Danish Philhellenism. The Intellectuals. Writers, Poets and Painters

Philologic Salons

The dawn of the 19th century finds Europe in turmoil. Liberal ideas proliferate among intellectuals and classical ideas fuel the spirit of change. In Denmark, philologic salons play the role of incubators for discussing and promoting change. The situation in the Greek soil does not go unnoticed. Intellectuals keep a close eye and discuss, support the fight of the Greeks.

Kamma Rahbek (1775-1829), an emblematic character, known for her interest in botany, gardening, box making and being a passionate epistolographer herself, she turned Bakkehuset into a cultural venue where she hosted enthusiastic articles and poems for the fight of the Greeks.

Located in the suburbs of Copenhagen, what is today Frederiksberg, Bakkehuset became the meeting point for writers of the Danish Golden Age and especially for poets of Romanticism after the year 1800. Considered the salon of the middle class, it was often visited by H.C Andersen, Jens Baggensen and Poul Martin Møller with whom Kamma used to read Homer in Greek. Nikolaos Lountzis, a Greek writer, was also visiting Bakkehuset during his stay in Denmark, 1811-1817.

Sophienholm was another well known musical and literary salon of the period. Situated in the Greater Copenhagen area and overlooking Lake Bagsværd, Sophienholm attracted the foremost writers, poets and other intellectuals. Among them the owner of the cultural salon, Friederikke Brun (1765-1835), known for her travel books and poems. She was knowledgeable about the european Art History and Classical Archeology. Her art criticism in magazines such as Minerva and Ahena was extensive. With a major part of her writing being characterized as sensitive-classistic, Friederikke advocated for people’s freedom and republic democracy. Being inspired by the fight of the Greeks for freedom, she writes the “Hymns to Hellas”, the earnings of which she uses to finance the armaments of the fighting Greeks.

Distinguished Personalities

Peter Oluf Brøndsted (1780-1842) was a distinguished philologist and archaeologist of his era, professor and rector at the University of Copenhagen. Brøndsted was passionate of Greek Antiquity and Greece of his days. In 1810, he expedited to Greece along with other archaeologists where he conducted excavations for 3 years with remarkable results. It was when he returned to Denmark that was appointed extraordinary professor of Philology at the University of Copenhagen. Brøndsted played his role in the establishment of the Danish Philhellenism and the development of classical scholarship. His archaeological work in Greece and his knowledge of the language caused a considerable interest among many of his students. Kamma Rahbek, Brøndsted’s acquaintance, used to call him the “Greek Professor”, “speaking the harmonious modern Greek1. Despite Brøndsted’s warm feelings for the Greek heritage, language and music he was not supportive of the armed uprising of the Greeks2. Much to his friends and other Danish Philhellenes’ surprise and acrimony, such as lutheran bishop Jacob Peter Mynster, Brøndsted believed in the liberation of the Greeks by the help of the regional Great Powers which were reluctant to intervene.

Figure 1: A copy of the prospectus of the Voyages dans la Grèce, from P.O Brøndsted

Adam Friedel, an idiosyncratic personality, arrives in Peloponnese, Greece right after the uprising started in 1821. He graduated from the Royal Danish Military Academy and served in the Danish Army for a short period. By his arrival in Greece he presented himself as a baron and lieutenant colonel of the Danish Army whereas he chose a more aristocratic and appealing name Friedel von Friedelsbrug. Despite his adventurous and unreliable character, Adam Friedel played an important role in the fight of the Greeks for independence. Except for actively supporting the Provisional Administration of Greece3, he also visited the islands of the greek Aegean archipelago and encouraged the population on the successful result of the uprising efforts. In 1824, he moved to London where he published the portraits of 24 Greek protagonists of the uprising. This artwork created further awareness and support among the European people for the fight of the Greeks against the Ottoman rule.

In 1822, Steen Steensen Blicher (1782-1848) wrote the Nygrækernes Sejershymne, an epinician hymn to the Greeks that was part of the Samlede Værker poetic collection. Steen Steensen Blicher, mainly a parson in the parish of Spentrup, had a facility for writing. Being characterized as a Danish Romanticist writer, he nowadays continues to enjoy recognition for his contribution to the Danish culture. On June 15th 1826, Blicher published his poem Liigprædiken Ipsara, a tribute to the Destruction of Psara, an island in the Aegean sea that was attacked by the Ottomans in 1824. The poem that was published in the Randers Avis newspaper causes the sympathy of Danes to the calamity of the people of Psara.

Figure 2: Nygrækernes Sejershymne excerpt4 from Steen’s Steensen Blicher poem

More, known or less-known Danish played a role in the Greek Fight for Independence. Niels Lang Nissen (1771-1845) rector of the Metropolitanskolen published his work on the Greek Grammar, relating the uprising with the regeneration of ancient greek language. Harro Paul Harring (1798-1870), painter and poet, travelled to Greece to actively participate in the fight. Martinus Rørbye (1803-1848), painter, visited Greece between 1835-1836 on a grant from the Danish Academy of Fine Arts. Through his artworks, he captured figures, landmarks and events of the everyday life of the locals. Jens Baggesen (1764-1826), him as a poet and his son Carl Baggesen were in direct contact with the european philhellenic movement.

Danish poets, writers and painters, among others, had a lively interest in the events of the Greek Fight for Independence and their contribution, direct or indirect, is notable even though less known when compared to the activities of philhellenic circles in other european countries in the beginning of the 19th century.

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  1. P.O. Brøndsted’s relations to the Danish literary, artistic, national and political revival”
    http://publ.royalacademy.dk/backend/web/uploads/2020-02-14/AFL%206/SH_31_00_00_2008_2097/SH_31_16_00_2008_2236.pdf
  2. Aristea’s Papanicolaou-Christensen «Το Φιλελληνικό Κίνημα στην Δανία», ISBN: 9789606812088
  3. Aristea’s Papanicolaou-Christensen «Το Φιλελληνικό Κίνημα στην Δανία», ISBN: 9789606812088
  4. https://kalliope.org/en/text/blicher2003091547
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