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Interpretation of “Hamlet of the Moon” by Christos Thivaios

For this publication, I decided to translate and then comment on Ο Άμλετ της Σελήνης (O Àmlet tis Selinis, Hamlet of the Moon). The performance alone has captured my imagination since the first time I listened to it circa 2007: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eds_ME_Ww6I.

Here are the original lyrics, followed by my translation and philosophical commentary:

Ο Άμλετ της Σελήνης

Ερμηνεία:  Χρήστος Θηβαίος
Στίχοι:    Μάνος Ελευθερίου
Μουσική:   Θάνος Μικρούτσικος


Ξεγέλασες τους ουρανούς με ξόρκια μαύρη φλόγα
πως η ζωή χαρίζεται χωρίς ν' ανατραπεί
Κι όλα τα λόγια των τρελών που ήταν δικά μας λόγια
τα μάγευες με φάρμακα στην άσωτη σιωπή
 
Πενθούσες με τους έρωτες γυμνός και μεθυσμένος
γιατί με τους αθάνατους είχες λογαριασμούς
Τις άριες μιας όπερας τραύλιζες νικημένος
Μιας επαρχίας μαθητής μπροστά σε δυο χρησμούς
 
Τι ζήλεψες, τι τά 'θελες τα ένδοξα Παρίσια
Έτσι κι αλλιώς ο κόσμος πια παντού είναι τεκές
Διεκδικούσες θαύματα που δίνουν τα χασίσια
Και παραισθήσεις όσων ζουν μέσα στις φυλακές
 
Και μια βραδιά που ντύθηκες ο Άμλετ της Σελήνης
Έσβησες μ' ένα φύσημα τα φώτα της σκηνής
Και μονολόγους άρχισες κι αινίγματα να λύνεις
Μιας τέχνης και μιας εποχής παλιάς και σκοτεινής
Hamlet of the Moon

Performance:  Christos Thivaios
Lyrics:       Manos Eleftheriou
Music:        Thanos Mikroutsikos


You deceived the heavens with spells of black fire
that life is offered without being toppled
And all the lunatics' words who were our words
you enchanted them with medicines in the dissipating silence

You mourned with loves naked and drunk
because with the immortals you had unfinished business
The arias of an opera you would stutter defeated
A province's student in front of two oracles

What did you envy, what did you want in the glorious Parises (Paris in plural form)
At any rate, the whole world is an opiumden now
You pursued miracles granted by hashish
And hallucinations of those who live in prisons

And one night you dressed up as the Hamlet of the Moon
You snuffed out the lights of a scene
And you started monologues and solved riddles
Of an art and an era bygone and dark

While this song may have been inspired by real events, perhaps the suicide of an intellectual, I feel its origin story is irrelevant as far as we are concerned: through the particulars it still captures the eternal. That is what we want to understand.

To me the poetic “you” is a person who has no sense of self and direction. This is a figure who suffers from the inner conflict between their aspirations and actuality. One who is dead inside yet pretends to be brimming with life. We witness this emptiness in the reference to the mourning that takes place amidst what ought to be carnal pleasures, at least temporarily.

We also notice the theme of running away, of not wanting to face up to who one is. This is done in the opening verse where the “you” believes to have deceived the heavens. Who is the fool, really? No heaven can ever be tricked. It is always humans who, in their lack of perspective, do not recognise the limits imposed on their condition by virtue of their humanity.

The Moon’s Hamlet is the person who is not honest about who they are and what they do. No matter where they go, they can never be separated from their own self. Whether it is at the most glamorous places or the shadiest of alleys, one cannot simply run away and become another without first undoing what was there before. There has to be a reckoning. In other words, we can only refashion who we are by being honest with our situation and by making the requisite changes.

[ Read/watch: On learning and being present ]

The song’s “you” is dishonest. They resort to drugs and hallucinogens in the hope of finding enlightenment, since unbridled sex and the wanton consumption of alcohol offered no way out. Such is, after all, the commodified brand of spirituality (i.e. fake) we find in some parts of the world, including where I live. “Take this magic mushroom and you will turn into a guru”, the charlatan promises. “Here is some acid to open your mind.” While I am not against the notion that a substance can have a benign effect by emancipating one from falsehood, I have yet to meet anyone whose wisdom is the result of such substance abuse. What I have beheld, instead, is lost souls; folks who have been tricked into thinking that there exists a shortcut to wisdom and are instead left to labour under the delusion that they are smarter—indeed, more enlightened—than everybody else.

In Greek, we name a city in plural form to generalise its significance. Hence, the allusion to Paris is not about the capital of France. It symbolises all possible megacities and promised lands, where the lost souls rush to in hope of finding refuge from the inner self they so desperately seek to avoid. There isn’t enough grandeur in this world to fix you without you putting in the requisite effort. All Parises combined still leave much to be desired. And no miraculous shroom or hash will suffice either. At least not if you keep hiding stuff and lying to yourself.

The Hamlet of the Moon, this poetic “you”, encapsulates the deep seated insecurity that masquerades as boldness to experience new things. It is the type of renegade who falls into the trap of what I described in another song’s interpretation about challenging conventional wisdom:

The renegade’s latent hubris is brought to bear when their propensity for self-righteousness turns into a cult of personality. It is prudent to not take oneself too seriously. It would be frivolous to claim that one’s truth is the truth.

The Hamlet of the Moon thought too highly of himself. Tricking the heavens, venturing off to the Parises, and seeking miracles in psychotropic substances. The hubris here is the prejudice of entitlement: the “I am too smart for this” type. Smartness alone gives you nothing but a false sense of security. It boosts your ego and you thus overestimate your abilities. In turn, this leads to reckless behaviour as you trust others too much: you do it because you think you are smarter than them and cannot ever be duped. Yet only a fool believes that life cannot be toppled. Only a credulous fellow falls for the blatant lie that there exists a shortcut to wisdom.