Text: Pavlos Methenitis
“I lost everything for the sake of the homeland. I lost my position, I fought beyond my strength, and paid the widow’s last penny. I am already dispossessed, and I am suffering great hardship…”
So wrote Mando Mavrogeni to Ioannis Kapodistrias (Governor of Greece) in October 1828, making yet another appeal for him to provide for her subsistence – she who was a noble woman of aristocratic lineage, heir to a large fortune, which she hadn’t hesitated to spend to the last dime for the cause of the Greek War of Independence (“the Greek Revolution”).
Manouil Tasoulas’s Mando Mavrogeni. A historical record (2nd edition, 1997), co-published by the Municipality of Mykonos and Perivolaki Publications, is a truly compelling historical narrative, impassively reporting evidence – based testimonies on the life and times of a national heroine who has been mythologised like no other figure of the Greek Revolution.
Before the first edition of the dentist-cum-author’s research was completed in 1994, Mando’s life story had been obscured in the haze of legend. As there was no historical documentation, any attempt to narrate her life had been, at best, incomplete. History was inextricably interwoven with fiction, to the detriment of truth.
Tasoulas set out to study and glean every bit of evidence relating to Mando Mavrogeni (as she signed, and not “Mavrogenous” as her surname is mistakenly known). He spent years upon years delving into public archives until he eventually discovered a huge volume of documents bearing the signature of Mavrogeni. What’s more, his tireless persistence brought to light what Mando’s contemporaries had written about her, and also got him to document her descendants’ memories of the events surrounding the life of the great heroine.
The reader of this thorough monograph follows the footsteps of a beautiful, educated and rich woman, whose patriotism leads her from Trieste, Paros and Tinos, through to Mykonos and Nafplio, up to her “sad and inglorious end in the Cyclades” in 1840, as University of Athens professor Helen Koukkou notes in her praising review of Tasoulas’s book.
A heroine of the 1821 Greek War of Independence (“the Greek Revolution”), fought by the Greeks against the occupying Turks, one of the few leading female figures of the liberation struggle.
Magdalene (Mando) Mavrogeni was born in Trieste in 1796 (or 1797), and died in Paros in 1840. She was the daughter of a prominent family of Paros, whose members held high ranks in the Ottoman Empire, one of her ancestors being Dragoman of the Fleet.
Mavrogeni equipped a flotilla in Mykonos at her own expense. She later led a corps of fighters to battle on mainland Greece. In 1825, she settled in Nafplio. She was engaged to Demetrius Ypsilanti, a prominent figure of the Revolution, but their relationship did not fare well. She was awarded the rank of Lieutenant General.
Mando was beautiful, well-to-do, well-educated and multilingual – the appeal she addressed to the women of Europe struck a chord, contributing much to the favourable course of the Revolution. At the peak of her endeavours, the Europeans idolised her, but it was only a few years later that, at the age of 43, Mando was to die alone, sidelined by the politicians, and penniless, having pledged the whole of her substantial private fortune to the liberation cause.