Among the first things one notices when approaching the Gennadius Library is the large inscription on the architrave of the neoclassical building, built by the American School of Classical Studies (ASCSA or the School hereafter) in 1926 to house the personal library of John Gennadius. It reads: ΕΛΛΗΝΕΣ ΚΑΛΟΥΝΤΑΙ ΟΙ ΤΗΣ ΠΑΙΔΕΥΣΕΩΣ ΤΗΣ ΗΜΕΤΕΡΑΣ ΜΕΤΕΧΟΝΤΕΣ, that is, GREEKS THEY ARE CALLED THOSE WHO SHARE IN OUR EDUCATION. It is a line taken from Isocrates, Panegyricus 50.
In the School’s Archives there is extensive correspondence between the Chair, Edward Capps, and the Secretary of the Managing Committee, Edward D. Perry, concerning this choice of passage. Both men were distinguished classicists: Capps (1866-1950) was a professor of Classics at Princeton and one of the three original editors of the Loeb Classical Library, and Perry (1854-1938) taught Greek and Sanskrit at Columbia University for several decades.
The original guidelines from the architects of the building, John Van Pelt and W. Stuart Thompson, limited the length of the inscription to twenty letters; in addition, the architects insisted on placing two rosettes to the left and right of the inscription.
The discussions about the inscription began in late 1922, as soon as the School had secured funding from the Carnegie Corporation for the construction of the library. “The book plate of [John] Gennadius contains: ΚΤΑΣΘΕ ΒΙΒΛΙΑ ΨΥΧΗΣ ΦΑΡΜΑΚΑ [buy these books, which are the medicine of the soul]. I think you could get up something better for the frieze over the entrance” Capps teased Perry on October 29, 1922. . To which Perry answered: “I have been thinking over the matter a good deal, but so far have hit upon nothing that pleases me. As he [John Van Pelt] says ‘an inscription some twenty letters long’ I feel a good deal crammed. I will send him, as a mere suggestion to work with, the following, taken with slight changes from Aeschylus’s Prometheus, line 460: ΣΥΝΘΕΣΕΙΣ ΓΡΑΜΜΑΤΩΝ ΜΝΗΜΗ ΑΠΑΝΤΩΝ [“the combinations of letters, memory of all things”] which is thirty letters long” (AdmRec 311/3, folder 5, November 3, 1922).
In early January of 1923 Perry offered four more options, for the School had solicited the opinion of other classical philologists on the matter of the inscription (AdmRec 311/3, folder 5, January 1, 1923). Paul E. More (1864-1937), a classicist but more famous as a literary editor and a proponent of the New Humanism, proposed a line that he thought was inscribed on the Library of Alexandria: “ΓΡΑΜΜΑΤΑ ΙΑΤΡΟΣ ΨΥΧΗΣ [“literature is a healer of the soul”].” It puzzled both Capps and Perry, however, because they did not know its origin. “Do you know what writer gives this?” Capps asked Perry, who answered “I don’t know where [it] comes from… nor does [Larue] Van Hook.” One more reason not to use this line was that it was already (and is still) used by the American Philological Association (now Society for Classical Studies) as: ΨΥΧΗΣ ΙΑΤΡΟΣ ΤΑ ΓΡΑΜΜΑΤΑ.
More also suggested a line from Plato (Republic 549b): ΛΟΓΟΣ ΜΟΥΣΙΚΗΙ ΚΕΚΡΑΜΕΝΟΣ [“argument mixed with music”]. Perry had suggested an English version of the same line as a motto for the new building of the American Academy of Arts and Letters on Audubon Terrace in Upper Manhattan. (Perry’s suggestion was not adopted since the inscription on the Academy building reads: HOLD HIGH THE FLAMING TORCH FROM AGE TO AGE.)
Perry rejected More’s suggestion to use the line from Plato’s Republic because it referred to music: “I should hesitate to use this, on account of the connotation which ΜΟΥΣΙΚΗ inevitably brings up nowadays –though perhaps this is a poor reason.” He preferred More’s other suggestion ΓΡΑΜΜΑΤΑ ΙΑΤΡΟΣ ΨΥΧΗΣ, which Capps discovered “was on the Library at Thebes and ran ΙΑΤΡΕΙΟΝ ΨΥΧΗΣ, according to Diodorus,” but there were objections because “it suggested too strongly the diseased souls” (Adm Rec Box 311/3, folder 6, February 5, 1923).
