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Access provided by University College London (UCL) (22 Apr 2016 10:03 GMT)
Comparative Critical Studies 4, 1, pp. 51–65 © BCLA 2007

Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage in the Balkans


tatiana kuzmic

On 19 September 1809, having been away from England for a few months,
during which he travelled to Portugal, Spain, and Malta, the twenty-one
year-old George Gordon Byron sailed for Greece. His tour of the famous
classical sites included a short excursion into Tepelene, Albania, where
he was ‘excellently treated by the Chief Ali Pasha’1 and where he found
the inspiration for the central section (stanzas 36–72) of the second canto
of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. The beginning and the end of the canto,
mirroring Byron’s own travelling schedule, focus on Greece. While the
poet’s premature death at Missolonghi secured him a place among the
champions of philhellenism, his fascination with Turkey, the ruling force
in the Balkan peninsula of the time, has brought this traditional concep-
tion of Byron as a fighter for Greek freedom into question.2 At the same
time, Byron’s ‘Eastern’ poetry has earned him a place in Edward Said’s
compilation of authors who made ‘a significant contribution to building
the Orientalist discourse’,3 a view that has also come under criticism and
one which requires further scrutiny. Harold’s adventure in Albania can be
read as ‘orientalising’ in as far as it functions to perpetuate such conven-
tional binary opposites as West and East, progress and stasis, experience
and innocence, and so forth, but the stanzas on neighbouring Greece,
which frame the experience at Ali Pasha’s court in the second canto,
muddle the simple East/West opposition. Relying on theoretical models
that emerged in response to Said’s seminal study Orientalism, such as
Maria Todorova’s concept of ‘Balkanism’ and David Cannadine’s ‘Orna-
mentalism’, this essay seeks to offer a more nuanced reading of Byron’s
encounter with the Ottoman-ruled Balkans. The Self/Other distinc-
tion, typical of travel narratives and foundational to the idea of Orien-
talism, will be re-examined and complicated in light of the contrast that
is employed in Byron’s works between Greece as the cradle of Western
civilization in decline and Albania as a novel site of discovery.
While Said’s groundbreaking work has been criticized for portraying
the West too monolithically and for defining it too exclusively in terms

51

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52 tatiana kuzmic
of France and England,4 thereby – to turn his own argument against him
– engaging in his own brand of Occidentalism, Childe Harold’s travels
in the second canto of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage offer an opportunity
to revisit the phenomenon in a more geographically circumscribed area
and one that belongs neither to the Occident nor to the Orient as defined
by Said. Such is the case with the Balkan peninsula, whose proximity to
the Orient and its five centuries-long occupation by the Ottoman empire
have placed it in the ambiguous position of being viewed as insufficiently
Western or European as well as insufficiently Eastern or exotic. Although
this term geographically designates a part of Europe, the name ‘Balkan’
itself, a local Turkish word for ‘bare cliffs’,5 testifies to the long-standing
centre of influence. Furthermore, before Western travellers learned the
indigenous name, their common designations for the region bore the
stamp of its conflicted identity: ‘European Turkey’, ‘Turkey-in-Europe’,
‘European Levant’, and ‘Oriental Peninsula’.6
The name ‘Balkan’ for the area of Europe that today encompasses
the European part of Turkey, Albania, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, and
the republics of what is now the former Yugoslavia was first coined by
the German geographer August Zeune in 1808.7 His description of the
boundaries of the Balkans reveals much of the political attitude towards
the region: ‘In the north this Balkan Peninsula is divided from the rest of
Europe by the long mountain chain of the Balkans […] and to the east it
fades away into the Black Sea’ (emphasis mine).8 It is peculiar how Zeune
portrays the region as clearly separated from the more civilized north and
as virtually disappearing into the more backward east, making as much an
ideological as a geographical distinction between Europe and the ‘other’
uncomfortably contained within it. It should be no surprise, therefore,
that setting off on a journey only a year later, from the most western part
of Europe towards its most eastern ends, Byron would impart to his reader
the feeling that he was visiting the very edges of the civilized world. The
meaning of the phrase ‘the very edges of the civilized world’ may be taken
as twofold: it certainly applies to the Albania of Byron’s time, since he was
one of the first Englishmen ever to visit the country, as he points out in
the notes to the second canto, where he asserts that ‘with the exception
of Major Leake, then officially resident at Joannina, no other Englishmen
have ever advanced beyond the capital into the interior, as that gentleman
very lately assured me’.9 It also offers an interesting perspective on
Greece, the birthplace of the ‘civilized world’, as far as Western Euro-
peans of the time were concerned, yet one whose geographical location
and political situation belied the ‘classical’ expectations associated with

