Constantine Rhigas - Encyclopedia

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CONSTANTINE RHIGAS, known as Rhigas of Velestinos (Pherae), or Rhigas Pheraios (1760-1798), Greek patriot and poet, was born at Velestinos, and was educated at Zagora and at Constantinople, where he became secretary to Alexander Ypsilanti. In 1786. he entered the service of Nicholas Mavrogenes, hospodar of Wallachia, at Bucharest, and when war broke out between Turkey and Russia in 1787 he was charged with the inspection of the troops at Craiova. Here he entered into close and friendly relations with a Turkish officer named Osman Passvan-Oglou (1758-1807), afterwards the famous governor of Widin, whose life he saved from the vengeance of Mavrogenes. After the death of his patron Rhigas returned to Bucharest to serve for some time as interpreter at the French Consulate. At this time he wrote the famous Greek version of the Marseillaise, well known in Byron's paraphrase as "sons of the Greeks, arise." He was the founder of the Hetaireia, a society formed to organize Greek patriotic sentiment and to provide the Greeks with arms and money. Believing that the influence of the French Revolution would spread to the Near East, he betook himself to Vienna to organize the movement among the exiled Greeks and their foreign supporters in 1793, or possibly earlier. He published in Vienna many Greek translations of foreign works, and presently founie'i a Greek press there, but his chief glory was the collection of national songs which, passed from hand to hand in MS., roused patriotic enthusiasm throughout Greece. They were only printed posthumously at Jassy in 1814. While at Vienna Rhigas entered into communication with Bonaparte, to whom he sent a snuff-box made of the root of a laurel tree taken from the temple of Apollo, and eventually he set out with a view to meeting the general of the army of Italy in Venice. But before leaving Vienna he forwarded papers, amongst which is said to have been his correspondence with Bonaparte, to a compatriot at Istria. The papers were betrayed by Demetrios Oikonomos Kozanites into the hands of the Austrian government, and Rhigas was arrested at Trieste and handed over with his accomplices to the Turkish authorities at Belgrade. Immediately on arrest he attempted suicide. His Turkish friend, Passvan-Oglou, sought to secure his escape, and the government apparently consented to release him on the payment of a ransom of about 6000; but meanwhile the Turkish pasha commanding at Belgrade had taken the law into his own hands. Rhigas's five companions were secretly drowned, but he himself offered so violent a resistance that he was shot by two Turkish soldiers. His last words are reported as being: "I have sown a rich seed; the hour is coming when my country will reap its glorious fruits." Rhigas, writing in the popular dialect instead of in classical Greek, aroused the patriotic fervour of his contemporaries and his poems were a serious factor in the awakening of modern Greece.

See Rizos Neronlos, Histoire de la revolution grecque (Paris, 1829); I. C. Bolanachi, Hommes illustres de la Grece moderne (Paris, 1875) and Mrs E. M. Edmonds, Rhigas Pheraios (London, 1890).

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