Elytis, Odysseus

Elytis, Odysseus
or Odysseas Elytēs, orig. Odysseus Alepoudhelis

born Nov. 2, 1911, Iráklion, Crete
died March 18, 1996, Athens, Greece

Greek poet.

The scion of a prosperous Cretan family, he began publishing verse influenced by French Surrealism in the 1930s. His first two collections reveal his love of the Greek landscape and the Aegean Sea. During World War II he joined the antifascist resistance and became something of a bard among young Greeks. One of his best-known poems is The Axion Esti (1959); later works include The Sovereign Sun (1971) and The Little Mariner (1986). He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1979.

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▪ 1997

      (ODYSSEUS ALEPOUDHELIS), Greek poet (b. Nov. 2, 1911, Iraklion, Crete [now part of Greece]—d. March 18, 1996, Athens, Greece), was the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1979. Born into a wealthy Cretan family, he passed his boyhood in Athens. As a young man he appreciated the antirational poetry of the French Surrealists, and he began to publish his own poetry in the avant-garde Greek periodical Nea grammata. Soon he abandoned his law studies and devoted himself to poetry. He adopted the pen name Elytis to disassociate his writing from the family soap business. His first two volumes of verse—Prosanatolismoi (1940; Orientations, 1974) and Elios o protos (1943; "Sun the First")—reveal his love of the sunny Greek landscape and the sparkling Aegean Sea. During World War II Elytis served as an officer on the Albanian front, an experience he wrote about in his long poem Asma heroiko kai penthimo gia ton chameno anthypolochago tes Alvanias (1945; Heroic and Elegiac Song for the Lost Second Lieutenant of the Albanian Campaign, 1965). He did not publish again until 1959, when one of his most complex and best-known works, To Axion Esti ("Worthy It Is"; The Axion Esti, 1967), was published. Elytis often traveled abroad, and he lived in Paris for about four years after the Greek military coup of 1967. His later works include Ho Helios ho heliatoras (1971; The Sovereign Sun, 1974), Ta heterothale (1974; "The Stepchildren"), Maria Nephele (1978; Eng. trans. 1981), Ho mikros nautilos (1986; The Little Mariner, 1988), and Ta elegeia tes oxopetras (1991; "The Oxopetra Elegies").

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▪ Greek poet
also spelled  Odysseas Elytēs , original surname  Alepoudhelis 
born Nov. 2, 1911, Iráklion, Crete [now in Greece]
died March 18, 1996, Athens, Greece

      Greek poet and winner of the 1979 Nobel Prize for Literature.

      Born the scion of a prosperous family from Lesbos, 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. Intrigued by French Surrealism, and particularly by the poet Paul Éluard, he began publishing verse in the 1930s, notably in Nea grammata. This 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 fought against the Italians in Albania. He became something of a bard among young Greeks; one of his poems, Asma hērōiko kai penthimo gia ton chameno anthypolochago tēs Alvanias (1945; “Heroic and Elegiac Song for the Lost Second Lieutenant of the Albanian Campaign”), became an anthem to the cause of freedom. During and after the Greek Civil War, he lapsed into literary silence for almost 15 years, returning to print in 1959 with To Axion Esti (“Worthy It Is”; Eng. trans. The Axion Esti), a long poem in which the speaker explores the essence of his being as well as the identity of his country and people. This poem, set to music by Mikis Theodorakis, became immensely popular and helped Elytis earn the Nobel Prize.

      Elytis lived in Paris for a short time after the Greek military coup of 1967. His later works include Ho hēlios ho hēliatoras (1971; The Sovereign Sun), Ta eterothalē (1974; “The Stepchildren”), Ho mikros nautilos (1986; The Little Mariner), and Ta elegeia tis Oxopetras (1991; The Oxopetra Elegies). The Collected Poems of Odysseus Elytis (1997) is a volume of his poetry in English translation.

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

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Universalium. 2010.

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