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Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage in the Balkans 53
it. As such a mixture of the beginning and end of (Western) civilization,
the Balkans constitute an ambiguous geographical space. Where exactly
the West ends and the East begins within the peninsula that bridges the
two is what Childe Harold comes to explore in the second canto of the
Pilgrimage.
The theme of crossroads or in-betweenness has been associated with
the Balkans as far back as the twelfth century, when St. Sava Nemanjić,
the founder of the Serbian Orthodox Church, wrote about his sense of
being ‘doomed by fate to be the East in the West, and the West in the
East’.10 While the West and the Orient are usually presented as binary
opposites, the Balkans, as Todorova has documented, have been charac-
terized by the prefix ‘semi’: semideveloped, semicolonial, semicivilized,
semioriental, etc.11 She concludes that, ‘unlike orientalism, which is a
discourse about an imputed opposition, balkanism is a discourse about
an imputed ambiguity’.12 Vesna Goldsworthy has shown how this ambi-
guity has contributed to the pejorative connotations of the very name
‘Balkan’, especially in contrast to what has traditionally been considered
‘European’:
Even the most broad-minded Western journalists and authors write about European
values with the same swaggering assurance that enabled their forebears to assume so
confidently that white, Christian civilisation was superior to the cultures it destroyed.
It is hardly surprising therefore that each Balkan nation chooses to see itself as a
guardian of European values rather than the barbarian at Europe’s gate. (Golds-
worthy, p. ix)

This was, and still is, especially the case with Greece, whose ancient
history has held the claim to birthing European civilization. The Western
travellers who began flooding the country during the high time of phil-
hellenism in the nineteenth century experienced this discord at first hand
when they encountered ‘its broken arch, its ruin’d wall/its chambers
desolate, and portals foul’ (CHP II, ll. 46–47). What Todorova calls their
‘unimaginative concreteness and almost total lack of wealth’,13 gave the
Balkans an earthy quality not so easily identifiable with the more ethereal
term ‘Oriental’. Incidentally, Todorova’s description of ‘the historical
and geographic concreteness of the Balkans as opposed to the intan-
gible nature of the Orient’14 gives the Balkans a physically circumscribed
diverseness and actuality that unhinges Said’s construction of a mono-
lithic divide.
The tradition of the so-called ‘Grand Tour’, commonly undertaken
by upper-class young British men such as Byron, was interrupted by the
Napoleonic wars and the French occupation of Italy, which was previously

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54 tatiana kuzmic
the destination of those seeking an exotic European experience. Around
the same time, Greece – the other and since Winckelmann, arguably,
even more authentic, classical location – became open to Western visitors
when Britain, in 1799, signed a treaty with the Ottoman empire, under
whose jurisdiction the country lay at the time.15 English access to Greece
spawned a philhellenic wave of interest in and travel to the area.16 Its
magnitude was only bolstered by the progress made in education, which
besides enlarging the English reading public and accelerating the output
of literary material, also ensured that this expanding readership at home
received reports on Greece (and the Balkans in general) written by those
few who, like Byron, had experienced it at first hand.
As Said suggested in Orientalism, the indirect experience of
reading about geographically distant locations was prone to affect percep-
tions even before the direct encounter took place. This caused many a
traveller’s disappointment when experiencing what was expected to be
the grandeur and sublimity of Greece of Plato, Sophocles, and Hero-
dotus. Entering British consciousness during Byron’s time, Greece and
the surrounding Balkan nations were, much as Said claims for the Orient,
‘less a place than a topos, a set of references, a congeries of characteris-
tics, that seems to have its origin in a quotation, or a fragment of a text,
or a citation from someone’s work on [it]’.17 Since the English travellers
of Byron’s time saw themselves as heirs of the Classical tradition, they
expected the Ottoman-ruled Greece to be a reflection, to some extent,
of their own identity, and the disappointment was all the greater when
Greece did not measure up to their expectations. Childe Harold begins
to convey this sentiment from the moment he first glimpses Greece from
the sea, at the beginning of Canto II:
Ancient of days! august Athena! where,
Where are thy men of might? thy grand in soul?
Gone – glimmering through the dream of things that were:
First in the race that led to Glory’s goal,
They won and passed away – is this the whole?
(CHP II, ll. 10–14)

