Imaging Suli

Interactions between Philhellenic Ideas and Greek Identity Discourse

by Ewa Róża Janion (Author)
©2015 Monographs 221 Pages


Suli is a mountainous land in Epirus in northwestern Greece. This book collates its Greek 19th-century vision with the European view in the works of English, French, Italian, and Polish philhellenes. Investigating the interactions between various images of Suli, it analyses its functioning in different European cultures: the first historical mentions of Suli, the role of Byron’s poems in shaping its image, Greek folk songs about female fighters from Suli, and the mass suicide of Suliote women known as the Dance of Zalongo. Especially the legend about the bravery of the Suliotes has been important in Greek national discourse and the study follows the threads of the legend formed by Greek intellectuals and the European Philhellenes.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Author
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Imaging Suli. Introduction
  • Concept and historical background
  • From the turn of the century to the Greek Revolution
  • The Greek Revolution and philhellenism
  • The concept
  • After the revolution
  • Travelers to Epirus and their journeys: a historical overview
  • Review of the legends of Suli
  • Imaging the Suliotes
  • The landscape of Suli
  • Legends of heroes. Lambros Tzavelas and the Monk Samuel
  • Historiographical legends on the fall of Suli: the death of Samuel
  • Crucial contexts: the black legend of Ali Pasha, the cession of Parga and the legend of Markos Botsaris
  • National variants of the legends
  • Legends of Suli in Poland: some remarks on Władysław Tarnowski
  • Layout of the thesis
  • First Historians and Travelers to Suli
  • The specific character of the 19th-century historical discourse on Suli
  • Theoretical basis, aims and methods
  • Identity of travelers
  • A Survey of the Turkish Empire of William Eton
  • Ideological background and persuasive tropes of Eton’s work
  • The dragoman’s account
  • Excerpts for a More Detailed Knowledge of Today’s Greece of Jakob L. S. Bartholdy
  • Bartholdy as a traveler, writer and historian
  • Intertextual references as a narrative strategy: the topos of Sparta
  • The description of Suliotes and the pattern of the Enlightenment Grand Tour
  • The fall of Suli – the main threads of emplotment
  • Travels in Morea, in Constantinople and in Albania by François Pouqueville
  • A Parisian historian and imaginary traveler
  • Conclusions
  • Between Westernization and Orientalism: Byron’s Discovery of Suli
  • Representations of Suli in English travel poems before Byron
  • Byronic twist
  • Context of the account of John Cam Hobhouse
  • Tambourgi!: the song of the Suliotes
  • Byronic Noble Savages and New Scots
  • Encountering the Suliotes: Byron and Orientalism
  • The influence of Byron’s journey
  • Suli versus Paris: the “Nordic” Suliotes of Richard Monckton Milnes
  • Summary
  • Genius loci – climbing at Suli and the Romantic Experience
  • Perceiving mountains in Romanticism
  • The sublime and the picturesque: Henry Holland and Edward Lear
  • Thomas Smart Hughes’ gothic Suli and the ghosts of history
  • Botsaris, Bowen, Burgess and the emotional landscape
  • Summary
  • Suliote Women Fighters in Greek Folk Songs: the Diffusion of the Legend in Greece and in Philhellenic Europe
  • Cultural context: the 19th-century models of women’s heroism in philhellenic works
  • Women fighters and Greek ethnogenesis
  • Fauriel’s songs about Suliote women: the present and the absent women fighters
  • Later elaborations and translations
  • “Moscho... cette femme intrépide”: France
  • “Żona Caweli mężnie grodu broni”: Poland
  • “Mosco versa tremende ferite”: Italy
  • “Mosco’s hood with balls is stored”: England
  • “Η Δέσπω κάµνει πόλεµο”: Despo’s song
  • Conclusions
  • The Dance of Zalongo as a Theme of the Romantic Imagination
  • Terror and despair: Ary Scheffer
  • Zalongo in a religious worldview: Pouqueville and others
  • Zalongo as a sublime expression of patriotic values
  • Honor and patriarchy: female suicide as act of obedience
  • Felicia Hemans’s Suliot Mother: death as liberation from the female condition
  • Suliote women as Romantic bards
  • Aesthetics of Romantic female suicide: abysses and waters
  • Suicide as union of love and death: Alphonse de Lamartine
  • The dance
  • Conclusions
  • Final Remarks
  • Suli as a founding myth
  • Performing Suli today
  • Bibliography of the 19th-century Works Related to Suli, with notes
  • Catalogue of the 19th-century Pictures, Paintings, Illustrations etc. Related to Suli
  • Index


First and foremost, my thanks go to prof. Maria Kalinowska for her invaluable help, information, suggestions, and advice in the course of the years spent on this dissertation. Needless to say, I owe my interest in literature to her encouragement and trust, which has supported my intellectual endeavors from the very beginnings of my university studies.

