Imperial Geographies in Byzantine and Ottoman Space

  Bazzaz, Sahar, Yota Batsaki, and Dimiter Angelov, eds. 2013. Imperial Geographies in Byzantine and Ottoman Space. Hellenic Studies Series 56. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

8. Evading Athens: Versions of a Post-Imperial, National Greek Landscape around 1830

Constanze Güthenke

On New Ground

In 1834, the German archaeologist Ludwig Ross, freshly minted overseer of Greek antiquities in the Peloponnese, described the arrival in Athens, Greece’s freshly minted capital, of King Otho’s bride Amalia as the first Queen of Greece:

With the advent of Western civilization and its true benefits to Greece also came some of its obligatory nonsense. The Athenian authorities, whether it had occurred to themselves or whether it had been suggested to them, had decided to present the young queen upon arrival with a speech and the symbol of the city in the form of a living bird of Minerva, legs and wings bound with white and blue silk ribbons. No sooner had the queen set foot on Greek soil than she almost fell over the great number of olive branches strewn in her way, only to have to attend next to that poor little screech owl that by then was practically frightened to death. [1]

Ross 1863:104–105

Geographies, imperial, national, or otherwise, rely on actual material ground, but what constituted Greek ground—its extent, borders and ownership—when Amalia stepped onto Greek soil, was an issue complex enough to make lesser people than a new queen stumble. An out of control owl, terrified and disoriented, rather than a gift of welcome that would be easy to hold on to acts here as {183|184} placeholder of Athens, throwing the newly arrived, foreign queen even further off course. This episode underlines that the “geography” of Greece, the ordering, perception, and representation of Greek land, is deeply structured by reference to its ancient strata and the value derived from them. Ross leaves open whether this symbol of Athena, made real and causing havoc, is suggested as a token of Greece’s ancient past by well-meaning Greeks themselves or by the Bavarian administrative corps charged with staging the royal welcome; but he knows that it is the lens of Western civilization that makes that attempt understandable in the first place.

Much has been written in the last two or three decades on Greek nation-building and its peculiarities; the interest in the structures of the modern nation, and the identities generated and unsettled by it alike, was itself in many ways catalyzed by a global situation in which the concept of nation emerged as an imaginatively engineered “challenge for a collection of territories recently emerged from colonial domination.” [2] Much has also been written on the project of modernity as itself a “colonialist project,” [3] in a sense of state politics, as much as in a sense of self-colonization as an intellectual background with an effect on political and cultural production. [4] Almost any colonial situation is bound to be complex and diffuse in its thematic boundaries and its multiple local allegiances past and present; but the establishment of the Greek nation-state begs the question of just what kind of colonialism or post-colonialism is at issue here. Upon its ostensible liberation from Ottoman dominance, Greece was a country as yet ill-defined in its territorial extent, social makeup, and political organization. It was granted sovereign statehood, as opposed to semi-autonomous or otherwise special status, when it was recognized by the three Protecting Powers (England, France, and Russia) in the London Protocol of 1830. With statehood agreed upon, the form of governance chosen for the new state was a monarchy (and after 1843 a constitutional monarchy). The monarch eventually chosen, after what amounts to a game of diplomatic and royal Musical Chairs, was the underage prince Otto von Wittelsbach of the Bavarian royal family, who ruled Greece initially by way of a three-member regency from 1833 until his legal coming-of-age in 1835. The fact that his father, Ludwig I of Bavaria, was a known Philhellene and admirer of classical Greece in its modern Greek manifestation is less a significant biographical fact than it is representative of Hellenism as a shaping, and so to speak, a colonizing, factor well beyond Bavaria. It shows up the valuation of Greek antiquity as a link between past cultural excellence and a receptive modernity, and as a discourse with political, aesthetic, and {184|185} organizational effects for the new nation-state of Greece, as much as for its European observers.

The main stress in the historiography of the modern Greek nation-state has therefore been on its early place in the sequence of national movements in Europe, as well as on its relative and to an extent maybe unexpected success. [5] Making Greece a newly refined paradigmatic case in the study of nationalism, such as Beaton does in a recent volume, has merit. At the same time, it is also possible to view the early phase of nationhood in the light of the changes both within and away from an imperial situation in which the territory that would become Greece was located. Molly Greene, in her work on the Early Modern Eastern Mediterranean, has described well how a real sea change in the Mediterranean world may have had less to do with the breakup of the Roman Empire or the rise of Islam than with the Early Modern and Modern change from an ancient regime to a new regime of national empires. These new empires stretched much beyond the Mediterranean, but extended their influence into the Mediterranean: Britain, France, and Russia, in addition to the Ottomans. [6] In other words, much as the acknowledgement of Greece as a nation-state is a break with the Ottoman imperial system, it is also the moment of a reorientation within a continuing situation of national empires in the greater Mediterranean and Western European context. To treat the new Greek nation-state of the 1830s through the lens of imperial, rather than only national, geography may therefore help to throw its complex spatial understanding into new relief, and to unsettle the frame of analysis from the dominant nation-state model.

