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 reviews Erik Larson’s most recent book Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the LUSITANIA, and briefly reflects on the history of the ASCSA during the Great War.
“Today we learned of the sinking of the Lusitania by a German submarine. This horrible crime will have to be paid for by Germany some day.”
Carl W. Blegen, May 9, 1915
I confess that I have long been a fan of any Erik Larson novel, from the time my mother-in-law gave me The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America (2003). But did I say novel? His non-fiction tales read like novels, and The Devil is currently being made into a major motion picture (starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Martin Scorsese). For my birthday this year, my mother-in-law Nan hit another homerun: Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania — a terrific (and fast) read. (I finished it in just over two days, one of them on a trans-Atlantic flight, a suitable environment for reading about an oceanic disaster!) Read the rest of this entry »
Tom Brogan, archaeologist, Director of the INSTAP Study Center for East Crete, and a long-time resident of Greece, writes about his culinary coming of age, from the farms of Indiana and the dormitory food of an English University, to his discovery of (and falling in love with) ethnic cuisines. His recent encounter on the island of Crete with Madhur Jaffrey, the guru of Indian cuisine, prompted Tom to review two of Jaffrey’s cookbooks and his own slow path into the kitchen.
Growing up in Indiana there were very few opportunities to explore the world without leaving home. The one exception, of course, was food, but this convenience came with confusing pedigrees—Greek and Indian dishes essentially reshaped to fit Hoosier tastes. It was only later while studying in England and excavating in Greece that I learned the true scale of the problem. The food served at British Universities in 1986 was comically horrible (and I suspect still is), but it did have the unexpected benefit of forcing you to try the wonderful Asian, Indian, and Turkish restaurants—most of which tasted nothing like their Hoosier counterparts. Later while exploring the prehistory of Greece, I enjoyed a similar revelation. In a country where culinary and archaeological discoveries come hand in hand, there were surprisingly few dishes resembling those I had sampled in Greek tavernas in Indianapolis or Philadelphia. The reason was an unexpected but very real lesson in any ex-pat’s life–the frustration of trying to recreate meals from home, which lies at the heart of this story. Read the rest of this entry »
EUZONES AND POETRY: JAMES MERRILL, GREEK LOVE, AND THE MAKING OF A PULITZER-PRIZE WINNER by Jack L. DavisPosted: October 15, 2015
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 reviews Langdon Hammer’s recent biography of American poet James Merrill, focusing on the poet’s house in Athens. Merrill, who lived much of his life in Greece, left his house in Kolonaki to the American School as a bequest.
In 1945 a young undergraduate student at Amherst College met and was immediately captivated by a temporary English instructor, who became his first lover. Kimon Friar, the professor, drew James Merrill, at 20 years of age already a promising writer, into an “erotic literary apprenticeship” that was influenced both by ancient Athenian concepts of pederastia as well as the life and works of Constantine Cavafy, the Alexandrian poet. Along the way, Friar taught Merrill demotic Greek. Merrill had a gift for tongues, later even picking up Japanese as a tourist; with a fine Classical education as a foundation, he learned to speak Greek properly and deliberately, and enjoyed the language’s sound. Read the rest of this entry »
“My loves remain wine to me, yet I become too quickly bread to them”
One of Margaret Mead’s favorite phrases, inspired by Amy Lowell’s poem A Decade (1919).
I remember reading some years ago about the correspondence between anthropologists Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict, which left no doubt about their erotic involvement. It must have been in a review of one of the many books that have been published in the past two decades about Margaret Mead.
