Mycenaean Mementos and the Govs: The Materiality of the Wace-Blegen Friendship

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 writes the biography of three objects, modern copies of Mycenaean originals, which once belonged to Carl W. Blegen and Alan Wace, the “Govs” of Mycenaean archaeology. These objects were once woven in some way into the personal relationship of these two individuals who shaped the field of Mycenaean studies.


They will honor him in their heart as if he were a god
And send him to his dear homeland in a ship
With gifts of bronze, gold, and fabrics in such abundance
As Odysseus would never had taken from Troy
If he had arrived home unscathed with his share of booty.
(Od. 5.36-40)

Such is Zeus’s prediction of Odysseus’s fate among the Phaeacians.  And guest gifts are a phenomenon not only well-known to Classicists, but a concept that has had an impact on anthropological thought for nearly a century — at least since the publication in L’Année Sociologique of Marcel Mauss’s “Essai sur la donne” in 1925 —  and, through it, on the interpretation of patterning in archaeological data.  Mauss demonstrated that in pre-modern exchange systems there were obligations to give and receive, but especially to reciprocate in the presentation of gifts, practices deeply embedded in social systems.  In the field of archaeology, gift exchange has been seen, prominently since the 1970s, as a mechanism that accounts for distributions of material goods (e.g., T.K. Earle and J.E. Ericson eds., Exchange Systems in Prehistory, New York 1977), and studies of the cultural biographies of exchanged artifacts have been popular (A. Appadurai, The Social Life of Things, Cambridge 2013).

This post is not, however, concerned with archaeological finds, but rather with the histories of a few
mementos owned by two of the most famous Greek prehistorians of the 20th century, Alan Wace and Carl Blegen, best friends and colleagues,“the Govs” as they called themselves  (see Y. Fappas, “The ‘Govs’ of Mycenaean Archaeology: The Friendship and Collaboration of Carl W. Blegen and Alan J. B. Wace as Seen through Their Correspondence,” in J.L. Davis and N. Vogeikoff, eds., Carl W. Blegen: Personal and Archaeological Narratives, Atlanta 2015, pp. 63-84).  The copies of Mycenaean artifacts that I consider here have sometimes been thought to have been material manifestations of their friendships, mutually reciprocated gifts.  But were they really?

A Pair of Goblets

On the final day of my directorship of the ASCSA, June 30, 2012, Jim Wright, my successor, and I drank from a metal goblet of Early Mycenaean shape and style — high stem, shallow bowl with out-turned rim, dogs biting the rim, two strap handles.  We were toasting the passing of the baton from one administration to the next. The goblet in question had been sitting on a table at the foot of the staircase leading to the piano nobile of the Director’s house during my entire tenure in Athens (2007-2012). I had heard through the grapevine that it was one of a pair that celebrated Wace and Blegen’s friendship, each man having one.  That’s a wonderful story and one that I repeated to others on a number of occasions, but was it true?

Jack Davis and Jim Wright drinking out of Carl Blegen’s goblet, being watched by an approving Olga Palagia, June 30, 2012. Photo: Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan.

This past spring I wrote Lisa [Elizabeth Bayard Wace] French to get her take on the matter, and she replied: “I am not sure whether the govs bought these replicas at the same time or not but I do well remember that I knew even as a child that each family had one. Attached is the photo of Ken Wardle filling the one held by Cynthia [Shelmerdine] with the bottle of wine brought by [one guest] … It was at a buffet dinner I gave at Millington Road … all the relevant Cambridge people came….“

Ken Wardle filling Wace’s goblet held by Cynthia Shelmerdine. Photo Elizabeth Wace French.

One of the gold goblets that Stamatakis found at Myceneae, now in the National Archaeological Museum. Photo: Jack L. Davis.

Where and when did the Govs get these goblets?  Did they, in fact, buy them together?  Were they gifts?  Both are copies, of gold, not silver, goblets found by Panayiotis Stamatakis at Mycenae near the Schliemann grave circle (see H. Thomas, “The Acropolis Treasure from Mycenae,” Annual of the British School at Athens 39 [1938/1939] 65-87). Wace’s goblet, now in the hands of his granddaughter, Ann French, is water-marked English sterling manufactured in 1908, in Chester by the firm of Nathan and Hayes – before, that is, Wace and Blegen met for the first time.  A discoloration on the base was likely created by a price tag, thus not made-to-order.  The goblet is also labelled underneath: “Mycenaean 14th cent. B.C.”  Nathan and Hayes manufactured and marketed a line of replicas.

Blegen’s goblet, in contrast, is unmarked and unlabeled — although nearly identical.  It was not made by an English silversmith nor at the same time as Wace’s — nor is it silver, as we recently discovered through XRF analysis in the Wiener Laboratory of the ASCSA.  It is instead a brass electrotype.

Carl Blegen’s copy of the gold goblets found at Mycenae near Grave Circle A. Photo: Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan.

Dr. Dimitris Michailidis of the Wiener Laboratory analyzing Blegen’s goblet. Photo: Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan.

Did Wace have it made for Blegen, perhaps in Greece?  It is not impossible that it was acquired from the shop of the Émile Gilliérons, père and fils, on Skoufa St. in Kolonaki. (On the Gilliérons, see Sean Hemingway’s lecture at the Met in 2011; and Watercolors of the Acropolis: Émile Gilliéron in Athens: The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, v.76, no. 4 [Spring, 2019]. The Met was one of the Gilliérons’ best customers.)