The moment of the queen’s arrival, as wife of the new head of state, was one that promised an end in sight to the current provisionality. Moving the focus a little further away, it was also a moment that described the transition between the long-drawn-out and spatially very ambivalent War of Independence—its changing borders, changing locales of political influence, and changing seats of changing governments—on the one hand, and a politics of irredentism tightly bound up with the Eastern Question in the years to come, on the other hand. For the modern Greek case, it might have been appropriate and maybe more obvious for this present collection to hone in on imperial geographies in the context of Greece’s own so-called Eastern Question from the middle of the nineteenth century onwards, after prime minister Ioannis Kolettis’ famous formulation of the Megali Idea—the “Great Idea” that sees Greece as including the “unredeemed territories” of Asia Minor populated by ethnic Greeks—became a dominant part of political, and in some larger sense, social and cultural rhetoric. {185|186} This formulation produced interaction with Western imperial powers and their literary models, too, that make geography a central focus. [7] Instead, I suggest a new look at the phase preceding that political and cultural expectation, a moment quite literally of transition and of indeterminacy when it comes to distributing roles of East and West, home and abroad, colonizer and colonized. Foregoing the usual focus on the disputed borders and margins of the Greek territory in its more obvious imperial context (and contact), I focus on the quite radical indeterminacy of what constitutes the homeland even within the putative borders of the new state, in the place where it seems most uncontroversial.

In an unsigned report on the question of the seat of government, dating from May 1833 and written in German (undoubtedly by a German official from the Greek Ministry of the Interior), Athens is praised for: its cultural eminence and clear ability to feed a city in classical times; its access to a sea port linking it easily with the East (the alternative, the area of the Corinthian Isthmus, was in this argument only accessible from the sea by way of the Gulf of Corinth); its access by sea to building materials not otherwise available; and its ready space. Even though no national land was really available there (most of it was privately owned), and little actual building infrastructure was currently present, mosques and churches could readily be appropriated for public buildings, and inhabitants were allegedly willing to sell their property at an attractive rate to the arriving contingent. [10] An addendum to that document adds that Athens, as opposed to Nafplio or a place nearby, promises a much greater level of homogeneity and social stability. [11] If one reads further in the documents it becomes increasingly clear, however, that almost all members of the Greek administration were arguing strongly against Athens, among them Trikoupis, Mavrokordatos, and Kolettis (the last favoring Megara). Their arguments for a new Greek geography, in contrast, make much of the ideal situation of the isthmus that provides access to two gulfs (Corinthian and Saronic), the relative prosperity of agriculture in the area, and the availability of public land. [12] In the end, it was the Bavarian vision that would prevail: a geography of historical integration, circumscribing an almost utopian place where social and political fractiousness would be diffused by sheer force of tradition.

Panagiotis Soutsos’ Leandros, and Alexandros Soutsos’ The Exile of 1831

Leandros is the epistolary novel of a young Greek who, born in Constantinople, but (through his involvement in the Greek insurrections) displaced throughout the Balkans, Europe, and Greece, has arrived in Athens. There he chances upon his childhood love Koralia, who is now married and a mother. Their love is resuscitated by the encounter, yet Koralia holds to her marital vows; the impossibility of their reunion and Leandros’ suffering lead Leandros’ friend to trick him into a journey through Greece, on an itinerary that includes memorial sites of classical as well as of recent political significance. His route commemorates the Greek War of Independence by explicit comparison with the desolate contemporary situation of chaos and corruption, and it mirrors the memories of the short past and prematurely failed future with Koralia. Leandros returns to Athens to find Koralia dying of her conflicting emotions and her moral steadfastness. After her death, Leandros, like a good Wertherian, commits suicide. The novel has clear debts to Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) and Ugo Foscolo’s Wertherian The Last Letters of Jacopo Ortiz (1801), both of which Soutsos knew (Werther, at least, in French translation) and unapologetically makes reference to in his {188|189} prologue. And yet, the theme of the fulfillment of the past made impossible not just in the present but because of the present, and its interference in the romantic union, is also what distinguishes Leandros from his literary ‘models.’ Although the unsuccessful relationship and the suicide of the protagonist are the themes both of Werther and Jacopo Ortiz, the past is given less of a motivating and hampering role. Werther and Lotte are ostensibly kept apart by a social code; the story of Jacopo Ortiz, told around the fate of a dissident in the secessionist upper Italian provinces of the Napoleonic era, is already of a more openly political nature (here, too, it is the state of a non-unified country that mirrors the impossibility of a happy match); but none of the literary ‘models’ aligns the themes of intertwined erotic tension, territorial disorientation and political situatedness between East and West, ancient and modern, quite so explicitly as Leandros does.

