Posted by Christopher Richter
Christopher Richter, Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Hollins University, with research interests in visual and textual narratives, here contributes to From the Archivist’s Notebook a story about a woman traveler, Gertrude Harper Beggs (1874-1951), who, after attending the American School of Classical Studies at Athens in 1911-1912, published a travel book about Crete in 1915. Richter, who co-teaches travel abroad courses in the Mediterranean with his wife and fellow faculty member, Christina Salowey (ASCSA student 1990-1992), has developed a special interest in past travelogues about Greece and Turkey.
A few years ago while I was researching 19th and early 20th Century North American women’s travel narratives about Greece, I found 24 relevant accounts in books and magazines (a few of which included references to The American School of Classical Studies at Athens, hereafter ASCSA or the School). The chapter that I eventually published dealt with only six of the narratives (“Exceptional perspectives: National Identity in US Women’s Travel Accounts of Greece, 1840-1913,” in Politics, Identity and Mobility in Travel Writing, ed. M. A. Cabanas, J. Dubino, V. Salles-Reese, G. Totten, New York 2015, pp. 69-82). But among those that I did not include, one particularly intrigued me, leading to more research on the book and its author. Among other discoveries noted below, I found that it is particularly appropriate to remember the author now, as Loring Hall, in its 90th year, is undergoing an extensive renovation.
The Four in Crete
Gertrude Harper Beggs’s The Four in Crete, published in 1915 (New York: Abingdon Press), tells the story of four traveling companions identified only by nicknames: the Western Woman, the Coffee Angel, the Scholar and the Sage. The narrative begins and ends in Athens, but otherwise focuses on their journey to archeological sites on Crete, which at the time of their visit was not yet technically part of Greece. Beggs employs some standard devices of travelogues of the era. She illustrates the rigors and exoticism of travel through amusing reports of sea sickness, flea infested bedding, and the anxieties of the customs house.
“The [Piraeus] harbor, ever a busy place, was unusually animated that afternoon, with several men-of-war and many merchant vessels lying near the quays and numerous small craft plying busily among them. It was rather an exciting little race to the steamer, for it was already sailing time, and a warning whistle indicated that for once the Four had counted too confidently on the habitual tardiness of Greek vessels” (p. 16-17).
But she also tells in detail of visiting Knossos and the Candia museum, of being guided across rough Cretan terrain on horseback, of what the four saw and discussed at Gortyn, Phaestos and Hagia Triada, and how a seemingly chance encounter in the village of Vori led to a sumptuous dinner as guests of Federico Halbherr (1857-1930), the Italian archaeologist who discovered the famous Gortyn Code in 1884 (pp. 162-165). Halbherr’s diaries have recently become available on the Italian Archaeological School’s webpage.
“Dr. Halbherr himself, as well dressed and immaculate as if he had just stepped in from some Rue de Rivoli, soon put the Four at ease with his perfect courtesy… . The conversation began in Greek, but only the Scholar could make any adequate response in that language. Then their host tried them in Italian; blank silence. Next in French; the Coffee Angel feebly ventured on ‘Oui, monsieur,” and then relapsed into exhausted embarrassment. It seemed doomed to be a silent meal. But at last Dr. Halbherr surprised them all by saying, “Perhaps you can speak English? And from then on they chatted easily, as the host related many witty stories about his thirty years’ experiences in Crete…” (pp. 163-164).
The book received several positive reviews in the popular press, including The New York Times (Oct. 31, 1915, p. 72). It also garnered two scholarly reviews, one by D[avid] M. Robinson (Art and Archaeology 3, 1916, p. 123), the other by Monroe N. Wetmore (The Classical Journal 11, 1916, pp. 375-378). Both reviewers comment on the value of the discussions of the sites. Wetmore also states that “the style is so easy and graceful, the story is so charmingly told… that one can lay the volume down only when he has finished it” (p. 375).
This charm derives in part from Beggs’s sense of humor and her portrayal of camaraderie among the characters. The action and information in the book is driven by their dialogue. Though disparate in age (more on this below) they banter easily on various topics, including their relative mastery, or lack thereof, of Modern Greek, their meals and accommodations, Modern Greek politics, and, especially, their shared interest in the ancient sites.
The “Western Woman” at the American School in 1911-1912
The narrative also hints at the four being members of a larger community. It describes the trip to Crete as an “aftermath of their long season in Athens,” (p.12) and states that they had almost been “‘scared off’ by the reports of friends who had made the trip” before them (p. 11). These dynamics felt strangely familiar, even across a century, so I should not have been surprised when investigation revealed that Beggs was an associate member of the School in 1911-1912 (Annual Report of the Managing Committee, p.22).
