The Man from Damascus, the Good Wife, and Baby Solon: R.I.P. at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens

ASCSA Library, 1902

ASCSA Library, 1902

“You enter a reception hall of marble and go up a flight of marble steps which give the effect of entering a museum, as there are marble busts and old sculptures round that have been dug up…” Major A. Winsor Weld wrote to his wife on October 26th, 1918, upon entering the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or School hereafter). He and six other officers of the American Red Cross including Lieutenant Colonel Edward Capps would live in the School’s premises until July of 1919. (At the time one entered the Library through the Director’s residence.) Although the ASCSA was already building a small collection of antiquities –mostly pottery sherds and other small objects picked up on walks and informal surveys– the antiquities Weld described are of a different scale. The busts he refers to must have been plaster casts of originals similar to the one displayed above the fireplace mantle in the Library in a photo from 1902. I believe that the other “old sculptures” on display, the ones that “have been dug up,” were three Roman marble funerary reliefs unearthed in 1894, at the corner of Vasilissis Sophias (then Kephissias) and Merlin (then Academy) street, exactly opposite the Palace (now the Greek Parliament), during the construction of a mansion by Charles Edward Prior Merlin (1850-1898). Named after one of Merlin’s French ancestors, the “Hôtel Merlin de Douai” has housed the French Embassy since 1896.

“Hôtel Merlin de Douai” (French Embassy at Athens)

The “Hôtel Merlin de Douai” (French Embassy at Athens)

“In digging for the foundations of the large house which Mr. C. Merlin, the well-known artist and photographer of Athens, is building at the corner of Academy and Kephissia Streets, the workmen came upon considerable remains of an ancient cemetery. At my suggestion Mr. Merlin made over to the American School the right of publishing these discoveries, and afterwards generously presented to the School three reliefs and one other inscribed stone, together with some smaller fragments. The finds were made in the autumn of 1894. Only a part of them came under my observation at the time; hence the description of the graves and their location rests in part upon the accounts of Mr. Merlin and his workmen” reported Thomas Dwight Goodell a year later (American Journal of Archaeology 10, 1895, pp. 469-479).

Location of reliefs. After AJA 1895, p. 473.

Location of reliefs. After AJA 1895, p. 473.

The publication of the sculptures was divided in two: Goodell presented the circumstances of their discovery and discussed the style and date of the inscriptions carved on the reliefs, while Theodore Woolsey Heermance focused on the style of the largest stele (ASCSA ASI 1), which depicted a middle-aged man from Damascus, according to the inscription (—]ΛΕΥΚΟΥ ΔΑΜΑΣΚΗΝΟΣ) on the architrave. This stele was fully published in 1965 by Sterling Dow and Cornelius Vermeule (Hesperia 34, 1965, pp. 273-297). Damascenus’s first name is not preserved but Dow and Vermeule restored his father’s name as Seleucus. The man from Damascus probably belonged to the small colony of Syrians who lived in Athens during the early 2nd century A.D.

The funerary stele of Damascenus at Loring Hall, ASCSA.

The funerary stele of Damascenus at Loring Hall, ASCSA.

In addition to the imposing Damascenus, the smaller reliefs represented a small boy, Solon (ASCSA ASI 2), who died when he was six months old, and a woman named Statia Thallousa (ASCSA ASI 3). William D. E. Coulson, who together with Iphigeneia Leventi re-published the two smaller stelai, notes that Solon is not depicted as an infant but as a child. He suggests that Solon’s parents purchased a stele from stock or perhaps “chose the image of an older boy in order to express some quality that their child might have developed if it had survived.” Whatever their intention, it is the heart-breaking epigram that reveals the extent of the parents’ mourning:

“Why, Hades, have you hurried the baby and sweet Solon, the beautiful six months’ old baby to take down without mercy; what a pain for the miserable parents, you Destiny have caused” (Coulson and Leventi 2001, p. 304).

The relief stele of baby Solon, ASCSA Antiquities Collection.

The funerary stele of baby Solon, ASCSA Antiquities Collection.

Statia’s stele was erected by her husband as the inscription on the architrave reads: “Tryphon erected the [stele of] Statia Thallousa, on account of her wifely love” (Coulson and Leventi 2001, p. 311).

The funerary stele of Statia Thallousa. ASCSA Antiquities Collection.

The funerary stele of Statia Thallousa. ASCSA Antiquities Collection.