The Exile of 1831 is the story of another unnamed Constantinopolitan whose political energies make him return from abroad to join the Greek revolution, and whose strong criticism of the policies of the first governor, Ioannis Kapodistrias, makes him fall foul of the government. His sympathies are with those demanding a constitution and with those rallying around local leaders to unseat Kapodistrias and his Westernized, self-interested administrators, especially after Kapodistrias’ assassination in 1831 by the local leaders and brothers Mavromichali from the Mani area of the Peloponnese. His tale of exile, imprisonment, and revolution is interlinked with the pursuit of the adorable Aspasia, whose hand in marriage he first rejects for the sake of his best friend, who is in love with her also. This friend’s early death (from unrequited love) should clear the way for a happy union, were it not for the demands of political action and an ambitious political and romantic rival who sabotages the Exile’s every attempt to win Aspasia and her father, and who is in fact largely responsible for the main character’s political persecution and exile. With new political success after Kapodistrias’ death and the disintegration of his government, the Exile eventually wins back Aspasia (who appears to have fewer moral scruples and more practical wisdom than her literary sister in Leandros), only to see her poisoned by his frustrated rival. The Exile abandons the state of Greece to return to Constantinople, where he continues to live a life in isolation from society.

At first sight these novels look like generic Romantic pastiche, and even pastiche of the wilder kind, and this is largely how they have been evaluated until fairly recently. [16] In recent scholarship it has been more fully acknowledged (and here it should be said that prose fiction of the 1830s and 1840s in general has only recently become both better known and better studied), that {189|190} both of these novels make the process of traveling across space, the description of place, and the significance of space and place as national, political, and emotional, all central elements. Soutsos’ Leandros especially has been reevaluated as a novel very openly acknowledging its claim as the self-styled first Greek novel in relation to nation-building, national identity, issues of national space, and Romantic aesthetics. [17] However, there has not been nearly as much attention paid to Soutsos’ Exile, an even more incongruous and disaggregated novel, stylistically as much as generically. These novels are literally unsettled, very consciously addressing the question of what ground their characters move over. For Panagiotis Soutsos, the failure to secure a shared, lived-in space, becomes sublimated both onto a higher and a deeper level: into both religiosity and the substitution of the past for the present; and into a shying away from the form of the actual, current landscape. In Alexandros Soutsos’ novel, there is a more stubborn attention to very contemporary detail, including that of place. But here too, there is failure: the whole story is a long-drawn-out sequence of missed encounters and opportunities, political as much as erotic, which fail on a spatial level as much as on an emotional one.

To illuminate the two brothers’ narrative geographies, it is worth contextualizing them within contemporary attitudes to the national land, for want of a better term. Both wrote and in many ways centered their novels in Nafplio, even though they were published after the capital had been moved to Athens. The Soutsoi were of a politically very active family: one brother had been killed in the Battle of Dragatsani right at the beginning of the War of Independence, and a cousin, Dimitris, was a prominent judge in Nafplio. However, both brothers belonged to that peculiar first generation of Greek writers, concerned with what constituted a national literature, who were themselves just that little bit too young to have fought actively in the War of Independence themselves. Moreover, almost all came originally from outside the territory of the new state, sharing their origins in the well-connected, intellectual cultural world of the Phanariots, i.e. the Greek class holding high administrative office in the Ottoman Empire, clustered around Constantinople and the Danubian principalities in particular. Alexandros, born in 1803, and his younger brother Panagiotis, born in 1806, had first arrived in the new rump state of Greece in 1825, after being educated in Italy and then in Paris, to which they returned for some more time two years later. {190|191}

The new kingdom was small. The territory of the Greek state in 1832 did not include more than the Peloponnese, Attica, and mainland Greece no further north than the imaginary line from the town of Arta, near Missolonghi, to the town of Volos, a little north of Euboea. [18] Nafplio was more thriving than the provincial and war-ravaged town of Athens, but still only a minor port city; both places in any case, and this is abundantly clear from the sources, were unprepared to accommodate the sizable foreign and then mainly Bavarian military and administrative contingents. [19] What was more, in the narrow circles of the newly forming society there was, in the 1830s, no structure of an established middle class nor of an established artistic profile integrated into or, for that matter, opposed to it. The social strata taking up the functions of the upper and middle classes were composed of foreigners, administrators, and functionaries, captains of the local bands and members of the local elites, with no small amount of animosities between them. The wealthy merchant communities that had gradually formed abroad in the late eighteenth century largely continued to stay abroad, and it took several more decades before the hierarchies of the upper and middle classes were filled and determined by new groups of merchants, manufacturers, bankers, and intellectuals. Bettina von Savigny again gives a perceptive and detailed description in her letters of the sheer spatial challenges of social life at Nafplio and then in Athens in 1833–1834, for Greeks and foreigners alike: the difficulty of finding furniture; the bartering over housing among new arrivals; the attempts of the Greek and Bavarian Administration to improve living conditions (for example, at Pronoia, the “new town” part of Nafplio); the sheer number of people to entertain; the confusion over what visiting etiquette was to be the rule; and the presence of visitors in the house at almost all times (hindered in Athens by the fact that available living space was so restricted that many had to move to locations out of town, making for longer ways and unexpected effects of social isolation). There are also her observations on the piecemeal character of the Greek houses she would see when paying social visits, sparsely and traditionally furnished, though proud to display a few valuable, but somewhat incongruous, objects, such as a gigantic gilded mirror, or an enormous mahogany chest of drawers. [20]

