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Imaging Suli

Interactions between Philhellenic Ideas and Greek Identity Discourse

Ewa Róża Janion

Suli is a mountainous land in Epirus in northwestern Greece. This book collates its Greek 19 th -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.
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First Historians and Travelers to Suli

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The specific character of the 19th-century historical discourse on Suli

The history of Suli was not written exclusively by “professional historians,” but it was written mainly by European travelers, politicians, and diplomats with historiographical and literary ambitions. Because of the basically illiterate character of Suliote culture, the written sources are scant, particularly those written by the Suliotes themselves, and many questions related to the early period of Suliote history remain unresolved. As a result, the 19th-century historiography of Suli could not apply the common methods of historical research, particularly internal and external source criticism. Moreover, due to the fact that the historiographers in question described the culture radically different from their own, they often adopted the role of ethnographers, as they aspired to a possibly complex description of the researched people. Their accounts favor what seems eccentric and unusual or what confirms their philhellenic vision of Greece and Europe.

On the other hand, the works of Greek historians depict the deeds of the Suliotes as a prelude to the later Greek Independence War. Their stories became a source of national myths and ideal role models.1 A comparison of the 19th-century historiographies and travelogues with the contents of Greek and European archives reveals that much information not confirmed by reliable archival sources permeated into the historical narratives. In such a way, it has lately become possible to grasp the historiographical myths, the invariable and dogmatized narrative parts that went basically unquestioned by researchers.2 However, the...

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