Sunday, 22 March 2015



(or how Francisco Balagtas Baltazar used Greek
and classical culture for a Filipino work
as observed by yours truly)

Vengeful Heaven, where is your wrath?
now my land is overcome, prostrate,
and in beloved Albania’s infinite skies,
lately the flag of evil flies.

“Within and without my country of grief,
betrayal reigns, is enshrined, esteemed;
degraded everywhere, the heart’s goodness
is consigned to the lowly pauper’s grave.

- Francisco Balagtas Baltazar
"Florante's Lament" (from Florante at Laura)

The tyrant of the Chersonese
Was freedom's best and bravest friend;
That tyrant was Miltiades!
O that the present hour would lend
Another despot of the kind!
Such chains as his were sure to bind.

Trust not for freedom to the Franks—
They have a king who buys and sells;
In native swords and native ranks
The only hope of courage dwells:
But Turkish force and Latin fraud
Would break your shield, however broad.

- Lord Byron
excerpts from the poem "The Isles of Greece"

Long before Europeans joing the crusade for the freedom of a homeland known for its ancient knowledge and scholastic tradition, comes a man from a once colony of Europe's greatest empires, yet from a different race but with its learning, particularly the classics did brought him into the creation of a well known tale of his time.

And that creator is known to be Francisco Baltazar, "Prince of Tagalog Poets", better known as Balagtas.

Known for his signature laurel crown, poetry joust named "Balagtasan", and his well-known work entitled "Florante at Laura", Balagtas contributed very well to Filipino literature same as those of Pedro Bukaneg, and Lucente. However, his well known work, originally entitled as “The History of Florante and Laura in the Kingdom of Albania: Adapted from some ‘historical pictures’ or paintings that tell of what happened in early times in the Greek Empire, and were set to rhyme by one delighting in Tagalog verse”, Balagtas seemed to be unintentionally becoming a PhilHellenic of an Asian kind, given the setting of the said story, or maybe the influence of classical teaching that was given both at the Colleges San Juan de Letran, and San Jose.

Pardon this writer's message, but the influence of classical thought such as those of Socrates, Pericles, or artists like Sappho somehow did inspire the men behind the Enlightenment, be it Rousseau, Voltaire, Marat, Robespierre; so were its successors like Lord Byron, whom afforded to join the Greek struggle for independence against the Ottoman yoke.

Lord Byron, known for being a romanticist, also contributed to the Greek Struggle.
Some of his works, influenced by the Greeks, did  reflect his aspirations for a liberated Greek nation-state
 from the Ottoman Empire

Speaking of Lord Byron for an example of a PhilHellene (Ρίτσαρντ Τσωρτς, "Friend of the Greeks"), some of his works did also reflect his dreams of an independent Greece, as well as joined, led in its struggle for its liberation, and died from illness yet trying to rekindle a popular aspiration. Byron (and others like him) saw Greece as the home of classical art and literature, and thus held it in high regard for its legacy. But being occupied by a foreign power means in need of assistance to liberate and regain its prestige as it was in the past. Thus, combining his reverence for the classical world with his passion for freedom (as it was in the Enlightenment), Byron felt compelled to offer what aid he could to the Greeks in their struggle against the Ottoman Turks.

His poem, entitled "The Isles of Greece", reflect his Greek experiences as well as his aspirations for an Independent homeland. It speaks about its well known places of interest, alongside its current state that was dominated by Turks and its ancient prestige being disregarded. Most of the PhilHellenes like him were poets, philosophers, writers, artists whom were putting efforts on reviving Greece as a wellspring of freedom, education, and culture, if not a fellow Christian enslaved by a Muslim empire and is in need of support for its liberation; be it cultural in a form of poems, physical by means of joining the struggle, or both as what Byron did in his exploits.

As according to Wikipedia, it stated that:

"In the period of political reaction and repression after the fall of Napoleon, when the liberal-minded, educated and prosperous middle and upper classes of European societies found the romantic revolutionary ideals of 1789–92 repressed by the restoration of old regimes at home, the idea of the re-creation of a Greek state on the very territories that were sanctified by their view of Antiquity — which was reflected even in the furnishings of their own parlors and the contents of their bookcases — offered an ideal, set at a romantic distance. Under these conditions, the Greek uprising constituted a source of inspiration and expectations that could never actually be fulfilled, disappointing what Paul Cartledge called "the Victorian self-identification with the Glory that was Greece"."

Francisco Balagtas while in Prison.
 Balagtas' affections for Maria Asuncion Rivera were challenged by the influential Mariano Capule. Capule thenwon the battle for Rivera when he used his wealth to get Balagtas imprisoned.
It was here that he wrote Florante at Laura—In fact, the events of this poem were meant to parallel his own situation.

Balagtas, on the other hand, made the Hellenic-inspired Florante at Laura out of his affection for Maria Asuncion Rivera, whom out of his love for her costs his own freedom (a rival suitor of Rivera imprisoned Balagtas), but with the influence of the Hellenic past, or as what Balagtas stated, paintings and historical pictures, brought classically-inspired characters, a Byzantine-like setting, even mediaeval virtue with emphasis on chivalry and honour.