The confusion over both actual and social space was carried over into the figurative geography of professions and their respective place and role in a new society. The literary authors of new Greece, writing from a location that was provisional while ostensibly indicating continuity, and operating in the small, albeit international circles of Nafplio and later Athens, moved no less in a {191|192} somewhat ill-defined field of professional activity; here the challenge of delineating national ground was matched by the difficulty of delineating the shape of the artist. This impasse of creating a new literature must have been acutely felt: in Alexandros Soutsos’ novel, the final and fateful poisoning of the heroine is almost, but only almost, prevented by a moneyless writer of commissioned verses, who is a lodger in the same house, and whose name, Phoibapollon, of course is a pathetic and powerless inversion of the master of the Muses. This Phoibapollon involuntarily brings about Aspasia’s death, and indirectly the withdrawal from society by one of its most ardent political activists, by oversleeping instead of revealing the murderous plan he has overheard in the night. Soutsos’ novel is in part deliberate satire, but it is not always easy to tell where its boundaries with non-satire run. Alexandros Rizos Rangavis, another writer of the Soutsos generation and background who went on to a career as writer, translator, professor of archaeology, and diplomat, tells a similar story about the expectations set by a classical past, however conceived, on a modern literary landscape. In his extensive memoirs, he mentions how as an aspiring writer and just arrived in Nafplio, he found himself advised by a local notable well-versed in the expectations of philhellenic sentiment to go out and converse with the ancient monuments so as to write, in this environment, on the recent heroes of the War of Independence. Much as he tries, though, Rangavis admits that all his honest efforts to make continuity and revolution converge on a common Greek ground come to naught. [21] In other words, here we find the writer’s unclear position expressed in relation to the actual space that is supposed to be the arena of a national literature.

The Status of National Land

At the same time, the status of Greek territory and actual land policy was clearly of interest to both brothers. In the closing reprise of the prologue to Leandros, Panagiotis Soutsos addresses his target audience: the new generation, whose duty it is to continue what his own generation has accomplished. In his phrasing, the identity of his generation becomes multiple, and the roles of fighters, politicians, and poets deliberately indistinguishable:

Youth of Greece! What you could have demanded from our own generation has been done. We wonder-workers have built you a future, given you a homeland and freed the earth of your ancestors …

P. Soutsos 1996:47 {192|193}

As a publication with a literary as much as a socio-political agenda, the journal offered a forum for social criticism and political ideas, particularly along the lines of Saint-Simonism, a utopian, Christian socialism attracting a considerable audience in France of the first half of the nineteenth century. Before elucidating its role and its link with a quasi-imperial geography and social vision of land use, a few more words are needed on the parameters of how land was treated and understood in the Greek context at this point of writing.

If it is difficult enough to establish borders, and with it identities, it was just as difficult, on a more local level, to establish a shape, nomenclature, and provenance for the ground under one’s feet. To stay with the novels of the Soutsoi, what was the actual status of the land over which their characters roam, and where does the narrative, so deliberately contemporary, take place? Under Ottoman rule, land had been cultivated and owned in a multilayered way and on a fluid scale of public, semiprivate, and de facto private. (The notion of exclusively private ownership in Ottoman law was elusive: land could be de facto privately owned, yet could belong to a range of officials or foundations and ultimately to the sultan, who in turn held it in trust for God.) [24] In the period of at least the century before the Greek revolution, a çiftlik economy (monocultures on large estates to allow for large-scale production, especially of wheat and cotton) had been adopted in a few Greek provinces (mainly in the north {193|194} and to an extent the western Peloponnese). However, this type of economy was by no means adopted by all provinces; the çiftlik economy was itself an effect of imperial economic politics beyond the Ottoman Empire, as Western Europe sought to import such goods in large quantities. The standard “experience” of Ottoman land regulations for the area that would become the Greek state, however, was a system of local tax farming, whereby local “big men” would advance payments to the Porte increasingly in need of cash revenue, to be reimbursed by the local taxpaying population in ways unsupervised by the Porte itself. [25] Within this system, an estate was tantamount to a claim, rather than to a piece of actual property, and it is this indirect, rather figurative sense of property ownership that is of interest to the scholar of literary texts thinking about attitudes to land and about semantic transfer implied in literary representation and figurative language. By the same token, Ottoman common law knew of a system of complicated strata of ownership or belonging, in that, for example, the produce of a piece of cultivated land could be the private property of the cultivator, while the soil in which the produce grew technically was not. In short, the prevailing experience of land tenure under Ottoman rule was one of nested, and often multiple, affiliations with the land, and of overlapping registers of belonging. Put differently, there was little precedent of exclusive, let alone collective, national ownership of, and natural or national entitlement to, ground—a good illustration of the legacy of imperial geographies for those of the new nation-state.

