At Home with the Schliemanns: The “Iliou Melathron” as a Social Landmark

Heinrich Schliemann, the famous excavator of Troy, Mycenae, and other Homeric sites, was born in Germany on January 6, 1822–the Epiphany for western Europe and Christmas Day for other countries such as Imperial Russia and Greece which still used the Old (Julian) Calendar until the early 20th century. A compulsive traveler, Schliemann rarely returned to Athens before late December or early January, just in time to celebrate both his birthday and Christmas on January 6th.

From today and throughout 2022, many institutions in Europe, especially in Germany but also in Greece, will be commemorating the bicentennial anniversary of his birth. The Museum of Prehistory and Early History of the National Museums in Berlin is preparing a major exhibition titled Schliemann’s Worlds, which is scheduled to open in April 2022. Major German newspapers and TV channels are in the process of producing (or have already produced) lengthy articles and documentaries about Schliemann and his excavations at Troy in anticipation of the bicentennial anniversary, and Antike Welt has published a separate issue, edited by Leoni Hellmayr, with eleven essays about various aspects of Schliemann’s adventurous life.

The American School of Classical Studies at Athens, where Heinrich’s and Sophia’s papers have been housed since 1936, in addition to contributing to all the activities described above, will be launching an online exhibition, The Stuff of Legend: Heinrich Schliemann’s Life and Work, on February 3, 2022, showcasing material from the rich Schliemann archive.

According to Ernst Ziller, the architect of the Iliou Melathron, Heinrich Schliemann’s only request from him was that Ziller build him a large house within which to live and entertain. And indeed, Heinrich and Sophia’s spectacular balls were described in detail in the local newspapers. Heinrich, however, was a husband-in-absentia, spending not more than four or five months a year in town. During his absence, Sophia had to turn this museum-looking house into an agreeable and comfortable space for her and their two children.  Following Schliemann’s death in 1890, she continued to entertain lavishly, thus making an invitation to the Iliou Melathron a coveted item among the locals and foreigners who lived in late 19th/early 20th century Athens.

The Iliou Melathron soon after its completion in 1882. ASCSA Archives, Oscar Broneer Papers.

“Few people, save Greeks, know that modern Athens is in reality two cities, each differing from the other in climate, in traditions, and to a great extent, in character of population.” These are the opening lines in George Horton’s Modern Athens. He goes on to describe his favorite of the two cities: “Winter Athens, roughly speaking, is the resort of tourists, diplomats, and climate-seekers. It is a European city where one eats course dinners at the Angleterre Hotel, attends service at the English Church, dances the barn dance at Madame Schliemann’s and plays charades in the library of the American School.” Horton (1859-1945), a distinguished diplomat and a literary figure, published Modern Athens in 1902. In it he described his experiences in the city during the five years he served as US Consul (1893-1898). 

Balls and evenings at “Madame Schliemann’s” are also frequently described in letters and diaries of students and members of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (American School or ASCSA hereafter). Ever since its first inaugural ball in January 1881, the Iliou Melathron had remained a prominent landmark in the social life of high-society Athens.  By then Heinrich was no longer an unknown wealthy merchant, who had landed in Athens eleven years earlier to marry a young Greek woman, Sophia Engastromenou, and start a new life in Greece. While the couple’s first house on Mousson Street (today Karagiorgi Servias – Καραγιώργη Σερβίας), near Constitution Square, might have sufficed for the early stages of their Athenian adventure, the arrival of children (Andromache and Agamemnon), an ever-increasing collection of books and antiquities, and, above all, his growing fame as the excavator of major archaeological sites, demanded an upgrade in the couple’s lifestyle.

George Korres and others, including more recently Umberto Pappalardo, have written extensively about the architecture and elaborate decoration of the Iliou Melathron. Here I am interested in the Iliou Melathron as a cultural object and a place “to express feelings, ways of thinking and social processes, and to provide arenas for culturally defined activity,” according to Robert M. Rakoff’s definition.

The Inaugural Ball

The inaugural ball given by the Schliemanns at their new house on January 30, 1881 was described in great detail in the social section of the Greek newspaper ΜΗ ΧΑΝΕΣΑΙ. The author of the essay (signing as Viriloque) was impressed by the harmonious balance in the choice of guests: members of the diplomatic corps, the Phanariots (prominent Greek families originally from Constantinople who played a leading role in the Greek War of Independence), the Greek diaspora (Greeks living abroad), and, naturally, those from the upper echelons of Athenian society.  And while at other Athenian soirées, there was a recognized hierarchy in the reception of these four groups, Sophia distinguished herself by entertaining her guests with equal grace. Dressed in black and wearing a necklace made from beads found in an ancient grave, Sophia offered tours to guests who were interested in the ancient vases, inscriptions, and statues that Schliemann had gathered on the second floor of the house. On the first floor, Schliemann conversed with diplomats, including the German ambassador Joseph von Radowitz (1839-1912), who was among the most knowledgeable Europeans on Balkan matters. And while in the past Schliemann ended his evening balls by midnight so that he would not miss his daily 5am swim at Phaleron, that night under Sophia’s influence he agreed to extend the party until 3am and thus miss his morning ritual. 

