Lancaster, Osbert. 1949. Classical Landscape with Figures. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
- Chapter 2. 1936–1944: The Metaxas Dictatorship, the Italian Attack, the German Invasion, German Occupation, Resistance
- » Chthonic Adorations of Orthodoxies
Chapter 2. 1936–1944: The Metaxas Dictatorship, the Italian Attack, the German Invasion, German Occupation, Resistance
Acts of resistance intensified as the occupation went on, always calling down savage reprisals by the Germans. Places became emblematic of atrocity: Kalavryta, Kaisariani, Haidari, Distomo. Camps, prisons, open fields, villages, towns. Bombardments, motorcades, the sound of the military lorries, the sound of the voice of the German commander, the sound of German, keep appearing in the stories told.
“The great truck road across the Boetian plain divides at Livadia. To the left it continues north past the Lion of Chaeronea to the mountains behind which lies Thessaly; to the right, after crossing the Alpine district of upland meadows, where in the spring the large number of Judas trees strike a curiously exotic note, it follows the barren valley dividing the two great massifs of Parnassus and Helicon. Less than an hour from the town the latter route divides again at a depressing wind-swept cross-roads where, according to tradition, took place the unfortunate meeting between Oedipus and his father, hinc illae lacrimae, whence the main road continues on to Delphi and the fork to the left winds its wretchedly surfaced way to Distomo. This village, which must always have worn a sufficiently poverty-stricken aspect, is now a terrifying monument to human barbarity. In 1943 [actually in 1944, as the Germans were leaving] it was the scene of the most savage act of German reprisal and almost every house still standing amid the ruins exhibits crosses scrawled in blue paint beside the door, together with the names of its inmates whom the Germans took out and shot in the market-place” Lancaster 1949: 151). This is how Osbert Lancaster saw Distomo in 1945, through the eyes of a humanist American journalist.
Willie Snow Ethridge, the wife of the chief of the American delegation to the United States Committee on Borders (USCOB), visited Distomo in the spring of 1947. Her account tells us that poverty and desolation, the deepest sadness and mourning imaginable, were still the texture of the place. Only a few women and children had been spared by the German battalion, and now the area was filled with women and children in black, going to the cemetery, coming from the cemetery, lighting candles, trying to preserve a life that was barely worth living.
This is what the Germans did in Distomo, as was countless times recounted to me by my mother when I was growing up in Athens: a German company of Waffen (armed) SS was ambushed by a guerrilla company that happened to be stationed a few kilometers outside Distomo. On their way to Athens after the attack, the Germans chanced upon some Greek farmers tending their fields. The German commander thought this suspicious, turned around, went to Distomo, and ordered his men to shoot and kill everyone in sight. Very few people lived to tell the story (although the story was told, in the form of conflicting reports, by the German commander and an accompanying member of the military police; see Mazower 1993).
Lancaster, in an ingenious conceptual sweep, fixes in the Greek experience of history the management not only of space and time but also of tropes of alterity and selfhood by bringing into the memory of Distomo and the barbarity of the German troops the story of Oedipus and the barbarity of his father Laius. The indeterminacy of the existence of Oedipus (who is he, whose is he, who is the old man on the vehicle whose arrogance and violence causes the wrath of Oedipus and his eventual violent retaliation) and the incongruity of the serenity of the landscape, with Judas trees and calmly curving slopes, brought out by Lancaster, underscore not only the barbarity of the moment in 1944 but also the painful collusion of myth, history, and memory. From the chance encounter of Oedipus with his father Laius to the chance encounter of the German soldiers with the Partisans, the stratigraphy of violence and the constructions of the social and the metaphysical (who is to whom what and why) circumscribe the experience of the place. But the paradigm of Oedipus—as myth, text, and narrative, thus as it has lent a syntax to the interrogation of the fixity of identity (no one can pretend to occupy even the suspicion of a stable existence after Oedipus has lain open the instability of existence)—also places the experience of the Left within the somatization (literally) of the tension between zõe and bios and the constant problematization of the notion of the human (ánthropos).
Mazower, Mark. 1993. Inside Hitler's Greece: The Experience of Occupation, 1941–44. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.
The phrase comes from George Seferis's entry in his diary for Friday, September 22, 1944, written at Cava dei Tirreni, as a member of the Greek government in exile. He writes:
Today is a week since we first got here.
Peculiar, peculiar: there are various people who leave Greece (even now) and come here. All these gentlemen, who come (as they say) from the belly of the fighting nation, do not make us better, they make us worse.
As night fell there is a blackout. Someone tells me this. In Macedonia, andártes killed some Germans. Reprisals: The Germans took six young women, raped them, and then slaughtered them on the graves of the killed. Chthonic adorations of orthodoxies. (Seferis 1986: 359)
A survivor of the Distomo massacre (1944) tending a grave in 1945. Photograph by Voula Papaioannou, reproduced with the permission of the Benaki Museum, Athens.
The myth of Oedipus has constituted the inaugural moment not only of the modern subject, as read through Hegel and Nietzsche, but also of anthropology as an interdisciplinary project. The myth of Oedipus, received by Freud through Nietzsche and transformed into the universal Oedipal complex with the aid of Jones, Ferenzci, and others, made the debate between Malinowski and Westermarck, on the one hand, and Freud, on the other, imperative. It also authorized anthropological fieldwork as the pivotal point on which a theory of humanity, a meta-knowledge of human action, could be articulated, while raising the problematic issue of the accountability of theory in the triangulated relationship among knowledge, truth, and method.