For many kind actions and ideas I am grateful to prof. George Tolias, with whose help I was also able to present some of my thoughts to a Greek audience. I benefited a great deal from my traineeship at the Institute of Historical Research of the National Hellenic Research Foundation. The entire staff of the Section of Neohellenic Research made my time spent in Greece productive and enjoyable. Special thanks go to Dimitris Dimitropoulos, Marios Hatzopoulos, and George Koutzakiotis for their inspiring ideas and friendship. Thanks also to Anna Tabaki, with whose help I could associate with Athenian academic life.

For commenting on earlier drafts and for their gentle criticism, I am very grateful to the reviewers of this thesis, prof. Małgorzata Borowska and prof. Ilias Wrazas. I had the unique opportunity to receive the constant encouragement and intellectual companionship of my reviewers during the writing of this work. Prof. Małgorzata Borowska furnished me with many original ideas on Greek culture, and I am also grateful for her invaluable linguistic guidance in Ancient Greek, Modern Greek and French. I must also thank my colleagues and friends from the Workshop of Hellenic Studies of the University of Warsaw, Przemysław Kordos and Jacek Raszewski for their interest and friendship.

I was fortunate to be invited to share my ideas about Suli and the Suliotes with colleagues from many institutions. On these occasions I received substantial help. I owe a lot to my friends from the International Doctoral Program MPD, as well as to those from the seminars on Polish literature held in Warsaw and Toruń by prof. Maria Kalinowska, especially Milena Chilińska and Helena Markowska, who read my work critically and commented on extensive parts of it.

Finally, I am very grateful to my sister Ludmiła Janion for her careful proofreading, as well as for her honest and helpful criticism during all stages of my work. ← 9 | 10 ← 10 | 11 →


Suli or Souli (both: soo’lyē), small mountainous district, N Greece, in Epirus. Its inhabitants, the Suliotes, who lived in fortlike villages in the mountains, remained independent during most of the occupation of Greece by the Ottoman Turks. They fought successfully (1790–1802) against Ali Pasha, the Turkish governor of Ioánnina. In 1803, however, Ali Pasha massacred many of them after concluding a false truce. The Suliotes were again decimated in a new rebellion in 1820, when many fled to the Ionian Islands.

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Concept and historical background

From the turn of the century to the Greek Revolution

The weakness of the Ottoman Empire at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries brought forth a new political question of creating new states on Turkish territory, states more or less dependent on the European great powers. At this point the traditional, literary interest in Greece that Europe had developed from the very beginnings of the modern era was updated and became a current affair in international politics. This development brought about the philhellenic movement.1

The transfer of information between Greece and Western Europe contributed to this process. Travelers from the West described Greek topography, as well as the features and customs of the Greek people, but also they asked about the future of the territories they visited. Already in the last years of the 18th century a project to create an independent Greek state had been postulated, as the example of the English diplomat and traveler William Eton shows.2 Travel accounts were published and enthusiastically ← 11 | 12 read, and thanks to them the European readership could now have an increasingly detailed picture of Greece and its situation.

Another important factor favoring the Greek case in Europe was the activity of Greeks in the West. Educated members of the Greek diaspora in Italy, France, Germany and Austria informed local intellectuals about the need to create a Greek state. The Greek presence in the tsar’s court and army influenced the Russian campaigns in the Balkans in the second half of the 18th century, but Eastern Europe became even more important when the Society of Friends was established by Greek merchants in Odessa (1814). Basing itself on Western patterns of secret political organizations, it aimed at fomenting an uprising against the Ottomans.

News arrived by the same channels in the opposite direction as well, from the West to Greece. The accounts of European travelers and historians were translated into Greek, while merchants and intellectuals of the diaspora corresponded with their Greek friends and passed news on to Ottoman Greece. Thanks to these ties, philhellenism soon echoed in Greece.3

In the present thesis I will trace some of this flow of information between Greece and other European countries. Instead of separating different traditions, I assume a transnational perspective with the aim of reconstructing different components in the vision of Suli, a mountain area in South Epirus. Before the 1790s, the tiny and inaccessible region of Suli was totally absent from print culture. My task is to gather, classify and interpret what was written on this mountain district and its inhabitants in the 19th century.

