Poetry: Lord Byron
Charles Gounod (1818-1893), Vierge d’Athènes
George Gordon Noel Byron, Lord Byron (London 1788 – Missolonghi 1824). His name is synonymous with Philhellenism, Romanticism, Celebrity and Talent. One of Great Britain’s great children. However, the story started from a very different point, as young Byron, having one of his legs malformed, was not a very popular child. Lonely by nature, raised by a strict mother, George Byron sought refuge in the recollection of his ancestors’ glorious history (the Burons). Could that young Byron’s nostalgia of a glorious past be the starting point for the love he developed for Greece and the Greeks – the ancestors of all Europeans?
A child of his time, Byron received a classical education early on. During his years at Trinity College, Cambridge University (1805-1807), he gradually formed a circle of loyal friends around him and evolved to a poet of ever-increasing fame. Despite the not-so-welcoming critique on his first work “Fugitive Pieces” (1806/1807), Byron distributed a second collection of poems only to close friends and went on publishing a third collection under the title “Hours of Idleness” (1807).
In spite of these early poetic efforts in England, Greece was the – actual and metaphorical – place, where the “romantic poet Byron” emerged: “If I am a poet, the air of Greece has made me one“. In 1809 he decided to travel to the Mediterranean, accompanied by his faithful friend, John Cam Hobhouse (1786-1869). The two young men travelled from Plymouth to the Ionian Islands, Missolonghi, Preveza, Delphi and Athens. They met with Ali Pasha in Tepeleni. It was this journey, during which Byron begun to conceive himself as Childe Harold, the archetypal Byronic Hero, and to compose his great poetic novel Childe Harold´s Pilgrimage. In England, Lord Byron’s fame took off just a few days after the first edition of Childe Harold, which was sold out in three days. “I woke up one day and I was famous“, was the poet’s own words on his success.