In addition to those three reliefs, Merlin’s gift included the gable of a sarcophagus (which is fully published by John Oakley in a forthcoming article) and the inscribed base of another funerary stele (ASCSA ASI 4). All these objects date to the Roman Imperial period and once belonged to an extensive cemetery located next to the major road leading from the Diochares Gate to Kephisia. The cemetery was disturbed in later years, and as a result the stelai were removed from their original location. Damascenus was “found lying on one side; from its weight there is no likelihood that it had been moved far,” while Statia and the baby Solon had been built in the walls of two rectangular cisterns.

Charles Edward Prior Merlin. Photo Xanthakis 2008.

Charles Edward Prior Merlin. Photo Xanthakis 2008.

In the process of looking for their original context, I also grew interested in the modern findspot of the reliefs: the late 19th century mansion and its first owner, Charles Merlin.  Merlin, “the well-known artist and photographer” in Goodell’s article, became the owner of a number of plots opposite the west façade of the Palace through his marriage to Irini Stournari.  In the closing decade of the 19th century he proceeded to build on most of them– very much like a modern real estate developer.

In addition to the large mansion at the corner of Academy and Kephissias Street (Vasilissis Sophias Street today), he also built two more mansions in the neighborhood: one by the corner of Kephissias and Sekeri, the other at the corner of Sekeri and Kanari. The latter is of special interest for the history of the American School because it operated as an upscale boarding house. This is where the majority of the School’s female students and visiting professors lived before Loring Hall and the Palace of Prince George on Academy 18. (The latter was rented by the School from 1923-1929 and I have written about it here: “Living Like Kings: When the Palace of Prince George Was the Annex of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens,” Sept. 1, 2015.)

Known as “Pension Merlin” it was run by an English lady, Mrs. Bessie, who had married a Greek, Mr. Polyanthis (the information comes from one of the letters that Ida Thallon sent to her mother). No longer standing, “Pension Merlin” was described by its various occupants as a luxurious and spacious mansion that could host many individuals, even small families. Ida Thallon and Lida Shaw King, two Vassar graduates and School members in 1899-1900, stayed there during their first year at the School, occupying a suite of rooms and taking most of their meals in the mansion’s dining hall.

Farnaud's book on the history of the French Embassy at Athens

Farnaud’s book on the history of the French Embassy at Athens

As for “Hôtel Merlin de Douai,” where the funerary stelai were found, there is ample information about its construction and style, thanks to Mme. Hélène Farnaud’s handsome publication  (L’ Ambassade de France en Grèce. Une visite sans protocol, Athens 2009). Built by a prominent Greek architect, Anastasios Metaxas (1862-1937), its architectural style combines neo-classical with neo-renaissance elements making it a very elegant building.

But who was Merlin and why did he choose to donate the archaeological finds to the ASCSA and not to the French School, since he intended to sell the house to the French government, or even to the British School on account of his English and French origins? Not much is known about Merlin junior because he died rather young (at 48), three years after the construction of  the “Hôtel Merlin de Douai,” in 1898. His wife Irini Stournari also died young (1896, the same year his father died.) One thing is for sure. The discovery of Damascenus, Statia, and baby Solon did not bring luck to the Merlins. Merlin kept his photographic studio on the ground floor of “Pension Merlin.” Photography was more a passion than a profession for Merlin, and being rich, he spared no expense equipping his studio with the best cameras.  Not without talent (or perhaps just good connections) he soon became the exclusive photographer of the Greek royal family (Alkis Xanthakis, History of Greek Photography 1839-1970, Athens 2008, pp. 171-173).

Merlin’s brother Sidney, trained as a botanist, is remembered today for introducing a particular orange to Greece: the Washington Navel (aka Merlins).  Their father was the consul Charles Merlin (1821-1896) whose assistance in trading antiquities to the British Museum is the subject of a thorough essay by Yannis Galanakis, titled “On her Majesty’s Service: C.L. W. Merlin and the Sourcing of Greek Antiquities for the British Museum.”  Given his father’s connections with Great Britain and the British Museum, it remains a mystery why Merlin (junior) chose not to donate the reliefs to the British School of Archaeology. Furthermore, from reading Farnaud’s history of the French Embassy in Greece, one understands that Merlin built the “Hôtel Merlin de Douai” with one intention: to sell it to the French. Why didn’t he donate the reliefs to the French School of Archaeology in Athens?

The reliefs did not remain inside the School for long. In the 1920s Damascenus was seen leaning against the wall dividing the American and the British schools. After construction of Loring Hall in 1929, he was transferred, together with the gable of the sarcophagus (ASCSA ASS 38), to the west portico of Loring, while Statia and Solon were displayed on the School’s exterior wall “built into garage-wall in front of school,” as it is recorded on the catalogue card. They probably remained in this position until the construction of the Blegen Library’s New Extension in 1991 when they were transferred to the School’s Antiquities Collection. Today Damascenus continues to gaze over Loring Hall’s porch keeping the School’s students company during lunch and dinner on warmer days of the year.


