More on Lazaros Belleli

By: | Post date: 2009-11-30 | Comments: 6 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Literature, Mediaeval Greek
Tags: ,

Readers may remember I posted a couple of posts earlier in the year on Lazarus Belléli, and his bareknuckled fight with Dirk Hesseling over publishing the Judaeo-Greek Torah. I relied on googleable sources to get background on Belleli, about whom I’d heard nothing since his fight with Hesseling; thanks to the online 1901-1906 Jewish Encyclopaedia, I found that he represented the Jewish community in the trials following the 1891 Corfu pogrom (see the contemporary Australian newspaper reports); and that he ended up in England, unable to get a job in Greek academia.

The 1891 Pogrom was the subject of a post on the Magnificent Nikos Sarantakos’ blog, and I took the opportuntity of asking if anyone knew something more about Belleli. My thanks to Theodoros “Dr Moshe” Moysiadis, Maria, and Abravanel for their responses. Because I seek to make Greek linguistics more googleable in English, here’s a little more on Belleli.

(As always in our corrupt age, I update a hundred-year old online reference with other online references, instead of hitting the library. I know, I know…)

  • From Dr Moshe, translating:

    It is true that Lazaros Belleli spent several years in London a the beginning of the 20th century. He was an ardent demoticist and regularly contributed to Noumas [Numa] magazine. [Greek Wikipedia; Full run online at Cyprus University]. A sample of his language, which was characteristic of all close followers of Psichari, can be seen here (in the article Ένας Σπουδαίος Δημοτικιστής, “A Great Demoticist”). He was intensely occupied with Modern Greek literature, and among others, he brought to public notice Kalvos’ Italian tragedy Le Danaidi [as Andrea Calbo].

    But we should note that Lazaros Belleli was finally apppointed in 1928 [and again in 1932] as visiting professor in a subsidiary chair (επικουρική έδρα) in Thessalonica University, specialising in “History and literature of Jews and other Semitic peoples” (as is mentioned in the 1932 University Calendar, p. 7, [on the same page as Manolis Triantafyllidis])

  • Belleli’s article is on a Timotheos Kyriakopoulos, who published a Christian catechetical work in the vernacular in 1759.
  • As Abravanel pointed out, the establishment of a Jewish Studies programme at Thessalonica raised the fury of the Venizelists against Prime Minister Papanastasiou. (The linked history claims that “Papanastasiou’s efforts failed, and the University of Thessalonica never opened its doors to Jews”. Papanastasiou had envisaged a Jewish Theological School, but in the end Jewish Studies got one chair in the Languages programme.)
  • The proviso Dr Moshe raises about Psichari-style Demotic is often needed because Psichari’s Demotic is not Modern Demotic. Psichari was trying to get Abstand for the language he was advocating as a new literary norm; this made it folksier-sounding than the contemporary language, which has compromised appreciably with Puristic. The feature that stands out immediately in the issue is the use of final /e/ added to final /n/, which in the modern language is restricted to song lyrics. (Και δίχως να τ’ ακούσω από τον ίδιονε…)
  • Incidentally, I had Greeked Belleli as Μπελλέλι, but he himself Greeked it as Βελέλης [Velelis], to be more compatible with Ancient Greek phonology (and thus, look less alien). That was quite commonplace Hellenisation at the time (the prime minister at the time was Δεληγιάννης, Deligiannis, from Turkish deli “crazy”) And by not Hellenising his surname as much as he hellenised it, I have done him a disservice.

So did getting a lectureship in Jewish Lit at 66 years of age, in the most Jewish city of Greece (at the time) count as a vindication? Possibly, given that he tried—and failed—to get the Chair of Hebrew at Athens U. Then again, maybe not, given what Belleli was up to in London in 1918.

Thanks to commenter Maria, I refer you to Richard Clogg. 1986. Arnold Toynbee and the Koraes Chair. London: Frank Cass. (Middle Eastern Studies 21.4). The book is about the politicking in establishing the Chair in Modern Greek and Byzantine History at King’s College London, which was held by Arnold Toynbee, before he became big as a comparative historian (and antagonised his Greek funders by criticising the Greek occupation of Turkey). Belleli has a bit part in the politicking; he was one of the candidates.

Clogg portrays Belleli (pp. 30–31) as a nutter (“the most eccentric applicant was Dr Lazaros Belleli”), and the paperwork he lodged to support his application (“an extraordinary 32-page typewritten letter”) probably justifies the judgement. His glee at maneuvering to prevent Dirk Hesseling receiving the Zographos linguistics prize is, to say the least, unseemly.

But the phrase he introduces himself with is not odd at all, though Clogg fails to pick up on the subtletly: “Describing himself, somewhat confusingly, as ‘being a Greek by birth and Italian by family’…” Belleli’s native language was Italian (or Italkian), being a Corfiote Jew, and he had his doctorate from Florence; especially after 1891, he would not have been eager to present himself as Just Greek, even if he was applying for the Greek position. As it turned out, that wouldn’t have helped anyway: the position was earmarked for an Englishman.

And that’s as much as I can find on Belleli.


Leave a Reply

  • Subscribe to Blog via Email

  • June 2024
    M T W T F S S
%d bloggers like this: