The Endless Greek Strife for Freedom

Political & Cultural Climate Of The Greek Revolution

This article is about Greece of the modem nation of Hellenes who gained their independence in 1821 – 1828. It is a story also of Freedom -- how it is won -- and the ingredients that make a people free among them: brains, blood, faith, and courage.

In the march of humanity the struggle lor freedom is constant. The Greeks fought in 1940 as valiantly as in 1821, they battled in hundreds of skirmishes and rebellions since their loss of Constantinople May 28th, 1453. The story of modem Greece is one of dauntless struggle against insurmountable odds. It was as much the victory of heroes in battle, as of the courage of intellectuals who prepared the way.

The Greek would never forget his ancient glory -- alas he couldn't, it was his blood heritage -- it became his racial conscience. Proud, too, of his Byzantine magnificence, the contrast with his Ottoman slavery was too humiliating. Every song of the klephts chanted longingly of "sweet freedom."' He was not alone in this universal thirst.

Rebirth of Classic Ideals

The Renaissance which Greek scholars inspired in Europe, the discovery of new continents, the spread of commerce, the sprouting of cities, the coming oi science, the growth of a middle-class became constant stimulants to strive lor freedom.

The struggle for men’s minds aroused by the philosophers, the political theory of Rousseau’s "Contract Social," the Declaration of Independence through the genius of Thomas Jefferson, set a new formula lor human freedom, definitions were set for equality of men, laves enacted to enjoy these rights in peace and democracy. These actualities elsewhere, could not but filter through to the eastern corner of the continent -- to Greece.

The immediate sparks of nationalism came from such literary giants as Goethe, Keats, Shelley, de Musset and Victor Hugo. Their romantic movement brought fresh imagination and a new Boldness, yet a rich escape from hard realities.

It was most proper that the Greeks who have created the dominant civilization, should beckon the kindred spirits ot the world, because with the turmoil for equality and group freedom there were also the forces of oppression, of exploitation, which under the guise of "conservatism" tried to stifle freedom no matter where.

The Soul Preparation for Freedom

Greece has had always her thrilling climate and the vitalizing air of the Attic sky. Though centuries of oppression darkened this landscape, new breezes of hope and morale blew from the west. These currents of progress and reform would have meant little tor Greece had she not the natural terrain for freedom and the self-help required for its fulfillment in the genius of her own teachers and intellectuals.

Among the prodromes who kept alive the Greek desire for a life more noble than that of a Turkish slave were such teachers as Chrysoloras, George Gemistos, Gennadius Scholarios, who later became Patriarch; also Laskaris, Mousouris, and Eparchos. These were followed by the two great scholars -- Regas and Koraes, who were destined to become the "makers of Modern Greece." Regas Fereos, born in Thessaly in 1757, was the first national poet and the first national martyr. He worked to set free all in the power of the impious tyrants. His songs of freedom aroused his compatriots. He issued pamphlets and proclamations with plans for governing the Balkans, the Islands and Asia Minor. Rcgas was on the point of carrying out his plan to liberate Greece, when he fell in the hands of the Austrian police, who handed him to the Turks, who on June 11, 1798, strangled him and his followers. The death of this protomartyr made the Greeks more determined to live out his prophecy: "I have sown the needful seed; the day of fruition is not distant."

The Greek Language as a Unifier

Greece who worships her teachers was fortunate in the scholars whom she fondly calls the Megali Thithaskali tou Yenos. Among the more distinguished we may name Bardalachos, Proios, Doukas, Photiades, Philippides, Konstandas, Psallidas, Gennadius. They were gifted men who lectured in the many schools of Jannina, Larissa, Triccala, Salonica, Andrianoupolis, Kerkyra and Smyrna. they infused new life in Greece by their writings and translations of kindred minds in Western Europe who also sought universal brotherhood, freedom and equality. The passionate love of the Greek for the liberty he needed became, under inspired tutelage, both a mission and a life-purpose for emancipation.