Coulson, W.D.E.  and Iphigeneia Leventi, “Two  Attic Grave Reliefs of Roman Date in the Collection of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, in Καλλίστευμα. Μελέτες προς τιμήν της Ολγας Τζάχου -Αλεξανδρή, ed. Α. Αλεξανδρή  and Ι. Λεβέντη, Athens 2001, pp. 301-318.

Dow, S. and C. Vermeule III, “The Stele of the Damaskenos at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Hesperia 34, 1965, pp. 273-297.

Farnaud, H. L’ Ambassade de France en Grèce. Une visite sans protocol, Athens 2009.

Xanthakis A. Ιστορία της Ελληνικής Φωτογραφίας, Athens 2008.


Who Went to Schliemann’s Wedding?

Posted by Curtis Runnels

Curtis Runnels, Professor of Archaeology at Boston University, here contributes to From the Archivist’s Notebook a story about the accidental discovery of an original letter by Heinrich Schliemann at an Antiquarian Book Fair in Boston. The letter was found inside an old Greek-English lexicon that Runnels bought for his book collection.  In addition to doing fieldwork and publishing extensively on Palaeolithic archaeology in Greece, Runnels is also the author of The Archaeology of Heinrich Schliemann: An Annotated Bibliographic Handlist (Archaeological Institute of America; available also as an ebook from Virgo Books).

Experienced booksellers and collectors always look through old books that come into their possession to see what might have been left between the pages.  Some people make collections of their finds, which range from the curious to the valuable.  It can be an exciting business: almost anything may turn up in a book, from gold coins and paper money to love letters and flowers—even a strip of bacon (cooked or uncooked, one wonders).  It was a matter of habit, therefore, that induced me to leaf through an old Greek-English lexicon that I purchased last November at the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair.  Of all the finds I have made in old books, this was perhaps the best: a letter written by Heinrich Schliemann.  It was tucked inside the first volume of A Lexicon of Modern Greek-English and English-Modern Greek by N. Contopoulos, which was published in two volumes in 1867 [volume 1] and 1869 [volume 2] in Smyrna by B. Tatikidou (vol. 1) or B. Tatikianou (vol. 2).

The lexicon where Curtis Runnels found the Schliemann original.

The lexicon where Curtis Runnels found the Schliemann original

To whom had the letter been sent?  On the first free end paper of the first volume of the Lexicon there is the ink ownership inscription of ‘S. D. Wilcox, Athens, Sept. 1869,’ and on first blush it would seem that Wilcox was the intended recipient.  What is the letter about?  Written in Modern Greek on a single folded sheet of lined blue note paper, entirely in Schliemann’s own hand, the letter concerns Schliemann’s upcoming marriage to Sophia Castromenos (or Engastromenos). (A copy of the letter exists in the Heinrich Schliemann Papers at the Gennadius Library of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Schliemann used to keep copies of his outgoing correspondence.)

Schliemann's letter to the American Consul in Athens

Schliemann’s letter to the American Consul, Robert Porter Keep, in Athens

In Athens on 9/21 Sept. [the date, 1869, is given in Greek letters]

 Honorable Mr. Consul!

I have the honor to inform you that my wedding ceremony will take place the day after tomorrow, on the present Thursday 11 [sic]/23, and for this, according to your wish I will come for you on that day at the hour of 1 ½ in order to take you with me. Therefore be kind enough to take with you both my registration and my passport.

Please accept the affirmation of my sincere regard,

 Errikos S[χ]liemann [Heinrich Schliemann]

Robert Porter Keep

Robert Porter Keep. On the contribution of the Keep family to American education, see

At first sight, this is clear enough.  But wait: there is a problem.  The letter is addressed to a Consul, and assuming that Schliemann was writing to the American Consul (there are good reasons for assuming so, but the French Consul is also a possibility), the United States Consul was not Samuel Wilcox, but Robert Porter Keep (1844-1904). Keep was a Classical scholar with a special interest in Homer who graduated from Yale University in 1865, and became the US Consul in Piraeus from 1869 to 1871.  Later, he would travel and study in Germany, returning eventually to the US to teach Greek in the Williston Seminary in Easthampton, Massachusetts, from 1876 to 1885, and the Norwich Free Academy in Norwich, Connecticut, from 1885 to 1903.  Keep was also related to Sarah Porter, the founder of the famous Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, Connecticut. Upon her death in 1903, as the executor of his aunt’s will, he began extensive repairs and renovations at the school, and also appointed his wife, Elisabeth Hale Keep, as the new Head of the School. After his sudden death from pneumonia in 1904, Mrs. Keep, first, and their son, Robert Porter Keep Jr., later, would run the school until 1944. Porter Keep is remembered today for his innovative school curriculum in the Classics and for his translation of Autenrieth’s Homeric Dictionary, a copy of which I have in my library to this day.

Samuel Darwin Wilcox (1846-1874), on the other hand, was a graduate of Hamilton College in New York (1866), and after graduating from Hamilton he joined the faculty of Robert College in Constantinople as a tutor in Rhetoric from 1867 to 1869.  After he left Robert College, he travelled widely, and for a time resided in Athens before returning to the US in 1870.  Back home in New York, he became Professor of Rhetoric and Elocution at Hamilton College, a position he resigned in 1872 due to ill health.  He died in Napoli, NY, in 1874.

So what was Samuel Darwin Wilcox doing with Schliemann’s letter to Porter Keep?  Did he know Porter Keep, or for that matter Heinrich Schliemann?  There are a few suggestive clues that will lead us eventually to a final hypothesis.

It seems that Samuel Wilcox did have a reason to be interested in Schliemann and to seek his acquaintance in Athens.  There is a letter to Schliemann in the Gennadius Library Schliemann Archives from Frank Calvert in the Troad, written for him by his brother, and dated 8 September 1869 that includes this interesting passage:

“Mr. Wilcox, an American gentlemen, who has been staying with us, leaves for Athens by the same Steamer which conveys the present [letter].  He has just visited the Troad and being much interested as to the site of the Homeric Ilium we have had much [sic] pleasant conversations on the subject.”

Athens in 1869. Photo by William J. Stillman who had settled in Athens by late 1868. Stillman, who wrote frequently in the Nation, would later criticize fiercely Schliemann's excavations in Troy and Mycenae.

Athens, Monastiraki, 1869. Photo by William J. Stillman who had settled in Athens by late 1868. Stillman, who wrote frequently in the Nation, would later fiercely criticize Schliemann’s excavations at Troy and Mycenae.

It would seem, therefore, that Samuel Wilcox learned of Schliemann’s interest in the problem of the location of Homeric Troy from Frank Calvert, and would thus have had every reason to seek an introduction to Schliemann when he reached Athens.  I think it also extremely probable that Samuel Wilcox and Robert Porter Keep would have struck up an immediate acquaintanceship in Athens, if not a friendship.  They were both young men (in their mid-20s) and from the same region in the United States.  They were both college educated and had interests in Homeric studies. They were both traveling in Greece, which was unusual for young Americans at this time (twelve years before the founding of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens would make it possible for more young Americans to live and study in Greece).  Wilcox would no doubt have sought out the US Consul, Keep, upon arrival as a matter of protocol, and with their interests in Homer, as well as their similarities in age and background, they would have had much to talk about.  I find it difficult to imagine that Schliemann’s plan to excavate at Hisarlik was not part of their conversations.

Athens in 1869. Another photo by William J. Stillman published in The Acropolis of Athens, London 1870.

Athens, Temple of Zeus and Ilissos river, 1869. Another photo by William J. Stillman from his book The Acropolis of Athens, London 1870.

This is all fine, but we still have not idea how Wilcox came into possession of Schliemann’s letter, if it had indeed been sent to Keep in his official capacity as US Consul.  We would have to be very lucky indeed to confirm any of this in the absence of some new piece of evidence, but I suspect that Keep gave the letter to Wilcox as an example of Modern Greek so that he could practice reading it with his new lexicon.  That is the simplest hypothesis.  But—just perhaps—being pressed with other obligations, Keep could not go to the wedding on that Thursday, and so he asked Wilcox to go in his place, giving him Schliemann’s letter, which contained the relevant information about day and time.  If so, Wilcox saved the letter as a momento of what might have been an interesting occasion for him.  We shall in all probability never know for sure how Samuel Wilcox got the letter, but it is likely that these two young Americans, both enthusiastic about the search for Homeric Troy that was ‘in the air’ at the time, were curious about this German-Russian eccentric millionaire who was marrying the young Greek girl and talking of his plans to excavate at Hisarlik and bring Troy to light.

Sophia and Heinrich Schliemann, wedding photo, 1869. She was 17, he was 48 years old.

Sophia and Heinrich Schliemann, wedding photo, 1869. She was 17, he 48 years old.

