Lord Byron The Philhellene

In 1821 revolution erupted, when the Greeks rose against their Turkish oppressors, who had occupied their lands since the 15th century. All over Europe poets and intellectuals, whose 'world of the mind' had its roots in the Ancient Hellenic world, raced off to the Mediterranean to lend a hand to the descendants of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.

A youthful Byron

On March 25 1821(Greek Independence Day), the first uprisings occurred across Greece, Macedonia, Crete andCyprus, resulting in many Ottoman Turks being killed. Turkish retaliation however was swift and ruthless. Lord Byron, a Philhellene (a friend of the Greeks) ardently embraced the Greek cause, inspired by his love of freedom and the truth and beauty of the ancient Greek world.

Byron The Hero

In 1823 Byron departed for Greece, initially spending time on the island of Cephalonia, and then proceeding on to Messolonghi. On January 5th 1824 he finally arrived at Messolongi, enduring Turkish blockades and violent storms at sea. Romantically attired in full military uniform, Byron stepped ashore at Messolonghi  to a heroes welcome.

Byron then organises the Suliote soldiers in his first military campaign, to capture Lepanto, personally funding their pay (Lepanto, a fortress occupied by 500 Turks). Byron was ready to make a strike for the Greek cause, when he was struck down with a fit of epilepsy. Hs legs were weak, he lost his speech and his face was distorted. The fits continued over the next month, however his doctors unfortunately applied the usual bleeding techniques, as Byron said “I am a good deal better, tho’ of course weakly; the leeches took too much blood from my temples". He began to improve however.

Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi (1826), Musée des Beaux-Arts, BordeauxCredit: Wikimedia Commons

Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi (1826), Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux, Eugène Delacroix

 Fever and Fainting

In April Byron went out horse riding and came back wet. A slow fever began to develop, he had trouble sleeping and lost his appetite. Doctors were summoned and purgative (vomiting) medicines and blood-letting were applied to 'balance the humors' (Medieval medicine). Byron continued to get weaker and the doctors continued bleeding him despite his experiencing fainting fits immediately after. Sleep had also evaded Byron for a week.

Desiring pen and paper quickly, Byron told his servant that "my time is now short,” and then with great agitation he began to speak of his child and sister, and to give his servant Fletcher certain directions. He then threatened that if his requests were not fulfilled "I will torment you hereafter if possible.” Intrestingly, Byron had told a story not long before, about visiting a fortune-teller in Scotland  during his youth who had said to him "Beware of your thirty-seventh year, my young lord ; beware.".It was after a dose of valerian with ether, that the "patient sunk into a comatose sleep, which the next day terminated in death." 

Lord Byron on his Death Bed

by Joseph-Denis Odevaere c.1826Credit: Wikipedia Wikipedia

One of the last people to speak with Lord Byron was Aikaterine Plessos, who was engaged to marry Dr Ioannis Kolettis, a future Prime Minister of the Hellenic Kingdom. Aikaterine however, married Major James H Crummer instead, who was a British commander at the refugee camp at the Greek island of Kalamos. They married at  Government House on Kalamos, when he was 30 and she 16. Her husbands career brought her to Australia, which made her one of the first Greek immigrants to that land. She died in 1907, aged 98 and is buried in Waverley cemetery. She was almost certainly the last surviving person to have had a word with the poet Byron.

Aikaterini G. PlessosCredit: Wikimedia

Catherine Crummer


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