Certainly Wace and Blegen knew the Gilliérons.  Gilliéron fils worked with Wace in 1923 at Mycenae, as did Blegen.  He then worked for Blegen at Prosymna, and again, in the wake of the 1939 campaign, at the Palace of Nestor.  In the archives of the Department of Classics at the University of Cincinnati we have a small notepad with pen and ink drawings of finds from Tholos Tomb III at Pylos, as well as casts of two ivories. But did the Gilliérons make the goblet?  It is listed in their sale catalogue (Galvanoplastische Nachbildungen: Mykenischer und kretischer [minoischer] Altertümer, Athens, pl. 10, no. 16), but it was normal to hallmark their products with “Gilliéron Athènes” in an oval.

The gold Mycenaean goblet in the Gillieron catalogue.

A Mysterious Clay Alabaster

As I discovered more recently, the goblets are not the only Wace-Blegen realia enrobed in mystery. During the extraordinarily wet and cold winter of 2019 Shari Stocker and I were dining in Alameda, California, at the home of Kim Shelton and Dimitris Dimopoulos, her husband. Dimitris, who hails from the village of Ancient Mycenae, is a professional chef. Shari and I hung out in the kitchen, talking to Kim as Dimitris threw together a Mexican meal.

Kim’s LEGO models of a Starship Enterprise and a Millennium Falcon dominated conversation in their dining room, as did the biographies of her two cats.  It was only late in the meal that I saw a familiar friend sitting on a small table by the front door – a vase made by Cincinnati’s Rookwood Pottery, the best known of all 20th century producers of American Art Pottery. Shari, who in an earlier life bought and sold art pottery, saw it too.

The date of the pot was clear –1924 (written XXIV) incised before firing on its base – but the shape was odd. It was a masterful reproduction of a Late Helladic II alabastron! We had never before seen a prehistoric Greek vase imitated by Rookwood, let alone in a “production piece,” a category intended for the mass market. Even Classical Greek shapes are rare (although Shari and I have a calyx crater in our own collection).

Copy of a Late Helladic II alabastron by Rookwood Pottery, 1924. Kim Shelton Collection. Photo: Jack L. Davis.

The alabastron turned out to have been a gift to Kim from Lisa French, one of a pair of alabastra inherited from her parents. (Lisa’s daughter Ann now has the other.)

Here was a real conundrum. Kim thought Lisa had told her that the vases were presents from Blegen, but, if they had been commissioned by Blegen as friendship tokens, why hadn’t each Gov kept one? How exactly had the Waces come to possess alabastra made in Cincinnati?  Lisa suggested a possibility:

“The family story as I remember it is that my parents visited the factory and AJBW was asked to design a shape they could produce – which they did – My mother loved the black one and used it every year for a lovely low dish of anemones.   This must have been on a visit to the US between their marriage in 1926 [1925] and my birth [1931] BUT I do not know if it was before or after CWB got there as a very great friend of my mother was Mrs Alice Reynolds sister to Mrs Timkin who lived in Cincinnati –  They had served together at the YWCA canteen for returning soldiers in New York in 1918/19.”

There are some problems with this scenario, however. The Waces were not married until June of 1925 and the vases are dated to 1924.  The idea that Blegen gave the alabastra to Wace is also not likely.  Although by 1924 they had become fast friends, Wace having schooled him in Mycenaean pottery already in 1916 at Korakou, Blegen only came to the University of Cincinnati in 1927.


The Wace Family in the 1930s. ASCSA Archives, Carl W. Blegen Papers.

Lisa Wace with her godfather Carl Blegen, 1937. ASCSA Archives, Carl W. Blegen Papers.

Over the next few months I obsessively pursued the origin of the alabastra. First I wrote to Suzanne Perrault, an art pottery appraiser on Antiques Roadshow and a friend of ours. (Mary Darlington of the ASCSA had arranged for Suzanne and her husband, David Rago, to visit the School when I was director.). Suzanne suggested that I write to another friend of ours, Anita Ellis, former deputy director of curatorial affairs at the Art Institute of Cincinnati.

Anita responded: “Your vase is part of the [Rookwood] Brown Mat glaze line. The brown color of this glaze line ranges from dark chocolate to light brown, and is generally uneven in color or mottled, not unlike many finds from antiquity. Because this glaze line is not listed in any of Rookwood’s glaze notebooks, color identification sheets, or retail sales lists suggests that it did not sell well. I suspect that one had to like the browns of antiquity to appreciate it. … Like the other undecorated mat lines this one is considered a commercial ware product because it is undecorated and unsigned by any artist.

As for the impressed marks on the bottom, “2760” is the shape number. Peck’s book of shape numbers [H.Peck, The Second Book of Rookwood Pottery, p. 144 (privately published, 1985)] tells us that the vase was designed by John D. Wareham (1871-1954). [Our calyx krater was also designed by Wareham]. The date of the vase as you know is 1924. Carter discovered King Tut’s tomb in 1922, which gave way to a very desirable archaeological look to things for years. You also have an esoteric mark below the “2760.” … The commercial ware pieces that contain [such marks] are usually from more complicated molds, such as the one needed for your vase because of its shape and because handles needed to be applied.”

Copy of a Late Helladic II alabastron by Rookwood Pottery, 1924, bottom of vase. Kim Shelton Collection. Photo: Jack L. Davis.

