Lord Byron’s bicentenary: Putting “GRATEFUL GREECE” in a global spotlight

The Defence Minister of Greece, Nikos Dendias, delivers
his address at Trinity College Cambridge (April 19, 2024).
John D. Pappas


Two centuries after his untimely death, Lord Byron, the greatest Philhellene in the Greek War of Independence, continues to generously contribute to his beloved foreign country.

 

Just before his death, he famously said: “I gave [her] my time, my health, my property, and now I give my life. What could I do more?” Still, his impact extends even today, as his bicentenary this year (2024) has become an occasion for positive international publicity for Greece, particularly highlighting the active participation of the Hellenic Armed Forces in the commemorative events held at the Old Parliament in Athens (Photo 2) and at the University of Cambridge (Photo 3in memory of Lord Byron.

 

These events were covered in the news across the globe, in AUSTRALIA (Neos Kosmos, Perth Herald, Sydney Sky, Greek City Times, VEMAetc.), BRITAIN (Orthodox Times, University of Bolton, Public nowetc.), CANADA and the U.S.A. (Ground News, Hellas Journal, Hellenic News of America, Greek Reporteretc.), in conjunction with similar news articles in English-language editions of Greek media (eKathimerini, thetimes.grAthens24Athens-Macedonian News Agency, Newsbombetc.).

 

Dr. Corin Throsby on the podium of
the 
Assembly Hall of the Old
Parliament 
in Athens (April 16, 2024),
delivering her bicentenary
speech on Lord Byron.
Dr. Corin Throsby’ global tribute to Byron

reignites interest in his legacy

 


The two bicentenary events in Athens and Cambridge had an international character: They were both marked by the participation of academics from many countries, like Britain, Australia, Sweden, Greece etc. Notably, 
Australian-British scholar Dr. Corin Throsby (Photo 1) participated in both events, in Athens and Cambridge, whereby she has reignited interest in the legacy of Lord Byron, two centuries after his passing. Known for her work as BBC broadcaster and Cambridge academic specializing in Byron,1 she made significant contributions to the bicentenary commemoration of Byron's life and work.

 

Her journey began in Sydney on April 12, 2024, coinciding with the Times Literary Supplement's cover story on Byron. Her article, titled A chameleon life: Reviving a scandalous poet on the bicentenary of his death, was featured in the TLS issue, garnering attention for its insightful review. 2

 

The Armed Forces of Greece stand by Dr. Throsby

at the Old Parliament in Athens (April 16, 2024)

 

The following day, Dr. Throsby travelled to Greece, where she delivered a groundbreaking bicentenary lecture on Byron, titled “Byron, the Unparalleled Phenomenon: From Great Poet to National Leader in Wartime,” at the Assembly Hall of the Old Parliament in Athens (Photo 1)—now the esteemed home of Greece’s National Historical Museum, which boasts a special wing dedicated to Byron’s personal artefacts.

 

Major General Economides, representing General Demetrios Choupis, the Chief-of-Staff of the Armed Forces of Greece, joined Dr. Throsby on the panel, symbolizing the event’s significance (Photo 2).

 

Her lecture aimed to reshape perceptions of Byron, portraying him not only as a literary figure but as the first modern celebrity whose influence transcended literature. She emphasized Byron's role as a champion of underdog causes and his pivotal involvement in Greece’s liberation efforts during the Greek War of Independence. Her insights highlighted Byron’s global impact and how it inspired others to join the Greek cause.

 

Major General Demetrios Economides and 
Dr. Corin Throsby 
on the panel in the 
Assembly Hall of the 
Old Parliament in Athens (April 16, 2024).
In the same spirit, Lieutenant General (Ret) Nikolaos Pitsolis, seated next to Dr. Throsby on her left on the panel, pointed out that Lord Byron was officially proclaimed by the belligerent Greeks as their political and military Chief in central Greece on January 25, 1824. This proclamation coincided with his other official capacity as the High Commissioner for the disbursement of the so-called “First Loan of Independence”, the first international bond loan of belligerent Greece from the London Stock Exchange. The financing of the Greek Fleet in 1824 from that loan ensured the naval dominance of the Greek Fleet in the Aegean in the second half of 1824, leading to the rescue of the warring islands of Hydra, Spetses, Samos, as well as the Cyclades in that sea.

