Literature and Nation: The “Imagined Community” and the Role of Literature in the Making of Modern Greece

Roderick Beaton, King’s College London
In this paper I propose to discuss Modern Greek literature as the literature of an emergent nation. That is to say, I will not be pointing out landmarks of literary stature, so much as highlighting the role of imaginative writing, during the first century and a half, roughly, of the independent Greek state, in establishing a communal consciousness for the modern nation. In principle, I believe that the role of literature should not be assumed to be a passive one: yes, literary writers depict and in various ways reflect the political and social reality of their time; but I mean also to make the stronger claim that the production, reading and discussion of imaginative literature may themselves be constitutive of that reality.
My starting point is therefore the influential, though also controversial, study by Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities, first published in 1983:
[T]he nation [...] is an imagined political community, and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign. It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow–members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.
Anderson 1991:6–7
Enough has been written about Anderson’s theory, its limitations, and whether or not it can properly be applied to the case of Greece, that I can sidestep these issues here and concentrate on an aspect of the theory that has been less discussed: namely the active role of literary texts in the formation of national identity. [1] In order to do this, I shall focus on a series of historical turning–points in the development of the Modern Greek nation, and examine some of the most influential literary texts that emerged from them. In this way, I hope to make the case that the writers in question are not merely reporting, or reflecting, a given external reality that is being enacted elsewhere, but are themselves contributing to the continuing communal process of “imagining the nation,” between the 1820s and the end of the dictatorship of the “Colonels” in 1974.

The War of Independence: Solomos and Kalvos

In the early 1820s, while the war of independence was at its height, two poets, each from the Ionian island of Zakynthos, but unknown to one another and writing at opposite ends of Europe, began actively imagining and promoting a collective vision of the nation that was still in the process of taking shape. Dionysios Solomos is known to posterity as the author of the Greek national anthem, but also as one of the subtlest writers in Greek to pursue the ideas and aesthetics of the Romantic movement in western Europe. His “Hymn to Liberty” (the poem that later became the national anthem) was written in Zakynthos in May 1823, and within the next two years published in bilingual editions in Italian, French and English. In it, Liberty is personified as a goddess, and addressed:
From the bones issuing forth,
the sacred bones of the Hellenes,
and as bold as in former times,
hail, o hail, Liberty! [2]
It has often been assumed that the “Hellenes” referred to here are Solomos’s own contemporaries, the embattled fighters against the Ottoman Turks over on the Greek mainland. But in fact it was only during the war itself that Greeks began systematically to refer to themselves by the ancient name of “Hellenes”; until then, most had defined themselves by the name that derives from the Byzantine Empire: Romioi. In Solomos’s poem, then, Liberty is imagined as emerging from the long–dead bones of the ancients Greeks; the modern fighters are presented as being the “children” not of the ancient Greeks, but of Liberty, as the poem’s fifteenth stanza makes clear:
Yes; but now fights back
every child of yours with vigour
who ceaselessly seeks out
either victory or death. [3]
At exactly the same time that Solomos was writing his “Hymn to Liberty,” far away in Geneva, Andreas Kalvos was embarking on the series of twenty Odes, of which the first ten were published in 1824. Kalvos, too, knew that “Hellenes” in the Greek language of the day meant primarily “ancient Greeks”; he became one of the first to conflate those distant precursors with the contemporary insurgents. Kalvos’s odes, written in a stiffer, more formal Greek than was used by Solomos, adopt from western eighteenth-century neoclassicism the habit of referring to everything by classical or classicizing names. So it comes as no surprise, in the second ode, “To Glory,” to find an echo of the “Famous Greek War Song” translated by Lord Byron we can see the meaning of the word “Hellenes” changing before our eyes:
Do you understand? — Run, arise
sons of the Hellenes;
glory’s hour has come,
our illustrious ancestors
let us imitate. [4]
But immediately after this the poet continues:
If glory whet the sword,
it will surely thunder;
If glory inspire
the soul of the Hellenes
who can defeat it?
In the second of these two stanzas the “Hellenes” are the moderns, those who are fighting in the War of Independence that had yet to be won on the battlefield.
In these two brief examples, from poems by Solomos and Kalvos, I believe it is possible to see the process of “national imagining” at work, at the very time when the nation’s destiny was being forged in the armed struggle of the Revolution. These passages also encapsulate a way of defining the nation, while it was still fighting for its independent existence, exclusively in relation to ancient Greek civilization. In these poems, and in much else that was written at the time, both literary and non–literary, the Modern Greeks are imagined as being the literal and direct inheritors of a civilization that had ended some two thousand years before. Whether the builders of the new nation–state are imagined as being the biological descendants of the ancients (Kalvos) or their more figurative successors by virtue of their espousal of the cause of liberty (Solomos), either way it is assumed, and consistently proclaimed, that the emerging modern nation stands in a direct and immediate relationship to the ancient. Nothing stands between. Indeed Kalvos, in another poem, had defined the intervening period between ancient civilization and its rebirth in the 1820s as a “night of centuries” — in this way reducing the entire history of two thousand years to a single night. [5]
These two poems sum up something fundamental about the way in which the Greek nation-state was at first conceived by its intellectual and political elites, from the 1820s until at least the beginning of the 1850s. We are not talking about truth or falsehood here: obviously, such a claim is open to challenge, and indeed, as we shall see, it was challenged. But Solomos, Kalvos, and many others of the time were not falsifying history: they were imaginatively selecting from it, and through their work, promoting that selectivity. We may criticize them with the benefit of hindsight if we wish — and some of the most distinguished non–Greek historians of Modern Greece have done so, including Arnold Toynbee (1981:8) and Richard Clogg (2002:1); but it is also worth asking: without that bald claim that Modern Greece was the revival and direct continuator of an admired ancient civilization, would the insurgents of the 1820s have been successful in securing recognition for Greece, as a sovereign nation–state, by international treaty in 1830? [6]

