Under Turkish rule, Greek literature virtually ceased, except in Crete. In the late 18th cent. two patriots, the poet Rhigas Pheraios (1751-98) and the intellectual Adamantios Koraës (1748-1833), sought to encourage a revival of Greek letters. The revolutionary society Philike Hetairea, founded in 1816, reflected the growing influence in Greece of the French Enlightenment and the rise of European romanticism; both furnished the intellectual framework for the War of Independence (1821-27) and spurred the postwar nationalist revival that awakened a modern Greek literature.
Literature was hampered, however, by conflict between supporters of the demotic, or popular, literary style, and adherents of a reformed classical style. The Greeks had been completely cut off from the classical tradition by centuries of Turkish occupation and the successful revolution had created such pride in the new nation that there were many champions of a demotic style. Others hoped to restore the classical language which, until the 15th cent., had had an unbroken tradition. Throughout the rest of the 19th cent. and also in the 20th cent., the reformed classical and demotic styles were upheld by uncompromising adherents.
Displaying the impact of Byron's romanticism, the poetry of Alexandros Rangabe (1810-92) offered the finest example of the classical style. Demetrios Vernadakis (1834-1907) and Spyridon Vasiliadis (1845-74) were 19th-century dramatists who wrote romantic plays in classical speech forms. While only recognized as the official language in 1976, demotic Greek won increasing acceptance in all literary genres, particularly in poetry, which flourished above all other forms in modern Greek literature.
The Ionian poets of the middle and late 19th cent. freely used the vernacular. Their leader was Dionysios Solomos (1798-1857), a poet strongly under the influence of German idealism, whose "Ode to Liberty" became the national anthem. Others were Andreas Kalvos (1796-1869), Andreas Lascaratos (1811-1901), the poet Aristotle Valaoritis (1824-79), and the critic Jacob Polylas (1824-96). The Greek-French Jean Psichari (1854-1929) aroused a storm with his satire of the purists, The Voyage (1888), and the publication in 1901 of a demotic translation of the New Testament caused a riot in Athens among university students.
The demotic had the staunch support of such outstanding poets as Kostes Palamas; the classicist Constantine Cavafy (1863-1933); the popular George Drossinis (1859-1951); and the collector of folk poetry, Apostolos Melachrinos. The short stories of Alexandros Papadiamandis (1851-1911) and Argyris Eftaliotis (1849-1923) expressed indigenous themes in the vernacular. Demotic dramatists include the naturalists Ioannis Kambisis (1872-1902) and the psychological dramatist Gregorios Xenopoulos (1867-1951), also an outstanding novelist. In 1927 the poet Angelos Sikelianos and his wife furthered the demotic cause with presentations at Delphi of classic Greek drama in the vernacular.
In general, 20th-century Greek literature reflects the evolution of European modernism in such various forms as French symbolism and surrealism or British-American experiments in narrative technique. Symbolism appears in the work of George Seferis and George Kostiras, surrealism in that of Odysseus Elytis. Recognized as masters of modern Greek letters, Seferis and Elytis each received the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1963 and 1979, respectively. The poet Maria Polydouri (1902-30) gained renown through her intense, erotic love lyrics. The effort of modern Greek writers to achieve a synthesis of the rich traditions of the Greek heritage is well represented in the work of Nikos Kazantzakis.
Novelists such as Stratis Tsirkas (1911-81), Costas Taktsis (1927-), and Vassilis Vassilikos (1934-) have combined formal innovation with a close analysis of postwar Greek society. Meanwhile, a group of women lyric poets have gained distinction, including Victoria Theodorou (1928-), Angeliki Paulopoulou (1930-), Eleni Fourtouni (1933-), and Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke (1934-). In 1967 the government of King Constantine II was overthrown in a bloodless coup by a group of army colonels; despite strict censorship, antigovernment works still found their way into print. With the fall of the military government in 1974, civil liberties were restored and censorship ceased.
See W. Barnstone, ed., Eighteen Texts: Writings by Contemporary Greek Authors (1972); E. Keeley and P. Bien, ed., Modern Greek Writers (1972); C. A. Trypanis, Greek Poetry from Homer to Sefaris (1981).
