Several months ago, Nina Bouri, who kindly does the Greek transcripts and translations for the Edward Lear’s Diaries blog, e-mailed me about a short story
by poet/writer/translator Theofilos D. Frangopoulos (1923 – 1998) about his cousin, Theofilos K. Frangopoulos, a professor of the Agricultural University of Athens who committed suicide in 1969 after he was persecuted by the police for his democratic beliefs. T. K. Frangopoulos (the professor, not the writer) was by all accounts a very intelligent and well read individual, knew many languages, and studied a very wide range of subjects.
The short story describes how a quirky, whimsical person who cares mostly about books and not much else, but has a strong inherent sense of independence and justice, gets, almost by chance, tangled in the absurdity of the Greek Civil War and Junta and decides, realizing that he will never be free, to take his own life. He was found in his office with a note that read “It’s better dying standing up than living on your knees. My friends will avenge my death.”
She then goes on:
The good professor tells how he got transfered in Corfu, but didn’t really like it; his peculiarity got him in something of a misunderstanding with the Prefect, but he didn’t care, because he didn’t want to be there in the first place. Then he says:
“The one good thing is that, in the library of the Lavranos’ home, at Chlomos village, I discovered a Coronelli with four extra drawings than the Biblioteca Marciana copy, a hand-written manuscript by Leo Allatius and, in the guestbook, a four-line poem by Edward Lear, filled with so many obscenities I didn’t even care to find out if it is unpublished.”
The Lavranos are still an important family from Chlomos village, in Corfu. Vincenzo Coronelli was a famous cartographer who worked on the geography of Dalmatia; Leo Allatius a Greek scholar, theologian and keeper of the Vatican library who sought to reconcile the Catholic and Orthodox churches. I am not in a position to evaluate whether the existence in the Livranos’ library in Corfu of such rarities is at all likely or simply a joke, but I am quite sure that the “four-line poem by Edward Lear, filled with so many obscenities” is an invention: as far as I know, Lear never wrote anything of the sort. I can’t remember Lear mentioning Chlomos or the family in the diaries, though it is likely he visited the place; however, if anyone knows how to get to the Lavranos’ guestbook, it would be interesting to check if it contains a quatrain (a limerick?) by Lear.
The story’s title is “Theofilos Frangopoulos” and it was collected two times, once in “Short Stories” (Διηγήματα) by Diogenis publishing house in 1976 and once in “Timely Short Stories” (Επίκαιρα διηγήματα) by Synchroni Epochi publishing house in 1982.
You can read the short story in Greek here, or get a Google-translated version here.
Something very interesting here. Anyone who reads Lear’s diary entries as they appear daily on line will be struck by how prim and proper they are even in their soul searching and laments. Yet Lear was writing them to and for himself, not for publication. He could have let himself go. Because he did not, we assume he was simply prim and proper from tip to toe. So, news of his four line poem full of obscenities staggers me.