As for the new nation-state, the Ottoman system of land cultivation and distribution stayed largely in place for the time being, as did the system of tax farming, with contracts auctioned off to locally powerful highest bidders, a system that ostensibly allowed the government to maintain badly needed revenue during an ongoing military campaign with an uncertain outcome. In addition, Greek governments from as early as 1823 had begun to promise land compensation to those fighting for independence and to those who had lost land during the revolution. Whether the land was the Greek authorities’ to give was still another question. Both the Petersburg Protocol in 1824 and the London Treaty in 1827 (and finally in 1832) had envisioned that Greece would buy land from the Ottoman Empire and pay indemnities, and eventually (after 1832) Greece did pay compensation to the sultan, financed, like much else, by way of foreign loans. Those foreign loans, in turn, financially disadvantageous to Greece and often not officially authorized, for example in the British case, were staked on Greek national lands as guarantees, and Britain, fearing undue influence of other protecting powers, especially Russia, was keen to see any real {195|196} land distribution still avoided for a while. [29] The Kapodistrias government, in other words, found itself in a situation where national land was given out in promise with one hand, and kept in trust with the other, leaving the question of estates pending, and building up a legacy of unfulfilled obligations, with a great amount of land, in addition, uncharted, unaccounted for, and in legal and administrative limbo.

Given the political involvement of the Soutsos brothers, these issues were not merely literary. Alexandros Soutsos had worked for a while as a surveyor for Kapodistrias’ project to chart the national lands. It was only afterwards that {196|197} his disaffection with Kapodistrias’ government made him into the full-time critic and satirist who, like his character the Exile of 1831, would have to face multiple lawsuits. Meanwhile, the social and political outlook promoted in the journal edited by the brothers owed much to the opinions also promoted by the followers of Saint-Simon, with which they had come into contact during their time in Paris, but also in Nafplio directly. [32] Several Saint-Simonists arrived in Greece in 1834, and under the premiership of Ioannis Kolettis, one of the most prominent local Saint-Simonists would have been Gustave d’Eichthal. A Jewish convert to Catholicism with extremely good family connections in Bavaria, Eichthal was appointed to a position at the Office of Public Economy in Nafplio from May 1834 to October 1835, part of the Ministry of the Interior that was truly gargantuan in the range of its dossier. There he was charged with promoting the industrialization and economic advancement of the state, and it was there that he dreamt up unsuccessful plans about the possible colonization of Greece in the literal sense first of all: the land cultivation and industrialization by foreigners and through foreign and Greek financial investment. [33]

The rhetoric of the Saint-Simonists, like that of many other Romantic discourses, included a reliance on an organic model that was both historical and social: the worldview of Saint-Simonism saw a progressive development of humanity towards increasing rationalization, harmonized with art, science, and eventually industrialization, to benefit all of society. However, this also included the assumption of a natural inequality between “Africans” and “Asians,” on the one hand, and “Europeans,” on the other hand. Such a natural hierarchy is seen repeated on the level of the individual in society: here, Saint-Simonism {197|198} postulates a (quasi-Platonic) dominance of the artist, scientist, and industrialist, each with their sphere of influence, a “clerisy of scientists and artists” to guide, and an industrial dynamic to catalyze and materialize social improvement. [36] This opinion is also reflected in the search for an appropriate position of the writer in the young Greek state. After the Comte de Saint-Simon’s death in 1825, his social vision developed in different groups: the Parisian commune of Père Enfantin, for example, came to exaggerate the religious-mystical element of the sect, which compares with Panagiotis Soutsos’ religious trajectory of his literary characters, their vision of religious sublimation as a spatial alternative, and his increasing focus on a Christian mysticism in later works; other followers (including Enfantin himself) expanded into grand-scale industrial projects at home and overseas, such as the Suez Canal Company, and the development of the French railway system.

The Inner Geographies of the National Novel

How does all of this line up with the narrative of space and geography in the two novels? They both, I suggest, reflect a notion of “Greek territory” that is empty and overcrowded at the same time. It is empty in the sense of its openness to {198|199} development, progress, and freedom, waiting to be settled; but it is also empty in the sense of its being derelict, abandoned, or inhabited by the past to the extent that there is no space for the present. It is crowded in so far as it accurately reflects an urban culture marked by excess, in terms of numbers as much as in terms of ideal expectations. It is also crowded in that it signifies multiple levels of belonging, which may or may not add up to an ordered stratigraphy.

