10th International Student Byron Conference Proceedings

Proceedings of the 10th International Student Byron Conference
May 22-27, 2015 Messolonghi-Greece

The Tenth International Student Byron Conference, held from May 22-27, 2015 in Messolonghi, Greece, appropriately acknowledged the tenth anniversary of such an ambitious and successful conference by choosing the broad theme “Byron in the Mediterranean.” As in the past, the conference—which as always was flawlessly organized and managed by the President of the Messolonghi Byron Society Mrs. Rosa Florou—drew participants from around the world for nearly a week of insightful scholarship regarding Byron’s life and works, travel spanning the region, and intellectual companionship. This year’s participants were undergraduate, graduate students, professors and local enthusiasts. They traveled from such places as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Taiwan, Lebanon, and Greece.

Because the conference officially began with registration at four o’clock on the 22nd, that first Friday was an opportunity for many participants to explore parts of Athens (where most travelers first arrived from their home countries), the beautiful coastline and mountains that separate Athens and Messolonghi and that include such famous sites as the Corinth Canal, or the charming town of Messolonghi itself. Once everyone arrived and checked in at the Theoxenia Hotel, participants boarded a coach for the Byron House containing the administrative office of the Messolonghi Byron Society and the library of the Byron Research Center. There they were greeted by delicious homemade desserts and coffee and had an opportunity to mingle before being welcomed by the conference directors Mrs. Rosa Florou, Professor Peter Graham of Virginia Tech, Director of International Relations for the Messolonghi Byron center, and the Joint President of the International Association of Byron Societies  Professor Naji Oueijan of Notre Dame University, Lebanon. After refreshments, the group was treated to a tour of a variety of significant sites in Messolonghi, including the Cathedral of Agios Spyridon, which Byron visited during his time living in the “sacred city,” and the Gallery of ‘Christos and Sophia Moschandreou to see an exhibition of modern paintings relating to Byron and to the local area. Both were beautiful experiences that built nicely towards the final sightseeing opportunity at the Municipal Museum of History and Art Municipal Gallery, which provided useful historical background information of the area. After perusing the art in the Municipal Gallery, participants were welcomed by the Mayor of Messolonghi, Mr. Nikos Karapanos, who gave a warm and passionate speech in Greek, translated to English by several lively impromptu translators. The evening concluded with a welcoming dinner at the nearby Archontiko restaurant followed by (for many of those jet lagged) an early bedtime or else (for those more rested) a night of dancing and socializing in the heart of Messolonghi.

The academic portion of the conference began on Saturday May 23rd, at the Regional building. There, Rosa Florou, Peter Graham, Jonathan Gross, Naji Oueijan, and Peter Myrian greeted participants but also, more significantly, reflected on the life and scholarship of the recently deceased English Byron scholar Peter Cochran. Following a moment of silence, the first session, chaired by Peter Myrian, began. The first paper, given by Dr. Stephen Minta of the University of York, revisited Stephen Cheeke’s Byron and Place: History, Translation, and Nostalgia and paid particular attention to Byron’s complicated relationship with the Greece of the past and of his present day using Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage as a foundation for his argument. Perhaps even more interestingly, Minta addressed questions regarding the “authenticity of the traveller’s engagement with what Byron calls ‘the truth of history…and of place.’” Elli Karampela of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki gave the next paper, which made use of Benedict Anderson’s theoretical framework “imagined communities” to examine Byron’s own complex relationship with the place of England versus the place of Greece. Karampela argued that place can be “transgressed, disintegrated and reintegrated” and that Byron serves as an example of someone who negotiated place in these ways during his gradual construction of himself as a Greek national subject. Josh Thompson of Virginia Tech was the final presenter in this well-designed panel on place.  His paper, “El Lord Sublime Sin Intención:  Byron’s Unintentional Effects on Spain,” aptly focused on Byron’s impact in another Mediterranean country: Spain. Thompson argued that despite Spain often being peripheral in Byron’s works (it generally serves more as a vague setting rather than a place of particular cultural interest to Byron, as in Don Juan), Byron himself was and is far from periphery in Spain. Thompson’s paper guided listeners through a brief history of Byron’s—or “El Lord Sublime’s”—impact on the Romanticismo movement and on Spanish literature in general up through the 20th century and convincingly claimed that this relationship “provides critical focus on a relatively overlooked aspect of Byron scholarship [and] adds to our understanding of Byron’s legacy in the Mediterranean.” A spirited question and answer session followed, setting a tone of intellectual curiosity and collegial openness that continued through the following days.

