Dionysios Solomos is probably the most renowned Zakynthian in the world. A celebrated poet, Solomos most famous -but according to scholars not his best- work, is none other than the Greek national anthem, called “Hymn to Liberty”.
Dionysios Solomos was born in Zakynthos in 1798, and was the illegitimate son of a local count and his maid. Little before the passing of his father, the latter married Dionysios’ mother, thus legally recognising him as a son. He was trained on the island by Abbot Santo Rossi, but after the father’s death, he moved to Italy to continue his studies and finish Law school, as was accustomed for the Ionian nobility. Dionysios Solomos graduated in 1817, however he was more drawn towards literature and soon began writing poems in Italian.
In 1818, Dionysios Solomos came back to Zakynthos and immediately associated himself with the island’s literature elite, scholars and liberals. His yet-unpublished poems turned very popular and his improvisations gained him a reputation as an extremely fast witted poet, but at the same time he refined his technique and depth in verse writing. It should be noted that when Spyridon Trikoupis visited Zante to welcome lord Byron, he asked to meet Solomos, famously telling him “Your poetic aptitude reserves for you a select place on the Italian Parnassus. But the first places there are already taken. The Greek Parnassus does not yet have its Dante”, after listening to his poems. Ever since Solomos studies Greek traditional songs, contemporary poets and writers and started experimenting in writing in Greek.
Word has it that during the first siege of Mesolongi in 1822, the sound of cannons was carried up to Zante and the hill of Strani, where Solomos sat and started composing his “Hymn to Liberty”, deeply moved by the courage of the rebellion. His poem was published first in Mesolongi and was his first full poem in Greek, as well as one of the very few to ever be published. Its strong emotion and depiction of the rebellion however carried the poem to all the European capitals, where it was published and talked about, for its poetic lyricism, use of Greek language, meter, but also as a point of interest concerning the Greek War of Independence.
In the following years Solomos continued writing and moved to Corfu, where he lived his happiest days and wrote his best works. He died while on the island, in 1857 and his remains were moved to Zakynthos. On top of the hill where he got the inspiration to write his “Hymn to LIberty” one can find Solomos’ tomb and an honorary marble burst of the poet, next to the very trees he standed under, when composing his timeless poem, that later became the Greek national anthem.