General Theme: "The Isles of Greece"
"The isles of Greece! the isles of Greece!
Where burning Sappho loved and sung,
Where grew the arts of war and peace,--
Where Delos rose, and Phoebus sprung!"
(Lord Byron, Don Juan, Canto III)
The Messolonghi Byron Society's Research Center's Second International Student Byron Conference took place June 20-29, 2003. It was organized by Mrs. Rodanthe-Rosa Florou with Professors Drummond Bone, Peter Graham, and Byron Raizis as academic advisors.
This particular conference gives students a chance to exchange and develop their knowledge on Byron, by discussing their work with other presenters and with distinguished Byron scholars in Messolonghi, the place where Byron died. They also gain an understanding of the town and its picturesque environment--and, more broadly, an appreciation of the ancient civilization, land, and people of Greece. A day-by-day description of the conference activities follows.
Friday, June 20, 2003, a group of intrepid scholars met in the hubbub of Athens, battling jetlag and dodging motorbikes as they acquainted themselves with a modern Greece Lord Byron could never have imagined. Early the next morning, sleep still clinging to eyelids, conference members boarded a bus for the port of Glyfada and hopped on a one-day cruise to three spectacular islands in the Saronic Gulf: beautiful Poros, elegant Hydra, and noble Aegina. The isles of Greece, indeed! And those who interrupted their sunbathing to go inside the boat mid-cruise were treated to a terrific display of traditional Greek dancing, including a bravura performance in which a handsome, ethnically costumed male dancer partnered, wooed, and "married" conference participant Paula Yost of Widener Law School. After the ship returned to port and the sun fell below the seven hills of Athens, some sampled the nightlife while others fine-tuned their papers. Vasso and Dimitria Papadimitriou provided amiable and expert guidance, as they did the entire weekend in Athens.
Sunday's agenda called for a thorough exploration of the Acropolis and Agora, led by the knowledgeable archaeologist Aristotelis. After a quick lunch, the company took a bus trip along the Attic coast to Cape Sounion, where some swam, others sipped cafe and all marveled at the wondrous Temple of Poseidon. It was a long day, stuffed with more Greek culture than a pita gyro, and most collapsed in bed after the journey.
Anxious to discover what the future held,on Monday 23, the group woke up early and embarked for Delphi. Each scholar heard his or her own oracle whilst traipsing up the sacred way to see the Stadium, Theatre, and Temple of Apollo on the slopes of Parnassus. Although the Delphi Museum was partly closed for remodeling, the group was privileged to see some of the treasures of the collection, including the famous bronze charioteer whose classical profile is the object of many a Greek schoolgirl's first crush. Descending from Delphi to the plains, the bus arrived in Messolonghi in the late afternoon, and everyone settled in the lovely lagoonside Hotel Theoxenia. In the dry June heat,on Tuesday 24, conference members headed to the Byron House for the first session of the academic program. Jeffrey Koelemay, of Virginia Tech, provided an intriguing comparison of two complex, ambiguous characters in his presentation, entitled "Byron and Kyklops, Island Expatriates: A Comparative Speculation on Politics and Personality." Assuming a Byronic mask himself, Koelemay appropriately refused to limit his focus, describing just as many interesting differences between the two individuals. His paper also owned easily the longest title of the conference. An attendee of the 2002 International Byron Conference, Vitana Kostadinova, of Bulgaria's Plovdiv University, demonstrated the positive effects of experience and professionalism, giving a thorough analysis of The Isles of Greece with her presentation, "The Image of the Poet in The Isles of Greece." Following Jeff's lead, Evan Gurney, hailing from the University of North Carolina, provided another interesting comparison, noting the uncanny similarities between Byron and Rupert Brooke in his paper, aptly named, "Byron and Brooke in Greece." The final scheduled presentation of the first session was Virginia Tech Professor Peter Graham's lecture, entitled "Some Ambiguities of The Isles of Greece." He, like the narrator of Don Juan Canto III, searched for the 'Good Life' - at least as Byron saw it - focusing on the interplay between heroism, hedonism, and environment. The session was not over, however; in a pleasant surprise, Nikitas Philipopoulos, a Messolonghi writer, delivered an enlightening historical review of the local area.
Lunch was a delightful affair back at the hotel, after which people scattered their separate ways-naps in rooms, shopping in town, or swimming at Tourlida. But everyone reconvened at the Byron House in the evening for the second session. This segment of the academic program could have been named, "A Widener essay extravaganza: The Turkish Tales." A quintet of Widener University scholars focused on one or more of Byron's Eastern tales. Rebecca Sharpley began the lectures with her paper, "Pacifism and Femininity in The Trojan Women and Sardanapalus," examining the difficult decision between passivity and activity in the atmosphere of war, and providing an interesting gender comparison as well. Nina Shinar read Blerina Selimaj's paper, "Women Taking Risks: The Double Standard in The Giaour and Don Juan," in which she explored the patriarchal ideologies of both Christian and Moslem religions, and noted Byron's subversion of female stereotypes in both poems. Kelly Tobin continued the session's theme with a fascinating essay, "Byronic Heroines: Greece's Different Identities in the Turkish Tales," comparing the different heroines of the Turkish Tales to various stages of Greece's independence movement. The extravaganza concluded with Professor Daniel Robinson, who, after a quick overview of the preceding papers and a discussion of hypermasculinity, initiated a general discussion concerning Byron's treatment of women and views toward war.
