I fear my infatuation with David Brewer has thoroughly cooled. I’m well over halfway through The Greek War of Independence, and what was at first a trickle of annoyance has become a torrent of bile. I’ll begin with an apparently innocuous factor: accents.

One of the things that attracted me to the book when I first saw it in a store was the fact that all Greek names were provided with accents. I don’t understand why this is so rarely done; word accents are as important in Greek as in, say, Spanish, for which they’re routinely reproduced in English text; they’re written in Greek itself (unlike in Russian, which is some excuse for the fact that the stress is so rarely marked in transliterated Russian words); and in this computer age it should be no problem to put acute accents over vowels. Nevertheless, they are almost always ignored for Greek, and I considered it a high recommendation that Brewer took the trouble to add them.

But already on page 4 I noticed an anomaly: the name of what was once the grandest cathedral in Christendom and is still the most famous building in Istanbul was given as Áyia Sofía. This is mixing apples and oranges; the katharévousa (archaizing) form of the name is Ayía Sofía, the demotic (colloquial) form Áyia Sofiá (whence Turkish Ayasofya; the traditional Anglicized version is Hagia Sophia). But that seemed like nitpicking even to me, and I moved on. Then on page 11 I came across Naoússa for what should have been Náoussa—and not once but twice, so it wasn’t a typo. I knitted my brow, but moved on. On page 26 one of the founders of the Philikí Etería was given as Tsákalov when I was pretty sure it was actually Tsakálof, but… maybe I was wrong. (I wasn’t.)

Soon, though, it was impossible to keep making excuses: the accents were a mess. “Salóna, modern Amphíssa” should be “Sálona, modern Ámphissa.” Armátolos (‘local law-enforcer hired by the Ottoman government’) was given in place of the correct armatolós, Ellínikon for ellinikón. and Lévkas for Levkás (demotic Levkáda, the island then known as Ayia Mávra or Santa Maura). And I was noticing something else as well. Aside from the accent problem, “Salóna, modern Amphíssa” is exemplary; a historical text should give the name used at the time of the events and add the modern name to orient the reader. Brewer does this a few times; by and large, however, he simply uses the modern names, however anachronistic: Lamía for what at the time was called Zitoúni, Agrínion for Vrakhóri, Tripolis (no accent!) for the Peloponnesian center famous at the time as Tripolitzá. Like Tripolis, Navplion is given throughout without an accent (which is on the first syllable); back then it was called Anápli by the Greeks, Anabolu by the Turks, and frequently Napoli by Europeans who did not insist on classical nomenclature. Brewer calls the large island east of Attica and Boeotia “Évvia,” which is unlikely to be intelligible to readers who think of it as Euboea and which was not used at the time (Greeks called it Égripos and Europeans Negropont). The height of absurdity is reached when at one point he talks about the Alamána River and at another about the “Sperchíos” (should be Sperkhiós) without appearing to recognize that these are the old and new names for the same river.

I admit I’m peculiarly sensitive to nomenclature, and these things probably do not matter to the average reader. But to my mind they are symptomatic of a larger problem. I began realizing this in the chapter “Revolt along the Danube,” about the abortive invasion of Moldavia and Wallachia (modern Romania, then ruled by Greeks on behalf of the Ottoman Empire) that heralded the War of Independence. Here’s the passage that set off the warning bells:

In Wallachia intrigue was rife. The governor, Alexander Soútsos…, was gravely ill…, and in January 1822 on his deathbed set up a caretaker government of native nobles or boyars. These saw this interregnum as an opportunity to establish Wallachian rights, in particular the right to be governed by a native prince rather than a phanariot Greek. To this end they sent at the end of January one of the government’s military commanders, Theodore Vladimirescu, into western Wallachia, ostensibly to put down disturbances there, but in fact with instructions to create a disturbance of his own, aimed at inciting the local inhabitants and boyars against the phanariot Greeks. Vladimirescu’s private motive, however, was to make himself prince of an independent Wallachia. His game was thus a double one from the start, and its increasing deceptions finally undid him. Of a different stamp was another of the Bucharest commanders, Iorgáki Olimpiótis. Thomas Gordon… described Iorgáki as ‘distinguished for prudence, valour, and patriotism, and enthusiastically wedded to the principles of the Hetoeria…’