This discovery stoked my curiosity about Beggs and the trip. Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan located Beggs’s application in the ASCSA Archives. Apparently, she attended only the second half of the school year, as the repurposed Fellowship application identifies the place and date of applying as Athens, January 19, 1912. According to the Directory of Fellows and Students in the appendices of Louis Lord’s history of the ASCSA (A History of the American School of Classical Studes at Athens, 1882-1942, Cambridge Mass. 1947), she received her PhD from Yale in 1904. An internet search led me to the 1920 Yale publication Alumnae, Graduate School, Yale University, 1894-1920, which reveals that her dissertation was entitled The Adnominal Genitive in Lysias, and that at the time of her enrollment at the ASCSA, she was Professor of Greek at the University of Denver, which had been her undergraduate alma mater (Corwin, Margaret Trumball, 1920, pp. 14-15).
The 1911-1912 ASCSA Annual Report also notes that “three trips were made to Crete by different members of the School” that year (p. 218). Presumably, Beggs describes one of these. Her trip took place in the spring—she makes repeated references to wildflowers (e.g., pp. 34, 35, 91), and Emerson H. Swift’s description of a trip to Crete, which occurred in early April a year later, offers a useful comparison (Youthful Rambles: On the Trail of the Classics, Privately published, 1975, pp. 38-40).
Assuming the trip was one of those noted in the report, I wondered whether the pseudonymous characters represented other ASCSA members. Beggs overlapped with several luminary figures in 1911-1912, including Carl W. Blegen, William B. Dinsmoor, Hetty Goldman, Clyde Pharr, and Alice Leslie Walker. Research revealed that although the narrative is in the third person, the Western Woman is undoubtedly a portrayal of Beggs herself, as Wetmore implies in his review. Denver and Colorado are repeatedly referenced as the character’s home (pp. 29, 44, 61, 98), and she reveals that her “father is a Methodist clergyman” (p. 76). Although born in Missouri, Beggs moved to Denver as a teen, when her father, a Methodist clergymen, was assigned to a Denver church (“Denver Girl a Professor,” Rolla Missouri Herald, June 23, 1904, p.4)
The Scholar, the Sage, and the Coffee Angel
Identifying the inspiration for the Scholar was also comparatively straightforward. He was almost certainly based on Clyde Pharr. He sardonically alludes to his Texas background (p. 106), and when the Western Woman is amazed at his ease in riding a difficult horse over rough terrain, she remarks to herself “of course that boy can ride anything! I’d forgotten that he used to be a Texas cowboy! Busting Broncos was good training for this” (p. 100). According to the Biographical Dictionary of North American Classicists (ed. Ward Briggs, Jr., Westport 1994), Pharr “was raised on a combination farm and ranch in Texas, where, in his words, “we had much hard manual labor the whole year long. At an early age my younger brother Frank and I developed the habit of running away from home,” (pp. 498-99). That quote even aligns with the Scholar’s portrayed wry sense of humor. (Pharr taught classics at Vanderbilt University from 1924 until 1950 and ended his academic career at the University of Texas at Austin.)
Possible identities of the Sage and the Coffee Angel have proven more elusive. A line in the book led me to believe the Sage was based on Carl Blegen: “The Sage, who had devoted one summer of enforced leisure to botanizing in the Minnesota woods, kept a loving eye on the countless blossoms, exclaiming now and then when he spied some special favorite” (p. 34). Vogeikoff-Brogan documents the formative summers of Blegen’s youth at Saga Hill, in the Minnesota woods, and his botanical interests (“The Life of Carl. W. Blegen from a Grassroots Perspective,” in Carl W. Blegen: Personal and Archaeological Narratives, ed. N. Vogeikoff-Brogan, J. L. Davis, and V. Florou, Atlanta 2015, pp. 17-38). But other details in the text quickly undermined this identification. On the next page Beggs states “The dear Sage! They sometimes wondered which he loved best, his flowers, or his wife, or his Greek!” (p. 35). And about 100 pages later the Sage asks that one of his companions photograph him on horseback for his wife, because “’the last time I took a horseback trip was thirty-seven years ago, when I rode eighteen miles to court my girl’” (p. 139). Not only was Blegen single in 1912, but the Sage is portrayed as courting his wife 12 years before Blegen was born (Blegen was born in 1887).
