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Journal of Modern Greek Studies 21.2 (2003) 290-292
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Stephen Minta, On a Voiceless Shore: Byron in Greece. New York: Henry Holt and Company. 1998.Pp. 304. $25.00.
On a Voiceless Shore is as much about Greece's liberation struggle against the Ottoman Turks in the first quarter of the nineteenth century as it is about Byron in Greece. Stephen Minta, a graduate of Oxford and a Senior Lecturer in Comparative Literature at the University of York, England, traces Byron's journey to Greece, but he is not always sympathetic to his subject.
Byron lived in a period of profound nationalist and Romantic movements in Europe in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. Caught up in the Romantic spirit of the time, he made Greece's struggle for national independence and freedom from Turkish rule his own, committing his fortune and his life to the cause of Greek liberation. Minta tries to understand Byron's inner struggle for his own identity and bi-sexuality in psychological terms. In Minta's view, Byron came to Greece not from a conscious, idealistic commitment to Greece's liberation forces but by mere chance. According to Minta, Byron "had first come to Greece pursuing no cause but his own self-satisfaction. Then, years later, he had returned to Greece, and with a purpose" (278). During that second trip to Greece, Byron decided to stay and become involved in Greece's struggle, a choice which led to his early death in April, 1824, at the age of thirty-six.
At twenty-one years of age, Byron left in July 1809 from the Cornish port of Falmouth, England. Before his arrival in Greece, Byron and his companion John Cam Hobhouse sailed to Lisbon, traveling overland to Seville, Cadiz and Gibraltar. From Spain, they sailed to Sardinia and Malta. From Malta, Byron sailed for Greece on 19 September 1809. The first landing was at the port of Patras on 26 September 1809, but Minta claims that Byron had no interest in classical Greek ruins. He came to the East in search of adventure.
Byron and Hobhouse visited Ali Pasha. Byron was impressed with the "Lion of Ioannina," a ruthless tyrant who was a semi-independent overlord of the Ottoman Empire. Byron and Hobhouse also visited Gjirokasta, an important city in Albania. In Minta's view, Byron may have visited Greece for entertainment, but whatever he was looking for as a poet, he found in Greece. He also found love.
Byron seems to have been sexually abused as a child. At fifteen, he fell in love with a distant cousin and at thirty-five with a fifteen-year-old Greek boy who inspired the last three poems he ever wrote (79). When Byron arrived in Greece in 1809, he carried with him the baggage of sexual promiscuity, guilt, and a family background of violence and despair. He was also intellectually precocious. By the age of twelve, he had learned to read Latin, Greek, French, Italian, and Spanish. In Childe Harold he portrays himself as a "riotous youth, carnal, promiscuous, and proud" (80-81).
Under difficult and often dangerous conditions, Byron and Hobhouse traveled to Preveza. Then they crossed Acarnania to the town of Missolonghi, where they spent two days as the weather prevented them from leaving the harbor. Byron and his companions sailed on to Patras on 23 November 1809. They continued their travels, visiting Vostitsa, Delphi, Arahova, Levadia, Orhomenos, Thebes, and settling in Athens, which they soon grew to like. [End Page 290]
They lived with Theodora Makri, the widow of a former British Vice-consul in Athens. She had three daughters all under the age of fifteen, and Byron fell in love with all of them. It was the youngest, Teresa, who became Byron's muse for the "Maid of Athens." In 1822, Byron remembered the three Makri girls again in Canto VI of his long satiric poem, Don Juan.
More than once in Byron's notes in Childe Harold, Mintadetects some hostility toward Greece and feelings of ambivalence as an...