The connotations of impressiveness – such as ‘ancient’, ‘august’, ‘might’,


and ‘grand’ – in combination with questions to which the reply lies exclu-
sively in the past tense give the lines a tone of mourning and resignation
that permeates Harold’s perception of Greece throughout the canto. It
also encapsulates the prevailing English philosophy regarding Greece at
the time: the belief in its Classical greatness and the disbelief that it could
have, in Byron’s words, ‘passed away’, as if history had just leapt over

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Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage in the Balkans 55
more than twenty centuries from the Golden Age of Athens to the last
stages of the Ottoman power. This attitude reveals the personal attach-
ment to the Greece known from, as the next line says, ‘a school-boy’s
tale’ (CHP II, l.15), which mediated the expectations with which Byron,
a classically educated Cambridge student, encountered a very different
Greece of the early nineteenth century.
Harold seems to explain away the change by portraying Greece as
merely the inevitable victim of the cyclical nature of history and resigns
himself to meeting its ‘men of might’ and ‘grand in soul’ (CHP II, l.10)
in the other world:
Even gods must yield – religions take their turn:
‘Twas Jove’s – ’tis Mahomet’s – and other creeds
Will rise with other years, till man shall learn
Vainly his incense soars, his victim bleeds;
Poor child of Doubt and Death, whose hope is built on reeds.
(CHP II, ll. 23–27)

Yet if, as holiest men have deem’d, there be


A land of souls beyond that sable shore,
To shame the doctrine of the Sadducee
And sophists, madly vain of dubious lore;
How sweet it were in concert to adore
With those who made our mortal labours light!
To hear each voice we fear’d to hear no more!
Behold each mighty shade reveal’d to sight,
The Bactrian, Samian sage, and all who taught the right!
(CHP II, ll. 64–72)

Harold entertains no possibility here, as Don Juan’s ‘sad trimmer’ poet


(DJ III, l. 649) will several years later, ‘that Greece might still be free’ (DJ
III, l. 704). Nigel Leask points out the degree to which this famous line
is ‘ironised by the fact that the verses are sung by the “trimmer poet”’,18
who plays both sides in politics. Accordingly, the adverb ‘still’ in the line
connotes more a longing for the past than a hope for a future improve-
ment, and this desire stands in quite the contrast to the eschatological
projections of Harold, who fantasizes about meeting Zoroaster and
Pythagoras (‘The Bactrian’ and ‘Samian’) in heaven. The inevitability of
a ‘creed’s’ demise, even if it is one’s own, reinforces the disillusioned and
melancholy tone for which Childe Harold and its author became famous
while, at the same time, it prepares the way for a fresh encounter with
Albania, whose creed – ‘Mahomet’s’, the ruling one in the area at the time
– provides a fresh experience for the otherwise disenchanted Harold.

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56 tatiana kuzmic
The connection is made when Harold addresses Albania for the first
time and alludes again, by his use of religious symbols, to the cyclical
nature of time:
Land of Albania, let me bend mine eyes
On thee, thou rugged nurse of savage men!
The cross descends, thy minarets arise,
And the pale crescent sparkles in the glen,
Through many a cypress grove within each ken.
(CHP II, ll. 338–342)

The ‘crescent’ here is not only used as a symbol of Islam, but is also
endowed with romantic symbolism generally associated with the moon, as
it ‘sparkles in the glen’ and shines through cypress groves. This coincides
with Harold’s disenchantment with Greece, since he ‘felt, or deem’d he
felt, no common glow’ (CHP II, l. 364) upon passing Leucadia, but in
contrast, found Albania much more exciting in its novelty: ‘The scene
was savage, but the scene was new’ (CHP II, l. 385). Byron expresses the
same sentiment in one of his letters sent home from the journey, where
his lengthy description of ‘the Albanians in their dresses’ ends with his
recognition of them as ‘a new & delightful spectacle to a stranger’ (BLJ
1:227).
The novelty is brought into contrast with Greece’s agedness in lines
that constitute the transition from one ‘creed’ to another:
Now Harold felt himself at length alone,
And bade to Christian tongues a long adieu;
Now he adventur’d on a shore unknown,
Which all admire, but many dread to view…
(CHP II, ll. 379–382)
From the dark barriers of that rugged clime,
Ev’n to the centre of Illyria’s vales,
Childe Harold pass’d o’er many a mount sublime
Through lands scarce noticed in historic tales…
(CHP II, ll. 406–409)