 

In this context, Dr. Throsby pointed out that the date of the commemorative event in Athens (April 16, 2024) is significant as it marks the 200th anniversary of the English corvette Florida's arrival in the Ionian Sea (April 16, 1824), three days before Lord Byron's death. The Florida was carrying the first instalment (40,000 gold pounds) of the First Loan of Independence from England to Greece. Part of this instalment (18,000 gold pounds) was earmarked for urgent repairs and rearmament of the Greek Fleet to engage the combined fleets of the Ottoman Empire (August 7 – November 14, 1824).

 

Grateful Greece pays tribute to Byron

at the University of Cambridge (April 19-20, 2024)

 

The Defence Minister of Greece lays a wreath at
Byron’s statue in the Wren Library of Trinity
College Cambridge
 
(April 19, 2024).

Following her lecture in Athens, Dr. Throsby travelled to Cambridge to participate in the bicentenary Byron Festival Conference, called The Byron Festival at Trinity and held on April 19-20, 2024, at Trinity College Cambridge. There, she presented an academic paper on Byron and social networking, further highlighting the poet's relevance in modern contexts. Moreover, at that time, an original letter (1823) from Elizabeth Palgravedescribing Lord Byron’s memoirs, which were burned at his publisher’s office following Byron’s death—was discovered in Trinity College’s Wren Library by archivist Adam Green and was presented at the Byron Festival at Trinity. Dr. Throsby’s remarks3 on the discovery were widely publicized in UK news media (BBCThe IndependentThe TimesITVXEastern Daily Press, etc.).

 

Notably, the Defence Minister of Greece, Nikos Dendias, graced the conference's opening at Trinity (Photo 3), where he remarked that for us Greeks, Lord Byron means so much: He was the most famous philhellene and a professor of history and that on 19 April 2024 we lost Lord Byron, but it was clear that we gained our independence.”

 

After the opening ceremonythat was also attended by Dr. Christos Dimas, the Deputy Minister of Culture of Greecethe Defence Minister laid a wreath at Byron’s statue in the Wren Library of Trinity College Cambridge, which was his alma mater. The following epigram was written on the ribbon of one of the wreaths in memory of Lord Byron, who died in Messolonghi on April 19, 1824 (Photo 4): «Η ΕΛΛΑΣ ΕΥΓΝΩΜΟΝΟΥΣΑ – 19 ΑΠΡΙΛΙΟΥ 2024», i.e. “GRATEFUL GREECE – APRIL 19, 2024.4

 

Commencement of the ceremony at the Military Academy
 of Greece honouring the bicentenary
of Lord Byron (April 24, 2024).
The Guardian (April 21, 2024):

Two centuries on, Greece loves Byron more than ever.

 


Subsequently, just two days later, on April 21, 2024, as the representatives of the Greek State were returning from Cambridge to Greece, 
The Guardian published a news article entitled Two centuries on, Greece loves Byron more than ever. The article highlights the enormous contribution of Lord Byron to the cause of Greek Independence, in the same spirit and letter as the above anniversary events in Athens and Cambridge, verbatim as follows:

 

Historians believe that had it not been for Byron’s generosity or influence, London might never have consented to the loans so badly needed by the provisional government in Greece. His own supportparting with a huge amount of his fortune to underwrite the war effortwhile backing the pro-western polyglot Alexandros Mavrokordatos at a time when the uprising was plagued by factional intrigues, is seen as crucial in the creation of the modern nation state.

 

«Grateful Hellenic Armed Forces» pay tribute to Byron

at the Military Academy of Greece (April 24, 2024)

 

Shortly thereafter, on April 24, 2024, the Military Academy of Greece organized a solemn ceremony to commemorate Lord Byron's bicentenary. Attending the ceremony were Minister of National Defence Nikos Dendias and the leadership of the Armed Forces: Chief-of-Staff General Dimitrios Houpis, Chief of the Army Staff Lieutenant General Angelos Houdeloudis, Chief of the Navy Staff Vice Admiral Dimitrios-Eleftherios Kataras, and Chief of the Air Staff Lieutenant Air General Demosthenes Grigoriadis.

