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Contemporary global philhellenism (1945-2002)

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By Professor Anastasios M. Tamis*

Contemporary global Philhellenism (1945-2022) is not just an ideology, it is not only a relationship of relationship or influence, it is mainly the inexhaustible reservoir of prestige and alliance that Hellenism has in all the neighborhoods of the world, along with the mighty Greek Diaspora. Philhellenism is the enormous human potential that  transforms Greece and Greek culture and the Greek way of life into a current model of lifestyle, into a current mechanism of political thought, into a current ideal for modern society. Philhellenism experiences the diachronicity of Hellas, of Hellenism, a diachronicity that passes inextricably, incessantly, through various phases – Ancient Hellas,  Hellenistic or Alexandrian Hellas, Roman Hellas, Byzantine Hellas, Renaissance-Humanism, Neo-Humanism-Enlightenment, Romanticism, Modern and Contemporary Greece for almost 4000 years. With the term “Hellas” I attribute everything that has to do with Greek culture and relationship formed by Hellenism over and above its narrow current state boundaries of contemporary Greece.

In the next four articles, we will give the meaning and dimension of this Greek diachronicity, the breadth of contemporary world philhellenism and the current relations that Greek culture has in the modern world society. These four articles constitute a collective assessment of the contribution and prestige that Greek culture still emits, its main manifestations that find a response and relationship in modern man, the Philhellene, that is, in all those who believe that they carry within their identity a part of the Greek cultural diachronicity.

Let’s first give some definition, let’s interpret what we mean by Philhellenism and let’s try to identify all those elements that give birth to Philhellenism from the time of antiquity to the present day.

Philhellenism is the cultural, political, and social consciousness adopted by members of other ethnic and racial groups, but also their participation in the identity of Hellas, based on addictions, uses, customs, principles, values, ideas, and other forms of human behavior.  How did Greece manage to implant the concept of its participatory, interactive,  andshared cultural and social identity, that is philhellenism, in foreigners?

To give an adequate and thorough answer to this question, we need, first of all, to delineate the main phases of Philhellenism, to give its diachronicity, to note the main historical manifestations that distinguished each period, in order to understand its evolution, but also its characteristics in the present day.

Initially, operated the concept of classical Philhellenism. This first great period generated Philhellenes from Egypt. kings in North Africa, the Anatolia and Asia, who honored Greece with their generosity, gave lands and cities to the Greeks, endowed the Greeks with monuments, in recognition of their contribution to culture, arts, poetry, philosophy. The term Philhellene was also attributed to native Hellenes, to all those who were distinguished for their special love for their own country, Greece, expressing keen devotion and patriotism. Philhellenes were also named all those leaders of the Greeks, who put the panhellenic idea above the local chauvinism. Our ancient historians named and called as Philhellenes Spartans and Athenian generals, including Philip of Macedon to demonstrate their enormous contribution to Hellas and Hellenism. Then Philhellenism became the product of the Alexandrian expansion, through which the Greek culture and language became the basic ingredient and the cultural perspective of all the peoples living in three continents of the planet. As ardent Philhellenes emerged significant Jews and Asian historians, chronographers, intellectuals, who wrote in the Greek language and taught Greek culture. 

However, the main force for the promotion, promotion and dissemination of Philhellenism was Rome and its Empire. Without the Roman Conquest, it would not have been possible to spread Greek culture. Roman rule accepted it, adopted it, and managed it interactively over the next 500 years or so in the West. The Romans were the first to be captured by the Greek culture, became devotees and propagators of Hellas, Greek-speakers, and admirers of everything Greek, as well as the first organized Philhellenes.  The Romans established Greek culture almost in its entirety, adopted the logic of Greek poetry, historiography, monuments, transmitted the Greekness to their children. The knowledge and use of Greek was a symbol of nobility, education, teaching and learning and higher education.

