Philhellenism occupies and vanquishes the Europe of Enlightlement 


By Professor Anastasios M. Tamis*

In the previous two articles we had illustrated broadly the genesis of Philhellenism from antiquity to Byzantium and documented, producing sources of ancient Greeks, Latins, Chinese, Asians and Roman kings and historians, who refer specifically to various manifestations of Philhellenism.  

In today’s article we will briefly describe the movement and ideology of Neo-humanism or Neo-Hellenic or Humanist Hellenism, as this development was called and registered in the historical annals of world literature, covering the more recent periods of Neo-humanism (New Greek Humanism), Enlightenment, Romanticism:

Neo-humanist Philhellenism begins in the second half of the 18th century when the search for human freedom in religion began and a new era emerged as historical starting point for institutions and the arts. The influence exerted by Hellas and the systematic effort of its neo-humanist followers to assimilate, implement, and revive its culture, as a unique again source of true civilization,  relaunched the movement of Philhellenism which was expressed in various forms, shapes, themes and motifs. 

Neo-humanists, philosophers, and classicists, led by the German art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768), sought to revive aesthetic ideals and moral values in Greek artefacts, focusing on Greece the starting point of the history of the arts and human civilization. 

 J.  J. Winckelmann published in 1764 the work of Geschichte der Kunst des Altertums (History of the Art of Antiquity) describing Greece as a hotbed of fine arts, aesthetics, and symmetry while his compatriot Karl Friedrich von Schlegel (1772-1829) proclaimed  that Greek education and culture are the model of perfect humanity.

In the wide sphere of Philhellenism, the greatest poets and prose writers, philosophers, archaeologists, architects, and intellectuals of Europe are joining and drafting, idealizing the Greek cultural heritage and foreshadowing the political freedom of the Greeks from the Ottomans. Among them the Germans  Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724-1803), Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805), Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843), Carl Haller von Goethe (1749-1832), Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805), Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843), Carl Haller von  Hallerstein (1774-1817) and  Wilhelm Heinse (1749-1803).

From 1764 until the eve of the 2nd World War, Philhellenism, because of The European neo-humanist or neo-Greek or Humanist Greek idealism, remained perhaps the most robust movement in world literature, education, culture and fine arts, while it drastically influenced political science, architecture, and linguistics. 

In 1935, Eliza Marian Butler published in Cambridge her study The Tyranny of Greece over Germany, evaluating as catalytic the influence of ancient Greek culture and ideals on German writers, artists, philosophers, and intellectuals to the extent that seriously wounded German identity. Perhaps there is no other socio-political and cultural movement in the history of mankind in the 19th century, which has caused as deep an impact and impression on artists, writers, philosophers and intellectuals as Philhellenism. 

The combination of classical ideals with socio-political, scientific, aesthetic, spiritual and religious values and motifs gave Philhellenism an authentic dynamism, which directly and effectively influenced the arts and culture of humanity. This Philhellenism, expressed through the works and passion of thousands of lovers of Greece and hundreds of collective formations and institutions around the world, largely gave the foundation of the Greek state for the first time in its history, after a brave but problematic revolution of the Greeks. (In 1974, L. Droulia recorded 2085 bibliographic entries in her work entitled Philhellenisme: Ouvrages inspirés par la Guerre de L’ Independence Grecque 1821-1833, Athens).

Philhellenism, as a movement of ideas, triggered the thoughts and views of European classicists, writers, artists, and philosophers for about 200 years to the extent that everything Greek is evaluated as divine and supreme. This tendency provoked a spiritual obsession with Ancient Greece and the Greeks, a stereotypical way of life of educated Germans to a degree of cultural tyranny, which essentially crushed the intellectual and artistic elite of the country to a degree of perversion, as Graecomania and Graecophilia.  

I would, however, like to point out that essentially the intellectual and artistic elites of Germany and Europe were reliving in the 19th  century what their ancestors had experienced 2000 years before, when the aristocracy of Rome and the administrative elite of the time had been spiritually and culturally deeply Hellenized. 

Let us now observe Contemporary Philhellenism as a Neo-Philhellenism movement (1945-beyond). In 1996, the American historian of European culture, Suzanne Marchand, published the study titled Down from Olympus in which she argued that the Graikophilia and Grecomania of Europeans, and especially of the Germans during the 19th century, was an institutionally induced and sustained cultural behavior. The author argued that the Philhellenes, through education and the arts, inherited an elitist, normative, regulating aesthetic and an ascetic academic ethos from romantic thinkers. Focusing on classical archaeology, Marchand argued that the “mandate” to imitate Greek art and culture formed the basis for the establishment and formation of new government cultural institutions mainly in Europe, America and Oceania. 

However, Marchand also argued, rather to be impressed that after 1945 “the Grecophilic tradition and era came to an end“.  On the contrary, detailed, and thorough field research conducted in the Americas, Far East and Oceania proved the function of a consistent and thriving modern world of Philhellenism, with continuing vigor, transformed into new models, structures and motifs, which characterizes individuals and organisms. Contemporary Global Philhellenism is manifested in a robust manner because of the following profound reasons:

(a) Hellas as a cult and ideology in the cultural, political, social, and educational life of humanity remains of vital importance with millions of dedicated and enthusiastic Philhellenes in all neighborhoods of the world.

(b) Greek letters thought, and literature and the Greek language and culture have continued to find, for the last 3000 years, every form of expression in the works of countless Philhellene researchers, Hellenists, archaeologists, philologists, writers, directors and artists.

(c) Greece as an ideology, culture, way of life and intellect remains relevant and directly influences the socio-economic, political, and educational perceptions of today. Its immediacy in the modern life of humanity has resulted in people and institutions resorting to Greece in search of practical and applicable regulations.

*Professor Anastasios M. Tamis taught at Universities in Australia and abroad, was the creator and founding director of the Dardalis Archives of the Hellenic Diaspora and is currently the President of the Australian Institute of Macedonian Studies (AIMS).




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