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Odysseas Elytis
Odysseas Elytis in 1974
Odysseas Elytis in 1974
BornOdysseas Alepoudellis
(1911-11-02)2 November 1911
Heraklion, Republic of Crete
Died18 March 1996(1996-03-18) (aged 84)
Athens, Greece
Alma materUniversity of Athens
(no degree)[1]
Literary movementRomantic modernism, Generation of the '30s[2]
Notable awardsNobel Prize in Literature

Odysseas Elytis (Greek: Οδυσσέας Ελύτης [oðiˈseas eˈlitis], pen name of Odysseas Alepoudellis, Greek: Οδυσσέας Αλεπουδέλλης; 2 November 1911 – 18 March 1996) was a Greek poet, essayist and translator, regarded as a major exponent of romantic modernism in Greece and the world. He is one of the most praised poets of the second half of the twentieth century,[3] with his Axion Esti "regarded as a monument of contemporary poetry".[4] In 1979, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.[5]


The family of Elytis (Alepoudelis), 1917
The family of Elytis (Alepoudelis), 1917

Descendant of the Alepoudelis,whose name going back was Alepos and even further back connected to the revolutionary Lemonis in Lesbos. Panayiotis Alepoudelis together with his younger brother Thrasyboulos,both born in the village Kalamiaris of Panagiouthas of Lesbos established the industries of their soap manufacturing and olive oil production in Heraklion Crete in 1895.In 1897 Panagyiotis marries Maria E Vrana1880-1960 from the village Papados of Geras, Lesbos.From this union and as the last of five siblings Odysseus was born in the early hours of 2 November 1911. His family later moved to Athens,where his father re-situated the soap factory in Piraeus. In 1918 tragedy befell the family when his older sister and first born Myrsene[[1898-1918] died in the Spanish influenza. While on summer holidays from their Athens home as guests on the island of Spetses in the Haramis home in the St Nicolaos neighbourhood his own father also dies in the summer of 1925 from pneumonia.Later the poet graduated from high school and successfully passed the difficult entrance exams to law school at University of AthensElytis had initial aspirations to become a lawyer but did not sit for his final examinations and did not get his legal qualification.[6]

In 1935 Elytis published his first poem in the journal New Letters (Νέα Γράμματα) at the prompting of such friends as George Seferis.In the same year he also becomes a lifelong friend of writer and psychonanalyst Andreas Embiricos who allowed him to have access to his vast library of books.In 1977 two years after the death of his friend Elytis wrote a tribute book to Embiricos from within the commonalities that founded their ideas aptly titled "Reference to Andreas Embiricos" and originally published by Tram publishers Thessaloniki. His entry to the magazine"New Letters"in 1935 was in November which was the 11th issue and with his pseudonym Elytis established therein. With a distinctively earthy and original form in his expression Elytis assisted to inaugurate a new era in Greek poetry and its subsequent reform after the Second World War.[6]

From 1969 to 1972, under the Greek military junta of 1967–1974, Elytis exiled himself to Paris after he was offered money from the junta which he refused by avoiding it and leaving the country.[6] In Paris he lived with the English philologist lyricist and musicologist Mariannina Kriezi,1947-2022 who subsequently produced and hosted the legendary children's radio broadcast "Here Lilliput Land"Kriezi was extraordinary having published a book of poems at the age of fourteen.There is speculation that Kriezi amd Elytis were secretly married in Paris but with their return to Greece their French marriage bore invalidity and they separated never divorcing. When Elytis died however he was buried wearing the silver wedding band that had the name "Mariannina"engraved inside it.The silver ring is on the cover of "Analogies of Light" within a picture that shows only the author 's hands writing inside a book.Ivar Ivask also noted the presence of the photo of Kriezi[ a muse inside a silver frame across from the photo of his mother] in the home of Elytis when editing the aforemntioned book Elytis was intensely private and vehemently solitary in pursuing his ideals of poetic truth and experience.

