Biographies: Penelope Delta (Greece, 1874-1941)


Figure 1.-- Antonis Benakis and his sisters are seen here about 1878. The girls are dressed alike. Antois is on the left wearing a kneepants sailor suit with elablorate edging and detailing. Note his short cropped hair. Penelope Delta (second from the left) photographed with her brothers, sister and aunt. Alexander (on the aunts lap) is wearing dresses. The characters in the book "Trelantonis" (Crazy Antonis) were based on Penelope's family.

Penelope Delta was born in 1874, and she was the third of the six children of Emmanuel Benakis and Virginia Choremi. She spent her childhood and teenage years in Alexandria, frequently visiting Greece and other countries. Although raised in affluent urban surroundings and offered every opportunity to cultivate her intellect, she was subjected to a very strict upbringing at the hands of her mother. Penelope was very close to her brother Antonis Benakis who became a noted collector of Greek antiquities. Delta became perhaps the most noted author of Greek children's literature. She died tragically during World War II, commiting suicide when the Germans entered her beloved Athens.

Childhood

Penelope Delta was born in 1874. Her parents were Emmanuel Benakis and Virginia Choremi. She spent her childhood and teenage years in Alexandria, frequently visiting Greece and other countries. Although raised in affluent urban surroundings and offered every opportunity to cultivate her intellect, she was subjected to a very strict upbringing at the hands of her mother.

Siblings

Penelope was the third of the six children. We do not have information on all the children, but her older brother Antonis Benakis (1873-1954) became a noted collector of Greek antiquities. The two were close in age and devoted to each other as children. Antonis was born in Alexandria in 1873. His personality was formed within a family environment which nourished such ideals, and which also fostered the exceptional literary talents of his sister, Penelope, whose stories are familiar to generations of Greek children. Benakis began his career as a collector in Alexandria, gradually reaching the decision to donate his collections to the Greek state, an idea which became reality after he settled permanently in Athens in 1926 with the foundation of Benaki Museum.

Children's Clothing

Penelope as a girl appears to have been often dressed in ideantiacl dresses with her sisters. They look to be dressed with low or no waists worn with pantalettes and white socks.

We are not sure just when Antonis was breeched. His mother seems to have been partial to sailor suits. He wore several different styles of kneepants sailor suits. In the 1870s his sailor suits were heabily detailed with edgings in contarating colors. By the 1880s he is wearing more traditioanlly styled sailor suits. Antonis wears both whitesocks and long stockings wsith his sailor suits. I am not sure if this is a function of age or seasonality. These silor suits that Antonis wore were to feature prominently in Penelope's fiture books.


Figure 2.-- Antonis Benakis and his sisters Pelelope Delta and Alexandra Choremi are pictured here about 1881. The way Antonis is dressed indicates that he comes from an extremely affluent family. He wears a natty kneepants sailor suit which for some unfathomable reason, known only to his mother, has two bows. Note the striped kneesocks and how his hair has been allowed to grow out.

Marriage

Her marriage to the businessman Stephanos Deltas in 1895 represented both a departure from the Benaki family environment, and the start of her journey to intellectual and literary maturity. Penelope and Stephanos Delta had three daughters, Sophia, Virginia and Alexandra, who were raised by their mother in an exemplary fashion.

Career

Penelope Delta's innate literary talent had been evident since childhood. While she is best remembered as an author of children's books, she did not restrict herself entire to that genre.

Children's books

Delta's contribution to literature decisively influenced the evolution of the children's book in a period when it was otherwise neglected. Inspired principally by Greek historical events, her books were read by generations of children, and continue to be relevant to the present day. "The Secrets of the Swamp", "The Mangas", and the most beloved of all, "Crazy Antonis", a story about her brother Antonis Benakis, remain indelibly etched in the Greek collective memory.

Delta's works often feature patriotic, historical and religious themes but we can also find fairytales and funny subjects. Her best known books are "Ta mystika tou valtou" (Secrets of the swamp) and "Trelantonis" (Crazy Antonis). The latter is a very funny and exptremely popular book that narrates the adventure of an endearingly naughty 10-year old boy. She based the character of Antonis on her brother with the same name. Of course and Penelope and Antonis played together as children, she grew up knowing all the foibles of small boys. In the book Antonis and the other boys appear to wear sailor suits while the little ones wear dresses. As we see here, as boy in real life, their mother constantly dressed Antonis in sailor suits.

Oral testimonies

Delta's contribution to the collection of oral testimonies about contemporary Greek history is generally acknowledged to be of great importance. Starting out by recording the memoirs of veterans of the Macedonian struggle--all of which represent valuable sources of historical information today--she proceeded to gather oral narratives about the most important political and military events of her time.

World War II

Delta was one of the all too many casualties of World War II. The German invasion of Greece effected her deeply and prompted her to take her own life in April 1941, on the day the German Army entered her beloved Athens.







Christopher Wagner





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Created: May 29, 2002
Last updated: May 29 2002