Sophia Schliemann in an evening gown, ca. 1880. ASCSA Archives, Heinrich Schliemann Papers

Lynn and Gray Poole in their book One Passion, Two Loves: The Schliemanns of Troy also described with poetic license the grand opening of the Iliou Melathron:

A great procession of carriages rolled up to Iliou Melathron, carrying the fashionable society of Athens and the Continent through the entrance gates, which were attended by the gateman Bellerophon, who was proud of the ancient name given him by Heinrich… From the entrance vestibule the guests stepped into the large vestibule, where they were welcomed by Heinrich and Sophia. Eagerly they entered the Great Hall and wandered through the house, admiring its splendours. Men who normally walked erect moved their heads down, marveling at the mosaics underfoot. Ladies who usually coquetted with eyes cast down gazed at the murals overhead. Even the most sophisticated inspected in wonderment the house that was indeed a palace.

Then the Pooles go on to describe at length an anecdotal event that supposedly happened that night. Since their book lacks footnotes, the source of their description is unclear. Were they drawing from a local newspaper, a document from the vast Schliemann archive, or were they simply recording the memoirs of Sophia’s only living grandchild, Alex Melas, who had invited them in 1963 to write a new book about his famous grandparents?

According to their narrative, the day after the inaugural ball, Schliemann received a document “bearing the official seal of the Council of Ministers” demanding that Schliemann remove or cover the naked statues on the rooftop balustrade of Iliou Melathron. It was Sophia who found the solution, hiring an army of seamstresses to make clothes for the statues. The next morning Athenians en route to work were stunned to see the statues “dressed in flowing garments of gaudy cloth, the most unattractive and garish that Heinrich and Sophia could find.” In addition, Schliemann was spreading rumors that the Greek State had ordered him to clothe the statues. “The Greek Ministers… dispatched a messenger to Schliemann shortly before noon” begging him “to remove the garments from the statues in order that business in Athens return to normal. With great glee, Heinrich mounted to the roof, and in full sight of the crowd below, ostentatiously and dramatically removed each garment, waving it triumphantly before going on the next statue.”

The twenty-three copies of famous Greek and Roman statues that once adorned the Iliou Melathron are now dispersed (according to Korres several of them are stored in the National Archaeological Museum). In the Heinrich Schliemann Papers at the ASCSA, there is correspondence between architect Ziller and the Viennese firm, Wienerberger Ziegefabriks- und Baugesellschaft, that made them, including a plate from their catalog.     

A plate from the catalogue of the “Wienerberger Ziegefabriks- und Baugesellschaft,” the firm from which Schliemann bought the clay statues that decorated the terrace of the Iliou Melathron. ASCSA Archives, Heinrich Schliemann Papers.

Dr. Schliemann at Home

Schliemann and the Iliou Melathron would be the subject of a long article in The New York Times of April 22, 1882, titled “Dr. Schliemann at Home. His Palatial House and the Manner of his Life in It” (Bradley 1882). The author of the essay was a young American from Harvard, Charles Wesley Bradley (1857-1884), who had participated the previous summer in the excavations of the Archaeological Institute of America at Assos in northwestern Turkey, near Troy. Bradley described in his journal, now at the Archives of the American School, how he met Schliemann at Assos when the latter came to see their excavation. (About Bradley and Schliemann, read “All Americans Must Be Trojans at Heart”: A Volunteer at Assos in 1881 Meets Heinrich Schliemann.) Schliemann must have extended an invitation to Bradley to visit him at home when he came to Athens. As with Horton, who included an evening at the Iliou Melathron as a “must” in the social life of an upper-class traveler in Athens, Bradley also underlined the importance of paying a visit to Schliemann’s house:

“The interest of most modern travelers who visit Athens is probably about equally divided between the Parthenon and Dr. Schliemann. Of these two attractions the latter is much the less accessible; for the discoverer of Troy is so overrun by visitors, that Bellerephontes, the porter, is instructed to say “not at home” to all who approach the gate.” Schliemann, however, was not inhospitable; “his elegant house was opened every other Thursday during the winter” by leaving a calling card at the house.

Bradley recounted a conversation Schliemann had had with Ernst Ziller (1837-1923), the architect of the Iliou Melathron: I have lived in a little house all my life. Now I want to spend the rest of my life in a large one. I want plenty of room. Make it in any style you choose. I will limit you only on two particulars. I must have a broad marble stairway leading up from the ground and a terrace on the top.” Of course, it is hard to imagine what Schliemann meant by small but we know what he meant by large. Surely his house in St. Petersburg or that on St. Michael Street in Paris must not have been small. The Pooles described elaborate premises on the occasion of the couple’s first ball in Paris at 6, Place St. Michel. Bradley’s impression of the reception rooms on the first floor of the Melathron was that “300 or 400 guests might move with ease.”

After an elaborate description of the public rooms of the house, including Schliemann’s study room, and an informal encounter with Madame Schliemann and their young children, Bradley went on to describe a formal evening at the Iliou Melathron:

The Doctor stands by the entrance receiving his guests, who pass from him to Mme Schliemann, at the door of the salon. Here are distinguished men of all nations and professions, Greek statesmen, professors of the University, Athenian journalists, archaeologists of the French and German school, as well as a few from England, America [the American School of Classical Studies did not begin to operate in Greece until 1882], and Russia, and members of the different legations. The majority of the ladies are of course Greek, though a number of English, Germans, and Americans are present. You will hear a variety of languages, but none in which Schliemann and his accomplished wife cannot converse fluently.

