King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences
‘A brighter Hellas’: rediscovering Greece in the 19th century


Picturesque landscape view of Zante showing sailing ships in a bay and three figures in the foregroundZanteIn 1809 William Turner (1792-1867) obtained a clerkship in the Foreign Office from the foreign secretary, George Canning, who was a friend of his father. In 1811 he accompanied the ambassador Robert Liston to the British embassy in Constantinople, and over the next five years he travelled through the Ottoman Empire and visited Greece and the Ionian Islands.

In 1820 Turner published an account of his travels, with entries in the style of a journal, accompanied by illustrations after his own drawings. Turner was particularly taken by the beauty of Zante:

… high mountains covered with heath, and adorned with rich gardens (though few trees) as they shelve down to the sea, with now and then a neat country house of white stone, are the prominent objects that strike the eye as it approaches the island.

In comparison, he found it hard to imagine that Ithaca had been conceived as the birth-place and residence of Ulysses in Homer’s Odyssey:

Its appearance was that of a rock covered with a shallow coat of rusty moss. Nothing but my bigotry for Homer could make me believe that Ulysses would choose Ithaca for his residence, when Zante and Cephalonia were included in his dominions.

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