No one knows what the Zakynthian poet Andreas Kalvos (1792-1869) looked like. There is no known portrait of him. All we know is that he indulged in walking around in the English countryside ‘completely dressed in black’. In “The True Face and Lyrical Bravery of Andreas Kalvos”, Odysseas Elytis (Greek Nobel Prize Literature 1979) described him as an old man, frail and bald. Other writers and artists have drawn imaginary portraits. Has this one been painted by Katerina Balafouti? (What a pity I cannot reach her.)
In my book The Search of Andreas Vesalius - The Quest for the Lost Grave, I already guessed Pascale Pollier, who dreams of recreating Vesalius’s face is, no doubt, interested in making a facial reconstruction of Kalvos’s skull too. Would his tomb, in the Solomos & Kalvos Museum in Zakynthos, ever be allowed to be opened, I wondered in 2014?
Later this month, on 20 August 2016, we will know. After a first attempt, the board of the Solomos & Kalvos Museum will meet again and decide if the tomb can be opened for such a project. The Mayor and the Municipality seem to be confident and have invited Pollier to prepare for the job. Does she see this facial reconstruction as a rehearsal for the other? Do Vesalius and Kalvos have more in common than just their first name, Andreas?
Kalvos and his compatriot and employer Ugo Foscolo fell out during a short stay in England in 1821. Kalvos left, Foscolo stayed, but the latter, barely 49, died there in 1827 and was buried in Chiswick on the Thames in London. Much later, in 1852, Kalvos returned to England and drew his last breath there in 1869. He was buried in Louth, Lincolnshire.
Kalvos did not have to live through the experience of watching the remains of Foscolo be exhumed from the moist soil of England in 1871 and transported with Italian state ceremony to the Gothic Fransciscan Church of the Cross in Florence.
Kalvos had to wait for ninety-one more years, from his death until 1960, to have a similar but Greek state ceremony. George Seferis, diplomat and poet (Greek Nobel Prize Literature 1963) succeeded in putting the bones of Kalvos and his second wife on Olympic Airways flight 410 to be flown to Greece. Upon their arrival in Athens, they were met by the elite of the country, though the people of Greece missed the event: the newspapers were on strike that day.
Lost graves, listed in records and accounts, visited by travellers, but forgotten again because of wars or earthquakes, overgrown or buried, bureaucracy, red tape, strikes: until Vesalius and Kalvos have been given their faces, the stories about their graves echo each other.
Postscript, dd. 30 August 2016: still waiting for a formal reply to their request, the municipality of Zakynthos has been informed that the council of the Solomos & Kalvos Museum "although still willing to help the municipality" has refused to open the grave of Andreas Kalvos, adding "there is nothing that can be done to change their minds...".