About Dionysios Solomos

Dionysios Solomos

If you’ve ever heard the Greek national anthem then you are familiar with one of the works by the famous Greek poet Dionysios Solomos, who lived from 1798 to 1857.

In 1823, Solomos wrote the poem “Hymn to Liberty” which has many stanzas (lines of poetry grouped together) at a grand total of 158. The poem takes as its inspiration the battles during Greece’s revolution in 1821, in which the country fought to break from control by the Ottoman Empire. Solomos uses the poem to recount various major milestones during the war, clearly siding with the Greeks and their quest for liberty. It gained widespread popularity after the Greek-Italian composer Nikolaos Mantzaros created music to accompany it, and subsequently Greece adopted the poem as its official national anthem in 1865.

Solomos Square in Zante

This fact alone secured Solomos’ place in the history books and explains his ongoing popularity as an important part of Greek culture, but there’s much more to this poet’s life.

He was born April 8th, 1798, on the island of Zakynthos, Greece — though back then it was known as Mer-Égée, one of three French-occupied “departments” of Greece. Solomos’ father was Count Nikolaos Solomos, a very wealthy man who had the child illegitimately with Angeliki Nikli, who was the count’s housekeeper. But his father ultimately married Nikli one day before he died, which in turn made his son now the legitimate heir to the man’s fortune.

Early in his life, in 1808, he traveled to Italy along with a tutor and did his studies there, ultimately graduating from the Pavia University law school in 1817. Solomos greatly enjoyed reading Italian books and other literature, and started to experiment with writing his own Italian-language poems. The high quality of his work drew praise across Italy.

Return To Greece

Eventually, he decided to come back to his birthplace of Zakynthos, relocating there in 1818 as an established poet. Solomos became friends with people who were avid students and followers Greek literature, including the physician Dionysios Tagiapieras, and they would often writer poems with each other — many of them humorous. It was during this time that Solomos decided he would no longer writer poems in Italian but instead would craft them in his native Greek, but he mostly adhered to an approach under which he would improvise stanzas rather than methodically plot them.

Until then, Greek poets would write their poems by relying on the language of Ancient Greece, but Solomos decided to modernize this approach. He wanted to write in the same style of speech as the people he knew and lived among, while continuing to study the more-traditional writing and other creative works that are from the era we now know as Modern Greek demotic dialect. Solomos would write in a way that combined both approaches and helped to increase his popularity.

In 1822, he met the Greek statesman Spyridon Trikoupis who praised Solomos’ poetry and helped him to improve his studies of the country’s language. This assistance is deemed crucial in leading to the poet’s later success, in particular for writing “Hymn to Liberty.”

Although Solomos wrote the poem that would later go on to become Greece’s official national anthem in 1823, it wasn’t until 1824 that it was published. It is what would today be considered an instant hit, gaining wide readership not only in the country but also elsewhere thanks to translations into a host of other languages around the world. The intense popularity of the poem ensured that Solomos’ name would last for many years beyond his own lifetime.

Changing Styles, Changing Locations

The warm reception to “Hymn to Liberty” encouraged Solomos to shift his approach to writing poems away from his early days when he would improvise standards, moving to more experimental approaches. Many of his works in the immediate aftermath of “Hymn to Liberty” referenced the Greek revolutionary war, though none ever reached the status of that first major poem.

Unfortunately for Solomos his personal endeavors were less successful, as he became embroiled in significant fights with his brother Dimitrios over money, their father’s estate, and more. Partly as a result of the tension, the poet relocated to the Ionian island of Corfu, although he is also believed to have moved there because he felt it would help to encourage his creativity. During his time on the island Solomos continued to write on poems he had started many years ago. Eventually he was even able to mend his relationship with his brother, putting an end to their fights.

Despite the good news at having ended those disputes, Solomos then faced a series of legal trials that started in 1833 and continued through to 1838 in which his half-brother on Nikli’s side attempted to claim part of the family’s estate. Solomos won the trial and protected the estate for himself and Dimitrios, but the legal battle caused the poet to effectively disown his mother because he felt she had taken the side of the half-brother. Solomos became much more insular than he had ever been and this marked the beginning of his eventual retreat from public life.

Final Years

Still living on Corfu, Solomos continued to write poems such as “O Kritikos — The Cretan” that are considered to be his most significant even though they are not finished.

Toward the end of his life, Solomos revived his interest in writing poems in Italian as he had so many years ago when living in that country, although these creations are also unfinished. While not seen often publicly and distancing himself from his friends, he still enjoyed poetry.

Solomos started to suffer from strokes and other negative health issues in 1851 and these continued for the rest of his life until February 1857 when he died from apoplexy, which is the bleeding at once of several internal organs. His death was considered a national tragedy in Greece, and in 1865 his body was sent from Corfu to his birthplace of Zakynthos for burial.

Top Facts About Dionysios Solomos

Famous for: Poetry
Greek name: Διονύσιος Σολωμός
Date of birth: April 8th, 1798
Place of birth: Zakynthos, Greece (formerly Mer-Égée)
Date of death: February 9th, 1857 (58 years old)
Place of death: Corfu, Greece (formerly Kerkyra, United States of the Ionian Islands)