19th April 1824. 19th Century Hellenism.
Today in 1824 Lord Byron died at 6 pm in Missolonghi where he had gone to support the Greek move to independence from the Turks.
It was the poet Byron, along with Shelley and Keats, who were early significant figures in the Neo-Classical Movement of Hellenism, having re-discovered ancient Greece, as a model of the ideals of beauty, transcendent philosophy and democratic politics.
It was also associated particularly in Shelley’s case with homosociality and homosexuality, which was to influence artistic and literary thought in the 19thc.(1).
The influence of Hellenism was later to be seen in fashion, interior design, furniture, hairstyle, painting, and sculpture which saw the Elgin Marbles removed from Athens to London.
In art and architecture the Greek influence saw its zenith in the early 19thc following Greek revivalism, much stemming from archaeological discoveries of the 18th century, and gardens and buildings and even cemeteries, later came under the influence.
Hellenism was to influence social theory of Matthew Arnold’s, Culture and Anarchy, and in Swinburne, Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde all reflecting a spontaneity of thought which was to spill over in homo-erotic literature.
This culture of free-wheeling Hellenism was in marked contrast to Hebraism which was concerned with darker aspects of conscience, strict obedience; a polarity of extremes which has oscillated down the centuries.
Alongside Greek culture sociological and philosophical theories surface through the works of J.S. Mill, Matthew Arnold and Benjamin Jowett and Classical Languages became an important part of the Public School and ‘Oxbridge’ Curricula with its notions of an elite.
Hellenism in looking back to a Greek Golden Age like all ‘isms’, had its darker side, when Charles Kingsley, Galton and Flinders Petrie saw in it a way of re-invigorating what they saw as degenerative life of the British people.(2)
(1) Hellenism was distinct from the Roman-Greco form of Neoclassicism which emerged after the medieval Renaissance.
(2) Flinders Petrie in his archaeology began a systematic measuring of crania in an endeavour to prove the superior culture of Greece.
Ref: The Archaeology of Race, Eugenics: Ideas of Francis Galton and Flinders Petrie.
Ref: London and Cult of Homosexuality: 1885-1914. Matt Cook.