Battle Hymn is one of the most famous pre-revolutionary patriotic hymns in Greek, written in 1797 by Rigas Velestinlis, also known as Rigas Feriaos (although he was born as Antonios Kyriazis). A political thinker, writer and revolutionary in the second half of the eighteenth century, he was part of the Greek Enlightenment: that period between 1770-1821 leading up to the War Of Independence against Ottoman rule. The Greek Enlightenment was inspired by the ideas coming out of the European Enlightenment and the French Revolution, dissatisfaction with the conditions under Ottoman rule and an increasing desire for emancipation and a Greek national identity.
Velestinlis was active in Roumania and Serbia and believed that the Ottoman Empire could be overthrown by an uprising in the Balkans. Attempting to get in touch with the French Army in Italy he was captured, tortured and strangled in transit to Constantinople in 1798.
Here’s my translation of his most famous poem:
For how long, my lads, must we live a restricted life,
alone, like lions on ridges and mountains?
Must we dwell in caves, see branches,
leave this world, because of bitter slavery?
Must we lose brothers, native land and parents
our friends, children and all our relatives?
One hour of free life would be better
than forty years of slavery and imprisonment.
What good does it do you, if you live in slavery?
Just think how you are grilled on the fire every hour.
Vizier, Dragoman, Master, whatever your standing,
the Tyrant will unjustly send you to your doom:
you work all day and whatever you are told
that Tyrant tries to drink your blood again.
Soutzos, Mourouzis, Petrakhis, Skanavis,
Gkikas and Mavrogenis are mirrors to look at yourself in.
Brave captains, priests, lay people
have been murdered, tyrants too, by an unjust sword:
and so many others, both Turks and Greeks,
lose their lives and wealth without any cause.
Come with fervour now
to take the oath upon the Cross:
to set to work energetic advisers
to give meaning to everything;
that the unwritten laws may be our one and only guide
and become a leader of our native land;
because otherwise anarchy would look like slavery;
to live like wild beasts would be a much fiercer fire.
And then with hands raised up towards the sky,
let us say to God with all our heart:
(Here patriots stand up and, raising
their hands towards the sky, take the Oath)
“O, King of the World, I swear to you,
that I will never have the same view as the Tyrants!
that I will not work for them, nor be deceived
by their promises to surrender.
For as long as I live in the world, my only aim
is to destroy them and be unswerving to my vow.
Faithful to my native land, may I shatter the yoke
and be united under our general.
And if I break the Oath, may I be struck down by Heaven
and burn up and become like smoke!”