Menelaos Lountemis (Μενέλαος Λουντέμης)


Menelaos Lountemis (Greek: Μενέλαος Λουντέμης, 1906 – 22 January 1977), was the pen name one of the most important essayists in the Greek interwar period and post-World War II era. His pen name was inspired by his later homeland's river Loudias.

Lountemis was born to a Greek family as Dimitrios "Takis" Balassoglou either in 1906 in Agia Kyriaki in Asia Minor or in 1912 in Constantinople. He was the only son among the five children of Grigoris Balassoglou (who after fleeing Turkey and finding refuge in Greece changed it to Valassiadis) and Domna Tsouflidi. His family came as refugees from Yalova after Greek genocide, and they initially settled in Aegina, then in Edessa and finally in the village Exaplatanos of Pella, where he lived from 1923 to 1932 when he moved to Kozani. He lived for a while in the state boarding house of Edessa. His family was wealthy, but bankrupted in the Greco-Turkish War (1919–22) and Lountemis had to work hard in his adolescence as a scullion, shoeblack, cantor, and teacher in villages of Almopia, and even as a foreman at the then under construction Gallikos river infrastructure works. In the 10th grade – of the six-grade secondary school of that time – he left school due to political reasons and he was expelled from all secondary schools of his country. (His engagement in left-wing politics and his political activities from inside the lines of the Communist Party of Greece cost him his expulsion from the entire school system.)

Through an odyssey of successive resettlements, from Edessa to state boarding house in Kozani and then to Volos, following a wandering group of that time, he finally reached Athens and became a close connection of Kostas Varnalis, Angelos Sikelianos and Miltiadis Malakassis. The latter helped him to be appointed to the "Athenian Club" as a librarian in 1938 and financially recover. At the same time his friendship with professor of Philosophy Nikolaos Veis, would allow him to attend courses at the School of Philosophy of Athens. A lot of literary successes followed and he became a member of the Hellenic Association of Litterateurs, under the presidency of Nikos Kazantzakis.

He first appeared in Greek literature at very young age, publishing his poetry collections in "Agrotiki Idea" of Edessa in 1927 and 1928, which signed under his real name (Takis Valassiadis). Around 1930 he publishes poems and short stories in "Nea Estia" magazine. The first time he used his pen name was in 1934 for the short story "One night with many lights under a city with many stars" (Greek: Μια νύχτα με πολλά φώτα κάτω από μια πόλη με πολλά αστέρια). In 1938 was one of the 3 that shared the Greek National Literature Prize (the Prose section), for his short stories collection "The ships never came at shore" (Greek: Τα πλοία δεν άραξαν ") and in 1951 Golden Daphne Award in Paris. Hellenic Association of Litterateurs established the annual "Menelaos Lountemis" award in his honor. A public building in Bucharest was named after him (Lountemis Mansion). According to Vassilis Vassilikos, "he is considered the most widely read Greek writer after Nikos Kazantzakis". His "One child counts the stars" (Greek: Ένα παιδί μετράει τ' άστρα) was a best Greek best-seller of the 1950s and the most known of his books.