The evolution of Philhellenism


By Professor Anastasios M. Tamis*

Philhellenism as an ideology, relationship and movement has an evolution of about 2700 years. Let’s look with reference to specific historical events of its evolutionary course through the centuries that preceded it. Originally it was Classical Philhellenism : (7th BC- 5th AD)

(a) Ancient Greek Philhellenism was clearly depicted and analyzed in the writings of [Herodotus (Histories, II, 178), Plato (Politeia, 470:E), Isocrates (Panigirikos, 96, Evagoras), (Philip, 122), Xenophon (Agesilaos).

These great historians and philosophers in several extracts and passages referred to foreign and Greek Philhellenes, people who worshipped Hellas and passionately served its cultural heritage, principles, and values. This was followed by (b) Hellenistic Philhellenism, which professed:

• Alexander II, in his short multiethnic and multicultural empire, transformed the Greek artistic, linguistic, literary, political, and scientific model as a focal and structural pursuit of the new world he envisioned and created.

• For 200 years (330-130 BC), several Greek kings preserved Greek culture in the vast hinterland south of Hindu Kush, in the heart of Asia, coming into interactive communication with the Chinese by transplanting elements of Greek art into the Buddhist style of the Far East.

• The father of Chinese historiography , Sima Qian (c. 145-86 BC), in his monumental work Records of the Grand Historian, in which he highlights the history of the last 2000 years of his homeland, testifies to China’s trade relations with the Indo-Hellenic kingdoms.

• During the Hellenistic Period, the king of the Parthians, Mithridates I (171-138) of the Arsakian dynasty, identified himself as the Philhellene on the coins of his territory, wearing the diadem-symbol of the Greek kings.

Coin of Mithridates I, known as Arsace VI, King of Parthia.

(c) The Roman Philhellenism which followed was of most significant importance because:

• The interactive acceptance of Greek ideas and values and the increasing enthusiasm for Greece and its culture continued at a galloping pace during the Roman rule (2nd BC- 4th century AD). The members of the educated classes were culturally subjugated to conquered Greece and were essentially Hellenized by the 2nd century BC. Many Roman Emperors, politicians, high-ranking military and intellectuals embraced Greek education and the language, as already noted in last week’s article.

• The Roman politician and military Titus Quinctius Flamininus (229-174 BC), a connoisseur of Greek, appeared in 196 BC in Isthmia and proclaimed the liberation of the Greek cities, feeling a deep obligation in the culture of Greece.

• The Latin lyric and satirical poet Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65-8 BC), remained a ardent devotee of Greece and proclaimed the cultural hegemony of the Greeks vis-à-vis the Romans with his famous phrase: “Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit et artis intulit agresti Latio” (Conquered Greece captured its primitive victor and transferred the arts to the rural Latium).

• The greatest Roman politician and orator Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) publicly confessed that the Romans were irresistible on the battlefield and the Greeks irresistible in the field of civilization.

• Known Philhellenes were the Roman emperors, among them, the “misunderstood” Nero (37-68 AD), Hadrian (76-138 AD) and especially the Stoic Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD), as well as the most remarkable neoplatonic philosopher and writer Julian (331-363 AD).

• The Latin poet Virgil (Publius Vergilius Maro) (70-19 BC) , who extolled the harmony of simplistic life, the sensual symmetry and the frugal self-sufficiency of the Arcadians to conclude that Arcadia is the “distant echo of a mythical golden age”, while the Latin elegiac poets highlighted the love of the Arcadian shepherds as the true meaning of life (today more than 80 cities and 2000 rivers, lakes, mountains, plains bear the name “Arcadia”)

(d) The Historical Philhellenism (13th century-1945) covered initially the long and lasting eras of Humanism, Renaissance and Byzantium.

• Historical philhellenism appeared on the Italian peninsula in various manifestations as an anthropocentric revolution against the theocratic conception of medieval society. Many positions and views were now evaluated as anachronistic and insufficient to express the transformed perception of the new society and new education. The emerging ideology was that the way of life of the Ancient Greeks was the only and universal source of modern civilization.

• In this era the terms Philhellene and Philhellenism are used to define all those who are now related to the revival of the teaching/learning of Greek letters, as well as those who promote the Greek world and culture. The new humanistic view of the rebirth of the ancient Greek world and education has brought about cosmogenic changes in the intellectual, cultural, social, and economic life of Europe since the 14th century onwards.

• The main exponent of the humanist spirit, where mainly Greek culture was the catharsis from the decadent theocratic perceptions and led to their replacement, was Francesco Petrarch (1304-1374), who influenced admirers and institutions of learning and education. The ultimate purpose of humanism was the discovery of the Greek language and literature from which, after all, Latin culture emerged.

• Of great importance in the revival of the learning and rebirth of Greek letters was the installation of the Great Apostle of ancient Greek literature Emmanuel Chrysoloras (1350-1415) and other famous Phanariots in Florence from 1396.
• Some of his most remarkable disciples, all ardent Philhellenes, were Poggio Bracciolini (1380-1459), who joined the services of Pope John the 23rd and organized a large collection of original works of ancient Greeks; Guarini da Verona (1370-1460), who in 1403 followed Chrysoloras to Constantinople; the historian and philosopher Giovanni Aurispa (c 1370-1459) and the academic and poet Francesco Filelfo (1398-1481), who rescued on behalf of mankind many Greek texts.
• Aldus Pius Manutius (Aldo Manuzio), c.1452-1515 in Venice, becomes a great typographer and publisher of the first Greek writings in Greek and Latin, founding the publishing house Aldine Press. He also publishes the series libelli portatiles in small volumes of ancient Greek works that are widely circulated. In the introduction to the books Manutius invites Philhellene readers of the texts to maintain a strong interest in the Greek sciences and identifies himself as a Roman and a Philhellene.

*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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