Schliemann was not yet the famous archaeologist he was to become in the 1870s after both Wilcox and Keep had left Athens, and he was no doubt distracted by his upcoming wedding, but I like to imagine him meeting with these young Americans, talking with them about Homer and archaeology, perhaps communicating with Keep in Greek because of their shared passion.  If that were the case, then Samuel Darwin Wilcox may have kept this letter for the rest of his own short life as a souvenir of an exciting time at the very beginning of Aegean Bronze Age archaeology.

It is very possible that Keep and Wilcox were the only foreigners who attended Schliemann’s wedding on September 23, 1869. There is no mention of it in the Athenian newspapers, but then why should we expect any publicity? Schliemann was almost unknown in the Athenian high-society circles of the time; the same applies to Sophia’s family. Not to mention that Schliemann had arrived at Athens only two weeks before his imminent wedding –not even entirely sure that he would get married (after all Sophia had rejected him after their first meeting) and to which one of the Castromenos sisters (the family was also pushing one of Sophia’s elder sisters). Schliemann’s second wedding in 1869 must have been a simple ceremony with only Sophia’s relatives attending. Keep’s and Wilcox’s presence would have been most welcome at an otherwise strange event.

The Bohemian Past of Madame Gennadius

On Saturday December 27, 1902, a well-publicized wedding took place in London.  John Gennadius, former ambassador of Greece to England and a great book-collector, age 58, and Florence Laing, the youngest daughter of Samuel Laing and the widow of painter Edward Sherard Kennedy, age 47, were married in a double ceremony, first at the Greek Orthodox church of St. Sophia and later that day at the Anglican church of St. Peter’s at Cranley Gardens.  There are no photos capturing the ceremony or the reception that followed, but Gennadius, the creator of more than seventy scrapbooks, did keep numerous newspaper clippings announcing this celebrated marriage. More than a few of them mention that the bride had an annual income of roughly 8,000 pounds, leading some to hint that it may have been a marriage of convenience. Time proved that their union was a harmonious one; it lasted 30 years until his death in 1932. She outlived him by another twenty years. The Gennadius Library of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) was the offspring of their union. The deed of gift was signed in 1922 and the building was completed in 1926.

John and Florence Gennadius, ca. 1925. Source: ASCSA, Gennadius Library.

John and Florence Gennadius, 1920. Source: ASCSA, Gennadius Library.

The best source for John Gennadius’s life is a small, but thorough, booklet, Joannes Gennadios, the Man: A Biographical Sketch (1990), by Donald M. Nicol, director of the Gennadius Library (1989-1992). In it, there is very little information about the circumstances of how Gennadius met Florence Laing Kennedy. Nicol suspects that they were introduced by “Prince Alexis Dolgoruki, an acquaintance of Gennadios, [who] had married an English lady, Miss Fleetwood Wilson, who was an old friend of Florence.” In an endnote, Nicol mentions that Florence was an artist in her own right, having exhibited her “genre paintings” in the Royal Academy and other London galleries between 1880 and 1893.


Portrait of Florence Laing Gennadius, 1925. By Philippe de Lazslo. ASCSA, Gennadius Library

Portrait of Florence Laing Gennadius, 1925. By Philippe de Laszlo. ASCSA, Gennadius Library.

There are several photos of the couple in the personal papers of John Gennadius.  Both are elegantly dressed; she is in stylish and exquisite clothes and hats. Her large, mature portrait by Philippe de Laszlo (1869-1937) hanging in the main reading room of the Gennadius Library, next to Gennadius’s own portrait also by Laszlo, conveys serenity and dignity. Both portraits were executed in 1925 and they must have been commissioned with one purpose: to be hung on the walls of the newly erected library.

What I always found fascinating, as well as a bit out of place, however, is a smaller portrait of Florence that hangs to the left of her large, matronly one. It is an oil painting (0.77x 0.64 m) depicting a seated young woman in three-quarter view. Dressed in a heavy, ruby velvet gown adorned with floral lace, Florence rests her left arm on the back of a seat supporting her head in a reflective mode. Her right hand rests on her lap holding a large Renaissance feather fan (ostrich?) together with a small bouquet of pansies. A wreath made of red ribbon and pansies adorns her head. The choice of flowers, a symbol of floral femininity, was not accidental. The pansies (derived from the French word “pensée”), together with the ostrich feather, allude to the steadfastness and pensive nature of young Florence Laing.  The portrait is not signed or dated (or if it is, it is not visible) but carries an old label on its back: “No.2 Portrait of Florence – daughter of Samuel Laing Esq. M. P. Painted by Mrs. Anne Lea Meritt.”


