Odysseus Elytis


Odysseus Elytis
(1911 - 1996)


Greek poet and winner of the 1979 Nobel Prize for Literature.
Born the scion of a prosperous Cretan family, he abandoned the family name as a young man in order to dissociate his writing from the family soap business. Elytis studied law at Athens University and periodically worked in the family business. Intrigued by French Surrealism, and particularly by the poet Paul Eluard, he began publishing verse in the 1930s, notably in Nea grammata. This avant-garde magazine was a prime vehicle for the "Generation of the '30s," an influential school that included George Seferis, who in 1963 became the first Greek Nobel laureate for literature. Elytis' earliest poems exhibited a strong individuality of tone and setting within the Surrealist mode. The volume Prosanatolismoi (Orientations), published in 1940, is a collection of his works to that date.

When Nazi Germany occupied Greece in 1941, Elytis joined the antifascist resistance to the Italians in Albania. He became something of a bard among young Greeks; one of his poems, Asma heroiko kai penthimo gia ton chameno anthypolochago tes Alvanias (1945; "Heroic and Elegiac Song for the Lost Second Lieutenant of the Albanian Campaign"), became an anthem to the cause of freedom. After the war he lapsed into literary silence for almost 15 years, returning to print in 1959 with To Axion Esti ("Worthy It Is"; The Axion Esti), a long poem reminiscent of Walt Whitman's Song of Myself.

Elytis lived in Paris for a short time after the Greek military coup of 1967. His later works include Ho helios ho heliatoras (1971; The Sovereign Sun), Ta eterothale (1974; "The Stepchildren"), and Ho mikros nautilos (1986; The Little Mariner).


BIBLIOGRAPHY.
Ivar Ivsk (ed.), Odysseus Elytis: Analogies of Light (1981), collects essays that trace Elytis' career and analyze his writings.

 


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