Lines 379–382 indicate an ideological turning point from what is Balkan


– the last frontier of ‘Christian tongues’ – to what is Oriental – the
dreadful, yet enticing ‘shore unknown’ – and the difference between the
two is only underscored by Harold’s feeling of being ‘alone’. Harold has
something in common with the ‘Christian tongues’, as well as with Greek
antiquity, so it is his clear difference from those he encounters in Albania
that allows him to feel truly ‘other’, while the feelings expressed in his

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Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage in the Balkans 57
encounter with Greece are much more ambivalent and waver between
nostalgic longing for its glorious past and disappointment in its present
state. While in line 409 he identifies Albania as one of the lands ‘scarce
noticed in historic tales’, as an upper-class educated European Byron was
schooled in the ‘historic tales’ of Greece. He demonstrates this abun-
dantly when he has Harold recall both historical and mythical Greek
characters in his stanzas devoted to Greece. Albania, by contrast, has
no history yet and is, as Byron describes, quoting Gibbon in a note to
the poetry, ‘less known than the interior of America’ (CPW 2:192). The
comparison of Greece’s next-door neighbour to a former English colony
at the other end of the world makes the contrast between the old and the
new, located in such geographical proximity, all the greater.
Byron was one of few Western Europeans to visit Albania, especially
some of its more remote regions, such as Tepelene. Paul Simpson-
Housley explains that ‘part of this is due to its geographical isolation for
even today a journey from Tirana [the capital] to Tepelene demands six
hours as the road traverses mountain passes’.19 Byron himself was aware
of the magnitude of his feat and demonstrated this in both the lines of and
the notes to Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, as indicated above. While Childe
Harold pities Greece for its subjection to Turkey and, in consequence,
its savageness, he seems to admire Ali Pasha’s domain precisely because
of its military splendour and ‘wild’ behaviour. Ten stanzas (56–65) are
devoted to describing the opulence and merriment of Ali Pasha’s court.
From the chief ’s surroundings –
Amidst no common pomp the despot sate,
While busy preparation shook the court,
Slaves, eunuchs, soldiers, guests, and santons wait;
Within, a palace, and without, a fort:
Here men of every clime appear to make resort.
(CHP II, ll. 500–504)
to the military supplies –
Richly caparison’d, a ready row
Of armed horse, and many a warlike store
Circled the wide extending court below…
(CHP II, ll. 505–507)
to the dress at court –
The wild Albanian kirtled to his knee,
With shawl-girt head and ornamental gun,
And gold-embroider’d garments, fair to see;
The crimson-scarfed men of Macedon…
(CHP II, ll. 514–517)

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58 tatiana kuzmic
Byron’s Harold misses no detail and, in contrast to his anguished queries
regarding Greece’s destiny, he now pours forth enchanting depictions
of its master. It is important to note here that Ali Pasha himself was not
Turkish but rather, as Byron explains in his letters, ‘one of the most
powerful men in the Ottoman empire’ (BLJ 1:226). He paid nominal
taxes to the Sultan, but was more powerful than the Sultan in his own
sphere, which, beside Albania, included Greece as far south as the Gulf
of Corinth. Because of his political clout as well as his Muslim religion, he
had more in common with the Turks than with the subjected peoples of
the Ottoman empire. Byron certainly perceived him as such and declared
so in his poetry as well as in his letters, one of which states that the Pasha
‘possesses that dignity which I find universal amongst the Turks’ (BLJ
1:228). The contrast between the subject nation and the one in charge is
brought out most sharply in two adjacent verses whose word choice makes
it difficult to sustain the despondent mood concerning fallen Greece that
imbued the beginning of the canto:
Here the Albanian proudly treads the ground;
Half whispering there the Greek is heard to prate
(CHP II, ll. 527–528)

