Imagining and Reimagining Greece

Posted by Clayton Miles Lehmann

Clayton M. Lehmann, Professor of History at the University of South Dakota, here contributes an essay about American college students coming to Greece, as part of study-abroad programs. This post represents a modified and shortened version of the 63rd Annual Harrington Lecture, which he delivered 28 October 2015 to the College of Arts and Sciences of the University of South Dakota.  Lehmann was a Regular Member of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens in 1982/3, lived in Greece while he wrote his doctoral dissertation, and has returned often, three times as the Director of the Summer Session for the American School and regularly since 2005 as one of the professor-captains of the University of South Dakota’s short-term faculty-led study-abroad program “The Isles of Greece!”.

After disappointing tourism numbers for the 2004 Olympics, the Greek National Tourism Organization launched a major campaign, “Live Your Myth in Greece,” to rekindle Greece in the world’s imagination.  When a group of my students arrived in Athens in 2005 for the study-abroad program The Isles of Greece!,[1] they saw the advertisements for this campaign on the billboards and buses on the way into the city.  At first glance, the images appeal to the typical touristic expectation of the Greek quartet of sea, sun, sand, and sex.  But the classical architecture and supernatural figures suggest a more complex imaginary mix.  The fine print on some of these posters read:

Greece: a land of mythical dimensions. Where the spirit of hospitality welcomes you as a modern god. And the siren song draws you into its deep blue waters. Where a gentle breeze through ancient ruins seems to whisper your name. And a dance until dawn can seem to take on Dionysian proportions. In Greece the myths are still very much alive. And in amongst them sits your own . . . patiently waiting for you to live it. Live your myth in Greece.  Ask your travel agent.


Eros and Mermaid posters for Live Your Myth in Greece, Greek National Tourism Organization campaign, 2005; designed by K. Karavellas; and creative design by McCann Erickson-BBDO-Cleverbank Joint Venture. Photographs courtesy of the GNTO.

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Schliemann of Troy: The Story of a Linguistic Genius

Heinrich Schliemann in the 1850s

Heinrich Schliemann in the 1850s (ASCSA, Gennadius Library Archives, Heinrich Schliemann Papers)

Schliemann the legendary excavator of Troy and Mycenae hardly needs an introduction. A host of publications deal with the last twenty years of his life and the results of his excavations. It is only recently, however, that any interest has been taken in Schliemann’s “non-Greek” past, his early years, when he was a successful merchant, an obsessive traveler, and a compulsive linguist. What else can we call a man who taught himself to read, write, and speak more than fifteen languages? Read the rest of this entry »

Unbalanced Academics, Scribblers, and an “Odd Christmas”

Jack L. Davis, Professor of Greek Archaeology at the University of Cincinnati and former director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (2007-2012), here contributes to The Archivist’s Notebook an essay about the non-archaeological pastimes of some of the School’s most distinguished past members, including Carl Blegen, Emily Vermeule, Rhys Carpenter, Oscar Broneer, and Dorothy Burr Thompson.

Not so long ago I stumbled across an internet site called “The Academic Ladder,” a career counseling service. Its newsletter headlined a story of interest: “Get A Life!  A Chart For Living A Balanced Life (Even If You’re An Academic),” by Gina Hiatt, clinical psychologist.

“Why do academics lead unbalanced lives?”

You can never do enough. The academic life is a writer’s life, only worse. This is because the academic constantly feels that he or she has not done enough. … There is always someone better than you.  Academics constantly compare themselves to each other. … And face it: no matter how good you are at some aspect of a profession or field, there is someone else who does another part of the profession better.

In the long run, this is no way to live a life. You will end up with health problems and not enjoy your career, if you don’t balance your life better.  There is more to life than academia!

