Literary art has been deeply rooted in our island since time immemorial and constitutes a basic factor of our national self-awareness. Throughout the ages, the strong feelings of the Cypriots never ceased to find expression in anonymous or traditional folk creativity; from Evklos to Cinyras, from Stasinos to Zeno of Citium, from the Acritic Songs to the Rhymes of Love, from Vasilis Michaelides to Costas Montis. Through the incessant literary creation is manifested our historic continuity and the identity of our island.
The beginnings of modern Cypriot poetry, as well as of our literature as a whole, conventionally date to 1878, the year in which Cyprus came under British rule.
That year was marked by the introduction to the island of the first printing press by the teacher Theodoulos Constantinides. The gradual evolution of typography with the publication of newspapers and art magazines had had a beneficial influence on the development of literature.
The first literary period extends from 1878 to roughly 1920. The climate is suited to the romantic environment of the First Athenian School with its intense death wishing mood, stemming mainly from unrequited love.
The most prominent figure during this period is no doubt our national poet Vasilis Michaelides, the poet of the 9th July, Chiotissa, Anerada and so many others. It was Michaelides who established the Cypriot dialect as a language medium for our written poetry and proved its unlimited potential. During the same period, Demetris Lipertis made his appearance in poems both in the purist katharevousa and the demotic language.
The main development in poetry came about with the outbreak of the liberation struggle of 1955-1959. The struggle led to national awareness, cultivated the sense of freedom and uplifted Cypriot Hellenism.
Costas Montis, whose major characteristics were his ability to see under the surface of things, his subtle perceptivity and rare sensitivity, enriched Cypriot poetry by endowing it with a new dimension. The main thrust of his poetry came with the publication of his collection “Stigmes” (“Moments”), which became a landmark in our literature. Combining pithiness with lyricism and drawing themes both from history and current life, he created a particular kind of poetry.
In the years that followed, a new dynamic generation of poets, referred to as the generation of independence, arrived on the scene. It included such names as those of Kyriakos Charalambides, Michalis Pashiardis, Andreas Christofides and Costas Vasileiou.
Charalambides combines religious mysticism with carnal vitalism. The metaphysical anxiety leaves its stamp on his writing style through allegorical shapes and masks.
Another important poet is Costas Vasileiou. Sarcastic and sharp, he endeavours through allegorical formulations to demystify many of the “taboo” situations of everyday life.
The Cyprus tragedy of 1974 has provided the basic underlying layer for the inspiration of the authors that followed. Standing out are undoubtedly Pantelis Michanikos, Kyriacos Plisis and Theodosis Nicolaou, amongst others. The poetry of Pantelis Michanikos delves into the depth of human existence and the inner rhythm of the human soul. His work has left a distinct mark on Cypriot poetry.
The poets seek to recall from the mist of memory their own experiences and emotions. Using the occupied towns like Ammochostos (Famagusta), Keryneia and Morfou as archetypal symbols, they move in a climate of self-cancellation and deadlock. What makes this generation different from that of the 60s is their claim for freedom and individuality as a self-existent reality, which they will look upon as the most important value that will lead them not to any form of salvation whatever, but to a solitary wandering and the constant quest for self-awareness.
In prose quite a few worth mentioning writers appeared who left their mark on Cypriot letters, such as Yiannis Katsouris, Rina Katselli, Panos Ioannides, Evi Meleagrou, Petros Stylianou, Angeliki Smyrli and Christos Hadjipapas amongst others.
Yiannis Katsouris created realistic and rich dialogues in a daily and familiar climate, succeeding to render fully the profound world of his characters. His heroes speak and move without masks, with a crude realism and without affectation.
Panos Ioannides presents his characters vividly and roundly, while the structure of his prose work is intensely theatrical and worth noticing.
Rina Katselli, with a penetrating eye and in a flowing style, gives her own testimony for the fate that has befallen Cypriot Hellenism through the vicissitudes of war and the challenges of history.
Cyprus literature after 1974 moved on to new ways of expression, formulating through the passage of time its own identity. Reflection and contemplation, stemming from the uncertainty of both the Cyprus and world situation, lead to a poetry of social preoccupation, echoing man’s deepest existential concerns. Occupying a distinct place, Michalis Pieris fuses myth and history to create sheer poetry out of the incidents of everyday life. Other notable poets are Lefkios Zafeiriou, Nicos Orphanides, Niki Marangou, Pitsa Galazi, Nasa Patapiou and Mona Savvidou Theodoulou, to mention just a few.
Cultural magazines such as Pnevmatiki Kypros (Cultural Cyprus), Akti (Coast), Anev (Without), Nea Epochi (New Era), in Focus and others have contributed greatly to the dissemination of ideas, the development of critical thought, as well as to the projection of the work of our literary artists, and continue to do so.
At the crossroads of the civilizations of East and West, Cyprus will play host to a series of important cultural and artistic events in the context of the Cypriot EU Presidency during the second half of the current year. As an emblematic event in the domain of Letters , the Ministry of Education and Culture will organize in October, in conjunction with the University of Cyprus, an International Conference of Modern Greek Studies, aiming at highlighting the intellectual and cultural identity of Cyprus. The Cyprus Presidency will also provide us with the opportunity of cooperating with important carriers of culture, both in Cyprus and abroad, for the staging of events and other activities that will highlight the special hue of contemporary Cypriot culture.
The institution of State Literary Prizes has been functioning unhindered for the past forty years in the context of presenting the work of Cypriot literary artists, thus demonstrating the optimal values of our literary production.
In parallel, the establishment and housing of the Cyprus Literature Archive and Museum Foundation is under way, the object of which is to collect, preserve, maintain, highlight and utilize the literary and generally the cultural heritage of Cypriot and other authors, scholars and collectors who lived in Cyprus, came here as visitors or wrote about the island.
As regards book publications, the Ministry of Education and Culture aims at supporting, enhancing and highlighting cultural creativity, as well as its show-casing, promotion and dissemination abroad. Functioning in this context is the Translation Subsidization of Works of Cypriot Literary Writers Project from Greek into Foreign Languages. At the same time, due to the important role that literature can play in the mutual acquaintance and reconnection of the two communities in Cyprus, a Program for the Subsidization of the Translation and Publication of Works of Turkish Cypriot Literature into Greek and of the Greek Literature of Cyprus into Turkish has been functioning. In this context, the publication of a bilingual anthology of short stories by Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot authors is being scheduled with the aim of further aiding the mutual acquaintance of the two communities through literature.
In the domain of play writing, one of the most difficult genres of literary art, the Cultural Services have established the Play Writing Week with the aim of further supporting the Cypriot theatrical play.
The voluminous production in the field of literature over the last decades and its qualitative evolution creates new perspectives for it to occupy a worthy place in Greek literature as a whole.