Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Olympic Hymn Writer

Kostis Palamas , (13 January 1859 — 27 February 1943) was a Greek poet who wrote the words to the Olympic Hymn. He was a central figure of the Greek literary generation of the 1880s and one of the co-founders of the so-called New Athenian School (or Palamian School) along with Georgios Drosinis and Nikos Kampas.

Born in Patras, he received his primary and secondary education in Missolonghi. In 1880s, he worked as a journalist. He published his first collection of verses, "The Songs of My Fatherland," in 1886. He held a position at the University of Athens between 1897 and 1926. He died during the German occupation of Greece during World War II and his funeral was a major event of the Greek resistance. It ended as a protest of a hundred thousand Greeks against Nazi occupying forces in Athens. Palamas wrote the words to the Olympic Hymn, composed by Spyridon Samaras. It was first performed at the 1896 Summer Olympics, the first modern Olympic Games. The Hymn was then shelved as each host city from then until the 1960 Summer Olympics commissioned an original piece for its edition of the Games, but the version by Samaras and Palamas was declared the official Olympic Anthem in 1958 and has been performed at each edition of the Games since the 1964 Summer Olympics.

He has been called the "national" poet of Greece and was closely associated with the struggle to rid Modern Greece of the "purist" language and with political liberalism. He dominated literary life for 30 or more years and greatly influenced the entire political-intellectual climate of his time. Romain Rolland considered him the greatest poet of Europe and he was twice nominated for the Nobel prize for poetry but never received it. His most important poem ["The twelve lays (or words) of the gypsy]" (1907) is a poetical-philosophical journey. His "Gypsy" is a free thinking, intellectual rebel. He is a Greek Gypsy, in a post classical, post-Byzantine Greek world. He explores work, love, art, country, history, religion and science, keenly aware of his roots and of the contradictions between his classical and Christian heritage.

The stamp above is of the Olympic hymn lyricist, Kostis Palamas issued in 1960. Below, issued in 2007.