Born: 2 November 1911 in Heraklion Crete
Died: 18 March 1996, age 84
Literary movement: romantic modernism
Awards: Nobel Prize of Literature, National Literary Award
Notable Works: “The Axion Esti”
Odysseas Elytis was born on the 2nd of November 1911 in Heraklion Crete. His actual family name was Alepoudelis, but he decided to use the name Elytis because he wanted to dissociate himself from the family name and family business, as his family owned a soap industry. At the young age of 3, his family moved to Athens.
During his childhood, he travelled and lived in Europe, which was the source of his inspiration for his upcoming work of art. He admired Federico Garcia Lorca and Paul Elaurd; through their art, he discovered the cultural movement of surrealism. At an early age, he expressed his love for the arts by publishing in the school newspaper poems and features.
During WWII, he fought in the mountain of Pindos against the Italians. Through wartime, his work helped Greeks fight harder for their freedom. His poem “Heroic and Elegiac Song for the Lost Second Lieutenant of the Albanian Campaign” (1945) was an anthem to freedom among the young soldiers. By the end of the war, he isolated himself from the literature world and took 15 years to write and publish something new. With this absence, the artist wanted to state his opposition to the Greek Civil War and the unstable political scenery during that period.
His first publication was the volume “Orientations” or as it is said in Greek “Orizontes” in 1939. Until the end of his life, he published more than 15 poet volumes and proses. Following the romantic modernism of European artists, his poems were all about love, freedom, and lyricism. But what you will realize reading the poems of Elytis, you will recognize the strong elements of Greek traditions and Aegean blue, which the artist loved deeply. As a man of the arts, he entered into painting as well.
In 1959, the artist published the long poem “Axion Esti”, which is considered to be his masterpiece and his key to the Nobel Prize award. The title of the poem is translated into English as “Worthy It Is” and is about his existence as a human being by the existence of Greek identity and Greek people.
In 1964, great composer Mikis Theodorakis decided to set it into music.
In 1979, the Swedish Academy decided to honour Odysseas Elytis with the Nobel Prize in Literature as one of the most important poets of Greece. The organization stated that Elytis was awarded “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.”