Alexandros Papadiamandis (1851–1911) was born and grew up on the Aegean island of Skiathos, where he also spent the last years of his life.
Though his thoughts were ever on Skiathos and its inhabitants, he lived most of his adult life in Athens and earned a basic living by translating foreign authors and writing his own stories for newspapers and periodicals. His simple, reclusive and pious life earned him the title of ‘kosmokalόyeros’ (lay monk). His translations include works by authors as diverse as Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, de Maupassant, Bram Stoker and Jerome K. Jerome. His own work comprises four early novels and almost two hundred short stories.
Alexandros Rizos Rangavis (1809–1892) was a Greek man of letters, poet and statesman. Born in Constantinople in 1809 to a Greek Phanariot family, he was raised in Bucharest and Odessa, and attended military school in Munich. Following his return to Greece, Rangavis served at the Ministry of Education, helped organize the founding of the first university of modern Greece in 1834 and was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1856. Rangavis is the author of the first History of Modern Greek Literature (1877). He also wrote numerous plays and novels, and translated Dante, Schiller, Lessing, Goethe and Shakespeare into Greek.
Andreas Laskaratos was born in Lixouri, on the Greek island of Cephalonia, in 1811, at a time when the Ionian Islands were under British rule. Brought up in a wealthy aristocratic family of land-owners, he studied law in Paris and Pisa, but only worked as a lawyer for four years. He published poetry and prose but became more well known as a satirist — his satiric caricatures and parodies are considered unique in modern Greek letters. Ηowever his intransigent morality and intense satire took their toll; in 1856 his book The Mysteries of Cephalonia was anathematized by the local Bishop and he himself was excommunicated. Following the unification of the Ionian Islands with Greece, his reputation began to grow and he eventually gained the respect and recognition of both the general public and the erudite. His excommunication was revoked in 1900, one year before he passed away in Argostoli, over ninety years old.
Antonis Samarakis was born in Athens in 1919. For decades he worked as a civil servant at the Ministry of Labour, temporarily resigning during the dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas (1936-40), and during the Second World War he was captured by Nazis and narrowly escaped a death sentence. He published his first collection of short stories, Hope Wanted, in 1954, and his collection I Refuse won the Greek State Prize for the Short Story. Samarakis has become one of the most celebrated Greek prose writers of the second half of the twentieth century, with his work translated into thirty-three languages. He was awarded the Greek Order of the Phoenix and the French Légion d’Honneur. He died in 2003.
Constantine P. Cavafy was born in Alexandria in 1863 and died there on the morning of his 70th birthday in 1933. He worked as an employee in the Irrigation Service at the Ministry of Public Works in Alexandria and was a leading figure in the literary life of the city. Surprisingly, he chose not to publish any collected edition of his poems during his lifetime, but preferred to circulate small privately printed collections among his friends, seemingly confident of the afterlife of his work and of his subsequent recognition. The first collection of his poems was published in 1935, and the international acclaim for his work has grown ever since.
Cavafy is for me not only the great poet of the Levant,
but of all culture in decline – which makes him universal in this century.
— John Fowles
Emmanuel Roïdes (1836-1904) was born into a wealthy family on the Greek island of Syros, but spent much of his childhood and early life in Europe. In 1841, his family moved to Genoa, where he lived through the revolution of 1848. He returned to Syros in 1849 and completed his schooling there, before leaving once again to pursue his university studies in history, literature and philosophy first in Germany and later in Romania. From 1864, he lived permanently in Athens. Losing his family fortune and impoverished toward the end of his life, he found work as a librarian in the National Library. Influential as a critic, he was also a translator and short-story writer, but is best known for his one novel, Pope Joan.
Epictetus (ca 55 AD–135 AD) was a Greek-speaking Stoic philosopher. He was born a slave in the Greek city of Hierapolis, Phrygia (present day Pamukkale, Turkey) and, after receiving his freedom, lived and taught in Rome until an imperial edict banned all philosophers from the Italian peninsula. Epictetus then established a school of philosophy in Nicopolis in northwestern Greece. His teachings were written down and published by his pupil Arrian in the eight-volume Discourses and the Manual.
George Seferiadis was born in Smyrna (now Izmir, Turkey) in 1900. Seferis is the name he adopted when he published his first book of poetry in 1931. After completing his schooling in Athens, Seferis studied Law at the Sorbonne, Paris. In 1926 he entered his country’s diplomatic service, embarking on a career that took in England, Albania, the Middle East, South Africa, and Cyprus, during some of the most turbulent years of the century. Seferis was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1963 and died in Athens in 1971.
