Greek literature, modern

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 Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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