The other philologist that the School consulted was Paul Shorey (1857-1934), Professor of Classics at the University of Chicago and before that at Bryn Mawr College, who purportedly knew all 15,693 lines of the Iliad by heart. It was Shorey, who came up with the line from Isocrates’s Panygericus 50: “ΕΛΛΗΝΕΣ ΚΑΛΕΙΣΘΑΙ ΤΟΥΣ ΤΗΣ ΠΑΙΔΕΥΣΕΩΣ ΤΗΣ ΗΜΕΤΕΡΑΣ… ΜΕΤΕΧΟΝΤΑΣ,” which he modified to: “ΕΛΛΗΝΕΣ ΚΑΛΟΥΝΤΑΙ ΟΙ ΤΗΣ ΠΑΙΔΕΥΣΕΩΣ ΤΗΣ ΗΜΕΤΕΡΑΣ ΜΕΤΕΧΟΝΤΕΣ.” Capps liked Shorey’s suggestion, but there was a problem with the Isocratic line: it was too long (AdmRec Box 311/3, folder 6, Capps to Perry, January 20, 1924). In order to shorten it Capps and Perry suggested several alterations admitting that: “If Isocrates turned in his grave we couldn’t hear him” (January 23, 1923). By December of 1923 the inscription had been condensed to: ΕΛΛΗΝΕΣ ΟΙ ΤΗΣ ΠΑΙΔΕΥΣΕΩΣ ΗΜΩΝ ΜΕΤΕΧΟΝΤΕΣ.”
Having settled on the Isocratic line, the issue of the Gennadeion inscription went dormant for more than a year, until the building was far advanced. After a meeting with Van Pelt, a concerned Perry wrote to Capps: “He [Van Pelt] had with him a drawing of the inscription (including the word άπαντες), in letters of the later type. His objection to the earlier type of lettering was that the oblique upper and lower lines of the Sigma did not harmonize with the severe horizontal lines of the architrave as well as the later type. Although like you I personally prefer the earlier letters I think there is some point to his argument” ( AdmRec Box 311/3, folder 6, September 22, 1924).
By now the inscription was slightly longer and read: ΕΛΛΗΝΕΣ ΑΠΑΝΤΕΣ ΟΙ ΤΗΣ ΠΑΙΔΕΥΣΕΩΣ ΗΜΩΝ ΜΕΤΕΧΟΝΤΕΣ, since Capps had added the adjective ΑΠΑΝΤΕΣ (all) after ΕΛΛΗΝΕΣ, “… to raise the phrase to the level of a great idea of Hellenism.” Perry suggested replacing ΑΠΑΝΤΕΣ with ΠΑΝΤΕΣ, just to cut one letter, but Capps objected to the use of ΠΑΝΤΕΣ because “it is not Isocrates.” Unhappy with their suggestions, they went back to Shorey’s original suggestion which was long (52 letters) but “more effective” and closer to the original Isocratic line. “Van Pelt thought it could be managed,” as he did, finding room for both the inscription and the rosettes on the Library’s architrave.
It is interesting, however, that Capps was approving the carving of an inscription that promoted “the great idea of Hellenism” just as the Greeks were forced to abandon their own “Great Idea” after the bitter loss of 1922. Of course, Capps’s Hellenism was addressing a different (Western) audience.
The Gennadius Library is the last public neoclassical building built in Athens. By the early 1920s Greek architects had abandoned that style and were experimenting with modernism as one can see on the many buildings in Athens between the two Wars. The poet Kostas Varnalis (1884-1974), who lived in the neighborhood and walked by the Library every day, found the building “άτονο και ανέκφραστο” (dull and expressionless) and said that the Neo-classical style wilted and died out in the Gennadeion (“σ’ αυτό ξεψύχησε ο νεοκλασσικός ρυθμός πεθαίνοντας από μαρασμό”). Would Varnalis turn over in his grave if he knew that his personal papers are housed in the East Wing of the Gennadius Library where the ASCSA Archives have been located since 2018? If he does, we can’t hear him!
- The Varnalis essay, titled “Το κυπαρίσσι,” was first published on August 3, 1944, and was republished by Nikos Sarantakos in Αττικά, 400 χρονογραφήματα του Κώστα Βάρναλη (1939-1958), Athens 2016.
2. An earlier version of my essay on the Gennadeion inscription appeared in The New Griffon 7, 2004, pp. 29-30.
On March 31, 1947, Gisela Richter, Curator of Greek and Roman Art at the Metropolitan Museum of New York, sent a confidential letter to Carl W. Blegen, Professor of Classics at the University of Cincinnati and a distinguished archaeologist. Richter approached Blegen not only because they were friends but because, by having lived in Greece for many years, Blegen had formed strong connections with the local community at all levels. In addition, during World War II, Blegen had offered his services to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and, upon his return to Greece, he had served as Cultural Attaché at the U.S. Embassy (1945-1946). Richter was writing Blegen about five pieces of Greek sculpture on loan to the Metropolitan Museum, including Kore 675 from the Acropolis. Richter refers to her as the “Maiden”.
“As I think I told you, we are naturally anxious to return to the Greeks what they have kindly lent us but very much hope that some arrangement can be made by which we may retain that one Maiden. The other pieces we are not even going to ask for, as there are obvious reasons in each case why the Greeks would not want to part with them, and asking for them would only weaken our case for the Maiden. The latter is one of many, and would hardly be missed in Athens, whereas here she would act as an ambassadress of goodwill, etc., etc.”
Richter sought Blegen’s advice about how to proceed with the request. “The loan to Greece ought to create goodwill for America, but naturally we don’t want to seem to cash in on it.” Richter was referring to President Truman’s announcement of March 1947, known as the Truman Doctrine, whereby the U.S. government granted $300 million in military and economic aid to Greece and $100 million to Turkey. “Would it be better to ask for the piece as a gift and perhaps compensate for it in some other way, or would a direct purchase be better? You who have been in Greece recently and know Greek politics will be able to advise us better than anyone else,” concluded Richter.
