“Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes which see reality” – Nikos Kazantzakis

Modern Greek literature refers to all Greek literary works written in Modern Greek (demotic/dimotiki) mostly after 1000 AD (as opposed to ancient Greek literature which includes all works written before 1000 AD). These works started emerging in the 11th century AD during which time demotic Greek came to be used more and moreover the Attic idiom. The first literary text written in demotic Greek was the epic of Digenis Akritas.

Later on, in 1585 Georgios Chortatsis wrote Erofili, and in the early 17th century, Vitsentzos Kornaros wrote Erotokritos a narrative poem or a verse romance, speaking about love and valour and relates the love story of Erotokritos and Aretousa. Erotokritos marks the end of the first phase of modern Greek poetry, which begins in Byzantine times with Digenis Akritas.

Following this period, in the 18th century, we have a number of important modern Greek writers emerging, such as Adamantios Korais who entered the linguistic dispute of his time in 1805 and proposed the via media to the two parties, the “demoticists” and the “archaists”. Korais’ via media was his great legacy to the rising nation. Korais argued that to depart too far from the common speech was “tyrannical”, while to “vulgarize” was demagogic. Between oligarchy and ochlocracy, Korais stood for democracy. He took the commonly spoken language as the basis of the written language starting to purify and enrich it using archaic endings, creating the “katharevousa”, which eventually became the official language of the newly born state of Greece (1832).

Another important writer of the same period is Dionysios Solomos, the national poet of Greece and the writer of the national anthem of Greece. the Hymn to Liberty (1823). Solomos wrote his Greek poems in demotic Greek. Other important poets and writers of this period were Kalvos, Laskaratos, Valaoritis, and Soutsos.

This group was followed by the “New Athenian School” (also called the generation of 1880) which introduced some important poets and writers such as Polemis, Souris, Vizyinos, Drosinis, and possibly the most well-known of all Kostis Palamas who was a central figure in the intellectual life of Greece in the end of 1800s and until World War II (Palamas died in Athens during the war, in 1943, and his funeral gathered massive crowds).

At about the same time a few more important writers and poets emerged in different areas of Greece (or Greek-speaking lands):

Alexandros Papadiamantis from Skiathos wrote over 200 short stories using a mix of katharevousa and demotic language. His masterpiece was The Murderess, a short crime novel written in 1903.

C.P Cavafy one of the most important modern Greek poets wrote over 150 poems in katharevousa (but not the formal katharevousa of Korais) in the late 1800s and early 1900s and until his death in 1933.

Angelos Sikelianos from Lefkada was an important Greek lyric poet and playwright. His most important work was Prologue to Life (1915) a vast composition presenting his beliefs. In addition to his poetry, Sikelianos dreamed of founding a worldwide intellectual amphictyony in ancient Delphi, a Delphic Union, and a Delphic University. He organized a Delphic Festival with the performance of Prometheus Bound, an exhibition of folk art, naked contests in the stadium, folk dances and fairs. However, this whole effort ended up in complete financial failure.

Other important poets and writers of this era include Varnalis, Ouranis, Karyotakis, Myrivilis, and Venezis.

The most important Greek writer of the first half of the 20th century is undoubtedly Nikos Kazantzakis. Kazantzakis traveled widely and wrote many important (and famous) books including Asceticism, The life and times of Alexis Zorbas, Kapetan Michalis, The Last Temptation of Christ, and others.

Important poets of this time include the literary giants George Seferis who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1963, and Odysseas Elytis who was also awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1979. Another important poet of this time was Yannis Ritsos.

Notable works of this time

  • Erofili (c.1600), drama by Georgios Chortatzis (noted by Palamas as the first work of modern Greek theatre)
  • Erotokritos (c.1600), romance by Vitsentzos Kornaros
  • Thourios or Patriotic hymn (1797) by Rigas Feraios
  • Hymn to Liberty (1823) by Dionysios Solomos
  • The Free Besieged (1826–1844) by Dionysios Solomos
  • The Papess Joanne (1866), novel by Emmanuel Rhoides
  • The Murderess (1903), novel by Alexandros Papadiamantis
  • Twelve Lays of the Gypsy (1907) by Kostis Palamas
  • The Light-Shadowed (1909), poetry collection by Angelos Sikelianos
  • The King’s flute (1910) by Kostis Palamas
  • Life in the Tomb (1923) by Stratis Myrivilis
  • Number 31328 (1926), novel by Elias Venezis
  • Elegies and Satires (1927), poetry collection by Kostas Karyotakis
  • Strophe (1931), poetry collection by Giorgos Seferis
  • Epitafios (1936) by Yiannis Ritsos (melodized by Mikis Theodorakis)
  • Zorba the Greek (1946), novel by Nikos Kazantzakis
  • The Last Temptation of Christ (1953), novel by Nikos Kazantzakis
  • Captain Michalis (1953), novel by Nikos Kazantzakis
  • Romiosini (1954), by Yiannis Ritsos (melodized by Mikis Theodorakis)
  • To Axion Esti (1959), poetry collection by Odysseas Elytis (melodized by Mikis Theodorakis)
  • Bloody Earth (1962), novel by Dido Sotiriou
  • Eighteen Short Songs of the Bitter Motherland (1973), poetry collection by Yiannis Ritsos (melodized by Mikis Theodorakis)
External links: Wikipedia

Modern Greek literature

Stay in touch.
Join our community!

Hellenism Forum