Éllinas and Romyós

November 30 2014

… or, Promiscuous properties of our puppet-show

The differentiation of Near Eastern from Ancient Hellenic culture came about by a deliberate breach with the past, and not by a tearful parting. The Academy of Athens, founded by Plato, was not broken up by the Turks. It was closed, in the ninth century of its existence and just forty years before the first Turks visited Constantinople, [footnote: The Academy was closed in A.D. 529; the first ambassadors from the Khan of the earliest Turkish Empire in Central Asia arrived at Constantinople in A.D. 569.] by Justinian, the Near Eastern sovereign who built Aya Sofía and who figures as a worthy in the legend of Modern Greek nationalism. Seven philosophers who refused to embrace the Christian religion took refuge in the dominions of Justinian’s Middle Eastern rival Khosru, [footnote: It must be admitted that the Hellenic philosophers did not find themselves at home at the Middle Eastern court.] and the Persian Government stipulated for the repatriation and toleration of these last representatives of Hellenic culture in a treaty of peace with the East Roman Power. [Footnote: In A.D. 533.]

This is over a century after Theodosius’s edict.

Mani is the middle promontory of the three at the tip of the Peloponnese. Messenia is to the west, Epidaurus to the east. They mirror the three promontories of Thrace.

The cult of the Olympian gods survived three centuries longer in the Mani, the most inaccessible promontory of the Morea, which was cut off from the East Roman Empire by the Slavonic migrations at the close of the sixth century. But in the latter part of the ninth century, when the Moreot Slavs had been reduced to subjection, this scandalous survival of Ancient Hellenic usages attracted the attention of the Constantinople Government. The Olympian cults of the Maniots were suppressed and the last taint of Hellenism was purged out of the Near Eastern world. [Footnote: See Konstandínos Porphyroyénnitos (= “Constantine Porphyrogenitus”): On the Administration of the [East Roman] [bracket in original] Empire, ch. 1. (ed. by Bekker, I., Bonn, 1840, Weber).] The repudiation of the Hellenic tradition had already been symbolised by a change in the use of names. “Hellene” had come to mean a heathen outsider [a Maniot pagan], in contrast to the Christian subject of the East Roman Empire. The latter was the orthodox pattern of the primitive Modern Greek, and Romyós, or “East Roman,” […] became the national name in the vernacular. The Modern Greek merchants and peasantry of the Ottoman Empire only learnt to call themselves Hellenes from the children of the French Revolution in the West, who delighted to speak of Switzerland as the Helvetian Republic and to have their portraits painted in the costume of Roman Senators. This classical affectation was a Western fashion which the Modern Greeks borrowed with other promiscuous properties of our puppet-show, just as the classical scholarship of Koraís was a part of his enlightened advocacy of Western culture among his fellow-countrymen.

The bibliography of the book from which this is taken gives these references in a section called The names Éllinas and Romyós […]; all brackets hereafter are in the original:

BURY, J. B. : “History of the Later Roman Empire.” (2 vols., London, 1889, Macmillan.) [See vol. ii., bk. iv., pt. 2, ch. vii. : “The Language of the Romaioi in the Sixth Century.”]

POLÍTIS, N. G. : “Éllines i Romyí? <Hellenes or Rum?>.” (Athens, 1901, Sakellarios.) [This pamphlet originally appeared as a letter to the Press, in answer to one from the poet Kostìs Palamás, in which the latter had maintained that “Romyós,” and not “Éllinas” <or, in purist form, “Éllin”>, was the true national name of the Modern Greeks. Mr. Polítis sets out to prove not only that the name “Éllinas” was occasionally employed during the Middle Ages as a literary affectation by the learned, but that it had never dropped out of the popular consciousness – in fact, that its use during the War of Independence and thereafter was a survival rather than a revival. Without wishing to show disrespect to the memory of this distinguished scholar, I venture to state my opinion that in this controversy he has not proved his case.]

The Western Question in Greece and Turkey, A Study in the Contact of Civilizations, Constable, 1922

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