Authors: Yannis Ritsos

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Greek poet

Author Works


Trakter, 1934

Pyramides, 1935

Epitaphios, 1936

To tragoudi tes adelphes mou, 1937

Dokimasia, 1943

Agrypnia, 1954

Romiosyne, 1954 (Romiossini: The Story of the Greeks, 1969)

E sonata tou selenophotos, 1956 (The Moonlight Sonata, 1975)

Poiemata A’, 1961

Poiemata B’, 1961

To nekro spiti, 1962 (The Dead House, 1974)

Martyries, A’ seira, 1963

Poiemata G’, 1964

Philoktetes, 1965 (English translation, 1975)

Martyries, B’ seira, 1966

Orestes, 1966

E Elene, 1972

Cheironomies, 1972 (Gestures, and Other Poems, 1971)

Petres, epanalepseis, kigklidoma, 1972

Tetarte diastase, 1972 (The Fourth Dimension, 1993)

Chartina, 1974

Selected Poems, 1974

E Kyra ton Ampelion, 1975 (The Lady of the Vineyards, 1978)

Ta epikairika, 1975

Poiemata D’, 1975

Chronicle of Exile, 1977

The Fourth Dimension: Selected Poems of Yannis Ritsos, 1977

Gignesthai, 1977

To Makrino, 1977

Monemvasiotisses, 1978 (The Women of Monemvasia, 1987)

Phaidra, 1978

Ritsos in Parentheses, 1979

Scripture of the Blind, 1979

Diaphaneia, 1980

Oneiro kalokairinou mesemeriou, 1980

Subterranean Horses, 1980

Erotika, 1981 (Erotica, 1982)

Monovasia, 1982 (English translation, 1987)

Selected Poems, 1983

Exile and Return: Selected Poems, 1967-1974, 1985

Antapokriseis, 1987

Yannis Ritsos: Selected Poems, 1938-1988, 1989

Yannis Ritsos: Repetitions, Testimonies, Parentheses, 1991

Arga, poly arga mesa ste nychta, 1992 (Late into the Night: The Last Poems of Yannis Ritsos, 1995)

Yannis Ritsos: A Voice of Resilience and Hope in a World of Turmoil and Suffering, Selected Poems, 1938-1989, 2001


Meletemata, 1974


Pera ap ton iskio ton kyparission, pb. 1958

Mia gynaika plai sti thalassa, pr., pb. 1959


Yannis Ritsos (REETS-ohs) was born into a wealthy landowning family, but he did not have a happy childhood. His father’s fortunes declined because of the land reforms of the early 1900’s and were obliterated by the military campaigns of 1919 to 1922, when labor was unavailable for the harvests. In addition, Ritsos’s father gambled compulsively, accelerating the family’s decline. As if this were not enough, Ritsos’s older brother and his mother died of tuberculosis when Ritsos was only twelve–a prelude to the hardships and suffering that marked his adult life.{$I[AN]9810001608}{$I[A]Ritsos, Yannis}{$I[geo]GREECE;Ritsos, Yannis}{$I[tim]1909;Ritsos, Yannis}

Yannis Ritsos

(Greek Press and Information Service)

Upon his graduation from high school, Ritsos moved to Athens in 1925, a time when that city was desperately trying to assimilate a million and a half refugees from Asia Minor. He managed to find work as a typist and then as a copyist of legal documents, but in 1926 he returned to Monemvasia after coughing blood. There he devoted himself to painting, music, and poetry, completing a group of poems that he called “Sto paleo mas spiti” (in our old house). He returned to Athens in 1927, but a new crisis in his health confined him to a tuberculosis sanatorium for three years, during which, while continuing to write poems, he also began to study Marxism. By 1930, he had committed himself to the communist cause. Transferred to a sanatorium in Crete, he found conditions there so abominable that he exposed them in a series of newspaper articles; this led to the removal of all the patients to a better facility, where his disease came under temporary control.

Back in Athens, Ritsos directed the artistic activities of the Workers’ Club, appearing in in-house theatricals and also on the stage of the Labor Union Theater. Meanwhile, his father was confined to an insane asylum. While eking out a living as actor, dancer, copy editor, and journalist, Ritsos published his first two collections, Trakter (tractor) and Pyramides (pyramids). His career took a leap forward when, in May, 1936, he composed his Epitaphios immediately after the slaughter of twelve tobacco workers by Thessaloniki police during a strike. Issued in 10,000 copies, this became the first of Ritsos’s poems to be banned. The Metaxas dictatorship, when it came to power in August, publicly burned the 250 unsold copies at the Temple of Olympian Zeus.

In this same year, Ritsos composed To tragoudi tes adelphes mou (the song of my sister) after his sister Loula was committed to the same asylum that housed their father. This private dirge, balancing the public one for the slain strikers, so impressed Kostis Palamas, Greece’s most influential poet at the time, that he hailed the young author as his own successor. Ritsos suffered a brief recurrence of his tuberculosis, requiring another period in a sanatorium, after which he worked again as an actor, all the while publishing new collections of verse.

