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Collection Overview

Friar, Kimon.
Kimon Friar Papers
Manuscripts Division
Permanent URL:
158 boxes and 66.6 linear feet
Storage Note:
  • Firestone Library (scamss): Boxes 1-16; 18; 20-24; 26-161


The collection consists of personal papers of Kimon Friar, one of the first and most prolific translators of modern Greek poetry into English. His work helped bring modern Greek literature to the attention of the international public.

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of the personal papers of Friar. Included are manuscripts of Friar's English translations of The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel by Nikos Kazantzakis; poetry by Odysseus Elytēs, Giannēs Ritsos, and other modern Greek poets; and articles, reviews, poetry, dramatic productions, and lectures by Friar. There is extensive correspondence with George Seferis, Nikos Kazantzakis, and many other Greek and American writers. Also present are photographs, manuscripts of other writers and poets, and sound recordings of poetry readings.

In addition to the vast amount of correspondence with leading figures in the literary world, Kimon Friar was in contact with many non-literary cultural movements in the 1940s and 1950s in New York, including modern dance as represented by Martha Graham and Erick Hawkins (see Mary-Averett Seelye and Erick Hawkins); experimental film as represented by Maya Deren; American Surrealism as represented by Charles Henri Ford and Parker Tyler, among others (see Charles Henri Ford and View magazine); and Freudian psychoanalysis as represented by Dr. Theodore Reik (ee Theodore Reik and Hanns Sachs). Correspondence is grouped by personal name, not by movement.


Organized into the following series:

Collection Creator Biography:

Friar, Kimon.

Today Kimon Friar is remembered as one of the first and most prolific translators of modern Greek poetry into English. Beginning in the early 1950s – when his translations of Kazantzakis, Cavafy and Elytēs, and several others first appeared in the leading American journals of the day – Friar's work helped bring modern Greek literature to the attention of the international public.

Friar's close relationship to prominent American writers, editors, and critics in the 1940s and 1950s, and his familiarity with American literary periodicals and publishers of the period, allowed him to introduce the Greek poets in translation almost immediately after he met them in 1946, when he first traveled to Greece. Friar became part of the literary world in New York as first director of the Young Men's Hebrew Association (YMHA) Poetry Center (today the 92nd Street Y) in the 1940s, and as chairman of the Circle-in-the-Square Theatre in the early 1950s.

Of the dozens of American poets, playwrights, artists and performers with whom he worked in his lifetime, Friar befriended John Brinnin, James Merrill, Lawrence Durrell, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Anais Nin, and Maya Deren. In Greece, he was closely acquainted with George Katsimbalis, Nikos Kazantzakis, Nikos Chatzēkyriakos-Ghika, and Vassilis Vassilikos, while maintaining a steady link to almost all the Greek poets publishing work from the 1950s through the 1980s.

Kimon Friar was born to Greek parents in Emirali, Turkey, on November 18, 1911. His parents emigrated to Chicago in 1915, and the family's name was changed from "Kalogeropoulos" to "Friar." Kimon Friar attended the Experimental College at the University of Chicago from 1929 to 1931, the Yale Drama School from 1931 to 1932, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he received a B.A. in English literature and drama in 1934. He worked for the Works Progress Administration' s Federal Writer's Project from 1935 to 1936, and as a play reader for the Detroit Federal Theatre Project from 1936 to 1937. In 1937, he published an adaptation of The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, by Christopher Marlowe, and directed several performances of the play in Detroit and Chicago. He served as editor at New Writers, which ran from 1936 to 1938, and joined the editorial board of the literary magazine Signatures in 1937. In 1938, he was appointed University Scholar and later Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where he received an M.A. in English literature in 1940. His M.A. thesis on Yeats's A Vision received the prestigious Hopwood Award in 1939.

He taught English literature at the University of Iowa (1939-1940), at Adelphi College (1940-1944), at the Cummington School (summer 1942), at the Mills School in New York City (1944-45), and at Amherst College (1944-1947). His publications in these years included the essay "The Medusa Mask," published in Poetry magazine in 1942.

In 1943, Kimon Friar and John Brinnin were named editors of the New Poems, 1944 anthology, edited by Oscar Williams. However, after a personal dispute in early 1945, Williams retracted his offer, reclaimed rights over the anthology, and refused to acknowledge Brinnin and Friar in the published edition, though he allowed them to retain most of the material they had collected. Scheduled for publication under the title The Borzoi Book of Modern Verse (Knopf), the contract was nullified in 1945 and the Brinnin-Friar anthology was not published until 1951, when it appeared under the title Modern Poetry: American and British, published by Appleton, Century, Crofts.

Kimon Friar began giving poetry courses at the YMHA in 1943 and was named first director of the YMHA Poetry Center in 1944, a post he held until 1948. His celebrated reading series consisted in "presenting excellent poets to the New York Public," as Mary Owings Miller, editor of Contemporary Poetry, said in 1945. These poets included W. H. Auden, Louise Bogan, Marianne Moore, Anais Nin, Dorothy Parker, Theodore Roethke, Wallace Stevens, Robert Penn Warren, and Tennessee Williams. Many of these authors became personal friends.