While the portrayed ages of the characters confounded my attempts to identify the Sage, I thought they might offer parameters for identifying the Coffee Angel. The Scholar’s youth as compared to the other characters is a consistent theme of humor in the book (Pharr was 27 in 1912). One of his conversations with the Coffee Angel emphasizes this, and also provides her specific age. She has made her eponymous beverage at Phaestos—she shields her alcohol lamp from the wind inside a pithos—and the scholar effuses:
“‘Coffee Angel . . . when I grow up will you elope with me? My heart tells me that any woman who can serve coffee from a Minoan jar is my affinity’. . . . ‘Well,’ acquiesced the Coffee Angel, ‘I was fifty last month, and when you catch up to me, we’ll elope’” (p. 151).
I first assumed that the Coffee Angel might be based on Louise Foucar Marshall (1864-1956), who contributed the frontispiece and other drawings in the book. Although she had no affiliation with the ASCSA, she and Beggs had been close friends as undergraduates at the University of Denver, and they stayed in touch, as attested in a letter Beggs wrote to her in July 1914, lamenting the latter’s inability to attend an informal UD reunion (courtesy of the archives, University of Arizona Special Collections). In 1912 she was 48, at least close to the described age. Foucar Marshall proved fascinating in her own right. She was the first woman professor at the University of Arizona, later a successful Tucson real estate developer and a philanthropist. And she briefly achieved national notoriety in 1931, when at the age of 67, she shot her sleeping husband multiple times at point blank range, yet was acquitted of his murder by a jury, after testifying that he had had an affair with their housekeeper, and had tried to poison her (See Louise Foucar Marshall and Tom Marshall Collection, University of Arizona Special Collections splash page; also, Eubank, Johanna. April 27, 2018. “Tales from the Morgue: Shots in the dark,” Arizona Daily Star. )
But further research revealed that she was not in Greece with Beggs in 1912. In a biography of Marshall, Trial and Triumph: the Life and Accomplishments of Louise Foucar Marshall, (2008, Privately published), Patricia Stephenson, who had been Marshall’s personal assistant, recounts that Beggs sent Marshall a manuscript of The Four in Crete, along “with photographs and asked her friend to illustrate it” (p. 66). She also mentions a 1912 letter from Beggs about her travels in Greece “with a group of professors who taught language and history at American universities” (p. 66). This letter might have shed light on the identity of Beggs’s companions in Crete, but unfortunately was not among the extensive Marshall papers that Stephenson eventually donated to the University of Arizona Library’s Special Collections (Personal correspondence with Roger Meyers, Archivist, University of Arizona, July 3, 2018).
Another candidate for the role of the Coffee Angel is Minnie Bunker (1867-1959). She is listed in the Directory of Fellows and Students in Lord’s book as an ASCSA member for 1911-1912 (also in 1900-1901 and 1906-1907). She and Beggs were probably acquainted before their time at the ASCSA, as both taught in Denver High Schools from 1894-1896. (For Beggs, see J. W. Leonard, ed. Woman’s Who’s Who of America : a Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women of the United States and Canada, 1914-1915; and for Bunker, Colby College General Catalog, 1820-1920.) As with Marshall, her age is not a precise match. According to a memorial page for the Oakland, CA High School, where she taught for many years, she was born in September 1867, making her 44 in spring 1912. Furthermore, the Coffee Angel makes an ambiguous reference to New York as her possible home (p. 124), but Bunker, who was born in Maine and eventually moved to California, appears not to have ever resided there.
It is possible that Beggs exaggerated the age difference of her characters for comedic effect. She may also have created composite characters for the Sage or the Coffee Angel, e.g. for the former, combining the age and marital status of some other individual with the Minnesota background and botanical tendencies of Blegen. It is possible that one or both were entirely fabricated, though I am skeptical of this, or they may have been based on individuals with no traceable association with Beggs or the ASCSA. Swift’s account is again useful for comparison. It seems that participation by outsiders in school trips was not unusual. On Crete, he abandoned a larger group that included ASCSA members and set off with an independent “retired American classicist” (p. 38). And earlier he describes how members were accompanied by “five amateurs” for part of the official southern trip in November 1912 (pp. 16-17).
Beggs, Pi Beta Phi, and a Women’s Hostel in Athens
After her time as a member of the School, Beggs had a wide ranging and fast paced career in academia. According to the aforementioned Yale Alumnae publication, she earned an LL.D. degree from the University of Denver in 1914, and then went on to serve as Dean of the Chicago Kindergarten Institute, as Social Director of the Martha Cook Building at the University of Michigan, as Dean of Women at the University of Minnesota, and finally, starting in 1919, as Professor of Latin at Westhampton College, the all-female affiliate of the University of Richmond in Virginia.