From Bradley’s comments, we understand that an invitation to spend an afternoon or evening with the Schliemann household was highly sought and treasured, especially by the foreign members of the Athenian society because of the social opportunities these invitations offered. Nevertheless, as Bradley admitted, their popularity also lay “in the curiosity to see the man who, through his energy or his extreme good fortune or both, has made some of the most remarkable archaeological discoveries that the world has known.”

A year later, in 1883, Bradley’s essay in The New York Times was translated into Greek and published in ESTIA (ΕΣΤΙΑ), a popular family magazine.  

Family Moments

The Iliou Melathron was a great showplace for Schliemann and one that fulfilled his wish to entertain large numbers of guests. But was it also agreeable for his family? Schliemann was famous for his long absences from home, sometimes away for more than half of the year. The fact that there is not a single-family photo in the Schliemann archive is telling. Instead, we find images of Schliemann by himself or Sophia with her children.

Sophia Schliemann with her children, Andromache and Agamemnon, ca. 1880. ASCSA Archives, Heinrich Schliemann Papers.

According to the Pooles, who based much of their book on Alex Melas’s memories of the place and through him those of his mother, Andromache, the Iliou Melathron was not a comfortable house to live in: “Heinrich had no use of curtains or draperies, for upholstered pieces that might be comfortable to relax in.”  Nevertheless, in Schliemann’s papers there is extensive correspondence with a Viennese cabinet maker in 1880, Johann Baar (“Möbel Fabrik”), as well as pages that illustrate comfortable chairs and couches from the firm’s catalogue. 

Johann Baar’s price list for Schliemann, December 3, 1880; and a plate from Baar’s furniture catalog. ASCSA Archives, Heinrich Schliemann Papers.

On November 18, 1880, an excited Sophia wrote to Heinrich that the furniture had just arrived and that “the chairs in the form of a harp were masterpieces.” In 1950 a doctor from Larissa, George Katsigras, bought Schliemann’s desk as well as some other furniture from his office, and these are now on display in the Municipal Art Gallery of Larissa. The rest of the furniture was probably dispersed among the children of Andromache Schliemann-Melas, after the house was sold in 1926. 

A plate from Johan Baar’s furniture catalog showing the chairs with the harp backs. ASCSA Archives, Heinrich Schliemann Papers.

It is said in the Poole book that, when Schliemann was away, Sophia would organize picnics for her children on the floors of various rooms and from there they would set out for imaginary destinations. “The Acropolis was the second-floor gallery; the Queen’s Garden was a back bedroom with windows overlooking the rear garden.”

Although furnished with a lush garden of trees and plants, the residents of the Iliou Melathron were not allowed to bring cut flowers into the house. One day when young Andromache tried to cut a flower, she was told by her father that the flowers experienced the same pain that humans felt when one of their fingers was cut off. While there was a profusion of flowers inside the house, “the blooms burst from the stems or the branches of flower bushes set in pots.”

Schliemann, however, was fond of animals and allowed his children to have pets at home. The cat, named Djindjinata, was rescued by Schliemann at Troy and after bringing her with him to Athens, it became Andromache’s pet. Soon after, the Schliemanns agreed to adopt a stray puppy that their little son Agamemnon (“Memeko”) had found outside their house: “Nero” lived there for many years, and was buried in the gardens of the Iliou Melathron.

At Madame Schliemann’s

In December of 1890, Sophia was anxiously awaiting Heinrich’s return from yet another long absence. She had also received a letter from him reminding her to send the invitations for their annual New Year’s ball. Alas, it did not happen because Schliemann died rather unexpectedly in Naples, en route to Greece, on December 26, 1890. Sophia was barely thirty-eight years at the time of his death, Andromache, nineteen, and Agamemnon, twelve. Two years later in October 1892, Andromache married the scion of a prominent Greek family, the lawyer Leon Melas (1872-1905).

Their wedding must have signaled the reopening of the Iliou Melathron, after a long period of mourning. Over the next three decades, Sophia, in the company of her daughter and son, would entertain frequently. Students and members of the American School of Classical Studies yearned for an invitation to spend an afternoon at Madame Schliemann’s or to be a guest at one of her grand balls.  On April 15th, 1896, the year of the first Olympics, there were two events that Nellie M. Reed, a student of the American School, was to attend. (About Nellie Reed, see also “On the Trail of the ‘German Model’: ASCSA and DAI, 1881-1918.”)The first was a large reception for the American athletes given by the Annual Professor at the American School, Benjamin Ide Wheeler, and his wife Amey Webb, at the Merlin House near the Royal Gardens. A little after 11pm, Nellie and her friends walked from the Merlin House to the Iliou Melathron.