After a break for coffee and snacks, the second panel, chaired by Naji Oueijan, commenced. The first paper, given by Grace Nakhoul of Notre Dame University, Lebanon, drew a direct comparison between the usual depiction of the Mediterranean and Asia by 18th-century Western artists and writers—a depiction that, as post-colonialist scholar John Mackenzie shows, is rarely born of any familiarity with the actual people and places featured—and the depiction of these places within Byron’s work. Nakhoul argued that Byron’s description of Mediterranean architecture in poems likeThe Giaour particularly contrasted with the Orientalist depictions/descriptions that he would have been familiar with because of his attention to authenticity, which he believed derived from actual experience. Following Nakhoul’s lead regarding Byron’s relationship to Orientalism, Alex Anderl of DePaul University presented the second paper, which looked closely at instances of the “gaze” or “gazing” appearing inThe Giaour. Anderl argued that Byron’s creation of multiple lenses in The Giaour complicates readers’ understanding of several large themes present in the poem and, more importantly, of the East itself, and thus the claim that Byron’s poem can be understood with merely one theoretical lens is complicated: Byron is not, in short, limited to a static perspective but in fact open to a variety of “gazes.” In the final paper of the second panel, Aleksandar Jovanović of Simon Fraser University, Canada and Alexander Grammatikos of Carleton University, Canada teamed up to explore “Byron, Hobhouse, and the Byzantine Empire.” This expansive and nuanced paper examined the differences and commonalities between Hobhouse and Byron’s respective understandings of and interests in the Byzantine era. Jovanovic and Grammatikos argued that Hobhouse’s interest in the Byzantine era was “colored by his western bias toward a Greek empire considered eastern.” Byron, they argued, though clearly versed in Greek theology and interested in major historical empires, seemed less drawn to the Byzantine era—likely because, as they established during the first half of the paper concerning Hobhouse, Byzantium was misrepresented or misconceived by 18th and 19th century scholars as separate from a “European historical heritage.”

Following a relaxed lunch at the ‘’Rooster’s egg” fish restaurant, participants reconvened for the third and fourth panels of the day. The third panel, chaired by Peter Graham, began with an amusing and well-argued paper from Professor Drew Hubbell of Susquehanna University titled “Byron’s Thingy, or, Don Juan’s Phthisical Assault on Mystified Nature.” Hubbell took a particular stanza from Don Juan—ending in “the truth is, I’ve grown lately rather phthisical”—as a jumping off point for his argument that Byron does not juxtapose the “material” or “physical” with the “metaphysical,” but rather sees a connection between the evolution of ideas and the “specific cultural ecology of the places we inhabit.” Ultimately, Hubbell argued for an ecological materialism or sociobiology present in Don Juan,  a connection that significantly revises previous understandings of Byron’s relationship to both place and thought. The next presentation, given by Matthew Johnson of Virginia Tech, also focused on Don Juan. Johnson closely examined the various romantic pairings in Byron’s epic, showing that the distinction between Juan as pronounced “Joo-on” rather than “Hwan” (from the traditional myth) is not merely a linguistic move, but one designed to show Juan’s gradual shift from the hero of Byron’s imagination to the familiar womanizing legend. His loves and lusts evolve with his character, and so too does Joo-on grow ever closer to Hwan—though without the completed poem it is merely speculation as to how much and how soon that full transformation would take place. In the final paper of the third panel, Jonathan Gross of DePaul University examined “Why Byron’s Body Matters.” The paper focused on Byron’s representation of himself as embodied in his letters, particularly in relationship to Italy and to those men and women he encountered there. Gross argued that Byron’s ideas about “the corporeal and the physical were not new,” but were instead unique because of how he lived and embodied those ideas, and because of what this self-representation meant in terms of his “erotic relationship” to England itself.