Her association with the ASCSA did not end with her time as a student. In The Annual Report of the Managing Committee to the Trustees for 1919-1920 (pp. 17-18), Edward Capps notes that she resigned that year from the Board of Directors of the Auxiliary Fund Association “after rendering splendid service. . . because she was taking up a new work in China.” The Auxiliary Fund Association Directors are also thanked “for their vision of the possibilities of the undertaking and their unremitting zeal in working for their realization.” During her last year on the board the fund was increasingly important for the financial well-being of the School, and both subscribers and revenue more than tripled.
An announcement in the June 1920 issue of The Arrow, the official publication of Pi Beta Phi, offers a perspective on Beggs’s own vision and unremitting zeal on behalf of the ASCSA. Pi Beta Phi describes itself as the first fraternity for women, and Beggs had been inducted as an undergraduate at the University of Denver. Her professional advancements, and her service to that organization, were regularly reported in The Arrow. In the same issue as the announcement, her service on two different Pi Beta Phi committees is noted (pp. 444 and 448). A year and a half earlier, in the December 1, 1918 issue, her role as chair of the Committee on War Work is recorded (p.179), but more significantly, the entire text of an address she gave to the membership at the annual convention is reproduced (“The Daughters of Atlas,” pp. 190-196). In short, by the time that she was on the ASCSA’s Auxiliary Fund Board, Beggs was an influential member of Pi Beta Phi.
The 1920 announcement states, in part that “Prof. Edward Capps of Princeton University, Chairman of the Managing Committee of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, has acknowledged in his last report on The Auxiliary Fund, ‘a handsome subscription of $300.00 a year from the Pi Beta Phi National Fraternity.’ Grand Council has thought it expedient to identify Pi Beta Phi with this project of advanced scholarship for women and has authorized the above subscription.” It goes on to name the members of the Auxiliary Fund Board, including Beggs, and to explain the women’s scholarship connection by stating that revenues raised by the Auxiliary Funds Committee “will make it possible to increase the facilities of the school, by the addition, particularly, of a dormitory for women students who may be pursuing research work in Athens” (pp. 517-518). Presumably it was Beggs herself who argued for and secured this subscription, worth almost $4,000.00 in 2019 dollars.
Louis Lord’s account in his history of the ASCSA suggests that fundraising for the women’s hostel was actually entirely separate from that of the Auxiliary Fund. Nevertheless, evocation of a dormitory for women to justify Pi Beta Phi’s contribution ultimately links Beggs, at least in spirit, to Loring Hall, which opened in 1929 and was, as Lord notes, “the final and most satisfactory solution of the ‘Hostel for Women Problem’” (p. 210). (About the Women’s Hostel and Loring Hall, see also: “Clash of the Titans: The Controversy Behind Loring Hall.”) As for her endeavor in China, the Richmond Collegian, the University of Richmond’s student newspaper, reported on September 29, 1922, that Beggs had “resumed her teaching at Westhampton College after returning from China” where she taught in “the English schools of Kuling.”
In closing, the inspirations for two of Beggs’s characters, the Sage and Coffee Angel, remain a mystery, and I remain interested in any information or theories that might shed light on their identities. In addition, I hope that my efforts have helped bring Gertrude Harper Beggs out from the shadows. Like some of her more renowned ASCSA contemporaries, she seems to have been formidable, and is especially worthy of remembrance now, as Loring Hall is renovated. Finally, I recommend her book. It offers a window on the camaraderie of the School, and on Minoan archaeology in that era, and I found it is as entertaining as Wetmore’s review suggested. A copy is in the Gennadius Library’s rare book collection, hard copies can be obtained from vintage booksellers, and a free downloadable PDF is available from the Internet Archive.
“In Rhodes the days drop as softly as fruit from trees. Some belong to the dazzling ages of Cleobolus and the tyrants, some to the gloomy Tiberius, some to the crusaders. They follow each other in scales and modes too quickly almost to be captured in the nets of form,” wrote Lawrence Durrell (1912-1990) in the first pages of his acclaimed memoir Reflections on a Marine Venus: A Companion to the Landscape of Rhodes (1953). More than seventy years later, if Durrell were still alive, he would have added “… some to the crusaders, some to the Italians.”
Durrell was stationed in Rhodes for two years when the Dodecanese was under British Administration (1945-1947). As Information Officer, he supervised the publication of three daily papers, in Greek, Turkish, and Italian. (I found copies of the Greek one, ΧΡΟΝΟΣ, in the Nicholas Mavris Papers in the ASCSA Archives. Mavris, a prominent member of the Greek American community, in 1948 became the first governor commissioner of the freed Dodecanese.)