This is absurdly Boy’s Own and hellenocentric, more suitable to schoolchildren than readers of history. On the one hand, we have the greasy native playing a double game and out for himself, whose “increasing deceptions finally undid him”; on the other, a patriotic and principled member of the club, who would doubtless have distinguished himself on the playing fields of Eton had he only had the good fortune to be born British. The denouement of this little morality play is equally broadly drawn:

[The governor of Moldavia] fled with his family across the Pruth into Bessarabia. It is hard to see him as anything other than a fair-weather friend of the Etería. A further problem was the questionable conduct of Vladimirescu, who, as Ipsilántis learnt from intercepted despatches, was now negotiating with the Turks, offering them military help in return for the coveted governorship of Wallachia.

Trying to save one’s family is being a “fair-weather friend,” and a Romanian trying to rule Romanians in place of a bunch of hated rapacious Greeks is “questionable conduct”! Brewer seems to take a certain pleasure in reporting how Vladimirescu was seized and “butchered” by the momentarily triumphant Greeks. The whole invasion is summed up with far better perspective in this short paragraph of Richard Clogg’s excellent A Concise History of Greece:

Ypsilantis also hoped to take advantage of the concurrent uprising, led by Tudor Vladimirescu, of the Romanian inhabitants of the Principalities [Wallachia and Moldavia] against the native boyars, or notables. But the Romanians showed no greater enthusiasm than did the Serbs and Bulgars for making common cause with the Greeks, whom they identified with the oppressive rule of the Phanariot hospodars. Following the defeat of his ragged army at the hands of the Ottoman forces at the Battle of Dragatsani in June 1821, Ypsilantis was forced to flee into Habsburg territory and the invasion petered out.

And there is a far more detailed discussion in Barbara Jelavich’s History of the Balkans, which I cannot recommend highly enough; she has the amazing ability to write scholarly history that is as readable as a novel. Here is a bit of her discussion of Vladimirescu:

Although Vladimirescu himself tried to make a distinction between the “good” boyars who supported his movement and the others, the peasants, who joined him in thousands, were not so discriminating. They burned houses and barns, and they looted the boyar estates. A true social revolution was in progress. Vladimirescu formed an army, called the People’s Assembly, whose basis was the group of six hundred pandours who had come to his support at once.

Vladimirescu’s movement, it will be noted, was not directed against the Porte [the Ottoman government]. He and his supporters called upon the suzerain power to restore “old conditions”—in other words, to return to the days before the Phanariot Greek rule. Vladimirescu also appealed to the Ottoman government to investigate the conditions in the Principalities and to remedy the sufferings of the people. Throughout this period he remained in touch with the Ottoman agents and with the pashas in command of the Danube forts.

This is real history, giving you a sense of the complexity of the situation and the motives of the various actors without attempting to pass judgment. Brewer is a cheerleader, and a careless one at that. I won’t go into detail about the two chapters devoted to Byron, an object of obsession to the British both then and now but so peripheral to events he’s not even mentioned by Makriyannis in his memoirs of the war; Brewer’s loving depiction of Byron’s love life, correspondence, raffish friends, and impetuous decision-making set in high relief his cursory descriptions of the Greeks involved in the war, and make it plain that for all the jacket copy about “certain to be the standard history for many years to come,” this is yet another in an endless series of slapdash, Britocentric popular histories, full of flashing swords and treachery and glorious patriotism but sadly deficient in accuracy, either in overall perspective or in the small matter of accents.