Following another break, the last panel of the marathon day, chaired by Professor Caroline Franklin of Swansea University, Wales began. First up was Ashley Miller of Susquehanna University, who in “Critiquing Iconolatry: Deconstructing Lord Byron’s Normative Gender Roles through Virginia Woolf’s ‘Masculine Complex’” drew attention to Byron’s feminist tendencies within his work. Miller proposed that Woolf’s argument about the gender hierarchy—i.e., that women within the patriarchal power structure can often be thought of as “enlarging mirrors” for men—complicates traditional notions of gender roles and that similar complications/nuances can be found in the representations of the female characters in Don Juan. In the next paper, presented by Nickey Sanders, also of Susquehanna University, the intertextual theme continued. Sanders drew a comparison between The Aeneid and Don Juan—particularly between Dido and Aeneas and Haidee and Juan.  After establishing the connection between the two epics, she argued that the representations of time in both poems reveal the respective authors’ understanding of free will and fate. Byron’s “‘circular-linear’ looping form,” in short, contrasts with Virgil’s “concurrent approach,” and this difference helps to define Byron’s work as anti-imperialist or anti-monarchist. The last presentation in this fourth and final panel was a wonderfully energetic change of pace—a tough task for the last presenter on a long, intellectually challenging day. Michael Damyanovich, of the University of Waterloo, read selections from his complex and amusing ottava rima “poetical critique” of Don Juan in order to “analyze stylistic and philosophical developments in Byron’s approach to characterization.” The poetic samplings so deftly channeled the style, syntax, and sentiments of Don Juan that most participants agreed it was a bit like having Byron himself in the room.  Thus it was in high spirits that the academic sessions adjourned and participants dispersed, some for a quick swim at the beach and some for seafood at various restaurants around town. Many of the undergraduate and graduate students gathered later for drinks and dancing in the main part of Messolonghi and to celebrate many of the participants’ successful presentations earlier in the day.

On Sunday morning , participants traveled by coach to the beautiful and newly renovated monument at the former site of Christos Kapsalis house where Byron breathed his last on April 19th,1824. The memorial marble column placed on the site to commemorate the centennial of Byron’s death is located in a peaceful and sunny section of Messolonghi and has been renovated to include new garden spaces, a resurfaced pavement, lighting, and handsome iron grillwork and gates. The morning featured a televised wreath-laying ceremony, during which the Deputy Mayor Mr. Dimitris Bousbourelis gave a heartfelt speech about Messolonghi’s role in the Greek Revolution; several soldiers in traditional garb stood sentinel and the philharmonic band of ‘’Joseph Rogon’’ played the Greek and English anthems; Peter Graham, Jonathan Gross, and Naji Oueijan laid a wreath on Byron’s monument; and Michael Damyanovich and Josh Thompson read “January 22nd—Messolonghi,” also known as “On this day I complete my 35th year.” The event concluded with individual participants laying flowers on the monument as well.  The entire experience emphasized the continued relevance of Byron’s life and works.

Following the ceremony, the conference moved to the Garden of the Heroes, where participants were treated to a detailed lecture about the history behind Messolonghi’s designation as a “Sacred City” before strolling throughout the park and observing a variety of statues and monuments, including one of Lord Byron.

After a leisurely hour there, those interested moved on to the Trikoupi Cultural Center, where Dr. David Radcliffe of Virginia Tech hosted an open discussion about the new digital resource for Byron/Romantic Scholarship that will center on the letters and documents from the John Murray Archive in Scotland. After this discussion, Peter Graham, Peter Myrian, Rosa Florou, Jonathan Gross, and Dr. Maria Schoina of Aristotle University, Deputy Director of Studies for the Messolonghi Byron Center, took the stage for a round-table discussion reminiscing about the first conference at this, the tenth. An entertaining slide show documenting the initial International Student Byron Conference of 2002 complemented the retrospective comments.

The session at Trikoupi Cultural Center concluded with a dramatic reading presented by the Division of Arts and Humanities and Interdisciplinary Center of Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. In “Glory and Greece,” Sean McCullough, with the aid of stage manager Christian Jimenez, acted the part of Byron writing and thinking about his role in the Greek Revolution during his final months. The short play, written by and adapted by David Roessel, Mark Mallett, Sean McCullough and Christian Jimenez and directed by Mark Mallett, was a big success.

