Requiem to Byzantium

Western Europe, with ancestral memories of jealousy of Byzantine civilization, with its spiritual advisers denouncing the Orthodox as sinful schismatics, and with a haunting sense of guilt that it had failed the city at the end, chose to forget about Byzantium.  It could not forget the debt that it owed to the Greeks; but it saw the debt as being owed only to the Classical age.  The Philhellenes who came to take part in the War of Independence spoke of Themistocles and Pericles but never of Constantine.  Many intellectual Greeks copied their example, led astray by the evil genius of Korais, the pupil of Voltaire and of Gibbon, to whom Byzantium was an ugly interlude of superstition, best ignored.  Thus it was that the War of Independence never resulted in the liberation of the Greek people but only in the creation of a little kingdom of Greece.  In the villages men knew better.  There they remembered the threnes that had been composed when news came that the city had fallen, punished by God for its luxury, its pride and its apostasy, but fighting a heroic battle to the end.  They remembered that dreadful Tuesday, a day that all true Greeks still know to be of ill omen; but their spirits tingled and their courage rose as they told of the last Christian Emperor standing in the breach, abandoned by his Western allies, holding the infidel at bay till their numbers overpowered him and he died, with the Empire as his winding-sheet.

Steven Runciman, The Fall of Constantinople.


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