The poet of Thessaloniki and rebetiko scholar Dinos Christianopoulos died in August of 2020, but he left behind him a rich and diverse poetic legacy that will never be forgotten in Greece.
He was born in Thessaloniki in 1931—the beautiful place where he also died, in 2020— having dedicated himself completely to the intellectual and cultural life of his beloved city. He worked closely with many of the finest figures of literature there including Giorgos Ioannou and George Vafopoulos. Manos Hatzidakis and Stavros Kouyioumtzis set his poetry to music.
By Eugenia Russell
Dinos Christianopoulos (who also went by the name of Konstantinos Dimitriadis) died on August 11, 2020 in his residence in Thessaloniki at age eighty-nine after a long period of illness.
His pen name, Christianopoulos, meaning “Christian child,” is a reference to the profound influence of his Christian faith and Sunday School (Katihitiko) during his childhood.
The influential Greek poet, editor, critic, and music scholar was the son of refugees from Eastern Thrace with a love for their Constantinopolitan heritage.
Dinos Christianopoulos in conversation with other Greek poets
He studied Classics in the Aristoteleion University of Thessaloniki and for a time was a librarian in the Municipal Library. He published his first collection of poetry, “Epohi ton Ishnon Ageladon,” at the age of nineteen with a run of three hundred copies in 1950.
Christianopoulos, who was an important member of the intellectual community of Thessaloniki, is widely thought of as one of the greatest Greek poets of the modern era. His work is influenced by Cavafy and T.S. Eliot and has been translated into many languages.
He regarded Cavafy and Solomos as the greatest Greek poets. And it was the picture of Cavafy that he had hanging in his house, together with that of Vassilis Tsitsanis, the great rebetiko singer and bouzouki player, indicating his more immediate affinity.
In some of his own poems, such as his “Ithaka,” Christianopoulos re-interprets and recasts some of Cavafy’s themes of longing and belonging. His later work further explores themes of love, silence and solitude as well as being a voice of protest and social critique.
His internal dialogue with the poetry of Cavafy and the gradual liberation from Cavafy’s influence make Christianopoulos a true post-Cavafian poet. He was a splendid essay writer as well.
His essays are devoted to Greek literary figures such as Dionysios Solomos, Constantine Cavafy, Stratis Doukas, Nikos Kavvadias, Zoi Karelli and Nikos Gabriel Pentzikis; to several Greek painters; and a study of the poetry inspired by the Jewish community of Thessaloniki and its tragic history.
Christianopoulos translated the Gospel according to St. Matthew into Modern Greek twice, in 1997 and 2012. His poems have also been set to music by Manos Hatzidakis, Stavros Kouyioumtzis and others. He also recorded his own songs.
An important music scholar, Christianopoulos published extensively on the cultural history of the rebetiko song (sometimes called the Greek Blues). Among his publications are his celebrated book “To Rebetiko kai I Thessaloniki” and an anthology of the songs of the great rebetiko and laiko singer Vassilis Tsitsanis, which Christianopoulos brought out on the 25th anniversary of Tsitsanis’ death in 2009.
The handsome production was published by Ianos, a publisher and bookshop central to the cultural life of Thessaloniki. Five years later, to mark its 30th anniversary, the 83-year-old Christianopoulos gave a concert in which he sang several rebetika songs himself.
The love for the music of Tsitsanis which led to a lifetime of study of the rebetiko song started in 1942, when the eleven-year-old Ntinos was selling matches and cigarettes in Nazi-occupied Greece in order to get a few drachmas together for himself and his family.
During one of these shifts he went into a cafe where the great musician was performing. Christianopoulos referred to his idol, Tsitsanis, as the “Makriyannis of song.”
Greek poet part of important literary circle in Thessaloniki
Between 1958 and 1983, Christianopoulos was the editor of the literary periodical Diagonios, which created an important literary circle in his hometown of Thessaloniki, including the greatly admired short story and memoir writer, and scholar Giorgos Ioannou (1927–1975) with whose career Christianopoulos’ name is firmly connected.
Forty-nine unpublished letters from Christianopoulos to Ioannou are preserved in the Vafopouleio Cultural Centre in Thessaloniki. He also formed close friendships with the poets George Vafopoulos and Manolis Anagnostakis and the philologist Dimitris Maronitis.
Diagonios operated a system of producing work on a seven year cycle: five years on, two years off, to allow for the renewal of creative energy and ideas. It featured established and new writers and also European writers in translation. An associated gallery space showed the work of new painters.
Even in later life he was involved in the cultural life of Thessaloniki and his advice was sought by young, aspiring poets.
Early work by Christianopoulos was published in Makedonika Grammata (1949), a monthly literary magazine edited by George Vafopoulos and Kostas Kokkinos.
The poet donated his valuable archive to his alma mater, the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. The collection was curated by the executor of his will, Ioannis Megas, a prolific local author and historian of Thessaloniki as it was between the years 1850 and 1950.
It includes many writings, papers, photographs and documents as well as his acclaimed diary which he wrote for every year between 1953 and 2006. Christianopoulos was buried in the cemetery of Thermi, a suburb of Thessaloniki.
His funeral expenses were covered by the Municipality of Thessaloniki as a mark of respect.
Though he was on the whole against eulogies, many tributes to him and his work were offered, including from the Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who referred to him as one of the greatest Greek poets and noted the great loss to his home town, Thessaloniki.