It was a very large and brilliant company, lovely gowns, beautiful jewels, and handsome uniforms. I might have had a stupid time if I hadn’t known all the Americans there but as it was I enjoyed it. I was with Mr. Andrews [another student of the American School] a good deal and he showed me the Library and several of the lovely rooms in the house. It is called the “House of Troy” and is most interesting – Mycenaean decorations, archaic motifs in mosaics and wall paintings… It is one of the things to be seen in Athens and I was glad to have had the opportunity” wrote an impressed Nellie to her mother. A week later she was back to Madame Schliemann’s for an early evening “and though the room was crowded I had the rare good fortune to have a charming talk with her [Sophia Schliemann]. It shamed me to hear her conversing with almost equal ease in four or five languages, turning from one to another (April 23, 1896).

In 1902, Sophia’s son Agamemnon was the center of a major scandal in three cities, Athens, Paris, and New York, having eloped to New York with a 16-year-old French girl, Nadine de Bornemann. The New York Times of June 22, 1902, described the event with much detail, under the head title: Eloped from France, Made to Marry Here. Son of Ancient Troy’s Excavator Got His Parisienne. Agamemnon Schliemann and Nadine de Bornemann Induced to Undergo a Civil Ceremony by Family Lawyers. Upon their return to Athens, the new couple moved in with Sophia at the Iliou Melathron. Sophia, with Nadine by her side, continued to participate in the social life of Athens, but with less vigor, after the sudden death of her son-in-law, Andromache’s husband, in 1905. Andromache, a young widow like her mother, needed Sophia’s help to raise her three underage boys. In the Melas Photographic Collection, there are several shots of the young Melas boys, one of which was Alex Melas, either in the garden or on the street outside the Iliou Melathron.

Leon Melas with his oldest son, Michael, Andromache, and Sophia holding the newborn Alex Melas, 1897.
ASCSA Archives, Melas Family Photographic Collection
Sophia’s grandchildren, Michael and Alex, on a horse carriage outside the Iliou Melathron, 1900s.
ASCSA Archives, Melas Family Photographic Collection.

Zillah Dinsmoor, a young American bride in Athens in the early 1910s, married to architect William Bell Dinsmoor (who would later become a famous architectural historian), was secretly hoping to receive an invitation to one of Madame Schliemann’s teas, and when she did she happily wrote to her mother: “I am going to Madame Schliemann’s next week, Thursday… I was so surprised to receive her card with ‘at home’ on it. She receives very little and I was frightfully excited last night when I found the card. She is the widow of Dr. Schliemann who did the first excavating in Greece. She herself found the lovely cow’s head of silver with gold horns at Mycenae. She has piles of money and lives in a magnificent big house a few streets above here” (January 10, 1912). 

An early evening invitation to Madame Schliemann’s (5-9 pm) offered much more than a simple gathering:

The dancing was in a large room on the front of the house with a mosaic floor which was rather hard to dance on. Miss Negreponte introduced two men to me, otherwise I would not have danced at all. It is proper to take two or three turns about the room with one partner in the country… There were several French officers present in uniform with pretty red trousers and one Zouave with red trousers baggy to the ankles… Madame Schliemann stood in the hall by the door receiving… She is charming, very simple and quiet. I really do not remember what she wore but I think she was dressed in gray. She is the sort of person whose face and personality impress you much more that her clothes (January 23, 1912).

Zillah was equally impressed by Nadine Schliemann, Sophia’s daughter-in-law. “[She] is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. She is tall with a magnificent figure and the head of a Greek goddess… She has fair hair which was knotted low on the back of her head… and wore a deep reddish-pink gown almost violet.” (About Zillah Pearce Dinsmoor, see also “Letters from a New Home: Early 20th Century Athens Through the Eyes of Zillah Dinsmoor” and “Expat Feasts in Athens on the Eve of the Balkan Wars.”)

In 1917, another member of the American School, Carl W. Blegen, was invited to have tea at Madame Schliemann’s, where Andromache shared with him her fine collection of embroideries. Fifteen years later, in May 1932, Blegen, by then an established archaeologist, would visit the elderly Sophia one last time, not at the Iliou Melathron, which had been sold, but at her new house in Phaleron. Blegen was on his way to Troy to re-open Schliemann’s excavations. Sophia did not live to see the new discoveries. She died a few months later (October 27, 1932), her death marking the end of an era.

Author’s Note

This essay first appeared in German, under the title “Zu Gast bei Schliemanns: Das Iliou Melathron als gesellschaftlicher Fixpunkt,” in Heinrich Schliemann und die Archäologie, ed. by Leoni Hellmayr, Darmstadt 2021, pp. 102-112.


Primary Sources

American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Archives (ASCSA): Heinrich Schliemann Papers, Nellie M. Reed Papers, Zillah Dinsmoor Papers, Carl W. Blegen Papers and Bert H. Hill Papers.  

Secondary Sources

C. W. BRADLEY, Dr. Schliemann at Home. His Palatial House and the Manner of his Life in It, The New York Times, 22 April 1882.

G. HORTON, Modern Athens (1902).

G. S. KORRES, Το «Ιλίου Μέλαθρον» ως έκφρασις της προσωπικότητας και του έργου του Ερρίκου Σλήμαν, in Αναδρομαί εις τον Νεοκλασσικισμόν (1977).

