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National Romanticism: The Formation of National Movements

Balázs Trencsényi
Michal Kopeček

Chapter V. National Heroism: Revolution and Counter-Revolution

Hymn to Liberty

Dionysios Solomos
Traduction de Rudyard Kipling

Texte intégral

1Title: Ὕµνος εἰς τὴν Ἐλευθερίαν (Hymn to Liberty)

2Originally published: In the appendix to the second volume of Claude Fauriel’s Chants populaires de la Grèce Moderne (Paris: Didot, 1825). In the same year another version was published in Messolongi, together with an Italian translation.

3Language: Greek

4The modern critical edition is Dionysios Solomos, παντα, v. 1. Ποιήµατα (Athens: Ικαρος, 1979), p. 71.

About the author

5Dionysios Solomos [1798, Zante (Gr. Zakynthos) – 1857, Corfu (Gr. Kerkyra)]: poet. He was the son of Count Nikolaos Solomos, a member of the local Greek-Orthodox nobility on Zante, though his family originally came from Crete. After his father’s death in 1807, young Dionysios, accompanied by his teacher, left for Italy where he continued his studies in Cremona and Pavia. He wrote poems, winning the admiration of his classmates and teachers. He was influenced by Ugo Foscolo and an even greater imprint on his works seems to come from his encounter with Alessandro Manzoni. It was a period when romantic ideas about nation and the ‘people’ dominated intellectual life in Lombardy. After moving to Zante in 1818, he wrote his first poems in Italian, following the purist academic Italian tradition. The political controversies of the time, though, soon attracted his attention. He developed an interest in popular songs, and the ‘people’ soon became the main theme in his poetry. In the meantime, he began writing in the vernacular. This was partly a consequence of the Greek uprising, which had shaken him deeply. In 1825 he composed the ‘Hymn to Liberty.’ The following year, inspired by the resistance and the heroic exodus of the fighters besieged by the Egyptian troops in Messolongi, he composed Ελεύθεροι Πολιορκηµένοι (The free besieged). In 1828, due to family controversies, Solomos moved to Corfu, where he grew increasingly reclusive. It was during his period in Corfu that he became familiar with German literature, especially with Schiller’s work, in which he discovered the embodiment of his own reflections. In consequence, his poetry turned more esoteric towards the end of his life. After his death, his student Iakovos Polylas published his existing works in Tά Εὐρισκόµενα (Known works), a seminal critical edition which largely determined Solomos’ later reception.

6Main works: Ὕµνος εἰς τὴν Ἐλευθερίαν [Hymn to Liberty] (1825); Εἰς τό θάνατον τοῦ Λόρδου Μπάϋρον [On the death of Lord Byron] (1825); Ἐλεύθεροι Πολιορκηµένοι [The free besieged] (1828–1851, published after his death); Λάµπρος [Lambros] (begun in 1826 but never completed); Ἡ Γυναίκα τῆς Ζάκυνθος [The Woman of Zante] (1828).


7Upon the annexation of the Ionian Islands—the complex of seven islands close to the west coast of today’s mainland Greece—by the French Republic in 1799, the feudal system there was abolished; the ‘libro d’oro’ (the golden book), where the family trees of the nobility were listed, was burnt; and the ‘popolari,’ the bourgeois groups which had fought against the nobility, came to power. In 1803 the new constitution clearly defined its aim to terminate feudalism and to organize a political system based on limited and oligarchic authority. Eventually, after the Congress of Vienna, the Ionian Islands came under British protection, which brought a certain degree of stability and balance. However, during the Greek War of Independence the British colonial regime became repressive, preventing the indigenous population from providing any help to the rebels.

8During the colonial regime, intellectual and cultural life in the Ionian Islands reflected Western developments. Indicative of this intellectual climate had been the foundation, in 1824, of the ‘Ionian Academy,’ the life-work of a romantic British noble, Frederick North, count of Guilford. Guilford promoted the Greek vernacular as the teaching language, thus trying to avoid a gap between academic and popular language similar to the one created at the University of Athens (founded in 1837). In fact, the vernacular had been continuously in use, not only in poetry—where it reached its heyday with Solomos—but also in intellectual debates.