The geographical position of Suli favors the transfer of information. Suli lies close to the Ionian Islands, which from 1798 were under French rule and from 1815 were a British protectorate. As such, they became a place of intense cultural exchange and a convenient point of departure for European travelers to Greece. What is more, during the 19th century many Suliotes stayed on the island of Corfu, where they could meet politicians, diplomats and intellectuals from Europe. Also, its geographical vicinity to the western shore of the Adriatic Sea sparked an interest in Suli among the Italians and, no less importantly, among the Greek diaspora in Italy.

For that reason, the stories about Suli provide good material for tracing the interactions between philhellenic ideas and Greek self-image.4 Greek intellectuals and the founders of the Greek Enlightenment, such as Rigas Feraios, Christoforos Perraivos ← 12 | 13 and Adamantios Korais contributed to the creation of the philhellenic set of ideas, but they also absorbed ideas from the West in order to construct on that basis their own projects of Greek consciousness. This especially concerns Suli, the story of which became one of the mythes de fondation of the modern Greek state.5

In order to clarify the central idea of my thesis, I will discuss the first mentions of Suli. To my knowledge, the name Suli appears in print for the first time in Vienna in 1797, in a publication from a Greek press. Rigas Feraios, a Greek writer, political thinker and revolutionary based in Vienna, placed Suli on his Map of Greece6, while in his poem War Song the Suliotes are already presented as famous: “Suliotes and Maniots, famous lions, how long are you going to sleep enclosed in your caves?”7 The author alludes to the gallantry of the Suliotes when he calls on the Greeks to take up arms against the Ottomans.

Other mentions prove that the Suliotes indeed had already become famous. Nothing indicates that the English traveler and diplomat William Eton knew of Rigas’ plans regarding Suli. Eton is the author of the first lengthy account of Suli (1798), included in his text Present State of Greece, analyzed in detail in the first chapter of this thesis.8 Eton’s work in French translation was read by Christoforos Perraivos, a Greek historian of Suli. His Brief History of Suli and Parga (Paris 1803)9 served as the basic source of information about this region for both Greeks and philhellenes. It was surely known to Adamantios Korais, a Greek Enlightenment intellectual who included information about Suli in a speech on the present situation of Greece delivered in Paris in 1803.10 In turn, Korais influenced the image of Suli sketched by other travelers to Greece: the German Jakob Salomon Bartholdy (1805)11 and the Frenchman François ← 13 | 14 Pouqueville (1805)12. So, at its very beginning the European vision of Suli was created by three diaspora Greeks, one English traveler, one French military physician and one German diplomat.

A second phase of the diffusion of information about Suli was marked by the travels of Lord Byron, who proposed a completely different view of Epirus and Albania. The Romantic image of the wild, exotic Suliotes that Byron proposed in the second canto of his narrative poem Child Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812)13 influenced especially the Western image of Suli, while the Greek tradition was to some extent resistant to Byronic trends. It may be said that Byronism creates a separate thread in the English tradition of imaging Suli. Another milestone in its history is the outbreak of the Greek Revolution.

The Greek Revolution and philhellenism

The Greek Revolution in 1821 radically intensified philhellenic sentiments. More information about the situation in Greece started to reach Western Europe. Practices revealing a positive attitude towards Greeks and their political affairs became much more frequent. The assemblage of these practices and their results intensified the philhellenic discourse.

The thematic scope of the works that formed this discourse focused on the Greek Revolution, but was not limited to it. In the range of philhellenism one may include also the European reactions to the wars that precede the actual Greek Revolution, as well as later support to the Greek irredentist movement. The philhellenic discourse conceived in this way includes any kind of cultural activity: literature (belle-lettres and writings of any kind), visual arts, design (decorations, household articles), music, theater, spectacles and organized events.

Thus, the concept of discourse embraces philhellenism as a whole, in spite of the variety of its realizations, its internal contradictions, and its different local variants. It stresses the integrity of philhellenic works: the themes, values and ideologies that unite them. Indeed, it seems that individual philhellenic works create a common narrative pattern and they do not function beyond it, remaining in strict contact with other works and creating a common meaning.14

Interestingly, philhellenic texts might be read as voices for the creation of the independent Greek state even when they have no explicit propagandistic character and do not take the form of an open appeal. The discourse determines their actual meaning. ← 14 | 15 The second canto of Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage is a good example: at the time of its creation it was not a philhellenic manifesto on the part of its author. Still, this text may have functioned as such within the frames of the discourse.15

Moreover, philhellenism conceived in this way is not focused exclusively on literature of high artistic quality and does not hide its political involvement. The performativity of many philhellenic works is clearly shown by their titles: Adresse au peuple anglais, par un ami des Grecs; Appel au Français en faveur des Grecs; au Sultan; Discours sur les services que les Grecs ont rendus la civilisation; Marche des Troupes Grecques Pour le Forte-Piano, etc.16 Philhellenism often engages non-artistic spheres of public life (religion, politics and ethics) and has a precise political aim: to influence public opinion and bring real help to the Greeks.

