Theodore Stephanides

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Theodore Stephanides
Born(1896-01-21)21 January 1896
Died13 April 1983(1983-04-13) (aged 87)
NationalityGreece
Occupationpoet, author, doctor and naturalist

Theodore Stephanides (21 January 1896 – 13 April 1983) was a Greek poet, author, doctor and naturalist. He is best remembered as the friend and mentor of the famous naturalist Gerald Durrell, featuring in Durrell's My Family and Other Animals, Birds, Beasts and Relatives, The Garden of the Gods and Fillets of Plaice, Durrell's brother Lawrence's Prospero's Cell, and Henry Miller's The Colossus of Maroussi.

A polymath, Stephanides was respected as a scientist and doctor, and acclaimed as a poet in both Greek and English, and translated a sizeable body of Greek poetry to English — notably a significant body of work by Greek poet Kostis Palamas and the Greek near-epic work Erotocritos.

He was also a noted biologist and scientist who has three species named after him (Cytherois stephanidesi, Thermocyclops stephanidesi, and Schizopera stephanidesi are microscopic water organisms discovered by Stephanides in 1938). He also wrote a definitive biological treatise on the freshwater life in Corfu, which is still cited in the 2000s, his autobiographical account of the Battle of Crete, Climax in Crete, and his fictional account of Corfu and the Ionian Islands, Island Trails, were widely read, but are now out of print.

Biography[edit]

Theodore Stephanides was born in India to a Greek father from Thessaly and a Russian-born Greek mother from the wealthy Ralli and Scaramanga families originally from the island of Chios, he spent his early years in Bombay where his father Philippos was working for Ralli Company India (now part of Tata) and married Caterina Ralli, the daughter of the boss. At age 11, after his father's retirement, Stephanides went to live in Corfu with his family, learning the Greek language there.

Stephanides served as a gunner in the Greek Army during World War I on the Greek Macedonian front, and again in the War in Asia Minor, 1919-1922 against Turkey.

He published two works of translated poetry in 1925 and 1926 but, pursuing an alternative career path, went to Paris in 1929, to study Medicine.

He returned to Corfu in 1930 to establish the island's first X-ray unit, he married Mary Alexander, granddaughter of a former British consul and of English and Greek parentage, shortly afterwards. He had one daughter, Alexia, who was a close friend of Gerry Durrell as a child in Corfu and died in October 2018. Alexia Stephanides-Mercouri was married to Spyros Mercouris, brother of the late Greek actress Melina Mercouri.

He started Corfu field work in 1933, based on directives from the Corfiot health authorities, to prepare a report on the principal localities where anti-malarial measures would be necessary. In 1935 he was introduced to the Durrell family, including Gerald and Lawrence, who remained lifelong friends. Stephanides would later send Lawrence Durrell medicines for the British Embassy in Cyprus (as noted from correspondence in "Spirit of Place: Letters and Essays on Travel" (1969), by Lawrence Durrell), he was a meticulous proof-reader for Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals and Lawrence Durrell's The Greek Islands.

During 1938 and 1939, Stephanides worked in Salonica with an anti-malarial unit founded by the Rockefeller Foundation, returning periodically to Corfu. In June 1940, he left for Cyprus to join the Royal Army Medical Corps.

A veteran of World War I, Stephanides served as a doctor in the Royal Army Medical Corps in Greece, Crete, Sicily and the Sahara in the period 1939 to 1945, his account of the Battle of Crete - Climax in Crete - criticizes Allied war policy. His parents and numerous friends died in Corfu as a consequence of German strafing and bombing. Stephanides' wife Mary and daughter Alexia, who were living in London, were sent to live with the Durrells in Bournemouth during the London Blitz of 1940 - 1941.

Stephanides rejoined his family in London after World War II, working as an Assistant Radiologist at St. Thomas' Hospital, Lambeth over the period 1945-1961. He published the widely circulated Climax in Crete in 1946, it was during this period that he published his two noted works in science: The Microscope and the Practical Principles of Observation (1947) - a guide to microscope operation and use - and the seminal A Survey of the Freshwater Biology of Corfu and of Certain Other Regions of Greece (1948).

Stephanides gained much praise and good standing as a poet after the back-to-back publication of his poetry collections The Golden Face (1965) and The Cities of the Mind (1969), he also went on to publish the personal collection of poems Worlds in a Crucible (1973). He also published a substantial body of translated poetry based on the works of the famous Greek poet Kostis Palamas ending with the posthumous publication of Kostis Palamas: A Portrait and an Appreciation including Iambs and Anapaests and Ascraeus in 1985, his other widely praised translation, that of the Greek poem Erotocritos, was also published posthumously, in 1984. Among his other books, Island Trails - a fictional account of Corfu and the Ionian Islands - is a well-recognized but rare book; some of his translations were co-authored with George Katsimbalis, the man portrayed in Henry Miller's book 'The Colossus of Marousi'.

In February 1983, Stephanides appeared in the UK TV programme This is Your Life as a tribute to Gerald Durrell.

Theodore Stephanides died on 13 April 1983. Lawrence Durrell dedicated The Greek Islands (1978) and Gerald Durrell Birds, Beasts and Relatives (1969) and The Amateur Naturalist (1982) to Stephanides during his lifetime, the latter reading, This book is for Theo my mentor and friend, without whose guidance I would have achieved nothing.

Bibliography[edit]

Portrayals[edit]

References[edit]

  • Richard Pine (ed.) Theodore Stephanides, Corfu Memoirs and Poems (Corfu: Durrell School of Corfu, 2011)

External links[edit]