The Hymn to Liberty
The Greek National Anthem, known as the Hymn to Liberty, holds great significance as a symbol of Greek independence and national identity. It is a powerful expression of the Greek people’s struggle for freedom and their indomitable spirit. The anthem serves as a reminder of the history of Greece and the resilience of its people.
The Hymn to Liberty is a cultural and historical treasure that has been passed down through generations. It is widely recognized and respected in Greece and abroad. Its melody and lyrics inspire a sense of pride and unity among the Greek people.
History and Origins of the Greek National Anthem
The Hymn to Liberty was written by the Greek poet Dionysios Solomos in 1823 during the Greek War of Independence. Solomos was only 25 years-old at the time. The Greek War of Independence, which lasted from 1821 to 1832, was a significant event in Greek history. It marked the successful revolt of the Greek people against the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of an independent Greek state. The Hymn to Liberty was written during this turbulent period and captures the spirit of the Greek people’s struggle for freedom.
In 1828, Nikolaos Mantzaros, a Corfiot musician and friend of Solomos, set the poem to music for a four-part male choir, based on folk motifs, but not as a march. Since then, the “Hymn to Freedom” has been regularly performed at national festivals.
In 1844, Mantzaros set the poem to music a second time and presented it to King Othon of Greece, in the hope that it would be accepted as the national anthem. Until then, the national anthem of Greece was the Bavarian national anthem (the famous melody by Haydn, which is now the national anthem of Germany and Austria).
Although N. Mantzaros was honored with the Silver Cross of the Order of the Savior and D. Solomos with the Gold Cross of the same order, the work was disseminated as a “thurion” but was not adopted as an anthem.
In 1865, during his visit to Corfu, King George I heard the version of Mantzaros’ composition for wind orchestra performed by the band of the Corfu Philharmonic Society and was impressed. This was followed by the Royal Decree of August 4, 1865, which declared it “the official national song” and ordered its performance “by all naval formations of the Royal Navy”.
Foreign ambassadors were also informed that it should be played by foreign ships when they honor the King of Greece or the Greek flag. Since then (1865), the Hymn to Freedom by Dionysios Solomos, set to music by Nikolaos Mantzaros, has been considered the national anthem of Greece.
The poem “Hymn to Freedom” consists of 158 four-line stanzas, the first 24 of which were adopted as the national anthem in 1865. Of these, the first two are the ones that are recited and always accompany the raising and lowering of the flag and are sung at solemn occasions and ceremonies. Salute honors are paid during the recall.
In 1966 it became the national anthem of Cyprus too. This is a unique case of two countries using the same musical composition for their national anthems.
Lyrics and Translation
The Greek National Anthem has the longest text of any national anthem in the world and it consists of 158 verses, although only the first two verses are usually sung. The lyrics are a poignant expression of the Greek people’s longing for freedom and their determination to fight for it.
There are several translations of the Greek National Anthem into English. Here is a literal translation of the first two stanzas:
“I recognize you by the fearsome sharpness, of your sword,
I recognize you by your face that hastefully defines the land
From the sacred bones, of the Hellenes arisen,
and valiant again as you once were,
Hail, o hail, Liberty!”
The famous poet, Rudyard Kipling, also provided a poetic translation:
“We knew thee of old, O, divinely restored,
By the lights of thine eyes,
And the light of thy Sword.
From the graves of our slain,
Shall thy valour prevail,
As we greet thee again,
Hail, Liberty! Hail!”
The lyrics of the Hymn to Liberty are deeply symbolic and convey a powerful message. They reflect the indomitable spirit of the Greek people and their refusal to surrender in the face of adversity. The anthem’s poetic language and vivid imagery stir emotions and inspire a sense of national pride.
The Greek national anthem is an important part of the country’s culture and is played on various occasions, including national holidays, sporting events involving the Greek national team, Olympic medal ceremonies for Greek athletes, and during the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games as a tribute to the ancient Greek roots of the Games.
The melody of the National Anthem is instantly recognizable and has become synonymous with Greek national identity. Its powerful and stirring composition resonates with people and evokes a range of emotions. The anthem serves as a unifying force, bringing together people from all walks of life to celebrate their shared heritage and values.
More than 80 Translations in 16 Languages
In the jubilee edition of the Hellenic Parliament, for the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Dionysios Solomos, Athens, March 1999, edited by Katerina Tiktopoulou, the editor notes: “The translations of the National Anthem known today number more than 80, come from a total of 16 languages and cover almost two centuries, from the complete, fragmentary, English translation of 1824 to the most recent, French translation of 1998”.
As for the translators, he continues: “The vast majority of them are foreign, classically-minded philhellenes, scholars, historians, lawyers, diplomats and poets, but above all professors who teach ancient and modern Greek literature in universities all over the world.”
The same publication contains tables based on the study of Dinos Christianopoulos: “The Hymn to Freedom and its 79 Translations in 16 Languages (1824-1998)”, Center for the Greek Language, Thessaloniki 1998.
They are as follows: Italian translations 21, English translations 18, French 13, German 12, Dutch 1, Polish 2, Danish 1, Catalan 1, Hungarian 2, Romanian 2, Korean 1, Japanese 1, Bulgarian 1, Russian 1, Spanish 1, Albanian 1.
Recent research by word of mouth, today by Mrs. Tiktopoulou, leads us to the conclusion that other previously unknown old versions – translations of the hymn are also missing, but new ones have been identified.
Symbolism and Themes of the Greek National Anthem
The lyrics of the Greek National Anthem are rich in symbolism and themes. They reflect the Greek people’s struggle for independence and their resilience in the face of adversity. The anthem embodies ideals of freedom, heroism and sacrifice. It celebrates the indomitable spirit of the Greek nation and its unwavering determination to overcome challenges.
The anthem deals with several themes from the War of Independence and other events from Greek history. It presents the goddess of liberty and recalls the past martyrdoms that occurred during the country’s history and the revolt of its “slaves” under foreign rule. The anthem also speaks of the disdain European rulers had for Greece and the contemptuous indifference of the Greeks for their pro-Ottoman stance.
The poem describes various battles and events, such as the battle and fall of Tripolitsa (the Turkish capital and stronghold of the Peloponnese), the Battle of Corinth, the first siege of Missolonghi in 1822, and the courageous naval engagements of the war.
In the epilogue of the anthem, the poet advises former fighters to rid themselves of their harmful discord and petty differences and urges the powerful of Europe to allow Greece to be fully liberated.
Read more: The Greek Flag