Literature and Nation: The “Imagined Community” and the Role of Literature in the Making of Modern Greece
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.  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
the sacred bones of the Hellenes,
and as bold as in former times,
hail, o hail, Liberty! 
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:
every child of yours with vigour
who ceaselessly seeks out
either victory or death. 
sons of the Hellenes;
glory’s hour has come,
our illustrious ancestors
let us imitate. 
But immediately after this the poet continues:
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.
After Fallmerayer: Folklore, Byzantium, Language
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.
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!
Imaginatively, Cavafy brings this historical world to life in his poem of 1917, “In a Town of Osroene”:
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.
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
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
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”:
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.