Greek history through the ages with AHR

The 33rd edition of the Anglo-Hellenic Review, out in spring 2006, covers some interesting new ground in familiar fashion. This biannual review, published in London and amiably struggling to find Greek outlets, gives remarkably broad coverage of Greek research spanning the millennia. It offers vignettes and brief articles in the front section followed by 10 or so pages of book and occasionally TV and film reviews, all devoted to the ever-flowing research on Hellenism from a very British angle and in a very concise manner. This eclectic issue spans Byzantium, archaeology, folk music, Greece’s revolution, and a strange 19th century incident in which a kidnapping-murder mushroomed into a diplomatic cause celebre. The feature article is by esteemed historian John Julius Norwich, reprised from a talk to the Anglo-Hellenic League, on «Justinian, Constantinople and the Glittering Horn.» He good-naturedly blasts the common avoidance of Byzantine history in Western education and the «conspiracy of silence» in British schools. He holds that Constantine was not just the most distinguished Roman Emperor (otherwise «a pretty undistinguished lot») but, along with Jesus, Muhammad and perhaps Buddha, «the most influential man who has ever lived,« due to his 4th century AD moving of the Roman Empire’s capital eastward to Constantinople (now Istanbul) and in declaring Christianity the official religion of the empire – even though both also reflected the direction of the times. His expansive piece looks at key empire-shaping relationships, including that between Justinian (AD 527-565) and the formidable Theodora. This earlier-day Evita was a courtesan and theatrical performer who put backbone into her husband during the riots of 532 and sustained his rule for another three decades. Another key figure was his great general Belisarius, whose life with another schemer, Antonina, provided more dramatic backdrop for the Justinian era – which among other achievements produced St Sophia, long the world’s biggest religious structure, in only six years. Lord Norwich, an authority also on Sicily and Venice, is a great storyteller. Oliver Dickson then takes up the dispute surrounding Heinrich Schliemann’s supposed claims of finding King Agamemnon’s death mask at Mycenae. Schliemann, it seems, gave varying accounts of his find, rather like his claims regarding Priam’s Treasure at Troy. Even so, his confusion, and the anti-climactic end of his great discoveries, suggest that he was not, in fact, guilty of foisting a fraud on the public. A wholly different turn comes with Jim Potts’s look at Epirot folk music – «deeper than the deepest blues, more profoundly moving and full of yearning than the rebetika» – but for whom «my first instinct was to turn it off» upon first hearing it. It may be an acquired taste, but he has certainly acquired it, by visiting Epirot villages while with the British Council in northern Greece, and later scouting out (often surprisingly good) recordings and searching for long-lost clarinet players and other musicians of that genre. The 19th century then features accounts from Captain T.H. Fellowes before the breakout of the 1827 Battle of Navarino, in which Fellowes, of the Allied fleet, met and defeated two Turco-Egyptian warships in that Peloponnesian harbor, helping turn the tide of Greece’s war of independence. These notes are followed by another on-the-spot account, by Cook’s tourist agency correspondent, of the 1870 «Dilessi Murders,» in which a group of British aristocrats were captured by brigands north of Marathon and, after botched ransom attempts, several were killed. The incident was «enveloped in mystery» in which «the whole population is moved by fear,» and «the realities… surpass the wildest imaginings of romance.» Overtones with the present – random terror visited on unwitting travelers, damaging the tourist trade – are apparent. An obituary by Michael Llewellyn Smith of George Psychoundakis, who died earlier this year, follows. Psychoundakis wrote «The Cretan Runner» and other works long championed by his friend Patrick Leigh Fermor. The up-and-down life of a shepherd-turned-wartime runner, who became an author despite a basic education, inspires even as we know it represents a passed era. Reviews are next, including subjects such as speech patterns of antiquity, women and art in Byzantium, and contentious military engagement in the 20th century.