The first Greek poet to win the Nobel Prize

Giorgos Seferis. Credit: public domain

On December 10, 1963, Greek diplomat and poet Giorgos Seferis received the Nobel Prize for Literature from King Gustav of Sweden. Seferis was the first Greek to receive the prestigious award.

Seferis was born in Urla, a city in Asia Minor, now Turkey, in 1900. The poet received an international education. His family moved to Athens when he was a teenager, and he then moved to Paris, where he studied law at the Sorbonne.

While Seferis was a student in Paris, Turkish forces burned down the Greek and Armenian sections of the cosmopolitan city of Smyrna, forcing surviving Greeks from Asia Minor to flee the region for Greece.

The destruction of Hellenism in Asia Minor had a major impact on his life, his career

Although not there at the time, the event was traumatic and marked Seferis’ life and career. His entire extended family was forced to leave the region, and the Greek poet would not return to his homeland for more than 25 years after the Smyrna disaster.

Many people attribute Seferis’ fixation on Ulysses, the ancient Greek hero who embarked on a years-long quest to return home, to the displacement of the Greeks to Asia Minor and his own desire to return to a house that no longer exists.

The Catastrophe was a watershed moment for many of the Greek writers and artists of his generation, who were disturbed by man’s capacity for destruction and brutality, and whose ideas regarding culture and ethnic identities have been disrupted by the influx of millions of refugees from the region. .

Seferis resisted the Junta

Seferis became a diplomat and had a successful career serving various countries around the world, including Turkey, Jordan, Albania and Iraq.

When the far-right military dictatorship, or Junta, seized power in Greece in 1967, Seferis immediately began to resist the brutal regime.

He spoke out publicly against the junta, at a time when anyone considered to be contrary to the ideas of the dictatorship could be detained, tortured, killed or exiled.

Seferis died in 1971, tragically only three years before the end of the junta. His funeral served as an act of resistance, however, as thousands of mourners carried his coffin through the streets of Athens, reciting his works of poetry that had been banned by the dictatorship.

When Seferis won the Nobel Prize

Seferis’ poetry gained international recognition in the 1950s. He was nominated twice, in 1955 and 1961, before finally receiving the coveted award.

The Swedish Academy’s 24 October 1963 telegraph announced that Seferis had won the award “for his wonderful lyrical style, inspired by a deep feeling for the Greek cultural ideal”.

Seferis, who at the time was bedridden at home due to health problems, said: “In selecting a Greek poet for the Nobel Prize, I think the Swedish Academy wanted to express its solidarity with Greece. alive and spiritual, Greece for which so many many generations have fought, trying to keep alive its long cultural tradition.

“I also think that the Swedish Academy wanted to show that the humanity of today also needs poetry – of all peoples – and of the Greek spirit.

Seferis was competing for that year’s Nobel Prize in a group of stellar writers comprising literary giants such as Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, Anglo-American poet WH Auden and Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.

During the ceremony on December 10 at Stockholm City Hall, Seferis spoke about the direct and unbroken continuity of the Greek language from ancient times to the present day.

He said: “I come from a small country. A cape of stone in the Mediterranean, which has no other good than the struggle of its people, the sea and the sunlight. Our country is small, but its tradition is enormous and… it has been delivered to us without interruption.

“People have never stopped speaking the Greek language. He has had his alterations, like everything that is alive, but there are no gaps in his existence. he noted.

He also referred to the necessity and function of poetry in the modern world, saying: “It is important that Sweden wishes to honor this poetry, and all poetry in general, even when it is addressed to a limited number of people. people.

Seferis concluded by saying that “I believe that this modern world we live in, full of fear and anxiety, needs poetry”.

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