After Fallmerayer: Folklore, Byzantium, Language

The challenge came as early as 1830. Jakob Philipp Fallmerayer (1790–1861) was an Austrian historian, who lived and worked in Munich, capital of Bavaria and the home of Greece’s first King, Otto. In a two-volume History of the Peloponnese in the Middle Ages (1830, 1836), Fallmerayer set out primarily to attack the philhellenism that had come to predominate at the Bavarian court, under the patronage of Otto’s father, King Ludwig I. [7] Fallmerayer examines in great detail the historical record, as it was then available, for that long period dismissed by Kalvos as a mere “night of darkness,” the period that separates the end of ancient Greek civilization from the emergence of the new state in the nineteenth century. According to Fallmerayer, the civilization established by the ancient Greeks had been blotted out, and the racial stock of the inhabitants of southern Greece replaced, on no fewer than three occasions: by the Romans in the first century BCE, by Slavs in the sixth to eighth centuries CE, and by Albanians in the fourteenth.
Fallmerayer’s provocative arguments were no less an imaginative construct, based on selectivity from the historical record, than the views that he set out to debunk. But they had an important effect. Beginning in the early 1850s, Greek intellectuals and writers began to exert themselves to fill in, in their own terms, the long historical interval that had been elided at the beginning, and to begin to seek their own answers to the questions that had been so uncomfortably answered for them by Fallmerayer: what did happen during those centuries? From the second half of the nineteenth century onwards, Modern Greece began to imagine itself not so much as the sudden revival and continuation of a long–ago interrupted civilization, but as the latest stage in a centuries–long process of continuity.
There were three prongs to the argument for continuity, each of which can be traced in the works of the literary imagination of period: folklore, Byzantium (by which I mean the history and religion of the medieval Byzantine empire), and (at the end of the century) language. It was from the 1850s onwards that Greek intellectuals began systematically to collect and publish the unwritten, oral records of traditional communities. According to Nikolaos Politis, the founding-father of Greek folklore studies, these oral testimonies, and particularly oral songs, “reflect faithfully and perfectly the life and manners, the emotions and the thought of the Greek people, and rekindle memories, refined by their poetic invention, of national vicissitudes” (Politis 1914:5). And down to at least the 1960s, the rationale for the academic branch of study known in Greek as laografia (folklore) was still this: to demonstrate the survival in popular culture of elements of ancient — and, later, also of Byzantine — civilization into the modern era, thus proving the continuity of Hellenism.
The beginning of Byzantine studies, and of a positive evaluation, by the elite, of the contribution of the millennium-long Christian civilization of Byzantium, comes at the same time. Its most spectacular, and enduring, result, was the publication between 1860 and 1874 of the History of the Hellenic Nation by Konstantinos Paparrigopoulos. In this historical synthesis, which ends just before the outbreak of the Greek revolution in 1821, Paparrigopoulos projected the nineteenth-century concept of the nation-state back through three thousand years, so as to allow Modern Greece to emerge as the culmination of a three-part division of history. This was also the counterpart of what western historians were doing at the same time: where the history of western Europe came to be divided into classical, medieval and modern periods, that of the “Hellenic nation” was similarly divided, with Byzantium corresponding to the medieval. Paparrigopoulos’s History has been hailed by one modern political theorist (and critic of Greek nationalism) as “without serious risk of exaggeration [...] the most important intellectual achievement of nineteenth-century Greece” (Kitromilides 1998:28).
In the field of language study, and in the ideology surrounding the Greek language, it took longer for attitudes to change. In the 1850s, indeed, a bizarre attempt had been launched to educate Greek–speakers progressively so that eventually they would end up speaking and writing in the classical language; it was an embarrassment for ideologists of the language, such as the poet Panayotis Soutsos, that the modern language had diverged as far as it had from the Greek of classical Athens, that in those days was taught in schools all over Europe and America. But then in 1888 came the astonishing polemical broadside, My Journey, published in Greek under the name “Psycharis,” who was better known at the time as the academic specialist in linguistics, based in Paris, and published in French as Jean Psichari. Psycharis was the first Greek linguist to absorb the teaching of the so-called “Neogrammarians,” a doctrine of historical linguistics which still holds good today. According to the Neogrammarians, it is in the nature of language, as living speech, to evolve continuously over time, through a process of systematic changes. [8]
