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he Ionian Islands never experienced Ottoman rule; however, they were under the rule of the Venetian Republic and to a lesser extent, the French, British and Russians. Consequently, communication with Western culture; including, literary trends was more direct than most other areas inhabited by Greek people. During the 19th century, a school of literature developed that became known as the Heptanesian School of Literature consisting mainly of lyrical and satirical poetry in the vein of Romanticism prevalent throughout Europe of the time. The School also contributed to the development of modern Greek theatre with the most important work being Vasiliko by Antonios Matesis (1830). The first drama on modern Greek history with social content.

One of the earliest known works by a Zakynthian was the Andragathemata of Bouas by  Tzantes Koroneos .. The work dramatised the exploits of Stradioti leader, Merkurios Bouas going as far as to give Bouas a mythological pedigree including Achilles, Alexander the Great and Pyrrhus. Stradioti were mercenary Greek and Hellenised Albanian soldiers in the service of various European powers. Tzanes Koroneos was also a Stradioti and a troubadour. The work is a long epic poem in vernacular Greek consisting of about 4,500 rhyming verses and contains valuable historical information of the period. The work was written in 1519 when Koroneos was in Venice. This poem was found in a manuscript in Italy. Koroneos also wrote and sent to Bouas a smaller poem (“pittakion”) of about 125 verses in Greek language.

Nikolaos Loukanis was a 16th-century Renaissance humanist born in Zakynthos; however, little is known about his life. He worked in Venice and in 1526 he produced a translation of Homer's Iliad into modern Greek which is credited as one of the first literary texts published in modern Greek (as most contemporary Greek scholars wrote in the Koine).

Markos Defaranas (1503–1575) was another early Zakynthian poet that moved to Venice sometime between 1536–1540 and composed several poems thereafter. One composition was a didactic poem titled, Pleas of the Father to the Son consisting of 788 rhymed verses and is essentially a compilation of excerpts from other works. The language is a patchwork of Cretan idiomatic forms and archaic elements.

Antonios Katiforos (Antonio Catiforo) (1685–1763), born from an aristocratic family in Zakynthos, was one of the key figures in the early Neohellenic Enlightenment. After studies in Padua and Rome, he was invited by the Greek community of Venice to teach at the Flanginian School. Katiforos wrote an important book on Greek grammar in 1734, satirical verse in archaic Greek, vernacular Greek and Italian, and a biographical work titled, The Life of Peter the Great of Russia. He also wrote works on theology, biblical history, hymns and translations in Latin.

Despite the literary activity above, it is only really towards the end of the 18th century that the production of literature reaches maturity in the Heptanese School of Literature (also known as the Ionian School). Often the island of Zakynthos was at the centre of this school. In fact, the role played by Zakynthian poet, Dionysios Solomos was so important to the development of this school and Greek literature in general that its periodic divisions are conventionally divided as follows: Pre-Solomian poets, Solomian poets, Post-Solomian poets, Minors and Descendants.

Antonios Martelaos (1754-1819) was the most prominent representative of the Pre-Solominian poets in Zakynthos. Although from a noble family, Martelaos developed anti-Venetian views supported by the French Revolutionary ideals. Apparently, he was also instrumental in burning the Libro ‘Doro in the Zakynthos town square. Martelaos mostly wrote patriotic verse but largely avoided using dialect and Venetian vocabulary but adopted national demotic language. Critics believe Dionysios Solomos read Martelaos which were reflected in parts of the The Hymn to Liberty. Martelaos was also a prominent teacher. He counted Foscolo, Matesis, Tertsetis and perhaps the children of Kolokotronis amongst his pupils. There have also been suggestions that Solomos himself was a student of Martelaos. Other Zakynthian representatives of the Pre-Solomonian period include Thomas Danelakis (1775-1828).