  1. Poor Brewer – he was doubtless told (by his agent? his editor? his editor’s illegitimate cousin?) to make it “readable”, but he’s only made a muddle. I was seeing red within the first few pages and had to send the book away, so I’m quite impressed you’ve made it more than halfway through.
    On accents – though I whole-heartedly second your lament at their neglect – it seems unlikely to me that any non-academic publisher would make much of an effort towards exactitude until such time as the vast majority of readers (and not just the erudite) express their disgust. The vast majority of readers – who probably want nothing more than the Boy’s Own history of Greek independence anyway – are unlikely to care. The story’s more important than the facts, isn’t it? Even academic presses have difficulties with accents (witness Gomme’s memorable “‘Crito or Kriton?’ A plea for Greek”, GR 6 (1959)); they are messy when included (e.g. The Best of the Achaeans) and errors (such as the one’s you catalogue above) are so very easy that it’s simple to see why they might be left out.
    Also – as a curio, I’d like to point out that Edward Dodwell’s A Classical and Topographical Tour through Greece during the years 1801, 1805, and 1806 (London, 1819) indicates all questionable vowel lengths in transliterated words to ease pronunciation; they’re not accents per se, but they serve the same purpose (his readers, of course, being educated Englishmen who would be expected to know the basics of (ancient) Greek accentuation…). Dodwell has this note on the printing of foreign words and names:

    There are some words which it is absolutely necessary to spell according to the original language, and which, even then, almost defy the power of English articulation [….] the Chinese and Russian languages alone furnish difficulties for the human voice that are comparable to those of the Turkish (1.vii).

    I like the conflation of “English articulation” and “human voice”…

  2. Monfrancom says:

    As a francophone, I am totally disgusted with the complete ignorance and lack of awareness and/or sensitivity to the use of accents. They define meaning, pronounciation and signal cultural specificity. The words “serre” and “serré” are as different and unrelated as “there” and “their”, or flee and flea! There are only varying degrees of intellectual laziness and cultural disregard. The fear of effort reigns, and it mars the digital world as well!

  3. Secretary: “Mr. Brewer? There’s an agitated-looking gentleman outside wearing a hat. He says he’d like a word with you about ‘diacritical marks’ or something.”
    Brewer [opens window.] “Tell him I’m not in today and you don’t know when I’ll be back”. [Exits through window, drops 20 feet to the ground, picks himself up, and runs frantically off.]
    Note that the secretary was careful to use single quotes inside the double quotes. That’s a good secretary.

  4. Eudie: Your sympathetic and informative comment makes it worth the effort of will involved in wading through Brewer. I particularly like the Dodwell quote, which must be read in the highest of Oxbridge accents. (Somewhere online there’s a Dodwell-like 19th-century tour of Greece, but I can’t for the life of me think what it is or where I’ve stashed the url.)
    Monfrancom: As a francophone, you’re much better off (in terms of English texts), because so many people have studied French that there’s a critical mass of people who notice when the accents are wrong and write Letters to the Editor, so they take some trouble to get them right. I’m not saying there aren’t mistakes — believe me, I notice them acutely — just that the kind of mess I’m finding in the Brewer book for Greek wouldn’t be tolerated for French.
    zizka: That’s a good secretary indeed. She must have been trained by Victor Borge.

  5. I think the availability of the means of producing the accent marks might have something to do with the public’s lack of regard for accent marks. I’m still hoping to find a way to order good keyboards to facilitate the application of accents.
    Yes, I could find and learn the ASCII for them. I guess I’ve just been lazy or procrastinated on that.

  6. The lazy man’s way of getting accents (and yes, I do it frequently) is to go to Yahoo, scroll down to “Local Yahoo!s,” and click on the relevant one: if you want French accents, go to Yahoo! France and just copy and paste the accented letters you need. In HTML, it’s easy enough to learn the system: put the required abbreviations between & and ; (Vacute, Vgrave, Vcirc, where V stands for the vowel you want — there’s a good list here) and voilà!