U. PAPPALARDO, Das «ILÍOU MÉLATHRON». Heinrich Schliemanns Haus in Athen, Antike Welt (2021) 55-63.

L. & G. POOLE, One Passion, Two Loves: The Schliemanns of Troy (1967).

A. PORTELANOS, Ιλίου Μέλαθρον. Η Οικία του Ερρίκου Σλήμαν, ένα έργο του Ερνέστου Τσίλλερ, in Archaeology and Heinrich Schliemann: A Century After his Death. Assessments and Prospects. Myth, History, Science (2012) 449-465.

R.M. RAKOFF, Ideology in Everyday Life. The Meaning of the House, Politics and Society 7:1 (1977), 85-104.

Of American Expat Thanksgivings in Greece

I still remember my first Thanksgiving at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (the ASCSA or the School hereafter) in 1989. We had just returned from a ten-day trip through the Corinthia with Mr. Williams [Charles K. Williams, the Director of the Corinth Excavations], which also marked the end of the School’s fall program. We only had a few hours to rest and get ready for the big event: cocktails at 8 followed by dinner at 8.30. I had never seen Loring Hall so crowded and festive. Director William (Willy) Coulson and his wife Mary Lee were the hosts. Eight large tables filled the dining room; more were in the salonaki for families with young children. In later years as the numbers of guests increased, the party would take over the saloni for dinner and dancing afterwards.  

Thanksgiving 1989. From left to right: Ted Coulson, Willy and Mary Lee Coulson, Kevin Glowacki, and Nancy Klein. ASCSA Archives, Events Photographic Collection

I attended many of the School’s Thanksgivings, and these events were the source of many fond memories. When our son was born in 1999, we skipped the party but took him (then barely 6 months old) earlier in the day to see the roasted turkeys in Sakis’s kitchen. We eventually stopped going because of conflicts with our son’s schedule and our desire to start our own family tradition for the holiday.

One of our last Thanksgivings at the School with Nancy Winter and Liz Ward Papageorgiou, 2000 (Craig Mauzy with his son Carl at the back). ASCSA Archives, Events Photographic Collection.

At the time it was difficult to find a turkey out of season (because Greek butchers do not stock turkeys until a few days before Christmas). We usually had to approach the butchers weeks in advance to secure a bird for the table (often flown in frozen from Italy but more recently fresh from the American Farm School in Thessaloniki). The only place with cranberry sauce (or fresh cranberries) or Libby’s pumpkin puree was the original Alpha Beta on Stadiou Street (now closed). Soon I learned to make my own red currant sauce (it is still hard to find cranberries), and I have occasionally experimented with real pumpkins for the pie. This quest for ingredients made me wonder how the School celebrated Thanksgivings when imported goods were much more difficult to find, and the School’s cooks lacked experience with American holiday menus. 

Early Thanksgivings

In November of 1910, Zillah Pearce, who had recently moved to Athens with her husband architect William (Billy) Bell Dinsmoor, who would later become the most important architectural historian of Classical Greece, wrote to her mother about her first expat Thanksgiving at the School:

“The dinner was quite wonderful for Evangelos [the School’s cook] is a genius.  I don’t know that I can remember everything we had but there was fish soup, cold jellied pigeon, with little individual salads with whipped cream, turkey with chestnut dressing, another kind of salad, potato balls, quince jelly, & most remarkable ice in fancy shape, salted almonds, different nuts, four or five kinds of candies and fruit also…”.  Pleased with the dinner, Zillah, however, was not happy with her outfit for the occasion.  “Mr. Hill [the School’s Director] had said that the men were not to dress in evening clothes for this dinner, not even dinner coats, so I gave up my pink gown as inappropriate and wore my blue silk. I wish you could have seen the sight that greeted my eyes when I reached the head of the stairs.  With the exception of Miss [Alice Leslie] Walker and Miss Sheldon, the others had on the most elaborate ball gowns with long sweeping trains and very décolleté gowns.  However I am rather glad I did wear the blue for it is very pretty and I think it was more appropriate.  Of course if I had been in Athens I would have known what the others intended to wear…  Mr. Johnson [Allan Chester Johnson, later professor of Classics at Princeton University] on stepping from the library to the hall saw them and said in an undertone to Billy ‘My God.’  If you knew Mr. Johnson you would appreciate it.” Zillah was further delighted to find out that Mr. Hill had rented a piano. “Miss [Alice] Walton and I as it happened were the only ones who could play so we had to draw cards and it fell to my lot, so we spent the last of the evening in singing.  Although there are so many young people none of them sing much.  Mr. Blegen [Carl W. Blegen, student of the School that year, who would excavate the sites of Troy and Pylos later in his career] I suspect has the best voice.  I am enclosing our place cards.  Mine represents the animals at Corinth.”

Newlyweds Zillah and Bill Dinsmoor in the School’s garden, ca. 1910. ASCSA Archives, William Bell Dinsmoor Papers.

On another occasion Zillah noted how hard it was to find or get cranberries to Athens, despite the recipes she had received from her mother.

“Was glad to have the recipes, only the cranberry sauce is a joke for you cannot get cranberries here. Some years ago a minister here (U.S. Representative for there is no Ambassador from America) sent to America for some cranberries for the Thanksgiving dinner he was giving to Americans in Athens and when they arrived he had to pay so much duty that he refused to take them and threw them in the Piraeus harbor” (January 3, 1911).

