Michigan Paper Series 2007 - Evrigenis

Enlightenment, Emancipation, and National Identity: Koraes and the Ancients

Description: Lecture given as part of the "Conversations on Europe" lecture series. Attempting to demonstrate, towards the end of the seventeenth century, that the enslaved descendants of the original possessors of a country "retain a Right to the Possession of their Ancestors", John Locke wondered, "Who doubts but the Grecian Christians descendants of the ancient possessors of that Country may justly cast off the Turkish yoke which they have so long groaned under when ever they have a power to do it?" Many, in fact, did. In his essay "Of National Characters", published in 1748, David Hume expressed a widely held view when he remarked, "The ingenuity, industry, and activity of the ancient GREEKS have nothing in common with the stupidity and indolence of the present inhabitants of those regions". A Greek contemporary of Hume's might well take offense to his description, and an impartial listener would not be entirely mistaken in considering his attitude towards modern Greece to be divergent from Locke's. And yet, no less illustrious a modern Greek than Adamantios Koraes, born on April 27th of the year in which Hume's essay was published, found the essence of these two positions simultaneously correct and inextricably intertwined. After all, by the middle of the eighteenth century, the Greek world had been under Ottoman domination for some 300 years, and liberation was still far off.

Publication Date: 2007

Country(s):

  • Greece