The Harvard Gazette remembered the “Harvard Heroes” who played an active role during various stages of Greece’s revolution in 1821.
The publication shared a piece that reminded the student body and members of the university’s community that from the start of the Greek Revolution, “Harvard was there, helping both in the fledgling Mediterranean country and back in the United States.”
Two of the Harvard philhellenes who contributed in substantial, nonviolent ways were Edward Everett and Samuel Gridley Howe.
As a young man of only 21 years of age, Everett was appointed to the first named professorship of Greek at Harvard— Charles Eliot Professor of Greek.
Everett was a restless Philhellene and often wrote and spoke about the topic of Greek freedom from the Ottoman Empire. Almost a decade before the revolt would officially commence, Everett gave the commencement address at Harvard’s 1813 commencement exercises, where he took his Master of Arts.
‘On the Restoration of Greece’, the oration he gave on that occasion, is lost, but its subject was Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire.
He became the second American traveller (after the Philadelphian Nicholas Biddle) to record a journey through the Ottoman Empire and was the first classical scholar to combine his academic pursuits with activism on behalf of the Greek people and the cause of Greek independence.
His travels in the Ottoman Empire, where he met such figures as the poet Lord Byron, had made him a committed supporter of the Greek cause. Once war broke out, Everett acted as a spokesperson for the revolution in the U.S., championing Greek independence in an 1823 speech to the Boston Committee for the Relief of the Greeks, which he had founded and which was credited with rallying substantial domestic support.
The orator and statesman would later serve as governor, representative, and senator of Massachusetts before becoming president of Harvard from 1846‒1848 — and a lifelong philhellene.
Howe was a recent graduate of Harvard Medical School when he set sail for Greece. Initially serving as a surgeon, he returned to the U.S. to work in an expanded role.
Samuel Gridley Howe not only raised funds, he helped put that aid to use, building Greece’s first military hospital and raise enough money to provision eight ships with humanitarian aid.
Contemporary Harvard scholars also explained how the Greek Revolution impacted Europe— and the world.
Nicolas Prevelakis, Assistant Director of Curricular Development at the Center for Hellenic Studies and a lecturer on social studies explained in the piece that the Greek Revolution had a huge impact on Europe. It demonstrated the power of nationalism and pulled Europe away from the model of autocratically ruled empires to the model of self-determining nation states.”
The Greek revolution would have global repercussions as well, Prevelakis continued, calling the Greek Revolution “the first successful national liberal movement in the region” that resulted in in “a gradual change of worldview in the international community.”
“This was the dismantlement of an empire and its replacement by an independent nation-state,” said Prevelakis “We say it was both revolution and an independence movement, in the sense that it was predicated on liberal democratic principles.”
“Thinking about what happened in 1821 with Greece and why it was important for the United States is a way to get back to the question of what was the connection between the United States and the ancient Greek heritage,” said Prevelakis.
“It informs a global discussion about the role of the humanities, the role of the classical past. We’re rethinking that classical heritage. What does it mean in today in a world where we’re thinking about issues of diversity inclusion, and belonging? In many ways,” he said, “it’s a message of our time, a message of social justice.”
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