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Literature

Portraits of Historic American Philhellenes Inspire on 4th of July During Greek Bicentennial

Think of how delighted you are when you finally “attach a face to the name” of people you never met or know only from having spoken on the telephone – this is the joy engendered by painter and philanthropist Frederiki Pappas with her book Portraits of Historic American Philhellenes, an artifact whose value is doubled in a year when the Fourth of July is Celebrated during the Greek Bicentennial.

Some are well-known to us, in fame and face: Thomas Jefferson, who graces the cover, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, William Henry Harrison, Harry S. Truman, and F.D.R. – whose letter to Greece’s King George after ‘OXI’ Day concludes with, “I assure Your Majesty that steps are being taken to extend such aid to Greece which is defending itself so valiantly.”

Others until recently were known only to specialists, but Community organizations like EMBCA in New York and the Order of AHEPA, who boldly carried the ball marking the Greek Bicentennial during the pandemic, have brought them into wider consciousness: The Cincinnati Philhellenes, Henry Williams Dwight, Sereno Edwards Dwight, Edward Everett, Alexander Everett, Albert Gallatin, Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, George Jarvis, Johnathan P. Miller, Lucas Miltiades Miller, Aug Genevieve Valentin Davezac, John Henry Hill, and Charles K. Tuckerman, the first U.S. Ambassador to Greece.

William T. Washington, cousin of George Washington, who fought in Greece, is represented in the book not by his portrait, but his ringing and humbling declaration:  “I want to die for Greece and Greece only.”

If the essence of art is evoking realities – past, present or possible – and the purpose of anniversaries is to keep alive memories that constitute the foundations of contemporary societies, then Pappas has performed historical magic with her book as history comes alive for readers in this treasury of images and words that constitute the icons and scripture of the Hellenic-American relationship.

Containing beautiful portraits painted by Pappas herself, the book was originally published by Greece’s Ministry of National Education and Religious Affairs, Directorate of Int. Relations in Education in 1995, with a second edition in 2008.

Past Greek Deputy Minister of Economy of Finance, Antonis Bezas summed up the value of the book on the front blurb: “Ms. Pappas’ book … is a reminder of the tight bonds between the Greek and American Nations, which are based on the common ideas or freedom and democracy.”

The second edition, published in 2008, includes fascinating and moving texts – speeches and letters of American Philhellenes, including part of the Adamantios Korais-Thomas Jefferson correspondence.

There are two moving declarations of support by President James Monroe. The first, issued in December, 1822, concludes: “A strong hope is entertained that these people will recover their independence, and resume their equal station among the nations of the earth.”

The portraits include some of the famous leaders of the Greek Revolution, such as Theodoros Kolokotronis, Marko Botsaris, the monk Samuel from Souli, and a remarkable portrayal of physician Samuel Gridley Howe, in klepht dress, clutching a rifle, his face aglow with look of resolution, dedication, and hope. Several of his letters of appeal for aid and reports on the status of the revolution are included.

REVELATORY BICENTENNIAL CELEBRATIONS

What is most interesting in what is unfolding so far in this year’s celebrations of the Bicentennial in the United States is the emphasis placed on the two-way nature of the impact of the participation of the American philhellenes in Greece. Fired up by the ‘Greek Fire’, what the passion for the Greek cause was called in the American press, which covered it extensively, fighters who returned from Greece and activists who stayed at home but generated vital material and financial support for the revolution could not merely resume their previous lives after Greece achieved its independence. The nobility and success of the Greek cause inspired them to extend their fight for liberty to their American homeland, becoming leaders of the movement to abolish slavery and in support of women’s suffrage.

Of course, the dialectic began before 1821: ancient Greece inspired the American revolution of 1776, which in turn fueled the hopes of the Greek revolutionaries, a process that continues today as Greece and the United States grow even closer.

Thirty of Pappas’ portraits were presented in an exhibition held at the U.S. Capitol on May 7, 1997, which was highlighted in the Congressional Record by Congressman Michael Bilirakis – Pappas can’t thank his family enough for their friendship and support – and gained the praise of attendees including Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Senators Paul Sarbanes and Olympia Snow, Congressmen George Gekas and Past Congressman Dr. John Brademas. The host committee included then-Senator Joe Biden.

The exhibition was presented a second time on March 25, 1998, and a third appearance would be most welcome.

The book, at 240 pages, may be purchased for $50 at: [email protected].

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