General theme: "Lord Byron and His Times"
The 7th International Student Byron Conference took place in Messolonghi (with visits to Klissova, Mount Arankinthos, Vassiladi and Aitoliko) from June 20 to 24, 2011. This conference hosted approximately 46 Byronists from many parts of the world: Britain, Canada, Greece, Lebanon, and the United States.
On the evening of Monday 20 June, participants made their way to the Administrative Office of the Messolonghi Byron Society and the Byron Research Center for registration and a tour of the impressive Byron collection. The participants then visited the Municipal Museum of History and Art Municipal Gallery, where they were welcomed by the Mayor of Messolonghi and viewed beautiful paintings by various national and international artists, guided by the interpreter George Apostolatos. After visiting the gallery, participants were treated to a welcome dinner offered by Mr. Panagiotis Katsoulis, Mayor of Messolonghi. The dinner was at a Tourlida fish restaurant overlooking the beautiful Gulf of Patras. The tranquil surroundings gave the participants a chance to converse and get to know each other while enjoying a tasty and satisfying meal.
On Tuesday 21 June, the conference officially began. After being welcomed by the President of the Messolonghi Society, Mrs. Rodanthi-Rosa Florou, Professor Byron Raizis and Professor Peter Graham, the academic sessions began. The first session was headed by Professor Byron Raizis and Professor Drew Hubbell and consisted of four lectures by Dr. Maria Schoina of Aristotle University, F. Joseph Baerenz of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Rachel Mckee and Rhiannon Basile, both of Susquehanna University.
In “Mary Shelley’s Perception of Hellenism in ‘Euphrasia: A Tale of Greece,’” Dr. Schoina discussed many aspects of Shelley’s text, including parallels between her views on Greece and the views of her male contemporaries, gender issues and female politics in the text, contemporary readers’ concerns when writing the text, and the depiction of Greece in the tale. In her presentation, Schoina argued that “on the one hand, the narrative feeds off the sensationalism surrounding the Greek War of Independence in the nineteenth century, while on the other hand, it challenges the gender politics of its time. Mary Shelley’s story heads towards the construction of a kind of discourse which does not simply emanate from the political atmosphere and the Romantic philhellenic views of that period, but adheres to the voicing of its predominantly female audience’s concerns.” Schoina also mentioned that Shelley’s text addresses concerns on Eastern despotism and female oppression.
The next paper, “The Triple Time Scheme of Don Juan,” by F. Joseph Baerenz illustrated the three distinct time schemes that are presented in Byron’s Don Juan. Baerenz discussed the internal time, active time and nostalgic time of the poem. He explained that the internal time of the poem is the period from 1780-1793. Active time refers to the period in which the poem was written, i.e. 1818–1824. Nostalgic time is “the period harkening to Regency England and Byron’s ‘Years of Fame’ from 1812–1816.” The speaker explained that the internal time of the poem is bound to historical events such as the Siege of Ismail in 1790. The “ironic depiction of the Siege of Ismail is an attack on senseless violence at the whim of despotic rulers.” Baerenz also asserted that Byron uses this historical battle to attack the political figures of his own day. Baerenz affirmed that the poem also displays other historical aspects, such as references to Catherine the Great and Potemkin. Byron turns Catherine into a matronly figure to make the “idea of a young Don Juan coupled with a much older Catherine more palatable.” The speaker then explains that active time refers to the years that Don Juan was written (1818–1824). Baerenz stated that the poem took a turn in 1822. He also explained that throughout Byron had used Don Juan to attack Robert Southey, William Wordsworth, Castlereagh and Arthur Wellesley and defend Milton and Pope but that these political agendas become clear in the new beginning signaled in 1822. Byron is against monarchy and in favor of liberty. He also supported nationalism. Byron’s advocacy of national liberty applied to Greece in particular, and this is reflected through the poem. Baerenz concluded that besides historical references Don Juan contains mythological tropes such as allusions to the Odyssey, Troy, and The Judgment of Paris.
