The National Library of Greece safeguards a treasure trove of numerous documents that reveal the spread of the European Enlightenment in Greek letters: hand-written codices and archival material, books and periodicals, foreign language works and their Greek translations. The characteristics of the Neohellenic Enlightenment from genesis to maturity, with convergences and divergences from the European paradigms, feature largely in the related bibliography.
Mainly from the mid-18th until the first decades of the 19th century is the time of the “metakenosis” [decantation], according to Adamantios Korais, namely the intake and creative transfer of European thought to Greek letters. Greek polyglot scholars become acquainted with the various manifestations of the Enlightenment (Lumières, Enlightenment, Aufklärung, Illuminismo, with the French, English, German and Italian terms, respectively), they read and enrich their libraries with books from Europe, while designing their own editions: they translate, they compile, they dissect or refer to works by European scholars in their own texts. They often travel, settle in European cities and publish their own works there. The influence of Europe becomes a medium of progress, and translation contributes to the transfer and dissemination of knowledge. As noted quite aptly by Iosipos Moisiodax in 1761, in the foreword to the translation of the work La Filosofia Morale [Moral Philosophy] by Ludovico Antonio Muratori: “Greece, indeed, needs Europe. Because today the one lacks the most notable lights of Learning and the other is inundated by them […]. Having opened my eyes with much toil, danger and suffering, and having seen the dearth of books in Greece, I decided to translate some of the most lauded literature of the Moderns”.
The exhibition presents, in the display cases as well as on the digital screens, the works of Greek scholars in the age of the Enlightenment engaging in a dialogue with the correspondent foreign language works. The dominant figure in the first exhibition case is that of Eugenios Voulgaris, who introduced Voltaire and Locke, the towering figures of the European Enlightenment, to the Greek language. In the second case, Rigas Velestinlis draws upon the monumental French Encyclopédie as well for his own Φυσικῆς Ἀπάνθισμα [Florilegium of Physics]. In the third case, Adamantios Korais, translator of the work by Cesare Beccaria and speaker at the Société des Observateurs de l’Homme [Society of Observers of Man] with European repute, leaves his mark on the spiritual awakening of the nation. This kaleidoscope of ideas also includes the opposing side, the critics of European Enlightenment who attempt to suppress it.
How did communication and dialogue with European thought contribute to the ideological preparation of the Greek Struggle for Independence and subsequently to the creation of the independent Greek state? This exhibition depicts aspects of this multifaceted dynamic course towards the landmark date of 1821.