To this day, the personality of the Venezuelan Don Francisco de Miranda, general and initiator of Latin American independence, has been historically linked to that of Rigas Feraios. Both were associated with the independence struggles of their homelands, as the famous Chilean Hellenist Professor Miguel Casillo Didier has written in his book “Two Precursors: Miranda and Rigas, America and Greece”. This essay suggests that Prince Alexander Ypsilantis, the first leader of Greek independence, perhaps better than Rigas, could be a historical Greek figure closer to Miranda since both started revolutions in their countries in the early 19th century.
The principles of Plutarch’s “Parallel Lives” are the chosen method to organize, analyze, synthesize, and complete the topic of this paper. Applying this method, an attempt will be made to highlight the special characters of Miranda and Ypsilantis. For this purpose, Miranda’s proclamation “To the inhabitants of Colombian America” will be compared with Ypsilantis’ proclamations “Fight for Faith and Motherland” and “Greek Men, those sojourning in Moldavia and Wallachia!” The analysis discovers similarities and differences between the writings of the two leaders to substantiate the hypothesis of this work about parallel lives.
Now begins the comparison of the multidimensional personalities of the two heroes. Both were members of the social and economic elite of their countries: Don Francisco de Miranda was born in Caracas in 1750. His father was a wealthy merchant from the Canary Islands who earned the title of Captain of the Order of the Militia of the White Men of Caracas. Prince Ypsilantis was born in Constantinople in 1792, to an important and wealthy Phanariot family. His father was the ruler of the principalities of Moldavia and later Wallachia, and his grandfather was the Grand Dragoman of the Sublime Porte.
Miranda and Ypsilantis were well-educated: Miranda studied Philosophy, Law, History, Mathematics, and Geography, and Ypsilantis received a broad education after the Russo-Turkish War of 1806 when his family fled to Russia. They were also multilingual. Miranda, in addition to Spanish, spoke English, French, Latin, and Ancient Greek, and Prince Alexander, in addition to Greek, also spoke Russian, French, German, and Romanian. Their education included military training. In 1771, Miranda went to Madrid, where he received military training to obtain the rank of Captain in the Royal Army. In 1810, Ypsilantis entered the school of the Corps of Imperial Attachés of Czarist Russia.
Before the outbreak of the wars of independence in their respective countries, both gained extensive military experience in foreign armies, serving in high positions, even as generals. The Venezuelan participated in the United States’ War of Independence and the French Revolution. He served briefly as a general in the French army. The Greek distinguished himself in the wars against Napoleon as a lieutenant colonel in the Russian army when he lost his right arm, at the age of 21, at the battle of Dresden. Four years later, the Tsar promoted him to General.
Their ultimate goals were to gain political and diplomatic allies to carry out their plans to liberate their homelands. Both belonged to Masonic communities of their time and through this, they were assisted in gaining contacts with high European society to reach alliances for their patriotic cause. To this end, Miranda traveled to Europe, meeting, among others, Catherine II and Prince Potemkin of Russia, Gustavus III of Sweden, George Washington, Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Thomas Paine of the United States, Danton, Charles Dumouriez, and Napoleon Bonaparte of France, William Pitt and Duke Wellington of the United Kingdom, and Simón Bolívar, Andrés Bello, and Bernardo O’Higgins of Latin America.
Ypsilantis served as one of the Czar’s aides-de-camp at the Congress of Vienna in 1814 and met Count Kapodistrias, the Foreign Minister of Russia, and the founders of the Society of Friends, among others. Their intense desire and the fire of their souls for the independence of their country soon brought them to the position of the leader of their revolutionary movements. General Miranda led the patriotic army in the Latin American War of Independence, becoming the Governor of the First Republic of Venezuela. Meanwhile, Prince Ypsilantis took over the leadership of the Society of Friends, creating the “Sacred Band” of 500 university students and thus initiating the War of Independence of Greece.
When Miranda and Ypsilantis arrived at Coro and Iasi, respectively, they published their proclamations. Between them, there are important similarities. In conflicts, a clear distinction is required between the identities of the warriors. Although the translation and publication, by Miranda, of the Jesuit Juan Pablo-Viscardo y Guzman’s “Letter addressed to the Spanish Americans”, which declared that “the New World is our homeland, its history is ours”, was an important step in Latin American emancipation, the use of the term “Spanish Americans” did not allow for a distinction between the Creoles and the inhabitants of Spain.
In Ypsilantis’ case, there was no such problem because there were clear differences between the Ottoman side and his own, due to different ethnic origins, language, customs, and religion. Therefore, words like “Hellenes”, “Greeks”, and “Orthodox” could distinguish his side from that of the enemy. Taking advantage of the common religion, Ypsilantis included other like-minded groups such as Serbs, Bulgarians, Romanians, etc., in his call. On the other hand, in Miranda’s case, the religion and language of the inhabitants of the Americas were the same as those of the inhabitants of Spain. The Creoles were of Spanish origin, and the ethnic origin of the Indians and Blacks was unrelated to that of either the Spaniards or the Creoles. Therefore, the generic Mirandine term “Colombian American” could provide a distinct identity for all the inhabitants of the New World (Creoles, Indians, Blacks, etc.), separating them from the inhabitants of Spain.