Participants then had most of the afternoon free.  Some returned to the hotel for a much-needed nap while others enjoyed a long, leisurely lunch at the same restaurant from the day before. In the early evening, the Official Ceremony started at the Theoxenia Hotel, where Jonathan Gross introduced the two keynotes speakers of the conference. Caroline Franklin spoke first.  Professor Franklin delivered an insightful lecture about Byron’s depiction of women in his work as being either passionate/Southern or Eastern or reserved/cold/Northern or Western.  She discussed this stereotype’s origin and its continued influence, especially in terms of its impact on 19th-century women writers like Charlotte Bronte. Naji Oueijan followed with a talk about Byron’s intimate relationship with the Mediterranean, specifically with the waters and climate of Mediterranean countries like Greece and Italy. Oueijan argued that unlike other 18th- and 19th-century writers and scholars, Byron’s connection to the Mediterranean was not merely one of historical interest but rather was more akin to spiritual fulfillment.  In Oueijan’s words, Byron’s “determination to breathe the Mediterranean climes […] cogitated his genuine eagerness for a new baptism, a spiritual and intellectual baptism beyond his Christian, Scottish, and British Self.” Following the two keynote lectures, Jonathan Gross led a question and answer session during which many participants enjoyed hearing a good deal more about the inspiration behind the respective talks.

When the session concluded, participants gathered in the ballroom of the hotel, for a Gala featuring a multi-course feast, songs performed by Sean McCullough and Christian Jimenez, and traditional Greek dances performed by “the Dancing Group of the Municipality.” The night was a grand success; and nearly every participant joined in the dancing, especially as the night wore on and the genre shifted to jive and American line dancing.

Because the next morning’s academic sessions were held in the Theoxenia Hotel, many conference attendees were able to sleep in a bit before assembling for the first panel, which was chaired by Dr. Michael Franklin of Swansea University, Wales. The first presenter was Professor David Roessel of Stockton University, who explored “the Life and Legend of the Maid of Athens” by examining her as she is presented in Byron’s “Maid of Athens, Ere We Part” and as she came to be understood in the context of the Greek struggle for independence. Roessel thus showed over the course of his talk that the Maid of Athens endured not only as a literary figure but also as a revolutionary or quintessentially Greek legend which “kept the Byronic spirit alive.” In the next paper, titled “The Intertextuality of Lord Byron’s Childe Harold Pilgrimage,” Alexander Grammatikos of Carleton University utilized four texts from the first two decades of the nineteenth century—including Childe Harold’s Pilgramage—to show that many British writers and scholars of the time connected “the proliferation of Romaic literature and purity of the Romaic language with Greek national liberation.” Grammatikos argued that this correlation between language and ideas of freedom as presented in these texts reveals the authors’ interest in what a liberated Greece would look like, how it might fit into Europe as a whole, and particularly in how it might relate (sociopolitically) to Britain. In the final paper of what was generally agreed upon as an outstanding panel, Allegra Radcliffe of Evergreen State College presented “Inner and Outer Perspectives of Dance in the 18th- and 19th-Century Mediterranean.” In the talk, Radcliffe (who happens to be a talented dancer herself), examined the difference between foreign travelers’ perspective of Mediterranean dance, which typically reflected Orientalist attitudes, and those representations of dance that appear in local documents. Radcliffe acknowledged that because dance is difficult to visualize after the fact, scholarship of any references to dance is of particular importance because it draws attention to historical understandings of “expression, entertainment, and morality”—a tension that she rightly points out still exists today and is therefore worthy of continued examination.

The response to the first session of the day was such that the next session, chaired by Stephen Minta, was a bit delayed. Sam Crain of San Jose State University kept the momentum going, though, with her paper “Maintaining or Revising His Norm? ‘Herod’s Lament’ and ‘Jephtha’s Daughter.’” Crain chose to focus on the Hebrew Melodies because this is their 200th anniversary. In her analysis, she shows the conflicting inspiration/motivation for these unusual poems; Byron is at once impressed by the Bible’s value as a written work and opposed to much of its dogma, and these poems consequently reflect that struggle. In the next paper, May Baaklini of Notre Dame University, Lebanon, looked closely at Frankenstein and Manfred in order to show that both operate as “dramatizations of the divided self.” Baaklini revealed a number of parallels between the stories and between them and other historical incidents; in both works, for example, the feminized principles of nature are pitted against the intellectual heights of science, and in both the consequences are severe. In the final paper of the session, Chun-Han (Michelle) Hsu presented “The Recalibration of Rhetorics in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto IV.” This entertaining, scholarly, and well-argued presentation examined “how Dantesque and Foscolian images are transposed into Canto IV of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and then linked the transposition to Byron’s poetic and political project. In short, Hsu showed how indebted Byron was to Italian literary tradition and how those influences ultimately shaped his role as an Italian nationalist/revolutionary.