The contrasting adverbs – ‘proudly’/‘half whispering’ – and verbs –


‘treads’/‘prate’ – suggest no record of the former Greek greatness nor
any reprimand for Muslim reign, while the contrast between ‘here’ and
‘there’ reinforces the cyclical inevitability formerly used to account for
the change of regime.
Harold’s impressions are solidified when he experiences a warm
welcome and merry entertainment at Ali Pasha’s:
Childe Harold at a little distance stood
And view’d, but not displeas’d, the reverie,
Nor hated harmless mirth, however rude:
In sooth, it was no vulgar sight to see
Their barbarous, yet their not indecent glee…
(CHP II, ll. 640–644)

His description cannot be termed unambiguously positive as he seems to


take care not to extol the ‘barbarous’ festivities too unequivocally. Thus,
instead of portraying them as directly positive, he opts for presenting
a scene that is not negative: Harold was not wholly pleased, but ‘not
displeas’d’; he did not completely enjoy the ‘mirth’, but neither did
he hate it; it could not be termed decorous or cultured, but it was ‘no
vulgar sight to see’ either; hardly decent, but ‘not indecent’. As soon as

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Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage in the Balkans 59
he characterizes the activities at the ruler’s as ‘harmless’, he makes sure
to correct this by qualifying them as ‘however rude’. Finally, as if fearing
to be too closely associated with all this, the first line lets it be known
that Harold watched, but did not participate, since he ‘at a little distance
stood’. To put it in more familiar terms, he looked, but did not touch.
The description is not unlike one that might be made of children, who
are also ‘savage’ and ‘new’; they have not yet been initiated, nor are they
ready to be, into all the fine shades of proper behaviour, but they are
innocent and pleasing to watch in that state. The portrayal of ‘primitive’
nations – in keeping with the connotations of the term – as not yet fully
formed and as a reflection of what a ‘superior’ nation – the observer’s –
might have been once in the past was a common phenomenon in colonial
explorations of ethnic and racial difference. Time as a tool of power and
a perpetrator of inequality has been analysed by the Africanist anthro-
pologist Johannes Fabian, who notes that as a result of the Enlightenment
idea of progress and the subsequent taxonomizing of cultures, travel took
place from ‘the centres of learning and power to places where man was to
find nothing but himself ’,20 himself as a child, that is. Just as Harold stood
‘at a little distance’ from the Albanian festivities, so must the anthropolo-
gist employ certain ‘distancing devices’21 in order to achieve an ‘objec-
tive’ view of the other. Consequently, ‘relations between the West and its
Other […] were conceived not only as a difference, but as a distance in
Space and Time’.22 Byron’s portrayal of Albanians thus denies them what
Fabian calls ‘coevalness’, that is, a contemporaneous existence of them/
the observed with Byron/the observer. Albania’s youthfulness, however,
comes as a refreshment and counterpoint to the very aged Greece. As one
who belongs to this aged cultural lineage, Harold comes to embody expe-
rience and disillusion while he witnesses displays of innocence and mirth.
The contrasts created in this scene between what is new and old or inno-
cent and experienced contribute to the romantic thrust of the encounter.
They also place Harold on the side-lines, allow him to withhold from
praising the festivities too highly – since he knows that ‘other creeds will
rise with other years’ (CHP II, ll. 24–25) – and determine his overall
cautious attitude that brings out the role of the romantic outsider for
which Byron’s characters, as well as the author himself, became famous.
Another, perhaps more compelling, reason for Byron’s fascination
with Ali Pasha’s court is that, as a visitor from the super-power of the
western end of Europe passing time with the ruler of its eastern end,
despite their differences in ethnicity and religion, he could have easily
found that in terms of socio-economic circumstances they had much in

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60 tatiana kuzmic
common. The British travellers of the time, in fact, generally preferred
Turks to Greeks, not only because the unambiguous ethnicity of the
Turks induced no anxiety, but also because, as Todorova explains, ‘for
the vast majority of the ruling elites in Europe […] it was easier to iden-
tify (and they, in fact, did) with the Ottoman rulers, rather than with the
Balkan upstarts’.23 Thus, while Byron mentions ‘some daring mountain
band’ that showed ‘disdain’ for Ali Pasha’s power (CHP II, ll. 421–422),
and while in his note to those verses he explains how five thousand Suliots
performed ‘several acts […] not unworthy of the better days of Greece’
(CPW 2:195), he nevertheless contrasts his welcome by Ali Pasha with
less friendly receptions by those of whom he thought he could expect
more:
But these did shelter him beneath their roof,
When less barbarians would have cheered him less,
And fellow-countrymen have stood aloof…
(CHP II, ll. 591–593)

