On this day in 1911, Odysseas Elytis (ne Odysseus Alepoudelis), the Greek poet, was born in Heraklion on the island of Crete. Elytis was the son of a prosperous family from Lesbos, but he abandoned his family name as a young man in order to dissociate his writing from his family’s soap business. Frank J. Prial of the New York Times explained that the poet’s pseudonymous name was actually “a composite made up of elements of Ellas, the Greek word for Greece; elpida, the word for hope; eleftheria, the word for freedom, and Eleni, the name of a figure that, in Greek mythology, personifies beauty and sensuality.” Elytis first became interested in poetry around the age of seventeen. At the same time he discovered surrealism, a school of thought just emerging in France. 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 Nobel Laureate for literature. When Nazi Germany occupied Greece in 1941, Elytis fought against the Italians in Albania. He became something of a bard among young Greeks – who considered his poems anthems 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 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 in 1979.
Also on this day in 1916, Al Campanis, the Greek major league baseball player and executive, was born in Kos. Campanis moved to New York City at age 6 with his family, where he spent his youth. He attended New York University and graduated in 1940. Campanis began his long career (44 years) with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1943 and was their second baseman for a short time. Campanis is most famous for his position as being the general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1968 to 1987 – from which he was fired on April 8, 1987, as a result of remarks perceived as racist regarding African Americans in baseball that he made during an interview on ABC News’ Nightline two days earlier.
On this day in 1968, the ex-premier of Greece, Georgios Papandreou was buried. Papandreou was a Greek politician and the founder of the Papandreou political dynasty. His political career spanned more than five decades – including serving as Greece’s prime minister three times. He studied law in Athens and political science in Berlin. His political philosophy was heavily influenced by German social democracy and as a result, he was adamantly opposed to the monarchy and supported generous social policies (but at the same time was very much against communism). Papandreou’s progressive policies as premier aroused much opposition in conservative circles. In 1965, a crisis developed over Papandreou’s insistence on giving posts to his son Andreas. In the same year, he also clashed with Greek King Constantine II over the control of rightist officers in the army. In July of 1965, the king dismissed Papandreou from the prime ministry, after which a period of political instability ensued in Greece. Two years later, when it became clear that Papandreou’s party was against headed for victory in the upcoming general elections, a military junta seized power in Greece and arrested Papandreou and his son Andreas. They were later released, but the elder Papandreou died soon afterward. His funeral was attended by a million people who marched in defiance of the military dictatorship – the largest anti-junta demonstration.
On this day in 1914, Great Britain annexed Cyprus. In 1571, the mostly Greek-populated island of Cyprus was conquered by the Ottoman Empire, following the Ottoman-Venetian War. After 300 years of Ottoman rule, the island and its population was leased to Britain by the Cyprus Convention, an agreement reached during the Congress of Berlin in 1878 between the United Kingdom and the Ottoman Empire. Britain formally annexed Cyprus on November 5, 1914 as a reaction to the Ottoman Empire’s decision to join the First World War on the side of the Central Powers. Subsequently, the island became a British Crown colony, known as British Cyprus.