For Greek librarian, meeting wife of premier a 'great honor'

Updated: 2014-06-21 08:14

By Fu Jing in Athens (China Daily)

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As one accustomed to preserving records of an ancient civilization, veteran Greek librarian Filippos Tsimpoglou is well aware of the importance of a visit from a top representative of another long-standing civilization - China.

Tsimpoglou, 57, general director of the National Library of Greece in Athens, said he is sure the visit of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will bring the "two civilizations" closer.

It is also an honor, he said, to have been chosen to welcome the premier's wife, Cheng Hong, a professor of English, on Friday to the magnificent library building, which was constructed in 1832 and holds a mass of documents on the ancient country.

"It is a great honor for us to receive such a special guest, who is sending a message that China shows respect for Greek and European civilization," the librarian said during an interview with China Daily prior to the visit.

Tsimpoglou said that in the spirit of cultural exchange, he came up with some reading recommendations for both Li and Cheng, but the selections may seem a little unconventional coming from a guardian of Greece's culture.

"I thought they would have read Greek classics, and so I recommended they read more about modern masterpieces in Greece," he said in his office, which has shelves of Greek classics covering the walls.

Tsimpoglou said he suggested writings by renowned modern Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy (1863-1933), who drew his themes from personal experience and a deep knowledge of history, especially of the Hellenistic era.

"The poet was always using his own life experiences to express internal struggle, fate and dilemma, and that is what I want to recommend to the couple," Tsimpoglou said.

He also recommended the works of Greek writer, poet and philosopher Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957).

Tsimpoglou said one of the major contributions Greek civilization has given the world is to have enriched global expression by lending words to other cultures, including such widely used expressions as "logic, dilemma, economy, ecology and crisis".

Tsimpoglou said he has never visited China, but hopes he will someday have the chance.

He said he respects China's civilization, with a history that goes back for millennia, which to him represents the accomplishments made possible by the "efforts and energy" of people.

"In this way, our civilization is just an infant before China's ."

The visit by the Chinese premier and his wife is also a chance to observe China's culture and civilization, Tsimpoglou said.

China and Greece planned to exchange classics in each other's language during Cheng's visit. Tsimpoglou said his library would exchange Chinese classics written in Greek for Greek literary treasures in Chinese that were available in China.

"We have some Greek classics in Chinese but we need to add more to our library," he said.

Tsimpoglou said he is a little concerned about the economic crisis Greece is undergoing, but he strongly believes in the future of Greece, as "both the geographical and cultural" door to Europe, and as a place that produced philosophers and thinkers who gave rise to Western civilization.

"So if somebody wants to approach European civilization, culture, mentality or people as a whole, he or she has to turn to the ancient Greek philosophers."