Of these illustrious teachers the greatest was Koraes. He stands supreme in the annals of Modern Greece as the great teacher. He worked not only to unify the Greek language, but he also aimed at the moral elevation of the race.

Adamantios Koraes was born in Smyrna in 1748, he attended the famous "Evangeliki" school; was sent to Amsterdam; went later to Montpellier where he betaruc a doctor of medicine. He devoted himself not only to reviving the classics, but also to make the Greeks conscious of their glorious history and their beautiful language. He felt sure that physical rebellion must first be preceded by enlightenment of the people. Koraes was greatly instrumental in bringing to the attention of the then intellectual world the deplorable plight of Greece under Ottoman oppression.

The Chains Break! Greece is Freed

Tyranny had its full toll; the sultan and his pashas fearful the pending restlessness, sacked the cities, burned villages, beheaded patriots and forced women to death, like the Souliotisses at Zalongo. Two million Greeks had withstood the shackles too long anti they chose the powerful alternative of perishing or being delivered, and on March 13th, 1821, a group took the oath of devotion to the cause at Aghia Lavra, eight days later Patras revolted and on March 2Sth Greece declared herself free of the Ottoman yoke.

The secret Order of the "Filiki Etairia" initiated in 1814, had charted the plans of battle; all of Greece had become a torch and the whole population, participants in the grand liberation. Among the leaders and heroes, Ypsilantis first started the revolt in Moldovlachia, but failed, his idealist followers slain like cattle. Kolokotronis was the great military genius; the Androutsos family gave five heroes to Greece; the Patriarch Gregorios was shamefully hanged on Easter Day in the streets of Constantinople. Andreas Miaoulis, Admiral of the Greek fleet, crushed the Turks in naval battles of Samos and burnt 28 enemy ships at Methoni. Karaiskakis, though a personal guard of Ali Pasha in 1820, became the liberator of most of the Greek mainland and died in battle in 1827. Lord Byron’s devotion and his death at Mesolonghi are well known.

Greece’s struggle lasted to 1828; England and the United States recognized her in 1823 as an independent nation. Greek freedom became a reality on October 20, 1827, when in the naval battle of Navarino the united fleets of Europe with but 27 ships destroyed by fortunate chance the Turkish fleet and those of Egypt and Tunisia comprised of 89 ships. Ottoman rule had cracked!

America Sends Hope, Food, Men

In the then young America, the struggle of the Greeks won immediate sympathy and material aid. The appeal of the Messmian Senate at Kalamata, Mav 25th, 1821. sent to Edward Everett of Boston, inspired mass meetings in many cities, and funds were raised and provisions for the suffering women and children of the fighting Greeks. Webster s eloquent address before the House of Representatives extolled the classic civilization and added that it was not to pay a debt owed the Greeks, but to help them because they were fighting for mankind, for Christianity and for upholding the very principles set forth in the American Declaration of Independence. President Monroe in his annual message to Congress had expressed America’s sympathy for the struggling Greeks. Many Americans crossed the seas to join Greece's battle and to share the hardships of her men. Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe became chief surgeon of the Greek navy. General George Jarvis was wounded many times at Mesolonghi. Colonel J.P. Miller was known to his Greek comrades as the "Yankee daredevil." William G. Washington, a relative of the first president, died heroically in the battle of Palamidi. Hundreds of other volunteers joined the brave adventure. Shiploads of food and clothing docked in Greek harbors. Even a hospital for the wounded Greeks was established in the name of the American people.

Hymn to Liberty

Symbol of the endless love for freedom is the "Ode to Liberty," written in 1823 by Zakynthos-born poet Dionysios Solomos is a poem of 158 stanzas, of which the first two were selected as the Greek National Anthem. The closing stanza chants:

From the sacred ashes rising
Of the Hellenes great and free.
Valiant as in olden ages.
Hail! All Hail! O Liberty!

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