Blegen’s response exists only as a draft in his personal papers at the Archives of the American School of Classical Studies (ASCSA or School hereafter). The mention of [Spyros] Skouras’s name in his response (not mentioned in Richter’s letter) suggests that Richter might have followed up with a second letter or a telegram or a note to Blegen’s wife, Elizabeth. To Richter’s disappointment, Blegen could not think “of any altogether satisfactory way of approach to recommend” (ASCSA Archives, Carl W. Blegen Papers, Box 13, folder 1, April 6, 1947). However, he did not reject the idea of having Spyros Skouras, the Greek-American movie mogul, mediate with the Greek authorities “since he has much influence and could apply some pressure. If he could propose it in the right quarters as an idea of his own, not inspired by you, there might be some hope that he could persuade them to make the offer as a spontaneous gesture of friendship.” Blegen thought of another alternative as well: “to ask Bert [Hodge] Hill to try his powers of persuasion.” Hill, Director of the American School from 1906 until 1926, was still considered to be social capital by many at the School. A gifted individual with access to the upper echelons of a small Athenian society, including the royal family, Hill “had his way with men” and could influence politicians. Blegen thought that it would have to be a political decision since the Archaeological Service would likely oppose to it.
There is no other correspondence between Blegen and Richter on this matter. We know that the Acropolis Maiden and the other pieces of sculpture were returned to Greece, so one assumes that either Richter did not press the issue further or that the mediators were unsuccessful. However, it is interesting to read an announcement in the Greek newspaper ΕΛΕΥΘΕΡΙΑ on August 11, 1948, titled “The Greek State will Sell Certain Antiquities. Superfluous in Museums,” which implies that the Ministry of Education might have considered briefly the idea of selling duplicate antiquities, in order to finance the reopening of Greek museums and the beautification of those archaeological sites that had suffered much during the War.
Eight Years Earlier
With these two letters in hand, I began to work my way backward in order to find out why and when these five sculptures had been lent to the Metropolitan Museum. A search in the annual reports of the curators in the Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum Art (BMMA) proved rewarding. In the BMMA of 1939, Richter contributed a section titled “A Loan of Greek Sculptures from Athens” (pp. 239-240). In it, we learn that the five originals had been sent for the Greek Pavilion on the occasion of the World’s Fair in New York and, while in New York, they were also on display in the Met’s galleries. The loan had been negotiated with Spyridon Marinatos (1901-1974), General Director of Antiquities in Greece, and Nicholas L. Lely, the Greek Consul General in New York. Richter proudly reported that “they are the first loans from Greece to cross the Atlantic –in fact, never before has Greece lent a single example of the great treasures in her museums to any country.”
And which were the five pieces that the Greek Government had sent to the World Fair? The Maiden from the Acropolis Museum (no. 675), a work of the late 6th century B.C. that had been discovered in the excavations on the Acropolis in the late 19th century; the gravestone of Ampharette, a work of the late 5th century B.C., found in the Kerameikos; the head of “Ariadne” of the 4th century B.C., found in the Athenian Asklepieion; a little bronze head from Perinthos in Thrace that the National Museum had recently acquired (1935); and finally, the marble head of a Titan by the famous sculptor Damophon, which had been discovered in the Sanctuary of Artemis Lycosoura in Arcadia in 1889.
Richter described the little Maiden as: “a dainty, charming lady, with an elaborate coiffure, rich garments, and a radiant smile. The comparatively well-preserved colors (red on hair, lips, mantle, ornaments; blue –now oxidized to green –on tunic, diadem, earring; purple on borders; and so forth)… They enable us to appreciate how successfully the Greeks used color on sculpture.”
The Fiasco of Another Loan
Richter was right to emphasize in her report the Metropolitan Museum’s success in arranging the first-ever display of Greek antiquities outside Greece. Until then, Greece had participated in world fairs with casts only. Many Americans of Richter’s generation would have remembered the fiasco of another loan in 1924. In that case, the request had not come from an American museum but from a private individual, Henry Morgenthau (1856-1946).
In 1923, Morgenthau, former U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire (1913-1916) as well as a successful businessman, had been appointed by the League of Nations to head the Refugee Settlement Committee in Greece following the Asia Minor Catastrophe of 1922. More than that, Morgenthau had publicly condemned the Turks for having committed atrocities against the Armenians, the Greeks, and other minorities of the Ottoman Empire. To honor Morgenthau’s philhellenism and philanthropic work, the Greek State decorated him with the Grand Cordon of the Savior.
According to The New York Times, before leaving for the U.S., Morgenthau approached the Greek Government with “a proposal that he take the statue by Praxiteles of Hermes… on a tour of the United States for the purpose of raising $12,000,000 in behalf of Greece’s refugees. Mr. Morgenthau said that he was convinced that New York City alone would give $1,000,000 to see the statue. The Vima [a Greek newspaper] said that Greece might consent to the proposal if the request came from the American government and a warship was sent to fetch it” (April 24, 1924). A few days later the same newspaper reported that “it is thought a special case could be built for a national tour, and [that] Mr. Morgenthau believed popular subscriptions from universities, art museums and municipalities would amply cover the cost of the transportation of the statue” (The New York Times, April 28, 1924).