Because both of the first sessions were followed by many enthusiastic questions, lunch, which was served at the Theoxenia Hotel, began a bit later than scheduled. The food was good, but it was certainly upstaged by Tom Minogue of the University of St. Andrew’s, Scotland, who provided entertainment and intellectual refreshment by performing (with the help of a few participant volunteers) several of his original poems. Afterwards, an informal vote was taken and participants chose to take dessert upstairs during the final session, so as not to delay the academic portion of the day any longer (and to allow time for beach going afterwards).

The next session, chaired by Drew Hubbell, began with Mrad Yara of Notre Dame University, Lebanon, who focused on “Darkness,” Byron’s Mediterranean poetry in general, and Frankenstein in order to argue that the aqua imagery that appears in all the above works supports and emphasizes the claim that both Byron and Shelley adhere to the “Romantic Theory of Art.” Yara acknowledged that though the aquatic landscapes these two authors describe differ greatly geographically, they operate similarly as dramatic or thematic devices in their works. In the next paper, Sarah Schaefer of Virginia Tech also drew attention to Byron’s Mediterranean-based poetry, specifically the ottava rima predecessor to Don Juan, Beppo. Schaefer first contextualized the Venetian Carnevale as British travelers of the 18th century may have perceived or experienced it before focusing on Byron’s representation of Venice and its festival and then questioning how that representation may have differed from or distorted his Italian reality. Ultimately Schaefer argued that Byron’s travel-writing practices as seen in Beppo mirror those research methodologies often utilized by feminist ethnographers, which drew attention to potential issues inherent to such an approach and to the relationship between literature and ethnographic practice. In the last paper of the energetic (and final academic) session, Dr. John Gatton of Bellarmine University gave a fascinating lecture on four particular pieces by Romantic artists Eugene Delacroix and Francesco Hayez that depict historical events from Byron’s tragedies (Marino Faliero, Doge of Venice, and The Two Foscari). Gatton’s talk not only familiarized audience members with artistic renditions of scenes related to Byron’s work that many were unaware of, but he also set the scene for the event that would follow the academic sessions that evening: that is, the operatic performance of Verdi’s I Due Foscari. Moreover, Gatton brilliantly illustrated that, to use his own words, “Delacroix and Hayez compressed into single, compact settings the primary motivations that drive the original five- act tragedies […] even as the artists infused their visions of Byron’s Venetian dramas with a theatricality he often minimized or omitted.”

Following the last of the academic sessions, many made their way to Tourlida Beach to celebrate the conclusion of the panels and to enjoy some sunshine or salt water before the evening’s event, a performance by the artists of the experimental group “Hellenic Opera” at the Trikoupi Cultural Center’s Theatre. They, as mentioned above, performed excerpts of Verdi’s I Due Foscari—the same story Byron uses for historical inspiration in The Two Foscari—and were a huge success amongst an audience of 250 people consisting of both conference participants and Messolonghi locals.

When the performance drew to a close, the bulk of the group congregated for another seafood feast and night of dancing in Messolonghi’s nightlife district. Because the next day was to be spent on an optional excursion to Delphi, some new friends were obligated to say farewell, since a few would be departing the next morning.

The following day was the last full one of the conference, and so it was with mingled excitement and regret that attendees boarded the coach bound for Delphi. After a few hours filled with views of the Greek countryside, the bus arrived in the charming town that dots the cliffs at the base of the ancient ruins. Rosa Florou was kind enough to direct everyone to a local restaurant that was not, unlike many others nearby, a tourist trap; and after lunch everyone made their way to the Delphi Archaeological Museum. A tour guide directed the party through the exhibits and did an excellent job painting a picture of what Delphi must have looked like and meant to Ancient Greeks. After leaving the museum, attendees toured the ancient site itself and were universally awed by the beauty of both the ruins and the landscape. It was a long day in the sun, though, and so it was with some relief that everyone boarded the bus again, this time for the waterfront town of Galaxeidi, where Mrs. Florou had suggested the coach stop off for a bit of free time before dinner. After ice cream, cold drinks, or souvenir shopping, the coach left Galaxeidi and made for Agios Thomas village outside Messolonghi, where any conference members who did not participate in the excursion joined us for one last delicious feast. The evening closed for many in on the porch at the entrance of the Theoxenia Hotel, where a number of the students gathered for conversation and reflection on the wonderful week they had spent together.

By Sarah Schaefer