  7. I’m a big sinner on French accents. I can cut and paste or use html, but it’s a lot of bother. Especially because I’m writing in English, where spelling is pretty random and ambiguous anyway (how would “zough” be pronounced?)
    Come to think of it, French spelling ain’t all that hot either. What are they being so fussy for? I just make it a little less hot. Cooler, in fact.
    (My guess is “zuff” is the default pronounciation, but there are at least four others possible.)

  8. In Windows, Control Panel allows you to activate new keyboard mappings. Hundreds of layouts are available by default and if yours isn’t there you can probably download it. Once it’s installed, a blue square lettered EN appears at the left of your task bar. Click on that to switch keyboards. I can’t demonstrate now as I’m not at my own computer.
    You don’t need a new physical keyboard. Even if you can’t touchtype in the new language, just create a little map of where everything is, and tape that to your monitor. If you use the new language a LOT you could get a fine tipped permanent marker and write right on your current keyboard.

  9. Well, let’s go to the videotape. Here it’s clearly “zo”; here it’s presumably “zoog” or “zhoog” (zhoug); and here it’s got to be “zoogh.”
    And wasn’t Zough a king of Albania?

  10. Hey, King Zog was in that Pet Shop Boys song!
    You know the one, it goes
    King Zog’s back from holiday,
    Mary Lupescu’s grey
    And King Alexander is dead in Marseilles…

    …or maybe you don’t know it?

  11. After my time, I’m afraid. But surely Dylan must have mentioned King Zog somewhere?

  12. There is a street in Ioannina (a.k.a. Yiannena) called Tsakalov – the accent is indeed on the second a.
    Curiously, the ubiquitous streets named after Lord Byron are pronounced Vyronis or Vyronas with accent on the o. The displacement of the accent makes some sense (considering the analogous formation Byronic) but the V in place of B (written mu-pi) doesn’t. As I understand it beta has been pronounced as V for several centuries.

  13. On Macs running recent version of OS X, the Character Palette is available as a character entry method: unfortunately it isn’t enabled by default (last I checked), but you can turn it on through the Input Menu pane of the International preferences, at which point it appears in the menu with all the enabled keyboard layouts. This is a floating palette that displays all the characters that are available in any installed font, and lets you insert them into the active text region; since the OS ships with a wide variety of Unicode fonts for major writing systems of the world, that’s a lot of characters. It also lets you save a list of favorites.
    The Character Palette is useful as a means of last resort for entering accented characters when you can’t remember the key combinations. But I’ve gotten the US key combinations for the French accents mostly down by now.

  14. Aha, I see that they also finally absorbed the old Key Caps application into a floating palette as the “Keyboard Viewer”. I hadn’t noticed that.

  15. Another anecdote in this context: I have a bunch of pages on my site in which I review various works by the Polish science-fiction author Stanislaw Lem, whose name I just spelled incorrectly, because that lower-case l should actually be a character with a slash through it that does not exist in ISO Latin-1, the encoding used by this comment board (it exists in Latin-2, an Eastern European counterpart).
    My Lem pages are all in Latin-1, because I originally reasoned, probably correctly in that primitive era, that using any encoding for them other than ISO Latin-1 might make them difficult for somebody to view correctly. Today, international font support in modern browsers is good enough that I could probably get away with moving all the pages to Unicode, which would allow me to spell Lem’s first name correctly and also allow me to keep any Latin-1-specific accented characters that are already in there.
    But I’m concerned now that spelling Lem’s name right would make the pages far less accessible via search engines operated by English-speakers. And even Lem’s official pages spell it Stanislaw most of the time.

  16. …And lest some character encoding expert jump on my last comment and complain that Unicode is not itself a font encoding, I should add that I specifically meant UTF-8.

  17. A Greek co-worker has recently been bemoaning the fact that the Greek newspaper he regularly reads – To Bhma – is ignoring the accent and breathing marks completely except when one word might be confused with another. He has written at least one letter to the editor objecting to the practice, although he has told me that it conforms to a recent government decree. Not that I’m an expert by any means, but Greek just doesn’t look quite right without all those marks.

