Re-imagining Greek antiquity in 1821: Shelley’s Hellas in its literary and political context

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The last large-scale completed work by the English poet P.B. Shelley is a poem in dramatic form, entitled Hellas (written in autumn 1821, published the following spring). Shelley’s model for his poetic tribute to insurgent Greece was Aeschylus’ Persians. In its well-known Preface, Shelley provocatively declares that ‘We are all Greeks,’ and states the Romantic claim of a general European indebtedness to Greek antiquity in memorable and extravagant terms. The poem elevates ancient Greece, after the manner of Winckelmann, to the status of a timeless ideal, standing outside history. Shelley and his wife Mary (author of Frankenstein) had recently become acquainted, in Pisa, with the Greek exile Alexandros Mavrokordatos, the dedicatee of Hellas and a future leader of the Greek Revolution. As a result, both the Shelleys were fully informed of events in Greece during the first months of the Revolution.

Thanks in part to this relationship and Shelley’s commitment to liberal causes, the ‘timelessness’ of Greece

A series of letters from Mavrokordatos to Mary Shelley, mostly unpublished, in the Bodleian Library, reveals the extent to which she and her husband were informed and felt involved in the progress of the Revolution at that time. It has also been suggested that the liberal/nationalist orientation of this influential figure in the Greek Revolution may have owed something to this friendship.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRe-imagining the past
Subtitle of host publicationAntiquity and modern Greek culture
EditorsDimitris Tziovas
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford Univerity Press; Oxford
ISBN (Print)9780199672752
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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