Salamís

Salamís Island, Greece

Salamís Island, Greece

The series of Atlas poems continues, with another island: this time, the Greek islet of Salamís, or Σαλαμίνα, in the Saronic Gulf, 2 km off the port of Piraeus, 16 km west of Athens. 96 km2 (larger than Gozo, but less than half the size of Malta), population 39,283 (as of 2011).

Until the mid-20th century, the majority of the inhabitants were Arvanite (Albanian Greeks), who know the island by the name of Koullouri (Κȣλλȣρι). Following mass migration from Athens, the Arvanites are now a minority; many of them simply became absorbed into the ‘national’ Greek identity.

Achilles and Ajax play a board game with knucklebones on this late 6th-century lekythos, a type of oil-storing vessel associated with funeral rites (source: Wikipedia)

Achilles and Ajax play a board game with knucklebones on this late 6th-century lekythos, a type of oil-storing vessel associated with funeral rites (source: Wikipedia)

Salamís Island is known as the birthplace of the warrior Ajax, and hosts the cave in which Euripides retired from the world to write his tragedies. It’s also known for the famous Battle of Salamis, 480 B.C., won by the Greek city-states, signalling the beginning of the end for the Persian empire. According to legend, a serpent that appeared among the Greek ships during the battle was taken to be the hero Cychreus, son of Poseidon and the nymph Salamís; according to another legend, Cychreus became king of the island after slaying a dragon named Cychreides. In tribute to the naval victory against the Persians, the name of  Salamís was also given to a German dreadnought battleship, ordered by the Greek navy in response to the Ottoman naval expansion begun in 1911; due to the outbreak of World War I, the battleship never arrived.

The M/T Salamis photographed at 32 nm off the coast of Malta (Photo: Chris Mangion/MediaToday)

The M/T Salamis photographed at 32 nm off the coast of Malta (Photo: Chris Mangion/MediaToday)

Much more recently, Salamís also gave its name to a commercial tanker, which saved 102 sub-Saharans from drowning last Sunday evening off the coast of Libya, and proceeded towards Malta (where it was due to deliver a gasoil shipment) only to be halted just outside Malta’s territorial waters and ordered to turn back. The M/V Salamis stayed put for two days and three nights, with conditions on board deteriorating as a gruelling diplomatic stand-off ensued between Malta, Italy, the European Commission and the shipping company, until Italy – whose Rescue and Coordination Centre had informed the M/V Salamis of the position of the sinking dinghy in the first place – agreed to let the migrants disembark in Siracusa on Wednesday morning. For the full story, see the chronology in the MaltaToday news blog.

41The Atlas poem below is somewhat longer than I would have liked (11 stanzas, compared to the 7 for Manus Island and the 4 of Orcas Island), for three reasons. Firstly, I felt that a poetic map of a Greek island cannot possibly overlook its mythological symbology, and that such symbology deserves a certain length, in order for the poem not to become too cryptic or baroque, and especially where its metaphors link with the contemporary situation. Secondly, as was the case with Orcas Island, the shape of the island is ‘borrowed’ in order to tell a story with which it shares its name. And thirdly, Salamís Island has a very curious shape, and as I mused at it and turned it in all four cardinal directions, the pareidolic metaphors just kept coming.

The original Maltese poem appears first, followed by an adaptation in English. Click on the maps to enlarge in a new window.

Attica_map
SALAMÍS

Bħal għabra titfarfar minn
mas-seba’ l-werrej tal-Greċja,
il-gżejra ta’ Salamís,
Salamína, Koullouri,
xagħat imxewwek, jistenna
l-ewwel ħjiel tal-ġwinħajn,
brama tobrox ma’ ponn,
mingħajr ma tniggeż,
dragun tal-ilma
jinġarr mal-kurrenti
bin-nirien imsakkra ġol-ħawsla.

Cave of Euripides, Salamís

Cave of Euripides, Salamís

Hawnhekk fejn twieled
Ajax il-gwerrier,
jehda bil-logħba
tal-għadam tal-għekiesi
ma’ kuġinuh Akille,
sakemm infixel fil-kliem t’Odissew
u waqa’ għal fuq ix-xabla minn rajh.
Hawnhekk fejn twieled
Ewripide, skrivan tat-traġedji,
dakinhar stess tal-battalja
kontra l-barbari
fejn Temistokli keċċa lil Xerxes
biex snin wara
hu wkoll safa
daqstant ieħor itturufnat.

Gżira ta’ Salamís, min jgħid li msemmija
għas-salmura li tgħum fiha,
min jgħid li għan-ninfa
miġjuba minn Posejdon, alla tal-baħar,
dak li jheżżeż il-kontinenti
u l-gżejjer,
min jgħid li sempliċement
għax-shalam tal-Feniċji.

The Salamis Tablet. National Museum of Epigraphy, Athens (source: Wikipedia)

The Salamis Tablet. National Museum of Epigraphy, Athens (source: Wikipedia)

Salamís, għaliha msemmi
ġens ta’ friefet Afrikani,
żgħar riġlejhom ta’ quddiem,
ġwinħajhom ġganteski,
kultant ikkuluriti, kultant
qishom weraq nixfin.
Għaliha msemmija l-ewwel
tavla tal-għadd, ta’ qabel l-abakus,
li fuqha Arkimede jittanta jikkalkula
kemm-il farka ramel
jesa’ l-univers.

Isimha misluf ukoll
lil dreadnought Ġermaniż
għal kontra l-Ottomani
li qatt ma wasal,
u lil tanker itajjar
il-bandiera tal-Liberja,
bejn Malta u l-Libja,
li wasal u ma wasalx.

