Greek poet Odysseus Elytis, who transformed his World War II resistance exploits into poignant verses extolling humanity's struggle for freedom, was named winner of the 1979 Nobel Prize for literature today.

The 68-year-old writer was selected from a field reported to have included such candidates as Americans Norman Mailer and Joyce Carol Oates for the $193,000 prize, the last of the 1979 Nobel awards.

Elytis, whose work is little read in languages other then Greek, said it was a triumph for Greek letters.

"I would like to believe that the Swedish Academy wants to honor in me the entire canon of Greek poetry, and draw world attention to a tradition of poetry that has continued unbroken since Homer, within the embrace of Western civilization," Elytis said.

The academy cited Elytis for "poetry, which, against the background of Greek tradition, depicts with sensuous strength and intellectual clearsightedness modern man's struggle for freedom and creativeness."

The academy encapsulated Elytis's philosphy in these words: "What matters is not to submit. What matters is constantly to bear in mind what life should be and what man can shape for himself in defiance of all that threatens to destroy him and violate him."

The other five Nobel prizes -- medicine, physics, chemistry, economics and peace -- were shared among four Americans, two Britons a Pakistani, a West German and India's Mother Teresa, who won the peace prize for her work in the slums of Calcutta.

Last year's Nobel literature laureate was Polish-born Issac Bashevis Singer, an American citizen who writes short stories and novels in Yiddish. But the Swedish Academy has frequently chosen aged and relatively obscure poets -- including Spaniard Vicente Aleixandre in 1977, Italian Eugenio Montale in 1975 and Swede Harry Martinson in 1974.

Others considered possibilities this year included Engish novelists Graham Greene and Doris Lessing, and Turkish epic writer Yasar Kemal.

Elytis, born Odysseus Alepoudhelis on the Greek island of Crete, changed his name to avoid association with the soap-manufacturing business of his wealthy family.

He adopted a pen name made from words meaning Greece, freedom, hope and the name Helena, the mythical woman who personified beauty, sensuality and female allure.

After law studies at Athens University, Elytis began writing in 1935. A crucial turning point came when he joned the resistance movement and fought in the mountains of northwest Greece in the winter of 1940-41 against Italian dictator Benito Mussolini's invading fascists.

Elytis said later his wartime experiences brought on a personal crisis after which he had to try everything afresh -- especially the use of poetry and art in the fight for human dignity.

Soon after the war, he published "Heroic and Elegiac Song for the Lost Second Lieutenent of the Albanian Campaign," an intense and poignant lyric prompted by the death of a young Greek soldier.

The Swedish Academy named it one of his greatest works.

"It has kept its position as an expression of the Greeks' indomitable spirit of resistance," it said.

Reporters crowded Elytis' small and sparsely furnished downtown Athens apartment as he took calls from well-wishers on a bedside telephone.

"Never on Sunday" composer Mikis Theodorakis, who has set some of Elytis' work to music said, "I feel proud as a greek and as an artist, for in Elytis all Greek poetry and art has been rewarded."

"Worthy It Is," published in 1959, is held by most to be Elytis' greatest work. Written as a poetic cycle, it takes on a lyric style with strains from the Bible and Byzantine hymns.

"The complex experiences and program have been given a form which makes this work one of 20th century literature's most concentrated and richly faceted poems," the academy said.

Elytis, who has never married, worked in his family business for some time after the war. But in recent years, he devoted himself single-mindedly to poetry and became something of a recluse, friends said.

He enjoys traveling in Greece and abroad and has many friends in the European literary world.

It is only the second time a Greek has won the Nobel Prize. The late George Seferis, poet and diplomat, also received the literature award.

Elytis said recently in a magazine interview: "Whenever I receive an honor, I feel strange, not very well. Grandeur is something that forces itself upon us, and it needs great strength to keep it at a distance. "For me, poetry is a mission which ends with the completion of the work."

Elytis wrote in an essay that he seeks to direct his poetical forces "against a world my conscience cannot accept . . . to bring that world through continaul metamorphoses more in harmony with my dreams." This process is "a contemporary kind of magic whose mechanism leads to the discovery of our true reality."