In terms of their topography, it is worth beginning with the fact that both narratives, albeit in different ways, evade Athens, the new center of (Western) government by the time both novels go to print. Much of the plot of Leandros may take place in Athens, but both of its main characters are foreigners to the town. Here the past and their pasts are suddenly in the foreground: just as Athens is the rediscovered place awaiting rebuilding, Leandros and Koralia rediscover each other there (they were childhood lovers) in a situation of displacement. Quite apart from the excavation of a personal and ultimately irretrievable past throughout the novel, there is also abundant direct reference to archaeological sites, a fact that provoked discussion at the time: would the great number of ruins in Athens (and elsewhere) mean that their space was lost to habitation and should be kept empty, or would there be a way of integrating ancient and modern in an architectural and urban planning sense? [38] Ruins, as “memorials” of the ancient past, serve as settings for a number of significant meetings between the protagonists, who oscillate between positive and negative interpretations of the scene, stressing the value of memory or the absence of past glory, depending on whether the predominant mood is one of hopefulness or despair. This is the place where the lovers are free and able to communicate their past, their present desire, and the impossibility of their future. Nature is on the one hand the ostensibly harmonious environment, which, as opposed to the restrictions of social space, allows the meetings of the protagonists to take place, if only for a time (Leandros and Koralia meet for long walks around Athens), and which also lets them experience their meeting of minds in the light of the material remains of ancient Greece and the natural, unchanged beauty of Greece present. Koralia is directly aligned with the past, both the individual past and the national past: in a night walk around the ancient sites of Athens, her ideal beauty is set next to the temples’ ideal beauty. The impossibility of recreating the past is, however, the overriding (European) mode(l), quite literally when it comes to the works by Goethe and Foscolo, which Soutsos himself points to as his templates. [39] Other {199|200} scenes of the novel use as foreground the absence of ancient grandeur, and in a vignette of Athens, Soutsos draws attention to what was then becoming the standard reference of such lack: the Parthenon marbles, having been taken away by Lord Elgin. [40]

Happiness, or any form of livable or representable experience, is impossible inside and outside the capital alike. It is the combination of Leandros’ desire and Koralia’s resistance, which eventually sets him, against his will, onto the path to roam the territory of the new state and the material traces of its ancient past. The itinerary, which takes up a good part of the book, doubles as a foil for the paradoxical emotions of its observer (rich with memory, or derelict, as was the case with Athens) and an educational survey for the benefit of the reader. It is the education of the reader, and the role of the writer, after all, on which Greece’s competitiveness in relation to Europe depends. Outside Athens, and the force field of Koralia’s presence, and in a territory that is more compatible with the tenets of admiration for unconfined Greek nature, Leandros engages in a repeated praise of the country life, once more far from society, that is presented as the home of freedom and innocence. Such praise may be reminiscent of the progress towards cultivation envisaged in the pages of the journal Helios. And yet, Leandros’ rovings recall the itineraries of the Grand Tourists, the Greek travelers, as opposed to their European counterparts, as not just itinerant, but propelled onto a path of flight because they have, and quite literally, too, nowhere to settle.

The Exile of 1831 is equally frank about overlaying the educational topography of European visitors with a picture of flight paths necessitated by political dissent and displacement. Soutsos opens the novel with his main character surveying the panorama at Thermopylae, guided by an old local schoolteacher. His imaginary vision of Persians and Greeks readying for battle in an as yet empty and peaceful landscape contrasts sharply with the first “documentary” episode a little later that intersects the narrative by giving a summary of the recent military campaigns through the eyes and ears of a young farm boy sent by the Exile to Nafplio (to deliver, or rather fail to deliver, a letter to his beloved). Just as much as the Bavarian officials feared and suspected the political combustibility of Nafplio, the urban space of the Exile (much as its author would have disagreed with most of the Bavarians most of the time) is a place of confusion, ambition, overcrowding, and misdirected, despotic politics. This becomes clear throughout the novel where it is never urban space as such that enables visions of love, harmony, or belonging; instead, it is islands, the countryside, orchards, and even the short sea passage across the gulf of Nafplio, which the Exile has {200|201} to make when he is arrested wrongfully and taken to the little prison island of Bourtzi. On the sea and away from the shore, between imprisonments figurative and real, his spirit soars. In this pattern, even Athens is glossed over, when the Exile stops there only for a brief moment of sublimity and awe, without Alexandros Soutsos going into any detail. Unlike his brother, it would appear, he willfully ignored the possibility of Athens as a political place altogether.

