Σὲ ἀντίθεση πρὸς τὸν self-hating γερμανὸ Μὰρξ ποὺ γρύλιζε κατὰ τῶν Σλάβων καὶ τῆς τσαρικῆς Ρωσίας, ὁ γάλλος Βολταῖρος εἶχε βρεῖ στὴ Ρωσία τὸ ἰδανικὸ κρατικὸ ἐργαλεῖο γιὰ τὴν ἀποκατάσταση τοῦ Κλασσικισμοῦ καὶ τῆς Κλασσικῆς Ἀρχαιότητας. Ἀναβιωμένα Ἴσθμια, ὁ Σοφοκλῆς θὰ παίζεται στὴν Ἀθήνα, θὰ ἱδρυθεῖ μιὰ Ἑλληνικὴ Ἀκαδημία, ἡ Αἰκατερινιάδα, στὴν Κωνσταντινούπολη· τὰ ἑλληνικὰ θὰ γίνονταν διεθνὴς γλώσσα. Σὲ ἀντίθεση πρὸς τὸν Μάρξ, ὁ Βολταῖρος ἄντεχε (ἀλλὰ ἴσα ποὺ ἄντεχε), τὰ ὀρθόδοξα κηρύγματα τῆς Αἰκατερίνης στὴν ἀλληλογραφία της μὲ τὸν ἴδιο. Κατὰ τὸν Βολταῖρο ὅμως, ὅταν ἐκφραζοταν ἐλεύθερα, οἱ Ἕλληνες ἐξαιτίας τῆς ἐπιρροῆς τοῦ Μεγάλου Βασιλείου ἔγιναν δοῦλοι τῶν Ὀθωμανῶν καὶ ἐξαιτίας τῶν δύο Θεοδόσιων (Α΄ καὶ Β΄) ἐκφυλίστηκαν. Ἡ Κωνσταντινούπολη ὡς πρωτεύουσα μιᾶς κλασσικῆς Ἑλλάδας εἶναι ἐπιθυμητή, ὁ ἱδρυτής της ὅμως εἶναι ἄθλιος.
Ἔτσι, ἡ Ρωσία μπορεῖ νὰ εἶναι «καλὴ» ἐὰν πραγματώνει τὰ δυτικὰ ἰδανικά (Ἀρχαιότητα) ἢ ἂν πράττει ὅ,τι θέλει ἡ Δύση (βλ. Γέλτσιν), καὶ «κακὴ» ἐὰν ἐμποδίζει τὰ δυτικὰ ἰδανικά (Ἐπανάσταση). Ὁ δὲ Ὀρλὼφ χαρακτήριζε ἀπατεῶνες, δειλοὺς καὶ μὴ πραγματικοὺς Χριστιανοὺς τοὺς Ἕλληνες ρίχνοντας σὲ αὐτοὺς τὸ βάρος τῆς ἥττας του. Φυσικά, ὅλοι παίζουν τὸ παιχνίδι τους, Ρῶσοι καὶ Δυτικοί. Ἐκτὸς ἀπὸ τοὺς Ἕλληνες, ποὺ λόγῳ θρησκείας εἶναι εἴτε ρωσολάτρες εἴτε ἀντιρῶσοι, καὶ σκέφονται πρῶτα ἀπ’ ὅλα τὴ φήμη τῆς Ρωσίας ἀντὶ νὰ παίξουν κι αὐτοὶ τὸ ἑλληνικὸ παιχνίδι τους. Ὑπὸ αὐτὴν τὴν ἔννοια καὶ μόνον αὐτήν, ὁ Βολταῖρος εἶχε δίκαιο γιὰ τὴ θρησκεία τῶν τωρινῶν Ἑλλήνων: Ὄχι μόνο οἱ Χριστιανοὶ ἀλλὰ καὶ οἱ ἕλληνες Ἀντιχριστιανοί (Εὐρωπαϊστές, Ἀριστεροί, ἐν γένει τὰ τέκνα τοῦ Διαφωτισμοῦ, δηλαδή) δὲν μποροῦν νὰ σκεφτοῦν ψύχραιμα.
A. Zorin, By Fables Alone. Literature and State Ideology in Late Eighteenth- and Early Nineteenth-Century Russia, Boston 2014 (ἀγγλ. μετ. M. C. Levitt – N. Monnier – D. Schlaffy)
…this very idea of Catherine’s and Potemkin’s was not in itself new. Plans for conquering the former capital of the Eastern Roman Empire had stirred Russian tsars as early as the seventeenth century (see Kapterev 1885; Zhigarev I-II, and others). They had circulated during Peter I’s Azov and Pruth campaigns and arose again under Anna Ioannovna during the Turkish campaign of 1736–1739 (see Kochubinskii 1899). […]
According to her project, the Second Rome was to become the center of a new Greek empire whose throne would go to Constantine only under the strict condition that he himself and his heirs would forever and in all circumstances repudiate any pretensions to the Russian crown. In this way, two neighboring powers under the scepters of the “star of the North” and the “star of the East,” Alexander and Constantine, would be united (using deeply anachronistic but precisely accurate terminology) by the bonds of fraternal friendship, so to speak, while Russia would play the role (again resorting to anachronism) of elder brother. […]
If it had been traditionally thought that the torch of enlightenment had gone from Greece to Rome, then taken up by Western Europe, and from there passed on to Russia, now Russia was seen to have had a direct line to Greece and therefore, had no need for intermediaries. […]
On November 15, 1768, when news of the start of the war had still not reached Paris, Voltaire wrote to Catherine:
If they make war on you, Madam, what Peter the Great once had in mind may well befall them, namely that Constantinople will become the capital of the Russian Empire. These barbarians deserve to be punished by a heroine, for the lack of respect they have hitherto had for the ladies. Clearly, people who neglect all the fine arts and who lock up women, deserve to be exterminated. … I ask your Imperial Majesty’s permission to come and lay myself at your feet, and to spend a few days at your court, as soon as it is set up in Constantinople; for I most earnestly believe that if ever the Turks are to be chased out of Europe, it will be by the Russians.