The guest book for the 1910 Thanksgiving. ASCSA Archives. Administrative Records. Note M. Carey Thomas’s signature at the bottom of the list. You can read about her inClash of the Titans: The Controversy Behind Loring Hall.”

Mincemeat Pies

Finding the right ingredients for the preparation of the Thanksgiving dinner continued to be a problem. In 1922, another member of the School, Natalie Gifford [the mother of William Wyatt, professor of Classics at Brown University and also one of the Whitehead Professors in 1989, my first year at the School], wrote to her family that she wanted to prepare mince pies for Thanksgiving. “I’m crazy to make some mince pies for the bunch. I think it would be lots of fun, but I’m afraid it would be difficult, particularly without a recipe and the Greek style of doing things. Maybe I could manage an apple pie. I’d love to surprise K.B. with one.” (K.B. standing for Carl Blegen, who by then had become the School’s Assistant Director.)

“We are going to have a big dinner here tonight. Mr. Hill said sixteen were coming,” she scribbled in the same letter.  Gifford had just come from the kitchen where she and the other women of the academic program were trying to make pies. “The awkward thing [is] that none of us knew how to make mince meat, and none of us had a cook book. Mr. Holland [Leicester B. Holland, architect and father of Marian McAllister who was the Editor of the School’s Publications for many decades] came to our rescue by telling us that Uncle Bert [she meant the Director of the School, Bert H. Hill] had some. In the papers of Bert H. Hill, there is a copy of the 1918 edition of Fannie Farmer and the Boston Cooking School Cookbook: A History of Science, Gender, and Food, the one that young Gifford must have consulted for her pies.

Bert H. Hill’s own copy of Fannie Farmer. ASCSA Archives, Bert H. Hill Papers.

“We did find an English mince meat in Miss Farmer’s cookbook” but the real problem was finding the right ingredients. “They just haven’t cider or brown sugar or molasses as the recipe called for… We told poor John [the cook] to go get the various ingredients… He couldn’t get citron, so he bought candied fruits instead. It made the mince very sweet, but we added lemon juice… We had the whole establishment helping us pick over the raisins and blanching the almonds. The chauffeur even came in and lent us his countenance…” At the end their pies turned out well “and made a great hit. We certainly never expected it,” confided Gifford to her mother.

“They are still talking about our pies. I made some little jam tarts to use up the pie crust the way Mother does, and K. B. [Carl Blegen] nearly collapsed, he was so thrilled…” I suspect that Natalie was in love with Blegen, but little did she know that he had already set his eyes on one of her fellow students, Elizabeth (Libbie) Pierce (later Mrs. Blegen).

The guest book for the 1922 Thanksgiving. ASCSA Archives. Administrative Records.

Non-inclusive Thanksgivings

Who made the School’s Thanksgiving guest list was occasionally a sore point. An exchange of letters between Edward Capps, Chair of the School’s Managing Committee, and Rhys Carpenter, Director of the School (1927-1932), implied that George Kosmopoulos had not been included in the guest list for the School’s Thanksgiving party in 1930.

Now that the dinner is over, and I hope you had a jolly time, I do not mind telling you that she [Alice Leslie Walker Kosmopoulos] appealed to me on the subject… She may not understand, and probably never will, that while nobody objects to her George, who is a very fine chap, of course, the members of the School would have little pleasure in his society and George, himself, would be quite miserable. Her wish that he might be ‘recognized’ is quite understandable, though her density as regards the function shows how Greek she has become,” conveyed Capps to Carpenter.

ASCSA AdmRec 318/2, folder 2, December 17, 1930

“Now that the dinner is over, and I hope you had a jolly time, I do not mind telling you that she [Alice Leslie Walker Kosmopoulos] appealed to me on the subject… She may not understand, and probably never will, that while nobody objects to her George, who is a very fine chap, of course, the members of the School would have little pleasure in his society and George, himself, would be quite miserable. Her wish that he might be ‘recognized’ is quite understandable, though her density as regards the function shows how Greek she has become,” conveyed Capps to Carpenter (ASCSA AdmRec 318/2, folder 2, December 17, 1930). (For more about this couple, see: “An Unconventional Union. ‘Mr. and Mrs. George Kosmopoulos‘”)

The Glamorous 30’s

The after-dinner entertainment had improved considerably by the early 1930s. Richard (Dick) Howland, student of the School in 1933-1934 and later Chair of the Managing Committee, described an impressive evening with many guests that reflected the School’s growth during the years that Edward Capps chaired the School’s Managing Committee (1919-1939), but also the societal changes in Greece during the interwar period. (The best novel to understand the conflicts between the Greek bourgeoisie and working classes in the 1930s is Argo [Αργώ] by George Theotokas, whose archive was donated to the School in 2016.)