The ideological aftermaths of philhellenism are interesting because of their role in the process of the creation of identities, whether the European identity or national ones. Philhellenic discourse was used to create a sense of community, but it was also used to build otherness. In that sense, it harmonizes with Greek identity discourses and its echoes would last for the whole century.

The most spectacular episodes of the war against Turkey became central themes of many philhellenic works and formed a kind of philhellenic repertoire of heroes and their deeds. The map of the commonplaces of European philhellenism contains such episodes as the massacres of Chios (1822) and Psara (1824), the destruction of the Ottoman flagship at Chios by Constantine Kanaris (1822), the death of Markos Botsaris at Karpenisi (1823), the fall of Missolonghi (1826) and the death of Georgios Karaiskakis (1827).17

In most cases we can trace how philhellenic themes spread. Usually, the path leads from scholarly or utilitarian texts (accounts, memoirs, histories) to strictly literary and artistic works. It sometimes happened, moreover, that an outstanding realization of one theme would attract other authors. In this manner numerous paraphrases, translations, copies, lithographs, etc. were created and enforced the spread of philhellenism. I shall give one example from the legends of Suli: an episode from the History of the Greek Revival (1824) of François Pouqueville18 inspired the famous Romantic painter Ary Scheffer to create the monumental oil painting Femmes Souliotes (1827).19 Then, this painting was a source of inspiration for other painters, such as Virgilio Diaz (1830)20 and Constance Blanchard (1838).21 ← 15 | 16

Still, even the History of the Greek Revival is to some extent fictionalized. The title alone indicates that the whole narration is subject to the claim of a historical process of how Ancient Greece was revived in modern times. Therefore, it is inscribed into a certain universal scheme, a historiographical cliché. Pouqueville’s work indeed might be read as a novel, with its narrator, plot threads, episodes and characters.

Furthermore, to some degree the narration is based on Pouqueville’s previously written accounts from Greece. However, a critical reading of these travelogues will reveal that the author did not actually reach many places in person. Sometimes he projected his own imagination and expectations onto the lands he visited, rather than observing them carefully or interacting on equal terms with their inhabitants. Consequently, in spite of the documentary aims of the author, Pouqueville’s History may be analyzed as a fictional narrative and examined together with Ary Scheffer and other poetic or artistic realizations of the philhellenic idea. Works of such a different character may be categorized together by the concept of a Legend.

The concept

I use the term “legends of Suli” for images and narrations on Suli and its inhabitants the Suliotes.22 The main elements of the legends of Suli are stereotypical images of Suliote men and women, literary visions of the landscape of Suli, biographical legends of famous Suliotes and historiographical legends about the Suliote wars and the fall of Suli. These themes intertwine, creating a single complex legendary image of Suli and its inhabitants. In this work, my aim is to trace and reconstruct this image based on sources of any kind, from accounts of travelers to Greece, through historical works and memoirs, to fictional literature, poetry, drama and a wide variety of works in the visual arts.

The construction of the legends was favored by certain historical factors. First, the Suliotes were basically illiterate and they did not write their own history (in the form of chronologies, chronicles, memoirs, acts and so forth). Secondly, the greatest European interest in Suli started in the 1820s, after the outbreak of the Greek Revolution and more precisely after the death of its hero Markos Botsaris in 1823. Thus, numerous scholars and travelers who wanted to reconstruct the course of the fall of Suli had to rely on oral narrations, necessarily distorted after more than two decades had passed. Third, the travelers who were the authors of the majority of early works about Suli might have misunderstood the cultural and political reality of Epirus. They hardly ever knew the Greek language, not to mention Albanian, and in most cases they were dependent on their guides. Moreover, the travel accounts they published ← 16 | 17 in their countries of origin depended on the demand of the local book markets. The expectations of this readership to hear of exotic, mysterious and unexplored lands and cultures undoubtedly shaped the image they presented.

