Modern Greek Authors #1: Dionysios Solomos

In my February Book Haul I told you that, in my opinion, there is no better author to start studying Modern Greek Literature than Dionysios Solomos. I also said that I was going to explain why in my post about him. Well, if you are still interested in the answer, then read on and find out.But first let me give you some biographical information about the poet…

Dionysios Solomos (1798-1857)

Dionysios Solomos was born in the island of Zakynthos on April 8, 1798. He was the illegitimate child of his father’s—Nikolaos Solomos—affair with his housekeeper Angeliki Nikli, whom he later married two days before his death making Dionysios and his brother his legitimate heirs. (Here’s some gossip for you.) His father’s family were Cretan refugees and his mother was probably from Mani. Solomos also had two siblings, a brother and a sister, from his father’s first marriage with Marnetta Kakni, who died in 1802.
After his father’s death, Dionysios Messalas gained Dionysios Solomos’ custody, who in 1809 sent Solomos to study in Italy. He was initially enrolled at the Lyceum of St. Catherine in Venice, but was later moved to Cremona. In 1817 he graduated from Pavia University, where he had studied Law. During that time he wrote his first poems in Italian. Some of the most important of these poems were Ode per la prima messa (Ode to the first mass) and La distruzione di Gerusalemme (The destruction of Jerusalem).
In 1818, Solomos goes back to Zakynthos. There he gets acquainted with other people interested in literature like Antonios Matesis, Georgios Tertsetis, Dionysios Tagiapieras and Nikolaos Lountzis. The Italian poems he improvised during that period of time were published in 1822, under the title Rime Improvisante and were the only collection of his poems that he published while he was alive.
Solomos’ first important work written in Greek was the Hymn to Liberty, which was completed in 1823 and was inspired by the Greek revolution of 1821. The poem was published both in Greece—in Mesolongi in 1824, which was under siege at that time—and afterwards in Paris in 1825 translated into French and later on in other languages too.
In 1828, he moved to Corfu due to inheritance problems with his brother. Corfu was the perfect place for contemplation and writing poetry, in line with Solomos’ noble ideas about Art. There he studied German romantic philosophy and poetry and he became the central figure of the Heptanese School of poetry.
1833 signifies the mature period of his poetical work, that resulted in the unfinished poems of The Cretan (1833), The Free Besieged (until 1845) and O Porfyras(1847), that are considered to be the best of his works. In the meantime, he was planning other works that either remained at the preparation stage or remained as fragments, such as Nikiforos Vryennios, To the death of Emilia Rodostamou, To Francisca Fraser and Carmen Seculare.
The poet died in February 1857 from apoplexy. His fame had reached such heights so when the news about his death became known, everyone mourned. Corfu’s theater closed down, the Ionian Parliament’s sessions were suspended and mourning was declared. His remains were transferred to Zakynthos in 1865.
Today Dionysios Solomos is considered the national poet of Greece—not only because he wrote the national anthem, but also because he contributed to the preservation of earlier poetic tradition and highlighted its usefulness to modern literature.

So why start with Solomos?

After all, Greece has two Nobelist poets.

The first and obvious reason is the fact that Solomos is considered Greece’s national poet. Like I just mentioned, he wrote our national anthem. The first two stanzas of the Hymn to Liberty were set to music by Nikolaos Mantzaros and turned into the Greek national anthem in 1865. But this is not really the reason why  chose him.

The most important reason why, I always recommend the Hymn to Liberty and The Free Besieged as a start for anyone who wants to study Modern Greek Literature is because of their content. I believe that reading those two poems can help foreigners to begin to understand the Greeks as a nation just a little bit better. I realize that we are a confusing people and that it can be hard for foreigners to understand our way of thinking, our way of living. How? I will explain by talking a little bit about each poem.