Theodor W. Adorno (1903-1969)

German philosopher Theodor W. Adorno (1903-1969)

While recognizing that academics may not feel they “deserve” leisure time as a “reward,” Gina suggests ways to live more balanced lives by finding things to do, other than work, that are relaxing, fun, and important. Most of us at least are somewhat familiar with the concept (I am constantly being told by loved ones that I should relax more and have more fun), but the notion that leisure time should be filled with important activities is another matter entirely, and brings to mind Theodor Adorno’s 1963 essay “Free Time.” There he succinctly wrote:

Time and again in interviews and questionnaires one is asked what one has for a hobby. … I am startled by the question whenever I meet with it. I have no hobby. Not that I’m a workaholic who wouldn’t know how to do anything else but get down to business and do what has to be done. But rather I take the activities with which I occupy myself beyond the bounds of my official profession, without exception, so seriously that I would be shocked by the idea that they had anything to do with hobbies -that is, activities I’m mindlessly infatuated with only in order to kill time- if my experiences had not toughened me against manifestations of barbarism that have become self-evident and acceptable. Making music, listening to music, reading with concentration constitute an integral element of my existence; the word hobby would make a mockery of them. Read the rest of this entry »

The Modern Greek Exam, “Professor Blank’s” Method, and Other Stories from the 1930s

After publishing Jack Davis’ essay about the recent history of the ASCSA admission exams and while I was reflecting on Donald Haggis’ reference to the Modern Greek exam, defunct since WW II, I recalled a passage in Lawrence Durrell’s Prospero’s Cell (1947). While writing about his life in pre-WWII Corfu, Durrell painted a perceptive, if not-so-flattering, image of the foreign archaeologist in Greece: “Like earnest mastodons petrified in the forests of their own apparatus, the archaeologists come and go, each with his pocket Odyssey and his lack of Modern Greek. Diligently working on the refuse heaps of some township they erect on the basis of a few sherds or a piece of dramatic drainage, a sickly and enfeebled portrait of a way of life.”

Durrell’s criticism and the recent discussion of exams in this blog enticed me look more carefully than I had ever previously done at the pre-WWII fellowship exams. Here, I should emphasize that these were FELLOWSHIP exams. Before WW II there were no admission exams. Candidates sat competitive examinations only for fellowships. Harold Fowler (1904-1917), Samuel Bassett (1917-1936), Benjamin Meritt (1931-1932), and others served as Chairmen of the Committee on Fellowships (only in 1950 was its name changed to the Committee on Admissions and Fellowships). Students were admitted on the basis of their credentials; although a knowledge of Classical Greek “was expected and assumed…in exceptional cases, a student ignorant of the Greek language [was] accepted as regular member of the School if he [was] qualified to pursue special studies in some field (e.g., architecture or art) where a knowledge of the Greek language [was] not absolutely necessary (ASCSA Handbook of Information, 1932, p. 16). Those competing for fellowships in Archaeology were examined in Modern Greek, but not in Ancient.

What were these exams like? Below I reproduce, as an example, the Modern Greek exam of 1936, which to my surprise also included a passage to be translated from English to Greek, as well as the requirement to translate an essay by poet Kostis Palamas from Greek to English. The passage for translation from English is amusing and imagines a conversation between an American archaeologist and a Greek boatman, the latter complaining about Edmond About’s unflattering portrayal of Greece (La Grèce contemporaine, 1858) and hoping that his American passenger will steer a different course! Read the rest of this entry »

Barbarians at the Gate: Comments on Comments

Jack L. Davis, Carl W. Blegen professor of Greek Archaeology at the University of Cincinnati and former director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (2007-2012), here responds to remarks by colleagues concerning his essay  “Barbarians at the Gate” of September 1st.

Several hundred visitors from 15 countries have now seen my post, including lost souls from the Isle of Man, Mexico, and Egypt. I am grateful to them and my other readers, particularly to those who have submitted comments.

A response offers me the opportunity to reiterate and clarify my views.  I believe that current policies that govern the allocation of resources to first-year students at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens are out of step with its mission statement. As the mission of ASCSA has expanded, procedures for awarding fellowships have failed to keep pace. The School is not the same as it was in 1952, nor is the amount of support for first-year students that it commands. Instead of 2-3 fellowships, we now have 13 and the number is growing.  Yet the qualifications for a fellowship remain the same: recipients must be Classicists who have mastered Ancient Greek.