Had these vases been special orders?  I turned to Rookwood Pottery Inc. for help.  Would they be able to provide a clue?  There I struck out. The Rookwood archives were destroyed when the firm moved to Starkville, Mississippi in 1959.

Alan Wace in Cincinnati in 1924

At this point I decided to approach the problem from another angle.  Had either Wace or Blegen been in Cincinnati in 1924?  I got lucky.  Although Wace’s diaries from this period are not preserved, public records came to the rescue.  Wace had, in fact, been Charles Eliot Norton Memorial Lecturer for the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) in 1923-24.  In that capacity, he delivered two lectures about his excavations at Mycenae in southwestern Ohio: one at Miami University and one in Cincinnati.  The Cincinnati chapter had been founded in 1905 but was reorganized in 1923-24 by William T. Semple, head of the Department of Classics at the university.  Semple was also patron of the university’s excavation at Nemea, which in its inaugural campaign in 1924 would be directed by Bert Hodge Hill and Carl W. Blegen.  The chapter grew from seven members in 1924 to 80 in 1925. By 1926-1927, Semple’s wealthy wife, Louise Taft, had become a Vice-President, and Cincinnati was described as “one of our best societies” in President R.V.D. Magoffin’s annual report.

I found an advertisement for the Miami lecture in a local newspaper, but none for Cincinnati.  Jeff Kramer, archivist of the Department of Classics, wonders “if the Cincinnati stop wasn’t advertised to the public, especially since membership [of the society] was so small.  Who knows? – maybe the Semples hosted it at Louise’s parents’ house on Pike Street. The parlor there is more than large enough.”  That mansion is now the Taft Museum of Art.

It seems entirely possible that Wace visited Rookwood Pottery on the occasion of his visit to Cincinnati in January 1924 and supplied the design himself, as Lisa remembers the family tradition (although not with her mother).  Susan Walker Longworth, whose ancestors had once owned the Taft mansion on Pike St., had been President of the Cincinnati society and was a life member.  The Longworths were passionate about art and Greek Antiquity. But there is a smoking gun: her sister-in-law, Maria Longworth Nichols Storer, a patron of the arts and an artist herself, had co-founded Rookwood Pottery.  Had the Semples helped to arrange the manufacture of the two alabastra for Wace on the occasion of his Norton lecture?  One can even imagine that the Director of the ASCSA, Bert Hodge Hill, who had visited the Semples in November of 1923, supplied Rookwood Pottery with images of alabastra recently found by Wace at Mycenae — although there is no indication that he did so in his account of the trip included in a letter to Blegen.

Both Mycenaean object biographies have loose ends.  The bottom line is that, although this post has become much longer over the past six months, I am unable to be certain about the precise roles that the goblets or alabastra played or did not play in Wace and Blegen’s relationship – there are only likely scenarios.

Failure in the Archives?

Despite the fact that Blegen’s professional archive at the ASCSA comprises 8 linear meters, while Wace’s in the Faculty of Classics at Cambridge fills 34 boxes, questions that might easily have been answered, were the principals alive, remain mysteries. The momentos that concern me in this post are, of course, of trivial importance in comparison to gaps that historians often face, especially when confronted with biographies of the disempowered and disregarded. That problem is, in fact, so extreme that it was chosen as the topic of a 2014 conference sponsored by The Centre for Editing Lives and Letters at University College London, titled “Failure in the Archives,“ a celebration of the “frustrations of archival research,” … “a forum to examine everything that doesn’t belong in traditional conferences and publications, from dead-end research trips to unanswered questions. The dangers of misstepping in the archive are endless, no matter how robust the finding-aids. ‘Failure in the Archives’ [aimed] to make that danger useful.”

Jill Lepore, David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History at Harvard University, is one of the many who have wrestled with such issues.  In regard to her biography of Jane Franklin, sister of Benjamin Franklin (Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, 2013), she remarked several years ago:

“I think [Jane Franklin’s] story is allegorical in that it helps us to think about inequality. If people go around with the idea that the only people in the 18th century were John Adams and George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, then they are left with no ideas at all about inequality. The historical record is profoundly uneven and asymmetrical. These men left behind so many documents, so much paper, and these other people did not. So Jane’s life works as an allegory that reveals persistent forms of inequality, and what is more urgent to understand than inequality? … I took on a fairly ambitious sense of mission when I finally decided to finish this book — which I tried for many years to write and kept abandoning. I wanted to tell Jane’s story as a way to ask readers to think about how history gets written: what gets saved and what gets lost, what gets remembered and what gets forgotten, and what the consequences are of each of these choices.”

Do goblets and ceramic alabastra have their usefulness in the sense meant by the organizers of “Failure in the Archives”? In some small way I think they do.  These objects were once woven in some way into personal relationships of individuals who shaped the field of Mycenaean studies. And the strength of these realia is demonstrated by their continuing ability to bind institutions and individuals: Cincinnati, Cambridge, and the ASCSA, schools cherished by Wace and Blegen, as well succeeding generations of scholars from Alameda to Manchester. As a student of material culture, I can appreciate that.


I am grateful to all who have helped me research background for this post. These include: Anita Ellis, Ann French, Lisa French, Sean Hemingway, Riley Humler, Jeff Kramer, Joan Mertens, Dimitris Michalopoulos, Suzanne Perrault, Kim Shelton, Sharon Stocker, and Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan.  The Odyssey translation is from Kostas Myrsides, ed., Reading Homer: Film and Text.