In “Dwelling in the Fourfold: How Wordsworth and Byron Teach Us to Belong” Rachel McKee explored and elucidated the theme of dwelling in the poetry of Byron and Wordsworth. McKee explained the difference between Wordsworth’s and Byron’s definitions of dwelling. She explained that Wordsworth saw dwelling as a human being’s connection to nature while to Byron “it is a spiritual state of being.” She also mentioned that “for Wordsworth and Byron, reflecting on nature’s sublimity (not merely its beauty) is the key to belonging both physically and spiritually. Detachment and reflection are two variables that are vital to the achievement of dwelling”.
Rhiannon Basile’s “Bridging the Gaps: How the Romantics can help Reconcile Cultural Divisions” began with a fundamental question: “Is it possible for art to provide relevant insight into current environmental crises, or are such subjects too dissimilar to be of any real use to each other?” Basile asserted that “artists can enable us to perceive our relationship with the natural world in different ways.” She also asserted that the “use of a distinctly eco-feminist perspective is not only helpful but crucial to the understanding of the overall impact of Lord Byron’s works.” Basile discussed feminist theories on gender binaries and explained that “the nature of a binary enables a way of thinking that invites us to take one factual distinction of their being both males and females in the world, and then expand and distort it by instituting a hierarchy that only serves to widen the divide between the two components of the original binary. Basile then discussed Plumwood’s ideas on the binary between humans and nature and showed how Plumwood’s theories of the interdependency of binaries can offer new understandings of Byron’s deconstruction of binary logic in his play Manfred. Basile mentioned that Manfred tries to reconcile the dualism of spirit/clay within himself. In many instances in the play, Manfred subjugates the clay part of himself. Manfred wants to have “the spirit dominates the clay.” She explained that although Manfred prizes spirit over clay, he ironically rejects the Witch of the Alps whose essence is pure spirit and “thus implicitly asserts the superior power he has as one made of both spirit and clay.” Basile also added that “what inhibits Manfred’s intellectual growth in this regard is his continued inability to see the similarities and mutual dependency that exists between spirit and clay. In doing so, he is participating in exactly the sort of dualistic thinking that Plumwood references, thus creating an unnecessary rift between both parts of his being as well as his relationships with others.” Even at the end of the play, he can feel his soul being rifted from him but is confident in his body’s ability to resist death; but finally he realizes that neither clay nor spirit is superior to the other but that power comes from the homogenous interplay of these binaries. Basile concluded beautifully by saying, “If we apply the lessons learned from Romantic pieces such as Byron’s Manfred, we can hopefully come to realize the unique strength that exists in the connections between spirit and clay; self and other; culture and nature; art and environment”.
The second session, chaired by Dr. Maria Schoina, included Anna Radcliffe of the University of Virginia, Professor David Radcliffe of Virginia Polytechnic University and State University, and Christina Serafeim, of Johann Wolfgang Goethe Universität-Frankfurt am Main/Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Anna Radcliffe’s presentation, entitled “Linguas Franca: Language Politics at Missolonghi during the Greek Revolution,” discussed the significance of language in framing political perceptions during Byron’s times. Specifically, her paper discussed the multiplicity of languages spoken by Greeks and others at Missolonghi and how the languages invoked social and national hierarchies that were sources of conflict. While memoirs seldom go into much detail about the use of language, they bear witness to it since several contain letters in languages other than English, along with replies and translations. The most polite form of address would be to adopt the language of the recipient, and failing that, to use a third, neutral language like French, which was the “lingua Franca” of the time. This was Byron’s practice, in contrast to that of his co-commissioner Leicester Stanhope, who would write official correspondence in English, eliciting replies from Greek officials who deliberately wrote not in English or French, but in the vernacular. Anna Radcliffe’s interesting, historically grounded linguistic presentation matched Professor David Radcliffe’s “Putting Missolonghi Memoirs Online” in its originality and complemented its approach. For his part David Radcliffe gave a demonstration of Lord Byron and his times by showing a digital archive that contains numerous Byron-related annotated documents encoded in order to allow them to be read and searched online. Radcliffe mentioned that “among the Byron documents are a series of ‘Messolonghi Memoirs’ written by Byron's contemporaries describing affairs unfolding in Greece. These memoirs paint a grim portrait of the state of affairs in the Greek Revolution at the time of Byron’s death. They are political documents that respond in various ways to dissensions in the Greek government, but also to dissensions in Britain between the London Greek Committee and the government, and between various factions supporting the Greek cause. Yet all concur in praising Byron's magnanimity, and collectively they illustrate his prudence and understanding in the administration of a loan that did much to fuel contention and corruption in Britain as well as Greece”.
