On Communism and Hellenism: An Archaeologist’s Perspective


Posted by Despina Lalaki

Despina Lalaki holds a PhD in Historical Sociology from the New School university while she currently teaches at the The New York City College of Technology-CUNY. The essay she contributed to ‘From the Archivist’s Notebook’ is largely an excerpt from her article “On the Social Construction of Hellenism: Cold War Narratives of Modernity, Development, and Democracy for Greece,” in The Journal of Historical Sociology, 25:4, 2012, pp. 552-577. Her essay draws inspiration from an unpublished manuscript by archaeologist Carl W. Blegen, titled “The United States and Greece” and written in 1946-1948.


Carl W. Blegen (1887-1971) is one of the most eminent archaeologists of the Greek Bronze Age. Nevertheless, he intimately knew Modern Greece, too. In 1910, at the age of twenty-three, he first visited the country as a student of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (hereafter ASCSA), and by the time of his death in 1971 he had made Greece his home and his final resting place, having experienced first hand the land and its people in the most troublesome moments of their modern history. In 1918, for instance, he participated in the Greek Commission of the American Red Cross, assisting with the repatriation and rehabilitation of thousands of refugees who during the war had been held as prisoners in Bulgaria. During WWII, he was recruited by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to head the Greek desk of the Foreign Nationalities Branch (FNB) in Washington D.C., which was following European and Mediterranean ethnic groups living in the United States and recording their knowledge of political trends and conditions affecting their native lands.

April 1946: US Cultural Relations Attache Carl W. Blegan (R) and J. W. Foster standing in headquarters of the Allied Mission For Observing Greek Elections (AMFOGE). (Photo by Nat Farbman/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

J. W. Foster (left) and Carl W. Blegen (right) standing at the headquarters of the Allied Mission for Observing the Greek Elections (AMFOGE), 1946. Photo by Nat Farbman. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images/Ideal Image.

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“This Horrible Crime Will Have to be Paid For”: The Sinking of the LUSITANIA

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.

Lusitania_Cover

 

“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 »


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 »


A Preamble to the Nazi Holocaust in Greece: Two Micro-Histories from the American School of Classical Studies at Athens

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 contributes to The Archivist’s Notebook an essay about Jewish academics in Athens in the 1930s and anti-semitism at the ASCSA.

A recent comment by Barbara McManus on a older post to this blog makes it clear that leaders of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) factored religion into decision-making about student applications for fellowships  (https://nataliavogeikoff.com/2013/10/01/the-modern-greek-exam-professor-blanks-method-and-other-stories-from-the-1930s/). Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan had observed that fellowship procedures in the 1930s were weighted against women, the handicapped, and even Canadians! McManus remarked:

“Besides being female, handicapped, or Canadian, if you were a Jew it was also difficult to win an ASCSA fellowship in the 1930s. Letters in the Samuel E. Bassett papers in Yale’s manuscript and archives library show that the Fellowship Committee gave Israel Walker the 1930-31 Fellowship in Greek Language, Literature and History only with great reluctance. In an undated letter to Edward Capps about the results of the 1930 fellowship examinations, Bassett lamented that John F. Latimer, “a very attractive young man and an excellent teacher,” fell down badly on the history and literature exams, while Walker placed 6 or 7 points ahead of his nearest competitor. The committee agreed to award the fellowship to Walker since he was ‘vouched for as personally acceptable’ by LaRue Van Hook, Walker’s Columbia professor, who wrote that ‘his semitic blood does not make him objectionable.’ Van Hook’s letter (5 March 1930) actually said, ‘He is of Semitic extraction, but a quiet, modest, and unassuming fellow, very presentable.’ When Bassett had asked David Robinson’s opinion about giving the fellowship to Walker (Robinson was a member of the Fellowship Committee), Robinson had replied (29 March 1930), ‘I am a firm believer in examinations and if Walker comes out far ahead in general average I should hesitate not to give him the fellowship, especially as he can work under his own instructor, Van Hook [Annual Professor for 1930-31]… Personality is an important thing and I hate the Jews with a few exceptions, but these fellowships are given for scholarship and ability to do research work and not merely on the grounds of personality.’” Read the rest of this entry »


