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Kostas Karyotakis

Kostas Karyotakis, self-portrait
Optimism, hand written manuscript by Kostas Karyotakis in 1929
Kostas Karyotakis in Sykia village of Corinth, with his sister, nephew, and his brother's sister-in-law, year 1927
Kostas Karyotakis poem "Preveza" lyrics (1928) in Greek, designed by Harry Gouvas

Kostas Karyotakis (Greek: Κώστας Καρυωτάκης, October 30, 1896 – July 20, 1928) is considered one of the most representative Greek poets of the 1920s and one of the first poets to use iconoclastic themes in Greece. His poetry conveys a great deal of nature, imagery and traces of expressionism and surrealism. The majority of Karyotakis' contemporaries viewed him in a dim light throughout his lifetime without a pragmatic accountability for their contemptuous views; for after his suicide, the majority began to revert to the view that he was indeed a great poet. He had a significant, almost disproportionately progressive influence on later Greek poets.


  • Biography 1
    • Early life 1.1
    • Adulthood and career 1.2
  • Last month in Preveza city and suicide 2
    • Researches in Preveza 2.1
  • Legacy and Karyotakism 3
  • Works 4
    • Poems and collections 4.1
  • Translations 5
  • Notes and references 6
  • Sources 7
  • External links 8


Karyotakis gave existential depth as well as a tragic dimension to the emotional nuances and melancholic tones of the neo-Symbolist and new-Romantic poetry of the time. With a rare clarity of spirit and penetrating vision, he captures and conveys with poetic daring the climate of dissolution and the impasses of his generation, as well as the traumas of his own inner spiritual world.

Early life

Karyotakis was born in Tripoli, Greece, his father's occupation as a county engineer resulted in his early childhood and teenage years being spent in various places, following his family’s successive moves around the Greek cities, including Argostoli, Lefkada, Larisa, Kalamata, Athens and Chania. He started publishing poetry in various magazines for children in 1912. It is solely rife speculation that he had felt deeply betrayed that a girl he had cared for in Hania in 1913 had married and sent him into melancholy. After receiving his degree from the Athens School of Law and Political Sciences, in 1917, he did not pursue a career as a lawyer. Karyotakis became a clerk in the Prefecture of Thessaloniki. However, he greatly disliked his work and could not tolerate the bureaucracy of the state, which he wrote about often in his poems. His prose piece Catharsis ('purification') is characteristic of this. For this reason he would often be removed from his posts and transferred to other locations in Greece. During these removals he became familiar with the boredom and misery of the country during World War I.

Adulthood and career

In February 1919 he published his first collection of poetry: Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, who possessed the largest archive about Greek poets, revealed that Karyotakis was syphilitic, and that his brother, Thanasis Karyotakis, thought the disease to be a disgrace to the family.[2] In 1924 he traveled abroad, visiting Italy and Germany. In December 1927 he published his last collection of poetry: Elegy and Satires (Greek: Ἐλεγεῖα καὶ Σάτιρες). In February 1928, Karyotakis was transferred to Patras although soon afterwards he spent a month on leave in Paris and in June 1928 he was sent yet again to Preveza by ship.

Last month in Preveza city and suicide

Kostas Karyotakis lived in Preveza only for 33 days, until his suicide on July 21, 1928. His work was in Prefecture of Preveza, in the Palios mansion, 10 Speliadou street, as a lawyer for control for land donations from State to refugees from Asia Minor War of 1922. From Preveza he sent desperate letters to friends and relatives describing the misery he felt in the town. His family offered to support him for an indefinite stay in Paris, but he refused knowing what a monetary sacrifice like this would entail for them. His angst is felt in the poem "Preveza" (Greek: Πρέβεζα) which he wrote shortly before his suicide. The poem displays an insistent, lilting anaphora on the word Death, which stands at the beginning of several lines and sentences. It is shot through with a pungent awareness of the gallows, in the tiny mediocrity of life as Karyotakis felt it, mortality is measured against insignificant, black, pecking birds, or the town policeman checking a disputed weight, or identified with futile street names (boasting the date of battles), or the brass band on Sunday, a trifling sum of cash in a bank book, the flowers on a balcony, a teacher reading his newspaper, the prefect coming in by ferry: "If only," mutters the last of these six symmetrical quatrains, "one of those men would fall dead out of disgust".[3] On July 19, 1928 Karyotakis went to Monolithi beach and kept trying to drown in the sea for ten hours, but failed in his attempt, because he was an avid swimmer as he himself wrote in his suicide note. In the subsequent morning he returned home and left again to purchase a revolver and went to a little café in the place Vryssoula (near today Hotel Zikas). After smoking for a few hours, and drink cherry juice, he left 75 drachmas as a gratuity, while the cost of the drink was 5 drachmas, he went to a nearby seashore called Agios Spyridon (today Benzine Station of Greek Army) and there, under a eucalyptus tree, he shot himself through the heart. His suicide letter was found in his pocket.,[4][5]

Researches in Preveza

There are available three researches about Kostas Karyotakis, accomplished in Preveza.