Hymn to Liberty

Like I said before, the Hymn to Liberty was inspired by the Greek rebellion of 1821 against the Ottoman Empire. The poem is quite long and it is exactly what its title says it is about. It is a hymn to liberty. But it also describes just how much the Greeks value their freedom and independence. Solomos says in this poem that Freedom was born out of the Greek’s bones (much more poetically of course, but you get the point). I am not trying to say that the Greeks were the first who thought of the concept of freedom. My point with this quote is to depict just how much the need for liberty is ingrained into the Greek DNA. I also think that if all those politicians, who are currently trying to make decisions for my country, had ever taken this and a few other important elements of the Greek way of thinking/living into considerations, then they would have been much MUCH more successful in their attempts than they have been until today.

The Free Besieged

In this poem you will see the Greeks’ need for liberty once more, but this isn’t the reason why I love it so much. The Free Besieged is a poem that was inspired by the second (some consider it the third) and last siege of Mesolongi 1825-1826. In particular, it talks about the struggles of the defenders of the city, who managed to hold the city for an entire year despite their numerical inferiority, the lack of food and supplies. In the end, the Greeks of Mesolongi decided to make one last desperate attempt at freedom. By that time, most of them were starving, they had no weapons and no strength left to fight. But still they decided that they would not allow the Ottomans to win. So, on April 10th, 1826, they opened the gates of the city and each and every last person inside the city came out to fight one last battle, in hopes that the women and children would manage to escape.

I am really bad at explaining this part of Greek history. But it was one of the most moving and inspiring events of the Greek rebellion. The poem itself gives me goosebumps every time I read it. The struggle, the hunger, the hopelessness of the Greeks’ situations are depicted so well that it is as if the readers themselves are inside Mesolongi fighting to survive just one more day, just one more hour, just one more minute.

Even though it was never completed, this poem is a must read. Its translations might not do it justice but if you do read it, then I promise you that you will never forget it. If you read it, then maybe will understand the Greeks’ need for freedom. Maybe you will understand how far a Greek will go to protect what he/she considers important. Maybe you will understand what I mean when I say that Greece is every Greek’s most treasured possession. Maybe you will understand us a little bit better.

To watch…

If you do decide to read these two poems, then I would suggest that you watch these next two videos as well.

In this first one Nikos Ksilouris sings a part of The Free Besieged. The poem itself is very moving, but Ksilouris has managed to add even more to it. It’s not been only once or twice when listening to it has made me cry. The Free Besieged is my favorite poem of all time and this is my favorite part of the poem. You should listen to the song even if you won’t read the poem and tell me if you can feel it too, despite your lack of understanding of the language.

This second video has nothing to do with Dionysios Solomos. However, we are talking about understanding the Greeks and if you understand the meaning of this ‘Greek Secret’, then you will have made the greatest step of understanding the Greek way of life.

His Works

It was very hard to find translations of Solomos’ works. However, I did find ‘The Collected Works of Dionysios Solomos’, which is available for purchase online (Amazon US, Amazon UK, Book Depository). I was also able to find a few online sources of his poems translated in English.

Greek poems

  • His first works
    • Eis korin i opoia anethrefeto mesa eis monastiri-To the girl who was brought up in a monastery
    • Sto thanato tis mikris anipsias-To the small niece’s death
    • Pothos-Desire
    • I skia tou Omirou-Homer’s shadow
    • Anamnisis-Remembrance
    • Evrikomi
    • Eis filon psyxoraggounta-To a friend near death
    • O thanatos tis orfanis-The orphan’s death
    • To oneiro-The dream
    • O thanatos tou voskou-The shepherd’s death
    • H Psyxoula-The little soul
    • Pros ton Kyrion Lodovikon Strani-To sir Lodovikos Stranis
    • Pros ton Kyrion Georgion Dhe Rossi-To sir Georgios De Rossi
    • I Agnoristi-The Unrecognizable
    • Kakioma-The miff
  • 1823-1833: the period of formation
    • Hymn to Liberty (1823)
    • Nekriki Odi-Funerary Ode
    • Poiima lyrikon eis to thanato tou Lord Byron-Lyrical poem “To the death of Lord Byron (1824)
    • Eis monachin-To a nun (1829)
    • Eis Marko Botsari-To Markos Botsaris (1823)
    • I katastrofi ton Psaron-The destruction of Psara (1824)
    • Eis to thanato kyrias Agglidas-To the English lady’s death
    • I Farmakomeni-The poisoned (1826)
    • I Farmakomeni ston Adi-The poisoned in Hades
    • Lampros (1829)
  • Great works of maturity
  • Last drafts
    • Nikiforos o Vryennios
    • Eis to thanato Aimilias Rodostamo-To the death of Emilia Rodostamo (1848)
    • Eis Fragkiskan Fraizer-To Francisca Fraser (1849)
    • Eis to thanato tis anipsias tou-To the death of his niece
    • Pros ton Vasilea tis Elladas-To the King of Greece
    • O Anatolikos Polemos-The Eastern War
    • Carmen Seculare
    • Ellinida Mitera-Greek Mother
  • Satirical works
    • I Protochronia-The New Year’s Eve (1824)
    • To Iatrosymvoulio-The Doctors’ council (1825)
    • To oneiro-The dream (1826)
    • H Tricha-The Hair (1833)