Other newspapers, such The Guardian, presented the story slightly differently, attributing the initiative for the loan to the Greek Government: “These are great times for ‘gestures’… But for the moment the Greek Government beats the record in gracefulness of international gesture by offering America a free loan of the most precious of all Greece’s portable treasures of art… Facing all the perils of shipwreck and land accident, the Greeks offer to let Americans, in all their great cities, have a sight of this world’s wonder with their own eyes, in return for American generosity to Greek sufferers by the war…”(May 3, 1924). The Boston Globe mockingly worried that: “After a few weeks’ travel on American railroads he [Hermes] will look like a statue of Humpty Dumpty after the fall” (May 6, 1924).
At any rate, the proposal met strong objections from the international archaeological community. Edward Robinson, the Director of the Metropolitan Museum, was quoted saying that “while he sympathized with the sentimental side of the proposal, the technical problems involved in the transportation of the statue are so serious that there would be danger of the loss of the Hermes to the world. Other lovers of art in this country are gasping at such a possibility and powerful opposition has developed against…” (The Indianapolis News, May 24, 1924). Moreover, the Managing Committee of the ASCSA in its May meeting passed a resolution that [the School] “is emphatically opposed to the proposal to bring the Hermes of Praxiteles to the United States for exhibition, because of the risk of damage that would attend its removal.”
In addition, in the records of the U.S. Embassy in Athens, there is another resolution signed by thirteen directors of U.S. art museums for the American Association of Art Museum Directors: “… the people of the United States should not become a party to any transaction that might result in irreparable injury to this priceless heritage of Greece (NARA 868.4032, May 8, 1924). A month later Ray Atherton, ad interim United States Ambassador to Greece wrote to Charles Evans Hughes, Secretary of State: “I believe that the proposal was not seriously made by its American originator [meaning Morgenthau], though even the suggestion of such action evoked a storm of protest locally” and that the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs had assured Atherton that permission would never be given (NARA 868.4032/2, June 7, 1924).
The Greek Pavilion at the World Fair of 1939
Fifteen years after the Hermes fiasco, the Greek government, under Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas, and the archaeological community agreed to send the five pieces of ancient sculpture to New York for the World’s Fair. Soon after his appointment as Prime Minister in 1936, Metaxas proceeded to establish an authoritarian and nationalist regime that lasted until his death in 1941. Even if there were any objections, they were not made public.
Niki Sakka and Yannis Hamilakis in separate works have discussed extensively the ideology of Metaxas’s regime in relationship to antiquity, such as the promotion of Spartan ideals and the glorification of the military campaigns of Alexander the Great, as well as the close ties between Hellenism and Orthodoxy. With the enthusiastic support of Spyridon Marinatos, Director of Antiquities since 1937, Metaxas’s regime saw the World’s Fair of 1939 as an opportunity to showcase internationally the glorious past of Greece, as well as select features of modern Greece. There was an emphasis on peasant life and folk art, with titles such as: “In this Classical land of Greece peasant life goes on as of old.”
The Gennadius Library has a copy of the exhibition catalogue which also featured full-page portraits of King George II, Prime Minister Metaxas, and Press Secretary Theologos Nikoloudis, all by Elli Sougioultzoglou-Seraidari (Nelly’s), the renowned Greek photographer and a favorite of the Metaxas’s regime.
For the construction of the Greek pavilion in New York, designed by architects Dimitri and Alexandra Moretis, it is said that 60 tons of marble were quarried in Greece and sent to the States. (After the dismantling of the pavilion, the marble was shipped to Tarpon Springs in Florida for the construction of St. Nicholas church.) A plaster cast of the statue of Hermes by Praxiteles was placed outside the pavilion. Four big murals by artist Gerasimos Steris (an artist who often changes names, nationalities, and countries) illustrating the history and continuity of Greek civilization decorated the façade of the pavilion. The interior was dominated by large photographic collages by Nelly’s which juxtaposed ancient portraits with portraits of contemporary Greeks so as to show the racial continuity of the Greek nation. The five pieces of sculpture together with plaster casts of other well-known Greek statues were on display there. (I have not been able to locate good quality photos of the exterior or the interior of the Greek Pavilion on the web.)
The World’s Fair opened on April 30, 1939, at Flushing Meadows–Corona Park in Queens. On the occasion, the Greek Consul in New York invited Marinatos for a grand lecture tour to present the results of his excavations on Crete, Cephallonia, and his latest at Thermopylae. The latter had already been covered extensively in the press with titles such as: “Seeks Tombs of Ancient Spartans” and “Tombs of Ancient Spartan Heroes are Being Sought at Thermopylae (The Baltimore Sun, July 9, 1939; Winnipeg Tribune, July 18, 1939).
