Kostis Palamas

Summary

Kostis Palamas (Patras, 13 January 1859 – Athens, 27 February 1943) was a Greek poet, prose writer, playwright, historian and literary critic. He is considered one of the most important Greek poets, with a significant contribution to the development and renewal of modern Greek poetry. He was a central figure of the literary generation of the 1880s, a pioneer, along with Nikos Kampas and Georgios Drosinis, of the so-called New Athenian (or Palamics) school.

He was born in Patras on 13 January 1859 to parents from Messolonghi. His father”s family was a family of scholars, with considerable intellectual activity, and involved in religion. His great-grandfather Panagiotis Palamas (1722-1803) had founded the famous ”Palamas School” in Messolonghi and his grandfather John had taught at the Patriarchal Academy in Constantinople. His uncle Andreas Palamas was a protopsalpitist and hymn writer, whom Kostis Palamas Mamalakis mentions in his ”Diaghima” (2nd edition, 1929, p. 200). Michael Efstathiou Palamas (Andreas” brother) and Panaretos Palamas were ascetics. Dimitrios I. Palamas, also an uncle of Kostis, was a cantor and hymn writer in Messolonghi. His father was a judge by profession.

When the poet was 6 years old he lost both his parents within forty days (December 1864 – February 1865). Close relatives then took care of the three children of the family, his younger brother by his mother”s sister and him and his older brother by their uncle Dimitrios Palamas, who lived in Messolonghi and was a teacher. There he lived from 1867 to 1875 in a rather unpleasant and depressing atmosphere, which was bound to affect his sensitive psyche, as can be seen from poems referring to his childhood.

After graduating from high school, he settled in Athens in 1875, where he enrolled at the Law School. He soon abandoned his studies, however, determined to pursue literature. He wrote his first poem at the age of 9, imitating the models of his time, a ”poem for laughs”, as he later described it. The beginning of that poem was: “I love you, I have fallen in love with you, and you, with your starry eyes, do not – you answered me – do not, mortal, dare to speak through your presence the hours of beauty that I have lived in the world …”.

From 1875 he published various poems, literary articles, reviews and chronicles in newspapers and magazines. In 1876 he submitted to the Voutsinian Poetry Competition a collection of poems, Eroton Epis, in clear verse, with clear influences of the First Athenian School. The collection was rejected with the description of ”literate grammarian”s cold lyrical gymnastics”. His first independent publication was the poem ”Messolonghi” in 1878. From 1898 he and his two friends and fellow students Nikos Kampas (with whom he shared the same room) and Georgios Drosinis began to collaborate with the political-satirical newspapers ”Rambagas” and ”Non Chanesai”. The three friends were aware of the decline of Athenian Romanticism and their work presented a new poetic proposal, which of course annoyed the older poets, who contemptuously called them “paeddarelias” or poets of the “New School”.

In 1886 his first collection of poems, Songs of my Country in the vernacular, was published, which is in perfect harmony with the atmosphere of the New Athenian School. In 1887 he married his compatriot Maria Valvi, who supported him throughout his life and they had three children, including Leander Palamas. An indication of his establishment as a poet was the commissioning of the composition of the Hymn of the Olympic Games in 1896.

In 1898, after the death of his son Alkis at the age of four, he published the poetic composition “The Tomb”. In 1897 he was appointed secretary at the University of Athens, from which he retired in 1928. From the same year (1897) he began to publish his most important poetry collections and compositions, such as Iambs and Anapiestoi (1897), Asalei Zoi (1904), The Dodecatalogue of the Gyftos (1907), The King”s Flute (1910). In 1918 he was awarded the National Award of Arts and Letters, while from 1926 he was a key member of the Academy of Athens, of which he became president in 1930.

During the Greek-Italian war of 1940, Kostis Palamas, together with other Greek scholars, subscribed to the appeal of the Greek Intellectuals to the intellectuals of the whole world, which on the one hand denounced the malicious Italian attack and on the other hand, stimulated the world public opinion to a revolution of conscience for a common new spiritual Marathon.

He died in old age on 27 February 1943 after a serious illness, 40 days after the death of his wife (which he had not been informed of because his own health was in a critical condition). His son Leander, according to the testimony of Konstantinos Tsatsos, did not want his father”s funeral to take on an ethno-patriotic dimension, because he feared that the Italian occupation authorities would deprive him of his passport. The poet”s funeral was historic, as thousands of people accompanied him to his final resting place, in front of the astonished German conquerors, at the First Cemetery of Athens, singing the National Anthem.

The Palamas House

Palamas” house in Patras is preserved to this day at 241 Korinthou Street, in the centre of the city. Three years before Palamas” birth, the great Italian prose writer Mathilde Serrao was born in the same house.

