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National Romanticism: The Formation of National Movements

Balázs Trencsényi
Michal Kopecek

Chapter IV. The Nation and Its Neighbors in Europe: Problems of Coexistence

What is Greece? West or East?

Markos Renieris
Traduction de Mary Kitroeff

Texte intégral

1Title: Τί εἶναι ἡ Ἑλλάς; ∆ὺσις ἥ ’Ανατολή (What is Greece? West or East?)

2Originally published: in the review Ἐρανιστής, B, 1, Athens, 1842, pp. 189– 215

3Language: Greek

4The excerpts are from pp. 204–214.

About the author

5Markos Renieris [1815, Trieste – 1897, Athens]: lawyer, philologist and historian. After completing secondary education in Venice, he studied law at the University of Padua. In 1835 he moved to Athens and started working as a lawyer. In 1839, as a lawyer, he defended Theofilos Kairis, a well-known clergyman who was accused of heresy. Later, he was appointed a judge, a position he retained until 1844, when he was dismissed due to the decision of the National Congress regarding heterochthones (see Ioannis Kolettis, Of this Great Idea). In 1842 he participated in the publication of the review Ἐρανιστής (Collector). Between 1853 and 1858, together with other prominent intellectuals, such as Constantinos Paparrigopoulos, Alexandros Rangavis and Nikolaos Dragoumis, he published and directed the francophone review Spectateur de l’Orient, which aimed at popularizing the Greek position during the crucial period of the Crimean War. In its pages he published extensively on political issues. His works on the Eastern Question earned him a reputation as an expert on foreign politics. This encouraged him to submit a memorandum to King Otto regarding what policy he should follow. Otto very much appreciated his views and appointed him ambassador to Constantinople (Istanbul). According to the ‘ethos’ of the period, Renieris participated in ‘irredentist’ activities as well. During the Cretan uprising of 1866–69, for instance, he was elected a member of the central committee of Cretans in Athens. For his services he was decorated by King George I. Renieris belonged to the group of intellectuals who had studied in the West and supported the Western cultural orientation of the Hellenic state. Even though he later shifted to the anti-Western camp, he has always been considered, together with intellectuals from the Ionian Islands such as Iakovos Kozakis-Typaldos, as a pioneer of the pro-European and secular cultural tradition in Greece.

6Main works: Φιλοσοφία τῆς Ἱστορίας. ∆οκίµιον [Essay on the philosophy of history] (1841); Τί εἶναι ἡ Ἑλλάς; ∆ὺσις ἥ ’Ανατολή [What is Greece? West or East?] (1842); Κύριλλος Λούκαρις, Ὁ Oἰkκουµενικός Πατριάρχης [Cyril Loukaris, the Ecumenical Patriarch] (1859); Ἱστορικαί µελέται, ό Ἕλλην πάπας ’Αλέξανδρος Ε’, τό Βυζάντιον καὶ ἡ ἐν Βασιλείᾳ σύνοδος [Historical studies: the Greek pope Alexander V, Byzantium and the Synod of Basel] (1881); De l’avenir du people grec et de la langue Grecque (1864); Περί Βλοσσίου καὶ ∆ιοφάνους, ἔρευναι καὶ εἰκασίαι [On Blossios and Diophanes, research and conjecture] (1873); Μητροφάνης Κριτόπουλος καὶ οί ἐν Ἀγγλίᾳ καὶ Γερµανίᾳ φίλοι Aυτοῦ (1617–1628) [Mitrofanis Kritopoulos and his friends in England and Germany] (1893).


7With the foundation of the Hellenic state and the nomination of the Bavarian Prince Otto as the first king of Greece in 1832, the obsession with antiquity, already widespread among the Greeks, became the core of state policy. The glory of the ancient Greeks was assumed to provide inspiration on the path to cultural, political and administrative development. It might seem paradoxical that attachment to ancient culture could be thought to contribute to a modernizing project. However, this paradox can be resolved if we consider the pro-European character of this discourse. The new state did not attach itself to the immediate past, as it had been preserved in the popular memory, but rather adapted itself to the convenient image of the ancient Greek past already created in the West. Otto’s father, King Ludwig I of Bavaria, was obsessed with ancient Greece and brought up his children with the aspiration that one day one of them would reign over this glorious land. In line with these notions, upon Otto’s arrival the capital of the state was transferred from Nafplion (in the north-western part of the Peloponnese) to Athens, an insignificant town at that time.