Marinatos was also meant to supervise the return of the five originals. However, Hitler’s invasion of Poland in September 1939 and the subsequent declaration of war against Germany by England and France made a safe passage for the Greek antiquities a risky business. The Greek Government in consultation with Marinatos made the decision to lend the five sculptures to the Metropolitan Museum for the duration of the war (ASCSA Archives, Spyridon Marinatos Papers, Box 2, folder 5) “The collection, valued at $2,000,000, is too valuable to entrust to ocean travel and the menace of submarine attack,” wrote The Evening Sun on October 19, 1939.
And thus the visit of the Acropolis Maiden to America was extended from a few months to eight years.
In 1963, in anticipation of the 1964 New York World’s Fair, the Greek Archaeological Council rejected once again a proposal to send the Hermes statue on a transatlantic voyage. In fact, the Council “opposed in principle the removal of any ancient art treasures from Greek territory” (The New York Times, November 18, 1963). John Kondis, the Director General of Greek Antiquities was quoted saying: “many dangers are involved. We’re definitely opposed to the export of any antiquity.” In addition, Kondis “recalled that in 1938 three statues were sent to the New York Fair against the council’s advice” and that “they were overtaken by war there and were repatriated 10 years later.”
But by the 1960s, Greece could participate in the World’s Fair with another kind of cultural commodities. For example, on May 24, 1965, a special screening of the movie Zorba the Greek was organized at the Greek Pavilion. The movie had already won three Academy Awards and was scheduled to open at eleven theaters in New York the following day (The Morning Call, p. 10). Other newspapers reported that Greece was advertising its cuisine: “A famous Greek chef is in charge of the food preparations. Featured will be a cheese pie called Tiropitta, also the Moussaka casserole made of ground-beef, eggplant and cheese” (The Spokesman Review, March 22, 1964). However, the Daily News published a letter/complaint by the Consul General of Greece, titled “Greece in the Clear,” informing the public that “this pavilion and restaurant is not under the sponsorship of the Greek Government. As is the case with many other countries and their exhibits, this pavilion was erected and sponsored by various Greek businessmen who have no affiliation whatsoever with the Greek government” (September 30, 1964).
Hamilakis, Y. 2007. The Nation and its Ruins: Antiquity, Archaeology, and National Imagination in Greece, Oxford.
Mantzourani E. and N. Marinatou (eds.), 2014 . Σπυρίδων Μαρινάτος, 1901-1974. Η ζωή και η εποχή του, Athens.
Markessinis, A. 2016. The Greek Pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, Torrazza Piemonte.
Richter, G. 1972. My Memoirs: Recollections of an Archaeologist’s Life, Rome.
Sakka, N. 2002. Αρχαιολογικές δραστηριότητες στην Ελλάδα (1928-1940): Πολιτικές και ιδεολογικές διαστάσεις (Diss. University of Rethymnon).
1946 marked the re-opening of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or School hereafter) in a country that had been devastated by war. In reading the official correspondence between the Greek Ministry of Education and the ASCSA, it becomes obvious that opening museums and the preservation of archaeological sites ranked highly on Greece’s list of priorities. With the launch of the Marshall Plan in 1947, Greece’s chances of success were also tightly connected with the development of tourism, and a large part of U.S. aid was streamlined in this direction.
“It is well known that travelers come to Greece chiefly for the purpose of seeing the ancient sites and visiting the museums of the country. In other words, the antiquities of Greece constitute a productive source of revenue capable of adding to the national treasury some 30 million dollars in the course of three years… No investment in the economy of Greece can match this for returns” wrote Oscar Broneer, Acting Director of the American School, on June 29th of 1948, in a petition of the School to the Industry Division of the Marshall plan for a $1,149,000 grant that would re-establish the Greek Archaeological Service.ASCSA AdmRec 804/6, folder 4
Carl W. Blegen, the excavator of many prehistoric sites in Greece who succeeded Broneer in the Directorship of the American School (1948-1949) and had served as Cultural Relations Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Athens in 1945-1946, also thought along the same lines. In an additional memorandum to the U.S. Ambassador in Athens, in August of 1948, Blegen underlined “the lamentable state of disrepair of the Greek museums,” which looked like empty shells (ASCSA AdmRec 804/6, folder 11). Blegen participated actively in meetings between the Economic Cooperation Administration (ECA) representatives and the Archaeological Service and helped with writing proposals. (The ECA was a U.S. government agency set up in 1948 to administer the Marshall Plan.) Since the American School could not receive direct funding from the Marshall plan, the only way to benefit from it was through collaboration with the Greek Government. The School hoped in this way to secure about $100,000 from the ECA through the Greek Government to supplement the cost of the construction of a museum that would store and display the growing number of finds from the Athenian Agora Excavations that had been accumulated since 1931. Before WW II, the School already had secured a grant of $150,000 from the Rockefeller Foundation to build a museum on the west side of the Agora.
Forced by the War to abandon their plans for an Agora Museum, the Americans resumed work at the Athenian Agora in 1947, conducting excavations at the proposed site, in order to begin construction. The 5th and 4th century B.C. houses and industrial workshops that they found were considered too important to be covered up, and a new site for the museum had to be found. After considering every possible location in the Athenian Agora for the museum, the Americans, following Homer Thompson’s suggestion, came to the conclusion that “another and in many ways preferable alternative would be to restore the Stoa of Attalos and install in it the museum, workrooms, and offices…” (ASCSA Annual Report 1947-1948, p. 29).
