May 12, 2022

Tribute to the work of the Greek poet Kostis Palamas

The Greek poet Kostis Palamas, known for writing the lyrics to the Olympic anthem, was a central figure in the Greek literary generation of the 1880s and one of the co-founders 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 died tragically at the age of four. Palamas was deeply affected by the tragedy and wrote the poem Le Tombeau, 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 Academy of Athens at the age of 70. He died 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 for the prestigious prize 14 times, each year from 1926 to 1938 and in 1940, and is considered one of Greece’s greatest poets. French author Romain Rolland, who himself won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1915, considered Palamas Europe’s greatest poet when he nominated him for the prize in 1930.

The poet’s office in his house, now the Kostis Palamas Cultural Center, 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 reappraising earlier Greek poets including Andreas Kalvos, Dionysios Solomos and the Ionian school of poetry, as well as Kostas Krystallis.

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

The then President of the Hellenic Republic, Prokopios Pavlopoulos, attended the inauguration ceremony held in the house on Corinthou Street. The building was purchased and restored with funding from Greek-American businessman Athanasios Stefanopoulos.

In honor of Palamas’ 163rd birthday, add the following to your reading list this winter. The complete works of Palamas 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 his introduction, Psalti suggests reading them as potential entries in three separate journals, offering insight into Palamas’ work. The book includes 180 “Notes” from Palamas and an appendix with explanations of terms and names, sources and links of those mentioned in the “Notes” with other Palamas texts.

Kostis Palamas: A Portrait and an Appreciation by Theofanis G. Stavrou, CA 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 the poetic works of Palamas.