Creating Modern Athens: A Capital Between East and West
By Denis Roubien
By Denis Roubien
: The Byzantine monk Joannes Xiphilinus, second half of the eleventh century, epitomized the ‘Roman History’ of the Greek historian Dio Cassius, 150-235 A.D. Of Dio Cassius’ work, comprising 80 books, only the books 36 to 60 survive completely, covering the period from 68 B.C. to 47 A.D. Of the epitome of Xiphilinus we have only the books 36 to 80, i.e. from Caesar to Cassius’ own consulate in 229, so Xiphilinus’ summaries provide valuable material from the lost books of Dio Cassius, books 61 to 80, preserving the chief incidents of the period for which the authority of Dio Cassius wants. Dio Cassius and the epitome of Xiphilinus have been translated into Latin by the cardinal d’Armagnac and was published by Robert Estienne I in Paris in 1551, and by Henry Estienne II in Paris in 1592. Three French translations of Xiphilinus appeared during the 17th century, one in 1610, the second in 1674. The third one was published in 1678, repeated in 1686, and made by the historian Louis Cousin. Ever since the early editions the epitome of Xiphilinus forms part of all Dio Cassius editions, as it still does in the Loeb edition. There are however lacunae in Xiphilinus’ epitome concerning e.g. the reign of Antoninus Pius and the first ten years of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, from 138 to 170. These gaps are filled with the work of the 12th century Byzantine chronicler Johannes Zonaras, whose ‘Epitome Historiarum’, a much praised world history in 18 books, covers the period 223-521 A.D. Zonaras follows for his history among others the lost books of Cassius Dio. Louis Cousin added also his translation of the six books ‘Historia Nova’ of the Byzantine historian and politician Zosimus, ca. 500. This history covers the period from 238 to 409 A.D. Zosimus’ account of the rise and fall of the Roman empire is praised for its style, reliability, and historic judgement.”
“The French archaeologist, astronomer and traveller Jean-Baptiste Lechevalier (1752-1836) taught in several Parisian colleges between 1772 and 1778, before his appointment as secretary to the French ambassador in Constantinople. In this post he travelled in Italy and Asia Minor, and published archaeological studies relating to those regions. In 1806 Lechevalier became librarian in the Sainte-Geneviève Library.
After his archaeological investigations in the Troad, in the years of 1785-1787, aimed at discovering Troy, Lechevalier remained in Constantinople as secretary to the French embassy under Choiseul-Gouffier. In 1787 he departed on another journey, to the regions of Moldavia and Wallachia, where he was to meet Alexandros Hypsilantis. During his stay in the area, he toured the Black Sea coast.
In this work, Lechevalier describes the regions of the Hellespont, Bithynia and Propontis. In addition, he gives detailed topographical data on the Bosporus and describes the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman monuments of Constantinople. He also makes geographical observations on the Black Sea (anc. Euxine Pontus), based on data collected by engineers Lafitte and Monnier. All these descriptions are accompanied by the first detailed maps ever drawn of these regions.”
Alexander Ypsilantis is mentioned in Russian literature by Alexander Pushkin in his short story “The Shot”. The hero of Pushkin’s story, Silvio, dies in a campaign under command of Ypsilantis.
“The Shot” by A. Pushkin:
“This story was told to Belkin by Colonel I.L.P., who in the early days of his military career was stationed at a country outpost. The officers always visit a peculiar man named Silvio to play cards. Silvio is always practising shooting, and the walls of his house are full with bullet holes. On one occasion the host is insulted by one of his guests, but he does not challenge his guest to a duel, as custom dictates. He is then considered to be a coward by most of the officers, but explains his situation to the narrator, his only confidant: years ago he engaged in a duel, in which his opponent was eating cherries while waiting for him to shoot. He decided that as life apparently was meaningless to the endlessly fortunate young man, he would not shoot, but rather ask to postpone the duel. If he had now engaged the officer in a duel over the card game, he would almost certainly have killed him, but also taken the small risk of dying before being able to exact revenge. However, Silvio soon learns that his former opponent is engaged to be married, and so may now no longer be indifferent towards life. This is the moment Silvio has been waiting for, and he leaves to get his revenge.
After several years, the narrator leaves active duty on his parents’ death and leaves for his country estate (exactly as we are told Belkin himself did in the preface). After a while, his neighbors arrive, in particular a pretty young countess, and the narrator visits them soon after. On the wall he notices a painting of a Swiss landscape with two bullet holes very close together. The narrator, seeing this, tells his neighbor about a man he knew in the army who was an extraordinary shot, and tells the count of Silvio. The count is overcome with fear, and informs the narrator that he was Silvio’s opponent, and shortly after his wedding Silvio claimed his right to a duel. The neighbor draws the right to shoot first, but misses, and the bullet ends up in the painting. As Silvio aims to shoot, the neighbor’s bride enters the room. Silvio takes pity on her and then without aiming, shoots the painting in almost exactly the same spot as the count, thereby both sparing the count’s life and demonstrating how easily he could have ended it. Silvio, honor satisfied, leaves the couple, and is later, we are informed, killed leading a regiment in battle. The narrator never meets him again.”