Greece in the Imagination of Western Authors
The Island Fantasy
The male fantasy of being deserted on an island inhabited predominantly by women, old men and children is explored thoroughly in both Mediterraneo and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. The gendered roles assigned to the invading soldiers as the strong male occupiers of a surprisingly feminized portrayal of the subjugated island are the crux of both the narratives. In both Mediterraneo and Corelli’s Mandolin the respective Greek Islands of Cephallonia and an unnamed magical island in the Aegean Sea, are depicted as feminine and motherly icons that are consequently violated by the Italian aggressors who arrive on the island in their effort to escape from the patriarchal political bindings of their leader. This is not to say that pre-occupation these islands lacked a male presence. There are important figures littered throughout the movies and the book. Dr. Iannis and Mandras in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, the priest in Mediterraneo all represent important male characters that in some part add to the background and set up of the respective stories. The difference however is that the female characters are the defining ones for both the novel and the movies. Vassilissa and Pelagia, Mandras’ mother Drosoula, are the “…primary envoys of Greece”. These women directly represent the giving nature that the islands themselves are guilty of. The Italian forces are given full advantage of the Islands bounty and the women offer themselves up as such as well. Indeed the evolution of the beautiful and intelligent Pelagia from child to mother, in the film, is indicated by her initial depiction as one “embodying perpetual girlhood,” smiling, laughing, having lighthearted arguments with her father, to becoming the “"monumental, stern, silent" Mediterranean archetype” , not unlike Mandras’ mother who is constantly chastising and beating her adult son for his adolescent foolishness. Pelagia’s actions in relation to Limoni, after the death of her parents is another direct correlation of the motherhood aspect. We need to keep in mind however, that even though the ‘mother’ may not have the political or social authority, in these films they are given considerable control and power over the interpersonal relationships that govern most of the forms of interaction between all characters. In Mediterraneo however, the primary female character, Vassilissa, is far from embodying this role of the ‘mother’. Her role as a prostitute serves a completely separate function, which will be explored later. The patriarchal structure from which the soldiers wish to escape is shown to be extremely impotent in both the movies. In Mediterraneo, the motley crew that forms the Lieutenant Montini’s team is a haphazard collection of men from all over Italy, whose mission is to occupy and observe a small Greek island during World War II. Their sincere attempt to follow their orders is soon given up as most if not all soldiers lose faith in their country. Though, even from the very beginning, this group was never depicted as a war mongering, violent group, bent on destruction and oppression. Its members were portrayed as peace loving beings that had no interest in the war other than to go home when permitted. Their assimilation with the islanders began almost instantaneously once the islanders returned from saying their goodbyes to the men of the Island. This assimilation took root once they realized that their country had forgot them. Their broken radio offered them no method of communication with their headquarters, offering them no news of the world, leading to their being completely cut off from any knowledge of the developments that took place after their arrival on the island. This lack of news furthered the disheartening of the soldiers and their dreams of returning to their home. Though the island did not prove to be an unpleasant substitute, the discourse throughout the film consisted of...
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