Suddenly, the fact that modern spoken Greek (so-called “demotic”) was significantly different from the language of classical Athens, ceased to be an embarrassment to be concealed or minimized (like Kalvos’s historical “night of centuries”); instead, the changes it had undergone over the centuries, for which evidence could to some extent be culled from surviving written sources, were the ultimate proof of the continuity of a speech-community from ancient times to the present. To the delight of Psycharis, these changes could be revealed as systematic, further proving that demotic Greek conformed to Neogrammatical principles. (He also weakened his argument by arbitrarily trying to impose the principles he had observed historically at work, upon current usage.) On those grounds (among others) Psycharis launched a scathing attack on the so-called “purists,” who still defended the artificial hybrid form of Greek known as katharevousa. The spoken tongue, according to Psycharis, was the living proof of unbroken continuity from ancient times to the present, in the form of continuous linguistic evolution. This was the form of Greek in which My Journey itself was written, in defiance of all the conventions of the time. Scarcely less defiant was Psycharis’s conclusion, in which he proposed, rhetorically, to martial the demotic language as a great new military force in the battle to win territory for Greece in the East, at the expense of an ever–weakening Ottoman empire.
A nation appears as a nation and shows that it knows progress and culture, only when it makes its own language and understands the worth of its national, vernacular [dimotiki] language. It’s the army that will sort everything out. Against whom are we fighting? The Turks and the schoolmasters: the army will rout the Turks, and when it routs them and the kingdom expands, ideas will expand too and the [national] mind will be exalted. A people that is proud of its glory cannot be ashamed of its language. Then even the schoolmasters will change their tune. The language question is a political question: what the army fights to achieve for our physical frontiers, our language must do for our intellectual frontiers, both must go much farther, must take in more ground. [...] Language and fatherland are the same: whether you fight for your language or for your fatherland, the task is the same, and Homer tells us what that task is: to defend one’s patrimony.
On all three fronts (folklore, the rediscovery of Byzantium, reform of the language), writers and the literary imagination were present in the front line. Paparrigopoulos and Psycharis were themselves writers, if one accepts a broad definition of “literature,” and both have proved enormously influential, down to our own day. The effort to collect and publish folkloric material sent creative writers into the field; indeed many of the poets and writers of fiction of the last decades of the nineteenth century contributed factual material to the same periodicals in which they also published poems and stories. The whole movement, which takes over Greek fiction from 1880 to about 1910, known as “ethographia,” consists very largely of an exploration, through the medium of fiction, of the traditional and oral roots of contemporary society and culture. The greatest of these writers of fiction, Alexandros Papadiamantis, also played an important role in promoting an awareness of the religious practices of the communities he depicted, with a strong leaning towards the Orthodox faith and the legacy of Byzantium.
But it is the towering figure of Kostis Palamas, the poet who dominated the Greek literary scene from the 1880s to the 1930s, who goes the furthest in finding literary articulation for the developing ideas of Hellenic continuity. Palamas was an early convert to the cause of Demoticism, the movement, or pressure-group, most active between the 1890s and the 1920s, for the adoption of the spoken language as the written standard. In his long epic poem, The Emperor’s Reed-Pipe, published in 1910, Palamas juxtaposes episodes from Byzantine history with the folk tradition: the vision of the Byzantine emperor Basil the Bulgar–Slayer, on a visit to Athens in the year 1018, is imaginatively recreated by a crude shepherd’s pipe, the quintessential instrument of the folklore tradition. [9] But Palamas’s poem also reaches forward into the future, grappling with such issues as Marxism and the potential power of the proletariat, the dwindling of religious faith before the advances of science. It is a fascinating, problematic poem; even today, commentators are not in agreement on whether Palamas has produced an imaginative synthesis of the different periods of a continuous Greek history, or rather juxtaposes them in such a way as to question or even perhaps to undermine the idea of Hellenic continuity itself.
An altogether more straightforward text, not least because its length is limited by the confines of the sonnet-form in which it is written, is this early poem by Palamas, which emblematically sums up the concept of modern Greek identity as it had developed by the time when it was published — in 1895, on the eve of the first modern Olympic Games in Athens:
From the Danube to the end of Tainaros
and from Akrokeraunia to Chalcedon
you pass, sometimes like the mermaid of the sea,
sometimes like a statue of Parian marble.

