GELL, Sir William
William Gell was an archaeologist, topographer and chartographer who studied at Cambridge, and one of the most important scholars of Greece. He was born in 1777 and died in Italy in 1836. He travelled in Ithaca (1801 and 1806), Troy (1801), the Ionian islands (1803), in Peloponnesus, the islands of the Argosaronic Sea, continental Greece and Thessaly (1805). In 1812 Gell visited the Greek Orient for the last time as a member of the Dilettanti expedition. He also travelled through Italy, where he finally passed away.
A prolific artist, he produced about 800 drawings, published numerous works and was especially interested in identifying the place names recorded in the Homerian epics. His conclusions, often arbitrary and ingenuous in spite of thorough research and documentation, were commented upon by writers who had made the same travels as he. The personalities of W.M. Leake, Ed. Dodwell and Lord Byron overshadowed Gell in the long run. Although an honest supporter of the Greek cause, he did not hesitate to severely criticize the Greeks at the crucial moment of the Greek struggle for Independence (1823).
In Aprill 1806 Gell travelled from the Moreus (Peloponnesus) to Ithaca in the company of H. Raikes and well-known archaeologist Ed. Dodwell. They travelled to Vathi and most of the mainland, to Aetos, Sarakiniko, Kioni, Marathias, Neritos, the monasteries of Archangelos and Panagia ton Katharon, and others, searching for remnants of the homeric era. Gell watches and describes celebrations and rituals such as those of Easter (still maintained in the Ionian islands to this date) and is particularly impressed by local dances, which he compares to ancient Greek ones. He also provides information on the island's population and commerce. His drawings faithfully convey the location, as well as his own dazzlement by the Mediterranean spring and the wealth of history found in the Greek landscape.
Written by Ioli Vingopoulou