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...
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