KYRIAKOS AMANATIDES: GRAND GURU OF THE GREEKS
When I was quite young, I particularly relished a cloth bound, musty edition of Greek myths and legends. That edition was devoid of illustrations and I was thus compelled to supply them out of my own meagre and youthful imagination. When I got to the story of Jason and the Argonauts, I was expressly inspired by the Golden Fleece, which for reasons best known only to my self, I would call the «Χρυσόμαλλο Τέρας,» rather than «Δέρας,» which is the traditional appellation.
In my mind’s eye, perched precariously upon the branches of a tree in murky Colchis, just above the reaches of a fearsome Mingrelian dragon, was a fleece of such exquisite beauty, flowing in concentric ringlets of absolute symmetry, in a symphony of lanic perfection that it could only belong to one man: Kyriakos Amanatides. Kyriakos’ hair is beautiful. In truth, he has the most beautiful hair of anyone in Greek community, nay, even Melbourne. As a matter of fact, I have not seen such an amazing fleece upon the pate of anyone else in the world, save that of a Sinai monk, and his is much diminished, for he is bald. Contrariwise, age may have wearied Kyriakos but his coiffure remains the personification of all the hopes and aspirations of mankind to perfection.
My earliest memory of Kyriakos is inextricably linked with hair. As a child, I was taken to hear him give one of his lectures. I sat there for what seemed like an eternity, viewing his hair, a veritable flock of goats bounding down the slopes of Gilead, as the Song of Songs would have it, and listening to his calm, precise and yet soothing words land softly as eiderdown upon my eardrums, only to bounce off again, unheeded and unabsorbed. Returning home that night, I made a solemn pronouncement to my parents. “When I grow up, I want to be an Amanatides.”
Decades later, Kyriakos Amanatides continues to be a source of inspiration to the entire Greek community and it is thus fitting that he was honoured by the Greek Consul-General Christos Salamanis recently for his contribution to the cultural life and education of the Hellenes. As I observed on the day, a person of the stature of Kyriakos Amanatides has no need of honours or distinctions. Rather it is we who resound in his honour when we bestow acclamation upon him, because we are magnified as a collective, by having such a great man live among us, and condescend to lead by his example.
Kyriakos’ is the classic case of the fortunate person who is able to transform his passions and beliefs into his career. Born in Ano Rodonia in 1936, he migrated to Melbourne in 1958 after realizing that he had not the resources, to further his studies in his homeland. In his adopted country Australia, he became a Bachelor of Arts and Letters, with post-graduate studies in Modern Greek Literature. He went on to teach Modern Greek at various High Schools, the University of Melbourne and Monash University. His role in educating and inspiring a generation of Greek-Australians, and instilling in them a love of our literary heritage, a commodity hitherto not readily available in the common discourse, has been pivotal. Just the other day, the indefatigable academic Dina Dounis remarked that she owed her understanding and love of Greek literature, primarily to the sterling efforts of that remarkable man.
Not content with just dry academic achievements, Kyriakos Amanatides was determined that his activities should also have some social utility. From almost the outset of his sojourn in this country, he commenced what has turned out to be a most remarkable and voluminous literary output, both in poetry in prose. His early poems in the newspapers of the time attracted the attention of another gifted writer. Thus commenced an amazing literary and life partnership between Kyriakos and his wife, the poet Dina, one which has seen them become a community institution in the cultural sphere. It was primarily due to his efforts that the Greek Australian Cultural League of Melbourne was founded, in order to showcase and encourage the production of Greek Australian literature. His founding and editorship of the League’s journal, “Antipodes,” has seen it become the premium expression and repository of all that is historically significant in Greek-Australian literature. It would be remiss of me not to add that I am among those who are the recipients of his sage advice. While still at university and attending a conference in Sydney, I asked him, full of post - teen angst: “I have some poems that I’m considering publishing in book form. What do you think?” As is commonly known to those who know and love him, Kyriakos Amanatides’ advice is delivered slowly, concisely and with the devastatingly logical casuistry of a dogmatic theologian. It is delivered in measured tones, with an assessment of both the pros and cons of the argument, and then, only with the slightest of hints towards the outcome advised. In my case he intoned: “If you are doing it for the money, I couldn’t advise it as a profitable venture. Poetry is a difficult pursuit. If you are doing it for the passion of it, wait until you have matured as poet and then re-consider it.” It was a sound piece of advice that I didn’t take. Back in 2003 when I published my first poetry collection, “Kipos Esokleistos,” the said collection was first presented to the public through a literary radio program on 3XY hosted by Kyriakos and Dina Amanatides. It is an attitude of protection and friendship that they have adopted towards all Greek-Australian writers. Indeed, through their radio program “Literary Echoes,” which was of a two year duration, Kyriakos and Dina presented the works of some 55 Greek-Australians. That is to say nothing of the countless lectures and book presentations he has given over the years.
At the Greek Consulates’ function in honour of Kyriakos, education stalwart Tassos Douvartzides spoke movingly about the influence Kyriakos has had over his life as a mentor and friend. It was under his guidance that he was encouraged to study and his continued supervision and care of Tassos that ensured that he completed those studies. Tassos spoke in reverent tones about him, artfully juxtaposing a photograph of him as a javelin-thrower in his youth, taken from an angle that makes him look tall and comparing it to his short physical stature. The point was clear: Kyriakos Amanatides looms large as a figure in our community. As Tassos was careful to point out, more letters sent by community organisations to each other and the Greek government have been selflessly and anonymously penned by the self-effacing Kyriakos than anyone else. He has been a faithful servant of various Pontian organizations and has laboured hard, both in his public lectures and his articles to raise awareness and seek recognition of the Pontian Genocide. He has also served the Committee for Celebration Greek National Day, the Victorian Association of Multicultural Writers and the Australian Institute of Greek Language and Culture. As secretary of the Committee in Support of the Greeks of Northern Epirus, a position he still maintains, he has provided invaluable services in making the plight of the Northern Epirots known, especially during the Hoxha regime, when information was scarce and the manner of pursuing support for them delicate, owing to the Cold War. Kyriakos Amanatides could thus be said to be basically responsible for articulating the policy of the Panepirotic Federation of Australia on that issue.
It is fitting that in 2007, Kyriakos Amanatides was given an award for excellence in Multicultural Affairs by the State. I was given the same award on the same day and it was because I received it in the shadow of such worthier, giants of men that I felt, and wrote in this very column-space of the countless contributions of people such as Kyriakos, who deserve recognition.
One of Kyriakos’ most enduring contributions to us would invariable have to be his articles in Neos Kosmos, which have rightfully rendered him the social conscience of an entire generation. Meticulously researched and argued, on a plethora of topics, they also constitute for me, the yardstick and treasure trove of Greek vocabulary, syntax and delicate phrasing and I eagerly mine them every week for their goodies. His latest book, «Επίκαιρα και Επίμαχα,» or “Current and Controversial,” containing gleanings of a vast resource of such articles published in Neos Kosmos over the years and launched on 14 June, constitutes a fabulous manner in which to ensure the enduring relevance of a truly great man of letters. It has been said of teachers that they are much like candles, in that they are consumed, just as they illuminate. In this, just as in many other things, Kyriakos Amanatides defies convention. For he will continue to illuminate us long into the future, and his name and legacy (and that gorgeous mane of hair) will never be consumed in the obscurity of oblivion.