In 1957 Gertrude Smith, Chairman of the Committee on Admissions and Fellowships (1945-1963) was awarded by King Paul of Greece the Cross of Commander in the Royal Order of Beneficence (ΕΥΠΟΙΙΑ) in recognition of her contribution to classical schlarship.

In 1957 Getrude Smith, Chairman of the Committee on Admissions and Fellowships (1945-1963) was awarded by King Paul of Greece the Cross of Commander in the Royal Order of Beneficence (ΕΥΠΟΙΙΑ) in recognition of her contribution to Classical scholarship (ASCSA, Archives).

Such limitations effectively exclude many students who are not trained in Classics, but would find value in the programs offered by ASCSA to first-year students.  These students are cut off from ASCSA funding, an action that is particularly discriminatory against those who are not enrolled in prestige universities where alternative sources of support are available.   Nor can we ever know how many students chose not to apply to ASCSA because they understood that they had no chance of being admitted because of non-existent or inadequate Ancient Greek.  Large numbers, I suspect.  If, as Dimitri Nakassis remarks, exams can be a democratic leveling mechanism for those with Greek, they can also sound the death knell for those who are Greekless.  We can always imagine that those who choose to spend their first year at ASCSA as Associate members do so from personal preference but how can we know this for certain unless we open our doors to them?

Donald Haggis mentions that his colleagues are discouraging philologists and historians from attending ASCSA, an observation that resonates in my own experience and seems, as he also observes, part of a general trend away from inter-disciplinarity in Classics.  I myself often need to assure students in Cincinnati that the Regular program is not just for archaeologists — that, in fact, a majority of students at the School are philologists and historians.  And, if Bill Caraher is right, then the situation is even sadder than I would have suspected!  ASCSA would be running a program of greatest benefit to philologists and historians, at the same time as they turn their backs on the School in increasing numbers.

I do not believe that today’s student of archaeology can learn by himself all that the Regular program offers. It seems to me that expert instruction by professors of the School, people like Bill Caraher, would trump any mere visit to a site by myself. And I also do not believe that the Regular program should be construed by anyone as a remedial course in archaeology for non-archaeologists.

Is it true that nobody would “seriously entertain the suggestion” that Ancient Greek be dropped completely as a requirement for fellowships? Certainly I am one who would entertain that proposal for a majority of fellowships, and responses that I have received on- and off-line suggest that I do not stand by myself.

The Regular program that I experienced from 2007-2012 was rich and broad. Students learned about prehistoric, Classical, Byzatine, and modern Greece.  They benefited from instruction in archaeology, prehistoric and historical, art history, history, literature, and the sciences. Our Mellon professors, visiting Whitehead professors, and the staff of the School cooperate to build an educational program that is truly reflective of the mission statement of ASCSA.  Why not now welcome into this marvelous program students who represent a similarly broad range of interests — and make it possible for them to compete for some fellowships without needing to take an exam in Ancient Greek?  There can only be benefits for ASCSA in having a more diverse community of students supported by the School to participate in the Regular program.

I do not object to exams, only to the system for awarding fellowships as presently constituted. I see no rationale for continuing to include an examination in Ancient Greek as a requirement for all fellowships.  Is Ancient Greek any longer a sine qua non for success in the Regular program of the School?  In my experience the answer is “no.”

Change depends on decisions made by duly selected representatives of the Managing Committee (MC), and initiated after thorough investigation of circumstances, past and present.  But hasn’t the time passed for entrance exams to be “a lively topic” only at MC meetings? I also doubt that any standing committee of the MC can consider the matter adequately, inasmuch as none represents the full diversity of activities and objectives enshrined in our mission statement.  As Haggis writes, what is now most urgent is “a thoughtful assessment of what we think graduate students should know and why, and what relevance it has to their contribution and participation in the program, and ultimately their professional development and contributions to the various fields represented by classical studies.” I would propose the formation of an ad hoc committee to consider these issues and to revise requirements in the fellowship program accordingly, a committee that in its constitution includes representation that is every bit as broad as the School’s mission.