To Live Alone and Like It: Women and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens Between the Wars.

“But it is not education only that is needed. It is that women should have liberty of experience… to idle and loiter, the mental space to let your mind wonder,” wrote Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own in 1929. The work was based on lectures she delivered in October 1928 at Newnham College and Girton College in Cambridge (both for women). She further advised her female audience “to drink wine and have a room of their own.” I will not dwell on the issue of wine because women of all classes had access to alcohol, at least privately, but for a woman to have a room of her own was highly unusual before WW II, especially for women who had not inherited wealth. Woolf would be eternally grateful to her aunt for leaving her a lifelong annual stipend of 500 pounds.

That a woman could live alone by her own choice was almost unheard of. Young women who moved to the big cities in search of work were usually sharing apartments with others of the same sex, for a few years at most, until they got married. However, WW I upset traditional demographics by creating a population imbalance in the western world: more women than men. To put it bluntly, for these extra women it meant that the prospect of marriage was less attainable (Scutts 2017). If Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) was fighting her own battles in ultra conservative England, Marjorie Hillis (1889-1971), an American writer and contemporary of Woolf, was sufficiently daring to publish in 1936 a book that encouraged single women to take control of their lives and Live Alone and Like it. “A Lady and Her Liquor,” “Pleasures of a Single Bed,” and “Solitary Refinement?” were some of the chapter titles. Her book became an immediate best-seller and remained popular for many years.

I must admit that I had not read Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own until very recently although I had seen references to it many times before. I was not aware of Hillis’ book until I began to study the impact of Woolf’s essays. It is also not clear whether Hillis knew of Woolf’s work, but that’s not really the point. What I want to draw attention to is the fact that many women in the 1920’s and 1930’s on both continents were thinking in a similar manner: Woolf conveying her thoughts within a theoretical framework and Hillis offering useful, practical advice. I began researching this subject after a spring trip to Princeton where I went for business, but, while there, I decided to combine business with pleasure. And what is pleasure for an archivist? Instead of facilitating other people’s research, during lunch breaks I conducted my own study of the Special Collections of the Firestone Library. (Their new Reading Room is fantastic!) For lack of time I decided to focus on Alison Frantz’s early letters from abroad to her mother Mary Kate.

Mary Alison Frantz (1903-1995) was a graduate of Smith College with a PhD from Columbia University. She is remembered today for her scholarly contributions to the study of Byzantine Art and for her archaeological photography. Following WW II she served as the Cultural Attaché of the U.S. Embassy in Athens and was the first Executive Director of the newly established Fulbright Foundation in Greece (1946-1949). (For her work at the Fulbright Foundation, as “a woman of power,” see Lalaki 2018.) I was fortunate to meet Frantz in person in the early 1990s, when she came to the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) for a lecture in her honor and stayed at the Annex of Loring Hall, where I was living as a graduate student. I will never forget how elegant and distinguished she looked in her long black dress and her pearl necklace (she was 90 at the time).

Alison Frantz, Lucy Talcott, Rodney Young, and Constance Curry, ca. 1935. ASCSA Archives, Richard H. Howland Papers.

In a few days at Princeton I managed to read the letters she sent during her first visit to Greece in 1925, in a second brief visit in 1927, and in the course of an extended stay in 1929-1930 when she spent a year working as a librarian at the American School. Her first visit was rather short and part of an educational trip that the Director of the American Academy of Rome, Gorham P. Stevens, and his Greek wife, Annette Notaras, had organized. She experienced Greece as an informed tourist who was herded around with the other members of her group. Although I will refer to her earliest impressions of Greece, I am more interested in the accounts of her third and defining time in Greece. All the letters I will be quoting from are part of her personal papers in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at Princeton University.

“Rome is far superior to Athens, except for the Acropolis” (1925)

In 1925 Alison stayed in Greece slightly more than a month, visiting Central Greece and the Peloponnese with the rest of the AAR group. Traveling outside Athens remained difficult, almost primitive, with dirt roads, mules, and a noticeable lack of clean hotels and restaurants. To get to Delphi they sailed from Piraeus to Itea, and from there they climbed up for three hours to reach the ancient site. “Everything is done by mules and we have seen only two automobiles since we have been here,” she wrote to her mother from the Pythian Apollo Hotel.  At St. Luke’s Monastery “there were seventeen of us and there seemed to be only about four beds…”. One of the monks “went out into the field and got a kid, and killed and cooked it,” while another one “sat in the garden and ground the coffee in a fascinating brass grinder” (April 4, 1925). At Tripolis, the proprietor of a greasy restaurant “came out with a leg of a mutton in his hand and slapped and stroked it and said we could have it” (April 20, 1925). The entire time she was in Greece she was longing for the Roman fountains “and the feeling of an indefinite water supply, because here there is practically none. It runs twice a week and we have to drink boiled or bottled water” (May 4, 1925). Athens would solve its water problem a few years later with the completion of the construction of the Marathon Dam in 1929.

