Modern Greece, in history and literature, has been viewed as a transitory moment squeezed between two larger and more important entities. Viewed chronologically, modern Greece rests between the glory of the classical Greek past and the hope of a resurrected Greek future, which in many Western minds ought to resemble the democracies of Western Europe and America, which were founded on classical Greek models.
– David Roessel. In Byron’s Shadow:
Modern Greece in the English and
(OUP, 2002), p. 7.
Roessel’s book is much needed: the ideals of and ideas about modern Greece in English-language literature after Byron deserves much closer attention.1 I just wish he wouldn’t begin it by citing the silly fallacy that ‘the democracies of Western Europe and America […] were founded on classical Greek models’. Last I checked, representative democracy (aka ‘Republicanism’)—such as is found in, e.g., America—was a Roman idea. The details of all the constitutions of ‘Western Europe’ is beyond my ken, but again I would imagine that there’s more of Rome than Athens in them—romantic fictions notwithstanding.
Come to think of it, though, there were so many different forms of ‘classical’ Greek government, it’s ridiculous to talk as if Athens was the model for them all.2 Admittedly, it would not be at all amiss to talk as though people think that’s the case. However: if I keep on at this rate, I’ll start telling you why I think the Elgin marbles should be sent to China; and I don’t think either of us would be amused at the end of that tirade…
- Not least because of the political slantings of such literature (and indeed, of Byron). For further details on why Roessel’s book is such a wonderful idea, see Robin Waterfield’s comments in the BMCR. (Cf. a review of Stephen Minta’s On a Voiceless Shore: Byron in Greece from the Journal of Modern Greek Studies [JHU Project Muse]).
- Cf. Thuc. 2.37 & 2.65.4–9