Epitaphios

Epitaphios

Author:  Yiannis Ritsos

Translator:  Rick Newton

Original language: Greek

Published by:  Smokestack Books,  2014

On 10 May 1936, the 27-year old Ritsos saw a newspaper photograph of a woman weeping over the body of her son, a Salonica tobacco-factory worker killed by police during a strike. Two days later the Communist Party newspaper Rizospastis published a long poem by Ritsos.

Dedicated ‘to the heroic workers of Salonika’ and drawing on the sixth-century Greek Orthodox Epitaphios Thrinos, the poem combines Mary’s lament at Christ’s tomb with popular Greek folk traditions of resurrection and Spring to create a universal lament sung by every bereaved mother ‘who sits and mourns on the blood-stained street with her heart flayed, her wing broken.’

Although Epitaphios was banned in Greece for many years, in the 1950s an expanded version of the poem was set to music by Mikis Theodorakis and recorded by Nana Mouskouri.