The draft of a program agreement between the ECA and the Greek Ministries of Coordination and Education included figures for the preservation of 34 monuments, and the reconstruction of the Stoa of Attalos was first on the list.
THE RIGHT PEOPLE IN THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME
Unfortunately, the School’s appeal to the ECA of the Marshall plan met with limited success. Of the original request for $100,000 that the American School had hoped to secure in 1948, only $20,000 was granted for the reconstruction of the Stoa of Attalos. The rest was channeled to support the increased military needs of Greece. The Cold War had just begun. By the end of 1949, the School had already spent some $26,000 excavating the Stoa, to prepare the ground for the foundations of the reconstructed building. “It would be unwise to start any of the building operations, however, until we have studies made by an engineer… We should not want to set up a part of the stoa and then be told that the foundations were inadequate…” wrote the new Director of the American School John (Jack) Caskey to Louis E. Lord, Chair of the Managing Committee on January 2, 1950 (ASCSA AdmRec 318/5, folder 1). After a period with Acting Directors serving one-year terms (1946-1949), the American School had just appointed Caskey as Director for a term of five years.
At roughly the same time, there were two more significant changes in the leadership of the American School. The Chairmanship of the Managing Committee was filled by Charles H. Morgan, and this appointment, which would be extended by a further five years, led to one of the most distinguished and effective decades in the School’s history (Meritt 1984, p. 49).
The third change was the election of Ward Canaday, the Chairman of Willys-Overland Motors, as President of the Board of Trustees of the American School in 1949. Ward immediately invested all his energy and talent in the Agora project. (On Ward Canaday and his daughter Doreen Canaday Spitzer, see “They returned… but stay I did”: Doreen Canaday’s Experience of Interwar Greece.) The other significant participant in the project was Homer A. Thompson, Director of the Agora excavations, upon whose shoulders rested the successful execution of the reconstruction.
JOHN ROCKEFELLER, Jr.
By April of 1950, there was little hope that the ECA would continue funding the restoration of the Stoa of Attalos, despite John and Elizabeth Caskey’s efforts to lobby ECA officials in Athens. “The Paul Porters came to dinner with us the other evening. They were politely interested in our work and I hope to see more of them. I am told that Porter has not been too keen about the Museums and Monuments program, or about the whole muddled tourist campaign” Caskey wrote to Morgan on October 10, 1950. Paul Porter (1904-1975), who was responsible for the Marshall Plan aid program in Greece from 1949 to 1950, described the change in the goals and the character of the ECA as such: “We were like a peace-time factory converted to defense production” (Behram 2007, p. 303).
The lack of interest that the U.S. government showed in the reconstruction of the Stoa of Attalos forced the School’s leadership to explore private sources of funding. Ward Canaday initiated this change of course by presenting a review of the Agora situation to lawyer and banker Winthrop W. Aldrich (1885-1974), in an effort to establish personal contact with John Rockefeller, Jr. (Aldrich’s sister Abby had married John Rockefeller, Jr.). By November of 1950, Canaday had made contact with Dana S. Creel, Rockefeller’s representative. “The door remains open but the chain lock is still on” is how Charles Morgan described the Rockefeller situation to Jack Caskey in a letter dated November 20, 1950 (ASCSA AdmRec 318/5, folder 3). Rockefeller’s office had requested information about past and future costs both for the excavation and restoration of the Stoa, together with a schedule of work. Two months later, Morgan reported to Caskey after a meeting with Creel:
“…the door [to John Rockefeller] was still open but no further ajar… it is apparent that Mr. Rockefeller does not like to renew interest in an undertaking that he has previously considered closed.”ASCSA AdmRec 318/5, folder 3, January 10, 1951
Nevertheless, the good news came a few months later. On May 15, 1951, Creel announced to Ward Canaday that Rockefeller had agreed to contribute financially to the Agora project: “While it was not Mr. Rockefeller’s thought to contribute further to the project, he believes… that it is highly desirable to complete the entire undertaking as quickly as possible in order to avoid any loss or deterioration in connection with the excavation or its findings and to realize the maximum educational value involved in the project.” Rockefeller donated a quarter-million dollars from his personal funds (rather than those of his Foundation) and guaranteed, once this sum was matched by the School, to add a dollar to every dollar secured elsewhere by the School by May 31, 1954, up to an overall total of $2,000,000 (ASCSA AdmRec 202/15, folder 1).
CLOSE BUT NOT QUITE THERE YET…
To match Rockefeller’s gift, the School again approached the ECA whose officers suggested that the School stop playing the tourism card. They, instead, suggested that the School would have more of a chance if it supported a “Big Idea.” “I’m not very happy about using Human Freedom, International Peace, and phrases of that kind for acquiring money for any purpose… I think it true, however, that we ought to emphasize and dramatize a bigger idea than milking tourists of a few extra dollars” confided Caskey to Morgan on July 29, 1951 (ASCSA AdmRec 318/5, folder 4). For this reason, the School’s application to the ECA for $500,000 downplayed the tourism attraction, and instead emphasized the employment and training opportunities that the project would offer to Greeks. As to the “Big Idea,” the School chose to promote the Agora as the birthplace and symbol of democracy, as it had done in the past.
