Byron and the Carbonari

Lord Byron has gone down in history as the 'poet at war' supporting the Greek struggle for independence, but here Richard Lansdown uncovers his involvement with another mysterious nationalist group in 19th-century Italy, a tale of secrecy, symbolism and masonic rituals.

'They mean to insurrect here, and are to honour me with a call thereupon. I shall not fall back; though I don't think them in force or heart sufficient to make much of it. But, onward! – it is now the time to act, and what signifies self, if a single spark of that which would be worthy of the past can be bequeathed unquenchedly to the future? It is not one man, nor the million, but the spirit of liberty which must be spread. The waves which dash upon the shore are, one by one, broken, but yet the ocean conquers, nevertheless.'

These fighting words were written in Ravenna, in the Italian province of Romagna, on January 9th, 1821. In the sixth century Ravenna had been the capital of the western arm of the Holy Roman Empire under Justinian; by 1821 those great days had long since deserted her, and the Byzantine mosaics which drew tourists down from Bologna constituted something of a magnificent anomaly in a provincial backwater.

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