4th International Student Byron Conference, Messolonghi: 'Byron the Homeric Traveller'

Article excerpt

The 2005 International Student Byron Conference, generously organised and sponsored by the Messolonghi Byron Society, took place in Messolonghi and its environs from 17-24 May. From undergraduate to veteran professor, all participants were unanimous in their appreciation of an academic programme of immense diversity and extraordinary quality, tours to many of the area's most alluring sights (and historical sites), and a hospitality and graciousness of spirit unique to Greece and the hallmark of the Messolonghi Byron Society's assiduous and energetic President, Mrs Rodanthi-Rosa Florou. This year's theme, 'Byron the Homeric Traveller', was a particularly appropriate choice considering the participants who gathered to begin registering at Byron House on the afternoon of Tuesday 17 May. Reminiscent of the Catalogue of Ships in the Iliad, embassies arrived from around the globe: Russia, England, South Africa, Wales, the United States and, somewhat later, Lebanon. Greece was wellrepresented, not only by a number of Messolonghi luminaries, but also by students and professors from Athens and Thessaloniki. All delegations were pleasantly housed, either in the comfortable Hotel Theoxenia, an invigorating walk from Byron House, or in the newly constructed Panagia Eleousas Camp Building, just a brief stroll away - both enjoying delightful situations on Messolonghi's lovely, large lagoon.

The beauty of this May afternoon was exceeded only by the warmth of the opening reception by the Mayor of Messolonghi, Mr Giorgos Prevezanos, who honoured participants with a tour of the Municipal Art Gallery and Museum of History, with its many reminders of Messolonghi's heroic past and tributes to Byron and his compatriot, Colonel Leicester Stanhope. Following light refreshments and the souvenir presentation of one of a variety of reproductions of art works for each of the attendees, Mrs Florou led the group on a brisk walk around Messolonghi's historic town centre (which certainly brimmed with activity for a Tuesday evening), including a stroll down one of Greece's innumerable 'Byron Streets' (Odos Vyronos).

Dinner at the Theoxenia Hotel, sponsored by the Messolonghi Byron Society, capped the inaugural festivities. For many delegates, this was their first introduction to Greek cuisine, although the favoured 'aperitif' - particularly for newly arrived American guests - was strong coffee. And the evening's 'dessert' was a dramatic rendition of Byron's Beppo. In the unfortunate absence of Dr Peter Cochran, the theatrical enthusiasm and expertise of Professor Malcolm Kelsall was of immense value. He and Dr Peter Graham, both on very short notice, shouldered most of the weight of speaking roles, with some superb extemporaneous acting volunteered by Professor Andrew Hubbell (Beppo), Michael Edson (the Count) and Svetlana Klimova (an extremely coquettish Laura). The European contingent stayed up later to chat, while most of the bleary-eyed Americans shuffled off to bed.

The academic portion of the programme commenced on Wednesday morning with welcomes and introductions by Professor M. Byron Raizis, Joint President of the International Byron Society, Mrs Florou, President of the Messolonghi Byron Society, and Dr Graham, Director of International Relations at the Messolonghi Byron Centre. The papers of the first academic session began with a lively discussion by Shannon Heath, who spoke on 'Manfred's Byronic Hero and the Epic of Self'. Shannon argued persuasively that Manfred serves as a particularly felicitous prototype of the modern epic of self, in which the characteristic of autonomous independence becomes a feature of critical importance.

In the permanent absence of one and the temporary lack of another of this session's presenters, Dr Graham heroically closed the gap with his own contribution. Speaking on 'Byron, Odysseus, Nostos and Nostalgia', Peter deftly discriminated between 'nostos', which drives Odysseus in his epic return home, and 'nostalgia', so operative in Byron's life and poetry. …