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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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The Dance of Zalongo as a Theme of the Romantic Imagination


The Dance of Zalongo is one of the most famous threads of the legends of Suli. According to some testimonies, after the fall of Suli a group of Suliote women with their small children was threatened by the troops of Ali Pasha. The women decided to commit suicide by flinging themselves from the rock called Zalongo instead of being enslaved by the enemy. Moreover, one variant of the legend says that before this desperate action they sang and danced together. That is why this mass suicide is called a dance.

The way in which the legend was constructed and spread among intellectuals is already well known thanks to a study by Alexis Politis.1 He established that the first European travelers to Epirus who mentioned the women’s suicide on the rock of Zalongo did not say anything about singing or dancing. The first historian who described the event of Zalongo as a dance was the Greek historian Christoforos Perraivos. A very similar story appeared in the 1820s in the French Voyage dans la Grèce and Histoire de la Régénération de la Grèce by François Pouqueville, who did not however mention that the women danced. Still, due to Perraivos’ influence, Zalongo was described also by Claude Fauriel’s Chants Populaires de la Grèce Moderne, published in 1824. In such a way two different traditions of depicting Zalongo were created: that of Perraivos and Fauriel, focusing on the women’s dance, and another of...

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