Miranda, like Ypsilantis, asked all citizens to participate without any distinction of class or ethnicity. Indicative of his idea of the relationship between a place and its citizens is that at the beginning of the volumes of his archive, “Colombeia”, Miranda placed an ode attributed to Alcaeus, translated by himself: “Cities are not stone or timber or the work of carpenters, but both walls and cities are to be found wherever there are men who know how to defend themselves”.
One difference between the two proclamations is the reward for those who participate in the revolution and the punishment for those who disobey. Miranda promised rewards both material and moral and threatened legal punishment, while the reward and punishment, according to Ypsilantis, would be exclusively moral. Although the revolutionary and liberation movements of that era were influenced by secular currents such as the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, Miranda and Ypsilantis could not forget that Christianity played a crucial role in shaping the identity of their peoples and that they were addressing devout Christians. Because of this, they included references to Christianity, not only to form a common identity but also to prove that their initiatives were compatible with the Christian faith. This was a risk they had to take, but it turned against them. The Church, acting as an institution of the oppressive apparatus, in order to persecute them, exploited a phrase of St. Paul, who held that all powers are ordained by God and those who resist the powers, resist the ordinance of God. Santiago Hernández Milanés, Bishop of Mérida, and Gregory V, Patriarch of Constantinople, excommunicated Miranda and Ypsilantis respectively, slandering them as traitors and enemies of the fatherland, seeds of Satan, apostates, vain, etc.
On the other hand, the proclamations demonstrated the tragic and miserable condition of the people, full of barbarity and tyranny. Interestingly, Miranda appended to his proclamation the impassioned letter of the Jesuit Viscardo y Guzmán, which described all that the New World had suffered for three consecutive centuries. Moreover, they promised a just and democratic society in which the people could choose their representatives and leaders. Another obvious similarity between the proclamations is the assessment that the timing of the revolutions was right. They stated that the struggle for independence would be easy and that the people could gain their freedom with little effort. Probably, the underestimation of the enemy’s power was deliberate, in order to raise the morale of the people.
The leaders based their optimism on the promise of the support of Divine Providence and foreign troops: Miranda promised the intervention of the British fleet, and Ypsilantis implied Russia was “a Mighty power”. They also pointed to contemporary paradigms of other countries that won their independence, asking their peoples to imitate them. Miranda’s proclamation contains references to the War of the Oranges, possibly the Eighty Years’ War, the American War of Independence, and the Act of Mediation. Interestingly, Ypsilantis also uses the paradigm of the Spanish constitutional period of 1820-1823, known as the “Liberal Triennium”. His reference to the military achievements of Ancient Greece can be interpreted as a reference to the national heritage of his countrymen. Although there is no such reference in the proclamation of the Venezuelan hero, Miranda was inspired in his youth by Greek literature and traveled to Greece in 1786. Among other places, General Miranda visited Marathon and Salamis to feel, reflect, and experience firsthand the feelings, plans, and military positions of the Ancient Greeks against the despotism of the Persians.
The last and most tragic similarity between the lives of Miranda and Ypsilantis was their abandonment by their allies after a military defeat, their surrender into the hands of the enemy, and their imprisonment far from their homelands. After the fall of Puerto Cabello to Domingo Monteverde’s royalist army, the President of the First Republic of Venezuela, Miranda, signed the Capitulation of San Mateo, an action considered submissive by Miranda’s former allies. After a series of unfortunate events, Miranda was arrested and eventually transferred to the Cuatro Torres prison where he died in 1816. Ypsilantis’ fate was similar: Ypsilantis did not receive any Russian support, as he had expected. After the defeat of his Sacred Band at the Battle of Dragashani and being abandoned by his local allies, he fled to Austria where he was arrested. Although he was not extradited to the Ottoman Empire, he was imprisoned in the castle of Munkács under inhumane conditions and died very young in 1828. His last wish was to have his heart transferred to Greece. Cenotaphs of both heroes have been erected in their homeland as the recognition of their remains is not possible. But for such heroes, this was not important as they knew the famous phrase of Pericles’ epitaph which Miranda himself translated: “For to famous men all the earth is a sepulcher”.
While the forerunners Viscardo y Guzmán and Rigas Feraios contributed to the emancipatory process with passionate writings, the first leaders Miranda and Ypsilantis were also the generals who launched the independence revolution of their homelands and became Martyrs of the Struggle. For this reason, it can easily be observed that the lives of Francisco de Miranda and Alexander Ypsilantis were parallel. The sacrifice of the two leaders, fortunately, was not in vain. Others continued what they started, and their homelands were eventually liberated. The Greek historian Philemon wrote of Ypsilantis, something that could also be said of Miranda: “Thus the Leader was directly abandoned, but the revolution was indirectly protected; the person was destroyed, so that the Fatherland could be saved”.
Doctoral candidate of the UNIR International University of Rioja, Spain