But to dig deeper, it was more than just a work invoking romance, but rather stressing virtue that, as according to Eduardo San Juan, he stated that:

"Florante is a sustained poetic interrogation about the nature of justice, truth and the human commitment to social-political equity. It concerns the meaning of oath and contract, promise and betrayal, individualism and solidarity. It concerns historical relations: between father and son, ruler and ruled, lover and beloved, Christian and Muslim, man and woman. Love (piety) and force (heroism), passion and society are counterpointed to the mutable response of the characters. Balagtas wrestles ultimately with the dialectic interaction between reason and reality, being and consciousness. What is actual and what is possible."

Another article did affirmed his work also as an influence, contributor in the development of Filipino consciousness amidst the use of foreign characters as it mirrored the social problems of his time. That, beyond the love story of the protagonists Florante and Laura, and of Prince Aladin and Flerida, Balagtas expressed his angst towards the existing injustices in the society.
That according to Teodoro Agoncillo, Balagtas was the first Filipino to express the real circumstances of the country under colonial rule. It was believed that the abuses and evil-doers pointed out by him in his poem were in truth his observations and of his own experiences under the Spaniards (such as imprisoned due to false accusations). And unlike other native poets, Balagtas succeeded in awakening his countrymen to the realities of their lot by using their language instead of the learned such as Spanish. And heroes like Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio and Apolinario Mabini were inspired by his works.
Rizal recalled the meaning of Balagtas’ epic poem in his Spanish Noli Me Tangere. Both Florante at Laura and Noli Me Tangere are somewhat similar; that Crisostomo Ibarra, the principal character of Noli, and Florante both studied in another country, returned to their native lands and were envied by some compatriots. Both loved a woman who made their misadventures more dangerous. The epic of Balagtas and Rizal’s novel were both entwined by colonial oppression. Bonifacio, like Balagtas, did use the native tongue rather than Rizal's Spanish in awakening the consciousness of Filipino masses besides sharing the observations of colonial repression and disenfranchisement; and Mabini, known for being learned as the former two, even wrote down the poem from memory and translated the epic into English during his exile in Guam.

It may sound strange that even heroes of his race were also influenced by the works of his own not just those outside the country like Voltaire, Rousseau and Robespierre; but to think that the use of native tongue and mirroring realities by means of folk-oriented literature did capture the consciousness of many. That, underneath of stressing "just love" as what Balagtas ought to convey for Rivera, also cultivates a message of freedom for one's homeland through virtuous work and love for knowledge; and through his characters if not mistaken, he tries to stress triumph of good over evil as any other Mediaeval epic tends to feature with; that Adolfo, Florante's rival, was depicted as a tyrant whom wanted to take over Albania for himself not just having lust for Laura; while Florante, the protagonist of the story, has been showed as an examplar of a man imbued with love and honour for his woman and country contrary to a lustful tyrant like Adolfo's; and Aladin, despite being Persian and a Muslim showed an example of a Chivalrous warrior whom afforded to save Florante who was his enemy, from the lions.

True to its original title, his work was influenced by the classical Greek past, of Mediaeval romance and chivalry, as well as religious fervor. It seemed to be contradicting that Florante was depicted as a Greek Hopolite or a Roman Centurion yet his era was those of the Byzantine, if not the late Roman period wherein Christianity was one of its official religions. 

Pardon my observations, but to think that he was influenced by Ancient Greek, Byzantine, and Mediaeval European romances, of emphasising Athenian knowledge (since Florante studied in Athens) and Knightly Chivalry (as what Aladin did saved Florante regardless of being Albania's ememy), along with the use of native tounge and personal experiences for an inspiration, would say that Balagtas was more than just a Filipino who made a story out of love, but a PhilHellene from a distant land, who also yearned for freedom as the European ones asserted also in his time. Both Philippines and Greece were colonised, and hence repressed, as well as gained sympathy for its struggle be it a native or a foreign who afforded to put things by the pen, sword, or even both in pursuit of a greater cause such as salvation and virtue.
Perhaps one would remember that the educated men from the past were once scorned by systems for questioning the order of things, of be described as a heretic, filibuster, traitor, or any libelous names if not falsely accused in case of Balagtas; That their actions was more than just displaying classical statuettes or designs in their houses, not even the philosophies of the ancients being learned two and fro, but in Seeing the realities and brought to them with concern means the idea of setting alternatives, foundations in which, regardless of being anathema to order is also beneficial to most. How come kindness and virtue the Spaniards trying to cultivate was end lost and be replaced by repression and corruption? How come the leaned bard was imprisoned by a man of wealth? The leaned Balagtas may have sought and experienced the slander and despair as he was falsely accused, and in it compels to create a work that somehow idealises justice, truth, virtue.

And like Lord Byron and the PhilHellenes, he wanted those cherished words be realise.