The Pride of Amphipolis

Posted by Betsey Robinson

Betsey A. Robinson, Professor of History of Art at Vanderbilt University, here contributes to The Archivist’s Notebook an essay about the history of the reconstruction of the Lion of Amphipolis in the 1930s and the people who spearheaded it; she also reminds us of recent work by the American School in the area in 1970. Her current essay is based on extensive archival research she conducted in the Archives of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens a few years ago, which resulted in an article entitled “Hydraulic Euergetism: American Archaeology and Waterworks in Early-20th-Century Greece,” in Philhellenism, Philanthropy or Political Convenience? American Archaeology in Greece, ed. Jack L. Davis and Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan (Hesperia 82: 1, special issue), Princeton 2013, pp. 101-130.

The Lion of Amphipolis. Photo ASCSA Archaeological Photographic Collection

The Lion of Amphipolis, 1962. Photo ASCSA Archaeological Photographic Collection. Click to enlarge.

Εἰπέ, λέον, φθιμένοιο τίνος τάφον ἀμφιβέβηκας, βουφάγε; τίς τᾶς σᾶς ἄξιος ἦν ἀρετᾶς;
Tell, lion, whose tomb do you guard, you slayer of cattle? And who was worthy of your valour?

Anthologia Palatina 7.426.1-2 (Trans. M. Fantuzzi & R. Hunter)

The lines above, by Hellenistic poet Antipater of Sidon, are as much of a tease today as they were when Oscar Broneer quoted them in The Lion Monument at Amphipolis in 1941. As I write, each day brings tantalizing new discoveries at Amphipolis where the Kasta Hill is being excavated by the 28th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities. Less than 5 km to the south, the colossal marble lion that was reconstructed in 1937 has attracted renewed attention since archaeologist Katerina Peristeri and architect Michalis Lefantzis reported evidence connecting it to the mysterious tumulus (http://www.archaiologia.gr/en/blog/2013/04/01/the-lion-of-amphipolis/). Nearly a century after the lion’s discovery, as we await the excavators’ next revelations, it seems a good time to reflect on the lion and its modern history. Read the rest of this entry »


That Unspeakable Stoa

 

Posted by Lizabeth Ward Papageorgiou

Lizabeth Ward Papageorgiou here contributes to the Archivist’s Notebook an essay about Nancy Mitford’s visit to the Athenian Agora during the re-construction of the Stoa of Attalos in 1955. Unhappy with the building, Mitford, one of the famous Mitford sisters, wrote acidic comments about it in the press as well as to the Director of the Agora Excavations, Homer A. Thompson. Lizabeth (Liz), who studied Art History at the Institute of Fine Arts in New York University, found Mitford’s letters when she catalogued Thompson’s vast correspondence for the Archives of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens a few years ago. Her extensive catalogue of Homer Thompson’s papers is available at: http://www.ascsa.edu.gr/index.php/archives/thompson-finding-aid/

 

Over a decade ago, I archived the papers of Homer A. Thompson. Two of his letters are the subject of this article.

It [Athens] is probably the ugliest capital in Europe . . . [with] formless conglomerations of modern buildings overlooked by an immortal monument . . . . The traffic is noisier, wilder, and more evidently intent on homicide than that of Paris, and consists entirely of enormous pastel-colored American motor-cars.

Nancy Mitford, “Wicked Thoughts in Greece”, The Sunday Times, 24 July 1955.

The Mitford sisters

The Mitford sisters

Nancy Mitford (1904–1973), acclaimed author of comedies of English upper class manners (The Pursuit of Love), biographies (Madame de Pompadour), essays and reviews, was the eldest of six intelligent, beautiful and sometimes scandalous daughters of Lord and Lady Redesdale (Ben Macintyre described the sisters as Diana the Fascist, Jessica the Communist, Unity the Hitler-lover; Nancy the Novelist; Deborah the Duchess and Pamela the unobtrusive poultry connoisseur).1  In the summer of 1955, she traveled in Greece. She spent time with Patrick Leigh Fermor, who was living in Nikos Ghikas’s house on Hydra; went to Tatoi, the summer residence of King Paul; and visited friends in Spetses, Crete and the Peloponnese.2