Portrait of Florence Laing Kennedy. Anna Lea Merritt, ca. 1882. ASCSA, Gennadius Library.

Portrait of Florence Laing Kennedy, ca. 1882. By Anna Lea Merritt. ASCSA, Gennadius Library.


One of the first projects I undertook in 1994, as the newly appointed ASCSA Archivist, was to catalogue the three-dimensional art that was hanging on the walls of the School’s various buildings.  At the time (pre-internet), there was very little I could do, in terms of research, with Florence Laing’s portrait, other than recording the painter’s name. I was fortunate, however, to spend two weeks in London in 1996 as a guest of Nicolas Barker, then director of the British Library, who had set up appointments for me with a number of leading libraries and archival repositories in town, as part of my training. In my free afternoons I would go to museums and galleries. During one of those excursions, I came across a beautiful pre-Raphaelite painting hanging on the walls of the Tate Gallery depicting a young cupid trying to open the door of a mausoleum.  A closer look at the title, Love Locked Out, revealed that the artist’s name was “Anna Lea Merritt (1844-1930).”  Years went by without me giving much thought to the portrait until recently, while revising the catalog, I decided to look her up on the web.

Love Locked Out, 1890. By Anna Lea Merritt.

Love Locked Out, 1890. By Anna Lea Merritt.

An American painter born in Philadelphia, Anna Lea spent most of her life in England, “living by her brush” as she proudly claimed.  After her marriage to painter Henry Merritt in 1877, Anna Lea briefly gave up her career; however, his untimely death three months later forced her to resume painting.  In the next two decades, Merritt would produce some of her best works, including Love Locked Out (1889), which became the first work of a female painter to be purchased by the Tate Gallery in 1890.  Earning her living and reputation as a portrait painter, Merritt also excelled in allegorical themes. One of her most important, but also lesser known, achievements are the murals she executed for a small Romanesque church in Surrey. To earn such a commission –men dominated the field of mural painting- was an unprecedented achievement for a woman at the time.

Anna Lea Merritt in her studio, 1886. Photo by Frederick Hollyer.

Anna Lea Merritt in her studio, 1886. Photo by Frederick Hollyer.

Later in life Merritt would also take up writing essays. Her best known essay is titled “A Letter to Artists: Especially Women Artists” published in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine (v. 65, 1900). In a text that could have been written today (unfortunately), she nails down the chief obstacle to a woman’s success: “that she can never have a wife.”

“Just reflect what a wife does for an artist: Darns the stockings; keeps his house; writes his letters; visits for his benefit; wards off intruders; Is personally suggestive of beautiful pictures; always an encouraging and partial critic,’’

wrote Merritt in her “Letter.” Further down she added that women suffered from the syndrome of the “busy bee” denying themselves frivolity or rest, missing recreation.

Bringing Merritt’s comments to today’s world, you quickly realize that they resonate with some of Gloria Steinem’s sharpest observations: “There is no such thing as Superwoman. You can’t have everything if you do everything” or “I have yet to hear a man ask for advice on how to combine marriage and a career.”

But what about Florence Laing’s portrait? Hers was not just another “debutante” portrait commissioned by the family following the upper class customs of the time. Digging deeper into the life of the two women, I found that they had a lot more in common than one might have first thought.


A search on the web for Florence Laing Kennedy (1855-1952) produces very little. She comes up either as the daughter of Samuel Laing, esteemed member of parliament and friend of Gladstone or as the wife of painter Edward Sherard Kennedy (1837-1900).  There is, however, one exception. In the British History Online, in the section about “Artists and Chelsea,” I found an interesting mention of a studio-house built for the Kennedys:

“R. Norman Shaw designed a studio-house, 1882-84, for an irregular site at the corner of Walton Street and Lennox Gardens Mews for Edward and Florence Sherard Kennedy, ‘Sunday painters’ with private incomes. Called Walton House, it had separate studios for the couple, and also the Victorian arrangement which allowed models to reach separate changing rooms unseen.”

North and west elevation of Walton House. By R. Norman Shaw, 1882-1884.

North and west elevation of Walton House. By R. Norman Shaw, 1882-1884.

Walton House, a five storey yellow brick with red dressings, where the Kennedys lived for sixteen years, still stands. Its exterior has been modified over the years but a recent proposal by the architectural firm Guard, Tillman, and Pollock aims to restore the conservatory of the first floor. I was lucky to find copies of the original drawings of Walton House attached to their proposal (the originals are stored in the archives of the Royal Academy).

