Rhigas of Velestino (1757-1798), or Rhigas Pheraios as he is more popularly known, is one of the great national heroes of modern Greece, for it was he who some thirty years before the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence in 1821 first conceived the possibility of a full-scale national revolution to free Greece from the domination of its Ottoman overlords. His aim was not simply an armed rebellion but a regeneration of the Greek people, through education, literature, propaganda, and social and political awareness. He wrote patriotic stories, poems, scientific lectures; he published detailed maps, translations from French and Italian, and drafted a constitution based on the ideology of the French Revolution. He was the first Greek to insist that the popular language, or demotic Greek, should become the official language of independent Greece.
Born in Greece under Turkish rule Rhigas nevertheless received a good education, of the sort tolerated rather than encouraged by the Turkish authorities, and subsequently emigrated successively to Constantinople, Bucharest and Vienna. He recruited his supporters and laid his plans among the expatriate Greek communities, and he also had many contacts, through his successful activities as a businessman, in the Greek mainland and islands. But he himself was not to witness the realization of his vision. On his way to Greece, where he intended to stir up rebellion first in the Mani in the southern Peloponnese and then in Epiros and Macedonia, he was betrayed, arrested by the Austrian police, extradited to the Turkish authorities, and executed, with seven colleagues, at Belgrade.
This book is the only comprehensive study of Rhigas’s life and ideas in English.
The book cover illustration is a wall-painting of Rhigas Pheraios by the Greek painter Theophilos, ‘kindling’ through song ‘the fight for the freedom of Greece’, from the Kondos house in Pelion.
‘C. M. Woodhouse, a distinguished British philhellene, . . . has a good story to tell, and he tells it well.’
Jasper Griffin in The Spectator.