Portrait of Dionysios Solomos by unknown artist

Undeniably, there is no greater figure in Zakynthian and perhaps Greek literature than Dionysios Solomos (1798-1857). He is best known for writing the 158 stanza Hymn to Liberty which was inspired by the Greek War of Independence of 1821. The first two stanzas were set to music by Nikolaos Mantzaros and became the Greek national anthem in 1865. He was the central figure of the Heptanese School of Literature and is considered the national poet of Greece. This is not only because he wrote the national anthem, but also because he contributed to the preservation of earlier poetic tradition of Crete and the Ionian Islands of the Pre-Solomonian poets, highlighted its usefulness to modern literature and made vernacular Greek, also known as demotic Greek, a vehicle for high literary expression. Solomos also incorporated the popular songs of Zakynthos into his poetry. His role in raising demotic Greek to this level is often compared to Dante in the Italian language. Other notable poems by Dionysios Solomos include Τhe Cretan, The Woman of Zakynthos and The Free Besieged. Interestingly, no poem except the Hymn to Liberty was completed, and almost nothing was published during his lifetime. Solomos also wrote prose and poems in Italian. A statue of Dionysios Solomos sits in Solomos Square, Zakynthos. Additionally, the international airport and a square in Nicosia, Cyprus, are named after Dionysios Solomos.[43]

Portrait of Ugo Foscolo by François-Xavier Fabre

Some of Dionysios Solomos’s well-known friends in his early years in Zakynthos included Antonios Matesis (the author of Vasilikos), Georgios Tertsetis, Dionysios Tagiapieras (a physician and supporter of the demotic Greek and friend of Ioannis Vilaras) and Nikolaos Lountzis. Interestingly, there is little evidence to suggest that he was personally acquainted with the second great Greek poet of Zakynthian origin, Andreas Kalvos (1792-1869); although, Kalvos worked under Foscolo’s patronage for a number of years in Italy. Like Solomos, Kalvos was a Greek poet of the Romantic school but their style of poetry and sources of inspiration differed. Under the influence of Foscolo, but in contrast to Solomos, Kalvos took up neoclassicism and archaizing ideals. He is often categorised as among the representatives of the Heptanese School of Literature but many critics believe he is set apart given his influences. Kalvos published only two collections of poems — the Lyra of 1824 and the Lyrica of 1826. Kalvos died in England but in June 1960 the poet George Seferis, who at that time was Greek ambassador to Britain, arranged for Kalvos's remains to be transferred to Zakynthos.

Arguably, the most famous poet from Zakynthos was writer and revolutionary soldier, Ugo Foscolo (1778-1827); however, he did not write poems or prose in Greek but in Italian. Foscolo was born in Zakynthos to Venetian nobleman father, Andrea Foscolo and Greek mother, Diamantina Spathis. Despite his noble background, Foscolo campaigned vigorously for the overthrow of the Venetian oligarchy by Napoleon. His early works such as The Last Letters of Jacopo Ortis reflected early Romantic sentiments similar to Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther. However, his crowning achievement was his poetry book, Dei Sepolcri published in 1807. He also wrote a sonnet dedicated to his island home titled, A Zacinto. Forty-four years after his death his remains were brought to Florence, at the request of the King of Italy, and found their final resting-place beside the monuments of Niccolò Machiavelli, Vittorio Alfieri, Michelangelo and Galileo, in the church of Santa Croce. Foscolo is often considered the Italian national poet.

Elisavet Moutzan-Martinengou (also known as Moutza or Moutsan) (1801-1832) was born into a wealthy family in Zakynthos Town. She is widely considered to be the first woman prose-writer in demotic Greek, despite the fact that none of her writings were published during her lifetime. Tragically, most of these works were lost or destroyed in the fire that followed the earthquakes of 1953 in Zakynthos. Only some letters, a few fragments and excerpts, some poems, and her famous autobiography, My Story survived this fate. Written in 1826, Moutzan-Martinengou’s autobiography is considered the first case of protest against subjection and social exclusion imposed on women by Greek culture and society and is often considered an early Greek feminist.

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