Poet (1911 – 1996)
The major representative of romantic modernism in Greece, Elytis was one of the most notable writers of the generations of the 30s’, an influential literary school which included Georgios Seferis, the first Greek Noble Prize winner, in Literature. He is considered one of the greatest poets of modern Greece and of the entire world.
Odysseus Elytis was born in Crete. His original surname was Alepoudelis but once he became a literary figure he changed it to Elytis to avoid relation with his family’s soap business. His surname, El-, a prefix found in many Greek words such as El-pdia (hope), El-ia (olive) and El-eutheria (freedom), -y-, a letter originating and found only in the Greek language and the suffix –tis from Greek surnames such as Πολίτης meaning citizen, was carefully constructed by the poet to designate the Greek influence. He studied chemistry and later law in the University of Athens but later dropped out as he dedicated himself to literature and poetry.
In the 1930’s Elytis made his literary debut in the magazine Νέα Γράμματα (New Letters) by publishing his first poem titled Τοῦ Αἰγαίου (Of the Aegean) under the name Elytis. In 1936 he met Nikos Gatsos, with whom he formed a strong bond of friendship. With the outbreak of the 2nd World War, Elytis published his poetic collection Orientations. He joined the army and fought in the first line in the Greco-Italian war of 1940. His experiences inspired him to write his second poetic collection A Heroic And Funeral Chant For The Lieutenant Lost In Albania. He left Greece during the civil war and settled in France where he was introduced to the literary world of France and all its representatives.
In 1952 he returned to Greece. 7 years later he published his masterpiece Axion Esti (Ἄξιον Ἐστί, It is Worthy). A sacred moment for Hellenism. The gates of the world opened for him. The poem is the apogee of the ethical and spiritual struggles of the Greek race throughout the ages. In 1964 Mikis Theodorakis set Axion Esti to music making it popular enough for Elytis and Theodorakis to earn worldwide recognition. His entire life remained creative as he continued writing poems until 1991. His last poem was The Elegies of Oxopetras.
He was a frugal man who, in spite of his family’s close relations with politics never got actively involved with the commons. He rejected any offers to join political parties and rejected the position of honorary Academic in the Academy of Athens. He detested life associated with commerce and the acquisition of money. His poetry was involved with modern Hellenism and aimed at its spiritual and ethical revival. His poems were translated into 11 languages. Aside from his numerous poetic collections, Elytis translated works, mostly from French and painted.
In 1979 Odysseus Elytis was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for his poetry, which, against the background of Greek tradition, depicts with sensuous strength and intellectual clear-sightedness modern man’s struggle for freedom and creativeness”.
- Odysseus Elytis – Biographical. Nobelprize.org. August 8, 2016. Web.
- Οδυσσέας Ελύτης – Βιογραφία. Sansimera.gr. August 8, 2016. Web.
- ”Odysseus Elytis.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Web. 8 Aug. 2016.