  • First of them is the television Documentary film of Freddie Germanos in 1981 performed by the Greek State Television ERT. In this research is available the interview of old shepherd Taxiarchis Nitsas, who saved Kostas Karyotakis in the Mytikas Beach and also the interview of his house owner Penelope Lygouri. Penelope was a young girl in 1928 and said "Mister Kostas had three French costumes and no books at home. After his death I found some papers, but I didn't know that was poems, so I throwed them as litter".[6]
  • The second research in Preveza about Kostas Karyotakis is work of Dr. Harry Gouvas from 1990–2009, which contains 3 interviews of persons who knew Kostas Karyotakis, in his book "History of Preveza Prefecture". Harry Gouvas's office is today in the same building where Kostas Karyotakis was working.[7]
  • The third recearch in Preveza belongs to cinema director Tassos Psaras, who made the TV serial "Kostas Karyotakis" during year 2009.[8]

Legacy and Karyotakism

Today, there is general agreement on the importance of Karyotakis’ work, despite the fact that, for a long period, it was undervalued on ideological grounds. Greek idealists as well as spokesmen for the Leftist movement reproached him for being both pessimistic and decadent and some contemporary writers (F. Skouras, A. Papadimas) considered him seriously neurotic and they tried to stifle the striking effect he had on the younger generation. Despite being labeled as a minor poet by critics and philologists until 1970, poets amongst the Communists and surrealists of the inter-war, post-war and later years nevertheless recognized his leading role in the shaping of modern Greek poetry.

The writing of Karyotakis, was characterized by his own personal language similar to that of Constantine P. Cavafy, which adopted verbal acrobatics between archaism and demotic language, as well as a deep pessimism, which is usually inflected by irony and set a fashion for melancholy and sardonic verse that became known as Karyotakism. Poets who adopted his style increased, especially after his swan song Elegies and Satires (1927), with followers such as Angheliki Varvitsiotis-Konti, Spyros Gouskos and Sotos Skoutaris.


Poems and collections

  • Xeprovodisma (1919) published in «Noumas» (638)
  • When you Came... (1919) published in «Noumas» (650)
  • Your Letters (1920) published in «Noumas» (671)
  • The Pain of Men and Things (1919)
  • Nepenthe (1921)
  • Song (1922) published in «Pharos» (82)
  • Lycabettus ( 1922) published in «Noumas» (765)
  • Treponema pallidum (1923) published in «New Life» (322)
  • the Ash beyond the Horizon... (1923)) published in «Noumas» (771)
  • Varium et Mutabile (1923)) published in «Easter Anthology, 1923 (together with one of his friends Agis Leventis).
  • Escape (1923) published in «New Life» (324)
  • Prepare (1923) published in «Espero» (3)
  • Elegies and Satires (1927) published by printing press "Αthena"
  • Optimism (1929) [Posthumously] «Nea Estia» (6, 63)
  • Sunday (1929) [Posthumously] published in «Pnoe» (1)
  • Preveza (1930) [Posthumously] published in «Nea Estia» (8, 88)
  • When we get down the stairs... (1933) [Posthumously] published in «Beginnings» (7, July 1933)


1. Elegias e Sátiras/Ελεγεία και Σάτιρες, Théo de Borba Mossburger (Trans.), (n.t.) Revista Literária em Tradução, nº 1 (set/2010), Fpolis/Brasil, ISSN 2177-5141

Notes and references

  1. ^  
  2. ^ Κοντόκωστας Κίμωνας & Κουσούλης Αντώνης, 2008. Η σύφιλη στην ιστορία και στις τέχνες. Αθήνα: Ιατρικές εκδόσεις Γιάννη Β. Παρισιάνου. ISBN 978-960-89486-7-9
  3. ^ Harry Gouvas:"History of Preveza Prefecture", edition 2009, ISBN 978-960-87328-2-7
  4. ^ Merry, Bruce (2004). "Karyotakis, Kostas". Encyclopedia of modern Greek literature. Greenwood Publishing group. pp. 216–217.  
  5. ^ Harry Gouvas:"History of Preveza Prefecture", edition 2009, ISBN 978-960-87328-2-7
  6. ^ Freddie Germanos: "Kostas Karyotakis in Preveza", ERT TV Documentary Film, 1981
  7. ^ Harry Gouvas:"History of Preveza Prefecture", edition 2009, ISBN 978-960-87328-2-7
  8. ^ Tassos Psaras: "Research about Kostas Karyotakis", Speech in Kyani Akti cinema, Preveza, 21 July 2009


  • Vangelis Hadjivassiliou (2001). Greece: books and writers. National Book Centre of Greece, Ministry of Culture. 
  • Τέλλος Ἄγρας, Δοκίμιο γιὰ τὸν Καρυωτάκη (in Greek). 
  • Η Συνάντηση Κώστας Καρυωτάκης - Μαρία Πολυδούρη (in Greek). 
  • Agras. T. Petros Charis, and Kleon Paraschos. "Κώστας Καρυωτάκης" ["Kostas Karyotakis"). Νέα Estia 16, 17. and IX (1928): 726-835. 
  • Skouras F. "Ό Καρυωτάκης, μπροοτά στό φράγμα της νευρώσεως" ("Karyotakis, Faced by the Barrier of Neurosis"). Nea Estia 15 (May 1943). 
  • Hadas. Rachel. Enjoying the Funeral: Constanine Caryotakis. Grand Street 3. no. I (autumn 1983): 153-160. 
  • Harry Gouvas (2009). "History of Preveza Prefecture, Greek edition" 2009, ISBN 978-960-87328-2-7. "The Museum of Arts and Sciences of Preveza Greece". 

External links

  • Tribute to Kostas Karyotakis
  • Elegies & Satires and NepenthePoems from (translated by Peter J. King and Andrea Christofidou
  • Works by Kostas Karyotakis at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
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