In 1945, while teaching at Amherst, he made the acquaintance of James Merrill, who had just returned from active duty. Impressed by Merrill's poetry, Friar introduced him to the highest literary circles of New York and published his first book of poems in Athens in 1946. In return, Merrill helped finance Friar's first efforts at translation from the Greek. Friar made his first trip to Greece in 1946, and in 1948, he moved to Athens. By 1949, he had translated a selection of the works of George Seferis, Angelos Sikelianos, Dēmētrēs Antōniou, and Nikos Gatsos, and had begun to translate the 33,333 line poem The Odyssey by Kazantzakis. His book Contemporary Greek Poetry was published by the University of Minnesota Press in 1954.

In 1951, he returned to New York and briefly took up residence in James Merrill's East midtown apartment with Mina Diamantopoulos, a Greek heiress with an estate on the island of Poros, where Friar had lived from 1949. In 1951, he gave a poetry class at the YMHA Poetry Center, and taught verse writing at New York University. He also began a weekly poetry broadcast on WABF radio, and served briefly as director of the De Lys Theatre on Christopher Street. In 1952, he assumed the post of director of the Circle-in-the-Square Theatre in New York, where he presented a series of performances and dramatic readings by Lillian Hellman, Archibald MacLeish, Dylan Thomas, and Tennesee Williams, among others, and produced plays directed by Herbert Mahiz (associated with John Myers and the Poet's Theatre). He gave lectures on Greek poetry at many universities in and around New York and spoke before the New York Teachers Association and members of the United Nations (organized by Royal Greek Embassy). He contributed book reviews to the New Republic and Poetry magazine from 1951, and judged a poetry contest with Dylan Thomas at the YMHA Poetry Center in 1952. His personal friends at this time included Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, and Dylan Thomas, who passed away shortly after, in the fall of 1953.

In 1953, Friar taught in the English department of the University of Minnesota, Duluth. In 1954, he received a Fulbright grant to continue work on his translation of Kazantzakis's Odyssey, and in 1954, he joined Nikos Kazantsakis in Antibes.

Friar acted as the editor, from 1960 to 1962, of The Charioteer, and from 1963 to 1965, of Greek Heritage, two magazines dealing with Greek culture. Friar had been translating poetry from Greek into English, learning both languages fluently and gaining a perspective on modern Greek poetry. He wrote, translated, and edited innumerable works, including Modern Poetry: American and British (with John Malcolm Brinnin) in 1951, the 1960 translation of Saviors of God and the 1963 translation of Sodom and Gomorrah by Nikos Kazantzakis, and the 1973 anthology Modern Greek Poetry: from Cavafis to Elytēs. However, Friar is best known for his translation of Kazantzakis' epic poem The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel. Friar completed this work in 1958 after several years of close collaboration with the author. Some critics declared that Friar lost his way in the double adjectives and complex language of the original (Kazantzakis used ancient vocabulary that is generally unknown to metropolitan scholars), and others agreed that Friar was at his best when he chose the prosaic word over the contrived or archaic. A Time magazine reviewer regarded The Odyssey as "a masterpiece." Kimon Friar received from Kazantzakis the ultimate praise: that his translation was as good as the original.

In 1978, Friar received the Greek World Award. Then, in 1986, he won both a Ford Foundation Grant and a National Foundation of the Arts Grant. He maintained "that the poet in a translation should be heard, but the translator should be overheard." He died in 1993.

Collection History


The papers were purchased from Kimon Friar in May 1992 .


All printed books received with the archive were removed for separate cataloging.

Processing Information

This collection was partially processed by Maritza Maxwell in the summer of 1992. Additional processing was done by Annie Correal in the summer of 2006. Finding aid written by Maritza Maxwell in 1992 and revised by Annie Correal in 2006. The collection was edited and re-processed by Kalliopi Balatsouka in 2009.

During 2009 processing, numbers 17, 19, and 25 were skipped when boxes were renumbered.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. To cite or publish quotations that fall within Fair Use, as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission is required. For instances beyond Fair Use, it is the responsibility of the researcher to determine whether any permissions related to copyright, privacy, publicity, or any other rights are necessary for their intended use of the Library's materials, and to obtain all required permissions from any existing rights holders, if they have not already done so. Princeton University Library's Special Collections does not charge any permission or use fees for the publication of images of materials from our collections, nor does it require researchers to obtain its permission for said use. The department does request that its collections be properly cited and images credited. More detailed information can be found on the Copyright, Credit and Citations Guidelines page on our website. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us through the Ask Us! form.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.

Credit this material:

Kimon Friar Papers; Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Firestone Library
One Washington Road
Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
(609) 258-3184
Storage Note:
  • Firestone Library (scamss): Boxes 1-16; 18; 20-24; 26-161