- ‘Byron and the Summer of 1816’
11th International Student Byron Conference
Messolonghi, 23–28 May 2016
Monday 23 May 2016
On Monday 23 May, the eleventh International Student Byron Conference opened in Messolonghi Greece, with participants trickling in throughout the day, disembarking from buses and taxis to check in at the Theoxenia Hotel. It was a lovely warm day beside the lagoon in Messolonghi. Participants completed registration at the administrative office of the Messolonghi Byron Society and its Byron Research Center in the Byron House, where they were graciously welcomed with coffee and local cookies and pastries by the President of the Messolonghi Byron Society, Mrs. Rosa Florou, the Center’s librarian, Christina Tsekoura and other officers and members of the MBS. Further welcome came from Professor Peter Graham (Virginia Tech), who oversees International Relations. With everyone registered, participants visited the Center of Literature and Arts Museum ‘Diexodos’, the Municipal Museum of History and the Art Municipal Gallery to learn about Messolonghi’s history before stopping at Tourlida Beach and the lovely Cathedral of Agios Spyridon, visited by Byron during his time in the city.
At the Art Municipal Gallery, participants were formally welcomed by Mr. Nikos Karapanos, the Mayor of Messolonghi, and other Councilors of the City Council. Peter Graham thanked them on behalf of the conference, and participants were given a guided tour of the artwork, including the incomparable ‘Woman of Messolonghi’. This painting, completed in 1828 by the French Painter E. De Lansac, depicts a Greek mother who has already sacrificed her son and is about to do the same to herself to prevent their being taken by the invading Turkish army.
Dinner that night was enthusiastically enjoyed at Archontiko restaurant in the city centre and despite the length of travel for many participants they stayed out enjoying one another’s company and conversation until late in the evening.
Tuesday 24 May 2016
Tuesday began with breakfast at the Theoxenia, after which participants were conveyed into the city centre for the annual wreath-laying ceremony at the monument to Byron newly refurbished by the Messolonghi Byron Society in 2015 at the place where Byron died on 19 April 1824. In 1924 the University of Athens honoured the centennial of Byron’s death by erecting a commemorative marble column, work of the sculptor [End Page 171] Antonios Sochos. It was a sombre event in which all participants joined, laying individual flowers beside the wreath.
Following the wreath-laying, they visited the House-Museum of the prominent Greek revolutionary and diplomat, Spyridon Trikoupis, who delivered Byron’s eulogy. Delegates then visited the Garden of the Heroes, wherein the tour guide, Mr Giorgos Apostolakos, told the story of Messolonghi’s resistance against Turkish occupation of the city. These efforts included digging a massive ditch and erecting a huge earthen wall to repel the Turks, with children as young as seven helping in the digging and construction.
The first academic session began with a welcome address from Dr Maria Schoina (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki), who is Deputy Director of Studies for the Messolonghi Byron Center, and was chaired by Naji Oueijan (Notre Dame, Lebanon). Peter Graham delivered the first paper, ‘Byron on Prisoners’ in which he presented The Prisoner of Chillon as a thought experiment exploring the difference between a prisoner, who is confined to a space, and an exile who is excluded from a space. According to Peter, Byron’s Bonnivard is imprisoned with his brothers because they serve as external expressions of his own self, a self that is ultimately made unsuitable for existence in the outer world. Sam Hunt’s (Minnesota) ‘Byron’s Contrary Attitudes toward Religion’ examined the ironic contrasts between Byron’s portrayal of Bonnivard, an indisputably Christian figure in a text that makes almost no allusion to his faith, with his apostate Giaour, whose depiction is riddled with religious trappings. She suggested that the juxtaposition of these two characters demonstrates not only Byron’s playfully contrary nature as a poet but also his deep-seated ambivalence toward religion in general. The panel was rounded off by Yara Berbery’s (Notre Dame) ‘Victim and Victimizer in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’, in which she examined...