Historical Philhellenism

This was followed by the fanaticism of the early Christian period, just before the reign of the perceptive and great Philhellene Emperor Justinian, who established Greek as the official language of the Byzantine Empire, and who in the Greek language wrote the legal codes, his Neares. Its predecessors, Christian emperors, attempted to trivialize the Greek civilization as a pagan formation, destroyed and leveled ancient monuments and schools of knowledge and learning, turned criminally against people and organizations that did not obey to the “Christianomania” of the time. Then the Church Fathers emerged. They taught tolerance, studied the texts of the Ancient Greeks, and  understood the timeless messages of our ancient philosophers, to the point that Basil the Great publicly argued that it is not possible to understand the meanings of Christianity if you do not study in depth the ancient Greek Literature. Thus came the reconciliation of classical Greece with Christianity, and through the Hellenism of the Middle East and Asia Minor and Greece, Christianity spread to the North and the West of Europe.

Historical Philhellenism is a product of the anthropocentric search in the mid-12th century, is an expression of humanism, the rebirth and relaunch, the renaissance of Greek literature and way of life by a tired society from the rampant and obscure theocracy. The humanist philosophers of the West came out tired and impoverished by the crimes of the Church, the inhumane Inquisition, obscurantism, religious fanaticism, the hypocrisy of the nobles, the lack of principles and moral basis. They sought the truth and hope of a brighter and optimistic future in Greek culture, in Hellas. They turned to it to bring back real life, to regenerate the ancient world, the real, the harmonized, the symmetrical. They understood that only with the rebirth of the Greek spirit, with the restoration of the classical spirit could there be culture and education. This relaunch of classical Greece was called the Renaissance. It was a period of search that gave birth to tens of thousands of Philhellenes, Greece-born and foreign intellectuals, partakers of the ancient Greek way of life.

The most essential contributors of the Renaissance were the self-exiled Phanariot Hellenists, the great teachers of the Ancient Greek language, who a few years before, but mainly after the Fall of Constantinople (1453), transferred the teaching and learning of ancient Greek, from our Own East to the universities of Italy and Europe. Dozens of Europeans, mainly Italian humanists, traveled to Constantinople, Alexandria, and Greece, and transferred hundreds of manuscripts and texts of ancient Greek literature to the West, hundreds of monks copied and rescued the ancient texts, dozens of Hellenists transferred from Greece and the cities of Byzantium the texts of poets and great philosophers, rescuing them in perpetuity. It should be said again here that the Ottoman conquerors respected the ancient Greek heritage more than the Venetian and other Latin Crusaders, those cunning and unscrupulous conquerors who plundered Constantinople and stripped the Greek monuments of their treasures (many more stolen treasures are still in Venice). The humanist movement that brought classical Greece back to the cultural and social forefront, gave birth to thousands of Philhellene lords and kings, patrons and Maecenas of letters, who cultivated ancient Greek poetry, supporters Greek poets and philosophers and worshipped them as their saints and visionaries.

Neo-humanism followedas a new manifestation of the rebirth of Greek culture in the mid-18th century, mainly by German intellectuals, and was expressed through the European Enlightenment and Romanticism. Ferocious has been the contribution of historical philhellenism to the re-evaluation of man in general, but also to the upgrading and enrichment of the structural components that make up what we consider to be modern Greek identity and Greekness. It was this neo-humanism that triggered the love of Europeans for ancient Hellas and the contemporary Greeks, who revolted against the Ottomans. It was the period that gave birth to the Philhellenes, who rushed to give their lives as a sacrifice, to free Greece from the Turkish yoke.  They had organized battalions of volunteers who rushed to Greece to fight, sold their belongings to support the Struggle of the Hellenes. Foreign bankers, businessmen, intellectuals, high priests, military, nobles, rulers and noblewomen, kings and princes, poets and artists, musicians, and painters, became “Greeks”, declared themselves Philhellenes and left their fortunes and or sacrificed their lives on the altar of freedom of Greece. 

Modern Philhellenism (Neo-Philhellenism) (1945-beyond), which distinguishes persons and collective institutions, had been developed with new models, ideological shapes and models and had been distinguished by various expressions that have as their main axis the diachronic Greece and the Greek Diaspora.

*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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