It only takes a quick glance at her letters to gather that the 22 year-old Alison did not enjoy her first time in Greece. “Rome is far superior to Athens, except for the Acropolis,” she declared to her mother after returning to Rome (May 15, 1925). Her comment is in marked contrast with the one made a few years earlier by A. Winsor Weld (1869-1956), one of the deputy commissioners of the American Red Cross Commission to Greece in 1918, who claimed that Athens was “in every way a much more attractive city than Rome.” (See an earlier post from 2015, titled “Athens 1918: “In Every Way A Much More Attractive City than Rome.”) Aside from personal tastes, there was a defining event in the history of the city –between Weld’s experience in 1918 and that of Frantz in 1925– one that affected Athens’ character for ever: the influx of hundreds of thousands of Greek refugees after the Asia Minor Catastrophe in 1922, followed by the population exchange of 1923. It would take the city years to recover from the shock and to absorb the new population by expanding her radius. No wonder that there was a shortage of water in 1925.

Athens to Trikala: Fifteen Hours by Train (1927)

Alison would be back in Athens briefly in the fall of 1927. This time she found another, slightly older, graduate of Smith College, Priscilla Capps (1900-1985), the daughter of Edward Capps, the Chairman of the School’s Managing Committee. Alison went to visit Priscilla “at her headquarters,” that is, the Near East Industries that Priscilla was managing near Constitution Square. “You know she is in charge of the workrooms of the American Friends of Greece. They have the most fascinating things there—embroidery of all kinds. They get characteristic designs from various parts of Greece and the islands, and the women work and sell them here—they handle two thousand dollars’ worth a month,” Alison reported to her mother, a native of Princeton, who must have known the members of the Capps family who lived there.

Near East Industries pouch with Rhodian design. ASCSA Archives, Jack L. Davis Collection.

This time Alison travelled to Meteora. “We were on the train fifteen hours and got to Trikkala about nine where we spent the night in a rather unfortunate hotel.” But Meteora was worth the trouble because “this is the most amazing place I have even seen. Perfectly smooth sheer rocks rise two and three hundred feet away from the ground and on the top are perched these monasteries… The view over the Thessalian mountains was superb with the Pindos range in the distance, and, literally, dozens of eagles soared over our heads all the time” (September 23 [1927]).

From 1927 to 1929 Alison would join the staff of the Index of Christian Art at Princeton University, a program founded in 1917 by Charles Rufus Morey (1877-1955), chair of the Department of Art and Archaeology at Princeton, who aimed to make Princeton the center for the study of Early Christian, Byzantine, and Early Medieval Art. He also wanted to train a new generation of American scholars in these fields. One of them was Alison Frantz, who would earn her doctorate on Byzantine ornament from Columbia University, under his supervision, since Princeton remained an all-male school.

To Greece for a Third Time (1929)

In early September 1929 Alison returned to Athens not for a visit but to work in the library of the American School. Her good friend Priscilla had reserved a room for her at the Miramare Palace in Old Phaleron. “It is right on the bay with a marvelous view of the islands on one side and Hymettus on the other… There is a big sea-airport here, and as I arrived a British plane from England bound for Constantinople and India took off from the harbor.’ Alison is referring to an air harbor which had operated at Old Phaleron since 1926. On the web I found that an Italian company, Aero Espresso, was running a line: Brindisi – Old Phaleron – Syros – Constantinople, and that the trip lasted nine hours. The author of the essay, Cliton Samatiadis, also discovered in an old Eleftheroudakis guide that, because of the air harbor, Phaleron, Kalamaki, and Nea Smyrni were popular neighborhoods among refugees from Constantinople (“H εγκατάσταση Κωνσταντινουπολιτών και η γραμμή υδροπλάνων Παλαιό Φάληρο-Κωνσταντινούπολη,” 24/12/2017). Interestingly enough, lately there have been efforts to reintroduce hydroplanes to Greece; in fact, Minister Adonis Georgiadis just announced that “Του χρόνου τέτοια εποχή θα πετάμε με υδροπλάνα.”  As they say, believe it when you see it!

The arrival of a hydroplane at Old Phaleron, ca. 1930.

Back to Alison and her Phaleron days, which can only be described as joyful. Often joined by Priscilla, she went swimming at the Golf Club (yes, there was a golf club in Athens since the 1900s; I have written about it in “Athens at the Turn of the Century: A Sentimental Capital and a Resort for Scholars“): “the golf course, which is on sand was very wet from a recent rain.” (Sept. 10, 1929).  The two women also went riding: “Priscilla and I have been riding about twice a week and it’s perfectly lovely… We usually ride along the slopes of Hymettus, and every now and then look up and see the Acropolis…” (Sept. 17, 1929). On another occasion, she and Priscilla “had a marvelous ride. The horses were frisky and the air [was] delightful” (Oct. 9, 1929).

Alison Frantz writing to her mother from the Miramarare Hotel in Old Phaleron, Sept. 10, [1929]. Princeton University Library, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Alison Frantz Papers.

Alison went to Athens almost every day. It took her only fifteen minutes by bus to get to the center of the city: “it is a very pleasant ride, although the buses never start until they are quite full, so that you are always packed together like sardines or else don’t go at all” (Sept. 10, 1929). The construction of Loring Hall was nearing completion, with a due date of November 1st. Its completion was expected to solve the School’s accommodation problem, which had become more pressing after 1922 with the influx of the Asia Minor refugees. It is amusing to find that there was resistance among the members who were living in the main building (in the basement rooms of what is today the Director’s house) against moving to Loring Hall, despite it being state of the art, with hot running water and central heating. Alison and others preferred the old building because “all the rooms have fireplaces while none of the new ones do, and I would sacrifice a good deal for one…” she wrote to her mother (Sept. 22, 1929).