Alexandros Soutsos may appear to be spending less time on the description of antiquities, [41] but he is a careful reader of ancient texts nonetheless, utilizing them to the fullest when he undermines the sense of rightful Western or Greek “comfort” within any of the Greek territory. The opening scene, in which the moment before battle at Thermopylae is imagined, is not simply a commonplace invocation of the Persian wars as a foundational myth of Western historiography, as the transitional moment from myth to history. [42] Instead, Soutsos makes extended use of the complicated spatial model of cross-projection that is characteristic already of Aeschylus’ tragedy Persians: here the basic situation is that of a Greek audience watching a play set entirely at the Persian court (though played by Greeks); the play, moreover, is unusual in that it stages an event directly linked to recent Athenian political history (the ultimately unsuccessful Persian campaign against Athens), rather than a mythological theme. It does so, moreover, at a point in time when Athens’ own military aspirations put reflections on Persian hybris and warnings about failure in new perspective. Aeschylus stages the intimate experience of the Persian defeat in front of an Athenian audience at a time of Athens’ rise to imperial power itself. In Soutsos’ novel, reference to the Persians is abundant, here as well as in other places with regard to Salamis, Athens, and especially in the Exile’s confrontation with Kapodistrias himself. Kapodistrias is likened to the Greek general Themistocles at Salamis (not a figure of Aeschylus’ play), who enjoys the Athenians’ support, though he will, so the historical implication goes, be changing his allegiance to the Persians once he has lost that goodwill. [43] Earlier on Kapodistrias is being compared to the Persian king Xerxes himself; another hint at Kapodistrias’ risk of tyranny comes in the “Neronian ethos” he is charged with by the Exile; and in another comparison to a mishellene and foreign emperor. [44] The perspective Aeschylus offers is far from a simple celebration of victory, but instead a reminder of impermanence. The movable structure of superimposing and {201|202} inverting the roles of conquerer and conquered, both liable to be tripped up by lack of measure, tallies well with Soutsos’ critical tone vis-à-vis the Kapodistrian administration holding on to European models. [45] It is also matched by the consistent portrayal of Nafplio and its society, at least those who find or seek to find favor with the government, as simultaneously Westernized and Orientalized. A good, representative example is the house of Aspasia’s father, by the shore and, so the narrator informs us, dating from a time where the scene was not yet the built-up town it will soon become, with everyone trying to gain financial advantage, driving up house prices and building extensively. The father, gossip has it, had made his money supporting Ibrahim Pasha’s Peloponnesian troops and allies (the ones General Maison, vanguard of the scientific expedition, was sent to drive out), while staying on the good side of the Kapodistrians. Despite having spent time in Marseille, however, he has not given up his “Asiatic” garb (including a shaved head and a dyed moustache). He is a landowner of despotic bent too, and it is only the prospect of having to provide a dowry that keeps him from accepting the Exile’s rival as his son in law (at least until the rival manages to get the Exile condemned to death for insurrection). The father, the rival, and most Nafplians associated with them are therefore described as displaying a “fancy” that may be European in appearance but is stereotypically “oriental” in essence—just as the house has a large number of expensive furnishings, objects, and paintings showing typically Western idylls and picturesque landscapes, together with agricultural scenes, the house’s owner lives comfortably in the style of the oriental despot. [46]

In this oscillation between who or what is East and West, colonizer and colonized, there is one more striking instance that brings into focus the ambivalence of cultivating new ground in a new state defined by ancient precedent and open to foreign intervention. This is the figure of speech, repeated in many contemporary poems, speeches, and articles, which hailed the new king Otto as a new Danaos, settling the Argolid. In mythology, Danaos, an Egyptian though with Greek divine ancestry (the usual pedigree of most Greek mythological figures, however foreign), seeks exile in Greece and eventually becomes a peaceful king of Argos. The Argolid, to which Nafplio belongs geographically, since antiquity had had a reputation for its fertility—and the figure of the semi-foreign ruler settling what is to become a Greek heartland is an attractive, and, more importantly, a flexible figure to think through the arrival of a Bavarian king expected to represent Greece. Panagiotis Soutsos, for sure, in one of his poems and in the speech mentioned above given at Argos, uses the image with ease (Soutsos {202|203} 1834). Alexandros Soutsos, too, mentions the young king, about whom even he remained hopeful at this stage, in a vignette when a farm boy, sent to Nafplio, gradually approaches the noticeably modernizing and changing city:

On the carriage road to Nafplio, one of the miracle works of Ioannis Kapodistrias, the simple farmhand stood gaping in wonder, saying to himself: “how much, just how much must they have spent building this road!” A little later he passed Tiryns, and then Apovathmoi, where Danaos alighted in old times when he brought the first seeds of community to Greece, and where soon, around 1833, another young Danaos would alight, as king of Greece

A. Soutsos 1996:66

Ostensibly hopeful, there is too much retrospective skepticism (the scene is set in 1831, the time of writing is at least 1834) not to make obvious the signs of Oriental wastefulness and despotism that could attach to Danaos, the king from Egypt, as much as to his modern, European successor.


The situation of Greece around 1830 is framed by a set of mutually overlapping imperial and national geographies. Imperial geographies, as understood in this volume, denote an understanding of space and of place simultaneously one’s own and not one’s own, a space that is somehow marked by inequality in political and cultural power. The circumstances of the 1830s extend that space one’s own and not one’s own to the conditions of new national geographies even within the boundaries of the state’s territory, in which the conflicting demands, the indeterminacy and the volatile locations of identity attach to a Greek geography that is to a large extent first realized in writing. The early 1830s is a moment in time when the capital is not yet determined; Greece has not yet worked out a national rhetoric of its own past civilizing mission in the West and its future civilizing mission in the East (the Great Idea), nor has it worked out the status of what land actually belongs to whom. Ludwig Ross, the observer of Queen Amalia’s plight as she steps on the Greek shore, would go on, in the 1840s, to write optimistic reviews and opinion pieces for a German audience about the potential for Greek colonization further East, [47] but then he was an archaeologist who believed in benevolent cultural diffusionism and in the precedent of ancient Greece’s creative response to other cultures (such as Egypt). Observing {203|204} what was right in front of his eyes in 1834, however, he may have stood closer to the realities of a queen, an owl, and a geography out of kilter. {204|}

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[ back ] 1. All translations are my own.