[…] “If you follow up your victories, I think you will spread them wherever you please; and if you want peace, you will dictate it. For my part, I still want your Majesty to go to Constantinople to be crowned,” Voltaire wrote to Catherine in a letter of August 28, 1770. The recognized leader of European classicism, he saw driving the Turks out of Europe as the prerequisite for its cultural renaissance, and he believed that the “Northern Semiramis”—simultaneously his patron and pupil—had to become the instrument of Providence, spreading enlightenment with her soldiers’ bayonets: Oh Minerva of the North, oh, you, sister of Apollo, You will revenge Greece, driving out the unworthy, The enemies of the arts, persecutors of women, I will depart and will wait for you on the fields of Marathon, – as he wrote in his “Stanzas to the Empress of Russia Catherine II on the Occasion of the Taking of Khotin by the Russians in 1769” (Voltaire XIII, 316). The Russo-Turkish War was thus equated to the Persian War with the Greeks, which Voltaire of course interpreted as a clash between culture and barbarism. In September 1770, he set forth before Catherine an entire program for reviving classical culture in its historical cradle:
Those who wished setbacks upon your Majesty will be quite confounded; and why should people wish to see you disgraced when you are the avenger of Europe? I suppose these are the people who do not want Greek to be spoken; for if you were queen of Constantinople, your Majesty would very soon establish a fine Greek academy. A Catheriniad would be written in your honor. Many a Zeuxis and Phidias would cover the earth with statues of you; the fall of the Ottoman Empire would be celebrated in Greek; Athens would be one of your capitals; Greek would become the universal language; all the traders in the Aegean would ask your Majesty for Greek passports. […]
He is primarily if not exclusively interested in freeing Greece from Turkish domination and in restoring the great traditions of classical culture in their original home. Russia and even her monarch—on whom Voltaire, as always, lavished the most effusive compliments—played an instrumental political role in his thinking. […]
In enticing the empress with the throne of Constantinople, giving preference to it over Moscow and Petersburg (ibid., 162), and even recalling Peter I’s plans for the city (ibid., 191), Voltaire was thinking not so much about the Byzantine capital itself as much as about Athens, to which, as he wrote, he was “unalterably attached thanks to Sophocles, Euripides, [and] Menander” and to “old Anacreon, my colleague” (ibid., 139). He complained that “if you … never-theless grant peace to Mustapha, what will my poor Greece become, what will come of that beautiful land of Demosthenes and Sophocles? I would abandon Jerusalem to the Moslems voluntarily; those barbarians were made for the land of Ezekiel, Elijah and Caiaphas. But I will always be bitterly grieved to see the Athenian theater turned into a kitchen and the lyceum into a stable” (ibid., 123). Once in the correspondence he makes a slip and calls Constantinople “the city of that nasty Constantine” (ibid., 76). Quite clearly he was not only ignorant of and indifferent to the religious motivation of the Russian mission in Constantinople, but also openly hostile to it. In his correspondence with the empress, the philosophe had to refrain from this kind of expression of hostility and to patiently listen to lectures on the truly Christian character of the Eastern Church and its inherent tolerance from his royal correspondent, who was not noted for her special piety. Here he could only permit himself light and respectful sarcasm […]
Nonetheless, in his “Ode on the Current War with Greece” Voltaire did not hide from readers that it was precisely the Greek Church that he considered most responsible for the decline of the ancient heroic spirit:
There are no more Herculeses
Who would follow after Minerva and Mars,
The fearless conquerors of the Persians
And lovers of all the arts,
Who in both peace and war
Gave an example to the whole earth. …
But … under the sway of two Theodosiuses
All of the heroes degenerated,
And there are no more apotheoses,
Except for those of malicious tonsured pedants …
And under the sway of Saint Basil
The descendants of Achilles
Became slaves of the Ottomans.
Voltaire considered the mission of the monarch to bring the light of civilization to barbarian peoples. The liberation and enlightenment of Greece was to be the acme of the royal path of the “Northern Sermiramis.” “You will doubtless restore the Isthmian Games, at which the Romans assured the Greeks their liberty by a public decree; and this will be the most glorious act of your life,” he wrote Catherine (ibid., 59–60; Lentin 83). Voltaire was concerned with Enlightenment and monarchs who sponsored it, but certainly not with Russia and its historical destiny. […]
However, despite its brilliant victory in the Chesme encounter, the navel expedition did not bring the desired results. In essence, the Russian forces had to abandon the Greeks to the vicissitudes of fate. Aleksei Orlov, who had made such monumental plans, tended to blame the Greeks themselves for what had happened, because in his opinion they had not shown sufficient bravery and military discipline, and had preferred plunder to a war for liberation:
The local peoples are smooth-talking, deceptive, inconstant, impudent and cowardly, lusting after money and whatever they can get. … Credulity and flightiness, fear at the name of the Turk—are not the last qualities of our coreligionists. … They profess the law only with their lips, not having even a faint outline of Christian virtues in their hearts. They are possessed by servility and the yoke of Turkish rule … as well as by crass ignorance. These are the reasons which eliminate hope of their producing some kind of well-founded armed action for their own good.