Issue 78, Summer 1980
Odysseus Elytis was born in Heraklion, Crete, on November 2nd, 1911, the sixth child of a wealthy soap manufacturer named Panaghiotis Alepoudhelis. He adopted his pen-name, a fusing of the French elite and allusions to three key Greek concepts: eleutheros (freedom), elpitha (hope) and Elene (Helen of Troy), when he began publishing poems in the ’30s. Strongly influenced at the outset by French surrealism, Elytis was an important member of the Generation of the Thirties who redefined the course of Greek letters in the direction of a new Hellenism. He first gained prominence as a poet during World War 11, with the publication of the Heroic and Elegiac Song for the Lost Second Lieutenant in the Albanian Campaign. Today, he and Yannis Ritsos are considered Greece’s leading living poets.
Elytis’ best-known work is The Axion Esti (1959), published in the United States by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 1974 in a translation by Edmund Keeley and George Savidis, A translation of The Sovereign Sun, Selected Poems by Kimon Friar was also published by Temple University Press in that year. The work that follows is from Elytis’ most recent book, Maria Nephele, to be published next year by Houghton Mifflin Company in a translation by Athan Anagnostopoulos. In an interview with Ivarlvask in a 1975 issue of Books Abroad devoted to his work, Elytis said: