K. Zanou: Transnational Patriotism

Transnational Patriotism in the Mediterranean, 1800–1850. Stammering the Nation

Zanou, Konstantina
Anzahl Seiten
XX, 248 S.
£ 60.00
Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
Sakis Gekas, York University

Konstantina Zanou is an assistant professor at Columbia University, New York City. After publishing innovative work on Mediterranean intellectual history[1], her first monograph Transnational Patriotism in the Mediterranean, 1800–1850. Stammering the Nation has received the prestigious Helen and Howard R. Marraro Prize of the Society for Italian Historical Studies and the 2019 Edmund Keely Book Prize of the Modern Greek Studies Association. Historians of the Mediterranean, Greece, Italy, and beyond will learn about the fascinating and extraordinary lives of scholars who were born in the Ionian Islands, studied in Italy, and ended up subsequently as national poets and intellectuals in Greece and Italy or were lost to obscurity as they hardly fitted to the two national cultures.

Hybrid identities are the centre of the story and central to the argument; the book seeks to change the parameters in which the lives of those scholars have been demarcated. The lives of three poets born on the island of Zakynthos – Dionysios Solomos, Ugo Foscolo and Andreas Kalvos – are discussed in the first part, which serves to “instill some doubts as to what ‘Italian’ and ‘Greek’ really mean.” These individuals were at “crossing points between two centuries and two cultures.” The „microhistories“ of their transnational patriotism can account for the macrohistorical transformation of patria from “a cultural and local community into a political and national entity.” (pp. 62–63)

The second part of the book (Imperial Nationalism between Religion and Revolution), essentially about Russia and Kapodistrias, takes us away from the mainstream “Parisian nuclei” (p. 112) of Greek intellectuals and focuses on unknown or previously neglected aspects of the life of Ioannis Kapodistrias/Capodistria and his friends who “were trying to make sense of the changes they were living through by experimenting with new forms of imperial nationalism and transnational patriotism”. More controversial is the conclusion that “Greece was the product of a Mediterranean geography of the ‘in-between’, where different traditions met and conversed” (p. 112); this idea that there were Italian/Ionian/Greek identities, unlike the ones that emerged as dominant, is provocative and will be debated in the 200th anniversary of the Greek revolution. Bishop Ignatius emerges as a pioneer in the all-too-powerful and resilient idea that the preservation of the Greek nation was due to its religion and the unity it provided to Greek people. Kapodistrias’ particular „conservative liberalism“ is also restored in its proper place, the man’s historical trajectory having been marred by a series of studies in recent decades that focused on his absolutist character or studies that revered him uncritically. Kapodistrias, Bishop Ignatius and another rather neglected figure, Rizos Neroulos, wrote books and corresponded with each other about the centrality of religion and the Greek Church in particular to the “prevention of degeneration of the essence of their nationality” (p. 109); no stammering here then. It would have been very interesting to read further comments on the exact language they used in the original (Italian), since language plays such a big part in the book. In the conclusion to part II, there is a sense that every patria is treated equally, however there is very little on the patria that emerged as predominant at the end of the story (1850), that is the Greek state. References to it stop with how Kapodistrias continued to serve a „religiously grounded Enlightenment“, after he became the first governor of Greece, a position he tragically fell from when he was assassinated in September 1831. Decentring the Neohellenic Enlightenment from Paris, where Korais towered, is a noble cause. However, this part of the book does not thoroughly discuss the influence of this „Ionian“ Enlightenment – including the thought of Voulgaris, one of its main proponents – which flourished during the Ionian Islands next „imperial“ phase as a British protectorate. The context of the states and societies in which the protagonists lived takes inevitably a back seat or is absent all together from the book, which may prove challenging for the non-specialist reader.

The third part tells the stories of little known scholars like Mario Pieri and Andrea Papadopoulo Vretto. This part of the book (Memoirs of lives suspended between patrias) begins with the extraordinary life of Mario Pieri of Corfu. He wrote more than 7,000 pages over the course of 48 years – an idiosyncratic diary and a previously untapped source, which Zanou discusses with an unprecedented attention. Together with the other autobiography explored, by Papadopoulo Vretto, this part of the book continues to experiment with versatility in discourse through examples of lives of those “who simply failed to adjust to a rapidly changing reality between empires and nation-states” (p. 115). The book’s periodization feels at times constrained by the life span of the protagonists. This is almost inevitable, given its biographic framework, although the age of mass nationalism was only beginning in 1850, where the book ends. The „transnational patriots“ seem unaware of being nationalists, or indeed of how their writings would inspire nationalists in Italy or in Greece. Yet interestingly, an „Ionian nationalism“, distinct from the Greek or the Italian, never developed in the Ionian Islands.