Although I have never read anything by either woman, Mead’s work with the tribes of New Guinea was familiar. A recent documentary by Fraser Heston (son of Charlton Heston) about Michael Rockefeller’s disappearance on the island in 1961 rekindled my interest in New Guinea. The documentary includes film footage from 1969 that shows a white man canoeing with a Papuan tribe. It asks whether the young Rockefeller went “missing” voluntarily rather than fell victim to the cannibal instincts of the Papuans as previously suggested. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2946787/Is-proof-lost-Rockefeller-heir-joined-tribe-naked-cannibals-Picture-shows-white-man-Papuan-man-eaters-eight-years-mysterious-disappearance.html ). Read the rest of this entry »
“A Greek Author Travels to the Country of the New Myth”: The Voyage of Elias Venezis to America in 1949Posted: April 1, 2014
This essay comprises the text of a talk that I presented in the Cotsen Hall auditorium of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA), April 9, 2013, at an evening devoted to novelist Elias Venezis, whose papers reside in the Archives of the Gennadius Library. The text was also published (in Greek ) in the “Athens Book Review,” in an issue dedicated to Venezis. Since my essay discusses two of Greece’s most important novelists’ impressions from their journeys to America, I thought that it also deserved to be published in English and be made available to an American audience (here, I must thank my friend and former colleague Stefanie Kennell for her wonderful translation). For half of my life I have studied and worked in a Greek-American environment; there interest lies in examining how foreigners (usually described as philhellenes) perceive(d) Greece, and it is rarely discussed, at least in the broader community of the American School, how Greeks experienced America at critical times, such as in the first decade following WW II. The two authors, Elias Venezis and Yiorgos Theotokas, traveled in America during the period of the Marshall plan and the beginning of the Cold War, just before strong anti-Americanism began developing in Greece. For both, the voyage to America was a journey to a mythical land — as implied by the title of this essay, which is drawn from the title of a talk (“Ένας Έλλην συγγραφεύς στη χώρα του νέου μύθου”) that Venezis delivered at the Greek American Cultural Institution in 1950, immediately after his return from America.
For those who are not familiar with Modern Greek Literature, I should also add a few remarks about the so-called literary “Generation of the Thirties.” As commonly employed, this term describes a group (all male) of novelists, poets, and artists, who came of age in the 1930s. These men continued to be very productive and influential in the following three decades, to the point that a myth with regenerative power was built around them, one that still aspires and inspires (Leontis 2013). Nobel-prize laureate poets Yiorgos Seferis and Odysseus Elytis, novelists Angelos Terzakis, Stratis Myrivilis, Elias Venezis and Yiorgos Theotokas, are some of the most accomplished and distinguished “members” of the “Generation of the Thirties.” The personal papers of most of them have been deposited in the Gennadius Library of the American School.
In 2009, at an event devoted to Yiorgos Theotokas and the republication of his Essay on America, I was introduced to Greek travel literature about America. Theotokas was among the first writers of the so-called “Generation of the Thirties” who visited America a few years after the end of World War II. While taking receipt of Elias Venezis’s personal papers in 2010, I came upon the manuscript of Land of America and then, in discussions with the author’s daughter, Anna Venezi Kosmetatou, I was made aware of the fact that Venezis was actually the first of the famous “Generation of the Thirties” to travel to the U.S., in 1949.
Except for Theotokas’ Essay on America (Δοκίμιο για την Αμερική), which had the good fortune to be re-published a few years ago, travel writing of this type is difficult or impossible to find on the shelves of Athenian bookstores. When I looked for Land of America at a well-known bookstore in downtown Athens, clerks told me that it was the first time they had heard that Venezis had written a book of this sort. Perhaps this is because, in the age of globalization, trips to America have lost some of the magic and myth that used to surround them. Already in the 1970s, as Vassilis Lambropoulos writes, “with the spread of cinema and even more the advent of television in Greece, travel writing is losing its primary function and sparkle. The public does not need the guidance of an eyewitness to get to know foreign countries.”
Unlike the other writers and intellectuals who visited the U.S. in the 1950s and 1960s, Venezis began his long journey without the support of the American government. The famous program of cultural exchanges sponsored by the the U.S. Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948, popularly known as the Smith-Mundt Act, does not seem to have been implemented immediately in Greece. What is certain is that Elias Venezis and his wife either did not know about or did not expect American government support when they decided in the summer of 1949 to cross the Atlantic. On the opposite shore was Venezis’s brother, Thanos Mellos and his wife, the mezzo-soprano Eleni Nikolaidi, who had settled there just a year before.
Thanos Mellos wrote to his brother Elias and his wife on May 6, 1949, from New York: “I’ve told Elias that a place has been confirmed for his trip to America on a merchant ship that sails from a port in France. Perhaps there’s a way he can embark even from Greece. The trip won’t cost a cent. The steamship owner’s a friend of ours, and he’s offering it to us for free. You only have to get your papers ready, Elias, and send me a telegram.” Read the rest of this entry »