The cultural ornaments of Greece today: Melina Mercouri and the late Kazantzakis. But to the more cultivated mind, the poet George Seferis is considered a superior example, embodying both the Hellenic spirit and the modern European tenor. Like Perse and Neruda, he has been a diplomat as well as a man of letters, and his essays, presented here for the first time in English, are not airy abstractions wafting wearily out of the classroom. Though they are very much concerned with Greek language and history and the uses of tradition, and often incline to lofty adjectives like ""holy"" and ""fervent,"" the intent is always to keep literature alive, to make palpable the ever changing links between past and present. Art is sanctity and also worldliness, a controlled passion and something demonic; above all, perhaps, it is a distillation of a people and a place which must be constantly renewed. Homer and the other gods hover a good deal over these writings; a cosmopolitan Seferis may be but he is very much more a proud nationalist; one has only to read his stately panegyric to the 19th century patriot Makryannis to observe that. The weightiest piece, comparing Cavafy and Eliot, while hardly telling us anything new about the latter, is certainly the best commentary we've come across concerning the Alexandrian poet, full of acute and vivid remarks which do much to clarify Cavafy's idiosyncratic classicism and twilight irony. All in all, a most persuasive volume.