Loenidas Lapathiotis called his newborn son Napoleaon. It seemed natural for the senior army officer, who participated in wars and later became the Minister of War, to have aspirations of charisma and war spirit for his son, after the great French leader.
It was 1888 and as the child grew up it turned out that he had merits that distinguished him, but far from the art of war.
Napoleaon was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. His mother was from a very rich family and from childhood he showed an inclination towards fine arts. He made his elementary studies privately at home, studied languages, painted and met many intellectuals at his piano teacher’s house. He wrote poems and in his early teens started to publish them in small newspapers, firstly with the help of his father. As a son to an esteemed family he naturally attended at 17 the Law School, although it seemed that he would never be a lawyer. At the same time he began publishing many poems and wrote one act plays. At 19 he was a co-founder of a poetry magazine which closed down after few issues.
In his 20s, as he was already quite known, he began his “dizzy colored” life journey of influential writing and behaviour, sometimes in scandalous ways, against the “bourgeois respectability-acting life”(1) and the prevailing cultural and moral order.
Apart from delicate poems with sensibility, humanity “grace, elegance and suppleness”(2), Napoleaon did not hesitate to write harsh poems, declare his homosexuality and dress provocatively in challenge of conservatism and its suffocating influence on the individual.
“I have inside me the blood of heroes. Don’t listen to what the small people say,” Napoleon declares in his 1914 “Manifest” against the literary establishment, which caused great controversy. “I urge the New Greek spirits to collaborate with me in wrecking the false idols that dominate… for tomorrow’s triumph… that we may go forward.” In 1927 he adopted Communism and wrote to the Archbishop of Athens that he no longer saw himself as part of his tribe. In the time of the German occupation he delivered weapons from his father’s collection to the guerrilla resistance.
The spirit of Napoleaon is expressed in his early poem “Prison”:
In prison they locked me
the strongest of the world
and I broke doors, locks
to come to you, my light!
The bars bent
at my groan
and dried up that I can pass
the rivers of the road…..
And as mad I looked for you
but you didn’t appear!
and embittered, I returned
that they will lock me again
Lizeta Kalimeri sings:
His attitude in public to his homosexuality is striking, in what was a very conservative era: “If I ever have the opportunity to write my autobiography, one thing that I must emphasize, first and foremost, is this: that never, at any moment of my life, I did not consider a flaw in my physical distaste to women,
and my attraction to my own sex. But to the contrary, this attribute of mine, I always thought of not as a weakness, but as a nice and new strength, an advanced and premium tendency for which I was always proud! And the others, let them think whatever they want!”(4)
This 1928 poem on love was dedicated to his beloved Kwstas Gkikas; this is apparent from that the first letters of every raw assemble the name, but it appeals universally to any erotic love, of any gender, in any era:
It really is sadness
to pass again through love’s narrow path
until darkness falls
in a day of death….
A deep and dreary narrow
that I will remember for long
what it costs me in the heart
crossing it again
Let it be, however, what’s the use?
I am always looking for the kiss
last kiss, first kiss
and with so much craving!
I am always looking for the kiss
that many promised to me
and yet none could ever
give it to me…
Maybe one day when I get lost
going back again to the bottom
and with the night, secretly,
we become mated again
This not-found kiss
that I have longed for so much
like his old debt
to bring it back to me
As the poem hints, some shadows began to cast on Napoleon’s personal life in his 30s (1920s); he became a night bat, not showing himself out in daytime, and then started to consume drugs and to host outcasts from the underworld at his home. When this tightrope walk along the edge became too precarious, catastrophe was unavoidable.
In 1937 his mother died and he fell into a deep grief. Then came the German occupation… and then in 1942 his father died. He felt orphaned, having lost the financial and moral support of his parents, and fell into poverty. He was forced to sell his library and personal belongings to survive and to feed his drug addiction. Napoleon, despite his lifestyle and intelligence “never managed to become independent from his parents.”(5) Eventually he led himself to self-destruction by ignoring life’s concerns and surrendering himself to any physical pleasure “without the slightest self discipline”(7).
He shot himself with his father’s revolver on January 7th 1944. His friends raised funds for the funeral.
I think that in a way, these two poems reflect Napoleaon Lapathiotis’ life; the persistent and desperate search for the light, for the lost paradise, sometimes sought in ideology, sometimes in literature and poetry, sometimes in love… and being in the darkest of pits in order to somehow reach it. In the end, the shadows overcame.
Like a breeze,English subtitles
If you are unable to see the video, here is an audio file and then the lyrics
My golden love, if you only knew
what honey you are for me….
the beautiful buds,
and the breeze that blowing
they don’t have the balm
that you have for me…
The lake’s lily,
and the clam of the shore.
the myrrh, the rose-water
that slowly dripping and vanishing
and the rose beds, and the cool fresh
flower’s flood of the garden
do not trickle the scent
of both of your sweet lips…!!!
I am going to the deserted shore
and- alone what can I do?
engrave gentle circles
on the soaked sand,
like a breeze they lost on the wave
up and over
and I have remained in the solitude
alone … what can I do!!!
And now the moribund,
sweet, sad songs
knows how to sigh …
really!! it knows how
to sing sweeter than me!
I don’t know how to sing so sweet
but I know to sing more sadly
(1) Vangelis psaradakis
(3) “Prison” Music by Orfeas Peridis vocals Lizeta Kalimeri and Orfeas Peridis
(4) Peter Chartokollis, Ideal suicides. Greek writers who committed suicide, edBookshopCenter,Athens, 2003, p.84
(6) “Erotic” Music by Nikos Ksidakis Vocal-Eleftheria Arvanitaki
(7) Amsterdam. Dikteon, How I met with Lapathiotis, Nea Estia, T / H. 881 (1964), sel.366
(8) Like a breeze-Music: Manolis Pappos
This post is based on few internet sites including Wikipedia.
The posts appear fortnightly.The next post on 4/5/2012
Thanks Nata Ostria, Shahaf Ifhar and Dany Matz