We had a regular luncheon at noon, and at 9:00 we had dinner, in the library, at a huge I-shaped table that accommodated 50 people. Everybody connected with the School was there, and everybody came formal with their best evening clothes. There were 6 waiters and 4 maids, recruited from the various households connected with the school, and everything was all very elegant. We had consommé, lobster with mayonnaise, turkey, potatoes, onions, roasted chestnuts, cranberry jelly, etc….chocolate ice cream, and fruit, nuts and raisins.  We had white wine and champagne with dinner, and afterwards Sterling Dow [an advanced graduate student and later Professor of Archaeology at Harvard] gave some of us liqueurs, up in his apartment over the library.
After dinner we had dancing until 2:00, with a fine 7-piece orchestra from the Grande Bretagne, which is the best hotel in Athens. I danced with a great many people, but nobody more than 2 or 3 times. It was a fine party… The best part about it is the fact that the School paid for the entire party” wrote a happy Dick to his parents in November 1933.

A year later, Howland attended his second Thanksgiving at the School: “I was invited to a cocktail party at the Dows’ before the Thanksgiving dinner. Connie [Constance Gavares] was there and Joe [Joseph Shelley, Fellow in Architecture], and Mary Elizabeth, and several others. Very nice, and then we went down to dinner about 9. Like last year, there was one huge table set in the library for 40-50 people. We had stuffed turkey, vegetables, etc….but no pie for dessert, only ice cream. After dinner there was an 8-piece orchestra and we danced until 3:30. It was a very nice party, and afterwards we went downtown to have some ham and eggs.”

Richard H. Howland all dressed up for Thanksgiving, 1934. ASCSA Archives, Richard H. Howland Papers.

From an Italian Perspective

Less than a month ago, the ASCSA Archives acquired a collection of 93 letters that Brunilde Sismondo (later Ridgway) wrote to her family when she was a student of the School in 1955-1957. Ridgway hardly needs any introduction to the archaeological community. But because this blog aims at making the history of the School accessible to a wider audience, I must say that young Sismondo, an Italian born in Chieti, went on to become a world expert in Greek and Roman sculpture. She taught for almost four decades at Bryn Mawr College and produced dozens of students, many of whom teach classics and archaeology in American and European universities. Bruni’s gift followed that of George Fletcher Bass (1932-2021), one of her fellow students and also a prominent archaeologist, who founded the Institute of Nautical Archaeology in 1972. 

Brunilde Sismondo Ridgway in her office, ca. 1985. Source: Bryn Mawr College Special Collections.

Written in elegant Italian, Bruni’s letters are a trove of information about the micro-history of the School: its academic program and the scholarly trends of the period, the daily life of the students in a country that was recovering from WW II and the civil war that followed (the Greek Economic Miracle), and so many other things that are not included in the School’s official reports or in the administrative correspondence. For example, I read the correspondence between John L. Caskey and Charles H. Morgan, the Director of the School and the Chair of the Managing Committee respectively, throughout 1955-1956, and there is hardly any mention of the academic program or the students. To be fair, Caskey and Morgan worried about a host of other matters: whether there was enough money to finish the reconstruction of the Stoa of Attalos, how to make the School’s work appealing to the Ford Foundation for funding, or how to secure the Greek King’s presence at the inauguration of the Stoa in August of 1956.  However, without access to personal letters or diaries, we miss important sources of information when trying to understand the history of a long-lived overseas institution such as the ASCSA.

Yet, as Bruni warned me, there is usually a limit as to what one confides to his or her family, especially when mail was slow and telephone communications were reserved only for extremely serious matters. Therefore, letters tended to be descriptive and quite cheerful, because the students did not want their families to worry about them.  

With her permission, I decided to probe those that described her first Thanksgiving experience at the School. Thanksgiving per se was not a novelty for the young Italian girl. As a graduate student at BMC she had already experienced the real thing. But this was an expat Thanksgiving.

“Ho ballato e ballato e ballato” (I danced and danced and danced): this is how she started the description of her evening to her sister Mitì. They all dressed up for the dinner that Jack Caskey and his wife Elizabeth had organized for the School community. Most of the women had spent a lot of time and money to have their hair done…but not Bruni, who decided to keep her natural thick, curly hair (she described it as “zazzera,” meaning mop). The hairdresser even showed up at the School before dinner to give the final touch to the girls’ coiffures! The dinner, as was the case for a long time, was held in the main library. That night the Pi-shaped arrangement of the library tables seated 72 people. The tables were decorated with baskets in the form of cornucopia full of fall fruits and vegetables, even cabbages and eggplants. (It is unfortunate that we do not have photographs from the early Thanksgivings. but, until in the 1980s, amateur photographers avoided taking indoor photos.)

The placements for the 1956 Thanksgiving (Bruni’s second year at the School). The forks and knives indicate the carvers. ASCSA Archives, Administrative Records.

But what captured the guests’ attention were the exquisite place cards that another of Bruni’s fellow students Clairève Grandjouan (1929-1982) had drawn. The drawings on Bruni’s place card recalled her reports on the Throne at Amyclae, the Hermes of Olympia who identified himself as a Roman copy (“I am a copy”), and the “Marathon Ephebe”. Apparently, during her report in Olympia, following the theory of her professor Rhys Carpenter, Bruni had argued with passion that Hermes was not an original of the 4th century B.C.  Clairève had also added “blood stains” and the caption: “traces of the beaten adversaries” (orme degli avversari battuti). In addition to the scholarly debates about the Hermes of Olympia, the discussion of what the “Marathon Ephebe” held in his hands proved equally controversial among the archaeological community.  Clairève had reconstructed the Ephebe’s hands holding an egg on the left, and salt and pepper on the right, alluding to their breakfast exchanges: “pass me the salt.” 