The progression of closeness imparted to the persons described in each


line is of particular significance: ‘these’ – clearly a pronoun of distance
– refers to the Albanians; the ‘less barbarians’ to other Europeans he
encountered on his journey (described briefly in stanza 67); and ‘fellow-
countrymen’, obviously, to the British. The ambiguous designation of
‘less barbarians’, as well as their positioning between ‘complete’ barbar-
ians and the ‘civilized’ from home, neatly sums up the quality of in-
betweenness discussed earlier that characterizes the Balkans.
A warm reception by a Turkish ruler was not uncommon during
these early days of British travels to the Balkans. Todorova notes several
instances: in 1796, ‘while in Lesbos, tired of their poor Greek quarters,
[John] Morritt’s party managed to invite themselves to the local aga, who
treated them handsomely’24 and, in 1806, Nicholas Biddle was ‘evidently
pleased with his visit to the aga of Mistra’.25 Both visitors were pleas-
antly surprised, enough so as to graciously impute qualities of ‘civiliza-
tion’ to their hosts: Morritt commented that he began to think ‘there
were gentlemen in all nations’26 and Biddle described the aga of Mistra
as ‘an old gentlemen [who] is in general very civil’.27 ‘The reason for the
deplorable condition of the Greeks was that they were slaves’,28 Todorova
reminds us, whereas the encounter between the English and the Turks
was one of ‘a master nation in the making […] recognizing an established
one’.29 Byron alludes to this feeling in one of his letters when he describes
the Greeks as ‘plausible rascals, with all the Turkish vices without their
courage’ (BLJ 1:238). An Ottoman ruler’s unambiguous identity and the

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Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage in the Balkans 61
confidence that comes with belonging to the ruling class provide a more
authentic, more clearly-delineated, ‘other’ for Childe Harold than the
subjugated Greek who is supposed to be culturally related to him, yet
neither looks nor acts anything like what one would come to expect based
on ‘historic tales’. The political circumstances governing the relation-
ship between England and the provinces under Ali Pasha’s jurisdiction
created the opportunity for just such an encounter for the poet, whose
visit was to secure England’s routes to Egypt and India, which were
endangered by Napoleon’s expansion at the time.30 Ali Pasha, in turn,
recognized Byron as a representative of an equal political power, a fact
that, judging by Byron’s attention to it in his letters, greatly impressed
the poet. In a long letter to his mother, written about a month after his
visit, he relates how Ali Pasha ‘received me standing, a wonderful compli-
ment from a Mussulman, & made me sit down on his right hand’ (BLJ
1:227, emphasis Byron’s). Ali Pasha’s comment that ‘he was certain I
[Byron] was a man of birth because I had small ears, curling hair, & little
white hands’, related in the same letter, is repeated three times elsewhere,
in a letter to Henry Drury, sent in May 1810 (BLJ 1:238), in a later letter
to Mrs. Byron (BLJ 1:249), and in one sent to Byron’s friend Francis
Hodgson in July of the same year (BLJ 1:254).
In his work entitled Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire –
a response to Said’s Orientalism – David Cannadine calls for paying more
attention to matters of class in examining colonial politics in conjunction
with the already heavily developed analyses of race. He argues, accord-
ingly, that the binary opposites underlying the Self/Other distinction
employed by post-colonial critics are ‘appealingly simplistic’31 and that
the ‘British Empire was about the familiar and domestic, as well as the
different and exotic’, that it was, in fact, ‘about the domestication of the
exotic – the comprehending and the reordering of the foreign in parallel,
analogous, equivalent, resemblant terms’.32 A social hierarchy ranging
from rich to poor, educated to uneducated, ruling to ruled, was a familiar
scene at home that could be quite easily applied to any foreign order,
with the social distinction often taking precedence over any difference of
culture, race or ethnicity. Thus, Byron must have felt that he had more
in common with the comfortably situated Ali Pasha in his surroundings
than with the ‘defenceless urn’ (CHP II, l. 20) and ‘scatter’d heaps’ (l.
43) he encountered in Greece. He suggests as much himself when he
writes, in a letter to Henry Drury: ‘I see not much difference between
ourselves & the Turks, save that we have foreskins and they none, that
they have long dresses and we short, and that we talk much and they

