2021 Leventis Professor of Greek, conference and exhibition
The twelfth A. G. Leventis Visiting Chair in Greek, Professor Roderick Beaton FBA, organised an international conference on the ‘Greek Revolution of 1821’. His tenure and conference were marked by a major exhibition in the University Library.
Roderick's tenure of the Chair fell in autumn 2021, a year which sees the bicentenary of the Greek Revolution of 1821. Accordingly, the theme of the twelfth A. G. Leventis Conference was ‘The Greek Revolution of 1821: Contexts, Scottish Connections, the Classical Tradition’.
Roderick Beaton grew up in Edinburgh, where he first studied Latin and Ancient Greek at George Watson’s College before going on to Peterhouse, Cambridge, to graduate with a BA in English Literature and a PhD in Modern Greek. After a three-year postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Birmingham he embarked on a long career at King’s College London, first as Lecturer in Modern Greek Language and Literature (1981–8), then as Koraes Professor of Modern Greek and Byzantine History, Language and Literature (1988–2018), and since then as Emeritus. From 2012 to 2018 he also served as Director of the Centre for Hellenic Studies at KCL.
Roderick is the author of many books and articles about aspects of the Greek-speaking world from the twelfth century to the present day, including George Seferis: Waiting for the Angel. A Biography (2003); Byron’s War: Romantic Rebellion, Greek Revolution (2013), both of which won the prestigious Runciman Award for best book on the Hellenic world, and Greece: Biography of a Modern Nation (2019, now a Penguin paperback). His latest book, an overview of Greek history from the Bronze Age to the 200th anniversary of the Greek Revolution in 2021, is expected to be published in autumn 2021 with the title The Greeks: A Global History.
He is a Fellow of the British Academy (FBA 2013), a Fellow of King’s College (FKC, 2018) and Commander of the Order of Honour of the Hellenic Republic, an award conferred on him by President Prokopios Pavlopoulos of Greece in September 2019.
You can view a recording of Roderick's inaugural lecture below. Please note that captions are generated automatically.
- Video: HCA A.G. Leventis Inaugural Lecture 2021
- The inaugural lecture of Professor Roderick Beaton's A. G. Leventis Visiting Professor at the University of Edinburgh - 'The Greek language and Greek identities: c. 1500 BCE to 2021 CE' - delivered on 22 September 2021. Please note that captions are generated automatically.
With generous support from the A. G. Leventis Foundation and as part of Protovoulia 1821–2021 (‘Initiative 1821–2021’), the School of History, Classics and Archaeology was delighted to host a major conference on ‘The Greek Revolution of 1821: Contexts, Scottish Connections, the Classical Tradition’.
The revolution of the Greek-speaking, Orthodox Christian subjects of the Ottoman empire in 1821 was accompanied by declarations of national independence inspired by the recent revolutions in the Americas and France. The Greek Revolution was the first of its kind to be successful on European soil, and led to international recognition for Greece as an independent, sovereign state in 1830. In this way, the story of Greece as a modern nation-state begins, and also a new chapter in the history of our continent, as the era of multi-national empires slowly gave way, over the next two centuries, to an era dominated by the self-determination of nation-states.
Commemorating the bicentenary of the Greek Revolution
The year marked the bicentenary of the start of that revolution and events took place around the world and in the UK to commemorate this turning-point in a history that can be traced back through three and a half millennia.
Our conference, held under the auspices of the A. G. Leventis Visiting Professorship in Greek, and forming part of Edinburgh’s biennial series of international conferences on Hellenic studies, brought together scholars from around the world and a range of academic disciplines to re-assess the nature and significance of the Greek Revolution from the perspective of the 21st century and of a city that geographically lies at the opposite end of Europe from Greece, namely Edinburgh, the ‘Athens of the North’.
The conference was arranged around two main themes: Contexts and Scottish Connections & the Classical Tradition and jointly organised by the 12th A. G. Leventis Visiting Professor of Greek, Roderick Beaton FBA, and Professor Niels Gaul of the School of History, Classics & Archaeology.
Confirmed speakers included Thomas Ahnert (Edinburgh), Iain Gordon Brown (NLS), Richard Clogg (Oxford), Lucien Frary (Rider University), Alasdair Grant (Edinburgh & Hamburg), Constanze Güthenke (Oxford), Yannis Hamilakis (Brown), Paschalis Kitromilides (Athens), Vassiliki Kolocotroni (Glasgow), Sanja Perović (KCL), Alexia Petsalis-Diomidis (St Andrews), Christine Philliou (Berkeley), Gonda Van Steen (KCL), Matteo Zaccarini (Bologna/Edinburgh) and Simon Zenios (UCLA).