Sometimes you hold the laurel-crown from Helicon
and sometimes you surge forth with the two–edged sword of the barbarian,
and along your great banner
I see a double-faced picture painted.

On this side the Sacred Rock shines bright like topaz
and the virginal-white chorus of the Maidens Carrying Baskets
goes forward and shakes the veil of the goddess;

while on the other sparkle the sapphires of the Bosphorus.
and through the Golden Gate passes in tumult
the triumph of victorious Emperors!
Palamas n.d.:20
The first two lines describe a Greek world larger than the Greek kingdom at the time: from the southernmost tip of the Peloponnese (curiously seeming therefore to exclude Crete, at that time still under Ottoman rule) to the Danube; from the westernmost tip of present-day Albania (Himara) to Chalcedon facing Constantinople on the Asiatic shore of the Bosphorus. The “you” addressed is presumably “Greece,” or perhaps a vaguer idea of “Hellenism,” or even the spirit of the nation. Its strengths combine the artistic and aesthetic prowess of classical civilization with the military might of medieval Byzantium. The double-sided banner juxtaposes Athens, crowned by the “Sacred Rock” of the Acropolis, and adorned by the sculptures of the Parthenon (then, as now, in the British Museum) with Constantinople, the center of the Orthodox faith, once capital of the Byzantine empire, and at this time envisioned by many Greeks as the future capital of an expanded Greek nation-state.
In this poem, Palamas declares himself an adherent of what had come to be known as the “Great Idea,” the irredentist dream of territorial expansion to the north and east. Not all Greek poets of his generation saw the destiny of their nation in such a way (and indeed I am not convinced that Palamas himself, in later poems such as The Emperor’s Reed–Pipe, did either). A rather different, and much subtler, imaginative recreation of the Hellenic past was the work of a near–contemporary of Palamas, C.P. Cavafy. The greatest of all modern Greek writers, and the only one whose work is widely known and admired, in translation round the world, in the early twenty–first century, Cavafy is always thought of as belonging to the twentieth century, although he was born just four years after Palamas, in 1863. The example of Cavafy reminds us that many Greeks, particularly in the nineteenth century, had been born and lived outside the Greek state; indeed, in Cavafy’s case, almost entirely untouched by it, in cosmopolitan Alexandria.
In his poetry, Cavafy liked to imagine his own idiosyncratic version of Greek history. For him, the glory days were not those of the classical civilization, on which so much of the national imagining of the Greek state was predicated, but of the supposedly decadent Hellenistic world which came later, when Greek language and culture had become diffused throughout the Middle East. In this way, Cavafy could place his own native city at the centre of his Greek world. [10] Cavafy was memorably described by the English novelist E.M. Forster, who met him in 1917, as “a Greek gentleman in a straw hat, standing absolutely motionless at a slight angle to the universe” (Forster 1983a:13). It was Forster, too, who gave the most perceptive account of Cavafy’s distinctive take on Greek identity and nationality:
He was a loyal Greek, but Greece for him was not territorial. It was rather the influence that has flowed from his race this way and that through the ages, and that (since Alexander the Great) has never disdained to mix with barbarism, has indeed desired to mix; the influence that made Byzantium a secular achievement. Racial purity bored him, so did political idealism. And he could be caustic about the tight–lipped little peninsula overseas.
Forster 1983b:44–45
Imaginatively, Cavafy brings this historical world to life in his poem of 1917, “In a Town of Osroene”:
We are a mixture here: Syrians, expatriate Greeks, Armenians, Medes.
Remon is one of us. But last night when
the moon lit up his sensual features,
we saw in our minds’ eye Plato’s Charmides.
Kavafis 1991:80
Charmides, in Plato’s philosophical dialogue of that title, is the emblem of young male beauty, as that quality had been admired in the aristocratic society of Athens in the fifth century BCE, when homosexuality was not only tolerated, but valued as the highest form of sexual love, in Plato’s Symposium. By introducing this figure and this ideal into his poem, Cavafy indirectly champions his own homosexuality, which he was beginning to make explicit in poems published about this time. But important for our purposes, in assimilating the youth with the Egyptian name (Remon), and the mix of racial and cultural groups to which he and the narrator belong, the poem ultimately promotes a Hellenic ideal of beauty that had first been articulated in his own Greek language. In this way the poem subtly implies the superiority of the “Hellenic,” not in racial or political terms, but rather as the source of a philosophy and an aesthetic into which anyone might “buy.”

Redefining the Nation after 1922

The defining event for Greek national consciousness in the twentieth century was the military defeat in Anatolia in August 1922 and the expulsion of the Orthodox Christian population from what would soon become the Turkish Republic. This was the context for the emergence of the influential group of writers known as the “Generation of the 1930s,” a group that included Greece’s only two Nobel prize-winners for literature to date: George Seferis and Odysseus Elytis. For this generation, the legacy of the classical past, which had been a founding principle of the Greek nation–state a century before, is once again at the top of the agenda; after the ignominious collapse of the “Great Idea,” the Byzantine legacy drops out of sight for a while (until after World War II). But the direct link to the classical world, that had been an ideological lifeline for the founders of the Greek kingdom, has become instead a deadly burden. In this poem by Seferis, of 1935, the ruined statue from a remote past is not only an unbearable weight; it resists every attempt to communicate with it, and ends by mutilating the living flesh of the modern speaker who tries:
I awoke with this head of marble in my hands
which exhausts my elbows and I have nowhere to put it down.
It was falling into the dream as I was coming out of the dream
so our lives became united and to part them again will be very difficult.

