Poet (1859 – 1943)
Kostis Palamas was a poet, writer, playwright, journalist and scholar, recognized worldwide as the modern national poet of Greece. His works, primarily The King’s Flute and Twelve Lays of the Gypsy are an everlasting consignment to Hellenism and world literature, which have rendered him an immortal symbol of the Greek letters.
Palamas wrote his first poem at the age of 9 and made his debut in the literary world in 1874 at the age of 15 as a journalist writing for the newspaper “West Greece”. In 1876 he participated in a poetic contest but lost to Georgios Vizyenos and in 1888 he won first place in the poetic contest in Philadelphia for his poem Hymn to Athena. In this poem, Palamas calls the Ancient Greek spirit to rise and return as a cleansing force in the modern world.
Palamas was the founder of the New Athenian School, a dominant literary movement at the time, was general secretary of the University of Athens from 1897 until his resignation in 1929 and was one of the founding members of the Academy of Athens. He also served as President of the Academy in 1930. In 1896 the Olympic Games were revived; Palamas wrote the lyrics of the Olympic Hymn and it was set to music by Spyridon Samaras. The Olympic Anthem is always played in the Olympic Games; during the opening ceremony and during the closing ceremony.
In 1891 his 4-year-old son died of meningitis. This gave him the stimulus to write The Grave, one of the finest masterpieces of modern literature. Some years later, in 1907, Palamas published the Twelve Lays of the Gypsy in which during the final years of the Byzantine Empire and the dawn of the Renaissance, a gypsy with new theories and symbols rejects the ideas and religions of the old world to bring redemption to humanity and ultimately lytrosis. With the fall of the old world, the gypsy is revived three times by the immortal values: Love, Fatherland and the Gods. Palamas saw the gypsy as himself; with his indomitable nature and free spirit the gypsy displays contempt to the old values and ideas of society and envisions the rebirth of the man of the future.
In 1910 Palamas published another one of his most successful works The King’s Flute. In the poem, Palamas calls for the need of the return of the heroic spirit as he believed that only with the spirit of self-sacrifice could the Hellenic nation be reborn and reclaim its lost lands. The poem took 26 years to finish and its impact on Greece was massive; it influenced the Greek nation during the Balkan Wars in 1912, which resulted in the doubling of Greece’s borders. Palamas’ heroic epic was written after a long and meticulous study of the Greek Middle Ages and the demotic songs. With his polymathy, he connected all of the three eras of Greek history together and embodied all of Hellenism.
Palamas’ collection is massive. He had lived long enough to live through Greece’s most troubled times in modern history; these situations stimulated him differently to write poems which covered a vast spectrum of themes. Some of his most notable ones are Songs of my Fatherland, Iambs and Anapests, The Greetings of the Sun-born, The Nights of Phemius, Satirical Exercises, Altars and I Asaleuti Zoi. Throughout his poems, Palamas constantly emphasises on the return to the Ancient Greek spirit and its values, to become a practical part of modern society’s lifestyle. He was the most ardent proponent of all the poets of the Megali Idea and the rebirth of the nation. He was nominated for the Nobel prize 14 times.
Having lived through the loss of both parents at the age of 7, the loss of his son and the loss of his wife, Palamas died in 1943 during the German Axis Occupation. His funeral was attended by more than 33.000 citizens and was transformed into a peaceful but powerful demonstration against the axis. All the people were crying in deep emotion not from sadness for the death of their poet, but because they knew that freedom was coming.
- “Palamas, Kostis”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens: 1946. Print.