The Greek Revolution and the spirit of 1821 have influenced many writers and scholars throughout the 200 years since the start of the War of Independence. Whether in poetry or prose, authors have been inspired by the fight for freedom and the heroes of 1821. The following books offer insights into the history and the people behind the struggle to free Greece from Ottoman oppression.
Byron's War: Romantic Rebellion, Greek Revolution by Roderick Beaton re-examines Lord Byron's life and writing through the long trajectory of his relationship with Greece. Beginning with the poet's youthful travels in 1809-1811, Byron's War traces his years of fame in London and self-imposed exile in Italy, that culminated in the decision to devote himself to the cause of Greek independence. Then comes Byron's dramatic self-transformation, while in Cephalonia, from Romantic rebel to new statesman, subordinating himself for the first time to a defined, political cause, in order to begin laying the foundations, during his hundred days at Missolonghi, for a new kind of polity in Europe – that of the nation-state as we know it today. Byron's War draws extensively on Greek historical sources and other unpublished documents to tell an individual story that also offers a new understanding of the significance that Greece had for Byron, and of Byron's contribution to the origin of the present-day Greek state.
Adamantios Korais and the European Enlightenment, edited by Paschalis M. Kitromilides, highlights the iconic figure in the movement for Greek independence, Adamantios Korais (1748-1833) who also played a major role in the development and transmission of Enlightenment ideals. From his early education in Amsterdam and medical studies in Montpellier, he moved to Paris where he developed distinctive ideas of political liberalism and cultural change against the backdrop of the French Revolution. In Adamantios Korais and the European Enlightenment a team of specialists explore the multiple facets of Korais' life and thought. Following a detailed examination of his formative years and pan-European education, the contributors analyze his translations and editions of the classics through which his own early political ideas took shape, his views on linguistic reform and its importance for a sense of national identity, his liberal critique of the French Revolution, and his evolving conception of political liberty. The book presents a reevaluation of a major figure in the foundation of modern Greece and provides a fresh perspective on the interaction of cultures in the European Enlightenment.
The statue of Adamantios Korais in Athens. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Yorgos Kontarinis)
Enlightenment and Revolution: The Making of Modern Greece by Paschalis M. Kitromilides identifies the intellectual trends and ideological traditions that shaped a religiously defined community of Greek-speaking people into a modern nation-state- albeit one in which anti-liberal forces have exacted a high price.
Kitromilides takes in the vast sweep of the Greek Enlightenment in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, assessing key developments such as the translation of Voltaire, Locke, and other modern authors into Greek; the conflicts sparked by the Newtonian scientific revolution; the rediscovery of the civilization of classical Greece; and the emergence of a powerful countermovement. He highlights Greek thinkers such as Eugenios Voulgaris and Korais, showing how these figures influenced and converged with currents of the Enlightenment in the rest of Europe.
In reconstructing this history, Kitromilides demonstrates how the confrontation between Enlightenment ideas and Church-sanctioned ideologies shaped the culture of present-day Greece. When the Greek nation-state emerged from a decade-long revolutionary struggle against the Ottoman Empire in the early nineteenth century, the Enlightenment dream of a free Greek polity was soon overshadowed by a romanticized nationalist and authoritarian vision. The failure to create a modern liberal state at that decisive historic moment, Kitromilides asserts, is at the root of Greece's recent troubles.
The above-mentioned books are available online and in bookstores.