Friday, April 19, 2024

Quote of the Day (Lord Byron, Dreaming That ‘Greece Might Still Be Free’)

“The mountains look on Marathon—
    And Marathon looks on the sea;
And musing there an hour alone,
    I dream’d that Greece might still be free;
For standing on the Persians’ grave,
I could not deem myself a slave.”— English Romantic poet George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824), “The Isles of Greece” (1821)
Two centuries ago today, Lord Byron died of a fever in Missolonghi, contracted while participating in the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire.
In some ways, his demise was filled with the kind of ironies that would have amused the creator of the mock epic Don Juan: Despite using his own fortune to raise an army to fight for the Greek cause, he was able neither to win any battles outright himself nor reconcile opposing factions; and he died not on a battlefield but at the hands of doctors whose bloodletting technique fatally weakened him against his fever.
At the same time, by focusing international attention on the Greeks’ struggle for autonomy, he brought an attention to the fight that it might not have received otherwise.
He is still remembered as a hero in that nation to this day, even though in his native England his reputation is more ambivalent, with respect for his enormous writing skill sometimes obscured by a private life that might charitably be termed complicated.
For more on Byron’s full-throated advocacy of freedom and liberalism at home and abroad, I urge you to read Paul Trueblood’s essay in the January 1976 issue of The Byron Journal.
The eight-year Greek War of Independence is examined in this fascinating online exhibit, coinciding with the conflict’s bicentennial, from the University of Michigan Library.
Byron’s involvement in the conflict occurred in the context of Britain’s diplomatic maneuvers, which the exhibit discusses hereAmerica’s “Greek Fever” also forms part of the exhibit.

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