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62 tatiana kuzmic
little’ (BLJ 1:238). The reduction of differences to custom and dress, that
is, to outward appearances, indicates that Byron recognizes an essential
quality that is common to both nations and, in Cannadine’s terms, reor-
ders Albania vis-à-vis England in ‘parallel, analogous, equivalent, resem-
blant terms’. This may explain why, in spite of the poet’s reputation as a
champion of Greek freedom, one of the best known images of Byron is
his portrait in Albanian dress by Thomas Phillips.33 In describing British
travellers’ disappointment in Greece, Todorova singles out ‘the lack of
striking physical resemblance’ and ‘the absence of classical manners’.34
It is to be expected, then, that Byron would prefer to commemorate his
journey to the Balkans by dressing as one of the ruling class of the region
at the time. He bragged to his mother about ‘some very “magnifique”
Albanian dresses’ (BLJ 1:231) that he purchased in a post scriptum to
the same long letter in which he described the grand welcome extended
to him by Ali Pasha.
In spite of his laudatory and exotically charged description of Albania,
Byron’s journey to the Balkans, when discussed today, is almost exclu-
sively focused on Greece; proof that European expectations have not
changed, even after the disappointing encounters between world and
text of the nineteenth century. ‘In contrast to Missolonghi’, writes Paul
Simpson-Housley, ‘Tepelene, Albania, is almost peripheral to Byron’s
world, and in recent years has seldom been visited by adherents of
Byron’s works’.35 The impact Byron’s verses left on Albania, by contrast,
is equal to his own fascination with the country expressed through Childe
Harold: ‘the children, for instance, study the Second Canto of Childe
Harold’s Pilgrimage at the age of sixteen as they do elsewhere in Albania’
and ‘virtually the entire population is aware of the plaque in the wall of
Ali Pasha’s castle in honour of the poet’.36 The highest inscription on
the plaque bears testimony to the respect bequeathed even by the late
Stalinist Albanian president, Enver Hoxha, whose words are recorded
on it: ‘I like Byron, not that I am a Romantic, but for the fact that he
sincerely loved my people’.37
This oversight and downplaying of Byron’s unique visit may be in part
the poet’s own fault, however, as he himself positioned his experiences
in Albania between his verses on Greece. After all, Albania was, as most
other Balkan nations at the time were, merely a stop on the way to the land
of Classical Antiquity. The rest of the Balkans had indeed only become
known to the West by dint of their proximity to Greece once Europe
entered its stage of philhellenism in the late eighteenth century. As if
mirroring Byron’s own writing design, The British Library’s Writer’s

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Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage in the Balkans 63
Lives volume on Byron narrates his trip to Albania in the section subti-
tled ‘Greece’, though it too admits that ‘at first Byron was less interested
in the Greeks than in their overlords’ as it begins to supply the details of
his visit with the ‘ogreish’ Ali Pasha.38 The page preceding the conclu-
sion to the chapter on ‘Byron’s Grand Tour’, however, carries a full-page
picture of Thomas Phillips’s painting.
Byron’s less enthusiastic treatment of the Greeks as opposed to their
overlords is traceable to the fact that the Albanian Muslims were perceived
as more authentically ‘other’ by the English Christian visitor, as illus-
trated by their depiction in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. Christian Greece,
by contrast, the supposed cradle of Western European civilization that
had the misfortune of being ‘corrupted’ by Turkish rule, could not be
so easily classified as either ‘other’ or as self, and that is precisely what
made the visitor so uncomfortable. A location situated somewhere inde-
finably between the cultural heritage of Rome and Byzantium, between
the political jurisdiction of the Austro-Hungarian Habsburgs and the
Turkish Ottomans, between the religions of Christianity and Islam (espe-
cially since Orthodoxy, the Greek national religion, must have appeared
to any Westerner as a more eastern variant of Catholicism) does not allow
for simple classification. Vesna Goldsworthy develops this theme as she
shows that while the Balkan peninsula has ‘often been seen as insufficiently
different to play the role of an exoticised Oriental Other, it has neverthe-
less continued to be seen as too “polluted” by this Otherness to be (prop-
erly) “European”’.39 And, since pollution muddles the clean separation
between Self and Other that is enabled by such concepts as Orientalism,
it is easy to understand how what Todorova calls the ‘mongrel nature’
and ‘racial ambiguity’ of the Balkans would cause much more discomfort
than an encounter with the clearly separate Ottoman rulers.40 Although
reading Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage today, from a post-colonial perspec-
tive, seems to require awareness of the framework of Said’s ‘Orien-
talism’, the problematization of this all-encompassing concept in terms
of its geographically and ideologically more specific manifestations, such
as Balkanism, disrupts the classic Self/Other distinction, yet precisely
because of that it allows for a closer examination of the so-called in-be-
tween places that equate with neither and yet are both.