Christina Serafeim’s presentation entitled “Art Meeting Politics in John Keats’s ‘On Seeing the Elgin Marbles’” discussed the artistic reaction ‒ still alive in current debates ‒ stimulated by the removal of the Parthenon marbles by Lord Elgin. Serafeim focused her discussion on John Keats, one of the major representatives of English Romantic Hellenism, who praised the values and ideas of Ancient Greece, though largely ignoring the political philhellenic element which is evident in Lord Byron’s poetry and political action. The looting of the Parthenon Marbles by Elgin and the painful sight of the fragmented sculptures that the young poet witnessed in the British Museum inspired him to write the sonnet. As Serafeim argued in her analysis of the poem, the shocking state of the decayed marbles led Keats to sad thoughts: the decay brought about by the passing of time, the contrast between mortal and eternal, as well as the great distance that separated his generation from the beauty of the classic ideal.
This presentation was followed by Professor Drew Hubbell’s related appraisal of “Byron’s Eco-Rhetoric and the Imperial Museum: The Case of Elgin’s Marbles,” which explicated the controversy between Lord Elgin and Lord Byron and their opposing views regarding the proper place for these Greek antiquities. Hubbell described Lord Elgin as a “notorious excavator of the Parthenon and other Athenian antiquities” and Lord Byron as a “Greek national hero and proponent of preserving Greek antiquities in Greece.” Hubbell informed us that Lord Elgin was an avid supporter of exporting Greek antiquities to Britain because in his opinion “exporting Greek antiquities to England was necessary to preserve them from the depredations of indigenous Greeks and their Turkish overlords. As a matter of cultural heritage, these relics of the glory days of Athenian Democracy belonged to the modern heirs of Hellenic culture and political values: Great Britain.” Lord Byron’s counter-argument was that Lord Elgin had self-serving, incompetent motives. Byron’s main argument was that the Greek antiquities belonged in the environment in which they evolved and thus that these antiquities needed to remain in Greece in order to preserve their authenticity. Rather than the traditional “decline and fall” story, Byron saw the crumbling Acropolis environment as a natural process of devolution, as the spirit of liberty seeped back into the ground, remaining latent for the next cycle of growth. Removing the key parts of the built environment would break the cycle, dissipate the conserved energy of liberty, and doom Greece to endless decline.
At 7:30 p.m., the official keynote ceremony was introduced by the Director of International Relations of the Messolonghi Byron Center, Professor Peter Graham from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. The first speaker was David McClay, Senior Curator of the John Murray Archive housed at the National Library of Scotland. In “Lord Byron and His Times: A Perspective from the John Murray Archive,” McClay gave an exposition of the National Library of Scotland’s Murray collection, especially its Byron holdings. McClay discussed the publisher John Murray and the relationship that developed between him and Byron. He then explained how the Murray Archive came to the National Library of Scotland. Byron’s manuscripts and other literary treasures, first kept in an archive at 50 Albemarle Street London, the site of John Murray’s publishing house, are now housed in Scotland. McClay then gave some details about the Byron documents available in the archive. He mentioned that the archive includes biographies, letters, poems and other works. He also detailed the programs that the National Library of Scotland offers to Byronists and others. He mentioned that the library holds workshops and poetry readings and provides blogs, essays, and books about Byron and the other authors represented in the archive, among them Jane Austen, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Charles Darwin. McClay also informed us that the National Library of Scotland is planning on digitizing Byron’s journals, manuscripts, financial statements, and letters and that these digitized documents will be available soon.