WW II had just ended and the fate of the Dodecanese was still uncertain. Despite their Greek past, these islands in the southeastern part of the Aegean (also known as Southern Sporades) did not join Greece until 1947, having passed from the Ottomans directly to the Italians in 1913, from the Italians to the Germans in 1943, and from them to the British. In 1946, the Allied Forces in Paris finally agreed upon the integration of the Dodecanese with Greece. It was not until the 31st of March 1947, however, that the British officially delivered the administration of the Dodecanese to the Greek State.
Durrell did not write Marine Venus while on Rhodes but a few years later, relying on his memory and “sifting into the material, now some old notes from a forgotten scrapbook, now a letter” (Marine Venus, p. 3).
“Of Paradise Terrestre”
I read Marine Venus for the first time about ten years ago, when I was doing research triggered by the reissue of Triumph Over Time. Produced by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or School hereafter) in 1947, in addition to promoting the School’s excavations at Old Corinth and in the Athenian Agora, this film presents a serene and idyllic view of Greece, emphasizing the country’s rural aspects and her continuity with ancient Greece. Reissued in 2007, the film received mixed reviews during viewings: older Greek people embraced it with great fondness since for them it was a walk down memory lane, especially for the those who had grown up in villages; younger people, on the other hand, especially those born post-1970 found fault with it because it did not show the ruined state of Greece after WW II, lacked urban scenery, and avoided any references to the Civil War. Seventy years after its production, Triumph Over Time was criticized for not being a true historical documentary.
Out of curiosity, I started looking for literature that had been published immediately after WW II. I was nonplussed to find that one of my most favorite novels, The Three Summers (Τα Ψάθινα Καπέλα) by Margarita Lyberaki, was first published in Greece in 1946 (and in France in 1950). Like Triumph Over Time, “the world inside the book could [not have been] more unlike the world it came into when it was first published in 1946,” as Karen Van Dyck, Kimon A. Doukas Professor of Modern Greek Literature at Columbia University, who translated the novel in English (Paris Review, July 16, 2019), recently emphasized in an interview. Idyllic and timeless, this coming-of-age- novel “must have offered [its readers] an oasis from the unbearable realities of the day,” Van Dyck added. Another common thread between Triumph Over Time and Lyberaki’s Three Summers is that both works are steeped in the sun. “The sun has disappeared from books these days. That’s why they hinder our attempts to live, instead of helping us. But the secret is still kept in your country, passed on from one initiate to another. You are one of those who pass it on,” wrote Albert Camus to Margarita Lyberaki when he first read the book in 1950.
My literary wanderings eventually led me to Durrell’s Marine Venus, which I had not read. I wasn’t even aware of it. Having not ever visited Rhodes or any of the islands of the Dodecanese, I read Marine Venus impatiently, unable to appreciate Durrell’s rich descriptions of the island. Yet its reading left me with a residue of happiness, as if in a “paradise terrestre.” Later I read that, before publication, Marine Venus was chopped almost in half by Faber & Faber’s editor Anne Ridler, who cut most of the passages dealing with the recent war, and “oriented the book to sunlight, blue skies, and clear sea.” (See David Roessel in his Introduction to the 2001 Faber & Faber edition.)
I finally made it to Rhodes last September. Not being able to find a hotel we liked within the boundaries of the castle of the Knights of St. John, we opted for one outside, in Mandraki. Within a few hours on Rhodes, I began to notice that Mandraki was full of public and private buildings dating to the interwar period, but constructed in diverse architectural styles. On the one hand, there were fascist buildings, such as the Theater and the City Hall; on the other, highly eclectic buildings, such as the Palazzo del Governo, or modernist ones, such as the Ronda.
Soon after the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), which recognized officially the Italian possession of the Dodecanese, the first civilian governor of the “Italian Aegean Islands” Mario Lago (1878-1950) enlisted the services of architect Florestano di Fausto (1890-1965). By 1926, Di Fausto had laid out Rhodes’ city plan. retaining the Medieval zone, while setting the new city outside the castle by Mandraki harbor. That’s where one can find today many works by Di Fausto and other Italian architects, works such as the Palazzo del Governo, the Catholic cathedral of the Knights of Saint John (now the Evangelismos church), the Post Office (1927-1929), the New Market, and the famous Grande Albergo delle Rose. Di Fausto’s career in Rhodes did not last long since he and Lago came into a conflict that ended with a legal dispute in 1927, forcing Di Fausto to leave Rhodes. (Di Fausto continued his illustrious career in Albania, Ethiopia, and Libya, and became Italy’s most important colonial architect.)