9The annexation of the Ionian Islands by Greece, in 1864, sounded a slow deathknell both for the intellectual vitality and the language of its inhabitants, who regarded the social and intellectual environment of the new capital as parochial and bombastic. Solomos himself never visited Athens, fearing that the new capital would disappoint him. The pressure exerted by the center and the hellenocentric discourse of Ἕνωσις (Unification), as expressed by figures such as the poet-politician Aristotelis Valaoritis, gradually suppressed all regional specificity. However, despite the undeniable victory of ‘archaic’ Athens over ‘idealistic’ Corfu, the intellectual heritage of the latter remained to inspire Greek intellectuals at the turn of the twentieth century.

10This is the ideological and intellectual context in which two poets, both coming from Zante, Andreas Kalvos and Dionysios Solomos, produced their work. These two prominent figures would incorporate in their work the tradition of the vernacular which had been developed outside the Ionian Islands, and especially in the Danubian Principalities. The first work composed in support of the vernacular was Ροµέικη Γλόσα (Romaic language), published in Corfu in 1814 by Ioannis Vilaras, a doctor at the court of Ali Pasha of Tepelen in Jannina. Vilaras for the first time not only fully adopted the vernacular, but also introduced a phonetic alphabet, whereby for each sound only one letter was employed. The two romantic poets from the Ionian Islands followed in his steps, each in his own way. Kalvos (1792–1869) spent most of his life in Europe, mainly in Britain, where he worked as a translator and teacher, in Florence, where he was Ugo Foscolo’s secretary, and in Paris; he achieved fame for his Ωδές (Odes), written between 1824 and 1826. The poems were accompanied by a French translation so that they could propagate abroad the struggle of the Greek nation. The themes he used were exactly those that had captured the imagination of European public opinion: Alexandros Ypsilantis’ ‘Sacred Band’, the Ottoman massacres on Chios in 1822, and so on. Kalvos felt it was his duty to devote his poetry to his nation’s re-volt. However, his education as a classicist drove him to express his feelings through mythological images.

11In his turn, Solomos developed the use of the vernacular while focusing on themes from the Greek War of Independence. Published during the war, the dominant themes of his ‘Hymn to Liberty’ were his love for the motherland, belief in its liberation and the elimination of tyranny. The poem became immediately known and gained the young poet public esteem. Translations into Italian were repeatedly produced during the Italian Risorgimento in the 1850s and 1860s, since the Greek War of Independence stood as an inspiration for the Italian patriots. In 1864, the year that the Ionian Islands were annexed by Greece, the two first stanzas of the ‘Hymn to Liberty’ were put to music by Nikolaos Mantzaros, another native son of the Ionian Islands, and were used from then onwards as the national anthem.

12However, Solomos’ poetry was not favorably received by the purist intellectuals in Athens. Poets like Alexandros Soutsos and Alexandros Rizos Rangavis, who originated from Phanariot circles, rejected the use of the demotic. Rangavis went so far as to call Solomos’ language an “idiom of decadence.” The universal ideals that Solomos had expressed in his work were not compatible with purist poetry. Among the works which have contributed to the reassessment of his poetry in the twentieth century, the most significant are considered to be Σολωµός χωρίς µεταφυσική (Solomos without metaphysics), written in 1925 by the noted Marxist intellectual and poet Kostas Varnalis, who took a critical stance towards the poet; and later on Γύρω ὰπό τò Σολωµό (On Solomos), written in 1958 by Linos Politis, one of the most prominent Greek historians of literature. A very interesting example of Solomos’ recent appropriation by a leftist intellectual discourse is Theo Angelopoulos’s movie Eternity and a Day, released in 1999.


Hymn to Liberty

We knew thee of old
Oh, divinely restored,
By the light of thine eyes
And the light of thy Sword

From the graves of our slain
Shall thy valour prevail
As we greet thee again-
Hail, Liberty! Hail!

Long time didst thou dwell
Mid the peoples that mourn,
Awaiting some voice
That should bid thee return.

Ah, slow broke the day
And no man dared call,
For the shadow of tyranny
Lay over all:

And we saw thee sad eyed,
The tears on thy cheeks
While thy raiment was dyed
In the blood of the Greeks.

Yet, behold now thy sons
With impetuous breath
Go forth to the fight
Seeking freedom or Death.

From the graves of our slain
Shall thy valour prevail
As we greet thee again-
Hail, Liberty! Hail!

14Translated by Rudyard Kipling, published in Daily Telegraph (17 October 1918).


Rudyard Kipling (Traducteur)

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