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‘A brighter Hellas’: rediscovering Greece in the 19th century

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Extract from Hellas by Percy Bysshe ShelleyExtract from Hellas by Percy Bysshe ShelleyHellas was the last work by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) to be published during his lifetime. The lyrical drama was composed in the autumn of 1821, while the poet resided at Pisa.

Like his friend Lord Byron, who was also a resident there, Shelley was a philhellene who supported the Greeks in their struggle for independence, and Hellas was inspired by their cause. In his preface, the radical poet exclaims, ‘we are all Greeks. Our laws, our literature, our religion, our arts, have their roots in Greece…’.

In the drama, a chorus of Greek women sing:

A brighter Hellas rears its mountains …

Another Athens shall arise,
And to remoter time
Bequeath, like sunset to the skies,
The splendour of its prime …

Tragically, on 8 July 1822, Shelley drowned in a shipwreck and his death deeply affected his fellow philhellenes.

Shelley dedicated Hellas to Prince Alexander Mavrocordato, a Phanariot who was in Pisa at that time and a frequent visitor to Shelley. The Phanariots were a group of prominent Greek families who had risen to positions of power within the Ottoman administration at Constantinople.

Mavrocordato was a member of the ‘Filiki Etairia’ or ‘Friendly Society’, the secret society which instigated the Greek uprising in the Danubian Principalities in the spring of 1821. In January 1822, following a National Assembly in Greece, he wasappointed the first president of the Executive in the provisional Greek government.

The copy in the Foyle Special Collections Library is inscribed by the edition’s editor, Thomas J Wise, to Frederick James Furnivall, a textual scholar who founded the Shelley Society in 1885.

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