Born 1815 in Constantinople Died 1891 in Athens
Athens First Cemetery: Paparrigopoulos
Section One, Number 224
If the grandeur of a grave monument were in proportion to the influence of the person it commemorates, then the monument marking the grave of historian Constantinos Papparigopoulos would rival the Taj Mahal.
In his History of the Greek Nation he constructed a narrative whose theme was the cultural continuity of the Greek people. This was no small thing. At the time, the nation was in desperate need of a unifying principle.
Oddly enough, he did not start out as an historian at all.
Paparrigopoulos was born in Constantinople in 1815, too young to have fought in the Greek Revolution but not too young to have been traumatized when Ottoman mobs in Constantinople killed his father and several relatives in retaliation for the Greek uprising. He moved with his mother to Odessa where he studied at the Richelieu Lyceum before coming to the newly minted nation as a civil servant.
Unfortunately, he had arrived at a time when Greek “outsiders’ (heterochthons) like himself were viewed with deep suspicion by the local population (autochthons). Men like Makriyannis and Kolokotronis had fought the war on the ground only to see educated and wealthy Greeks from outside of the boundaries of the new state arriving in droves. They had the ear of the Bavarian court and no great respect for the war lords who had made their arrival possible. It is hard to imagine today but ‘outsiders’ like the Syngros, Tositsas, Sinas, Averoff families, now all honoured as benefactors of the state, were regarded by some as opportunistic carpetbaggers. It was a bitter controversy and young Paparrigipoulos found himself at its epicenter. He lost his government job simply because he was a Greek from somewhere else!
An Historian is Born
That proved to be lucky for Greece because he then decided to pursue an academic career. He obtained his doctorate in Germany and proceeded to teach the “History of the Hellenic Nation” at the Athens University from 1851 to 1891.
The fact that his history (published in its final form in 1874) was so successful makes it hard to explain today why the History of the Hellenic Nation from Ancient Times to the Present was needed in the first place!
A Little Background on National Identity Issues Back in the Day
Founding fathers had considered both language and religion as national identity markers. Neither alone fulfilled the need. Too many freedom fighters were not Greek speakers and too many Orthodox were not Greek. Another very strong contender was descent – the unbroken bloodline from ancient Greeks to those in the new state. European Phihellenes believed that ancient Greek culture formed the basis of their own culture and many fought for Greece for that reason. The early Greek governments fully supported this identification. Street names in the newly liberated Athens were renamed after the ancients and the original plan was to place the royal palace on the acropolis itself, just in case anyone missed the point.
But there were difficulties…
To the educated elite in Europe (and even to the educated Greeks of the diaspora), the downtrodden people speaking a bastard form of ancient Greek under the Volos-Arta line after 1830 didn’t seem to fit the required image. (1)
Worse, Jacob Philip Fallmerayer, a travel writer cum journalist cum historian, argued that the new Hellenes were nothing more than a mixture of Slavic and Albanian populations, not Greeks at all. Recent DNA tests have proven him wrong but his theory was widespread and extremely damaging to the new state’s image at the time. It was a challenge that would have to be answered.
Then there was the fact that far more Greek speakers who identified themselves as Greek lived beyond the boundaries of the new state. How could they be accommodated in a narrative of national identity? (2)
In the History of the Greek Nation, Paparrigopoulos presented a comprehensive history of the Greek people which illustrated its cultural and historical continuity from ancient times up until the present day. It was a history that included both ancient Greek and Byzantine Christian culture under the aegis of commonality and spiritual unity. He identified five successive ‘Hellenisms’ (ancient, Macedonian, Christian, medieval, and modern) – and wrote that each had been imbued with an historical mission from Providence itself, and that each was necessarily a part of the identity of the new Greek nation since each had contributed in its own way (language in Hellenistic times, religion in Byzantine and Ottoman times) to the modern nation. The ‘Providential” aspect should not surprise us given the era. This was during the same period that Manifest Destiny was entrancing Americans in the new world.
Paparrigopoulos did not portray himself as an ‘objective’ historian if, indeed, there is any such thing; he was politically involved all during his tenure at the university and politically motivated to write the true history of the Hellenic nation. In fact, he regarded the task as no less than the fulfillment of a national duty.
The Reviews: Not everyone was entranced. Some contemporary historians like Pavlos Kalligas preferred the ancient Greek story without the Byzantines, feeling that the inclusion of Byzantium was monarchal and conservative.
Kalligas is also buried in the First Cemetery
Much later leftist historians would attempt to debunk many of his premises. But, on the whole, his history was immensely popular as was Paparrigopoulos himself because his book was perceived as both accurate and workable.
Its tenet that Hellenism had maintained its essential integrity albeit based on different components over time is still very much a part of the Greek national psyche. Succinctly put, his history allowed the nation to follow its historical path with renewed self confidence.(3)
National Identity and Citizenship Today
This can still be a touchy issue as the present debate over the name Macedonia shows.
Right wing parties like Golden Dawn carry the bloodline component of national identity to such an extreme that I would not be regarded as Greek no matter that I have citizenship. I might be excluded by others on the basis of religion or not so perfect Greek, but I like to think that Paparrigopoulos himself would have been more flexible and people like myself could be squeezed in as spiritual Hellenes. I certainly hope so.
His works are not much read today but I would recommend that anyone interested in modern Greek history read his Introduction to the History to get a flavor of the nature of the debate in the 19th century.
He never did get a Taj Mahal, but his imposing bust can be found today in the Zappeion Gardens.
(1) Many educated Greeks were also shocked at what they considered the debased state of the new citizens. Katharevousa was embraced for just that very reason – to create a language closer to the subtlety and flexibility of ancient Greek . (See Adamandios Korais on this blog) Paparrigopoulos himself had been an early proponent of the ancient Greece’s sole role until he came to realize that, alone, it was not enough.
(2) The issue of ‘heterocthons’ was personal for Paparrigopoulos because he was one himself.
(3) It also fed the ‘Great Idea’ of expanding the borders to unite all Greeks under one flag. Having said that, it is also true that his vision was not narrowly racial or exclusive. Paparrigopoulos believed that being a Hellene was, to a certain extent, a state of mind and a matter of proper education, not a racial marker.