From March 1821 to March 2012 – A meditation on the Greek revolution

We are all Greeks’, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Preface to the poem Hellas (1821)

Greece becomes a signifier [of global revolution] in the year it all kicked off’, Paul Mason (2012)

Shelley learnt about the Greek revolution in the spring of 1821, wrote Hellas in a few months and published it in London in November, after the more radical passages were deleted to repel the censors. The ‘lyrical drama’, a kind of poetic journalism, ‘at the suggestion of the evens of the moment’, was an attempt to draw the attention to the Greek revolution. But beyond the immediate references to the war of independence, Hellas is a monument of Romantic literature and philosophy. Broadly accepting a philosophy of history, we associated later with Hegel, Shelley sees in Greece the rise of freedom as the ontological and ideological force of modernity. It was an ‘astonishing circumstance’ that the Greeks were rising from the ‘ashes of their ruin.’ But the rise is not a return to the glorified Greek past of German idealism or to the classicism of English archaeology. The revolution confirms a view of history which is neither linear not cyclical. The Greek is a repetition of the French revolution, the second historical coming of the principle of freedom. Haiti and Greece confirms what Paris promised. The world recognises its history as movement to collective and individual autonomy through the rediscovery and creative destruction of the past. Continue reading