  18. Thomas Dent says:

    Breathing marks??? They went out centuries ago as far as anything useful to pronunciation is concerned, and were only ‘revived’ (in the manner of a Frankenstinic monster) by the military junta. They signify absolutely nothing in modern Greek.
    Setting aside the diaresis, there’s only one accent in modern Greek, the stress in words of two or more syllables. And, while it’s very useful to us who don’t remember the correct pronunciation, it doesn’t aid comprehension, except in ambiguous cases.
    I don’t know your Greek friend’s politics, but adherence to other types of stress and ‘breathing marks’ is likely strongly correlated with extreme nationalism.

  19. For those confused by King Henry’s reference to “To Bhma,” it’s a half-transliteration of Το Βημα (To Vima, ‘The Tribune’); on their website, at any rate, they use accents in the standard modern fashion (no breathing marks or circumflex accents). I’d be sorry if accents disappeared; as Mr. Dent says, the breathing marks are a mere confusion-breeding nuisance, but accents… well, as HRH says, Greek just doesn’t look quite right without them (even though omitting them causes no real confusion, redundancy being what it is).
    As for his Greek friend’s politics, I don’t think they’re what you suggest, since To Vima is a left-wing newspaper (and a very good one too — it’s the one I settled on as my daily read when I was in Greece).

  20. Doug Sundseth says:

    language hat:
    “…believe me, I notice them acutely….”
    A grave matter, indeed. Still, it is perhaps better to be circum…hmmm…spect in discussing this matter.
    [I know — cheap. Still, sometimes it’s fun to shoot fish in a barrel.]

  21. Thomas Dent: “Breathing marks??? They went out centuries ago as far as anything useful to pronunciation is concerned, and were only ‘revived’ (in the manner of a Frankenstinic monster) by the military junta. They signify absolutely nothing in modern Greek.”
    Well no, they weren’t revived by the military junta, they have been standard written Greek since Hellenistic times. The whole set of accents (three) and aspiration marks (two, one of which signified lack of aspiration back in the third century BC when such a thing was last pronounced), was – as far as modern pronounciation is concerned – pointless, since they had no phonetic value at all. The multiple accents and aspiration marks were finally banished from official grammar in 1981, a few months after I finished the lykeion – to my dismay for having missed the opportunity of not making accent-related spelling mistakes!
    Of all those marks I do miss the dasia (aspiration mark). It was the only useful mark in that it determines the form that certain compound words take for example καΤάνυξη but καΘαγιάζω, because άγιος was written with an aspiration mark.
    Oh and, for the record, I’m about as far left as they make’us nowadays… There has been a certain nostalgia for the katharevousa among the “educated left”, which I personally find baffling, and generally language use has pretty much lost its status as an indicator of politics in Greece nowadays.
    It wasn’t always so: the “trial of the accents” in 1942 – under the German occupation – was a heavily ideological battle (link in Greek).
    As far as “Vima” is concerned it *does* use the standard one-accent system. It is a centrist newspaper, owned by a media magnate who uses the newspaper to pressure political friends – and foes – for government contracts for his other businesses.

  22. Thanks for making things clearer. I should have cleared up the “junta revival” mistake myself, but it got lost in the shuffle. And of course you’re right that To Vima isn’t particularly left-wing in a Greek context (I take it you’re a Rizospastis subscriber?), but in the American context it’s a decent enough offhand description, especially when the previous poster’s implication was that it was involved with “extreme nationalism.”

  23. My God not “Rizospastis”! More like an occasional reader of “Avgi” and “Eleftherotypia”. (“Rizospastis” is the newspaper of the largest old-school stalinist Communist Party in Europe. I am really embarassed to have given off such an impression!)
    TO BHMA is about as left (relatively speaking) as the NYT (were they owned by a Democrat-supporting Murdochoid). Well to the right of the London Guardian in absolute terms. But you’re right that it has been a historical bastion of “Dimotiki” supporters.

