Odysseas Elytis (Greek: Οδυσσέας Ελύτης) (November 2, 1911 – March 18, 1996) was a Greek poet, considered as one of the most important representatives of modernism in Greece. Modernism, as a tendency, emerged in mid-nineteenth century Western Europe. It is rooted in the idea that the "traditional" forms of art, literature, religious faith, social organization, and daily life had become outdated—therefore it was essential to sweep them aside. In this it drew on previous revolutionary movements, including liberalism and communism.
Modernism encouraged the re-examination of every aspect of existence, from commerce to philosophy, with the goal of finding that which was "holding back" progress, and replacing it with new, and therefore better, ways of reaching the same end. In essence, the modernist movement argued that the new realities of the industrial and mechanized age were permanent and imminent, and that people should adapt their world view to accept that what was new was also good and pretty. In 1979 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Descendant of an old family of Lesbos, he was born in Heraklion (Candia) on the island of Crete, November 2, 1911. His family was later relocated to Athens permanently, where the poet completed his high school studies and later attended courses as a listener at the Law School at Athens University. The son of a prosperous businessman, he would write under the nom de plume of Elytis to distance himself from the family business. His original family name was Alepoudelis. In 1935, Elytis published his first poem in the journal New Letters (Νέα Γράμματα). His entry inaugurated a new era in Greek poetry and its subsequent reform after the Second World War.
In 1937 he served his military requirements. Selected as an army cadet, he joined the National Military School in Corfu. During the war he was appointed Second Lieutenant, placed initially in the First Army Corps Headquarters, he was later transferred to the Twenty-forth Regiment, on the first-line of the battlefields. Elytis continuously published poetry anthologies and essays on contemporary poetry and art during the years of the German Occupation.
Elytis was twice named Programme Director of the Elliniki Radiophonia Tileorasi (Greek National Radio Foundation) (1945-1946 and 1953-1954), Member of the Greek National Theater's Administrative Council, President of the Administrative Council of the Elliniki Radiophonia Tileorasi (Greek Radio and Television) as well as Member of the Consultative Committee of the Greek National Tourist's Organization on the Athens Festival. In 1960 he was awarded the First State Poetry Prize, in 1965 the Order of the Phoenix, and in 1975 he was awarded the Doctor Honoris Causa in the Faculty of Philosophy at the Thessaloniki University and received the Honorary Citizenship of the Town of Mytilene.
During the years 1948-1952 and 1969-1972 he settled in Paris. There, he audited philology and literature seminars at the Sorbonne and was well received by the pioneers of the world's avant-garde movement, including Reverdy, Breton, Tzara, Ungaretti, Matisse, Picasso, Chagall, Giacometti, as Teriade's most respected friend. Teriade was simultaneously in Paris publishing works with all the renowed artists and philosophers of the time—Kostas Axelos, Jean Paul Sartre, Rene Daumal. Elytis and Teriade had formed a strong friendship that solidified in 1939 with the publication of Elytis first book of poetry entitled "Orientations." Both Elytis and Teriade hailed from Lesbos and had a mutual love of the Greek painter Theophilos. Starting from Paris he travelled and subsequently visited Switzerland, England, Italy and Spain. In 1948 he was the representative of Greece at the International Meetings of Geneva, in 1949 at the Founding Congress of the International Art Critics Union in Paris and in 1962 at the Incontro Romano della Cultura in Rome.
Odysseas Elytis died on March 18, 1996.
Elytis' poetry spanned a period of over forty years, covering a broad spectrum of trends. His early work was clearly influenced by the development of Surrealism, especially admiring Paul Eluard. During the war, his poem "Heroic and Elegiac Song for the Lost Second Lieutenant of the Albanian Campaign" was an important rallying cry for Greek patriots. After the war, he remained silent for a decade and a half. Unlike other contemporaries, he did not return to Ancient Greece or Byzantium for his poetic inspiration, but devoted himself exclusively to more modern Hellenistic concerns. Rather than return to the mythology of the past, he attempted to endow contemporary institutions with a new mythology, one which would rid his people's conscience of past remorse, to complement life's natural elements through human ethical powers, to achieve the highest possible transparency in expression and finally, to succeed in approaching the mystery of light, the metaphysics of the sun of which he was a self-confessed idolater. This new mythology, or inner architecture, is clearly perceptible in a great many works of his—mainly in the Worthy It Is (Το Άξιον Εστί). This work was set to music by Mikis Theodorakis, and was widely spread among all Greeks, growing into a kind of the people's new "gospel." Elytis' theoretical and philosophical ideas have been expressed in a series of essays under the title 'The Open Papers (Ανοιχτά Χαρτιά). In addition he applied himself to translating poetry and drama as well as creating a series of collage pictures. Translations of his poetry have been published as autonomous books, in anthologies or in periodicals in eleven languages.
All links retrieved September 19, 2013.
From Nobel Lectures, Literature 1968-1980, Editor-in-Charge Tore Frängsmyr, Editor Sture Allén, World Scientific Publishing Co., Singapore, 1993
1976: Bellow | 1977: Aleixandre | 1978: Singer | 1979: Elytis | 1980: Miłosz | 1981: Canetti | 1982: García Márquez | 1983: Golding | 1984: Seifert | 1985: Simon | 1986: Soyinka | 1987: Brodsky | 1988: Mahfouz | 1989: Cela | 1990: Paz | 1991: Gordimer | 1992: Walcott | 1993: Morrison | 1994: Oe | 1995: Heaney | 1996: Szymborska | 1997: Fo | 1998: Saramago | 1999: Grass | 2000: Gao
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