Poet and Nobel Prize for Literature winner Odysseas Elytis is the quintessential Greek artist of yore; educated, worldly, passionate and utterly in love with homeland. His poetry marks a bridge between Ancient Greece, Byzantium and modern day Hellenism, and is celebrated for the important part Elytis’ progressive approach to poetry played in shaping Modern Greek culture.
Hailing from an established family from Lesvos, Elytis was born in Crete on November 2, 1911, though the family moved to Athens where he later studied at the Law School of Athens University. In 1935, Elytis published his first poem in the journal, New Letters, to great acclaim. Two years later, he served his military duty as an army cadet in the National Military School of Corfu. During the war, he was appointed Second Lieutenant in the 1st Army Corps Headquarters and then the 24th Regiment, on the line of advanced fire. Throughout the war and after, Elytis published an extensive number of poetry collections as well as critical essays around art.
After serving as Programme Director of the Greek National Radio Foundation from 1945-46, Elytis moved to Paris, where he attended philology and literature seminars at the Sorbonne. The most respected friend of fellow-Greek, art critic, patron and publisher Tériade (Stratis Eleftheriades), Elytis was welcomed into an artistic circle that included Matisse, Picasso, Breton, Giacometti and Chagall. From Paris he visited Switzerland, England, Italy and Spain, representing Greece at the International Meetings of Geneva and at the Founding Congress of the International Art Critics Union in Paris, 1948, and again in Rome in 1962.
Though he returned to Greece to resume his post at the National Radio Foundation from 1953-4, Elytis fled to Paris when the military junta came to power in 1969. By that time, he had already travelled across the United States upon an invitation from the State Department in 1961, and from similar invitations, he also travelled through the Soviet Union in 1963, and Bulgaria in 1965. Nevertheless, as well travelled as he was, Elytis could not escape the memory of his homeland, returning after the junta fell. His poetry is a testament to that.