A number of scholars have termed the Greek romances as chivalric, yet they appear neither to imitate nor to have assimilated anything of the western chivalric ideal. The similarities of the central hero to the knight of the western courtly romance are limited to the external characteristics of the noble knight, in his capacity both as a warrior and as a hunter, and to his exceptional valour and beauty. The codification of the system of values of feudal society as expressed in the ideal of western chivalry is absent from Byzantine and post-Byzantine works. The social and ideological base of the Greek romances is quite different. Furthermore, the ideal of love that is portrayed is substantially different to the standards of courtly love in the western tradition, while there is considerable difference with regard to the subject of adultery, which appears only very rarely and was quite foreign to the Byzantine notion of love. Apart from the story of Helen and Paris, which in any case was handed down from antiquity, as related in the Tale of Troy (the Byzantine Iliad), the notion of love is encountered only in Livistros and Rodamne, where the sub-plot concerns an adulterous relationship.
Translations and adaptations of western European romances into the vernacular Greek of the day date to the 14th and 15th century: the Theseid is a translation of Boccaccio’s "Teseida", while Imberios, Margarona, Florios and Platziaflora were both based on the Italian versions of the Old French romances "Pierre de Provence et la Belle Maguelonne" and "Floire et Blanchefleur". To this group of works can also be added The War of Troy, a translation of Benoît de Sainte-Maure's "The Romance of Troy".
The flourishing Cretan school was all but terminated by the Turkish capture of the island in the 17th century. The ballads of the klephts, however, survive from the 18th century; these are the songs of the Greek mountain fighters who carried on guerrilla warfare against the Turks.
The Korakistika (1819), a lampoon written by Jakovakis Rizos Neroulos and directed against the Greek intellectual Adamantios Korais, is a good example of its kind. Until recently, the first satire in the modern Greek tradition was thought to be the Anonymous of 1789. Today, however, an earlier work, dated 1785, and bearing the title Alexandrovodas the Callous, can claim to be the first of this genre in Greek. Written by Georgakis Soutsos Dragoumanakis, the target of its invective is Alexander Mavrokordatos, ruler of Moldavia, referred to in the work as the Fugitive. Two works from the mid 18th century, the Stoicheiomachia (1746) and the Bosporomachia (1766), printed by Evgenios Voulgaris and attached to a verse translation of Voltaire’s Memnon were the products of Phanariot circles. Both texts display a growing awareness of the natural landscape and foreshadow the age of lyricism that was to follow, while also legitimizing to an extent the mixed linguistic register of the Greek then spoken in Constantinople, with its mingling of a great number of Turkish words, a feature that was to appear in Phanariot poetry a few years later.
The turn of the century saw the rise of two major authors. Rigas Feraios and Adamantios Korais. Rigas was born in Velestino, Thessaly, in 1757, where he received his basic education. With the capture of Bucharest by the Austro-Russian alliance he moved on to Vienna for a period of six months (1790), and it was there that he printed his first book: The School for Delicate Lovers. It brought the climate of pre-Romanticism and the ‘new sensibility’ to modern Greek prose writing, while at the same time it constituted a fiery declaration of the radical ideas that were shaking Europe. Marriage that broke the barriers of social class, demands for social equality, a new role for women – indeed, the entire programme of the Enlightenment – filled the sensuous tales of The School for Delicate Lovers, which, ‘giving pleasure and instruction’, can be seen to belong to the wider programme of social change and reform of the day. The literature of enlightenment which Rigas undertook to bring to the knowledge of his fellow Greeks constantly sought to find a balance between the didactic, the new ideology, and the social, thematic and technical innovations of a new literariness. The popular, Constantinopolitan language, as well as the interposed verses, many of which are to be found in the manuscript anthologies of the Phanariots, served to familiarize the readership with the new literary genre of the novella or short story.
Adamantios Korais spent most of his long life outside the bounds of the Ottoman state. Born in Smyrna in 1748, he learnt foreign languages at an early age and grew up in an environment that fostered respect for learning and literature. His translations and publishing activity were governed by a desire to give his countrymen access to the learning of the West and also to arouse their interest in the literature of their ancient forebears. In 1804, he gave material evidence of his interest in the ancient writers by publishing an edition of Heliodorus’ Aithiopika, the first in a series of ancient writers that was given the title Elliniki Vivliothiki (Greek Library). The books in this series, which included authors such as Aristotle, Plutarch, Isocrates, Xenophon and Plato, were prefaced with scholarly introductions and supplemented with detailed commentaries. Following the Franco-Turkish rapprochement, Korais came to believe that his people required systematic long-term preparation, above all in the field of learning, in order through their own efforts to gain independence.
