Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Muted Poems appeared in 1972, one of seven volumes Ritsos published that year. Ritsos had always been a prolific poet, but that year’s output had a special cause. Since 1967, his work had been banned in Greece by the Georgios Papadopoulos dictatorship, and he was imprisoned or living in exile under house arrest on the island of Samos until 1972, when the official policy of censorship eased, allowing his poetry to be published again.

“Fellow Diners” is one of the poems written in exile. Its meaning is political rather than religious, in spite of the biblical situation. As a Marxist committed to political comment, Ritsos was not interested in religion itself but in redefining the cultural heritage of Greece, both pagan and Christian, in a way that would be useful and significant for the common man of modern Greece. The story of the Last Supper would be a familiar drama of betrayal, to which Ritsos could draw certain political parallels in his own time. If anything, the poem criticizes the church by suggesting that it has its own brand of hypocrisy and corruption not unlike that of the Papadopoulos dictatorship.

By giving the poem a contemporary setting, Ritsos is granting the story of Christ’s betrayal, foretold at the Last Supper, a decidedly secular interpretation. Only the number of glasses invites the reader to make the parallel. The diners are unidentified, so who is supposed to be Christ and who Judas? For a religious...

(The entire section is 578 words.)