I look at the eyes; not open not closed
I speak to the mouth that would speak if it could
I hold the cheeks that have passed beyond skin.
I have no strength left;

my hands disappear and come towards me
amputated. [11]
Seferis made a determined attempt to separate the Greek state, with its newly narrowed confines, from what he called “Hellenism,” meaning the nation at large, its history and its culture. Hellenism, as Seferis understood it, meant the culture of the Greeks that in ancient times had been carried throughout the known world by the conquests of Alexander the Great. As he explained it in an essay in 1938:
And in that vast Diaspora it naturally had a significant impact. Hellenism was worked upon, shaped, given new life by temperaments sometimes Greek and sometimes not, until the Renaissance; and from that time on [...] by temperaments not Greek at all, that were active outside Greek lands.
Seferis 1981:99
As a result, ever since the time of the Renaissance, Hellenism had become appropriated by the cultures of western Europe; the legacy of the ancients had given rise to something that was neither ancient nor truly Hellenic, which Seferis termed “European Hellenism.” He now called upon his compatriots to repatriate the vital spark of that culture that had been preserved, in alienated form, far away from its native soil. The destiny of Greek writers and creative artists, he believed, was to build on what they had inherited from the West, as well as from their own country, so as to create their own, distinctive “Greek Hellenism”:
[Greek] Hellenism will acquire a physiognomy, when today’s Greece acquires a cultural physiognomy of its own. And its features will be precisely the synthesis of characteristics of the true works that will have been produced by Greeks. In the meantime, we should [...] counsel the young to seek after truth, [...] not by asking how they can be Greeks, but with the faith that since they are Greeks, the works to which their innermost selves actually give birth cannot but be Greek.
Seferis 1981:102
So wrote Seferis, in 1938. Between the 1930s and the 1970s, many other writers also grappled with the ancient legacy, particularly its myths and its history, in different ways. The Marxist Yannis Ritsos, in a poem written during a lull in the Greek civil war, in the mid 1940s, explores the heritage of Hellenism in its more unofficial, popular guise under the name Romiosini, in his poem of that title.
In this long poem, Ritsos proposes a perception of Hellenism, according to which the undivided collective consciousness of the Greeks, ever since the remotest times, consists in resistance, whether against the outsider (national consciousness) or against the oppressor (political or ideological consciousness) (Ritsos 1989:2.59–72). Thanks to the musical setting of parts of it by Mikis Theodorakis in 1966, Romiosini has become enormously popular and more or less universally known among Greeks. Then in 1968, in a slighter mode, Ritsos returned to the themes and images of this poem, in the series of short poems in traditional rhyming couplets, Eighteen Short Songs of the Bitter Fatherland (Ritsos 1989:10.155–160). Set to music, again by Theodorakis, these were ready for release on disc in 1973, and finally released within days of the collapse of the military dictatorship on 23 July 1974. As a result, these songs by Ritsos have ever since become for many Greeks almost synonymous with the fall of the Colonels’ dictatorship. The final “short song” addresses the subject of Romiosini directly:
For Romiosini do not weep — just when it seems about to bow the head
a dagger held against the spine, a leash about the neck,
look, it flies up once again, becomes bold and fierce
and lances the beast with the lance of the sun.
These two poems by Ritsos offer us perhaps the clearest evidence, yet, of how the imagination of writers can influence the way in which the national community is imagined, in Anderson’s terms, by its members. Two recent Greek dictionaries gloss the term “romiosini” with reference to this text from the Eighteen Short Songs, and one of them even gives a definition that has clearly been influenced by both poems: “Modern Hellenism, usually in sentences that speak of its struggles, its sufferings, its acts of heroism and its hopes” (Triantafyllidis Institute 1998; cf. Babiniotis 1998).