You can view the programme at the link below.
The conference was held in a hybrid format.
The conference was accompanied by an exhibition in the University Library exhibition gallery, ‘Edina/Athena: The Greek Revolution and the Athens of the North, 1821–2021’ from 29 October 2021 to 29 January 2022, and a series of engagement events.
'Edina/Athena: The Greek Revolution and the Athens of the North, 1821–2021'
This year, 2021, marked the bicentenary of the outbreak of the Greek Revolution against rule by the Ottoman Empire, ultimately leading to the creation of an independent Greek nation state. While conflict raged in Greece, Edinburgh was becoming popularly known by the nicknames ‘The Athens of the North’ or ‘The Modern Athens’. This exhibition, generously funded by the A.G. Leventis Foundation and as part of Protovoulia 1821–2021 (‘Initiative 1821–2021’), offered the first detailed exposition of the parallels and connections between these two apparently very separate phenomena. It explored neoclassicism in Edinburgh, the key events of the Greek Revolution and the Scots who supported it, and the wider contexts of the classical tradition. The exhibition comprised a large core of historic books, drawings and photographs from the University’s Centre for Research Collections, complemented by an ambitious series of loans from institutions in Greece, Scotland and England.
A striking coincidence
The exhibition began by introducing a striking coincidence. In June 1822, the Ottoman garrison of the Athenian Acropolis surrendered to Greek revolutionaries. A mere two months later, the foundation stone of the Scottish National Monument, modelled on the Athenian Parthenon, was laid on Edinburgh's Calton Hill. This coincidence set the scene for a series of exhibits illustrating Edinburgh’s claims to the inheritance of ancient Athens on the basis of geographical, intellectual and architectural parallels. These included works by the artists Thomas Hosmer Shepherd, Hugh ‘Grecian’ Williams and James Skene, and by the celebrated architect William Henry Playfair.
The Greek Revolution
The exhibition’s second theme outlined several central figures and events of the Greek Revolution. Protagonists included the heroines Laskarina Bouboulina and Manto Mavrogenous and the poet Dionysios Solomos. The Mavromichalis clan was represented by a pair of pistols formerly belonging to Petrobey, loaned from the Benaki Museum of Greek Culture. Other highlights included Sir Thomas Lawrence’s portrait of Greece’s first head of state, Ioannis Kapodistrias, and striking illustrations of important revolutionary events by Dimitrios Zographos, all lent by Her Majesty The Queen. Notably, the first historians to write comprehensively about the conflict in English were both Scots - Thomas Gordon of Cairness and Buthlaw and George Finlay, whose works featured.
Gordon and Finlay were both exponents of ‘philhellenism’, or ‘love of Greece’; they and the other Scottish philhellenes were the focal point of the exhibition’s third theme. A selection of Finlay’s personal papers were loaned from the British School at Athens, and some of Gordon’s from the University of Aberdeen. The most famous of the philhellenes was arguably the Northeast-raised Lord Byron, whose sojourns in Greece both before and during the Revolution were illustrated by letters, notebooks and documents loaned from the National Library of Scotland. Lesser-known figures include the Laurencekirk-born educationalist and attorney Edward Masson, the Edinburgh graduate and biographer of John Knox, Rev. Dr Thomas M'Crie, and the radical Edinburgh philanthropist Agnes Renton who fostered women’s education in the Ionian Islands.
The classical tradition underpinned philhellenism and the language of ‘restoration’ associated with the Greek Revolution. The first volume of James Stuart and Nicholas Revett’s lavish and ambitious Antiquities of Athens (1762) and a manuscript notebook of Stuart’s introduce the expansion of antiquarian publications in western Europe. These trends of connoisseurship took their most controversial turn with the removal of many Parthenon sculptures by Lord Elgin, officially justified but also widely condemned even in his own day. At the University of Edinburgh, the teaching of Greek was revolutionized by John Stuart Blackie’s spoken method and integration of contemporary literature. The section closed with Dr Sandy Stoddart’s relief of ‘Edina’ reflecting the glory of Athena from his 2016 statue of William Henry Playfair, thus bringing the exhibition full circle to the question of Edinburgh’s ‘Athenian’ identity.
Finally, the exhibition’s anteroom plays hosted an innovative new commissioned artwork, Karen Cunningham’s "Parataxis". Her two-part work comprised a printed textile, ‘Revolution is a Living Language’, and a moving image work entitled ‘Looking and Being Overlooked’. Parataxis brought to the fore the frequently unseen roles of female figures in the contexts of revolutionary Greece and Edinburgh in the age of Enlightenment.
The exhibition catalogue
A series of events to further mark the Greek bicentenary were organised. Please see below for further details.