The presentation of the next keynote speaker, Professor Roderick Beaton, Koraes Professor of Modern Greek and Byzantine History, Language and Literature at King’s College in London, was entitled “The New Prometheus: Why Byron Went to Fight in the Greek Revolution.” Beaton began by asking a very fundamental question: “Why would Byron give up everything and risk everything and lose everything in order to fight with the Greeks against the Ottoman Empire?” Beaton suggested that this question cannot be answered with certainty because Byron does not fully explain his complex motives. Beaton then attempted to infer an answer by interpreting Byron’s letters and poetry in an attempt to give us a clearer insight into the poet’s relationship with Greece. Beaton mentioned that Greek ruins, for Byron, symbolized mortality. He also added that mortality is a recurrent theme in Byron’s poetry. Beaton then moved on to discuss The Giaour. He stated that the vampire imagery in The Giaour is part of the Greek oral tradition. Beaton believes that Byron was impressed by this tradition and other Greek superstitions, as became evident when during the stormy summer of 1816, in Geneva, Switzerland, Byron lived in close proximity to Mary and Percy Shelley. The circle spoke about vampires, wrote ghost stories, and tried to frighten each other. Beaton added that reviving ancient Greece is like a vampire because it involves bringing back the dead. Beaton also talked about Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound and how Byron was inspired by it. Beaton mentioned that in 1821 Shelley introduced Byron to some Greeks in Italy. After Shelley’s death, Byron became dedicated to the Greek cause. Beaton then repeated his initial question: “Why?” Beaton’s brilliant lecture left its audience longing to read the answer to be formulated in his forthcoming book on Byron and the Greek war of independence. After the official ceremony, participants and the audience at the ball room of Theoxenia, enjoyed a superb Gala dinner with traditional Greek music and dancing by the dancers of the Xoreftikos Omilos Messologiou. Also the student Ms. Grace Nakhoul performed a nice Lebanese folk-ballet dance.
On Wednesday, 22 June 2011, the third session of papers began, chaired by Dr. Nic Panagopoulos from the University of Athens. The speakers were Professor George Kokkonis of the Higher Technological Institution of Epirus, Dr. Maya El Hage and Professor Naji Oueijan, both from Lebanon’s Notre Dame University, and Dr. Argyros Protopappas from the University of Athens. In “Popular and Art Music in the Time of Ali Pasha,” Kokkonis informed us about the kinds of music that Byron and Hobhouse used to listen to when they were in the East in the time of Ali Pasha. Kokkonis explained that Istanbul had been the center of music in the East since the seventeenth century and that music was dominant in the urban centres of the Ottoman Empire. Supplementing his comments with well-chosen recorded selections of period music, Kokkonis then described the types of musical instruments that were played in the region and explained what kinds of musicians there were. He mentioned that Sultan Selim was a notable composer. The musical instruments that were played in the East included the ney, violins, tabors, oboes, xamara, chemanche, trumpets, fiddles, lyres, lutes and guitars. Kokkonis also described the festivals that took place at the time in the urban centers. For instance, the lamina involved customers dancing and singing at a coffee shop while drinking coffee. He also briefly mentioned the merteckena, the orchestra of military courts. Kokkonis also explained that the favourite form of entertainment for Ali pasha was gypsy music. The gypsies played violins, tambourines, drums, tabors, and oboes; and many gypsy women danced.
In “Lord Byron’s Picture Rendered in Europe,” El Hage subtly interpreted multiple translations (especially French and Italian) of Byron’s poetry to understand the shaping of his literary and personal image in Europe. She inquired whether existing translations offer an accurate depiction of Lord Byron and the intended meanings of his poetry. El Hage posed a very important question at the beginning of her presentation: “Are there cultural damages in translations?” To explore this issue, she examined Byron’s “The Prisoner of Chillon” and the inter-linguistic relationship between the original English, the French, and the Italian versions of the text. The French translation of the poem is written in prose because its focus is on fidelity to meaning rather than to sound. El Hage asserted that the French version preserves sense but is mundane and devoid of the English original’s poetical effects, such as alliteration. The Italian version, on the other hand, conveys meaning and spirit while also striving to be loyal to the metrics and sound of the original text. After examining many of the sections of the poem and comparing them to their French and Italian translations, El Hage concluded that some of the characteristics of the original poem have not been respected. Her conclusion was that Byron was not fully understood in a European society dependent on translations because meaning and poetic style both get lost in translation.
