You may be wondering why I am suddenly writing commentaries on a number of works by Percy Bysshe Shelley all at once when usually I tend to read a different range of writers. The main reason is because I have been reading through a collection of his works and have simply become so engrossed in it that I cannot put it down. Anyway, I am almost fifty pages away from finishing it so I might as well complete it before I move on to another book. Just to think though that I began reading this particular book while sitting beside the Round Pond in Hyde Park (or actually Kensington Gardens, because everything to the east of The Serpantine is Hyde Park while everything to the west is Kensington Gardens – still, when I checked in there on Facebook, I selected Hyde Park, because there is something more literary – or romantic – about Hyde Park).
This is a lyrical drama much like Prometheus Unbound, which means that it was written to be read as opposed to be performed on stage. It seems that Shelley never wrote many stage plays (as far as I can tell, he only wrote one) but that may have something to do with the fact that he died at the age of 29 and most of his works seemed to have been written in the last few years of his life. Even then, it seems that he was an incredibly prolific writer during that period (despite none of them really being published until long after his death).
Hellas is modelled on The Persians by Aeschylus, which is a play about the Persian defeat at the battle of Salamis. However, this particular play (or poem) is about the Greek revolution that was going on at the time. Like the Persians, it is set in the capital of the opposing empire (in this case Istanbul) and is mainly a discussion of the war between the rulers of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans ended up losing the war, but it had more to do with interference from European countries such as England, France, and Russia.
It is interesting to note that Shelley takes the English side in the war, accusing Russia of wanting Greece only to expand her empire. There is a belief, and this is clear with Shelley, that the British and the French were more interested in granting Greece her freedom. However, it is also interesting to note that there was a lot of influence from numerous poets, such as Lord Byron, who I suspect had a romantic attachment to Greece due to the legacy of the ancients.
Greece had been under the rule of the Ottomans for around 400 years and no doubt the Greeks had been agitating for freedom all that time. However it is interesting to note that despite the rule of Islam, the Greeks still managed to maintain their national identity. Obviously the Greece of today (or even back then) was much different to the Greece of the Byzantine period, but it is also interesting to note that when the Greeks won the rebellion, a king was installed (though I wonder how they actually chose the king since I am doubtful there would have been any remains of the royal family at the time, and even then the royal family would have had to have come from the line of emperors from Byzantium).
The other thing that is interesting with regards to the Greek rebellion is that there ended up being a massive population shift. Basically all of the Muslims ended up moving over to Turkey and all of the Greek orthodox ended up moving over the Greece to the point that you actually do not see many Muslims in Greece, and I suspect that most of the mosques have also been destroyed. I also suspect that this rebellion could have had the potential of spilling over into Turkey (which never happened) because the Greeks could have easily claimed that Anatolia and Istanbul were also traditionally theirs.