The poetic work of the Ionian islander Andreas Kalvos, also born in Zakynthos in 1792, consists of twenty Odes written in the Greek language. He penned a total of twenty Odes about the Greek revolution. The language he used is highly poetic, his versification classical, and the ideology expressed within these lines worthy of great poetry. They are contained in two collections he published at a young age, The Lyre (Odes 1-10 headed by a short invocation to the Muses in verse) and Lyric Poems (Odes 11-20). These twenty poems together bear the title of Odes. His other, less important, works were written in Italian in the previous decade (1811-1821) and comprise three tragedies and a few odes, marked by the literary influence of Ugo Foscolo and neo-Classicism. During the rest of his life Kalvos published no other poems. His overriding aim was to achieve a combination of Romanticism and Neo-Classicism and to lend kydos to the revolution. Initially his work was unknown, but today the quality of his writing and his importance in the shaping of the modern nation is undisputed.
Makriyannis (1797-1864) was a distinguished memoir writer. Ioannis Triantaphyllodimitris, or Triantaphyllou, his real name, was born in the village of Avoriti in Doris. His turbulent life, driven by a fighter’s spirit and passion and endowed with the genuine sensibility of simple folk, has been rightly seen as a symbol of modern Hellenism. Makriyannis’ Memoirs were initially published as an important historical document. It was for this reason that his rambling Visions and Marvels were ignored at the time, being considered not worth publishing. Makriyannis had been illiterate. His need to record the events he had lived through persuaded him to acquire just enough knowledge of reading and writing to enable him to set down his memoirs; he was untouched by scholarly tradition. However, that they have been acknowledged and survived is not only because of their importance as an historical source of information or because of their ideology. It is also because of the language in which they were written. The immediacy and passion of his writing as well as his total absorption in popular tradition and popular mores distinguish his Memoirs from those of other patriots, making him one of the most authentic writers of modern Greek prose. This is proved by the wide appreciation of his work in later years.
If any one individual were to be considered responsible for the image the Greeks have about themselves and their history, that person would be Constantine Paparrigopoulos. He wrote his five-volume History of the Greek Nation between 1860 and 1874 and, since then, his ideas have been promulgated in every conceivable way: incorporated into other texts, repeated by thousands of lecturers, memorised by generations of students and eventually absorbed by the nation, which gradually saw itself in the image conceived by Paparrigopoulos. The success of this work was so great that few remember the image-maker and even fewer are aware of the imagery involved in the formation of the concept of Greekness. Paparrigopoulos succeeded in convincing his public that things had always been so. The picture he presented was seen as a mirror of the collective self. History of the Greek Nation was re-issued several times with additions concerning more recent events by other authors. A century later, in 1971, when a new monumental history began to be published, incorporating all the research and studies carried out in the meantime, Paparrigopoulos’ History retained its title and its original historiographical pattern.Study of the Life of Modern Greeks and of Modern Greek Mythology by Nikolaos Politis in 1871 constitutes the birth certificate of folklore as a science. Its young author had recently been awarded a prize for his essay On the customs and lore of modern Greece in comparison with those of ancient Greece. Thus was born Greek folklore as a field of study; to be more precise, the study of folklore was now being born in Greece, for in that same year The Folk Life of Modern Greeks and Greek Antiquity by Bernhard Schmidt appeared in Leipzig and signalled a transition from archeological folklore. It reached adulthood, however, much later, since twelve years had to pass before it was acknowledged in 1883 and another twenty-five years before its official name laography was validated in 1908.
Emmanuel Roidis (1836-1904), distinguished cosmopolitan writer and great stylist of katharevousa, became famous at the age of thirty, following the publication of his provocative novel, Pope Joan, in 1866. This sensational book was translated immediately into many European languages and was, until the mid-20th century, the most widely translated Greek novel. Numerous Greek editions have been published up to the present day as well as many new editions of the translations. Lawrence Durrell and Alfred Jarry are two of the many distinguished translators of Pope Joan. An astonishingly original and fascinating work, Pope Joan is the female Greek version of Don Juan. Roidis’ ambitious and cynical heroine wanders around medieval Europe in the ninth century.