  24. I was pretty much joking about Rizo — I didn’t figure you for a Stalinoid! But your comparison of Vima to the NYT makes my point: in the US, the latter is considered left-wing (pathetic as that is).

  25. Το γλωσσικό ζήτημα ποτέ δεν πεθαίνει (“the -how d’you call it: language issue?- never dies”). One of the not so few issues I am too passionate about (μα τί πάθος!) to even try to comment rationally on (don’t get me wrong, I see it as a weakness, not as a proof of some “absolute love for the éthnos“, which anyway doesn’t mean anything to me).
    Let me only add to Talos’ excellent comment(s) that the antagonist couples dimotiki/katharevousa and monotoniko/polytoniko are not necessarily “symmetrical”, i.e. you can perfectly write dimotiki in the polytonic system (this is what all dimotikistes writers have done until the Eighties, and many still do it when the publisher allows it ; only the varia or grave accent had been abandonned earlier by some), and you don’t need the three accents and two spirits to recognize a text in katharevousa (I am sorry to say that both ancient texts and katharevousiani writers like Roïdis, Papadiamantis, and even occasionally Kavafis, are more than often quoted in monotonic).
    Fortunatelly (I can’t hide my position any longer), there still are some important publishing houses with collections in polytonic containing works in both dimotiki and katharevousa. The prestigious literary journal Η Νέα Εστία (something like the Greek NRF, created by the “liberal” Grigorios Xenopoulos), is in semi-polytonic, that is, everything but the varia. Most academic journals, even newly created, adopt the same system. On the political side, let me mention Ο Πολίτης, a review of a quite good level directed by long-time leftist activist Angelos Elefantis, with views moving between trostkysm and anarchism.
    As far as I know, the only newspaper in polytonic is Η Εστία (almost the same title, but nothing to do with the previous), founded by Adonis Kyrou, which is very clearly in the far right of the political spectrum. Not to mention the ecclesiastical publications, but that’s another story.

  26. In fact, most of the above could be said as well about the baihua/wenyan and jiantizi (simplified characters)/fantizi (“plain”? characters) oppositions, of course with more than one caveat. I actually use the comparison to explain Greek to Chinese people and vice versa.

  27. (Three comments in a row is way too much, but I discovered Talos’ -politics-oriented- blog, ΙΣΤΟΛΟΓΙΟΝ, meanwhile, and, although, unsurprisingly, I don’t agree with all his opinions, I’d like to recommend it to Hellenophone readers).

  28. Make as many comments as you like, and yeah, Greek speakers should check out talos’s blog.

  29. Thomas Dent says:

    OK, did anyone have an answer to why English ‘Byron’ changed into Greek ‘Vyron’ and not ‘Byron’ with mu-pi?

  30. The Byron – Vyron thing is an example of the forced hellenization of foreign names, very popular until recently. Byron, with that nice ancient sounding -on ending was a prime candidate for transliteration. Other examples are Κόρδιγκτων for Codrington, Σατωβριάνδος for Chateaubriand, Σακαισπήρος for Shakespeare, Χοπίνος for Chopin etc.
    Interestingly Solomos in his “Εις τον θάνατο του Λόρδου Μπάιρον” (“On Lord Byron’s death”), uses the form Μπάιρον with a mu-pi throughout the poem…
    Also bear in mind that the name Βύρων has been a common first name in Greece ever since Lord Byron’s death, in a sense it, had to be Hellenized.

