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Literature

Celebrating Greek Independence Day with Books

March 21, 2022

As we celebrate 201 years of Greek Independence, books offer insights into the history and the people of the time. How much do we really know about the heroes of 1821, the men and women who fought in the Greek Revolution? Add the following books to your reading list in honor of Greek Independence Day.

The Memoirs of General Makriyannis, 1797-1864 translated into English by H.A. Lidderdale was published by the Oxford University Press in 1966. A hero of the greek War of Independence, Yannis Makriyannis rose to the rank of general and led his men to many victories. His real name was Ioannis Triantaphyllos, but because of his height, he was known by his nickname. He wrote his memoirs in the years before some of the most dramatic events of his later life including his incarceration, death sentence, and then pardon, occurred, though even by the end of 1850, when he completed his Memoirs, he had a great deal to share about his life and times. The book is an extraordinary achievement not only for recounting an incredible life story but also because Makriyannis wrote the original in Demotic Greek, giving readers the chance to experience the language as it was spoken at the time. It was first published in Greece in 1907, and garnered little attention until an article appeared about Makriyannis during the German occupation in World War II. After that, Makriyannis’ popularity as a historical figure, writer, and hero of the War of Independence grew. Nobel laureate Giorgos Seferis called Makriyannis one of the greatest masters of Modern Greek prose.

Memoirs from the Greek War of Independence 1821-1833 and The Old Man of Morea: An Autobiography by Theodoros Kolokotronis who learned to write later in life in order to write his life story. His memoirs remain popular to the present day in Greece and have been translated into English many times over the years. The 1892 English translation by Mrs. Elizabeth Mayhew Edmonds, entitled Kolokotrones the Klepht and the Warrior: Sixty Years of Peril and Daring: An Autobiography, is available online. The Trial of Kolokotronis and Plapoutas by Dimitris Fotiadis is also a fascinating read. The book includes the trial transcripts and other historical documents that bring the time period and the courtroom drama to life.

Rigas Feraios (Velestinlis) is probably best known as a proto-martyr in the Greek Revolution. An influential writer, political thinker, and revolutionary Enlightenment figure, Rigas Feraios envisioned liberation for all the Romioi, not only Greeks, and his Charta (Map) includes the Balkan countries as well as what is now the Hellenic Republic. Rigas’ writings: Anthology of Physics (1790), Hellenic Republic (Vienna, 1797), School for Delicate Lovers (Vienna, 1790), New Map of Wallachia, General Map of Moldavia (Vienna, 1797), Thourios or Battle Hymn (poem) (Vienna, 1797), New Political Constitution of the Inhabitants of Roumeli, Asia Minor, the Islands of the Aegean and the Principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia (Vienna, 1797), and New Anacharsis (Vienna, 1797) were written in Demotic Greek.

The line from Thourios which Lord Byron translated as “Better one hour of free life than forty years of slavery and prison” became a rallying cry of the Revolution. The poem was set to music by composer Christos Leontis and performed in the 1970s by the legendary Cretan musician Nikos Xylouris.

The Greek Revolution: 1821 and the Making of Modern Europe by Mark Mazower, focuses on the ways the Revolution influenced European history in particular. Combining compelling narrative and insights into the Greek Revolution, Mazower’s book is a must read for anyone interested in history.

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