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Literature

Celebrating the Work of Greek Poet Kostis Palamas

January 16, 2022

Greek poet Kostis Palamas, known for writing the lyrics to the Olympic Anthem, was a central figure of the Greek literary generation of the 1880s and one of the cofounders of the so-called New Athenian School. He was born in Patras on January 13, 1859.

In 1887, Palamas married Maria Valvi, his childhood sweetheart and they had three children, Leandros, Nafsika, and Alkis- who tragically died at the age of four. Palamas was deeply affected by the tragedy and wrote the poem The Tomb, dedicated to his lost son.

Palamas was appointed Secretary of the University of Athens in 1897, a position he held until 1928. Among his major works are The Eye of My Soul (1892), The Static Life (1904), and Twelve Sayings of the Gypsy (1907). Palamas was appointed President of the Athens Academy at age 70. He passed away on February 27, 1943 just one month after the death of his beloved wife. His funeral during the dark days of World War II was a rallying point for the Greek resistance as thousands of mourners recited his poems and sang the banned Greek National Anthem.

Although Palamas never won the Nobel Prize for Literature, he was nominated 14 times for the prestigious prize, every year from 1926-1938 and in 1940, and is considered one of the greatest poets of Greece. French author Romain Rolland, who won the Nobel for Literature himself in 1915, considered Palamas the greatest poet in Europe when he nominated him for the prize in 1930.

The poet’s office at his house, now the Cultural Center Kostis Palamas, in Patras. Photo: Nikolaos Kotopoulis, via Wikimedia Commons

Palamas was also one of the most respected literary critics of his day, and was instrumental in the reappraisal of earlier Greek poets including Andreas Kalvos, Dionysios Solomos and the Ionian School of poetry, as well as Kostas Krystallis.

Palamas’ former residence in the city of Patras reopened to the public in 2018 as a cultural center after a complete renovation.

Then-President of the Hellenic Republic Prokopios Pavlopoulos attended the inauguration ceremony which was held at the house on Corinthou Street. The building was bought and restored thanks to the funding of Greek-American businessman Athanasios Stefanopoulos.

In honor of Palamas’ 163rd birthday, add the following to your reading list this winter. Palamas’ collected works in Greek are available online. Flogera tou Vasilia, The King’s Flute, first published in 1910, is available in a bilingual Greek and English edition from 1982, translated by Theodore P. Stephanides and George C. Katsimbalis.

Simeiomata sto perithorio (Notes in the Margin) (2018) is a collection of notes by Palamas, in Greek, edited and with an introduction by Mara Psalti, first published in magazines and covering a period of 14 years (1909-1923). In her introduction, Psalti suggests reading them as potential entries in three distinct diaries, offering insights into Palamas’ work. The book includes 180 “Notes” by Palamas and an Appendix with explanations of terms and names, sources, and connections of those mentioned in the “Notes” with other texts by Palamas.

Kostis Palamas: A Portrait and an Appreciation by Theofanis G. Stavrou, C. A. Trypanis, Theodore Stephanides, and George Katsimbalis was first published in 1985 and includes essays on the life and work of the poet as well as two of Palamas’ poetic works.

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