Living in Old Phaleron likely stretched her means because she was asking for a small loan from her mother until she received her first salary on Oct. 1st. “Yesterday morning Mr. Carpenter and I went over the library work and I think it’s going to be very interesting, chiefly ordering books and keeping track of them as they come in.” In another letter she gives a few more details about her daily tasks in the Library: “I also open the many book catalogues and advertisements to see if there is anything we ought to have. I also see to the binding of books…”.  Alison was essentially the School’s librarian for that year; yet, if one checks the Annual Report for 1929-1930, her name does not appear anywhere.

Of Rhys Carpenter, ASCSA Director (1927-1932) and Professor of Archaeology at Bryn Mawr College, she wrote admiringly: “Mr. Carpenter is a most extra-ordinary person. Besides being one of the foremost archaeologists they say he is a very good poet, painter, and musician, and speaks eight languages fluently” (Sept. 22, 1929). Two months later she would modify slightly her first impression. “The Carpenters I like very much although both are temperamental. His lectures at Olympia were marvelous, he really is extraordinarily brilliant” (Nov. 18, 1929).

Eleanor and Rhys Carpenter at the ASCSA garden, ca. 1930. British School at Athens, Archives, Winifred Lamb Personal Papers, LAM 3/1/13/25.

A Place of Their Own

The slightly older and well-to-do Priscilla Capps must have been a trend setter among a host of young American women who were living in the orbit of the American School. First, she was running her own business, managing the Near East Industries–embroidery workshops for refugee women; second, she was renting a place of her own. She conformed to both of Virginia Woolf’s tips for women who wanted to experience life on their own terms. “Priscilla has taken a little four room house near the School for the winter. She has a maid called Aphrodite… it is quite darling. She has a lot of nice things and has fixed it up in a very attractive way…” (Oct. 9, 1929). Inspired by Priscilla, Alison went out to buy “two adorable little Skyros chairs, very low with string seats, carved backs, and no arms…” Yet, to her mother Alison had to defend Priscilla’s decision to have a place of her own: “she prefers a place where she can keep house and have her possessions and dog about her…” (Oct. 22, 1929). Mary K. was asking why Priscilla had not opted for a room at Loring Hall.

I have been curious about the houses, especially the interiors, of the American archaeologists who decided to make Athens as their permanent home. A few years ago Vivian Florou studied various primary sources in order to ‘restore’ the interior of the Blegen/Hill household (Florou 2015).  Only one photograph of the interior of 9 Ploutarchou has survived, and, by good fortune, it’s the one that depicts the “Greek Room” with its Skyrian furniture.

The “Greek Room” at 9 Ploutarchou, 1930. ASCSA, Carl W. Blegen Papers.

I was not so lucky as to find photos from Priscilla’s apartment, but in the Special Collections of Bryn Mawr College, the archivist located in the Lucy Shoe Merritt Papers interior photos from another Athenian apartment. Lucy Shoe (1906-2003) was a graduate of Bryn Mawr and a student at the School in 1929-1930, who had saved photos of the apartment she and Dorothy Burr had shared in the early 1930s. Naturally, they had chosen one with a fireplace, in front of which they took their afternoon tea; and like the “Greek Room” of the Blegen house, they had placed two low, armless Skyrian chairs on either side of it. (About the American fascination with the island of Skyros, see an earlier essay, titled “Skyromania? American Archaeologists in 1930s Skyros.”)

Lucy Shoe and Dorothy Burr in their apartment on Kephissias 64, ca. 1934. Source: Bryn Mawr College, Special Collections, Lucy Shoe Merritt Papers; ASCSA Archives, Dorothy Burr Thompson Photographic Collection.

From Archaeology, Jan/Feb. 1995. One year before her death. Click to enlarge.

By 1929 Alison had completely changed her mind about Athens which she now considered “a much nicer city to live in than Paris because you can always get away from the city atmosphere and don’t feel so stuffy” (Oct. 31, 1929). Remember her earlier comment (from 1925) about “Rome being far more superior than Athens?” Athens was, and remains an acquired taste. It is often not love at first sight but once you become comfortable, you don’t abandon her easily. Although Carpenter asked Alison to come back to the School the following year, she declined because she wanted to go back to the U.S. to pursue her doctorate at Columbia University. “I think I’ll write my dissertation on Byzantine ornament in Greece instead of landscape painting… It would be very interesting to go to all the little Byzantine churches round about, and very little has been done on the subject” (Jan. 24, 1930). But she would return to Athens a few years later, after the completion of her doctorate degree, to join the staff, as a photographer of the newly opened excavations in the Athenian Agora, a position she kept until her retirement. Although her house in Princeton remained Alison’s main residence, she also maintained a place in Athens, which classicist and ASCSA trustee Rob Loomis sublet in the 1960s. [1] (John Camp, Director of the Agora Excavations, told me that Alison shared the place with Lucy Talcott and that it was located at the corner of Anapiron Polemou and the Lykabettus ring-road.)

“The M. Alison Frantz Fellowship, formerly known as the Gennadeion Fellowship in Post-Classical Studies, was named in honor of archaeologist, Byzantinist, and photographer M. Alison Frantz (1903-1995), a scholar of the post-classical Athenian Agora whose photographs of antiquities are widely used in books on Greek culture. Frantz donated a large part of her photographic collection to the American School, where is available for research.”