8In the meantime, the local Church severed its bonds with the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1833 and declared itself autocephalous. For this the supporters of the autocephalous Church and, above all, the Bavarian administration became the targets of harsh criticism from religious circles. The main argument was that the Greek nation had been thereby detached from its Orthodox tradition and forced to adopt a pagan Hellenic heritage initiated by ‘Luthero-Calvinists,’ a term widely used in Greece during the nineteenth century. Eventually, the Συνοδικός Τόµος (Synodic Tome) published by the Patriarchate in 1850 recognized the autocephalous status of the Church of Greece and made reconciliation possible.

9In fact, religious authority was the subject of intense debate. Whereas the clergyman and theologian Theoklitos Pharmakidis, who had argued for the necessity of the creation of an autocephalous Church, was an Anglophile and a liberal, the main Orthodox ideologue, Constantinos Economos, was a conservative and a supporter of Russian influence. For all that, Pharmakidis should not be regarded as a separatist nationalist opposing the ecumenical values of Orthodoxy; neither should Economos be regarded as a supporter of those values against nationalism. The clash between the two culminated in the trial of Theofilos Kairis. A clergyman and teacher, Kairis became famous for running a school in Patmos which relied largely on the classical tradition. Despite his popularity, Kairis was accused of heresy and his school was closed down.

10It is within this atmosphere that Markos Renieris became involved in public debates. That he became οne of Kairis’ lawyers is a strong indication of his liberal views. His first publications were dominated by the search to prove the Western affiliation of Greek culture. His essay, ‘What is Greece? West or East?’, provided a coherent answer to the question he posed in the title. The author argues that if Greece belonged to the East, by accepting Western influence it would deny its national character. However, since it belongs to the West, then it simply re-appropriates, through Western mediation, its own ancient culture. In order to sustain his thesis, Renieris uses historical arguments. Greece, he claims, was the model for the West. Then Christianity, through its ecumenical appeal, managed to unify the East with the West. Byzantium, however, represented something totally alien to the West, a despotic Eastern regime which suppressed the Western nature of Hellenism, leading to its decay. The author finally concludes that Greece, by its resurrection, holds the promise of leading a reconstruction of the East.

11However, the proliferation of the ‘Great Idea’ in Greek public opinion after 1844 (see Ioannis Kolettis, Of this Great Idea), which led to the unfortunate Greek participation in the Crimean War (1853–56) on the Russian side, altered the international environment radically. To their dismay, the Greeks saw the Western powers supporting the Ottoman Empire against Orthodox Russia. Thereupon, certain circles sought to reconsider their cultural attachment to the West and develop a more emancipated discourse. Prominent among them, Renieris turned into a fervent supporter of the Greek claims against Western hostility and lack of understanding. In his essay, Le dualisme grec, published in 1853, Renieris argued that the Greek nation was not regenerated thanks only to Western influence. There was also the need for a solid local cultural element, which was provided by the tradition of the κλεφταρµατωλοί (banditry) and religion. Hence this duality in the formation of modern Greek culture. Renieris asserted now that both Western and Eastern civilization had derived from the Hellenic one, and thus there was no dilemma: “The Hellene is the most ecumenical human being; he is the only real European.” As a matter of fact, Renieris denounced his old ideas and joined the trend that supported the ‘pro-Eastern version’ of Greek nationalism.

12Renieris’ change of perspective mirrored, in intellectual and political terms, the drama of a whole generation. The confident answer that “Greece belongs to the West,” offered in the 1830s and 1840s, was shaken by the realization in the 1850s that the “West has changed its mind.” However, the pro-Western version of Greek nationalism did not disappear, and built its argument on the assumption that the Greeks themselves had abandoned the ideals for which Europe admired them. In a leaflet published in 1854 under the title Ἐλληνισµός ἢ Ρωσσισµός? (Hellenism or Russianism?), Constantinos Dossios, himself an Anglophile, defended the integrity of the Ottoman Empire. Moreover, following Pharmakidis’ tradition, Dossios condemned the expansionism of the Russian Empire and claimed that the only way the Greek race, a significant component of the Ottoman Empire, could survive and prosper was through the reformation of the Ottoman state.