During the period of the Albanian campaign, the German invasion, and the Axis occupation of Greece (1940-1944), Ritsos–confined to bed almost continuously–wrote without respite but was unable to publish freely. Among the works produced was a long novel burned during the second round of the Greek civil war (December, 1944) and another prose composition, never published, entitled “Ariostos o prosechtikos aphegeitai stigmes tou biou tou kai tou ypnou tou” (careful Ariostos narrates moments from his life and his sleep).

After the second round of the civil war, Ritsos fled to northern Greece with the defeated communist forces. While in Kozani, he wrote plays for the People’s Theater of Macedonia. The Varkiza Accord (February 12, 1945) enabled him to return to Athens, where he regularly contributed poems, prose pieces, translations, and dance criticism to the periodical Elefthera grammata, and collaborated with the artistic branch of the communist youth movement. It was at this time that he began to write Romiosyne (Greekness) and The Lady of the Vineyards, his twin tributes to the Greek resistance.

In 1948, Ritsos was arrested because of his political activities and sent to various concentration camps on Greek islands. Under the worst of conditions, he nevertheless wrote about his privations, burying manuscripts and notes in bottles to hide them from the guards. Naturally, his work was banned. An international protest by figures such as Pablo Picasso, Louis Aragon, and Pablo Neruda led to his release in August, 1952. Free again in Athens, he joined a newly founded party, the EDA (United Democratic Left), wrote for the left-wing newspaper Avgi, married Falitsa Georgiadis in 1954, and became the father of a daughter in 1955. The following year, he visited the Soviet Union, traveling outside Greece for the first time. Epitaphios was reissued in a twentieth-anniversary edition, and The Moonlight Sonata brought him his first public recognition since Palamas’s early enthusiasm, in the form of the State Prize for Poetry. This, in turn, led to international acclaim when Aragon published The Moonlight Sonata in Les Lettres françaises, accompanied by a flattering notice. In Greece, Kedros Publishers began to bring out all the work that could not be published earlier and planned for a multivolume collection of Ritsos’s poems.

In 1960, the popular composer Mikis Theodorakis set eight sections of Epitaphios to music, making Ritsos a household name in Greece. In 1962, Ritsos traveled again, this time to Romania, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany, as a result of which he became acquainted with the Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet and his anthologies of Balkan poets. Despite a recurrence of his tuberculosis, Ritsos composed prolifically during this period. In May, 1963, he journeyed to Thessaloniki to participate in the vigil for the parliamentary deputy Gregory Lambrakis, who had been mortally wounded by right-wing thugs. The following year, Ritsos himself stood for parliament as an EDA candidate. In 1966, he traveled to Cuba. Theodorakis set Romiosyne to music, again with immense popular success.

On April 21, 1967, the day of a military coup, Ritsos was arrested and again sent into exile on various islands, his works once more under ban. Protests poured in from around the world, leading to his transfer to house arrest in his wife’s home in Samos. A group of seventy-five French Academicians and other writers, including several Nobel laureates, nominated him for the Nobel Prize. Translations of his poetry multiplied, especially in France.

Offered a passport by the junta to attend a poetry festival in England in 1970–on the condition that he refrain from all criticism of the regime–Ritsos refused, but later in the same year, owing to his health, he was allowed to return to Athens to undergo an operation and to remain there. In 1971, he joined others in publishing in Ta nea keimena in defiance of the regime. After the relaxation of censorship in 1972, Ritsos’s works written in exile came out in a flood of publication that increased after the junta’s fall in 1974. After years of struggle, Ritsos moved to a modest suburb of Athens and peacefully continued to write until his death in 1990 at the age of eighty-one.

Ritsos’s poetry has been translated into many languages, and he received numerous honors both in Greece and abroad, including the International Dimitrov Prize (Bulgaria, 1974), an honorary doctorate from the University of Thessaloniki (1975), the Alfred de Vigny Poetry Prize (France, 1975), the Lenin Prize (1977), an honorary doctorate from the University of Birmingham, England (1978), and two nominations for the Nobel Prize in Literature (1979 and 1986).

BibliographyFriar, Kimon, ed. Modern Greek Poetry. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1973. Nearly eight hundred pages of modern Greek poetry, compiled by Friar, a major translator. The introduction, essay on translation, and notes provided by Friar offer students an excellent means of becoming familiar with modern Greek poetry and its issues and themes.Green, Peter. Review of Yannis Ritsos: Repetitions, Testimonies, Parentheses. The New Republic 205, no. 16 (October 14, 1991). This lengthy essay reviews not only Ritsos’s late work but also his entire career. An excellent resource in English. Green is one of Ritsos’s primary translators.Keeley, Edmund. Inventing Paradise: The Greek Journey, 1937-47. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999. The eminent translator of modern Greek literature provides a discussion that casts light on the context for much Greek poetry during the turbulent middle of the twentieth century. Bibliography.Keeley, Edmund. Modern Greek Poetry: Voice and Myth. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983. An essential guide for students of modern Greek poetry, by one of its most important scholars and translators. Bibliography, indexes.Keeley, Edmund. On Translation: Reflections and Conversations. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic, 2000. Keeley’s comments in this brief monograph of just over one hundred pages offers non-Greek readers some insights into translations from modern Greek, important to any full understanding of Ritsos’s poetry.
Categories: Authors