[1]. Soon after my story went online, Loomis emailed me a note which I reproduce with his permission: “In 1967/8, when I was a Regular Member at the School, I sublet Lucy’s and Alison’s apartment for the academic year.  As you say, it was located at the corner of Anapiron Polemou (#24 if I remember correctly) and the Peripheriako.  It was the top half of a two-family house, since torn down and replaced by an apartment block.  The owner lived with her maid on the ground floor.  I had the second floor, entered by an outside staircase bordered by a flower garden and some orange and lemon trees (maintained as a side-job by Giorgos, one of the School gardeners, who also provided firewood); the apartment also came with a maid from Ikaria (whose name I cannot now recall) and an aged laundress, Penelope, who always seemed to know when I was in residence, appearing at all hours without any advance notice to collect and deliver my laundry.  There was a small entrance hall with a fireplace, flanked by two of those little Skyros chairs.  On one side of the hall was a long living room, fully furnished with sofa, chairs, table, desk, radio, phonograph and an enormous collection of vinyl records (lots of Mozart).  On the other side a bathroom and two bedrooms, each with a balcony.  A back hall led to a small kitchen and a back porch from which circular metal stairs ascended to a flat roof of the same size as the entire apartment.  It had splendid views of Lykabettos, Hymettos, and even Aigina, although as I recall the Akropolis view was blocked by some buildings in between; in any event, it was the scene of some wonderful parties.  For all of this, I paid $100 per month!  As I recall, I heard about the apartment from John Camp and Emily Vermeule (who with her husband Cornelius had sublet it in a prior year), and I made all of the arrangements by mail with Lucy Talcott, whom I never met.  I may have met Alison Frantz in the summer of 1966, but I only got to know her after my year in her apartment.  In my time, there was no “Poussy” cat but Alison and Lucy may have brought their cat(s) back and forth from Princeton to Athens.  Alison gave much of the apartment furniture to John Camp, who now has it in Merrill House.”


Florou, V. 2015. “The House at 9 Ploutarchou Street: A Grape Arbor and a Dense Shadow of Beautiful Meanings,” in Carl W. Blegen: Personal and Archaeological Narratives, ed. N. Vogeikoff-Brogan, J. L.Davis, and V. Florou, Atlanta, pp. 121-146.

Lalaki, D. 2018. “The Cultural Cold War and the New Women of Power: Making a Case based on the Fulbright and Ford Foundations in Greece,” Histoire@Politique 35, pp. 1-20 [].

Scutts, J. 2017. The Extra Woman: How Marjorie Hillis Led a Generation of Women to Live Alone and Like It, New York.

Exploring the Relationship of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens with the Greek Omogeneia in the United States in the 1940s.

In 1947, the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) produced a color movie titled Triumph over Time; it was directed by the archaeologist Oscar Broneer and produced by the numismatist Margaret E. Thompson with the aid of Spyros Skouras (1893-1971), the Greek American movie mogul and owner of Twentieth Century Fox (see Spyros Skouras Papers at Stanford University). Triumph over Time portrays Greece rebounding from World War II and the staff of the ASCSA preparing archaeological sites for presentation to postwar tourists. The film was made to promote the first postwar financial campaign of the ASCSA, the direct goal of which was to increase its capital and finance the continuation of the Athenian Agora Excavations. Indirectly, the ASCSA was hoping to contribute to the rehabilitation of Greece by providing employment for the Greek people and by promoting the economic self-sufficiency of Greece by developing the country’s tourist assets (Vogeikoff-Brogan 2007).

Oscar Broneer, ca. 1938. ASCSA Archives, Oscar Broneer Papers.

Triumph over Time begins with a brief overview of impressive Greek antiquities, such as the citadels of Mycenae and Tiryns and the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion, before continuing with rare ethnographic material capturing parts of rural Greece that no longer exist. It then moves from the Greek countryside to the buildings of the ASCSA, especially the Gennadius Library with its rare treasures. The story then covers the ASCSA’s two most important projects, the excavations at the Athenian Agora and at Ancient Corinth, explaining all stages of archaeological work. The documentary ends with a hopeful note that financial support of the ASCSA’s archaeological work will contribute to an increase in tourism so that this major source of revenue for Greece’s economy can “restore stability and well-being to this simple pastoral land.”

Stills from Triumph Over Time

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Francis H. Bacon: Bearer of Precious Gifts from the Dardanelles

I first came to know Bacon’s name when, as a student of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) in 1989-1990, I was asked to report on the Assos Excavations during the School’s trip to Asia Minor. Assos, an affluent, ancient Greek city in the Çanakkale Province and a colony of Lesbos, is known for having erected the only Doric temple in Asia Minor, where the dominant style was Ionic. Francis Henry Bacon (1856-1940) was the architect of the excavations, which were funded by the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) and took place from 1881 to 1883, as well as one of the three co-authors (with Clarke and Koldewey) of a final publication that was not completed until 1921. Although Bacon’s name appears second, the publication would not have appeared without his dedication and persistence. Joseph T. Clarke (1856-1920) had given up on it long before, and Robert J. Koldewey (1855-1925) had dedicated most of his life to uncovering Babylon.