Despite all these changes, a month or so later, Roger D. Lapham (1883-1966), Chief of the ECA Mission to Greece, communicated to Canaday that there was little hope for funding. A change in America’s foreign policy towards Europe and Greece limited aid to projects of the highest military and economic priority (ASCSA Archives, Homer A. Thompson Papers, Box 109, folder 5, September 15, 1951). Two months later, the U.S. would cancel the whole tourist program for Greece, as well as the program for museums and monuments.
A second blow to the finances of the American School came from the Fulbright Foundation which had supported several fellows at the School since the inception of the program in 1948. In the spring of 1952, the Fulbright Foundation drastically reduced the number of fellowships that it granted to the ASCSA. In addition, the School was also rejected by the Ford Foundation (ASCSA AdmRec 318/5, folder 4, Caskey to Morgan, May 31, 1952).
In contrast to its failures with U.S. funding agencies, the School’s appeals to affluent individuals were better received, and by 1952 it had secured the first $100,000 needed to match Rockefeller’s first quarter-million dollar gift. Canaday had inspired two more trustees to offer their support to the Agora project: Arthur Vining Davis (1867-1962) and John Nicholas Brown (1900-1979), whose great-grandfather had given his name to Brown University. But there were also signs of frustration on the School’s staff. So much effort had been put into securing funds for the reconstruction of the Stoa of Attalos and the continuation of the Agora excavations that all other work was effectively put on hold. The Corinth excavations laid dormant, and the School had not recently embarked on any major field project with the exception of the excavations at Samothrace, annually funded by New York University. The need for a larger endowment, although vital, had also been set on a back burner.
“…In my opinion, the School cannot go on denying its other needs for five more years without serious damage to the whole organization. The plant must be kept more nearly up to date; the museum and records at Corinth must be put into shape; some new excavation should be undertaken… My admiration of the Agora dig and my devotion to the members of its staff are undiminished, but I honestly feel that we must soon stop channeling all our resources into that one enterprise” Caskey wrote to Morgan on July 15, 1952.ASCSA Archives, AdmRec 318/5, folder 5
GREAT TIMES AHEAD
By 1953, however, things were shaping up in all directions. Through private fund raising, the School had matched Rockefeller’s first quarter million, and Rockefeller handed over the second quarter-million. Trustee Arthur Vining Davis had pledged an additional $100,000 toward the completion of the Agora project. Most importantly, however, the recent devaluation of drachma by the Greek Government had effectively doubled the purchasing power of the dollar for all transactions. 1953 was thus a landmark year for the American School. After 6 years of hard work and with roughly $800,000 at hand, the School was finally ready to launch the reconstruction of the Stoa and enter a long period of stability. Morgan sent a congratulatory note to Thompson: “Finally, heartiest congratulations on the culmination of the Stoa program. Without your original idea and your persistent faith and tenacity in the face of opposition from every quarter it never could have happened!” (ASCSA AdmRec 318/5, folder 5, May 20, 1953). [Suggested further reading: “That Unspeakable Stoa” and Sakka 2013 for an in-depth study of “the various meanings and values ascribed to the reconstruction process.”]
The American School’s institutional history demonstrates the repeated difficulties it had in securing funds from U.S. philanthropic foundations in the immediate postwar years. While its work and mission could inspire enlightened individuals like John Rockefeller, Jr. and Arthur Vining Davis, the School’s proposals failed to attract institutional support from Marshall Plan bureaucrats and the Rockefeller Foundation (it was John Rockefeller, not the Rockefeller Foundation, who funded the reconstruction of the Stoa). Initial success with the Fulbright Foundation ended after a few years, while its early applications were at first rejected by the Ford Foundation.
The situation was best described by Caskey in his Annual Report for 1951-1952 (p. 20):
“… the policies of foundations have shifted largely from outright sums for endowment and special projects toward support of general programs usually of social or scientific rather humanistic character.”
Caskey was probably referring to the establishment of the National Science Foundation in 1950. The equivalent foundation for the humanities would not be established until 1965.
It is interesting to read in the official history of the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) that there was much skepticism about the worthiness of appropriations like the ones that the Foundation granted to the American School before WW II (the School was given half a million dollars in the 1920s to raise its endowment and build Loring Hall, as well as $150,000 in 1935 to build the Agora museum). In 1937, the then Director of the Humanities Division of the RF, David H. Stevens (1885-1980) noted in an internal report concerning its humanities program:
“How was this program a credit to us? In having a sense of magnitude. In what way a discredit? By buttressing scholasticism and antiquarianism in our universities.”Fosdyke 1989, p. 239
Another RF trustee, Jerome D. Greene (1874-1959), who was in favor of the humanities, also commented on “the snobbishness of the classical tradition” and the possibility that its support “was getting us facts but not necessarily followers” (Fosdyke 1989, p. 241).
