August 4 Lord Byron

Ostracised by contemporary English society, Lord Byron transferred his patriotic feeling to the cause of Greek independence, and its genuineness is still evidenced by the preservation of his name on a column in the temple of Poseidon at Sunium, and by a statue in Athens. Byron stereotyped himself as a romantic exile whom he at first called Childe Harold, later Don Juan, and it is the latter who sings:

The isles of Greece! the isles of Greece!
Where burning Sappho loved and sung,
Where grew the arts of war and peace,—
Where Delos rose and Phoebus sprung!
Eternal summer gilds them yet,
But all, except their sun, is set.

The mountains look on Marathon—
And Marathon looks on the sea;
And musing there an hour alone,
I dream’d that Greece might yet be free
For, standing on the Persians’ grave,
I could not deem myself a slave.

A king sat on the rocky brow
Which looks on sea-born Salamis;
And ships, by thousands, lay below,
And men in nations;—all were his!
He counted them at break of day—
And when the sun set, where were they?

Tis something, in the dearth of fame,
Though link’d among a fetter’d race,
To feel at least a patriot’s shame,
Even as I sing, suffuse my face;
For what is left the poet here?
For Greeks a blush—for Greece a tear.

In vain—in vain: strike other chords;
Fill high the cup of Samian wine!
Leave battles to the Turkish hordes,
And shed the blood of Scio’s vine!
Hark! rising to the ignoble call—
How answers each bold bacchanal!

Fill high the bowl with Samian wine!
Our virgins dance beneath the shade—
I see their glorious black eyes shine;
But, gazing on each glowing maid,
My own the burning tear-drop laves,
To think such breasts must suckle slaves.

Place me on Sunium’s marble steep—
Where nothing, save the waves and I,
May hear our mutual murmurs sweep:
There, swan-like, let me sing and die;
A land of slaves shall ne’er be mine—
Dash down yon cup of Samian wine!


This rousing call to Greeks to leave a hedonistic life and to fight for their freedom recalls the ancient glories of Greek victories gver the Persian invaders, by land at Marathon, and by sea at Salamis; the king referred to was Xerxes with his great army and navy reckoned to have numbered 300,000. Byron did die in Greece, though not in battle, but of a fever, while on his way to join the Greek insurgents.

Next: Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries A E Housman