Another crucial factor in the creation of the legends of Suli are ideologies, worldviews and the authors’ personal aims. It often happened that Suli and the Suliotes were presented in works of art and in texts that had not only an informative but also (or primarily) a persuasive character. Persuasion is a crucial feature of philhellenism, a cultural movement focused primarily on action and engaged in the present political situation.23 For this reason, numerous philhellenic texts take on the style of an appeal in order to sway European public opinion. The Suliotes may represent the Greeks or embodied values, and the misery of these mountaineers may be related in order to move readers and force them to take a stance in political discourse, or even act in favor of the Greeks. In politically dependent lands, such as Poland or in the Italian peninsula, the Suliotes might have served as an example to follow.

The tenor of Greek texts is similar. Both Rigas Feraios, the first Greek intellectual who mentions Suli, and Christoforos Perraivos, the main Greek contributor to the creation of the legends of Suli, speak of the Suliotes in order to call on their compatriots to raise and fight for independence from the Ottomans. Also, after the Revolution, when the Kingdom of Greece had been created, demand for patriotic texts formed the Greek image of Suli.

As a result, the Suliotes were constantly subjected to literary processes, the most important of which was idealization, and more precisely a specific form of it, antiquation. In short, the Suliotes were shown as representing supreme patriotic values, as universal paradigms of proper human behavior. Often, Greek and philhellenic authors attributed to them the features of ancient Greeks, usually the famous military virtues of the Spartans, such as courage, valor and readiness to sacrifice, but also virtues linked to the ethics of Classical Republicanism, such as equality, justice and obedience to the law.

Still, the image of Suliotes is capacious. They might be depicted as remote from European culture, exotic and simple mountaineers. This image of orientalized “Others” was proposed by Lord Byron and continued by the British poets who remained under Byron’s influence. It is completely understandable that in the writings of the philhellenes, Suli is often presented according to the most common 19th-century literary cliché: it is romanticized and sentimentalized. Moreover, in some extreme cases, it is sacralized, presented as a sacred thing, as a place where God interferes in history.

By these processes Suli becomes part of an imagined literary and artistic reality. Historical persons and places are transformed into characters, recorded in poetical language. In a book on Polish historiographical legends, Bolesław Oleksowicz states that the legend of a hero is organized by a figure of synecdoche. From the hero’s life one chooses only the most important episodes that substitute for the complete biography. The legend is rooted in historical reality, but by means of metaphor it creates an independent narration, characterized by such features as precise arrangement of the presented reality, theatricalization of the most important episodes and a universal meaning.24 ← 17 | 18

Still, the case of the legends of Suli is particular. I assume that it is closely connected to the history of Suli, but I do not juxtapose a legend with a “historical truth.” There are several reasons for this choice. First, it stems from the character of the early historiography of Suli, written by amateurs rather than professional historians and based on oral narrations and not on primary sources. As a result, various histories of Suli are treated as the groundwork for the legends of Suli, not as their opposite. Secondly, today the state of knowledge about Suli was established mostly by the 20th-century Greek scholars, basing their work on historical archives that were inaccessible to the philhellenes and historians from the early 19th century. Consequently, the legends of Suli embrace its vision as a whole, the complex of images of any kind connected to Suli. Certain theoretical approaches, such as historicism and reflexive anthropology, provide tools to describe historical narrations and travelogues as literary, artistic texts. Consequently, these approaches do not require historical research. Thirdly, I do not juxtapose legend and “historical truth” for a practical reason. I believe that in order to understand the legends of Suli, it is not necessary to discuss whether they are actually true or not.

As a consequence, even when the authors of the legends obviously contradict the facts established by contemporary scholars, I follow their point of view and seek to enter into their narrations. A good example is the usage of term “Turks” for the enemies of the Suliotes. Undoubtedly, the Suliotes fought against the local Albanian population, who were mostly but not exclusively Muslims. Yet, many philhellenes mistook the Suliote wars for the Greek Revolution against the Ottoman Empire and they took Albanians for Turks. Usually, I repeat their approach, since the negative European stereotype of a lascivious, cruel, infidel Turk serves as an opposition to the candid image of the Suliotes. Albanians of Muslim faith do not evoke this kind of connotation in the work of European authors.25


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (September)
Philhellenism Greek national awareness folk poetry travel literature hystoriographical myth
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 221 pp., 8 coloured fig.

Biographical notes

Ewa Róża Janion (Author)

Ewa Róża Janion holds a PhD in cultural studies from the University of Warsaw, Poland. Her main intellectual interests revolve around the questions of national identity and gender representations. She works within the fields of Hellenic and Mediterranean studies, focusing on the modern and contemporary literature.


Title: Imaging Suli
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224 pages