Modern Greece and the Macedonian Heritage – Part 8 – Connecting the Past with the Present

by Risto Stefov,, February 22, 2009

When the crazy idea of creating „Hellenes“ out of the Modern Barbarian ethnic groups, who during the late 18th and early 19th centuries were living on the same lands as the people from the Ancient City States of 2,500 years ago, was starting to take root a history had to be written for them. This would be no ordinary history but a history that would extend their lineage connecting their modern existence with that of their ancient.

But didn’t I tell you all along that the Modern Greeks are not at all connected with the ancient ones? Didn’t I tell you that the Modern Greeks are not Greeks at all but Slavs, Albanians, Vlachs and an assortment other smaller ethnic groups? Yes I did! How then can a group of Slavs, Albanians and Vlachs be connected to a people that ceased to exist more than 2,000 years ago? All I can say at this point is that „it’s by Magic“!

In this article we will explore the magic processes used by the Philhellenes to transform mere barbarians of the Slav, Albanian and Vlach kind into sophisticated Modern Greeks, perfect replicas of the Ancient Greeks, as envisioned by their Philhellene creators.

If I can refer to Lord Byron as the „Father of Modern Greece“ because of his involvement in the creation of the „Modern Greek“ then I would have to refer to Johann Gustav Droysen as the „wizard of Modern Greek History“ for his magical performance in making the connection between the Modern Greeks and the „Ancient“ ones.

Johann Gustav Droysen (1808-1884) was a German historian and a member of the Frankfurt Parliament. (Page 597, „The Columbia Encyclopedia“ 3rd Edition, 1963)

In „The Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece“, edited by Nigel Wilson, on page 345 we read „The first modern appearance of the concept of Hellenism and Hellenization occurs in Geschichte des Hellenismus G. Droysen’s great three volume work published between 1833 and 1843. He viewed the Hellenistic period as the time in which, in the territories conquered by Alexander the Great, Greek and Near Eastern cultures were intertwined to create the cultural background from which Christianity emerged.“

The great Philhellene masterminds, it appears, were not too concerned about the Ancient to Modern Greek connection when they were concocting the idea of creating Greeks from Slavs, Albanians and Vlachs because they probably did not believe that the concept would catch on, but once it did, that job fell upon Johann Gustav Droysen to connect them to a fabled but glorious past.

„In his first edition of [his book History of Hellenism] 1883 Droysen set out to bridge the gap between classical Greece and the coming of Christianity, and he found his link in what he called the Hellenistic age.

‘My enthusiasm‘, he wrote ‘is for Caesar, not Cato, for Alexander, not Demosthenes‘, small wonder that such a man living in the Germany of Bismarck should conceive a devotion to the rising state of Prussia, with its manifest destiny to unite the Fatherland; and Droysen’s second edition, published in 1877, under the spell of Prussian success, laid special stress on the forces making for panhellenism and the unity of Greece – above all Isocrates and the kings of Macedon.

It was Droysen who really raised the national issue in Greek history.“ (Page 235, „The Problem of Greek Nationality“, F.W. Walbank)

Droysen, it appears, had quickly discovered that the Ancient so-called Greeks had disappeared from the face of the earth and he could not make a connection so he decided to borrow or perhaps steal from the Macedonians. Even though the Macedonians ethnically had nothing to do with the Ancient City States, Droysen made it his mission to make the connection, making it appear as if they did. Instead of appropriately calling the Period subsequent to Alexander the Greats‘ time „the Macedonistic Period“, he opted for calling it „Hellenistic“, which in effect robbed the Macedonian people of their heritage and handed it to the artificial newly created Greeks.

