Why 'philhellenes'? A note on terminology

Statue of Lord Byron in Athens, Greece.

The term ‘philhellenes’, which been adopted to characterize this site and its contributors, is used here in its literal (and ancient) sense for lovers of Greece and Greek culture. The aim is not to align the site closely with the aims and values of nineteenth-century philhellenism, a movement which divides opinion. Though Western philhellenes certainly cared passionately about Greece and played an important role in the fight for Greek independence, it can be argued that they espoused a highly selective view of Greece that ignored large tracts of Greek history and culture (in particular, the influence of Orthodox Christianity), and some Greeks regard philhellenism as a burden rather than a blessing (see for example, Nikos Dimou’s book The Misfortune to be Greek). There are complex historical and political debates here, on which I do not wish to take sides.

Why then do I use the term ‘philhellenes’? There are two reasons. First, I needed some term, and Greek friends expressed a slight preference for this one over the alternative Latin-Greek hybrid ‘Grecophile’. Second, and more importantly, there are aspects of nineteenth-century philhellenism that the site does seek to evoke — love of Greece and Greek culture, of course, but also solidarity with the Greek people in a time of struggle. Today, as in the 1820s, the Greek people face a fight to define their identity, establish their place in Europe, and create a prosperous future for their children. And now, as then, those who love Greece will want to rally to the cause. A new philhelleneism is needed, clear-eyed, inclusive, and progressive, but just as passionate in spirit as its predecessor. I hope that this site may do something, in its small way, to help create such a movement.

Image: Statue of Lord Byron by Alexandre Falguière in Athens, Greece.

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