According to architectural historian Vassilis Kolonas, the Italian architects of Rhodes, after an initial experimentation with academic examples, began “to incorporate elements from the island’s various historical periods in their designs… from the city’s Byzantine, Crusader, or Islamic past… the local anonymous architecture…, folk art and even echoes from the architectural tradition of Middle Eastern countries,” creating a new colonial Mediterranean style, unmistakably recognizable today. Lombardi, who replaced Di Fausto in the Directorate of Public Works in 1928, managed to blend harmoniously Byzantine, Islamic, and Classical elements in the Kallithea Baths (1928-1930), “a fantasy set for tourist Rhodes that would remain the island’s symbol for many decades” (Kolonas and Gerolympos, 2002, 55). Moreover, the Italian architects in the Dodecanese under Lago, a visionary politician who promoted cultural assimilation, felt free to adopt their architecture to the local climate and history, strongly embracing the concept of mediterraneità:
“…not a single stone was placed by me without having filled myself in advance with the spirit of the place, so as to make it my own,”
wrote Di Fausto in 1937 in the only essay he ever wrote about his work. (His essay carried the title “Visione mediterranea della mia architettura,” and the quote comes from Santoianni 2008, p. 93).
An Italian Tourist in Rhodes, 1933
Aspiring to make Rhodes a cosmopolitan destination, the Italian Administration of the Aegean Islands (Governo delle isole italiane dell’ Egeo), on the tenth anniversary of Lago’s governorship in 1933, published a celebratory, forty-page guide, Rodi: L’ isola delle rose, a copy of which I found in the Gennadius Library. The guide begins with a brief historical introduction underlining the island’s illustrious Greco-Roman past, and continues with the glories of the Knights of St. John until it was finally reduced to a sleepy oriental village (“un sonnolento borgo orientale”) in the hands of the Ottomans after 1522. By taking it from the Turks in 1912, it fell upon Italy to restore Rhodes’ previous glory, as an intermediary between east and west.
By promoting Rhodes’ mild climate throughout the year, which allowed the growth of exquisite oranges and grapes, dates and bananas, and flowers such as roses, hibiscus, and bougainvillea, the guide invited the tourist to explore the walled city (“la città murata”) and its monuments; by then, the Grande Ospedale dei Cavalieri had been transformed into a museum to hold the treasures that Italian excavations had brought to light since 1912.
Once outside the medieval castle, Italian visitors could continue their wanderings in the new city which combined “Venetian, Sicilian architecture with oriental elements” (“architettura veneziana e siciliana tutta impregnate d’ Oriente”). To top off their Rhodian experience, the tourists were encouraged to explore the countryside of the island on a newly constructed 400 km ring road. For mountain lovers, there was L’ Albergo del Cervo on Mount Prophetes Elias and for those seeking a recreational cure, the “Terme di Calitea” combined the Greek Hippocratic tradition with the Roman passion for elaborate bathing complexes. And where could one stay? From the Grande Albergo delle Rose, as luxurious and comfortable as any European hotel of that class, to a host of inexpensive but good family pensions, the Italian Administration of the Aegean Islands met the needs of all tastes and wallets.
From Splendid and Thoughtful to Florid and Tasteless
Durrell used these two pairs of adjectives to describe the diametrically opposed personalities of Governors Mario Lago and Cesare de Vecchi. 1936 marked a significant change in the administration of the Dodecanese that presaged the disastrous years that were to come. It was that year that Mussolini formalized his alliance with Hitler and set in motion a series of changes across the newly established “Italian Empire,” including the replacement of Governor Lago with Cesare Maria de Vecchi (1884-1959). The latter, a card carrying member of the Fascist Party, persecuted the local population by terminating the autonomy of the various ethnic groups, banned all newspapers except for Italian ones, activated racial laws, created Italian settlements on the islands, and instituted Italian as the only official language of the Dodecanese. He also introduced a period of architectural purification in Rhodes, by stripping all the ornamental elements from Di Fausto’s buildings, including the arabesques from the Grand Hotel of the Roses (Grande Albergo delle Rose). De Vecchi promoted a rationalism in architecture that sought to provide a unified and nationalist architecture across the Italian Empire, banning any kind of borrowings from other civilizations except for Imperial Rome.
In the collective memory of the Rhodians, the two administrations also remained separate. Until recently people distinguished between the “good Italians” and the brutal fascists; they also remembered that, from the 1920s until the mid-1930s, their lives had been transformed largely for the better, containing one of the biggest problems of the Dodecanese — emigration (Doumanis 2005).
While looking for more information about the Italian Occupation of the Dodecanese, I also came across an old promotional film that must have been produced on the occasion of Lago’s tenth anniversary in office. (In fact, I noticed that the RODI guide of 1933 used stills from the film.) The online version of the film is about 13 minutes long and one does not need to know Italian in order to enjoy it, and also appreciate the multicultural approach of the Lago administration.