Further down in „The Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece“, edited by Nigel Wilson, on page 345 we read „The creation in the 19th and 20th centuries of modern European Empires in regions once dominated by Hellenistic kingdoms was a further spur to reassessing the Hellenistic period. Those developments encouraged scholars to see Alexander and his Macedonian successors as precursors of contemporary events. In parallel, scholarship was adding new evidence to Droysen’s view of Hellenistic civilization as a mixed culture which, although Greek in character, had been enriched by the incorporation of features derived from ancient Near Eastern cultures.“

In Peter Green’s book „Alexander of Macedon 356-323 B.C. a Historical Biography“ on pages 482 and 483 we read „Committed liberalism, however, was not a universal feature of nineteenth-century scholarship. European history moved in various channels, some more authoritarian than others: as usual, Alexander’s reputation varied according to context. One milestone in Alexander studies was the publication of Johann Gustav Droysen’s still immensely influential biography, Alexander der Grosse (1833). It has often been said, with justice, that this is the first work of modern historical scholarship on Alexander: Droysen was, undoubtedly, the first student to employ serious critical methods in evaluating our sources, and the result was a fundamental study. Once again, however, Droysen’s own position largely dictated the view he took of his subject. Far from being a liberal, he was an ardent advocate of the reunification of Germany under strong Prussian leadership and after 1848 served for a while as a member of the Prussian parliament.

Thus we have a biographer of Alexander imbued with a belief in monarchy and a passionate devotion to Prussian nationalism: how the one aspect of his career influenced the other is, unfortunately, all too predictable. For the aspirations of independent small Greek states (as for their German counterparts) he had little but impatient contempt. In his view it is Philip of Macedon who emerges as the true leader of Greece, the man destined to unify the country and set it upon its historical mission; while Alexander carried the process one step farther by spreading the blessings of Greek culture throughout the known (and large tracts of the unknown) world. Plutarch’s early essay on Alexander had made much the same point, contrasting the untutored savage who had not benefited from the king’s civilizing attentions with those happy lesser breeds who had, the result of their encounter being that blend of Greek and oriental culture which Droysen, perhaps rather misleadingly, christened Hellenism.

As one contemporary scholar says, ‘Droysen’s conceptions were propounded so forcefully that they have conditioned virtually all subsequent scholarship on the subject.‘ Whatever their views on the nature of his achievement, most subsequent biographers tended to see Alexander as, in some guise or other, the great world-mover. This view held up surprisingly well until after the Second World War. The late nineteenth century, after all, saw the apogee of the British Empire, and scholars who got misty-eyed over Kipling in their spare time were not liable to argue with Droysen’s view of Alexander. But this was also the heyday of the English gentleman, and much of that fascinating if often legendary figure’s characteristics also now began to figure in their portraits – Alexander’s becoming lack of interest in sex, his chivalrous conduct to women, his supposed ideals and aspirations towards the wider and mistier glories of imperialism.“

Droysen again sets the stage for Macedonians not only to be viewed as „Greeks“ but as „Greek unifiers“ missing the point altogether that Philip II of Macedonia subjugated the City States after defeating their armies in Charonea in 383 BC. But some people just see what they want to see completely ignoring reality!

In the book „The Body Impolitic“ by Michael Herzfeld on page 9 we read „Here is the ultimate Greek tragedy: that of a country forced to treat everything familiar at the time of the nation-state’s foundation as ‘foreign‘ while importing a culture largely invented – or at least redesigned – by German classicists of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. For many decades, and almost without interruption, Greeks were forced to put aside music, art and language that were deemed too tainted by the ‘oriental‘ influences of the Ottoman, Arab, Slavic and Albanian culture; to forget the partially Albanian roots of modern Athens and its environs; to use in elite-controlled contexts such as schools, the media and the law courts an artificial language syntactically modeled to a surprising extent on French and German but claimed as a revival of a ‘pure‘ ancient Greek that supposedly had been preserved in these quintessentially Western languages; and to contemplate the architecture of Bavarian neoclassicists as more genuinely Greek than the homes and churches that had been their cultural settings for many centuries.“

Then on page 6 of the same book we read „The Greeks‘ marginal status in the ‘Western Civilization‘ of which they are supposedly founders, and yet in important respects also the victims, rudely batters their everyday lives at every turn: internationally embarrassed by their successive governments scandals and acutely aware of their dependency on the European Union of which Greece is a member state enjoying nominally full equality with the others, they find themselves derided for an obsession with whether or not they are ‘really European‘ that is itself the product of a ‘crypto-colonial‘ set of aesthetic and ethical norms.“

