Odysseus Alepoudhélis Biography


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

The offspring of a family originating on the island of Lesbos (or Mitilini), in the eastern Aegean, Odysseus Elytis was born Odysseus Alepoudhelis in Heraklion, Crete, the sixth and last child of Panyiotis Alepoudhelis, a successful soap manufacturer, and Maria Vranas, of Byzantine extraction. In 1914, the family settled permanently in Athens, where Elytis went to high school, but summers spent in Lesbos, Crete, and other Aegean islands provided him with what was to be his poetic world in terms of imagery, symbols, language, and cultural identity.

Elytis’s early literary interests were given an outlet and direction through his chance discovery of the poetry of Paul Éluard in 1929. From 1930 to 1935, Elytis attended the law school of the University of Athens but never was graduated. His meeting with the orthodox Surrealist poet Andreas Embiriíkos (1901-1975) in 1935 decidedly enhanced his own Surrealist inclinations. That same year, Elytis published his first poems in the periodical Nea Ghramata, recently founded by the poet and critic Andréas Karandonis (1910-1982); under Karandonis’s editorship, Nea Ghramata soon became the rallying center of the new poetry and prose in Greece. Elytis’s first collection of poems, Prosanatolizmi (orientations), appeared in December, 1939.

Fascist Italy attacked Greece from Albania in 1940, and in 1940-1941 Elytis served as a second lieutenant on the Albanian front, where he almost perished in a military hospital from typhoid. During the Nazi occupation of Greece, his second...

(The entire section is 642 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Like many other Greek poets, Odysseus Elytis (EHL-ee-tees) was a product of the islands. His family is originally from Lesbos, the home of the lyric poets Sappho (c. 650-590 b.c.e.) and Alcaeus (c. 625-575 b.c.e.). Elytis himself was born on the island of Crete. On numerous trips, Elytis visited other islands throughout the Aegean, each with its unique history and customs. The poet’s childhood was thus rich in visual images, time-honored traditions, and the sights and sounds of a vast poetic heritage.{$S[A]Alepoudhélis, Odysseus;Elytis, Odysseus}

Elytis’s mother, Maria Vranas, and his father, Paniotis Alepoudhelis, had become wealthy through the marketing of soap. Later in his life, Odysseus adopted the pseudonym “Elytis” to distinguish himself from the mercantile associations of his family. In 1914 Elytis moved to Athens and began a broad education in the humanities and fine arts. His interests included not only poetry but also art, ballet, theater, and history. These concerns would help shape many aspects of his later career.

One school of poetry held a particularly strong fascination for the young Elytis: French Surrealism, represented at that time by such figures as André Breton, Tristan Tzara, and Louis Aragon. Elytis himself became associated with this literary movement in 1929 when he met the poet Paul Éluard. Éluard’s union of the surreal with the realistic and his belief that poetry was an art for every stratum of society had a profound impact upon Elytis’s thought. Éluard’s resistance to fascism also influenced Elytis, who would become an outspoken voice against Nazism.

From 1930 to 1935 Elytis studied law at the University of Athens. In his final year there, he met the Greek poet Andreas Embirikos, who furthered...

(The entire section is 751 words.)