One of the top Greek poets of modern literature was also one of the most inspiring figures of Hellenism, as the works of Kostis Palamas became beacons of the newly independent Greek State.
Born in Patras on January 13, 1859, Palamas lived long enough to see Greece occupied by the Germans, as he died on February 27, 1943.
Palamas’ enormous 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.
The poet’s lyricism and word-making skills have been remarkable. But other than an exemplary poet, Palamas was by his work as a literature critic, a literary writer and a literary philosopher.
Palamas lost both his parents at an early age. In 1864, his mother Penelope died during a premature birth, while less than a year later, his father Michael passed away as well. The six-year old Kostis is taken in the custody of his uncle, Dimitrios Palamas and moved to his house in Mesolonghi. The young boy stayed there from 1867 until o 1875. He started writing poems and literature as early as high school.
As soon as he finished 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, as the heart of young Palamas belonged to poetry and literature. He started working as a journalist to make a living using different aliases and 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 poem collection, “Songs of My Fatherland”.
(Parnassos Literary Society. From left: Georgios Stratigis, Georgios Drossinis, Ioannis Polemis, Palamas at the center, Georgios Souris and Aristomenis Provelengios, poets of the New Athenian School (or Palamian School). Paninting by Georgios Roilos)
In 1887 he married to 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.
In 1879 he was appointed secretary of the University of Athens and, until his resignation in 1928 as Secretary-General, he won many honorary distinctions, the most important being that of the academic in 1926.
In 1924, the French Government honored Palamas with the “Legion of Honor” title. In 1929 he was appointed President of the Academy of Sciences. Early in 1933, he was honored with the “Goethe” medal by the German ambassador to Athens. He is declared the Interim President of the newly established section of the International Writers’ Union. In 1934, the Spanish government honored him with the “Del la plaque del l’Ordre de la Republique” medal and a year later with the Medal of the Milanese Library of Congress.
In 1936, Palamas celebrated his fifty-year contribution to Greek poetry and literature. He received the title of Dean of the Royal Order for his contribution in the “Letters and Art” of the Ministry of Education. In 1937 his statue was raised in Messolonghi.
On February 9, 1943, his life partner Maria passed away. A few days later, on February 27, 1943 Palamas died. For his funeral, about 100,000 Greeks paid their respects to the “National Poet” in front of the amazed eyes of the German conquerors. Renowned poet Aggelos wrote and recited the touching “Palamas” for the funeral service.
Collections of poems
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)
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)
Death of a Youth (novel, 1901)
“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”