 

The ceremony was both dignified and remarkable, arguably the most remarkable of all: It was conducted with the precision befitting the Armed Forces, while also being profoundly meaningful as Lord Byron himself would have cherished. With impeccable formations of the Cadets (Photo 5), the Academy paid tribute to Lord Byron's bicentenary with substantive anniversary speeches (Photo 6) and with 19 honorary cannon shots, symbolizing Lord Byron's Day, observed on the 19th day of April each year.

 

The Defence Minister and the military leadership of Greece,
 along with the cadets of the Military Academy,
attend a speech on Lord Byron (April 24, 2024).


Therefore, in terms of symbolism and substance, that ceremony marked the culmination of the events where the Armed Forces participated from April 16th to April 24th, 2024, effectively acknowledging and duly honouring Lord Byron's invaluable contribution to the liberation of Greece.

 

Bridging the divide in British and Greek perceptions of Byron

 


The above article in The Guardian concludes with a brief reference to a huge mismatch between the British and the Greeks regarding how differently they perceive Lord Byron: The British see him as a poet and controversial character,5 while the Greeks regard him as a national hero and the greatest Philhellene. According to emeritus professor Roderick Beaton at King's College London:

 

“There’s a huge mismatch in the way he is remembered in the UK and Greece … In this anniversary there’s a great opportunity for the Greeks to get to know him better as a poet, and for the Brits to open up beyond the clichés, and taint of scandal, to see Byron’s contribution to the creation of a European nation state.”

 

Indeed, the disparity of opinion between the British and the Greeks about Lord Byron seems to be starting to bridge this year, 200 years after his death. The first small but significant step in this direction was taken by the University of Bolton in England on May 21, 2024. The university's website now features a dedicated webpage for the anniversary events in Athens and Cambridge, with honourable mentions and photos highlighting the presence of the Hellenic Armed Forces at these events. Such positive references to the armed forces of a foreign country on the official websites of British universities are rather unusual and exceptional.


Furthermore, the President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bolton, Professor George E. Holmes, DL DSc, who participated as a speaker at the anniversary event in the Old Parliament in Athens on April 16, 2024, characterized Lord Byron as 
the architect of an enduring alliance and friendship between the United Kingdom and Greece.” This is one of the key dimensions of Lord Byron's work regarding Greek-British and, more broadly, Greek-European relations. More and more Britons might now begin to recognize this aspect following the anniversary events6 and the subsequent deluge of international publications.

 

 

 
ENDNOTES

 

1 Dr. Corin Throsby, hailing from Sydney, holds dual Australian-British citizenship. She currently teaches English Literature and Cultural History at the University of Cambridge. Having earned her undergraduate degree from the Australian National University, she pursued her Ph.D. at the University of Oxford, with her dissertation focusing on Byron.

 

Throsby, Corin. A chameleon life: Reviving a scandalous poet on the bicentenary of his death, TLS. Times Literary Supplement, no. 6315, 12 Apr. 2024, pp. 3+.

 
3 As to the historical importance of Elizabeth Palgrave’s letter, Dr. Throsby said: “For centuries people have wondered what Byron’s lost memoirs might have contained, so it is truly exciting to have another first-hand account from someone who read them. Byron was always out to shock, and he would have been unsurprised and possibly delighted by Elizabeth’s extreme reaction to his work. Her letter shows the success of Byron’s ‘bad boy’ persona as she is not only disturbed but also clearly fascinated by him, repeatedly imagining how he was feeling while writing. In this way, the letter offers a window into how Byron was read in his time and demonstrates the lost memoir’s apparent ability to simultaneously scandalise and captivate its readers’ imagination.
 
4 GRATEFUL GREECE («Η ΕΛΛΑΣ ΕΥΓΝΩΜΟΝΟΥΣΑ») is the title of an emblematic vintage painting by the Greek painter Theodoros Vryzakis (1858), showcased in the National Gallery of Greece (Photo 7).
 
5 According to Τhe Guardian

6 Regarding the two anniversary events in Athens and Cambridge, the former, held in the Old Parliament on April 16, 2024, was organized and sponsored by New York College. The latter, at the University of Cambridge on April 19-20, 2024, was organized by Trinity College Cambridge with sponsorship from the Society of Hellenism and Philhellenism. In both cases, the participation of the Armed Forces of Greece in these events for Lord Byron's bicentenary incurred no cost to the state budget of Greece.

 

 

 

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