Classics as practiced by a small number of graduates from ivy-league schools had a limited place in post-WW II America, where access to a university education was no longer considered a privilege but a right. Foundations such as the Rockefeller, the Ford, or the Fulbright were eager to support programs related to theater, radio, and television studies, as well as language and area studies, with an emphasis on Latin America and the Far East. Humanities were no longer identified with the study of the past. In postwar America, there would be no boundaries between past, present, and future.
“It is sad that the F[ord] F[oundation] is not interested in us as we are. The Fulbright people have shown the same tendency… As I have told you, there has been an increasing tendency, among the Fulbright students especially, to have “a year abroad” and concentrate on the area (if not the language) at the expense of the subject matter itself… This is bad for the School and bad for Classical Studies… I am almost sure that a group of non-classicists in our midst would hasten the process of disintegration,” complained Caskey to Morgan in 1952.
ASCSA Archives, AdmRec 318/5, folder 4, May 31, 1952
It is a pity that the Ford Foundation’s rejection letter is not preserved in the ASCSA Archives, but, even without it, one understands that in the 1950s U.S. foundations were highly critical of the School’s unilateral focus on classical studies and its lack of interest in introducing more inclusive programs. A major redirection in priorities did not come from the School, which continued to focus on the promotion of classics, but rather from the U.S. government and the philanthropic foundations themselves. In the early 1960s, an in-depth study by the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) about the state of the humanities in America led to the creation in 1965, for the first time, of a national entity that would support humanities: The National Endowment for the Humanities. The ACLS Report of the Commission on the Humanities 1964 was based on studies presented by twenty-four organizations and institutions, including the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA). Note that four of the members of the Committee who represented the AIA had close ties with the School (Alan Boegehold, Cedric Boulter, Robert Scranton, and John Young). Therefore, it is not accidental that the AIA report within the ACLS Report included a section concerning the financial support of American excavations in the Mediterranean and the Near East, with a special emphasis on the continuation of the Athenian Agora excavations which was described as ‘the exemplary dig of all time,” with a call to raise $4,000,000 for the completion of the project (ACLS Report, pp. 73-74). (For a thorough discussion of the ACLS report and the AIA’s support of excavations of “advanced civilizations,” see Dyson 1998, pp. 228-231, 258-261).
A year later, in 1966, after having been rejected in the past, the American School received $1 million from the Ford Foundation, the largest single grant in American archaeology at the time, to support the Agora excavations. This was the Ford Foundation’s first contribution to classical archaeology, but why the Ford Foundation became interested in funding an archaeological project in Greece is a story for another occasion.
Behram, G. 2007. The Most Noble Adventure: The Marshall Plan and How America Helped Rebuild Europe, New York.
Dyson, S. 1998. Ancient Marbles to American Shores: Classical Archaeology in the United States, Philadelphia.
Fosdick, R. B. 1989 . The Story of the Rockefeller Foundation, New York.
Meritt, L.S. 1984. History of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1939-1980, Princeton.
Sakka, N, 2013. ” ‘A Debt to Ancient Wisdom and Beauty’: The Reconstruction of the Stoa of Attalos in the Ancient Agora of Athens,” in Philhellenism, Philanthropy, or Political Convenience? American Archaeology in Greece, ed. J. L. Davis and N. Vogeikoff-Brogan, Hesperia Special Issue 82:1, pp. 203-227.
The jumping-off point for this story was an odd comment that Louis E. Lord made in his History of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens about a Belgian archaeologist who was active at the School from 1927 until 1934. “Ferdinand Joseph Maria de Waele, Assistant in Archaeology for six years (1929-1934) was not reappointed. He had served well as an excavator, his work at the Asklepieion had been competent. But he never made a final report for publication, and the manner of his departure left behind him an odor of unsanctity highly offensive to the School” (Lord 1947, p. 246). Lord was referring to an accusation of smuggling antiquities made against de Waele. But was it true? A simple Google search showed that Ferdinand Joseph Maria De Waele (1896-1977), after leaving the American School, went on to have a distinguished career as a professor of archaeology at the Catholic University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands and, later, at the University of Ghent.Read the rest of this entry »
The recent discovery of a head of Hermes in central Athens brought to mind another herm (one of the best of its kind), which was stolen from Greece almost ninety years ago. (A herm is a stone pillar with a sculpted head and genitals. In ancient Greece, herms were thought to have an apotropaic function and were placed at crossings, borders, and in front of houses or public buildings.)
I pick up the story in September 1932, when Richard Stillwell (1899-1982) returned to Athens after two months of vacation in America. A Princeton graduate and an architect by training, Stillwell had been appointed the new Director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (1932-1935). He was no stranger to Greece or the American School (ASCSA or the School hereafter). As Fellow in Architecture in 1924, he had learned “the skills and rigors of archaeological fieldwork in the excavations at Corinth”; and as Professor of Architecture (1928-1931) he would begin a “long series of architectural studies which would form one of his major contributions to the field” (Shear 1983). In 1931-1932 Stillwell was Assistant Director during Rhys Carpenter’s last year in charge of the School. Starting with Stillwell the School introduced a new model of administration: new directors would learn the ropes by serving as assistant directors during the previous year. (This model was abandoned in the late 1960s, when it became increasingly difficult for incoming directors to extend leaves of absence from universities.)Read the rest of this entry »