Images of Greece: Byron and Thomas Hope's Anastasius

By Minta, Stephen | The Byron Journal, July 1, 2018 | Go to article overview

Images of Greece: Byron and Thomas Hope's Anastasius


Minta, Stephen, The Byron Journal


This essay addresses a question raised in the title of an article by the late Peter Cochran: 'Why did Byron envy Thomas Hope 's Anastasius?' Cochran's article was published in the Keats-Shelley Review in 2010.1 That Byron did envy Anastasius seems well established, though his own comments on the novel are very brief (contained in two letters to his publisher, John Murray, from Ravenna, in July and September 1820).2 Neither of these letters suggests envy in any obvious sense, but Lady Blessington's account of what Byron may or may not have said has carried the day:

Byron spoke to-day in terms of high commendation of Hope's 'Anastasius'; said that he wept bitterly over many pages of it, and for two reasons,-first that he had not written it, and secondly that Hope had; for that it was necessary to like a man excessively to pardon his writing such a book-a book, as he said, excelling all recent productions, as much in wit and talent, as in true pathos. He added, he would have given his two most approved poems to have been the author of 'Anastasius'.3

Thomas Hope was a very wealthy man, of Dutch-Scottish descent. His novel is subtitled: Memoirs of a Greek; written at the close of the eighteenth century, and it was first published by John Murray in a three-volume edition in 1819. The title page carried no name; the second edition, in 1820, also carried no name on the title page, but it had a dedication, with Hope's name at the end of it. At its heart, this is a novel concerned with ideas of Greekness. So, by way of general context, I begin by looking at ways in which the Greeks have thought about themselves over time. I will then look briefly at the background to the publication of the novel; and then, finally, at the novel itself, why it remains worth reading, for all its considerable length and unevenness, and what Byron might have found to admire in it.

Firstly, then, ideas surrounding Greece and the Greeks.4 The Greeks themselves have used three words over the course of their history to describe who they are. The first name is 'Hellenes'. This name already appears in Homer, where it applies only to the inhabitants of a small area of central Greece. Later, from around the sixth century BCE, it was generalised to mean 'all Greeks'. Thereafter, it pursues a bewildering semantic course (with the advent of Christianity, for example, it was used to mean 'those who believe in many gods')-until, with the founding of the modern Greek state in 1830, it became, as it remains, the standard term for 'Greeks'. Modern Greeks are Hellenes and their country is the Hellenic Republic.

The second term the Greeks have used about themselves is 'Graikoí'. It is attested from at least the fourth century BCE. This seems, like 'Hellene', to have started out as a tribal name-in this case, to describe a people from Western Greece. It has never vanished from the language. It ran in parallel with the use of the name 'Hellenes' in Alexandrian times, survived the Byzantine period, and came back into fashion in the pre-Revolutionary period in Greece (i.e. the period before 1821). With the founding of the Greek state, it finally gave way to the term 'Hellenes' in nearly all contexts. It is, obviously, the name that has been borrowed into the modern western European languages. The OED's first attestation of the noun 'Greek' in English is from c.893.

The third word to describe Greeks is the most interesting from the point of view of the novel Anastasius. This is the name Romaíoi or Romioí. It means 'Romans', and goes back to Byzantine times, where it describes the inhabitants of the Eastern Roman Empire, which had its capital in Constantinople. Constantinople was founded as the 'New Rome', and the spoken Greek language came eventually to be called Romaic. During the Turkish occupation, after the fall of Byzantium, Romiós began to lose the prestige it had originally had, and began to take on pejorative connotations, as well as keeping its core sense of Orthodox Christian. …

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