Wednesday afforded a break from the academic world, and the group was treated to another day of intoxicating (figuratively, of course) Greek history and culture. Members traveled to see the fortress of Lepanto in Nafpaktos, where the city's deputy mayor Mrs. Maria Raikou, received them and offered an exquisite waterfront lunch. In the afternoon the assemblage visited Krioneri ("cold water") for gelato and a dip in the sea. Sailing by fishing boat, the crew climbed a steep and rocky path to visit a stunning 11th-century chapel, Agios Nikolaos, on the slopes of Mount Varassova. A memorable gulfiside dinner was provided and hosted by the mayor of Halkeia Mr. Nikos Stamboulopoulos: fit conclusion to a day that blended history, scenery, salt water, fresh air, and fellowship in an inspiring mix.
The next morning Thursday 26, everyone piled into the bus for a batch of local sights, heading to Aitoloakarnania's Office of the Governor, then the Saint Simeon monastery, the island Chapel to the Virgin of the Palms, and finally Ancient Plevron. The vigorously efficient morning venture demonstrated Greece and Messolonghi's varied history. But back to academics. The third session began in the afternoon with Dr. Lisa Matthew, of Athens University, and her comparison of Agnes Strickland's Demetrius and The Giaour in "The Holocaust of an Island." Stella Osborne, another Virginia Tech scholar, then discussed Matthew Arnold's vacillating attitude toward Byron in her thorough presentation, entitled "Matthew Arnold and Lord Byron: Observations and Criticisms." Michael Edson, the last of the Virginia Tech presenters, explored the Grecian travelogue genre and the place of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage in this category in his paper, "Byron and Other Philhellenic Poets." The concluding presentation of this session was honorably executed by Professor M. Byron Raizis, who examined the life and work of Messolonghi's own poet, Kostis Palamas, who studied and greatly admired Byron.
Friday began with visits to some sacred sites of Messolonnghi-the Palamas House, the Trikoupis House where two Greek prime ministers lived, the cathedral of St. Spiridion, the site of the house Byron occupied during his months in Messolonghi, This itinerary made for a memorable tour during which a fortunate few were privileged to admire Byron's slippers, the treasured property of Messolonghi resident Mrs. Kiki Peha. Then followed a visit to the picturesque recently excavated Roman baths outside town and to the nearby studio of the internationally renowned Messolonghiot artist Apostolos Koustas, who explained his stone-engraving technique and showed the fascinated group a number of his works. Lunch was at Messolonghi's own institute of higher education, the Advanced Technological. Education Institution, and was courteously offered by the T.E.I. President, Mr. Leonidas Panagiotopoulos. In the afternoon English majors and faculty from Athens and Aristotle Universities joined the group to attend the rest activities of the conference.
The last academic session featured three presenters from Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Ranging extensively through 19th-century British literature, Yannis Kanarakis offered an ambitiously theoretical paper on"Free Islands: Visions/Versions of Greece." Maria Ristanis depicted Byron as an atypical, realistic philhellene able to link past, present, and future in her subtle and lucid scrutiny of "Lord Byron: An Exceptional Expression of the Philhellenic Imagination." Finally, Professor Aikaterini Douka-Kampitoglou, Vice Rector of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, extended the conference theme to include Keats in an eloquent discussion of "Islands of the Imagination: Keats's Ode on a Grecia Urn." Then came a memorable evening event: a reception provided by the Board of the T.E.D.K. of Aitoloakarnania and its President, Mr. Thymios Sokos, at the Military Club on the town square, courtesy of Colonel D. Katsaros.
Saturday morning June 28, brought a wreath- and flower-laying ceremony at Byron's statue followed by a tour of the Heroes' Garden and a visit to the Muncipal Museum to see its venerated contents and be received by the Mayor of Messolonghi, Mr. Giorgos Prevazanos, who offered mementos of Messolonghi to each participant. Then came a press conference and the concluding session of the conference, a meeting of the International Advisory Board, at which a 2004 conference theme of "Byron, Romanticism, and the Olympic Spirit" was proposed by Professor Kampitoglou and enthusiastically endorsed by Mrs. Florou and Professors Raizis, Bone, and Graham. Afterwards everyone adjourned for a handsome luncheon hosted by the Governor of Aetolia-Acarnania, Mr. Dimitris Stamatis, at the Radio Station Restaurant. That evening Professor J. Drummond Bone, Vice Chancellor of the University of Liverpool, delivered the conference's keynote lecture at the Trikoupi Municipal Cultural Center. Professor Bone offered " The Seashore Episode in Don Juan Canto II", an eloquent and moving close reading that centered on the island episode in Don Juan. Following this address, three conference participants attired in ethnic Greek dress-Paula Yost, Jeff Koelemay, and Beth Carter read "The isles of Greece." Afterwards Miss Nayia Dakalaki recited extracts of the poem in Greek. The day's events ended with a dinner on the terrace of the Radio Station Restaurant, kindly offered by the Mayor of Messolonghi. Traditional dancing and singing-along the cutting of two cakes offered by Dr Eirineos Floros to the conference-goers celebrating their name-day on the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul-gave a vibrant, memorable close to a rich and eventful gathering.
(written by Evan Gurney)