Georgios Vizyenos was born in 1849 in the small town of Vizye (Vize in Turkish), to the north-west of Constantinople (Istanbul). His whole life was a struggle with family and personal tragedy. His father died when the boy was five years old; two of his sisters perished in early childhood; and one of his brothers died in mysterious circumstances. Despite these inauspicious beginnings, he studied in Germany and became one of the leading Greek poets and short-story writers. Eventually, however, his psychological traumas took their toll, and he spent his last four years in Daphni mental asylum, where he died in 1896.
Hippocrates was born around the year 460 BC on the Greek island of Kos and legendary genealogy traces his paternal heritage directly to Asclepius and his maternal ancestry to Hercules. He was probably trained at the Asclepieion of Kos, and took lessons from the Thracian physician Herodicus of Selymbria. Throughout his life Hippocrates taught and practiced medicine, traveling as far as Thessaly, Thrace, and the Sea of Marmara. He died, most probably in Larissa, at the age of 90, though some say he lived to well over 100.
Ilias Venezis was born in Ayvali, Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) in 1904. Ιn 1922, when 1.5 million Greeks were displaced from Asia Minor, eighteen-year-old Venezis was taken prisoner and sent to serve as forced labour for fourteen months in central Anatolia. This experience informed much of his writing, including his novel Number 31328. He was a prolific writer of novels, short stories, histories, travelogues and more. His work has been translated in many languages. In 1957 he was elected to the Academy of Athens. He died in Athens in 1973.
Katharine Butterworth (1931-2018) was the founder and director for 25 years of “Study in Greece”, an accredited college study program for juniors and seniors in Athens, based on contemporary Greek life, and as such the first of its kind.
M. Karagatsis (the pen name of Dimitris Rodopoulos) was born in Athens in 1908 and studied law in Grenoble and Athens. He is considered one of the finest Greek prose writers of the twentieth century and a central figure in the Generation of the ’30s, a group of writers, poets, artists, and scholars that introduced fresh modernist currents to Greek literature and art. He was a prolific writer, with over ten published novels, as well as many novellas and plays. Besides the bold sensuality of his writing, he is known for his focus on the complexities and dark, instinctive underside of human psychology. He died in Athens in 1960.
Makis Tsitas was born in Yiannitsa in 1971. He studied Journalism in Thessaloniki and has worked in radio. He now lives in Athens, where he runs the online literary journal diastixo.gr. A prolific writer of children’s books, he has also written a collection of short stories, which was widely translated, as well as plays and song lyrics. God Is My Witness is his first novel. It was awarded the European Union Prize for Literature in 2014 and has been published in ten languages, with several more translations forthcoming.
Nikiforos Vrettakos was born on January 1, 1912 in the village of Krokees near Sparta. In a literary career lasting some sixty years, he published over eighty-five collections of poetry, eight prose works, a long critical study of Nikos Kazantzakis and wrote innumerable articles and essays for periodicals and newspapers.
In Greece, he received more awards than any other poet of his generation, including three State Prizes for Poetry. In 1987, he was elected to the Academy of Athens in the Chair of Literature. He died in his ancestral home in Ploumitsa on August 4, 1991 while watching the sun rise over his beloved Mount Taygetus.
Odysseus Elytis (1911-1996) has been a leading figure in the “Generation of the 1930s”, whose poets, influenced by surrealism, renewed contemporary Greek poetry. During the post-war years he lived for long periods in France, where he associated with the pioneers of the world’s avant-garde (Reverdy, Tzara, Breton, Ungaretti, Matisse, Picasso, Giacometti). He published seventeen collections of poetry, translations from ancient Greek and modern European poets, and two volumes of prose. In 1979 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Pythagoras, an important philosopher, mathematician and music theorist, was born on the island of Samos, probably in 585 BC. He studied with the philosopher Pherecydes in Syros and with Thales and Anaximander in Miletus, and travelled widely, including to Egypt, where he lived for more than twenty years, and Babylonia. Pythagoras eventually settled in Croton in southern Italy, where he founded his school.
His teachings have come down to us thanks to his hundreds of pupils since Pythagoras himself left no written work.
Sofia Zarabouka is an author and illustrator of children books. Born in Athens she studied painting and theatre in Greece, and graphic arts and illustration in the United States. She is particularly known for her adaptations for children of the Greek Mythology, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, and ancient Greek dramas like Aristophanes’ comedies and Aeschylus’s Orestia. Sofia’s illustrations have been exhibited in many countries and feature in museum collections. She has received various awards both in Greece and abroad and in 1982 she won the highly prestigious Academy of Athens Ouranis Award.