Nottingham's Greek-born Councillor Explains Why Lord Byron Is A Folk Hero In Greece

Saturday 27 April 2024
reading time: min, words

As Nottingham celebrates the 200th anniversary of the death of Lord Byron, we put some questions to Councillor Pavlos Kotsonis, Nottingham City Council’s Greek-born Portfolio Holder for Leisure and Culture,  about Nottingham's Byron 200 celebrations and why Byron is a hero in Greece…

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What's your personal favourite piece of Lord Byron's written work?

Byron’ two most famous poems were Don Juan and Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. The latter is my personal favourite as it is greatly influenced by Lord Byron’s travels to Europe and Greece in the early 19th century. Byron was certainly not just a national, but an international literary figure in that time. This is displayed by his travels to Italy and Greece where he supported the liberation struggles there.

Byron was a person that consistently took the side of the underdog throughout his life, something also evident in his writing. To realise this one has to simply read his inaugural speech in the House of Lords which was in defence of the Luddites and against the introduction of the Framework Bill.

Tell us about your own Greek origins…

Yes of course, my name is Greek, Pavlos in Greek, other translations of the name include Pawel in Slavic and Paul in English. I am from Greece, I was born in Athens and spent a few years of my early life in Vyronas Municipality - which is named after Lord Byron. I later moved to Holargos district in the suburbs, then over to the UK to study in both Glasgow and Birmingham, before I settled in Nottingham.


We understand that Lord Byron is something of a folk hero in Greece. Can you explain why?

Lord Byron is loved by people in Greece as he is considered a national liberation hero. He provided funding for the Greek liberation struggle through his London Greek Committee connection and gave his life for Greece, dying during the Greek War of Independence in Messolonghi on 19 April 1824.

In metaphorical terms Lord Byron left his heart in Greece. That’s why in many places in Greece where Byron visited there are statues of him, usually in places he travelled to or stayed at, as well as many streets and locations that take their name after him. It is known that Vyronas Municipality with whom Nottingham has friendly ties takes its name directly from Lord Byron. The whole of that locality was named after him as it was established on the centenary of Byron’s death as a refugee settlement for Greek migrants from Asia Minor.

Please tell us about some of the events you have taken part in this month to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Lord Byron's death?

Most recently I was invited to the residence of the Greek Ambassador Yannis Tsaousis in Mayfair on 19 April, 200 years to the day he died. I had the opportunity to speak to a number of guests there including the Greek Minister of Defence Mr Nicos Dendias as well as the Greek Deputy Minister of Culture Mr Christos Dimas about our Nottingham based Byron 200 programme and to promote further connections with Nottingham and with Newstead. 

On Saturday 20 April we launched the Byron’s Bash weekend at Newstead Abbey, a celebration of Byron’s life 200 years after his death which had a variety of activities for all ages: talks about Lord Byron by academics, activities involving schools such as Sneinton primary who sang a Byron inspired song and the Greek school of Nottingham who performed traditional Greek dancing.

The event was attended by international guests such as Cllr Giorgos Dovolos representing Vyronas Municipality and Constantinos Velentzas representing the Philhellenism Museum in Athens. 


What’s happening in Nottingham for the public to celebrate the life of Lord Byron?

In June and July we will host events and talks in our New Central Library in partnership with Nottingham University. In September there will be Heritage Open Days, where visitors can come to Newstead Abbey to see Byron’s ancestral home and look inside the tomb of Lord Byron’s beloved dog Boatswain. The Byron 200 year will conclude at Newstead Abbey with Christmas installations inspired by Byron’s last year at Newstead. We are indebted to the support of a number of local partners who have joined in support of the programme including both universities, Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature, Inspire Libraries, Lace Market Theatre and many others.

If people want to engage with Lord Byron's work at home, what would you recommend as a starting point?

There are a large number of books written about Lord Byron. I enjoyed reading Fiona MacCarthy’s Byron: Life and Legend recently which covers all his life and has lots of information about his interactions with his friends, his studies, his travels and covers both of his travels to Greece. Another I was recently given and I intend to read over the summer is Stephanie Freeman’s Byronic Poet & Warring Lord. A book for people who may be interested in Byron’s political temperament is Michael Foot’s classic piece The Politics of Paradise and great inspiration can also be drawn by Ken Coates’ short pamphlet titled Byron Vs Elgin which explores Byron’s antagonism with one of his contemporaries. You can also read letters he wrote to his family, friends and publishers in David McClay’s Dear Mr Murray: Letters to a Gentleman Publisher. Books are one way of learning more about the poet however a starting point for people who like documentaries is the ones we produced at the Nottingham Museums service as part of the Byron Bicentenary (see below).

Anything else you want to say?

It’s been quite a journey, taking the lead on setting up the friendship agreement with Vyronas Municipality in 2021 and building on a wider partnership with local and national partners in the UK.  I am proud of what has been achieved here, and I am sure that our programming and activities will be enjoyed by our residents in Nottingham and beyond. Whilst everyone remembers Lord Byron differently it’s great to learn from each other and any cultural exchange programme such as Byron 200 can only enrich our understanding and appreciation of the romantic poet.

Find out more about Byron 200

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