Paul Claudel and Greece

Who was Paul Claudel for Greece? What  was Greece for Paul Claudel? A mutual admiration  marked this eternal connection between the famous French poet and dramatist of the XXth century and the country of the Nine Muses of the Greek tradition.

One can admire in Paul Claudel’s  poetical and theatrical works, the universal character, the originality of his verses, the notion of purity and admiration before  the immense  divine creation, the cycle of life, as they are described, for example,  in the poem  “Corona Benignitatis Anni Dei”, in 1915. Paul Claudel’s aim was to conquer the totality of  Being by poetry and the “co-knowledge” of God and of oneself. Among the elements that give to Claudel’s works their originality, one can consider verses which let us perceive the author’s passion for religion and religious writing from  1886 on. As to the   specificity of his theater, it is found in the abundance of geographical, historical, cultural and religious references.

He does not offer a simple verse that would remain on all lips, but he offers to our souls the deepest bliss…The respect of divinity was his refuge, far from life’s vulgarity, as well as the eternal source of a work of Christian nature. It is in this manner that he is known in Greece and in the whole world.

Paul Claudel’s most lyrical drama, and the most clearly  “sacred” one, The Tidings Brought to Mary,  (1912), goes  beyond all the borders of spiritual creation  and reaches the frontiers of masterpiece and of genius. The pure language move[ed] the Greek audience’s soul in a shattering manner, in spite of some technical problems occurring during the drama production by Jean Marchat’s company at the Athens National Theater in 1947. The high religious inspiration ma[de]  the audience forget the scenic defects and the lack of concern for the visual realization of the text.

La Jeune fille Violaine was staged at the Pantheon Theater in November 1944 by the Manolides-Haronis-Horn troupe. The voice of poetry was very strongly present and the visions quite clear but the text was often considered as a dry spiritual experimentation.

At the Athens festival in summer 1964, Joan of Arc at the Stake was produced , on Paul Claudel’s libretto with Arthur Honegger’s music, a marvelous spectacle, because the composer managed, with his enthusiasm and his strength, to reach the world of Paul Claudel’s symbols and human characters.

Many articles on Paul Claudel’s life and works have been written by Greeks linked to the literature and theater world.  “Tribute to Paul Claudel” by Vassilios Kastriotis (Nea Estia 1927).  “Claudel and the others” from Manolis Karagatsis ( in the Vradini newspaper of  May 26 1947),  “Paul Claudel by Giorgos Pratsikas (Nea Istia, 1955),  “Paul Claudel : L’Annonce faite à Marie by G.Stavrou (Avgi, 11.24.1959),  “Takis Papatsonis – Paul Claudel : and the muse has been the grace”  by BarbaraPapastravou-Koroniotakis ( “K”, Magazine de Critique Littéraire et des arts, November 2004), Paul Claudel’s scenic presence  in the Greece of the twentieth century” by Kostatza Georgakaki, “Paul Claudel and classical Greece : his relationship with Euripides” by Barbara Papastavrou-Koroniotakis, Sujets Littéraires, number 31, January-April 2006, (communication given on the occasions of the tribute paid to Paul Claudel for the fiftieth anniversary of his death by Athens University at 04.16.2005).

Concerning the famous French poet and dramatist’s works translated into Greek, it would be interesting to underline the importance of Takis Papatsonis’s presence. Concerning his theatrical translation in 1987 of Break of Noon , it was exceptional, while that of Tz.Tsiakiri  (Ilissia theater, 1998) has been characterized by the Greek press as a  “talkative translation).

The translation of the drama La jeune fille Violaine by Myrtiotissa has received very positive critical reaction, considering that the difficulties of the original text were obvious.

St.Spiliotopoulos has also translated La jeune fille Violaine and The Tidings Brought to Mary . Some evaluations  of these two translations  were published in the Akropolis magazine of May 4 1952. The Exchange was  translated by An.Staikos and by P.Pantazi.

Paul Claudel’s love for Greece and the influence of the Greek world were so important that he had decided to learn the Greek language in order to “savour” ancient Greek  texts in their original form.

From 1900 to 1908, he composed the Five Great  Odes (published in 1910), of which the first one “Les Muses” is an invocation to the nine Muses of the Greek tradition and to their mother Mnémosyne, Memory.

He translates Eschyle’s Agamemnon, and remains always attached to the classical Greek  theater. It is important to  note that he discovers there the iambic verse which  marked his entire dramatic poetry.

In 1959, when the “Vieux Colombier” company staged The Hostage, , criticism appears about  the anti-theatrical form of Paul Claudel’s dramas.

In 1988 his play Proteus  is given for the first time at the Patras Theater in the framework of Patras’s third festival. Then it is evident that the links between Paul Claudel and old and modern Greece have always been very strong.

With the passage of time, Paul Claudel becomes more and more famous in the world. And when on the morning of February 1955 the telegraph announces his death  in Greece, those who love poetry and theater understand that a very great voice will now be silent. It is evident that if he is no longer alive nowadays, he is really alive in our hearts, among the lines which we have inherited from him. France, Greece and the whole world recognize Paul Claudel’s contribution and give him a dominating place in the universal history of literature.

Maria Tsimpogianni