Adopted in 1864, the Greek national anthem is based around the first two quatrains, or verses, of the poem “Hymn to Freedom.” The poem was written in 1823 and set to music in 1828. Despite the poem consisting of a large number of parts, the anthem is limited to the first 24 verses. Of these 24 parts, only the first two are generally played. The anthem is played during the raising and lowering of the national flag, on official occasions, and at the end of every closing ceremony of the Olympic Games in recognition of the history of the competition.
The poem that would eventually become the Greek national anthem was written by the celebrated Zakynthos Island poet Dionysios Solomos. Consisting of 158 verses, and reportedly completed in one month, the poem speaks of the power and virtues of freedom. In the poem, Solomos imagines freedom in such a way that it is talked of in the second person throughout the composition. The Greek national anthem is unique in this extolling of the virtues of freedom.
Nicholas Mantzaros, a close friend of Solomos, set the hymn to music in 1828. An operatic composer, Mantzaros composed two pieces of music; one piece covered the whole poem, while the other was written for the first two verses alone. Both men were honored for their work by the ruler of Greece at the time, King Otto. The piece did not replace the royal anthem, however, and it would be 1864 before the work was established as the Greek national anthem.
It was after King Otto and the Ottoman Empire were overthrown in 1821 that the hymn was adopted. In fact, the spirit of the Greek Revolution is at the heart of the song. With a solid establishment and a new King, George I, in place, a true piece of Greek work was sought to form the new anthem.
Also known as “Hymn to Liberty,” the piece has remained popular since the days of the revolution. The hymn is often sung and recited at rallying meetings, celebratory gatherings, and patriotic events. Considered as a piece of Greek culture, King George I and the Greek government selected the work as the new Greek national anthem and royal anthem.
By 1960, the island of Cyprus had not adopted the “Hymn to Freedom” as its national anthem. Instead, classical music was played during official events in lieu of an anthem by agreement between the Turkish and Greek communities. The hymn was eventually selected as the national anthem in 1966, following the Turkish breakaway from the government.