- 8th International Student Byron Conference ‘Byron’s Years of Fame’, Messolonghi 27–31 May 2013
The 8th International Student Byron Conference took place in Messolonghi from 27–31 May 2013. The conference, which was hosted by the Messolonghi Byron Society, brought together undergraduate students, graduate students, and professors from Lebanon, the United States of America, England, Greece, and Canada. The conference theme was ‘Byron’s Years of Fame’.
Participants arrived in Messolonghi on Monday 27 May and registered at the Messolonghi Byron Society’s International Research Center for Lord Byron & Philhellenism. Participants were also treated to a tour of the Center’s extensive Byron collection. Afterwards, attendees visited the Municipal Museum for a welcome ceremony with the Mayor of Messolonghi, Mr. Panayiotis Katsoulis, and for a guided tour of the museum’s paintings and artifacts. The day ended with a dinner at Archontiko restaurant, where the conference attendees had the opportunity to learn more about each other.
On 28 May, the academic program officially began at the Messolonghi Byron Society’s International Research Center for Lord Byron & Philhellenism. Attendees were warmly welcomed by the Center’s President Mrs. Rodanthi-Rosa Florou, the joint President of the International Byron Society Professor Naji Oueijan, and Director of the International Relations Professor Peter Graham. Session One, which was chaired by Peter Myrian, began with a paper by Naji Oueijan (Notre Dame, Lebanon) entitled ‘Byron’s Audience and the East’. In his presentation, Oueijan discussed Byron’s so-called ‘years of fame’ (1812–16) and how the poet, unprecedentedly, managed to become instantly famous in 1812. Oueijan, who focused predominantly on Byron’s Oriental Tales, argued that Byron’s ‘cognitive sensibility’ to reality – that is, how one observes reality to see beyond the veil – made him different from all the other Romantics and contributed to his immense fame. According to Oueijan, Byron immersed himself in Oriental culture when in the East. For this reason, Oueijan sets the poet apart from other authors who wrote about the East: Byron was not a detached exoticiser of the East like many of his contemporaries, suggests Oueijan, but instead an active participant in Eastern culture. In concluding, Oueijan argued that Byron’s Eastern works became so popular because they offered readers a ‘myth-like dream’ or ‘an escape’ from reality, even if the poet himself never quite envisioned the East in this way.
In ‘Lord Byron and Greek Mythology’, the second paper of Session One, Stephanie Baroud (Notre Dame) argued that Ancient Greek mythology influenced both Byron’s poetry and personal life. According to Baroud, Byron embodied Greek mythology [End Page 179] in his life by modeling the Greek myths that he knew. Baroud compared Byron and Annabella Milbanke’s marriage to that of Persephone and Hades (Byron called his new wife Persephone on their first night together); suggested that Byron swam the Hellespont in order to emulate Leander (although, Byron writes that ‘I swam for glory, not for love’, setting him apart from the ancient hero); and argued that Byron saw himself, as an aristocratic friend of the people, as a kind of Prometheus. This latter role was particularly evident when Byron travelled to Greece in 1823–24 to help the Greeks in their War of Independence. Concluding her presentation, Baroud proposed that Byron’s embodiment of Greek mythology represents the great goals he set out for himself as both poet and person.
Session Two, also on 28 May and chaired by Naji Oueijan, featured three papers. In the first, entitled ‘Eastern Superstition in Byron’s The Giaour’, Myriam Iliovits (Notre Dame) examined Byron’s engagement with Oriental superstition, including the Evil Eye, talismans and ‘super beings’. According to Iliovits, Byron would have learned about Oriental superstition both through his own readings (she provided William Beckford’s Vathek as an example) and his experiences in the East (which his travelling companion John Cam Hobhouse details in his own writing). Iliovits concluded that Byron’s blend of scholarly knowledge and personal experience, and the fact that he did not belittle Eastern practices, made his writing about Oriental superstition unique and contributed to his Eastern writings’ popularity.
In ‘Byron and Beauty: His Eastern Female Characters’, the session...