In memory of Karyotakis and his poetry

When in the summer of 1928, the poet Costas Karyotakis committed suicide, he was only 32 years old. Through his short and troubled life he had managed to produce some of the most influential work in Greek poetry, a body of work tinted with the dark vision and disillusionment that culminated in his tragic ending. In commemoration and on the occasion of the 75th anniversary since the poet’s death, the Benaki Museum exhibits a few mementos and publications of Karyotakis’s poetry displayed in two cases at the museum’s entrance hall. Among the items on display, the revolver with which Karyotakis shot himself belongs to the Benaki Museum collection and is a donation by the poet’s brother. Karyotakis’s parting note, which was found in his pocket, is also on display. In it he wrote: «It’s time I revealed my tragedy. My greatest disadvantage has been my unrestrained curiosity and endeavour to be informed about all the thrills, without being able to feel most of them… I had a vertigo of danger. And I accept the danger that has come with a willing heart. I pay now for all those people who, like me, couldn’t see any ideals in their life, always remained prey to their hesitations, or believed their being to be a game without any essence… Since I have tasted all the joys I am ready for a disgracing death.» Karyotakis ends his note with a rather self-critical comment on his 10-hour attempt to drown himself the day before pulling the trigger. At the time, Karyotakis had just been transferred to Preveza from Patras, where he served as a clerk at the city’s prefecture. He sent desperate letters to friends and relatives describing the miserable, provincial life and wrote «Preveza,» one of his most famous and darkest poems. His manuscript for «Preveza» is one of the items on display at the Benaki Museum. Like the parting note, it was kindly lent by Karyotakis’s niece and nephews for the purpose of the exhibition. Also on display are the first editions of «The Pain and Man of Things» from 1919,«Nepenthe» from 1921 and «Elegy and Satires» from 1927. As a symbolic expression of Karyotakis’s influence on Greek culture, the exhibition also contains a copy of a special edition on the work of Karyotakis that the literary magazine Lexi published in 1988. A portrait of the poet painted by Yiannis Psychopedis illustrates the edition. Another portrait of the artist, an engraving by Giorgos Varlamos from 1965, is also included in the exhibition. In a way, the two pictures are meant to remind the viewer of Karyotakis’s proclivity for painting. A self-portrait of the artist reproduced in the literary magazine Nea Estia shortly after his death can also be seen in the exhibition. The display at the Benaki Museum will run through the end of September. Shortly before its close (the date has not been specified), the museum has organized a reading of Karyotakis’s poems by the actress Irini Inglesi and a speech by Christina Dounia, professor of modern Greek literature at the University of Crete.

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