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The Autobiography of Emperor Haile Sellassie I



CHAPTER 20

From Paris to Athens, the Greek capital



We had not yet made the acquaintance of the new President of the French Republic, H.E. M. Doumergue, and We therefore met by appointment at the Chateau de Rambouillet; at the same time We took Our leave, and on 7th Nahase (= 13th August) We set out for Marseilles on Our way to Athens. The French authorities and Our old friend, M. Lagarde, who escorted Us as far as Marseilles, were with Us.

From Marseilles We embarked on 9th Nahase (= 15th August) on a small ship called ‘Amboise’. On the fourth day, when We reached the Greek harbour town of Piraeus, they received Us with great honour— aeroplanes hovering in the air, and in the sea warships firing their guns. When, proceeding from there, We reached the town of Phaleron, the Greek Prime Minister, H.E. Monsieur Sophoulis, with ministers and army commanders, bade Us welcome. From there We travelled by train to Athens.

At the railway station the President of the Republic, H.E. Admiral Condouriotes, together with the country’s dignitaries and foreign diplomats, received Us. We immediately went to the principal church at Athens where Archbishop Chrysostomos pronounced a prayer of blessing, and after that We proceeded to the palace where lodgings had been prepared for Us.

At the banquet in the evening, the President, Admiral Con­douriotes, spoke of the friendship which had remained steadfast for a very long time between the two countries as well as of the closely knit history of the two peoples.

We on Our part told him that from time immemorial Athens had been the source of wisdom and knowledge, that We had discovered and read in our history of the goodness of the Greek people, and We declared Our intention henceforth to render assistance to all Greeks living in Ethiopia.

On the next day We visited the Acropolis, the ancient sanctuary of gods and idols. When We returned from there, We went to see the Academy and various museums. On the 13th Nahase (= 19th August) they showed Us various displays of gymnastics at a place called the stadium as well as several kinds of military parades.

Towards evening We went to see Athens University, and the head of the University, Monsieur Dimetri Papapouleas, standing at an elevated place, made the following speech:

‘Your Highness!

It is in the midst of Athens University that the soul of Greece is being revealed. This evening we are pleased to welcome the representative of a people tied to Greece by inseparable ties and by a friendship that is based on ancient historical traditions.

Your Highness’ presence amongst us is apt to strengthen and to renew those memories of 1600 years.

Two Greeks, the sons of Meropius the merchant, Frumentius and Aedesius, were taken prisoner at the Ethiopian seaboard and thus entered the country. They founded the Church of Ethiopia by teaching the country’s inhabitants and by becoming apostles of the faith.

Your Highness, the affection which binds the two countries together began at that time. In the year 325 Athanasius, the great bishop of Christian Greece, bestowed at Alexandria the name of founder of the Church of Ethiopia upon Frumentius and did so with great glory. And he also anointed him bishop of the Ethiopian Church.

Again, in a different context, Heliodorus of Emesa refers to these historical memories in the book of romance which he wrote. In this book he presents the Ethiopian king’s daughter as beautiful and comely.

The Ethiopians were very well known to Homer and to Herodotus who refers to them in his history and to Strabo who speaks about them a great deal in his geography. By virtue of these old traditions the kings of modern Ethiopia have always cultivated true friendship with Greece. Above all, Emperor Yohannes and Emperor Menelik have uttered words of sincere affection for our country in exchanges of letters with the Greek Government.

Your Highness! Our brothers who live in your country are always telling us with feelings of deep gratitude of the welcome and friendship they have encountered among your people. This goes so far that it is virtually granted to them to be like brothers. We are very glad, therefore, to receive today as guest amongst us the representative of this people.

Greek writers, who have described the details of their journeys and whose books are read with benefit, have emphatically shown the extreme natural beauty of Ethiopia. They have described the different kinds of air currents, trees, and leaves as well as the beauty of the sun which, through its light, reveals the beauty of the country.

Your Highness! For a long time now the Greeks have considered everything that is good for your country as their own advantage. Each time they find an opportunity they affirm the thoughts of friendship which they have for the kings of Ethiopia and for the people.

This feeling does not only arise from the friendship which you have for us. What we have achieved in our past history and by our character is due to our respect for the supremeness of learning and complete love of freedom to the point of heroism. Therefore, it is not at all a strange thing for us to consolidate our friendship for the Ethiopian people through the study which our history affords us.

We are aware that Ethiopia’s success in guarding her independence at all times arises from the mountains which have been given to her by nature and which separate her from all the other African countries. It is proper to say that Ethiopia has been the bastion of Christianity for more than a millennium among the savages and pagans in the arid desert. Homer said of the Ethiopians that they excelled above others. Diodorus speaks of their virtue. He admires their fight for their freedom.

At the time of Alexander the Great and his heirs Greek culture had entered Ethiopia and had opened a new road of civilization. It left written monuments (a map) which demonstrate its progress. The Ptolemies and the Byzantine kings desired the Ethiopian people to establish a basis and to extend their rule up to the Red Sea. When Byzantium fought with the Persians, it threw into the battle the might of the Ethiopians. Your Highness' country was a crossroads and meeting point of the civilized nations in the Mediterranean and Indian areas. Since the Greeks were at that time held in great honour in Ethiopia, the Ethiopian kings are said to have known the Greek language.

According to those who have studied the history of the Ethiopian Church, in the fourth century this Church, strong in its faith, was doing everything that was necessary to enable the Christian religion to spread over all the distant lands in Africa. But the rise of Islam and its constant and progressive growth greatly weakened the strength of the Ethiopian people as Islam defeated, by the force of the sword, the countries in North Africa. But eventually, defending themselves with the heroism which derives from their nature, the Ethiopians overcame the might of the Muslims. They built once again the Church of Aksum at the place to which the Muslims had set fire. It may be said that the re­building of this Church is a great good fortune and luck for Ethiopia.

By the intelligence of its kings and rulers since the last century, this country has once again taken the road of renewal. It is this road of renewal that is leading this beloved and courageous people towards national unity in equality.

The University of Athens, at this place where the leaders of the Greek people are assembled, greets the courageous ruler of the Ethiopian people, the son of Makonnen.’

He concluded by saying: ‘The Greek people request that you will accept their best wishes for the prosperity of the Ethiopian people as well as their firm resolve for a progressive strengthening of the ties of friendship which exist between the two nations.’

We were pleased to hear these words of friendship gleaned from ancient history and expressed Our profound gratitude; We then returned to the palace.

On the morrow We went to visit, together with Archbishop Chrysostomos and with other scholars very knowledgeable in history, the Areopagus where St. Paul instructed the Athenians. The place is in the vicinity of the Acropolis. The Archbishop spoke at length about the history of this locality, citing the Acts of the Apostles.

We had, of course, frequently read in history-books of Athens as the fount of wisdom and learning and now We were glad to see it with Our own eyes.

Of all the things We had seen at Athens, the following are the main memories We have retained in Our heart:

The temples of gods and idols of the Acropolis, the Areopagus, the Academy and various museums, the Library, the University, the gymnastics displays and the military parade at the Stadium, the theatre of Herodes Atticus by the ruins of the Acropolis, and the fireworks projected into the air, by the seashore at Phaleron, spread out in the sky in the shape of the Ethiopian flag.


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December 3, 2016