In 1878, Francis H. Bacon and Joseph T. Clarke bought a sailboat, the “Dorian,” in London and sailed to Athens by way of Holland, the Rhine, the Danube, the Black Sea, and the Aegean. Here a self-sketch by Bacon while examining a marble lekythos at the National Archaeological Museum. Source: MIT Libraries, Institute Archives and Special Collections.

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To Know One’s Country as a Foreign Land

I have always found informal travel accounts fascinating. By informal, I mean accounts found in personal diaries or letters. Occasionally, they are published posthumously by the writer’s relatives (usually for family consumption) and attract little attention because of their mundane nature. Until recently, such letters and diaries of anonymous folk were avoided by historians who considered their content subjective or inaccurate. After all, why use the private diary of an American expatriate in Greece as a source, when the event (e.g., a local revolution) was described in more detail in the newspapers or other official reports?

I, on the other hand, pay particular attention to these types of publications because they provide valuable information, otherwise undocumented, about the level of local awareness, participation or aloofness within foreign communities. Gilbert K. Chesterton (1874-1936), an English writer and philosopher, once said that “the whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land: it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” It’s the second part of Chesterton’s comment that makes me delve into the travel accounts of foreigners-mostly Americans in my case–who have experienced Greece as a foreign land. Here I am not interested in the tourist but instead the engaged traveler, the expatriate, or, in rare cases, the committed immigrant (that is the foreigner who has almost “gone native”).

My latest source of inspiration for getting “to know my country as a foreign land” is a privately published collection of letters which came to my attention after a visit to the newly established Archives of the American College of Greece. There, Dr. Demetra Papakonstantinou, an accomplished archaeologist who now serves as the College’s Archivist, graciously shared with me a copy of a book titled Odyssey of a Learning Teacher (Greece and the Near East 1924-1925). Published in 2005 by David L. Aronson, the book contains transcriptions of the letters that his mother, Charlotte Eleanor Ferguson, a graduate from Mount Holyoke College and a teacher at the American College for Girls (what is now Pierce College), sent to her family in 1924-25. (The original letters are now part of the American School of Greece Archives.)

Front cover photograph: Charlotte Ferguson and Helen Larrabee departing from New York.

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On Finding Inspiration in Small Things: The Story of a Pencil Portrait

My story begins six years ago when we inventoried Bert H. Hill’s collection of photos at the item level. Among the images were early portraits of Hill when he was a little boy, and later, a handsome young man. A graduate of the University of Vermont (B.A. 1895) and Columbia University (M.A. 1900), Hill subsequently attended the American School of Classical Studies (ASCSA or the School hereafter) as a fellow for two years (1901-1903). He then secured a job as the Assistant Curator of Classical Antiquities at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (1903-1905) and lecturer at Wellesley College where he taught classes in sculpture.  Bert Hodge Hill (1874-1958) was only 32 years old when he was appointed director of the ASCSA in 1906, a position he held until 1926.

Bert Hodge Hill, ca. 1910s. ASCSA Archives, Bert H. Hill Papers.

While processing the images my eye fell on a small portrait (12 x 9 cm) that was not a print but instead a well-executed drawing of Hill’s profile in pencil. On the back, Hill had scribbled “Huybers” and “BHH”.  An initial web search for “Huybers artist” produced four of his pencil sketches in the Harvard Art Museums, a gift from George Demetrios in 1933 (keep the name in mind); the artist was identified as John A. Huybers.

Portrait of Bert Hodge Hill by John A. Huybers, ca. 1915-1920. ASCSA Archives, Bert H. Hill Papers.

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Schliemann’s Culinary Adventures in Italy

Heinrich Schliemann, a man of the world, ca. 1870. ASCSA Archives, Heinrich Schliemann Papers.

A day does not go by in the Archives of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) without an inquiry about the Heinrich Schliemann Papers. More than one third of the collection has been digitized and made available for research online; still, these inquiries keep coming from all over the world, including destinations as remote as Japan and Cuba.  Though unquestionably a legendary figure, Schliemann’s popularity is largely due to the richness of his personal archive, which remains an inexhaustible source of information for a wide range of audiences: historians, archaeologists, fiction and non-fiction writers, even film producers. (I have written about Schliemann before [Schliemann of Troy: The Story of a Linguistic Genius] and have hosted two posts by Curtis Runnels [Who Went to Schliemann’s Wedding? and, “All Americans Must Be Trojans at Heart”: A Volunteer at Assos in 1881 Meets Heinrich Schliemann], the author of The Archaeology of Heinrich Schliemann: An Annotated Bibliographic Handlist [2007].)

To the rich list of books and articles that have been written about Schliemann I would like to add the recent publications by Umberto Pappalardo, who has been studying Schliemann’s activities in Napoli and on the island of Motya, and Massimo Cultraro’s new book with the sibylline title L’ ultimo sogno dello scopritore di Troia: Heinrich Schliemann e l’ Italia (1858-1890). Before them, in 2012, Elizabeth Shepherd published a comprehensive article about Schliemann’s wanderings in Italy in the fall/winter of 1875, especially his interest in the site of Populonia. Schliemann travelled to Italy seven times, first as a tourist (1858), and later, especially after the discovery of Troy (1871-1873), as a celebrity and potential excavator. He even drew his last breath in the streets of Naples one morning in December 1890. Yet, until recently, Schliemann’s Italian days remained understudied. Read the rest of this entry »