[ back ] 2. Peckham 2001:x, quoting Macdonald 1995:272 on Indonesia.

[ back ] 3. Thomas 1994, quoted by Peckham 2001:4.

[ back ] 4. For example, Gourgouris 1996.

[ back ] 5. Beaton 2009.

[ back ] 6. Greene 2000:3–12.

[ back ] 7. Miliori 1998; Gotsi 2006.

[ back ] 8. Tziovas 2003, for further bibliography; for the provisionality and instability of the emerging national geography, see also the papers by Batsaki, Stavrakopoulou, and Zandi-Sayek in this volume.

[ back ] 9. See Bastea 2000:69–104, especially, for the architectural planning of the new capital.

[ back ] 10. Papadopoulou-Symeonidou 1996:12–16.

[ back ] 11. Ibid., 19–22.

[ back ] 12. Ibid., 26–56

[ back ] 13. Güthenke 2008.

[ back ] 14. Peckham 2001.

[ back ] 15. P. Soutsos 1996:45.

[ back ] 16. Vayenas 1996; Tonnet 2002.

[ back ] 17. Tziovas 2009; Güthenke 2008:173–190; Calotychos 2004:111–121; Peckham 2001:22–25. In general, the political context and to an extent the outlook of both novels has only recently been commented upon more forcefully; see the introductions to their most recent editions, both 1996, by Alexandra Samouil and Nasos Vayenas, respectively.

[ back ] 18. See Clogg 2002 for maps.

[ back ] 19. Koliopoulos and Veremis 2002:195–99; Skopetea 1988:87–92; Petropoulos 1968.

[ back ] 20. Savigny 2002:58–72.

[ back ] 21. Rangavis 1892 i:273–275.

[ back ] 22. Soutsos 1834:2; Güthenke 2008:177.

[ back ] 23. Vayenas 1996:23–24.

[ back ] 24. McGrew 1985:22–40.

[ back ] 25. Ibid.

[ back ] 26. Only some resettlements or rather semi-authorized and semi-legalized settlements such as those of several Cretan communities near Nafplio, or of some Hydriots at Piraeus were more long-lasting. McGrew 1985:187–195.

[ back ] 27. McGrew 1985:53–79.

[ back ] 28. Briffaud 1998; Sinarellis 1998; Godlewska 1999:149–192; Witmore and Shanks, forthcoming.

[ back ] 29. McGrew 1985:41–52.

[ back ] 30. Ibid., 79.

[ back ] 31. Peckham 2001:38.

[ back ] 32. Vayenas 1996:34–37.

[ back ] 33. Eichthal 1836.

[ back ] 34. Emerit 1975.

[ back ] 35. Ibid.

[ back ] 36. Leopold 1998.

[ back ] 37. A case in point are the attempts to settle Bavarian troops of the royal entourage and their families in a more lasting fashion, which, with the medium-term exception of a Bavarian “colony” at Iraklion near Athens, seems to have fallen victim to clashing expectations, and unwillingness on all parts to find a workable solution. Seidl 1981, Machroth 1930, McGrew 1985:187–195. Colonization as a model certainly appears in contemporary writing, and usually with reference to the Peloponnese and specifically the fertile Argolid. But whether it is George Cochrane drawing up a detailed plan for Greek and foreign investment and new foreign military contingents (added to the national debt at substantial interest) to guard territory and agrarian progress; or whether it is Ludwig Steub who entertains a vision of clean, ruddy Swabians, ringing church bells, maidens dancing around maypoles, and new local wine of German provenance—in both, and other cases like them it is the travelogue that is the main forum for such thoughts, where they are embedded in a discourse of travel and its aesthetic. Cochrane 1837:323–353; Steub 1841:47–50.

[ back ] 38. See Papadopoulou-Symeonidou 1996:44, with reference to Mavrokordatos; the same anxiety surrounded the question of the location for the royal palace and Schinkel’s extravagant plans for integrating it on the main, extended plateau of the Acropolis.

[ back ] 39. See also Güthenke 2008, more generally, on the structural expectation of failure to recover the past.

[ back ] 40. P. Soutsos 1996:78.

[ back ] 41. One of the few references to “ruins” are the very contemporary marble fragments left over from a monument to Kapodistrias, which fails to get built, and behind which an assassin sent to the Exile tries to hide.

[ back ] 42. Lianeri 2007.

[ back ] 43. A. Soutsos 1996:102.

[ back ] 44. All three from A. Soutsos 1996:70.

[ back ] 45. Cf. Van Steen 2007 on private stagings of the play in Constantinople in or shortly after 1821.

[ back ] 46. A. Soutsos 1996:144.

[ back ] 47. Minner 2006:282–290.