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Kostis Palamas, One of the Greatest Greek Poets

kostis palamas greek poet
The Greek poet Kostis Palamas. Credit: Public Domain

Kostis Palamas was not only one of the major Greek poets of modern times. He was also one of the most inspiring figures of Hellenism, as pieces of his literary work were adopted as national poems of the young modern Greek state.

Born in Patras on January 13, 1859, Palamas tragically lived long enough to witness Greece being occupied by German forces during World War II. He died on February 27, 1943.

Palamas’ enormous body of poetic work is imbued with history, Hellenism, and the formation of the “Great Idea” for his homeland, while at the same time, it dealt with everyday man and his feelings. He was named Greece’s National Poet during his lifetime.

Greek poet Kostis Palamas was a significant figure for Hellenism

The poet’s lyricism and word-crafting skills were remarkable, but aside from his status as a national bard, Palamas was also a literary critic, a writer of prose, and a literary philosopher.

Palamas lost both of his parents at an early age. In 1864, his mother Penelope died while giving birth, and less than a year later, his father Michael passed away as well.

The six-year-old Kostis was then taken care of by his uncle, Dimitrios Palamas, and he moved to his home in Messolonghi. The young boy stayed there from 1867 until 1875. He began writing poems and literature as early as high school.

As soon as he completed high school, in 1876, he moved to Athens, where he enrolled in the Law School at Athens University. His studies, however, did not last long, since the heart of young Palamas longed to write poetry and focus on literature in general. He began working as a journalist to make a living, using different aliases, and he wrote feverishly.

Palamas soon stood out from his colleagues. He became the founder of the “New Athenian School” in poetry, and in 1886, he published his first collection of poems, titled Songs of My Fatherland.

In 1887, he married Maria Valvi, with whom he had three children, Nafsika, Leandros, and Alkis. His youngest son, Alkis, died at the age of five, and the poet was lost in grief. In memory of Alkis, he wrote “Tomb” (1898), a magnificent elegy.

His many honors and awards

In 1879, Palamas was appointed Secretary of the University of Athens and, until his resignation in 1928 as secretary-general, he won many honorary distinctions.

In 1924, the French Government honored Palamas with the Legion of Honor, and in 1929, he was appointed President of the Academy of Sciences there. Early in 1933, he was honored with the “Goethe” medal by the German ambassador to Athens.

Palamas was declared the Interim President of the newly established section of the International Writers’ Union as well. In 1934, the Spanish government honored him with the “Plaque del l’Ordre de la Republique” medal, and a year later, he was awarded the Medal of the Milanese Library of Congress.

In 1936, Palamas celebrated his fifty-year contribution to Greek poetry and literature by receiving the title of Dean of the Royal Order for his contributions to Letters and Art from the Ministry of Education. In 1937, his statue was raised in Messolonghi.

Palamas’ wife, Maria, passed away on February 9, 1943. A few days later, on February 27, 1943, Palamas himself died. As many as a hundred thousand Greeks paid their respects to the National Poet before the shocked eyes of the Germans, who were occupying the country in those years.

Palamas’ collections of poetry

Songs of my Fatherland (1886)
Hymn to Athena (1889)
Eyes of my Soul (1892)
Iambs and Anapaests (1897)
The Grave (1898)
The Greetings of the Sun-born (1900)
The Motionless Life (1904)
Twelve Lays of the Gypsy (1907)
The King’s flute (1910)
Yearnings of the Lagoon (1912)
Satirical Exercises (1912)
The State and Solitude (1912)
Altars (1915)
Extempora (1919)
The 14 verses (1919)
The 5 verses – The passionate secret whispers – The Wolves – Two flowers from afar (1925)
Cowardly and Harsh verses (1928)
The 3 Verse Cycle (1929)
Passages and Greetings (1931)
The Nights of Phemius (1935)
Evening Fire (1944, posthumous edition by his son, Leandros Palamas)

Prose

Death of a Youth (novel, 1901)
Novels (1920)

Famous verses

“This I tell you, and nothing else: Get drunk on the immortal wine of 1821.”
“The greatness of a people is not measured in acres. It’s measured with the fire in their hearts and their blood.”

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