Professor Naji Oueijan, in “Lord Byron: The Aesthetic Historian,” asserted that Byron was hostile to conventional historians’ approaches and that he wanted to study history through personal experience. Historians are chronological in their recounting of facts. Byron’s aesthetic representations of history are more lively and universal and less stiff than the images that are drawn by historians. Oueijan believes that Byron saw in historical sites the best and worst conditions of man. Byron was not mainly concerned about facts but was more interested in the experience of being on the spot. He imagined, contemplated, and lived the historical experience. To Oueijan, Byron’s poems recreate the cognitive and spiritual dimensions of the human mind. Oueijan also touched upon the concept of the truth of Self and Other. When Byron gazes and contemplates sites, his is a contemplation of consciousness (the present) and also sub-consciousness (the past). Oueijan concluded that Byron’s history was more important than the history of historians because he reanimates history.
In “After Shelley’s Drowning: Byron’s Ultimate Transformation,” Argyros Protopappas examined the relationship between Shelley and Byron and Byron’s changed mentality after Shelley’s drowning. Protopappas began by describing the nature of the relationship between Shelley and Byron. He acknowledged that there was sometimes a mutual resentment between the two poets. Byron thought Shelley was too idealistic and too optimistic but admired his moral fibre; Shelley acknowledged Byron’s poetic genius but hated his cynicism and the bitter irony and sarcasm in his poems. Byron, who thought that Shelley was a mild and selfless man and claimed that he had nothing in common with Shelley, stated that other people were beasts in comparison to Shelley. Protopappas concluded that after Shelley’s death, Byron transformed himself from a celebrity whose career was tainted by scandals to someone who was willing to give up everything to fight by the side of the oppressed. His metamorphosis, however, still remains questionable.
Session four was chaired by Professor David Radcliffe. The session involved three speakers: Michelle Mattern Taylor of the University of Virginia, Dr. Nic Panagopoulos of Athens University, and Sarah Anne Storti, also from the University of Virginia. In “Byron’s Attachment to Quadrupeds: The Satirical Implications of ‘Epitaph to a Dog,’” Taylor compared and contrasted the epitaph Byron originally inscribed on his Newfoundland dog Boatswain’s monument in 1808 and the anonymous version of the poem printed in 1814 in The Scourge. Taylor tried to answer a very important question: “Why, in the height of Byron’s fame, was the poem not attributed to him?” Taylor mentioned that The Scourge published several articles ridiculing Byron. It remains questionable as to why the magazine withheld his name, though Taylor suggests that the poem was probably published by someone who knew Byron personally and did not want to expose him as the author of the poem. In this epitaph, said Taylor, Byron, who had erected a monument to his loved dog that had died of rabies, paints the dog as more dignified than man. He portrays man as full of lust, cheating, deception, and other vices. Taylor focused on the “ways that, as satirical material, the epitaph reveals the constraints of ‘proper’ relationships between humans and animals in the early nineteenth century.” Juxtaposing The Scourge printing of the epitaph with the magazine’s hostile pieces about Byron shows how his view of the canine-human relationship is part of his larger-scale violation of contemporary social norms.
In “The (Un)Popular Reception of Cain” Panagopoulos examined responses to Byron’s iconoclastic verse drama, a radically subversive work that violated cultural taboos and seemed blasphemous to most readers. But Panagopoulos explained that the respected poet Walter Scott supported the text. Scott did not object to the fact that the devil in the text distorts the image of God because that is what the devil does. Panagopoulos then explicated the skepticism, deism, rationalism, and diabolism that are all intellectual dimensions of the text. He concluded his able analysis of one of Byron’s most controversial works by commenting that it is hard to separate the biographical from the fictional.
