Did you know

15 Aug 2023

Did you know? The Princess of Cyprus

On 27 April 1889, the periodical Illustrated London News published an engraving by Nathaniel Sichel (1843-1907) based on a photograph by F. Hanfstaengl and titled A Princess of Cyprus. During the end of the nineteenth century and the early British period in Cyprus, new musical pieces were created referring to the island and stories were turned into theatre and opera acts.

For example, the Prinsessan av Cypern (The Princess of Cyprus) is a four-act fairy opera by the Finnish composer Fredrik Pacius with a Swedish libretto by Zacharias Topelius. Topelius’ Swedish language play The Princess of Cyprus is based on an episode in the Kalevala with Lemminkäinen and Kyllikki. Lemminkäinen journeys to Cyprus and carries off Princess Chryseis back to Finland. Later a blind shepherd kills Lemminkäinen, who descends to Tuonela but his mother brings her son back to life through prayer.

The engraving portrays a woman dressed in the classical Greek costume, leaning against a Greek column and calling her a Cyprus’ Princess. Her overall posture is sexually provocative. There were no princesses in Cyprus in 1889 and in fact none worth mentioning from the medieval period till the British occupation. The scene and the woman depicted are totally imaginary but have an underlying connotation, pertaining to the Greekness of the island of Cyprus. Furthermore, it brings to mind the legend of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, whose birthplace is supposed to have been Cyprus. Travellers always commented on the women of Cyprus as being provocative in their dresses and lascivious in their ethics.

The ‘Did You Know’ series is made possible with the support of OPAP (Cyprus) and Active Citizens Fund.

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