Nancy Mitford, 1932

Nancy Mitford, 1932

When she was in Athens, she stayed at the Grand Bretagne and visited the ancient sites. One day she went to the Ancient Agora, but since the reconstruction of the Stoa of Attalos was not finished—it was covered with scaffolding and only the lower storey and colonnades had been reconstructed—Mitford must have needed permission to visit the site and one of the Agora staff to guide her. Homer A. Thompson, director of the Agora excavations from 1945 to 1967 and deeply involved with all aspects of the reconstruction of the Stoa, often mentioned visitors to the Agora in his letters to his wife, Dorothy Burr Thompson; but he made no mention of a visit by Nancy Mitford. Possibly Judith Perlzweig or C. W. J. Eliot, who bore the brunt of conducting visitors through the excavations and museum, served as her guide.3

Shortly after Mitford returned to her home in Paris, she wrote an article about her trip to Greece for The Sunday Times. Published on 24 July 1955, the title, “Wicked Thoughts in Greece”, gave readers a heads up that this was going to be another of her scathing attacks. Opening with the declaration that Athens is probably the ugliest capital in Europe, full of homicidal drivers and enormous pastel-colored American motor-cars, she continued to deplore the hideous newness of Athens, which from the air is a desert of khaki-coloured cement. But she did find an oasis in Plaka, where she delighted in the classical monuments, churches and old houses, until . . .

 Alas! After ten minutes of happy wandering the dream is shattered and the dreadful wasteland of the Agora appears. Here the American School of Classical Studies seems to have torn down whole streets in order to search for a few pots. Here the Americans are building, in a ghastly graveyard marble, the Stoa, said to be ‘of Attalos’, but really of Mr. Homer A. Thompson. And here a gracious garden will be planted, complete, no doubt, with floral clock.

The Stoa of Attalos under construction, 1955. Photo: ASCSA, Agora Excavations

The Stoa of Attalos under construction, 1955. Photo: ASCSA, Agora Excavations

A few pages later, describing her visit to Knossos, she again attacked the reconstruction of the Stoa of Attalos:

. . . Knossos, a fraudulent reconstruction like the Stoa, English this time, alas, and built in an art nouveau style reminiscent of Paris metro stations. It is evident that Anglo-Saxons should be kept away from Mediterranean sites . . . . Knossos, however, matters less than the Stoa, because it is out in the country and does not spoil anything else. The Stoa in all its vileness hits the eye from the Acropolis and the Temple of Hephaestus. It is as though the French had allowed Frank Lloyd Wright to build his idea of a Petit Trianon at the bottom of the tapis vert at Versailles. Read the rest of this entry »


An Archival Paradox, the Expédition de Morée, and a Mysterious Love Affair

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 contributes to the Archivist’s Notebook  an essay about literary activities of members of the  Expédition de Morée and his recent discovery of an unknown epistolary novel by Jacques-Louis Lacour.

In 1984, in the years of the Nemea Valley Archaeological Project, a friend gave me Kyriakos Simopoulos’s monumental Ξένοι ταξιδιώτες στην Ελλάδα as a birthday present. It is a work extensively based on research conducted in the Gennadius Library. Later I discovered Simopoulos’s equally impressive Πώς είδαν οι ξένοι το ’21. The final chapter of Πώς είδαν was for me an invaluable introduction to the greatest military and scientific mission ever dispatched to Greece by a western European power: the Expédition de Morée.

General Nicolas Joseph Maison

General Nicolas Joseph Maison

A French fleet left Toulon in the summer of 1828, and on August 30, Lieutenant General Nicolas Joseph Maison landed with 14,000 troops at Petalidi near Kalamata, preferring not to expose his force to Ibrahim Pasha’s cannon fire at Navarino. Thus began a four-year military intervention that laid infrastructure for an independent Greek state.

The French maintained a military presence in the Peloponnese until August of 1833. The fighting soon complete, they turned their energies to reconstruction: roads, hospitals, a postal service, and repairs to fortresses. And in late 1828, scholars and scientists arrived — an Expédition Scientifique de Morée organized in three sections: “Archéologie”; “Histoire Naturelle” (later called “Sciences Physiques”); and “Architecture et Sculpture.” Read the rest of this entry »