The Great Idea

Anthony Bryer describes how, from 1453 to 1923 the dream of a recaptured Byzantium and a resurrected Byzantine Empire continued to haunt the Greek imagination.

A bird, a beautiful bird, flew out from the the City:
It shook one wing, and it was covered with blood;
It shook the other wing, and there was paper with writing beneath:
‘Woe unto us, woe unto us: Romania is no more!
The ramparts are lost: the imperial Throne is destroyed!
The churches are devastated: the monasteries are wrecked!...’
And John the Golden-mouthed cried in desolation.
‘Do not cry, little John; do not weep, my Saint.
‘But Romania is conquered; Romania is no more!’
‘If Romania is lost now, she will flower once more and bear fruit.’

This lament, sung in the mountains behind Trebizond, describes how the shattering news of the fall of the City of Constantinople and of Romania, as the Byzantines called their Empire, was heard in 1453. It echoes a theme sung all over the Byzantine world, and contains in its last line what was later to be called “The Great Idea,” the promise that Byzantium “will flower once more and bear fruit.”

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