Today is the birthday of the Greek poet Dionysios Solomos (books by this author), born on the island of Zakynthos (1798). He was the illegitimate son of a wealthy nobleman named Nikolaos Solomos and his maid. His father married his mother the day before he died, giving Dionysios his name and a portion of his estate.
Solomos went to law school in Italy, and his first poems were written in Italian, not Greek. He became well known in Italian literary circles, and joined Greece’s flourishing literary culture when he returned to Zakynthos in 1818. He was eager to write poems in his native language, but it was difficult for him at first, because he had studied in Italy and wasn’t familiar with Greek literature. Solomos had great respect for the Greek poetic tradition, but he wanted to write his poems in the contemporary language he heard all around him, not the purist, archaic form that was the usual poetic language. He was the first Greek poet to do so, and as a result, his work is the foundation for later generations of Greek poets. He’s considered the national poet of Greece, because of his influence on Greek poetry and because — inspired by the Greek Revolution of 1821 — he wrote “Hymn to Liberty.” It was translated into other languages and helped make Solomos famous outside of Greece. The first four stanzas of the poem eventually became the Greek national anthem.
After quarreling with his brother over money, Solomos moved to Corfu. He found that his new home suited him in its solitude, its literary community, and the quiet pace of life. Later in his life, Solomos returned to writing poems in Italian, and died of a stroke in 1857.