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40 years of active presence

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

    JOSEPH ELIGIA AND HIS TIMES life and works – part b

    In 1922, with his intellectual development still in progress, his perception of the world widened and his interest shifted from involvement in Jewish issues to active involvement in the socio-political issues of his age, wherein he took a radical stand. His work now took on the mood of the times and was laden with politically left sentiment; social problems, class conflict and popular causes all found expression in his poetry and in his active participation in class struggles. He often gave talks at the Workers’ Centre in Ioannina. He published his poetry in local newspapers like Neos Agon, Kiryx, Epirus and Epirotiko Echo under the pen-name Julios Sigoulieros, later changing it to the more literary Joseph Eligia. On 21st December 1924 he lost his job as French teacher at Zosimaia School in the midst of controversy triggered by the lecture On Post-Biblical Poetry that he had delivered despite repeated cautions by the police and both local and community authorities.

    As time went by, Joseph Eligia became more and more aware of the differences that set him apart from the local people and from others of his faith. In 1924, when the core group of Neo Agona, the city’s communist faction, broke up, Eligia was forced to leave Ioannina and settle in Argyrocastro because he refused to conform and stay away from the circles he associated with. In 1927 he settled in Athens, where he obtained his diploma in French from the French Academy. He spent hours studying Jewish affairs in the National Library and contributed to the production of the Great Greek Encyclopaedia published by Pyrsos by writing 203 entries on Jewish matters. He had acquaintances in intellectual circles in Athens, like Markos Avgeris, Fotis Kontoglou, Kostas Varnalis, Stefanos Dafnis and Miltiadis Kalakasis, and also had links with Petros Pikros and Galatea Kazantzaki (1931) in the Protoporon circle. He returned to Ioannina for a short while in 1927, before taking up a post as a French teacher in Kilkis. He spent a whole year trying to get a transfer to Thessaloniki. Then in 1931, clearly worn out, disheartened and suffering from typhus, he went back to Athens. He died in Evangelismos hospital that same year shortly after his thirtieth birthday, and is buried in the old part of Athens First Cemetery.

    Throughout his short life, his poetry remained a true reflection of his socio-ideological searching. In short, it would be true to say that Eligia lived and created poetry between two worlds; the microcosm of his city’s Jewish community and the wider socio-political reality of Greece in the 1920s.

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