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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 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.
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Suliote Women Fighters in Greek Folk Songs: the Diffusion of the Legend in Greece and in Philhellenic Europe


The present chapter looks at the legendary image of armed Suliote women fighting for the freedom of their homeland. The first goal of this chapter is to trace how and why the legend of female fighters was constructed in Greece. In order to achieve this, I will discuss the Greek references to the history of Suli from the early 19th century. Then, I aim to show how this legend was transferred into different European cultures. The corpus of primary sources contains Greek folk songs as well as their 19th-century translations into French, English, Italian and Polish. The theoretical framework that unites Greek and other variants of the legends is provided by the ideology of 19th century national movements and aesthetic convictions of Romanticism.

I assume that the image of women who adopt social roles traditionally available exclusively to men was problematic for the European audience. Consequently, Greek intellectuals, philhellenes and song translators had to use various strategies in order to weaken the potentially subversive power of this image. Therefore, the songs about Suliote heroines will provide a basis for discussing the conditions on which the patriarchal culture of the 19th century accepted the image of women fighters. The thesis I will sustain is that the image of fighting women was adjusted to the needs of Romantic national discourse at every stage of the legend’s creation and diffusion.

I believe that this study will not only present some popular philhellenic threads, but also that it...

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