Proceedings for 15th International Student Byron Conference

Witten by Dr. Samantha Crain

After a two-year hiatus, participants and organizers were thrilled to come to Messolonghi for the 15th IABS Student Byron Conference. This year’s, on Byron, Shelley, Revolution, and Philhellenism, was a success, drawing history and international relations students as well as students of literature.

Monday, conference goers gathered to register at the Byron House, visit the excellent new museum to Byron and Philhellenism in the newly renovated first floor, and were welcomed at the Municipal Art Gallery by Mr. Nikos Hanztis, the president of the Cultural Center of the Municipality of Messolonghi. Afterwards, the opening banquet was held at Achontiko.

Tuesday, the Academic Programme commenced. President Rodanthi -Rosa Florou opened the conference, Professor Andrew Stauffer read Professor Peter Graham’s welcoming remarks, and Professor Roderick Beaton completed the opening ceremony.

Session One put Byron into conversation with other revolutionary and Philhellenic artists. Maria Sfeir and Leila el Khoury (Notre Dame, Lebanon) address parallels between Euripides’ Medea and Gulnare from Byron’s Corsair in their joint paper “The Byronic Heroine.” Professor Naji Oueijan (Notre Dame, Lebanon) speaks on “Delacroix, Greece and the Search for ‘truth idealized.’” Katie Smith (York, England) addresses “Political Integrity as Religious Imperative,” suggesting Byron’s Lament of Tasso gives a lens for viewing Byron’s later Philhellenism. John Murphy (DePaul, USA) delivers the comparative analysis “Byron’s Prometheus vs. Shelley’s Prometheus as Revolutionary Heroes.”

In the afternoon, Mr. Giorgos Apostolakos took us on a guided tour of the Garden of the Heroes, explaining the history of the city and its Exodus.

The evening was dedicated to the keynote lecture. Professor Oueijan welcomed attendees and Professor Beaton introduced the keynote speaker, Professor Stephen Minta, who speaks on “Byron’s Final Weeks in Greece—the ‘grave side of his face.’” He begins with a thorough overview of the popular assumption about Byron in 1824 being a man lost or suicidal—an image Professor Minta argues is hard to find solid evidence for. He notes rather Byron’s shift in 1824 to seeing a possible future for Europe, in his commitment to the Greek Revolution alongside his acknowledgement of the practical realities of that struggle. Professor Minta argues that the Parthenon Marbles may be viewed as a microcosm—as they demonstrate the zero-sum game in relation of poetry to place. Art stays poetical but place loses poetry if art is removed, with art immune to contingency but place being maimed by the loss of art. This Minta relates to the process of sacralising ground during the Revolution. Similarly, Minta argues that Messolonghi from 1823 to 1824 serves as a microcosm of broader tensions in Greece as a whole. His survey of Byron’s correspondence from that time, Minta concludes, does not suggest despair but rather a man in it for the long haul. He ultimately acknowledges that Byron was capable of being many different people but had a few core matters in which he never wavered—one of these being his Philhellenism.

Afterwards, participants were treated to a beautiful concert for guitar and flute by conductor Spyros Cholevas and flautist Konstantina Chatzigeorgiadou, followed by dinner at Pelada restaurant, near the port of Messolonghi.
Wednesday began with two academic sessions. Session Two focused on the hybridity and paradox of national identities. Vassileia Moschou (Aristotle, Greece) explores Byron’s commitment to ‘the cause’ which Moschou defines as a hybrid identity for Greece that negotiates between the Classical past and Romaic present. Cheng Zhen (University of London, UK) speaks on “Byron and National Consciousness—British and Greek,” arguing that Byron defined a free nation as one that prospers without coercing either its own people or its neighbours. Eirini Nathanailidou (Aristotle, Greece) addresses “Byron’s Paradoxical Stance on Ireland.” Her paper contextualises and synethesises from multiple texts Byron’s attitude toward Irish emancipation, culminating in a consideration of his controversial pamphlet The Irish Avatar.

Session Three began with Kyriaki Petrakou (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece) speaking on “Byron’s Icon in Greek Theatre and Cinema,” an engaging account of Greek representations of Byron in plays and films, from idealization to Orientalism and finally cinematic melodrama. Next, Professor John Spalding Gatton (Bellarmine, USA) speaks on the highly fictionalised play Grecian Captive, or the Fall of Athens, plagiarized from French melodrama, which presents the Greek Revolution in microcosm through Ali Pasha’s seduction of the young Greek woman Zelia. Dr. Samantha Crain (University of Minnesota, USA) gives a comparative analysis of “From Anacreon” and “Thirty-Sixth Year,” demonstrating the ongoing tension between epic and romance in Byron’s lyrics.

Wednesday evening, participants gathered for the Gala at the Radio Station Restaurant, with traditional music and dancing, in which some participants gamely took part.

Thursday morning participants made the customary visit to the Byron memorial to lay a wreath, after which they were shown the Xenokrateio, the brand-new Archaeological Museum of Messolonghi dedicated to artifacts from Aitaloakarnania. Giorgos Apostolakos provided insightful commentary on the history and archaeology of the region.
Afterwards, participants visited the new and inviting Salt Museum of Tourlida and returned to Pelada for lunch before the evening’s two academic sessions.

Session Four begins with Professor Matthew Scott (Reading, England) giving a thorough account of Shelley’s months in Este, contrasting his contemptuous attitude toward Italy with Byron’s enthusiasm for Italian culture. Professor Andrew Stauffer (University of Virginia, USA) speaks briefly about the edition of Byron’s selected works he hopes will be out in 2023. Professor William James (Colorado College, USA) gives a survey of Philhellenist and anti-Philhellenist pamphlets and poetry, mainly from the Messolonghi Byron Library collection. He examines how Byron is used as a rhetorical device in these works.

In the final Academic Session, David McClay (University of Edinburgh, UK) provides a context that is distinctively Scottish, exploring the rich and complex relationship between Scotland and Greece from the Enlightenment to the nineteenth century. Niri Ragnvald Johnsen (University of Agder, Norway) gives an account of “Norwegian Philhellenism,” which he identifies not as an organized movement but as the vital interest of Norwegian individuals in the Greek War of Independence. Rita Farah (Notre Dame, Lebanon) compares Byron’s initial jaundiced attitude toward Greek independence in Childe Harold with the more complex attitudes he evinces in “The Isles of Greece.” After the session, participants had the evening free.

Friday was the excursion to Preveza and Nikopolis, on the Ambracian Gulf. Participants were given a guided tour of multiple archaeological sites in Nikopolos and then its museum, which holds artifacts exclusively from the city itself, representing an intriguing microcosm of Western Greece from the Roman era to the Byzantine. Participants had lunch in Preveza and were able to visit its harbor.

Saturday, another successful Byron conference came to a reluctant close, as scholars from multiple disciplines had learned from each other and become friends.