There is naturally a great deal more to be said on this subject. In this paper I have placed the main emphasis on the nineteenth century, as the formative period in the “emergence” of Greece as a modern nation-state. Other topics in the twentieth that could be added would include the rediscovery (again) of the Byzantine and Christian Orthodox legacy after the 1950s, a phenomenon in literature that runs in parallel with the “Neo-Orthodox” movement which has gained adherents since. Another watershed, that I have only been able to mention in passing, is marked by the seven-year rule of the “Colonels” (1967–1974). This was a time of censorship and political repression, when outmoded nationalist rhetoric was revived in all seriousness by a brutal and unsophisticated regime; writers responded with elaborate subterfuges designed to test the limits of the restrictions on free speech (Van Dyck 1998). But perhaps the most unexpected outcome of those seven years, in literary and cultural terms at least, was the emergence of an early, and distinctively local, version of global postmodernism, as we have come to recognize it in the later decades of the century. Going far beyond strategies of resistance, writers of the so-called “Generation of the 1970s” developed techniques of parody, subversion, and “splitting of the subject” that can be seen in hindsight as closely allied to the broader dynamics of postmodernism, as the contours of that movement were emerging elsewhere in the world during that decade. [12] It may be no accident that the home ground of global postmodernism is usually said to be South America; socially and politically, Greece at the end of the 1970s was seriously compared to South American countries by the influential sociologist Nicos Mouzelis (1978); many Greek imaginative writers, during the junta, had already tacitly drawn the same conclusion, and colluded to publish stories set in the fictional republic of “Boliguay” — where the military rulers, needless to say, behave in exactly the same way as those who had usurped power in Greece at the time (Kedros 1970).
Be that as it may, both postmodernism and globalization have left a deep impact on Greek writing since the 1980s, with the belated development of a mass market for literature, mainly fiction, and with writers setting out to explore new themes, such as the impact of recent immigration in Greek cities, the lives of Greeks abroad, and the imaginative reconstruction of periods of Greek history previously neglected, especially the Ottoman. [13]
These, I argue, are just some of the changing ways in which the Greek nation has been “imagined” in the literature of its first hundred and fifty years — a literature, as I believe, which throughout that time has had a real and active part to play in the emergence, consolidation and worldwide recognition of Greek national identity and its contribution to the world of today.


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[ back ] 1. On the public debate in Greece in 2005, see Beaton 2007.
[ back ] 2. “΄Υμνος εις την Ελευθερίαν,” stanza 2, in Solomos 1994:93. All translations from Greek in this paper are my own.
[ back ] 3. Solomos 1994:95. For a fuller discussion of the term ‘Hellenes’ in the context of the period, see Beaton 2007.
[ back ] 4. “Εις Δόξαν,” in Kalvos 1988:39, stanzas 22–23 (original emphasis). For Byron’s poem see Byron 1980:330–332; for Greek text and discussion of its authorship see Daskalakis 1977:72–103.
[ back ] 5. “Εις Ωκεανόν,” in Kalvos 1988:83, line 5.
[ back ] 6. For a fuller discussion see Beaton 2009.
[ back ] 7. This work has never been translated into English; a Greek translation, originally published in 1872, was revised and re-published in 1982. For an excellent discussion in Greek, see Skopetea 1997.
[ back ] 8. The fullest treatment of the intellectual debate about the Modern Greek language, and its historical, cultural, and literary implications, is Mackridge 2009.
[ back ] 9. Available in English translation with the title The King’s Flute (Palamas 1982). For my reasons for preferring the translated title as given here see Beaton 1999:90–91.
[ back ] 10. Most fully explored in Keeley 1976.
[ back ] 11. Mythistorema, poem 3 (Seferis 1972:45).
[ back ] 12. This promising territory has been opened up by two articles by Dimitris Papanikolaou: 2002; 2005.
[ back ] 13. See Spyropoulou and Tsimbouki 2002; Mackridge and Yannakakis 2004.