In “Byron the Lyricist: (Re)reading a Remediated Don Juan” Storti explored Byron as a lyric poet rather than a narrative one. She began by mentioning a mid–Victorian collection of Byron’s poetry that published extracts of Byron’s Don Juan in the form of separate lyrics. Storti asserted that the way Byron was read in his time and immediately afterward differs from the way we read him now. She stated that though it has not been confirmed that Byron was a lyric poet, it is definitely possible to read him as one. Storti, in her analysis of the lyric Byron, focused on one fragment of Don Juan that was published under the title “First Love.” She concluded that Byron’s lyric integrity in this extract is undeniable and asserted that Byron’s reception as a lyric poet has not been given proper attention.
The fifth session was chaired by Professor Naji Oueijan from Notre Dame University in Lebanon. The speakers were his students Rouba Douaihy, Hala Halaoui, Tracey El Hajj, and Grace Nakhoul. In “Byron and the Sufi Poets” Douaihy discussed the influence of Sufi poetry on the works of Lord Byron. She stated that the Orient was a source of inspiration for Byron’s works and that Byron looked to the East for escapism, peace of mind and spiritual elevation and that Byron’s extensive readings about the East along with his later travels to Albania, Turkey and Greece as well as other Eastern countries are at the very heart of his Oriental tales. His readings of Persian Sufi poetry by figures such as Firdausi, Sadi and Hafiz, inspired many of the themes in his Oriental tales, including“the triple eros”of power, wisdom and love. To Byron, Firdausi’s works represent the power of the East, Sadi’s represent wisdom, and Hafiz’s represent love.
In “Lord Byron: Contemporary Politics and the Poet Prophet” Halaoui and El Hajj spoke about Byron’s political consciousness and how he uses satire in his poetry to criticize the political leaders and political systems of his time. The collaborative presenters began with some very important thought-provoking questions: “Was Byron a melancholy person as his poetry reveals his heroes? Was he a pessimist or misanthropist, or was he triggered by inner bitterness?” These questions offer ways to consider Byron’s disposition toward the political and social tensions of his time. Halaoui and El Hajj claimed that “Byron hated tyranny, and was prepared to sacrifice money and ease of life. And if the issue of his call to arms was greater than what he designed or foresaw, it was mainly prompted by his love for self-freedom, and for freedom of other.” They then discussed the satirical devices exploited by Byron in Don Juan in order to expose the ills of the time. In the same vein, Halaoui and El Hajj recounted a cynical letter that Byron wrote in 1814: “‘I have simplified my politics into an utter detestation of all existing governments. The fact is, riches are power, and poverty is slavery all over the earth, and one sort of establishment is no better, nor worse, for a people than another.’” Halaoui and El Hajj concluded beautifully by saying “In his works, Byron synthesizes politics and prophecy to transform allegory into metaphor, and propaganda into poetry that summons freedom into being”.
In “Lord Byron and Contemporary Western Women,” Nakhoul traced Byron’s representations of Western females in his literary works. Nakhoul began her presentation by providing us with a listing of Byron’s attachments to various Western women in his life, namely Mary Duff, Margaret Parker, Mary Chaworth, Caroline Lamb, Lady Milbank, Claire Clairmont, and Teresa Guiccioli. Nakhoul then commented on Byron’s disposition towards the women in his life. She claimed that Byron loved some women excessively and that sometimes his feelings turned into hatred. Appraising Byron’s relationship with his mother, Nakhoul stated that the characterization of Donna Inez in Byron’s Don Juan is the opposite of the personality of Catherine Gordon in real life. Nakhoul then went on to discuss the three M’s—Mary Chaworth, Mary Duff, and Margaret Parker. Nakhoul added that “the three M’s can be called Byron’s innocent and romanticized lovers of the West.” Nakhoul also spoke about Byron’s wife, Annabella Milbanke, and discussed his relationship with Teresa Guiccioli, who possessed “good breeding” and “naïve intellectual enthusiasm” that reminded him of his half-sister, Augusta. Nakhoul ended with questions: “Why is it that most of Byron’s turbulent relationships were with Western women? Why did all the women that he truly loved in the West disappoint him?” Nakhoul gave her opinion that the reason may be that for Byron the East was a place of spirituality and the West a place of materialism.