Translations

  • I anoixiSpring by Metastasio
  • To kalokairiSummer by Metastasio
  • Odi tou Petrarchi-Petrarch’s Ode

Greek prose

  • O Dialogos-The Dialogue (1822–1825)
  • H Gynaika tis Zakynthos-The Woman of Zakynthos (1826–1829)

Italian poems (selection)

  • Early works
    • La Distruzione de Gierusalemme-Jerusalem’s destruction
    • Ode per prima messa-Ode to the first mass
    • Rime Improvisate (collection, 1822)
  • Incomplete poems of the last period
    • La navicella Greca-The Greek little boat
    • Saffo-Sappho
    • Orfeo, sonetto-Orpheus
    • Sonetto in morte di Stelio Marcoran-A sonnet on the death of Stelios Marcoras
    • L’albero mistico (frammento-extract)-The mystical tree
    • L’avvelenata (frammenti)-The poisoned
    • Il giovane guerriero (frammenti)-The young warrior
  • Drafts of poems written in prose
    • La madre Greca-The Greek Mother
    • La donna velata-The veiled woman
    • L’usignolo e lo sparviere-The nightingale and the falcon
    • Orfeo-Orpheus
    • Porfyras
  • Italian prose
    • Per Dr. Spiridione Gripari (funeral oration, 1820)
    • Elogio di Ugo Foscolo (oratio in memoriam, 1827)

Further Research…

This blog post was but a tiny summary of the information I found on Dionysios Solomos. If you want to learn more about the poet then here are a couple of links that you might find useful:

  • Wikipedia, yes I know that Wikipedia is not the most reliable source of information that you can find. However, this time I found that the site was very accurate. In fact, some of the paragraphs were almost identical to the book about Solomos I recently bought. It was so close that I used the site to translate several passages from the book. I haven’t included everything, though, so you can go there for more detailed information on the poet.
  • Project Corfu

Time to Vote!

One last thing…

Before I close this post, I wanted to say that my aim with this post was NOT to brag about my country. When I talked about liberty and history and philotimo my goal was to help people understand Greeks a little bit better than they did before reading this post. After all, this is one of the main reasons we study literature; to learn about other people, to learn about foreign countries and civilization. Literature is a unique tool that can help one understand in just a few pages of text, what someone else might have been trying to explain for years. So if I might have come off as pretentious, please believe that bragging is the last thing I am trying to do. The main reason behind this post is to help people learn more about Modern Greek literature. Yes, I am passionate about the things that I wrote here, because I love my country. But I tried to be both genuine and honest and objective in this post. I hope that you enjoyed it.

Now it’s your turn…

Did you like this post?

Had ever heard of Dionysios Solomos before?

Have you read any of Solomos’ works? Would you like/Are you going to read some of his poems in the future?

Which other Greek authors do you want me to talk about in this series?

Did you know that there are two Greek Nobelist authors? Do you know their names?

And also…

Did you watch the two videos?

What did you think about them?

Did the song make you feel anything, or was it all Greek to you’?

Tell me all about it in the comments below…

 

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