At the Corner of Byron and Shelley
Byron Street in Athens pays tribute to Lord Byron's contribution to the Greek war for independence, which he wrote about in his poetry. His death on April 19, 1824-symbolically for the Greeks because it was the day after Easter-was a galvanizing event for the cause in Greece and abroad, and for poetry and Greek letters. A young Italian-educated poet in Zakynthos, Dionysios Solomos, was perhaps the first Greek poet to bring Byron into Greek literature. Byron as a theme for Greek poets continued through the 19th century, with a flurry of interest in 1924, the centennial of his death. There is revived interest in the poem here, owing to a new translation for the bicentennial by the Greek poet Orfeas Apergis, who has put Shelley's verses into flowing Greek meter and rhyme. Byron's particular immersion in Greece, and Shelley's abstraction and universalization of it, can be summed up in two quotations, Byron's "If I am a poet the air of Greece has made me one," and Shelley's own statement in his preface to Hellas: "We are all Greeks. Our laws, our literature, our religion, our arts have their root in Greece." Shelley ends his verse drama with a poetic prophesy-a golden age, outside of, or even at the end of, history-it could be the end of the world, rather than the prosaic practicality of obtaining and maintaining Greek independence, which, in separate ways, both Byron and Mavrokordatos would wrestle with.