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Literature

Commemorating Byron 200 Years after His Death

There are very few figures in history as compelling and as complicated as Lord Byron. The Romantic poet and rock star of his time was born George Gordon Byron in London on January 22, 1788. He became the 6th Baron Byron at the age of 10 when an uncle passed away and he inherited his title. It is extraordinary to comprehend how that young boy would one day grow up to become a famous poet with a scandalous reputation and later on managed to reinvent himself through his travels to Greece and other then-exotic destinations, drawing inspiration from and eventually contributing to the struggle of the Greek people for freedom from Ottoman oppression. Through his poetry and later contributions to the Greek Revolution, Byron was the ultimate definition of a Philhellene of his time and became a national hero in Greece. His devotion to the cause eventually cost him his life, but he continues to be a beloved figure in spite of being described by Lady Caroline Lamb as “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.”

Two centuries have passed since Byron, age 36, died from a fever at Missolonghi on April 19, 1824. To commemorate the 200 years since his passing, add the following to your reading list.

‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage,’ Byron’s long narrative poem published between 1812 and 1818 was inspired by his travels between 1809-1811 and was the poem that first brought him fame. Childe Harold, the Byronic hero, was soon widely imitated by other poets. Canto II of the poem focuses on Greece, its beauty and rich contributions to civilization from antiquity in contrast to the country enslaved at the time by the Turks.

Byron’s War: Romantic Rebellion, Greek Revolution by Roderick Beaton. Photo: Amazon

Byron’s magnum opus, the epic poem ‘Don Juan,’ includes ‘The Isles of Greece’ section of Canto III, which was written in 1819 and features some of the English poet’s most famous Philhellenic lines that inspired many to support the Greek cause. He used this digression from the main plot of the poem to express his political opinions about Greece under Ottoman rule. “I dreamed that Greece might still be free,” Byron wrote.

‘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.

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