Yiannis Ritsos

Yiannis Ritsos

Yiannis Ritsos (1909-1990) wrote more than a hundred books of poems, plays, fiction, essays and translations. His work has been translated into over forty different languages. He won the Lenin Peace Prize and was nominated nine times for the Nobel Prize for Literature. Picasso drew his picture. Mikis Theodorakis set many of his poems to music. Louis Aragon called him, ‘The greatest poet of our age.’ After the Civil War Ritsos was imprisoned for four years on the concentration-camp islands of Lemnos and Makronisos. His books were banned in Greece until 1954. In the 1960s, he was imprisoned on Samos for three years by the military junta.

Arguably Ritsos’ most famous single work, Epitaphios consists of 28 stanzas of 8 rhyming couplets and is based on the Greek Orthodox Epitaphois Thrinos. Ritsos wrote the poem after seeing a newspaper photograph of a woman mourning for her son, a striking tobacco-worker murdered by the police. Shortly after it was published, the Metaxas dictatorship burned copies of the poem at the foot of the Acropolis in Athens in 1936. It was later set to music by Theodorakis, and recorded by Nana Mouschouri.