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Greek literature, modern

modern Greek literature, literature written in Greek in the modern era, primarily beginning during the period of rebellion against the rule of the Ottoman Empire.

The Rebirth of Greek Literature

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.

The Language Debate

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.

The Twentieth Century

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 (1927–1988), and Vassilis Vassilikos (1934–) have combined formal innovation with a close analysis of postwar Greek society. Meanwhile, a group of women lyric poets 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.

Bibliography

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).

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