The war

In 1937 he served his military requirements. As an army cadet, he joined the National Military School in Corfu. He assisted Frederica of Hanover off the train and on to Greek soil personally when she arrived from Germany to marry hereditary Prince Paul. During the war he was appointed Second Lieutenant, placed initially at the 1st Army Corps Headquarters, then transferred to the 24th Regiment, on the first-line of the battlefields. Elytis was sporadically publishing poetry and essays after his initial foray into the literary world.[6]

He was a member of the Association of Greek Art Critics, AICA-Hellas, International Association of Art Critics.[7]

Programme director for ERT

He was twice Programme Director of the Greek National Radio Foundation (1945–46 and 1953–54), Member of the Greek National Theatre's Administrative Council, President of the Administrative Council of the Greek Radio and Television as well as Member of the Consultative Committee of the Greek National Tourists' Organisation 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 Thessaloniki University and received the Honorary Citizenship of the Town of Mytilene.


In 1948–1952 and 1969–1972 he lived 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 (Reverdy, Breton, Tzara, Ungaretti, Matisse, Picasso, Francoise Gilot, Chagall, Giacometti) as Tériade's most respected friend. Teriade was simultaneously in Paris publishing works with all the renowned artists and philosophers (Kostas Axelos, Jean-Paul Sartre, Francoise Gilot, René Daumal) of the time. 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.[6]

In 1961, upon an invitation of the State Department, he traveled through the U.S.A.; and —upon similar invitations— through the Soviet UnionElytis did not like Yevtushenko when they were introduced but liked Voznesensky and his poetry in 1963 He visiyed Bulgaria Bulgaria in 1965.[6]


Odysseas Elytis had been completing plans to travel overseas when he died of a heart attack in Athens on 18 March 1996, at the age of 84. He was survived by his niece Myrsene and his older brother Evangelos, who received a writ of condolence from the mayor of Athens on behalf of the nation at the funeral at the First Cemetery of Athens.


"Greek the language they gave me; poor the house on Homer's shores."

-"To Axion Esti" (1959)

Elytis' poetry has marked, through an active presence of over forty years, a broad spectrum of subject matter and stylistic touch with an emphasis on the expression of that which is rarefied and passionate. He borrowed certain elements from Ancient Greece and Byzantium but devoted himself exclusively to today's Hellenism, of which he attempted—in a certain way based on psychical and sentimental aspects—to reconstruct a modernist mythology for the institutions. His main endeavour was to rid people's conscience from unjustifiable remorses and to complement natural elements through 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 "worshiper" -idolater by his own definition. A parallel manner concerning technique resulted in introducing the inner architecture, which is evident in a great many poems of his; mainly in the phenomenal landmark work It Is Truly Meet (Το Άξιον Εστί). This work due to its setting to music by Mikis Theodorakis as an oratorio, is a revered anthem whose verse is sung by all Greeks for all injustice, resistance and for its sheer beauty and musicality of form. Elytis' theoretical and philosophical ideas have been expressed in a series of essays under the title The Open Papers (Ανοιχτά Χαρτιά). Besides creating poetry he applied himself to translating poetry and theatre as well as a series of collage pictures. Translations of his poetry have been published as autonomous books, in anthologies or in periodicals in eleven languages.



Prose, essays

Art books


Translations of Elytis' work


  1. ^ Nelly Ismailidou, "The path to being a successful person doesn't always go through college", To Vima, August 29, 2010.
  2. ^ Eleni Kefala (2007). Peripheral (Post) Modernity. Peter Lang. ISBN 0820486396. p. 160.
  3. ^ The Collected Poems of Odysseus Elytis. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press. 1997. pp. xv. ISBN 0-8018-4924-1.
  4. ^ Haviaras, Stratis (1991). "Review of Selected Poems, 1938-1988". Harvard Book Review (19/20): 18. ISSN 1080-6067. JSTOR 27545560.
  5. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Literature 1979". Retrieved 2020-09-22.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Odysseus Elytis – Biographical.
  7. ^ Association of Greek Art Critics, International Association of Art Critics. "AICA-HELLAS History". Archived from the original on 2008-05-11.


Further reading