Andreas Embiricos, whose family of international shipbuilders and shipowners come from the island of Andros, was born on September 2, 1901 in Braila Rumania, where his father happened to be on business. Brought to Athens in his infancy, he completed his primary and secondary education there and studied for about two years in the School of Philosophy at the University of Athens. From 1922 to 1925 he worked for the Byron Steamship Company in London, a firm owned by his family, and attended courses at King’ s College at the University of London. He then joined his father, who had established a permanent summer home in Paris and a winter home on the French Riviera between Nice and Monte Carlo. From 1925 to 1931, he lived in France. Returning to Greece in 1932, he became a member of the council of the Vassiliadhis Shipyard, owned by his father. After two years, he resigned and set up practice as the first psychoanalyst in Greece, but retired in 1951 to devote himself to writing and photography.
With Embiricos’ poems, surrealism made its first orthodox appearance in Greece. Between 1925 and 1931, when surrealism was in full flower in France and Embiricos lived in Paris, he associated closely with Andre Breton, with surrealist poets and painters, and was analyzed and trained in psychoanalysis by Rene Laforgue. When he returned to Greece in 1932, he, not only set up practice as the first psychoanalyst in Greece, but he also lectured on surrealism and in 1935 published Blast Furnace, prose poems in automatic writing of the purest surrealist cast. Eleven years later he published Hinterland (which may be a deliberate response to the Greek title of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, translated into Greek by George Seferis), surrealist poems in free verse, and throughout his life remained true to the main tenets of an inspiration that wells up primarily from the subconscious.
Embiricos’ poetry falls naturally into three groups: surrealist prose poems in automatic writing; surrealist poems in free verse; and poems both in prose and in free verse, which, although inspired by the free-flowing imagination of a surrealist mind, are direct in their clarity. (To attempt to divide up the oeuvre under the separate headings of poetry and prose would be to ignore though what is probably Embiricos’ most important contribution to Greek literature, namely his rigorous assault on the concept of genre and on the formal constraints which usually go with it). Embiricos belongs in the company of such idiosyncratic geniuses as Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali, whose peculiar flair for capturing the irrational in their chosen medium went on developing long after surrealism as a movement had broken up.
Embiricos’ two collections of poetry, one in verse and one in prose, Oktana and Today as Tomorrow and as Yesterday) which were mainly composed after the war, appeared only posthumously, in 1980 and 1984 respectively, while the eight volumes of his novel The Great Eastern, considered by many his magnum opus, only appeared in print between 1990 and 1992. In the novel, the New World is the destination, the steamship of the title is the floating paradise of sexual license that conveys its passengers and crew thither. The cosmopolitan passenger list includes Jules Verne, and the episodic and inexorably repetitive narration of the sexual gyrations of the characters aboard is couched in the formally polished style and archaic language into which Verne, along with other European ‘classics’, was translated in Greek in the late 19th century.
At one level, as Roderick Beaton writes, the Great Eastern is a gigantic parody, but the purpose of this obsessively sexual narrative is evidently serious. The great god Pan, symbol of sexual license in Embiricos’ earlier voyage in prose, Argo, or the Voyage of a Balloon (an expurgated version appeared during Embiricos’ lifetime, in 1964) is here seen to be triumphant on a scale unmatched in any other work by Embiricos.
Without doubt Embiricos is one of the greatest poets in 20th century Greek poetry, joined by such renowned figures as Seferis and Elytis.
Insight of Morning hours
A Surrealist’s Tribulations in the Difficult Year of 1935
A Reference to Andreas Embiricos
The Cohesiveness of the Landscape