On page 7 of Michael Herzfeld’s book „The Body Impolitic“ we read „Greece is a country created and lauded by the West for virtues that were to a great extent invented in the West: the glories of classical culture, intensely studied and formulated in such universities as Gottingen and Oxford during the enlightenment, were imported during the romantic era in Greece, now under a western imposed Bavarian monarchy and Bureaucracy. In Athens, a partially Albanian small town dragged into modernity by being made the national capital, the florescence of neoclassical architecture signed the reconstruction of the present as a living past, but the local architecture (and especially those aspects of it that seemed to recall the Ottoman period) was demolished as quickly as possible. Domestic spaces nonetheless retained non classical interiors often with distinct Turkish-sounding names for the various features, in contrast to the classical names of the exterior ornament. In language, above all, ordinary speech was increasingly condemned as both decadent and foreign, a medley of Turkish and Slavic influence, and was replaced for legal and educational purposes by the newly created puristic language. Music, art and folklore – everything was reclassicised in a formula created in Germany, Britain and France.“

Further down on page 7 and at the top of page 8 of the same book we read „Greek independence was thus highly conditional. The bourgeoisie that emerged out of this situation was beholden to the west; the religious imitated the rationalism of the West; and the academic establishment, especially during periods of military rule, faithfully reproduced the self demeaning ideology of Greece the European ancestors as prime instrument of its own – highly conditioned – status and power.“

I find it unnecessary to add any more information; the above few quotes quite remarkably define not only the fabrication processes but also the character imposed on the south Balkan people to create this fantastic entity called Modern Greece. These few quotes go a long way in describing what went on in the fabrication of this purely artificial nation called Greece and in the falsification of its history ; and if I may add at the expense, among others, of the Macedonian people.

Now a few words about the other creator of Greece; Lord Byron

„It is worth while to ask, for instance, how many of those who are moved by the poetry of Lord Byron has contrasted it with his opinion of the modern Greeks, when now and then he descends to sober prose? It is somewhat curious to notice the actual origin of Lord Byron’s expedition, and the opinion he really formed in the course of it. Dr. Millingen as his physician and constant companion, speaks with an authority on this point to which no one else perhaps can make an equal claim, and this is the account he gives; – Breaking asunder the shackles which checked their immorality, the late revolution has given the amplest scope to the exhibition of their real character, and it stands to reason that it must have placed in more glaring light the melancholy picture of their utter worthlessness. Even under the wisest government, the regeneration of a nation can be the difficult work of time, and certainly none can be less easily improvable than this.

According to the same authority, Lord Byron, when asked why he fought for Greece, gave the following reason: – Heartily weary of the monotonous life I had lead in Italy for several years, sickened with pleasure, more tired of scribbling than the public if perhaps of reading my lucubrations, I felt the urgent necessity of giving a completely new direction to the course of my ideas, and the active, dangerous, yet glorious scenes of the military career struck my fancy and became congenial to my taste. I came to Genoa, but far from mediating to join the Greeks, I was on the eve of sailing to Spain, when informed of the overthrow of the liberals, I perceived it was too late to join R. Wilson, and then it was the unmanageable delirium of my military fever that I altered my intentions and resolved on steering to Greece. After all, should this new mode of existence fail to afford me the satisfaction I anticipate, it will at least present me with the means of making a dashing exist from the scene of this world where the part I was acting had grown excessively dull.“ (Pages 929 and 930, „The Nineteenth Century a Monthly Review“, edited by James Knowles, July-December, 1870)

And now I leave you with this;

„In order for Greece to be delivered her independence from the Ottomans by the great powers of the enlightened West, Greece had to prove not only that she could become a modern nation but, somehow, that Greece, under the oriental patina of the Ottoman subject, was always already the primal modern entity. Or alternatively, Greece could have followed Ludwig von Maurer’s advice, who, in 1836 said that ‘all the Greeks have to do in order to be what they used to be is mimic the Germans.“ (in Tsiomis 1985b: 144). And the Greek intellectuals understood only too well that in order for them to be considered to be European they first had to prove that they were as ‘Greek‘ as the rest of the Europeans.“ (Page 28, „Fragments of Death Fables of Identity an Athenian Anthropography“ by Neni Panourgia).

For those who are still not convinced that the Modern Greek identity is an artificial creation, please continue to read this series of articles.

To be Continued – Part 9: Language Religion and Identity