  31. “Zough” probably rhymes with “though” (I’m using this method to avoid getting stuck on the detailed vocalism of various accents of English), as that’s probably the default. But there are no less than nine pronunciations of “ough” in English: those of “though”, “through”, “bough”, “cough”, “enough”, “borough” (same as though in some dialects, not in others), “lough” (unique in some dialects, conflated with one of the other groups in others), “hough” (unique), and “hiccough” (unique but moribund). An amazing diversity, considering there are only about 30 non-compound words containing it!
    “To Bhma” is a fine transliteration, though not a transcription. In transliteration, each letter of the non-Latin alphabet is represented by a single letter (or sequence) of the Latin alphabet in a reversible way, quite independently of any specific language. It’s common to use “h” as a transliteration of eta.
    Transcription, OTOH, makes use of the letter-values in one language to represent those of another; “To Vima” is a sensible transcription of Greek into pan-European Latin script.

  32. “To Bhma” is a fine transliteration
    To each his own. I consider any transliteration that’s incomprehensible unless you already know the language a pretty poor one. What on earth is an English-speaker supposed to make of “Bhma”? You might as well say “Xp Ywbv” is a fine transliteration, as long as each letter is represented by a single letter of the Latin alphabet in a reversible way. Seems a low standard to me.
    talos: Thanks much for the Byron info!

  33. Apropos of Vladimirescu, et al.
    I’m not really impressed by any of the accounts given here — Brewer, Clogg, or even the sainted Jelavic.
    Yes, Vladimirescu was trying to restore “old conditions”. This was not necessarily a good thing. It meant, essentially, a return to medieval Romania, with the boyars enjoying near-absolute power, and the Porte acting as a sort of distant ultimate referee.
    Do keep in mind that after Romania gained its independence, the boyars rapidly evolved into the most useless, short-sighted, parasitic, retrograde, idle, greedy, and god-awfully stupid aristocratic class in all of Eastern Europe. Which is saying something. So I’m a bit skeptical of accounts that suggest Vladimerescu was a patriot leading a “true revolution”. A Vladimerescu victory would have brought little or no relief to the peasants: ‘Ireland shall have her freedom, and you shall break stones,’ etc.
    Ypsilanti, on the other hand, at least offered the possibility of positive change. He was Phanariot, but he was also an ardent reformer, inspired with the spirit of the Enlightenment and a strong didactic impulse to bring liberty to benighted Romania.
    How this would have played out in practice is another question, of course. But Ypsilanti would have at least brought in the possibility of progress. Vladimirescu’s program boiled down to “throw out the clever grasping Greeks, keep the Porte at a distance, and let us boyars run things the way our great-grandfathers did.” So it’s hard to feel much enthusiasm.
    Agreed, that the Brewer sounds hellenocentric and Boy’s Own.
    Doug M.

  34. Vladimirescu was hardly your average “us boyars.” He was of peasant stock, worked his way up to the lower reaches of boyardom, and became a successful businessman before leading a pandour band. Of course he wasn’t a Jeffersonian democrat; they were thin on the ground at the time (or since, for that matter). Anybody carried “the possibility of progress”; it’s impossible to know how things would have turned out under anyone’s rule, since the Ottomans kept control. Jelavic has much more to say about Vladimirescu, and she’s far from presenting him as a hero; in fact, she doesn’t present anyone as a hero, which is one sign she’s a real historian.
    Frankly, I doubt any Romanians would be thrilled with a Greek’s “strong didactic impulse to bring liberty to benighted Romania.”

  35. Vladimirescu coming from peasant stock… based on other Balkan models, that could go a couple of different ways.
    Good scenario: something like Karageorge in Serbia. A right bastard, Karageorge, but wise and far-sighted. His land distribution policy, for instance, saved Serbia from going through the sorts of convulsions that afflicted Romania right into the 20th century.
    Bad scenario: something like Kossuth in Hungary. An arriviste who had to prove himself and who ended up bringing down disaster.
    I’ve never read anything to suggest that Vladimirescu was a particularly forward thinker even by the pretty narrow standards of then and there. “Old conditions” pops up as a recurring theme. In the context of 1820s Romania, it’s hard to see that as a good thing.
    I don’t want to glamorize Ypsilanti. (He seems to have done that himself just fine.) But neither can I find much sympathy for the boyars. They were a pretty dull lot: conservative, xenophobic and painfully uninterested in anything outside their narrow sphere.
    Here’s how bad the boyars were: the decade-long occupation of Romania by the Russians in the 1830s was considered a wild period of intellectual ferment and daring social and political innovation. The “Organic Statutes” forced upon the boyars by the czar rationalized administration, established a functioning judiciary, introduced a crude, primitive form of representative government… and most of the boyars just hated this, and couldn’t wait for the pesky liberal do-gooder Czar to get out and stop making trouble.
    It seems to me that a Vladimerescu victory would have resulted in, well, pretty much the 19th century Romania we got anyhow. Except more so.
    So it’s hard to muster much enthusiasm.
    Doug M.