The poet and critic Costis Palamas dominated the Greek literary scene for almost fifty years, from about 1880 until 1930. With his eighteen books of poetry published between 1886-1935 and the abundance of essays and articles that he wrote during the same period, he is considered the chief proponent of the fundamental changes brought about in Greek letters by the 1880s generation, the generation of which he was undeniably the greatest poet. Palamas promoted, perhaps more than anyone else, the use of the colloquial language in literature, establishing its eventual dominance, and contributed to the appreciation of Greek popular culture. The poem "Palm Tree" is held to be the epitome of his work. It is a short composite poem of thirty-nine eightline stanzas written in 1900 and published in The Inert Life in 1904. In this poem symbolism, musicality and versification are evolved and combined as never before or since by Palamas, making it perhaps the most perfected and successful of all symbolist poems in the Greek language.
In Alexandria, Egypt, on the south-eastern periphery of the Greek diaspora there lived Constantine Cavafy wrote the poetry that was to earn him international recognition as one of the most important poets of the twentieth century. The one hundred and fifty-four poems that comprise Cavafy’s recognized work (some thirty additional examples were left unfinished at his death) fall into three categories, which the poet himself identified as follows: poems which, though not precisely ‘philosophical’, “provoke thought”; ‘historical’ poems; and ‘hedonistic’ (or ‘aesthetic’) poems. Many poems may be considered either historical or hedonistic, as Cavafy was also careful to point out. The poems of the first category (to which belong some of Cavafy’s best-known pieces, such as The City and Ithaca), all published before 1916, often display a certain didacticism. The historical poems (often historical in appearance only), the first of which was published in 1906, are usually set in the Hellenistic age (including Late Antiquity), the period which Cavafy believed was “particularly fitting as a context for his characters”, although Byzantium does not disappear entirely from his poetry.
In Greece, the decade of the 1920s signalled a period of manifold crises: ideological, political and social. The experience of national discord and the Asia Minor catastrophe of 1922 seriously injured the concept of Greek ‘grand idealism’. The dictatorship of Pangalos (1925-1926) and a succession of governmental crises (1926-1928) created an atmosphere of widespread instability and insecurity. The refugee problem, unemployment and the wretchedness of state employees sparked a series of protest demonstrations and demands from the unions. Kostas Karyotakis gave existential depth as well as a tragic dimension to the emotional nuances and melancholic tones of the neo-Symbolist and new-Romantic poetry of the time. Elegies and Satires (1927) is his last and most complete collection of poems published by Karyotakis. A landmark work in the history of Greek poetry of the 20th century, it is remarkable for its simplicity of expression, its condensed meaning, its existential anguish and the social pressure endured by the poet.
Nikos Kazantzakis is paradoxically the best-known Greek novelist outside Greece: paradoxically, because he himself rated his poetry and dramas far above his novels, to which he devoted himself seriously only during the last decade of his life. Paradoxically, too, because Kazantzakis has tended to be regarded more highly in international circles than at home. His wanderings temporarily halted by the occupation of Greece during the Second World War, Kazantzakis in the winter of 1941-2, at the age of fifty-eight, began work on the novel that would mark his second début in Greek literature. This was Zorba the Greek. Zorba was the first of seven novels (if we count the autobiographical Report to Greco, on which he was still working at the time of his death) that Kazantzakis wrote in his final years, and on which his international reputation now principally rests.
Manolis Anagnostakis, critic and poet, confronted the chaotic period of the Greek Civil War in his two major poetry series, the Epoches, and the Synecheia. Publishing and writing while imprisoned, Anagnostakis explored the role of the poet under tyranny. His award-winning work was arranged by composer Mikis Theodorakis and thereby continue to influence Greek poets and songwriters in the present.
Odysseus Elytis, winner of the 1979 Nobel Prize for Literature, was born in Heraklion, Crete, in 1911 and died in Athens in 1996. A major poet in the Greek language, Elytis is also one of the most outstanding international figures of 20th-century poetry. In his work, modernist European poetics and Greek literary tradition are fused in a highly original lyrical voice. Elytis’ later work consists of ten collections of poems and a substantial number of essays. Outstanding among them are The Monogram (1972), an achievement in the European love poem tradition, and The Oxopetra Elegies (1991), which include some of the most difficult but profound poems written in our times. It is significant that in these mature works the tone is no longer jubilant. Melancholy, reflection and solemnity gradually prevail, although the poet’s faith in the power of imagination and the truth of poetry (a belief that brings him close to the Romantics) is still unshakeable.
The Annual Poetry Symposium started in 1981 by an ad hoc committee made of poets and Professors of the University of Patras. In its 25 years of activity it has significantly contributed to the promotion of Greek poetry and its study from antiquity to present, having hosted hundreds of poets, professors and delegates from Greece and abroad.