Angelos Sikelianos Critical Essays


(Poetry Criticism)

Angelos Sikelianos 1884-1951

Greek poet and dramatist.

A leading figure in twentieth-century Greek literature, Sikelianos is remembered chiefly for his poetry and dramas written in celebration of the intellectual, spiritual, and esthetic ideals of Hellenism. Rich in imagery and symbolism, which are often drawn from the traditions of both Christianity and Greek mythology, his works convey their author's strong identification with nature and his desire to express universal human experiences.

Biographical Information

The youngest of seven children, Sikelianos was born on the island of Levkas. He studied law in Athens for two years, but abandoned his studies to join a theater group in 1902. After publishing some early poems in literary periodicals, he established himself as one of the most important new poets in Greece with Alafroiskiotos, which has been described as the “spiritual autobiography” of his youth. A tour of the monasteries on Mount Athos and other historic sites with the novelist Nikos Kazantzakis in 1914 and 1915 instilled in Sikelianos an admiration for Greek history and culture that would eventually dominate his writings. During World War II, the occupation of Greece by Italian and German forces aroused his patriotic spirit, and he responded by giving public readings of his nationalistic works denouncing tyranny. Following the war, he was elected president of the Society of Greek Writers. After suffering a debilitating stroke, he died in 1951.

Major Works

Sikelianos's poetry has been praised for its rich lyricism and its sophisticated allusions to various philosophies and religious traditions of ancient Greece. In Alafroiskiotos, which symbolically presents the reawakening of the Hellenic spirit, Sikelianos celebrates the natural world and recasts Greek myth in personal terms. The five-volume Prologhos sti zoi is regarded as his most ambitious poetic work and the most complete expression of his philosophy. Dedicated to what he perceived as the five components of experience—nature, race, love, religion, and the will to create—Prologhos sti zoi explores his conception of the universal religious myth. The death of Sikelianos's sister inspired another important work, Mitir Theou, in which the central figure symbolizes both the Virgin Mary and the Greek goddess Demeter, and blending of sources that critics consider typical of his approach to poetry.

Critical Reception

Critics have noted similarities between Sikelianos's works and those of other Greek poets of the twentieth century, particularly George Seferis and Kostes Palamas. While Sikelianos shared an affinity for Greek mythology with Seferis and a sympathy for the Greek people with Palamas, his own poetry is distinguished by its incorporation of Christian themes. Additional analyses have focused on his patriotism, manifest in his use of Greek mythology and history and his advocacy of Greek political liberation.