13In the twentieth century, the political attachment to the West was never really challenged, although in cultural terms conservative intellectual circles expressed their scepticism towards Western liberalism and individualism, which in their view did not coincide with the Greek-Orthodox tradition. Even the Church itself, which used to identify the West with Catholicism and Protestantism and even today occasionally adopts an anti-European stance, would eventually abide by the famous statement of Constantinos Karamanlis, one of the most prominent politicians of the second half of the twentieth century, that “We belong to the West.” This Western orientation was partly due to the fact that after the Russian revolution, the Orientalist disourse was taken up by the Greek Communists who, like Economos a century before, saw the Russians as their natural allies against “Anglo-American imperialism.”


What is Greece? West or East?


16It is obvious that the Byzantine polity described by us above was at variance with the heavenly Christian polity. While the God sitting on the heavenly throne was the god of love, the king holding the throne on earth governed his subjects by fear and by the iron staff of despotism; while people were the children of god, they were the king’s most humble slaves; while they sensed their worth before the heavenly god, they had to annihilate themselves before his earthly representative; in a word, while in the heavens there existed a Christian polity, on earth there flourished an Asiatic polity.

17This contradiction could not last for very long; logic, which is the supreme governor of all things, was bound to destroy it. And in the West, where the ecclesiastical element was found, for reasons which it is not possible to ex-pound here, to be more powerful than the cosmic one, the ecclesiastical polity, a depiction of the heavenly one, gradually shaped the cosmic polity in its image.

18[…] In Byzantium, however, where the kingdom had preserved a strong influence over the church, the complete opposite had to take place; heaven had to comply with earth, in such a way that the king could see in it, as in a mirror, his absolute power.

19But to this end, Christianity would have to take refuge in Judaism; the god of love, the god of the New Testament would have to become the severe and implacable god of the Old Testament; human individuality having been annihilated in society, it would have to be annihilated in the temple as well; and, in turn, art, from painting to the architectural form, would retrogress; in a word, emperors would have to become iconoclasts.

20[…] It is no wonder, therefore, that in the time of the Crusades, during which Europe and Greece first came in communication with each other, a mutual hatred seized both Byzantines and Crusaders; the opposite result would indeed have been a wonder. Moreover, this hatred had to bring about as a natural consequence the destruction, through the Crusades, of the Byzantine kingdom.

21[…] And thereupon Greece, which had hitherto been hermetically sealed from Western civilization, was at once flooded with the institutions and customs of the West.

22[…] Oh, how different the fate of Greece would have been, if these chivalrous virtues had been permanently grafted onto Hellenic civilization! If those days had seen the marriage between the West and Greece!

23But divine providence had commanded otherwise; Greece, this homeland of Reason, could only return to the society of Western nations through Reason and not through violence and conquest; through the pen of Korais and not through the medieval knight’s spear.

24That is the reason that the age of chivalry passed without leaving a single trace, without modifying the Hellenic character in the slightest way.

25[…] How could these foreign elements be received in Greece, when Hellenic literature itself, the glorious heritage of their ancestors, had become foreign in their homeland?

26[…] We may wonder whether certain writers, in order to explain historically this change and decline in the Hellenic spirit, were forced to assume that the old race had been utterly uprooted and replaced by some foreign, oriental race.

  • 1 According to the legend, this statement was made by the Byzantine Loukas Notaras. It echoed the vi (...)

27[…] While the people, in terror, raised their hands to the Almighty and said: “Would that the city be delivered into the hands of the Latins, who acknowledge Christ and the Mother of God, and would that we not be thrown into the hands of the impious”; one of the great ones, the Grand Duke, stood up and called out: “It is better to see the fez of the Turks reigning in the middle of town than the Latin head gear.”1

28The wish came true; the Byzantine age, after having collected its last powers in order to deliver its final curse against the West, was wiped off the book of life by the blood-thirsty sword of Mohammed. The end!

29[…] But such a study is beyond the scope of the subject at hand; it is sufficient to us to be assured that it was under the influence of two great elements that this rebirth of the Hellenic nation began, continued and was fulfilled.

30The first element is undoubtedly our Orthodox religion; it is this that we should credit with the preservation of our language and nationality; it was by virtue of this that the seal of immortality was imprinted on the forehead of the Hellenic people.

31But this was not sufficient; religion merely preserved. Meanwhile, the nation also needed progress in order to emerge from its pitiable state. This second element consisted of the ideas of the West.

32Internal persecution, commerce, the desire for education—these at times obliged the most select part of the Hellenes to visit the kingdoms of the West. There, in their daily communication with Westerners, they gradually divested themselves of their Byzantine petty arrogance and their aversion to the West. Moreover, upon returning to their homeland and comparing the state of the nation to that of Western European peoples, they sensed their deep decline, but at the same time conceived the hope of rebirth.