After the fifth session of lectures, the academic activities of the conference were officially over and the following days were scheduled for recreational activities involving visits to historical and religious sites reflecting the rich heritage of Greece.
The participants sailed by a small vessel with a guided tour to the historic isle of Klissova in the lagoon, where is a monument and a low chapel of the Holy Trinity which served the fighters as a magazine and citadel on 25th of March 1826. On Thursday, 23 June we attended a moving and humbling wreath-laying ceremony at the site where Byron breathed his last on 19 April 1824, the site where the University of Athens dedicated a memorial column to Byron to commemorate the centennial of his death. After the wreath-laying ceremony, the participants made their way through the Garden of Heroes, a large memorial garden with many monuments stretching alongside the defensive walls of Messolonghi. Byron’s lungs are buried in this sacred garden, where a statue of the poet is erected. After exploring the Garden of Heroes and seeing many interesting and historically significant monuments, participants visited the site of ancient Plevron, named after the mythical hero Plevron. The mountainside ruins overlooking the town of Messolonghi and its plains and lagoon date back to 234 B.C. when Demetrius II destroyed Old Plevron, which lies south of the new city. After exploring this ancient site, the group paid a visit to St. Symeon’s monastery, which was built in the 18th century on the slopes of Mount Arakinthos. Then followed a visit to the Higher Technological Institution of Messolonghi, where a lunch of delicious local fare was generously offered by the President, Professor Vangelis Politis-Stergiou.
Friday, June 24, 2011, was the last day at the conference. Participants had a sailing experience exploring the Gulf of Patras, and on returning to the Messolonghi lagoon visiting the historical isle of Vassiladi (Agios Sostis) where Lord Byron landed on January 5, 1824. As the boat traveled at a moderate speed, the sea air was invigorating to the senses and the surrounding views were relaxing and soothing. The scene was set with mountains, trees, sailing boats, sunshine, and blue azure skies, which made the sailing trip a truly beautiful and memorable experience. A short swim in the crystal clear waters was like a baptism experience for the participants. In the afternoon, a visit to Vasso Katrakis’s Museum in the fascinating island town of Aitoliko was extremely reflective of Greece’s rich modern culture. This important artist’s engravings are mainly characterized by the interplay of black and white coloring, and her work eloquently voices a protest for human rights. Katrakis’ engravings suggest hope and an underlying optimism in spite of life’s hardships and struggles. After a lavish reception provided by the hospitable women’s association and their President Mrs. Gitsa Leonardou of the Folklore Museum of Aitoliko , the conference participants visited the local folklore museum and saw a vast collection of vintage costumes, clothing, record players, ovens, garlic crushers, lighting, cutlery, bedding, sewing machines, and furniture among other things. These vintage items reflected the simpler past of our ancestors and induced a nostalgic craving to go back to simpler conditions. Later in the evening, the participants were invited by the Cultural and Educational Society of Aitoliko under their President Mr. George Komtzias, to join a festival of bonfires, a traditional custom commemorating the feast day of St. John the Enflamed. Dancing and celebrating preceded a ceremony of fortune-telling for unmarried girls and leaps over bonfires by those with the legs and courage to jump.
Overall, the trip to Greece was not only educational and informative. It was also a cultural, historical, religious, and recreational experience. The international participants received a stronger knowledge of the life and times of Lord Byron but also experienced a culture with different customs, gained insight into the history and development of Greece, and developed an understanding of the religious practices of the Greek Orthodox Church. Indeed, the Conference was successful at all levels; and the trip to Greece was definitely a memorable one. The hospitality and warmth of the Greek people has left a lasting impression on the minds and hearts of all participating professors and students. Thank you to the Messolonghi Byron Society for hosting such a successful and rewarding conference. Thank you to Professor Byron Raizis, Mrs. Rodanthi-Rosa Florou, and Professor Peter Graham for organizing such a winning event. A special thanks also to Professor Naji Oueijan and Dr. Maria Schoina, members of the International Advisory Board of the Messolonghi Byron Center for also contributing to the success of the event.
By Rouba Douaihi