Athens at the Turn of the Century: A Sentimental Capital and a Resort of Scholars

On February 17, 1901, a young American archaeologist and member of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) was “roaming over the city in search of Mr. Kavvadias, the general ephor of antiquities in Athens, in order to get a permit to begin work at Vari tomorrow” (letter of Charles H. Weller to his wife).  Together with a small group of students from the School, he had conceived of the idea of conducting a small excavation at the Vari Cave on the southern spur of Mount Hymettus, near the ancient deme of Anargyrous. Known since the 18th century, the cave had been visited and described by several European travelers who were particularly taken by the reliefs and inscriptions carved on its walls.

Vari Cave interior with sculpted figures, 1923. Source: ASCSA Archives, Dorothy Burr Thompson Photographic Collection.

Read the rest of this entry »


Skyromania? American Archaeologists in 1930s Skyros

Skyros, house interior, 1931. ASCSA, Dorothy Burr Thompson

Skyros, house interior, 1931. ASCSA Archives, Dorothy Burr Thompson Photographic Collection

“The island of Skyros is fairly remote and inaccessible, on account of the winds. One consequence of its geographical location is that there is very little information about the island in the ancient authors, and the picture also given by the travelers is also fragmentary,” archaeologist Efi Sapouna-Sakellaraki could write in her archaeological guide to Skyros, as recently as 1998. Before her, American archaeologist Hazel Hansen, in writing about prehistoric Skyros in 1951, similarly described the island as “one of the most solitary islands in the Aegean for nearly all the other islands are nearer to one another or to the mainland.” Its isolation and the capricious sea between it and the mainland and Euboea are the reasons why Skyros is far less frequently visited…”.

Read the rest of this entry »


Dorothy Burr Thompson’s Love for the Spirit of the Primitive

Dorothy Burr photographing wedding dance at Parapoungia 1924.

Dorothy Burr photographing wedding dance at Parapoungia 1924. ASCSA Archives, Dorothy Burr Thompson Photographic Collection.

“By myself in a Boeotian village, with the cry of the wind and drunken men in my ears! I love this place; it is so full of interest and a sense of real thing – seeing weddings whereat one reddens a finger… plodding one’s weary way homeward over purple fields to the din of bells like an organ cadence, knowing villagers… Oh, it is so full of life…” scribbled Dorothy Burr in her personal diary on November 9, 1924.

She was twenty-four years old and had come to Greece the year before, to study at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter). Before that, she had lived in Philadelphia and studied at Bryn Mawr College. After attending the year-long program of the ASCSA, she and Hazel Hansen, another student of the School, were invited by archaeologist Hetty Goldman to dig at the Neolithic site of Eutresis, not far from Thebes, in Boeotia. Read the rest of this entry »


“All Americans Must Be Trojans at Heart”: A Volunteer at Assos in 1881 Meets Heinrich Schliemann

Curtis Runnels, Professor of Archaeology at Boston University, here contributes to The Archivist’s Notebook a story about the discovery of a personal diary of a young American who participated in the Assos excavations in 1881 and had the opportunity to meet Heinrich Schliemann. In addition to doing fieldwork and publishing extensively on Palaeolithic archaeology in Greece, Runnels is also the author of The Archaeology of Heinrich Schliemann: An Annotated Bibliographic Handlist (Archaeological Institute of America; available also as an ebook from Virgo Books).

Schliemann_Ilios
“He was an American citizen himself—and believed that all Americans must be Trojans at heart.”  The line above describes Heinrich Schliemann and comes from the personal diary of a young American who met Schliemann at Assos in 1881. Boston native Charles Wesley Bradley (1857-1884) graduated from Harvard in 1880, having studied classics and philosophy with Charles Eliot Norton, the founder of the Archaeological Institute of America and the driving force behind the first American excavations in classical lands at the site of Assos in northwestern Turkey. Read the rest of this entry »


Henry Miller’s Timeless Greece through the Drawings of Anne Poor

Miller_Poor_Cover Read the rest of this entry »


A Mycenaean “Matter of Fact”: Part I, Joe Alsop Reports on the Greek Bronze Age

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 political columnist Joseph Alsop and his passion for the prehistoric archaeology of Greece.

Several months ago Louis Menand’s New Yorker review (Nov. 10, 2014) of Gregg Herken’s The Georgetown Set: Friends and Rivals in Cold War Washington kindled my interest in Joseph W. Alsop (1910-1989), influential journalist, syndicated newspaper columnist, and trustee (1965-1985) of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. A bit of archival sleuthing at the University of Cincinnati (see below) led to the discovery that on Saturday, December 14, 1963, Alsop had summoned an A-list of Classical archaeologists and art historians to dine with him and his wife, Susan Mary, in their Georgetown, Washington, D.C., home — a strange flock for this longtime Washington insider to host.

On the cover, Joseph and Stewart Alsop (photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson)

On the cover, Joseph and Stewart Alsop (photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson)

Guests included Jack and Betty Caskey, professors at the University of Cincinnati, Emmett Bennett, professor at the University of Wisconsin, Emily Vermeule, then professor at Boston University, Cornelius Vermeule, curator of Classical art at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and Sterling Dow, professor at Harvard. Read the rest of this entry »


“All Aboard”: Cruising the Aegean in 1923

On the morning of May 14, 1923, a private yacht approached the island of Santorini and cast anchor just outside the bay of Phira. The Zion carried twenty-five passengers and belonged to an American millionaire and philanthropist, George D. Pratt. Pratt, a recent widower, had come to Greece a few weeks earlier, and the cruise would allow him “to go about the islands taking photographs” as one of the Zion passengers –or so Natalie Murray Gifford wrote in her own account of the trip. There was, however, another, more practical, motivation that lay behind Zion’s Aegean course. At the end of the cruise, the yacht would sail to Mount Athos to deliver food and supplies to starving Bulgarian and Russian monks, who had lost vital support from home as a consequence of the Russian Revolution. Thomas Whittemore, one of Zion’s passengers, was monitoring this relief effort.

Santorini, 1923 (ASCSA Archives, Carl W. Blegen Papers)

Santorini, 1923 (ASCSA Archives, Carl W. Blegen Papers)

Pratt’s guests on board the Zion were archaeologists or classicists affiliated with the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) or with the American Academy in Rome (AAR). All were advanced students and scholars, making the trip entirely unlike the contemporary commercial cruises to the renowned harbors of the Mediterranean that had become increasingly popular in the first decades of the 20th century. Evelyn Waugh describes such a trip aboard the Stella Polaris in Labels (1930), as well as how pleasure cruising had evolved by his time. “Before that only the very rich, who owned their own yachts, could afford this leisurely pottering from port to port,” and this is exactly what George Pratt’s Zion was tasked to do; to offer an exclusive, old-fashion cruise to the members of the School at Athens and the five “Romans” who had come from the Academy in Rome. Waugh also drew a colorful distinction between travelers and tourists, and Pratt’s guests were clearly members of the former club. Read the rest of this entry »