  36. I quite agree about the boyars. As for Vladimirescu, I wasn’t endorsing him; he’d probably have created a different but just as bad Romania, given the chance. I was simply pointing out that Brewer’s discussion of him was childish and irrelevant.

  37. Sure, got that.
    Um… question. How is it that you know this stuff? Outside of Romania, I doubt that one person in ten thousand has the faintest idea about Vladimirescu. Even inside Romania he’s not exactly a household word. When I started swotting up on this stuff, it took me a long time to find a Romanian who had any idea what I was going on about.
    I don’t want to disrupt your anonymity (if you are anonymous; I don’t even know, actually). But I’m curious, since this is stuff that’s nicely obscure outside the (pretty small) group of specialists and interested parties.
    Feel free to reply by direct e-mail if you’d like; it’s “vormuir”, in a domain men call yahoo.
    Doug M.

  38. No mystery; I’ve always been interested in the Balkans (like the Caucasus, it’s full of fascinating linguistic complications), and a combination of reading Olivia Manning’s wonderful Balkan Trilogy and studying Romanian got me interested in Romanian history. I’m interested in all sorts of stuff (or, to put it another way, I’m Jack of All Trades and Master o’ None).

  39. Doug Muir, where in Romania have you found people who didn’t know about Vladimirescu?
    He should be a household name, as he’s a major figure in every history textbook in schools/lyceums.

  40. Masi, he prefaced that remark with “Outside of Romania…” Presumably, inside Romania, he is a household name.

  41. So here I am, more than eight years ago! My seventh and indeed eighth anniversary have gone by unnoticed. Ah well.
    To resume the argument: the whole point of transliteration, as opposed to transcription, is to be able to recover the original exactly. Well, almost exactly: the Cyrillic hard sign and the polytonic smooth breathing don’t have standard transliterations, but the latter at least can be reconstructed. It’s getting to be less and less the case that you must write in Latin script to be understood, but there are still cases in which it’s so. Linguists, of course, transliterate like billy-o: see Nick Nicholas’s Don’t Proliferate, Transliterate!”

  42. To resume the argument: the whole point of transliteration, as opposed to transcription, is to be able to recover the original exactly.

    To resume the argument again after a couple more years, you didn’t respond to my objection. Do you think “Xp Ywbv” is a fine transliteration?

  43. Now that this is started up again, I’ll answer Thomas Dent: I’d been told that Βύρων was how Byron learned to write his own name in Greek in school.

  44. Well, no, but only because it’s highly non-mnemonic. Other than that, it is as usable as any other. It reminds me of the kind of transliteration you get if you type on a U.S. keyboard as if it were a Russian one, for which reason I use a Russian “phonetic” keyboard, where QWERTY = ЯЖЕРТЫ (or ЯВЕРТЫ in some versions) rather than ЙЦУКЕНГ, when I need to type a bit of Cyrillic.

    “To bhma” is mostly mnemonic, especially when mentally capitalized as “TO BHMA”. “To vima” is simply not a transliteration at all, as it obliterates the orthographic distinction between η and ι (and presumably between these and υ ει οι υι as well) , though it is a reasonable transcription for Generic European, and would be a suitable spelling in a Latin-alphabet orthography if Greece decided it needed such a thing. A plausible English-language transcription would be “toe veema”.

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