And his contribution to society
He was born in November 2nd, 1911 in Heraclion – Krete. He was the sixth child of an old family from Lesvos, Panagiotis Alepoudellis and Maria Vrana. His father with his uncle, Thrasivoulos, founded a factory which made soap and was sold all over Greece. In 1914 his father moves the factory to Pireus (Athens) and he moves with his family there.
Between 1915 and 1928 he spent most of his summers in Spetses, Mytilene Santorini, Tinos, Myconos as well as various cities allover Europe. His sister’s death from Spanish flu in 1918 brings bereavement to the family. In 1928 he finished High school and one year later he wrote his first poems using various aliases. He read Eliar and Lorca and got to know surrealism. In 1935 he met Seferis among other artists and published ”Nea Grammata” magazine. In chapter eleven he published a series of poems in “Elytis” alias, a name that followed him through the rest of his life. At the same year he met Andreas Empirikos and traveled with him to Mytilene where he discovered Theofilos’ paintings, something that will affect him deeply. The next year he met Nikos Gatsos with whom he became close friends. At the end of the same year he joined the army and during the next year, 1937, he served in Reserve Officer's Cadet School in Corfu. There, he met writer Laurence Darrel permanent habitant in Corfu. Upon the outbreak of the war he served in the rank of Second Lieutenant, first at the Headquarters of the 1st Army Corps and then at the 24th Regiment, on the advanced fire line.
In 1940 S. Baud – Body translated Elytis poems in French. In the meanwhile a study of A. Karantonis “The poetry of Odysseus Elytis” is published in “Nea Grammata”. The next year he got hospitalized in critical condition in Ioannina hospital with typhoid. Under difficult circumstances he got rescued and arrived in Athens.
After the war, in 1946, Elytis wrote critics for the newspaper Kathimerini. He has twice been Programme Director of the Greek National Radio Foundation, 1945-46 and 1953-54, and President of the Administrative Council of the Greek Radio and Television Service in 1945. In 1947 he wrote two essays about Theofilos, the painter. One year later he moved to Paris, where he studied literature at the Sorbonne. During this time he became acquainted with P. Picasso, H. Matisse, Shagal, Leger, Giacometti and other figures of the Parisian art scene. He settled there until 1952. Starting from Paris he travelled and visited subsequently Switzerland, England (where he collaborated with BBC), Italy and Spain. That year there is the first writing of “Aksion Esti” (It is Worthy). But it is only until December 1959 that it is being published from “Ikaros”. Still it was in 1964 that is set music by Mikis Theodorakis, making oratorio “Aksion Esti”.
In 1960 he wrote “Six plus One Remorses for the Sky”. That year a selection of his poems is being published in Germany titled “Korper Des Sommers”. He was also awarded with the A’ National Poetry Award. It was a sad year for the poet as his mother and brother Konstantinos died. In 1961, upon an invitation of the State Department, he travelled through the USA and - upon similar invitations - through the Soviet Union in 1963 and Bulgaria in 1965. He also cooperated with Teriade in founding “Theofilos museum” in Mytilene.
In the following years until 1978, he wrote many series of poems. Some of them are the following: “Sun the First”, “The Light Tree And The Fourteenth Beauty”, “The Sovereign Sun”, “The Trills of Love”, “The Monogram”, “Open Papers”, “Three Poems under a Flag of Convenience”, “Maria Nefeli: A Poem in Two Voices”, and the essays “The Magic of Papadiamantis” and “Report to Andreas Empeirikos”. Some of them are also translated and published in Europe during that time.
In December 10th 1979 he was awarded with Nobel Prize Laureate in Literature by King Charles Gustav of Sweden. Although Elytis spent most of his life in semiseclusion, focused in his art, after the Nobel Prize he was busy traveling a lot. Some years later he was declared honorary professor in University of Rome and the Universities of London and Athens. His poems are translated and published through the world. Magazines, newspapers, radio and television shows dedicated articles and interviews in Odysseus Elytis after 1991.
Elytis never married. During his last years his companion was the poet Ioulita Iliopoulou. In March 18th, 1996, a rainy day at 2 p.m. Odysseas Elytis died from heart attack in his house in Athens. Apart from being a talented writer, Odysseus Elytis was also a talented painter and produced illustrations of his lyrical world in gouaches and collages.
His work has been translated in 29 countries, 20 European. Elytis' poetry is immersed in Greek history and Mythology and is mostly surrealistic. Although he was inspired from them, he did not turn back to Ancient Greece or Byzantium but devoted himself exclusively to today's Hellenism.
Many of his poems were set to music by Greece's most famous composers. Mikis Theodorakis, Manos Hadjidakis, Giannis Markopoulos, Dimitris Lagios, Notis Mavroudis and Linos Kokotos. In this way the poems were made known in people who did not read poetry and are being heard with pleasure.
His most famous and translated collection of poems is “Aksion Esti - It is Worthy”, although it is not easy to be translated. It is divided in three sections, “Genesis”, “The Passion” and “Doxastikon”. Elytis is inspired by the Byzantine liturgy (mass) where he combines the biblical story of the creation with modern Greek history. In the first part the poet identifies himself with the sun and the entire Aegena world and his race. In the second, he passes through a decade of war where he compares the suffering of the humankind with the suffering of Christ.