The Walton House, 2016. Google Earth image.

The Walton House in Chelsea, 2016. Google Earth image.

One assumes that construction of the house must have been commissioned around the time of Florence Laing’s marriage to Edward Kennedy (1837-1900). She would have been about 27 years old in 1882 while he was about 45. We know nothing about the circumstances of their meeting but for her to marry a painter, chances are that he was her teacher and mentor. Her portrait by Anna Lea Merritt at the Gennadius Library shows a woman of about that age. Florence must have met and befriended Merritt in Chelsea, where the latter also owned a house on Tite St. (nos. 50 and 52). In the late 19th/early 20th century Chelsea was an artistic and bohemian colony with more than 1,300 domestic artists’ studios. Among Chelsea’s more illustrious residents were William Turner, James McNeil Whistler, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and John Singer Sargent.


It is unfortunate that so little can be pieced together about Florence Gennadius’s previous life in Chelsea. We can imagine that the Kennedy house on Walton Street was full of paintings, his, hers, and their friends. Today, we only know of four pastels by Florence, thanks to a Bonhams catalogue (lot 36, February 2006), but I suspect that there are more “hidden” in storerooms of museums and galleries waiting to be rescued from anonymity.

View of Kensington Gardens, ca. 1880-1893. By Florence Laing Kennedy. One of four pastels with the same theme.

View of Kensington Gardens, ca. 1880-1893. By Florence Laing Kennedy. One of four pastels with the same theme. Source: Bonhams (Lot 36, 2006).

When Florence married John Gennadius in 1902, they moved to an apartment building at 14, De Vere Gardens. Photos of its laborious interior, preserved in one of Gennadius’s scrapbooks, show a heavy and eclectic decorative style, something between baroque and Greek revival, which was chosen to showcase John Gennadius’s collections. There are no paintings by Florence Laing Kennedy on the walls. One suspects that they may have adorned her private rooms or that she may have hung them in another house. (Mrs. Gennadius’s will shows that she was the owner of several properties until the end of her life.) Even the brightest and most accomplished women of her generation, once married (or re-married), had to live in the shadow or, at best, in the orbit of their husbands’ worlds.  She did not “darn his stockings” but she kept his house and worked for his benefit.

Interior of John and Florence Gennadius's house at 14, De Vere Gardens. Source: ASCSA, Gennadius Library.

Interior of John and Florence Gennadius’s house at 14, De Vere Gardens. Source: ASCSA, Gennadius Library.

With so little having survived of Florence Laing Kennedy Gennadius’s once riveting life at Chelsea, we are grateful for her decision to send to the Gennadius Library, together with the shipments of her husband’s books, her portrait by Anna Lea Merritt. It is our only glimpse of her once alluring past as a member of one of the most vivacious and bohemian colonies in London.


My colleague and reference archivist at the ASCSA Archives, Dr. Eleftheria Daleziou, dug up information about Florence Gennadius’s active participation in a number of philanthropic and relief activities of the London Greek community during the Balkan Wars (1912-13) and the Great War. She will be communicating the results of her research in a few days at a conference in London: “ ‘Distressed and Dismayed’: The Response of the London Greek Community to Greece’s War Trials and Refugee Crisis, 1912-1923,” in Greeks and Cypriots in the United Kingdom, 1815-1925: Culture, Commerce, and Politics, London October 14-15, 2016.

Communism In and Out of Fashion: The American School of Classical Studies at Athens and the Cold War

Posted by Jack L. Davis

Jack L. Davis, Carl W. Blegen Professor of Greek Archaeology at the University of Cincinnati and a former director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (2007-2012), here contributes an essay about attitudes of the ASCSA and its members toward Communists and Communism in the 20th century.

“Feeling they were witnessing the demise of capitalism, many writers moved left, some because their working class origins helped them identify with the dispossessed, others because they saw socialism or Communism as the only serious force for radical change, still others because it was the fashionable thing to do; they went where the action was.”
Morris Dickstein, Dancing in the Dark (2009), pp. 16-17.

DancingDark_smallIn 1974, when I first arrived at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter), we youngsters were told that we should not express our political views in public. The ASCSA’s institutional mission might be hurt, were it perceived not to be neutral. In September 1974 that was certainly a reasonable position for the ASCSA to assume. Yet I was curious. In 1974, I was myself radicalized, and had definitely headed left. I could not condone U.S. policy in respect to the Junta, or the suppression of the Left in Greece. Could I say nothing? Had the ASCSA always maintained a position of strict neutrality? Or were its postures more convenient than sincere? Read the rest of this entry »

Gertrude Smith: A Classic American Philhellene

Posted by Dylan Rogers

Dylan Rogers holds a PhD from the University of Virginia, and he has been Assistant Director at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens since 2015. The essay he contributes to “From the Archivist’s Notebook” was inspired by his summer experience at the School.