Two American Women in Rhodes, 1933
In late January 1933, two young American women, members of the ASCSA, Dorothy Burr (Thompson) and Lucy Shoe (Meritt) took the boat to Rhodes. What they recorded both in writing and film, matches very much in spirit the descriptions of the Italian guide: a multi-ethnic crowd in a multi-period city.
“We walked down to the quay, by Turkish tombs and a minaret with lattice balustrade, past a handsome series of modern buildings in an Oriental Italian style, sarcophagi mounted on canon balls with the shields of the Grand Master –to the modern market [i.e., the Mercato Nuovo built by Di Fausto] in a sort of store around a central pergola of fish-market, full of Turks in pale pink and violet turbans, Greeks, women in leather boots… an almost Roman sight of underlying order with the color of squalor and independence of the East fretting on top” (entry for Jan. 26, 1933).
At Embona, a mountainous village, Dorothy and Lucy chatted with the local women in “queer Greek with soft lambdas and perhaps mixed with Turkish” and photographed their dresses, “blue skirt over a white jerkin with red embroidery, very high-waisted, leather boots, and the head tied up in white” (entry for Jan. 29, 1933).
Of the many photos that Dorothy took, my eyes rested longer on one depicting the Murad Reis Mosque. Thirteen years later, Durrell would write: “…we stumbled upon the little garden which encircles the Mosque of Murad Reis—a garden at whose heart I was later to find Villa Cleobolus; and here we sat for a while perched upon Turkish tombstones, smoking and enjoying the darkness which had now an almost touchable smoothness, the silkiness of old velours.” Durrell dedicated an entire chapter of his book to the garden of the Villa, where he, together with his beloved E[ve] Cohen, entertained their close friends: the idiosyncratic A. Gideon, the newly appointed Director of Agriculture, doctor Raymond Mills and his Greek wife Chloe, Hoyle (whose first name is not given), and Egon Huber, the gifted Austrian potter of ICARO (Industrie Ceramiche Artistiche Rodio-Orientali). “Here in the evenings we gather for drinks and gossip, sitting in cane chairs around the little painted table, hearing through the dusk the shallow strains of some forgotten fugue wafted to us from the old gramophone which is the Mufti’s special pride. Here Gideon and Hoyle play out those interminable games of chess… . Here, sitting on the ground, the grave, detached Huber is whittling at the hull of a ship or the bowl of a pipe” (Marine Venus, pp. 127-128).
Marine Venus vs. Rhodian Venus
I left until last the inspiration for the title of Durrell’s book: the Marine Venus. It took many readings of the relevant passage for me to understand that Durrell’s Venus was the armless, standing Aphrodite, also known as Venus Pudica. Why did he choose the Marine Venus over the dazzling Rhodian Venus? When we were at the Museum, everybody stood in awe in front of the small, kneeling, long-haired Rhodian Venus, hardly paying any attention to the solemn, mutilated Marine Venus.
Durrell credits his friend Mills for inspiring him to write a book about their time on Rhodes. Mills wanted Durrell to capture “not history of myth—but landscape and atmosphere…” (Marine Venus, p. 35). I suspect that the defining moment that encapsulated “all the charm and grace of our stay in Rhodes,” must have been the “rediscovery” of the Marine Venus some time in 1945 or 1946. Although the statue had been fished out of the sea in 1929, Durrell and his friends must have witnessed her retrieval from the crypt where she had been hidden for protection during the war. “I can still the faces of my friends as they surrounded the dark trap door out of which she rose so gravely into the sunlight. Hoyle and Gideon sitting astride a plank; Ego Huber, who had helped to bury her, smiling with pleasure to see her undamaged; while Mills and Sergeant Croker and a collection of barefoot urchins grunted and groaned on the ropes which were raising her” (Marine Venus, p. 36).
Durrell would not return to Rhodes after 1947, though he would sail by her in 1953, together with his two-year daughter Sappho, on his way to Cyprus; but not with his beautiful E[ve] who had suffered a mental breakdown in 1952. “It is good to see places where one has been happy in the past—to see them after many years and in different circumstances… each minaret like the loved worn face of an earthly friend. I am looking, as if into a well, to recapture the faces of Hoyle, Gideon, Mills—and the dark vehement grace of E.” wrote Durrell in the Epilogue to Marine Venus in 1952.
. For the quotes from Marine Venus, I used the 2009 edition by Axios Press.
. Dorothy Burr Thompson’s diaries are housed at Bryn Mawr College, in the Department of Special Collections of its library.