Palamas was one of the most prolific Greek writers and intellectuals. He published a total of forty collections of poetry, as well as plays, critical and historical essays, comparative studies and book reviews.The editing of the republication of his works after his death was undertaken by his son Leander Palamas, also a poet and literary critic.

Poetic work

His poetic work is large in scope and importance and had a huge impact in his time. Diametrically opposed political and intellectual personalities such as Konstantinos Tsatsos and Nikos Zacharias felt the need to take a stand against the Dodecanalogue of Gyftos. Mikis Theodorakis has said that Palamas was more influential than 10 Prime Ministers. Interest in his work declined in post-war Greece, when different aesthetic currents took hold and interest in poetry in general declined.

His first two collections, Songs of my Country and My Soul”s Eyes, still had echoes of the romanticism of the First Athenian School and some remnants of clear verse. The first important stop in his work was the collection Iamboi i Anapistes (1897), mainly for its renewed metre, with its alternation of iambic and anapiste rhythm (he noted that he was motivated by Kalvos” metre), but also for its expressive simplicity and clarity. His next work, Tafos (1898), consists of poems-fatalistic poems about the death of his son Alkis. The first period of his creative work closes with the collection Asaleite Zoi (1904), which contains material from all the previous years of his activity. Central to the collection are the poems The Phoenicia (acknowledged as perhaps his best work), Ascraeus and Chains (making up the “Great Visions” section) and the sonnet section Patridae.

The leading expression of Palamas” “lyrical thought” is The Dodecatalogue of the Vulture (1907). In his spiritual journey, Gyftos will tear down and rebuild the whole world. He will renounce work, love, religion, antiquity, Byzantium and all homelands, but he will raise them all through Art, including the great chimera of the age, the Great Idea. He will sing the praises of his free people, but he will also sing a Nietzschean untamed hero. He will end by worshipping Nature and Science.

”The King”s Flute” (1910) is set in Byzantium and tells the story of the journey of Basil II (”Voulgarokitoron”) to Athens. The central point of the play is the emperor”s pilgrimage to the Parthenon, which has become a temple of the Virgin Mary. This symbolizes for the poet the synthesis and unity of the whole history of Hellenism, ancient, Byzantine and modern. The inspiration of the King”s Flute is also the result of the then renewed interest in the Byzantine Empire, but especially the Macedonian Struggle.

After the large compositions, he returned to smaller lyrical forms with the collections The Sorrows of Limnothalassa and The State and Solitude (1912), along with which he published his satirical poems (Satirical gymnastics). His subsequent collections generally presented nothing new in his poetic development, except in his last, The Circle of Quatrains (1929) and The Nights of Femius (1935) consisting exclusively of short quatrained poems.

The relationship with demoticism

The time of the appearance of Kostis Palamas, but also of the other poets of the New Athenian School, coincided with the rise of the problematic on the linguistic issue. In 1888 Psicharis”s My Journey was published, while the Constantinos Kontos-Dim. Vernardakis controversy had preceded it in 1882. While demotic poetry was gradually established (with the contribution of the poets of the New Athenian School), prose (and of course official speech) was dominated by katharevousa. Palamas, a supporter of the demotic, greeted My Journey with favourable criticism. Just one day after reading it, he wrote the article “The revolutionary book of Mr. Psiharis”, expressing enthusiastic criticisms, without, of course, failing to point out the author”s extremes. His support for all efforts to establish the demotic was constant and practical. He collaborated with the demoticist journal-organ O Noumas from its very first issue and wrote not only his poems but also his (few) short stories in demotic.

It is noteworthy that while in his literary (and later in his critical) work he used demotic, as Secretary of the University he was obliged to write official documents in strict katharevousa. As he himself stated in a letter, in his literary work he was ”hairy” and in his service ”Atticist from head to toe”. His official position, naturally, could hardly be combined with support for demoticism. He was often the focus of attacks, especially during the “Evangelicals” (1901) and the “Oresteia” (1903). Nevertheless, he did not hesitate to declare publicly that demoticism was his virtue (1908). Because of his views on the linguistic question, he suffered a series of persecutions and for a time, he was dismissed from his post.

Prose work

Catalogue of theatrical performances based on the work of K. Palamas.

He was one of the most important modern Greek critics. He was responsible for the reappraisal of the work of Andreas Kalvos, Dionysios Solomos, the Ionian School in general, Kostas Krystallis and others.

It should be noted that the first works of Kostis Palamas to be translated into English were “The Unalloyed Life”, “The Triseygene”, “The Death of the Old Man” and others followed. In French, the first were “The Tomb”, “The Gypsy”s Dodecanalogue”, “Death of a Boy”, etc., while many passages from other collections were translated into other languages such as German, Italian, Spanish, Arabic and Turkish.

member in 1926, and was elected president in 1930.

Digital archive ERT

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Sources

  1. Κωστής Παλαμάς
  2. Kostis Palamas
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