M/V Salamis, idur fuqu
nnifsu, idur mal-arloġġ,
bħall-ilma maħmuġ tal-banju
nieżel għal ġol-katusa
fin-nofsinhar taċ-ċiviltajiet.

1 Salamis SMin-nofsinhar, ninfa rroftata,
xuxitha ttir fir-riħ,
fuq sidirha plural
elf swaba’, jgħoddu waħda
wara l-oħra l-mewġiet.
Minn erba’ naħat
swaba’ oħra jippuntaw lejha,
għaddi ‘l hemm, ieqaf hemm,
ibqa’ fejn int, għaddi ‘l hawn

minkejja żaqqha żejtnija
ma jixtieqha ħadd u ħadd.

2 Salamis EMil-lvant, bastiment wieqaf,
mhux ‘il bogħod wisq mill-port
u lanqas wisq fil-qrib,
fuq il-poppa, mara xxejjer
idha maqsuma
lejn il-ħelikopter jgħasses il-fruntiera,
fruntiera titlaħlaħ ma’ kull mewġa
u minn ħin għall-ieħor
tintraxx fuq il-prim
tad-dgħajjes militari ċkejknin.

3 Salamis NMit-tramuntana, ministru
lsienu barra, bil-ferkun f’idu,
lest li jimbotta lura
kull ħażż ta’ tama,
mill-punent, ras ta’
bodbod elettrifikat,
b’kalamita mdendla minn għonqu,
tiġbed, tbiegħed,
tbiegħed, tiġbed.

4 Salamis WMinn fuq il-quċċata ta’ Mavrovouni
xefaq ġdid ifiġġ,
u kif jittella’ l-ħabel tal-ankra
arah jitbandal
bħad-denb ta’ kelb ferħan.
Fir-raħal ta’ Peristeria, Ewripide,
bla tbissima, jidħol lura ġol-għar,
fuq il-kabina jinżel jistrieħ
il-ħamiem l-abjad.

Bla sajjetti jew sriep
għaddiet il-battalja,
mingħajr rebbieħa,
ħlief forsi l-barbari
ċivilizzati, kuntenti fl-aħħar
li ż-żejt jitla’ f’wiċċ l-ilma
tliet iljieli tard.

Wilhelm von Kaulbach, Die Seeschlacht bei Salamis, 1868 (source: Wikipedia)

Wilhelm von Kaulbach, Die Seeschlacht bei Salamis, 1868 (source: Wikipedia)

SALAMÍS

Salamís IslandLike a speck of dust brushed
off the index finger of Greece,
the island of Salamís,
Salamína, Koullouri,
a spiky caterpillar, waiting
for the first inkling of a wing,
a jellyfish rubbing against
a fist, without stinging,
a water dragon
drifting in the currents,
its fires locked in its craw.

Euripides, Louvre, Paris

Euripides, Louvre, Paris

Here was the birthplace
of Ajax the warrior,
biding his time
playing knucklebones
with his cousin Achilles,
until he lost his footing
on the words of Odysseus
and fell purposely onto the sword.
Here was the birthplace
of Euripides, scrivener of tragedies,
that same day of the battle
against the barbarians
where Themistocles expelled Xerxes
only to end up
a few years later
exiled in equal measure.

Salamís Island, named for some
after the brine that she swims in,
for some after the nymph
brought in by Poseidon, god of the sea,
the one who shakes the continents
and the islands,
for some, quite simply
after the shalam of the Pheonicians.

African Salamis butterfly

African Salamis butterfly

Salamís, who gave her name
to a genus of African butterflies,
their front legs short,
their wings gigantic,
sometimes brightly coloured, sometimes
disguised as dried leaves.
Her name is also carried
by the first counting tablet, pre-abacus,
on which Archimedes ventured to calculate
how many grains of sand
fit inside the universe.

Illustration of Salamis dreadnought battleship

Illustration of Salamis dreadnought battleship

Her name was trusted also
to a German dreadnought
for battle against the Ottomans
that never reached its destination,
and to a tanker flying
the Liberian flag,
between Malta and Libya,
that arrived and did not arrive.

M/V Salamis, spinning
upon its own axis, around the clock,
like the dirty water of a bath
draining into the pipe
in the south of civilisation.

1 Salamis SFrom the south, a forsaken nymph,
her hair flying in the wind,
on her plural chest
a thousand fingers, counting
one by one the waves.
From four sides
other fingers point at her,
turn that way, stop there,
stay where you are, come this way

despite her oily belly
she is to no one’s desire.

2 Salamis EFrom the east, a stalled ship,
not too far from port
and neither too close,
on the stern, a woman waving
her split hand
to a helicopter guarding the border,
a border rinsed over with every wave,
and every so often
spraying against the keel
of the tiny military boats.

3 Salamis NFrom the north, a minister
with his tongue out, fork in hand,
ready to prong back
each slash of hope,
from the west, the head
of an electrified billy-goat,
a magnet hanging from his neck,
pulling, repelling,
repelling, pulling.

4 Salamis WFrom the peak of Mavrovouni
a new horizon surfaces,
and as the anchor is pulled up
the rope wags in the water
like the tail of a happy dog.
In the village of Peristeria, Euripides,
unsmiling, returns into his cave,
white doves land
to rest on the cabin.

No lightning, no snakes,
the battle is over,
no victors declared,
except perhaps the civilised
barbarians, content at last
that the oil is brought to the surface
three nights later than schedule.

(photo: MediaToday)

(photo: MediaToday)

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About antoinecassar

Poet, translator, editor, activist http://antoinecassar.info http://passaportproject.org http://mondepasrond.org
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3 Responses to Salamís

  1. Pingback: Salamís | MHUX F'ISIMNA

  2. Pingback: Għal għonq it-triq #5: Maħbubin fuq Aran, ta’ Seamus Heaney | Antoine Cassar

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