Wednesday, May 17, 2017



Robert Byron (1905-1941), The Byzantine Achievement (1929; rpt. New York: Russell & Russell Inc, 1964), pp. 17-18:
But how is it that the world, the barbarians, contemptuous as they are contemptible, are still concerned with the existence of the Greeks at all? Whence has the flood of their misrepresentation been unloosed? The source is found in that curious mixture of sincere and artificial enthusiasm, Philhellenism.

The most frequent manifestations of this peculiar mental state, both in print and life, are the outcome of that jejune philosophy of living, which is the last heritage of the classical scholar. Student, ultimately interpreter, of Greek texts; endowed with a kindred love of exact reasoning and exact representation, together with a kindred absence of historical perspective and emotional outlet; he has fabricated from literature and stones an ideal of humanity, which he and his following have pronounced applicable to eternity. It is the singular odium of this eternal comparison, for centuries the bane of European culture, which necessitates, once and for all, the relegation of classicism to its just place in the tale of human development.

In history alone, the paper Philhellenes may be held responsible for as great a volume of calculated misrepresentation as the priestly editors of the Old Testament. Fanatically jealous for their idols' prestige, they visit the virtues of the fathers upon the twentieth-century children with a malignity so familiar that further mention of it is unnecessary. Flouting the rudiments of anthropology, dating a quarter of a century back, they continue to propagate the thesis that the ancient Greek was a Nordic giant, and that the modern is a Slav dwarf. In face of common-sense euphony, they persist in maintaining a pronunciation invented by the ignorant English scholars of the sixteenth-century, which utters "bazilews" for βασιλεύς instead of "vassilefs," "kilioy" for χίλιοι instead of "hilii"—thus rendering moribund a language which, after two millenniums, differs from Euripides considerably less than modern English from Chaucer. Though aware, if pretending to culture (which they possibly do not) that a cursive Greek hand has existed for more than a thousand years, they still compel submissive pupils to perform their conjugations in a disjointed and hideous script, thus dissipating the short hours of youth, and the straitened incomes of its progenitors, in useless effort. Finally, they range themselves in support of a cynical world's opinion that the twentieth century Hellene is no more than a negligible assemblage of human vices.

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