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64 tatiana kuzmic
NOTES
1 Byron’s Letters and Journals: The complete and unexpurgated text of all the letters
available in manuscript and the full printed version of all others, edited by Leslie A.
Marchand, 11 vols. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard
University Press, 1973–1981), vol. 1, p. 237. Further references to this collection are
given as BLJ, followed by volume and page number.
2 Two fairly recent articles that question Byron’s philhellenism are ‘Byron and the
Eastern Mediterranean: Childe Harold II and the “polemic of Ottoman Greece”’
by Nigel Leask in The Cambridge Companion to Bryon, edited by Drummond Bone
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 99–117, and ‘Byron, Turkey
and the Orient’ by Massimiliano Demata in The Reception of Byron in Europe, vol.
2: Northern, Central and Eastern Europe, edited by Richard Cardwell (London:
Thoemmes Continuum, 2004), pp. 439–452, which also challenges the Saidian
reading of Byron’s ‘Eastern’ poetry.
3 Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1978), p. 99.
4 Ahmad Aijaz, In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures (London: Verso, 1992), pp.
166, 183.
5 Todorova, Imagining the Balkans (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 24.
6 Ibid., p. 27. Byron’s travel companion, John Cam Hobhouse, used one of these terms
in the title of his book, A journey through Albania and other provinces of Turkey in
Europe and Asia, to Constantinople, during the years 1809 and 1810 (London: James
Cawthorn, 1813).
7 Todorova, p. 25.
8 Ibid., p. 26.
9 Lord Byron, The Complete Poetical Works, edited by Jerome J. McGann, 7 vols
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980–1993), vol. 2, p. 192. Further references to this
collection are given as CPW, followed by volume and page number. To distinguish
between different works within the collection, CHP is used for Childe Harold’s
Pilgrimage and DJ for Don Juan.
10 Vesna Goldsworthy, Inventing Ruritania: The Imperialism of the Imagination (New
Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1998), p. 8.
11 Todorova, p. 16.
12 Ibid., p. 17.
13 Ibid., p. 14.
14 Ibid., p. 11.
15 Leask, ‘Byron and the Eastern Mediterranean’, p. 104.
16 For a detailed account of British Philhellenism and Byron’s role in it, see David
Roessel, In Byron’s Shadow: Modern Greece in the English and American Imagination
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).
17 Said, p. 177.
18 Leask, pp. 99–100.
19 Paul Simpson-Housley, ‘Tepelene, Land of Albania’, The Byron Journal 20 (1992),
92–95, p. 92.
20 Johannes Fabian, Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object (New York:
Columbia University Press, 1983), p. 6.
21 Ibid., p. 52.

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Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage in the Balkans 65
22 Ibid., p. 147.
23 Todorova, p. 109.
24 Ibid., p. 93.
25 Ibid., p. 103.
26 Ibid., p. 93.
27 Ibid., p. 103.
28 Ibid., p. 103.
29 Ibid., p. 91.
30 For a detailed account of the political implications of Byron’s journey, see Peter
Cochran, ‘“Nature’s Gentler Errors”: Byron, the Ionian Islands, and Ali Pacha
[sic]’, in The Byron Journal 23 (1995), 22–35.
31 David Cannadine, Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 4.
32 Cannadine, p. xix.
33 Martin Garrett, George Gordon, Lord Byron, British Library Writer’s Lives (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 32–33.
34 Todorova, p. 94.
35 Simpson-Housley, p. 92.
36 Ibid., p. 93.
37 Ibid., p. 93. It bears pointing out that Simpson-Housley’s article was written in 1992
and it is questionable whether a Stalinist president’s quote is still standing in the
same place a decade and a half after the fall of Communism. Hoxha’s somewhat
hesitant acknowledgement of Byron nevertheless attests to the magnitude of the
poet’s influence.
38 Garret, p. 25.
39 Goldsworthy, p. 6.
40 Todorova, p. 19.

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