Space constraints are always challenging, but it is not clear why other Ionians, equally „transnational“, such as P. Petrides, A. Valaoritis, M. Theotoki and especially the historians H. Lounzi and S. Zambelios are left unmentioned. The role of women in the lives of some of the extraordinary men that Zanou has brought to light do, however, get a mention, especially those in Venice. The book narrates the events of Napoleonic and post-Napoleonic Southern Europe allowing the lay reader to navigate through the tempestious changes in government during the period between 1800 and 1815 these Ionians experienced. Νo less important is the association of the Greek uprising in Romania and then in the Peloponnese and elsewhere with the liberal revolutions of 1820/1821 in Spain, Portugal, Naples and Piedmont. As the bicentennial commemoration of the Greek war of independence approaches, this part of the book is even more valuable for Greek and other historians, seeking to situate the major event of Greek history within a series of similar events of less successful uprisings. Pieri recorded all this, demonstrating an extraordinary erudition, coverage of world events and interpretations of the world around him.

In a unique fashion, the book verges beyond the genre of historiography to literary analysis and what may be called „biographical chronography“. The weaving of events in Napoleonic and post-Napoleonic Europe with the lives of the books’ protagonists is so colourful that it would excite every reader, specialist or not of Greek, Ionian or, indeed, Italian history. Its value also lays in offering new information by examining original sources on well-known events and most often personalities of Greek history (Kapodistrias but also Eynard, the first banker of the Greek state). Just as one would think that there is hardly anything new to say about the history of philhellenism during the revolution, Zanou highlights the importance of small but active networks around Pieri and other Ionian and Greek/Epirote intellectuals and Italian supporters of the cause of Greek independence. Pieri, a “liminal individual” as Zanou calls him, tried to live with two patrie, Corfu and „Italy“ (whether Venice, other cities where he worked, Livorno and Florence) but failed to feel happy and was unable to move to Corfu.

The advantage of Zanou’s approach is to view transnational lives – previously neatly categorized as either „Italian“ or „Greek“, sometimes Ionian – as complex as they truly were. The story of Andrea Papadopoulos Vretto is equally fascinating: known as the bibliographer-librarian of the Ionian Academy, the higher education institution the British-run Ionian State opened in Corfu in 1825, Zanou draws on Papadopoulo Vretto’s life to demonstrate work that was both innovative at the time and has proved invaluable and resistant to time. Papadopoulo Vretto set his early career into completing a bibliographical guide of all books published in Greek since the fall of Constantinople in 1453. This group of intellectuals, rather different from the ones examined within the „Neohellenic Enlightenment“ literature are not contrasted with Koraes, Moisiodax, Voulgaris and others, perhaps for reasons of focus and space; the distinction is clear nonetheless, since the „post-Venetian“ world in which they moved, worked and lived, was so different. Zanou does not elaborate theoretically on the construction of a mental space other than the one seen in the writings of some of her protagonists, a consistent „empirical“ approach. The aim of the author is clear but the task remains challenging: “entering history through the life of an individual to illustrate some of its complications.” (p. 159)

The fourth and last part focusses on Andrea Mustoxidi, who was appointed official historiographer of the Ionian Islands by two different regimes. It brilliantly captures the ambivalence, creativity, and capacity of individuals like him to navigate between nationalisms, localisms and their own intellectual projects – whether in the Marciana library of Venice – where Veludo, an unknown scholar, excelled – or in the Ministry of Education – where Mustoxidi served, first as part of the Greek government under Kapodistrias and then in the Ionian State government. It is probably a different project to explore Mustoxidi’s and other Ionians’ contributions to the project of state building, a different but also much more tangible demonstration of patriotism than the one usually ascribed to nineteenth-century intellectuals. In fact, the last part suggests that we shift away from the Neohellenic Enlightenment paradigm to a „late Septinsular“ one by recognizing the value of Mustoxidi’s historical project, which focused on the Byzantine, Venetian, and Ottoman periods of Greek history, a very unusual trajectory and a pioneering field for the 1840s. The re-evaluation of Greek folk songs, just like elsewhere in the Adriatic and the Mediterranean, was a project that started in the 1820s in the search of cultural authenticity in the popular culture of Greek villagers, was also led by Mustoxidi and Tommaseo, his intellectual companion until the 1850s. It was then that the transnational world of Corfu and Ionians such as Mustoxidi began to fall apart, when „a tavern brawl turned into a war between nations“ as Italian exiles in Corfu were accused of pro-Ottoman and therefore anti-Greek sentiments. The book starts with the „stammering“ that Ugo Foscolo used as a metaphor to express his learning struggle with the Greek language; by the end of the (book’s) period, the scholars at the bridge of transnationalism across the Ionian and Adriatic Seas had become so eloquent in the language of nationalism that Italian and Greek states fitted them within the historical and literary canon fairly easily. This book breaks new ground between transnational intellectual history, biography and cultural history and even suggests – rather unassumingly – a different way of writing history; it is bound to travel well and will accompany many who delve into the history of the Adriatic Sea, as it was “slowly being transformed from a bridge into a border.” (p. 2)

[1] See Kristin Platt, Review: Maurizio Isabella / Konstantina Zanou (eds.), Mediterranean Diasporas. Politics and Ideas in the long 19th Century, London 2016, in: H-Soz-Kult, 22.06.2018, https://www.hsozkult.de/publicationreview/id/reb-26599 (25.06.2020).