33As for Hellenic letters, they were the instrument for the reconciliation between Greece and the West, since it was because of these [Hellenic letters] that the Westerners held dear the children of such ancestors, while the Greeks themselves, through the study of these letters, regained their ancient sense of liberty and glory, became Franks in the etymological sense of the word, and were fully convinced that the new European ideas which were entering Greece were not completely alien, but a result of the grafting of Hellenic letters on Western society.

34[…] And while Korais was setting the foundation of this great endeavor in Paris, the last seeds of the Byzantine spirit, being under attack from the new Western ideas, were forming another school opposed to that of Korais. The character of this school is [marked by] an aversion to the West inherited from the Byzantines; and while this school is much to be commended for its strict dedication to the Orthodox Eastern Church, nevertheless its religious zeal is not inspired by a feeling of Christian love, it does not comprehend the movement of the century, and in consequence of this, it looks upon all works of the Western mind as hostile and as scheming against our holy religion.

35Here then, even before the revolution, are the two parties, the new Dorians and Ionians of a free Greece, preparing themselves; and here, even before the revolution, the two angels of the East and West wrestling over the infant to be born.

36The infant has already been born; let us listen with religious care to its first cries, in order to learn which one of the two fighters has won, which one of them will give it a name.

  • 2 The first and most democratic constitution voted by the revolted Greeks in Epidaurus in the north- (...)

37A peculiar infant indeed! It has just been born and the whole world is moving; it has just been kissed by the rays of the sun and, like a new Hercules in swaddling-clothes, it chokes with its tender hands the terrible dragons of Ottoman tyranny; it has just emitted its first cry, and this cry is the constitution of Epidaurus.2

38And what is this cry saying? Does it continue to curse the West, as did the dying Byzantium? Of course not; rather, it repeats in the language of Demosthenes the liberal principles, the ones which the Assembly in France included in that famous declaration of the rights of man. These principles, which Western Europe, after shedding rivers of blood, had only just succeeded in inscribing in its codes and making understood to its people, the newly reborn Greece [at once] understood and proclaimed; they appeared as the first spontaneous thought of the new infant. For while in Europe these [principles] appeared as a deus ex machina, as something supernatural, which was able to take root among the people only after a long struggle, in Greece they appeared as something as natural and necessary as the rising and setting of the sun.

39Greece, then, was named by herself, as soon as she was reborn, a child of the West, and did not even remember that between herself and the West there had once existed unrelenting enmity. The Hellenic heroes fought together with the European philhellenes in the battlefields of glory; the blood which was spilled sealed the new union between Greece and the West.

40[…] We consider that all that has been expounded so far is adequate to answer the question posed at the start; we consider sufficiently proved that Greece, according to its nature, its civilization and its historical mission, belongs to the West and not the East; that in the times of decline and corruption, under the Byzantines, [Greece] appeared to be forgetting herself and to be transformed into her opposite; but having been reborn, she returns as a shining star to her ancient course and promises to become the leader of the West in the moral conquering and reforming of the East.

  • 3 Jakob Philipp Fallmerayer (1790–1861) was an Austrian traveler and historian who became particular (...)

41In light of the above it is further manifest how unfounded are the following claims by Mr. Fallmerayer3 upon which he constructed his infamous system; that, supposedly, the true nature of those who are now called Hellenes consists in their aversion to and contempt for the dogmas, the character and the customs of the West; that between them and the Europeans, nature has erected an eternal partition.

42This author’s incomplete knowledge of things Hellenic made him perceive certain relics of the Byzantine era and its superstitions against the West as constituting the genuine character of Hellenism.


1 According to the legend, this statement was made by the Byzantine Loukas Notaras. It echoed the views of a large part of the Byzantine nobility and the clergy which rejected the unification of the Eastern with the Western Church.

2 The first and most democratic constitution voted by the revolted Greeks in Epidaurus in the north-eastern part of the Peloponnese in 1822.

3 Jakob Philipp Fallmerayer (1790–1861) was an Austrian traveler and historian who became particularly unpopular among Greeks when, in his works on the medieval history of Greece, he argued that modern Greeks were of Albanian and Slavic descent. His theory triggered numerous responses which paved the way for the formation of modern Greek national ideology.


Mary Kitroeff (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2007

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