“Summers at the ASCSA are a vibrant time for the School, full of students and scholars, with the buzz of activity and chats at Ouzo Hour. Taking on the role of the Assistant Director of the School last year, I was intrigued to learn that each Summer Session Director is given the title, “Gertrude Smith Professor.” At first, I was only vaguely familiar with Smith’s scholarship on Greek law. So, why would the School associate SS Directors with her? This led me on a quest to find out more about Smith—and to find out what her story exactly was. She must have had a passion for Greece, but why? And in what ways did she spread this love to others?”

Gertrude E. Smith in her office at the University of Chicago, ca. 1950.

Gertrude E. Smith in her office at the University of Chicago, ca. 1950. Photo: University of Chicago Library, Special Collections Research Center.

Gertrude Elizabeth Smith (1894-1985) spent most of her adult life in Illinois. Born and raised in Peoria, Smith would later go on to receive her education at the University of Chicago, writing a PhD dissertation on Greek law– after which Smith would begin teaching at the university, eventually becoming the Edwin Olson Professor of Greek in 1933. From 1934 until her retirement in 1961, Smith was the Chairman of the Department of Classics at Chicago, making her a prominent female figure in the field of Classics in America in the 20th century. Smith also served as a founder of Eta Sigma Phi, the national Classics honor society, was the first woman to serve as the president of both the Classical Association of the Middle West and South (CAMWS, 1933-1934) and the American Philological Association (1958), and was a long serving member of the editorial board of the journal, Classical Philology (1925-1965). After her retirement from Chicago, Smith would go on to teach briefly at the University of Illinois, Loyola University in Chicago, and Vanderbilt University (Gagarin 1996-1997). Read the rest of this entry »

“Dollars and Dreams”: American Archaeologists on the Hunt for Greek American Money in Chicago

A still from The Aunt from Chicago (Η θεία από το Σικάγο) with the eccentric aunt (played by Georgia Vasileiadou) in the middle.

A still from The Aunt from Chicago (Η θεία από το Σικάγο) with the eccentric Greek American aunt (played by Georgia Vasileiadou) in the middle.

The Aunt from Chicago is one of the most beloved films in the history of Greek cinema. Produced in 1957, it became an instant hit and remained in demand for many decades. The movie had all the ingredients of a successful production: a great set and superior performances by the best actors of its time. As much as the film is a satire on the conservatism of the Greek family, it is also a subtle mockery of the “aunt’s” Americanization.

Proud of their successful relatives in America, but also feeling uncomfortable with their rapid assimilation by American culture, Greek intellectuals such as novelists Elias Venezis and Yorgos Theotokas tried to rationalize the loss of national identity by the Greek migrants.  If, before WW II, stories of hardship and suffering prevailed over stories of success, after the war America’s new supremacy left little room for a narrative of failure. Instead, a new transnational narrative wanted Greek migrants — with their age-old values and in light of the bravery they had demonstrated during the war — to have contributed to the building of a new America. Novelist Yorgos Theotokas in his Essay on America (Δοκίμιο για την Αμερική), in the wake of a visit to the United States in 1953, would go so far as to claim that “From now on, the American people will be—to a small, but considerable extent—descendants of Greeks also” (Laliotou 2004, p. 86). (For a thorough study of the Greek migration in America, see Ioanna Laliotou, Transatlantic Subjects: Acts of Migration and Cultures of Transnationalism between Greece and America, Chicago 2004.)

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Skyromania? American Archaeologists in 1930s Skyros

Skyros, house interior, 1931. ASCSA, Dorothy Burr Thompson

Skyros, house interior, 1931. ASCSA Archives, Dorothy Burr Thompson Photographic Collection

“The island of Skyros is fairly remote and inaccessible, on account of the winds. One consequence of its geographical location is that there is very little information about the island in the ancient authors, and the picture also given by the travelers is also fragmentary,” archaeologist Efi Sapouna-Sakellaraki could write in her archaeological guide to Skyros, as recently as 1998. Before her, American archaeologist Hazel Hansen, in writing about prehistoric Skyros in 1951, similarly described the island as “one of the most solitary islands in the Aegean for nearly all the other islands are nearer to one another or to the mainland.” Its isolation and the capricious sea between it and the mainland and Euboea are the reasons why Skyros is far less frequently visited…”.

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