas Elytis in our time, prose writers such as Myrivilis and philosophers such as Pittacus and Theophrastus and painters the likes of G. Lakovidis and Theophilos and countless others besides.

Furthermore, it is not by chance that the representatives of spiritual creation from throughout the world come to the island in search of inspiration, the beautiful. This spiritual wealth and the need for artistic and intellectual creation is passed down from from generation to generation through the living traditions of the island in music, song, dance, the inhabitants’ occupations and way of life. These traditions are the distillation of millennia of wisdom and direct the present course of the island down through time.

It is true originality that the inhabitants of Lesvos have confronted the changes brought to their lives by modern development and tourism. They have retained their manners and customs along with religious piety, especially in the interior of the island, but they are in no way standoffish with visitors. On the contrary, it would be hard to find a place with so many hospitable people who are sure of their way of life andhabe much to tell you., without being afraid of the new. The traditional way of life on Lesvos is not opposed to progress but it distils each new thing and purifies it before it is embodied in the daily life of the island’s inhabitants.

The natural wealth of Lesvos, with its fertile soil and teeming sea, has for centuries now supported all those who work with traditional means.

Farmers, shepherds, potters, woodworkers and so many others, take the island’s gifts and make them into small works of art and, in the evening, they will talk to you about all that like an old friend in the small, picturesque cafes.

Literature has flourished on Lesvos during many periods, from antiquity to the present. It has been said the island enjoyed the favor of the muses as a way of explaining its exceptional cultural development. It was the inhabitants of Lesvos who, according to tradition, buried with honors the head of Orpheus, son of the muse Calliope, when it washed up on the shore of Antissa. Orpheus had been torn apart by the Maenads of Thrace for not deigning to worship them after the death or Eurydice and was then thrown into the river Evros. Together with the head of Orpheus the waves also bore to Lesvos his lyre, and since that time the nightingales of the island have been said to sing more sweetly there than anywhere else in the world.

The famous philosopher and botanist Theophrastes (372 – 287 B.C.) was a native of Eressos. He studied with Plato and Aristotle and carried on their work. He was a Peripatetic and his writings deal with Metaphysics, Logic, Politics, Ethics, Poetry and the Physical Sciences. He also wrote many works on plants and has been called the father of Botany.

The historian Theophanes was born at Mytilene about 100 B.C. He accompanied Pompey on his military operations in Asia Minor and wrote an account of them. Pompey, in return for his services, accorded him the rights of a Roman citizen. Theophanes made use pf Pompey’s favor for the benefit of his native town, Mytilene, which Pompey on his return from Asia in 62 B.C. proclaimed free and then lavishly ornamented. The inhabitants of Mytilene honored Theophanes by striking coins with the inscription, “Theophanes, god of the Mytileneans”.

The renowned musician and poet Arion (625-595 B.C.) came from Methymna and was called “Methymneaus”. He lived chiefly at the court of the tyrant of Corinth Periander, where he acquired a great reputation. He was responsible for the reform of the dithyramb and thus contributed to the development of tragedy. A charming story is told about him and his lyre: when he was returning from Tarrentum on a Corinthian ship, his wealth provoked the envy of the sailors to the point where they plotted to throw him overboard. He asked that he be allowed to first play something on his lyre. His song attracted a large dolphin to the ship which was so delighted with his singing that it took him on its back and carried him safely to Taenarum.

Terpander, the great musician and creator of choral poetry, was born at Antissa around 710 B.C. In his attempt to create more complex music he perfected the cithara, giving it seven strings instead of the three it had had. During his lifetime his fame was very great and a number of legends attached themselves to his character. We are told that after the Messenian War he was invited to Sparta, where he succeeded in putting an end to internecine feuding with his music. Mytilene was the birthplace of one of the Seven Sages of Antiquity, Pittacus, who was born there in 648 B.C. Allying himself with the aristocratic party, he succeeded in bringing about the fall of the ruling tyrant. He became a general and fought against the Athenians at Signeum.

In 595-594 he was vested with dictatorial powers; the inhabitants of Mytilene elected him “aesymnetes”, a kind of elected tyrant, and as such he ruled for ten years. He introduced and applied new laws, granted an amnesty to his enemies, among whom was the poet Alcaeus, since he believed that forgiveness was better than punishment. On his decision to relinguish power, the Mytileneans presented him with a piece of land, the “Pittacan plot” from which he took an area no larger than the distance he could throw his spear, for, as he said “a fair amount is more than enough”. Many coins of ancient Mytilene have his portrait in relief and the inscription: “PHITTAKOS” Sappho and Alcaeus, two figures who stand out with particular brilliance in the ancient world, were both natives of Lesvos. Both belong to the 6th century B.C. and both were leading representatives of the Aeolian school of lyric poetry. Sappho remains unrivalled, even today, for the passion, the sensitivity and the subtle lyric vibrancy of her lines.