References and Suggested Reading
Anderson, S. “The Light and the Line: Florestano Di Fausto and the Politics of ‘Mediterraneità,’” Californian Italian Studies 1:1, 2010 (https://escholarship.org/uc/item/9hm1p6m5 ).
Doumanis, N. “Italians as ‘Good Colonizers’: Speaking Subalterns and the Politics of Memory in the Dodecanese,”in Italian Colonialism, ed. Ben-Ghiat R. and M. Fuller, New York 2005, pp. 220-231.
Fuller, M. “Building Power: Italy’s Colonial Architecture and Urbanism, 1923-1940,” Cultural Anthropology, vol. 3, no. 4 (Nov. 1988), pp. 455-487.
Kolonas, V. and Y. Gerolympos, Italian Architecture in the Dodecanese Islands, 1912-1943, Athens 2002.
Santoianni, V. “Il Razionalismo nelle colonie italiane 1928-1943: La «nuova architettura» delle Terre d’Oltremare” (unpublished dissertation: University of Napoli, 2008). http://www.fedoa.unina.it/1881/1/Santoianni_Progettazione_Architettonica.pdf
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.)
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 .)
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 »
I first encountered the name “Canaday” in the mid-1980s when I went to Bryn Mawr College for graduate school. Although we did most of our work in the seminar rooms above the Art and Archaeology Library (now the Rhys Carpenter Library), for books and periodicals about history or classics we had to go to the “big library,” which was none other than the Mariam Coffin Canaday Library.
A few years later when I returned to Greece to participate in the regular program of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA, or the School hereafter), I heard people referring to Canaday House. One of the two marble houses flanking the Gennadius Library at 61 Souidias, it housed temporarily the family of the then Director of the School William (Willy) D. E. Coulson. (The big earthquake of 1986 in Kalamata had caused damages to the Director’s residence across the street.)
Finally, in the summer of 1990, while digging at Mochlos on Crete, I met Doreen Spitzer on one of the “On-Site with The American School of Classical Studies at Athens” trips that she had been organizing for years, but without realizing that Doreen Spitzer’s maiden name was Canaday. It was only after I started working as the School’s Archivist that I became aware of Canaday Spitzer’s long legacy at the American School. Doreen Canaday Spitzer (1914-2010) served as a Trustee 1978-1996, President of the Board of Trustees 1983-1988, Trustee Emerita from 1996 and President of the Friends from 1988 until her death in 2010. (There is a thorough biographical essay about Doreen Spitzer by Catherine de Grazia Vanderpool in AKOUE 63, Fall 2010.) Her father, Ward Canaday (1885-1976), had also served as a Trustee of the School for almost four decades starting in 1937.
Spitzer also cared deeply about preserving the School’s history and supported wholeheartedly the creation of an Archives Department during her term as President of the Board. Furthermore, she would contact School members, many of whom she knew personally from her time as a student of the School in 1936-1938, to solicit their personal papers. No wonder why my formal title is the Doreen Canaday Spitzer Archivist. Needless to say that it would have pleased her immensely to see our new and enlarged facilities at the East Wing of the Gennadius Library. Read the rest of this entry »
This is a guest post by Robert L. Pounder
Robert L. Pounder, Emeritus Professor of Classics at Vassar College, here contributes a review of Barbara McManus’s posthumous book about Grace Harriet Macurdy, titled The Drunken Duchess of Vassar. Pounder, who has been conducting in-depth research on the social history of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) in the 1920s-1930s, writes that Classics was “dominated by unaware, myopic, smug, unsympathetic men, men who viewed academic accomplishment by women with condescension and skepticism.” Women in academia, like Macurdy, were thought to be anomalies–a different species. Based on his work at the ASCSA Archives, Pounder has also published an essay, “The Blegens and the Hills: A Family Affair,” in Carl W. Blegen: Personal & Archaeological Narratives, ed. N. Vogeikoff-Brogan, J. L. Davis, and V. Florou, Atlanta 2015.
Born in 1866 in Robbinston, Maine, Grace Harriet Macurdy was the sixth of nine siblings whose parents had immigrated to the United States from the nearby Canadian province of New Brunswick just a year before her birth. Her father, Angus McCurdy (the spelling of the name was later changed to Macurdy because he did not want to be thought Irish) was a carpenter who barely eked out a living. After leaving his children in the care of their mother and paternal grandmother for long periods and thus improving his situation somewhat, he was able to move the family to Watertown, Massachusetts by 1870; there they grew. Watertown provided a better series of houses and slightly improved material circumstances for the Macurdy children. Moreover, they profited greatly from the guidance of their mother and grandmother, both of whom encouraged the children, including the girls, to read, write, and pursue their educations.
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 »