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Kipling and ‘Agamemnon’ : Both Rudyard Kipling and the Royal Navy saw Greek sovereignty as a universal symbol of freedom.
Kipling and ‘Agamemnon’

In 1821, the Greeks declared independence from the Ottoman Empire, setting off a bloody revolution that ended in victory for the Greeks. A century later, as the Ottoman Turks shared defeat with Germany in the Great War, Kipling and the Royal Navy rubbed a little salt in wounds old and new.

RUDYARD Kipling liked to pretend that he was hopeless at classical languages.

Yet he wrote half-a-dozen stories set in classical antiquity, and as the Great War drew to a close in 1918, sent to the ‘Telegraph’ a translation of the Greek national anthem, ‘Hymn to Liberty’, composed in 1823 as Greece fought for independence from the Turks.*

The Greek government later presented Kipling with a medal for championing modern Greek verse, but British support in the war was more vital — and more quickly rewarded.

Just two weeks after Kipling’s translation appeared on 17th October, the Ottoman Turks surrendered to the British, and their crumbling empire of nearly five centuries broke up.

The armistice was signed aboard HMS Agamemnon, a battleship named after the legendary warrior in Homer’s Iliad, who commanded the victorious Greek forces at the siege of Troy, now Hissarlik in Turkey.

Whether the classical allusion was lost on Kipling or not, it certainly would not have been lost on the Turks.

* You can read Kipling’s poem here on my website: ‘Hail, Liberty!’; see also The Siege of Troy: the Abduction of Helen.

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Picture: © Sailko, Wikimedia Commons. Licence: CC BY-SA 3.0. View original
Odysseus and Ajax compete for the invincible armour of Achilles as Agamemnon watches on, in this example of 6th century BC Greek pottery-painting held in the Louvre.

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