Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Michael Mitsakis and the most beautiful thing in the world

Michael Mitsakis was born in 1868 and became a noted journalist in Athens contributing to many magazines and newspapers of the time. What characterizes the writing of Mitsakis is his style. He adopted a phrasing which followed the meanderings of his thought at the expense sometimes of a plot or a story. His long parenthetical and highly descriptive constructions could leave the reader perplexed and his use of language that combined “demotic” and “Kathareuousa” set him apart. Unfortunately in 1894 he suffered a mental breakdown and in two years he was completely incapacitated for the rest of his life. He died in 1916. He left behind many beautiful and interesting texts and among them I consider one called “Αυτόχειρ” as his real masterpiece. Unfortunately it is extremely difficult to convey in translation the lyrical flow of Mitsakis’s prose in this small novella.

Looking through the texts of Greek literature collected by Nikos Sarantakos (http://www.sarantakos.com/), I came across the following short piece by Mitsakis which is characterized by its simplicity, humor and wit. I decided to give it a try and translate it…

The most beautiful thing in the world by Michael Mitsakis

Let the sea splash and let it froth under the keel of the ship! The delirious ship bounces from wave to wave. The captain careful in the preparations for the voyage, commands the silent and willing sailors. The youngest of them takes a wine jar full of old good wine, lifts it up and places it on the bench. And one by one, each traveler on board drinks a glass after answering, with a verse swept by the wind, the question asked by the voices of the other passengers all around him.

“By God, tell us, what is the most beautiful thing in the world?”

“Where does the ship come from and where is it going?”

Who cares? The wine from the jar is strong.

“By God, tell us, what is the most beautiful thing in the world?”

- The most beautiful thing in the world is my love, says a student almost 20 years old. Love is the only happiness.

- Happiness is in war, pops up a soldier. The most beautiful thing in the world is a rider dashing forward with sword in hand.

- As long as I have a safe full and well protected… says the miser.

And the farmer replies: - Is there anything more beautiful than a field, gilded form side to side with wheat?

But the poet stands up: - With laurel beauty is crowned. What can be more beautiful than laurel? By Apollo! How can happiness be found elsewhere than in thought?

But the musician at the same time: - What do you need thought? Have you ever felt what the nightingale has to say? Just listen to it and that’s enough.

And the painter stubbornly: - Beauty cannot be found in sounds and words. Beauty is an image.

And the philosopher, angrily: - What are you talking about, he tells them. Beauty is the Truth.

- It is success! Cries a politician gesticulating, who was on his way to his country to install a ballot box.

- You are right! Says the adventurer. Beauty is this gorgeous woman with her breasts hanging out, holding the cards of the lucky gambler.

- Oh! Whispers quietly a merchant, how awful it is to play. Accounting, yes, that is the thing!

And even a priest, making the sign of the cross: - Oh my brothers, what better than faith, what more beautiful than prayer?

But suddenly: - Damn, groans the captain, and the amateur singers hold their tongues in fright. Damn! Shut up, may the devil take you… Tighten up the sail!....

For the sea had become wild, and then for the sailor, Beauty laughs on his ship’s stern when the ship proudly enters the port after the storm.

And then, at the same time, a shiver of happy sharks was following the water course engraved by the ship on the waves and they were talking and saying between themselves:

The most beautiful thing in the world is a ship ready to sink to the bottom, full of travelers…

Listen to :

"Your beauty is a knife I turn on my throat" by Eagle Seagull

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