Brunilde Sismondo (right) at a bal des têtes in February 1957. On her right, Doro Levi, Director of the Italian Archaeological School. ASCSA Archives, Brunilde Sismondo Ridgway Papers.

Of the dinner itself Bruni does not say much to her sister, except that the turkeys were huge. Dancing followed dinner, with the Caskeys opening the dance floor, but most of the students did not follow until the “older crowd” had left the party. It was only then that the younger gaggle including Bruni, George Bass, and Lloyd Cotsen (who was in Athens with his wife JoAnne) took up dancing until one in the morning. (Bruni also told me that “the two people who went out of their way to make me feel welcome were Lloyd Cotsen and his wife JoAnne.” Lloyd, an architect and a businessman, would later become a trustee and generous benefactor of the American School.)

JoAnne and Lloyd Cotsen, ca. 1955. ASCSA Archives, Brunilde Sismondo Ridgway.

Uncle Bert’s Last Thanksgiving

In November 1958, an aged Bert Hodge Hill was describing his Thanksgiving at the School to Carl and Elizabeth Blegen who were in America.  Hill’s wife Ida had already passed away in 1954.
“For the rest I have kept to the house except last evening when I went to the School’s Thanksgiving party. 69 sat down at table, Betty [Caskey] said. Lucy [Talcott] was absent, and [the Homer] Davises and others. Kevin Andrews. It was a pleasure to see him scarcely changed by the years – and John and Sue Young came after the dinner, having first had Thanksgiving with their daughter. Jack [Caskey] made his usual speech and [Aristides] Kyriakides his (read from notes and not quite up to his usual form).  Jack and Gorham [Phillips Stevens] and Gene [Vanderpool] and Henry [Immerwahr] and I don’t know who else carved turkeys. Grace was said by a cleric I don’t think I have met. I didn’t go the rounds in the saloni, but sat in a polythrona (armchair) mostly. However such so the party rather did me in, with bad dysphoria after it combined with the pain in the chest (high, both back and front) that you get when your stomach goes sour after a too hearty meal. As the thing lasted from about 11.30 until 6 the night was the worst I have had since Corinth Oct. 10 and 11.  But I have slept a lot today and have had no dysphoria. So I haven’t called Lorandos [the School’s doctor] and expect to sleep well tonight. I cut the Propeller [Club] lunch and the Thanksgiving show at Ath[ens] College at 3.45–substituting breakfast combined with lunch in bed for the former and sleep for the latter.” Sadly, Hill died the next day.

John L. Caskey and Bert H. Hill, 1956. ASCSA Archives, Bert H. Hill Papers.

In the Shadow of an Assassination

On Thanksgiving Day (November 28) 1963, the then Director of the American School, Henry S. Robinson, departed from the usual script in his speech to the guests.

“The emotions which are generally experienced and thankfully expressed on this particular American Holiday are today gravely diminished by the incredible tragedy which has so recently struck our nation. We cannot yet explain and can surely never comprehend the dreadful act of last Friday. We can only hope and pray that the criminal was unbalanced and was acting independently; that no organized group –political or social- was involved in so heinous a crime. Let us pray, too, that the peaceful ends for which Mr. Kennedy had striven may yet be achieved through the actions of other leaders of our own and foreign lands. May I ask you all to rise for a moment to pay silent homage to our late President.”

Henry S. Robinson, ca. 1960. Photo by Patricia Lawrence.

After a minute of silence, Robinson continued: “It has long been the custom for the Director to say a few words on this day. To express his thankfulness that the long trial of the fall trips is at an end; that the students have remained in good spirits (or, in years when that cannot honestly be said, that they have remained at least in good health); that the winter has been late in coming (or, in other years, that the bracing November weather has arrived early to drive away the humours of an Indian summer); that our travels have been marred by a minimum of inclement weather (or, in other years, that the constant rains did so little to dampen the enthusiasm of the group); that our physical plant is in good operating condition (or, as last year, that our cooks were able to prepare the Thanksgiving dinner in spite of six inches of water over the kitchen floor). In short, whatever the course of the School year may have been to date, it is expected that I –and you- will be duly thankful. I am; I hope that you are.”



Among the first things one notices when approaching the Gennadius Library is the large inscription on the architrave of the neoclassical building, built by the American School of Classical Studies (ASCSA or the School hereafter) in 1926 to house the personal library of John Gennadius. It reads: ΕΛΛΗΝΕΣ ΚΑΛΟΥΝΤΑΙ ΟΙ ΤΗΣ ΠΑΙΔΕΥΣΕΩΣ ΤΗΣ ΗΜΕΤΕΡΑΣ ΜΕΤΕΧΟΝΤΕΣ, that is, GREEKS THEY ARE CALLED THOSE WHO SHARE IN OUR EDUCATION. It is a line taken from Isocrates, Panegyricus 50.

The Gennadius Library. Postcard printed in the 1990s.

In the School’s Archives there is extensive correspondence between the Chair, Edward Capps, and the Secretary of the Managing Committee, Edward D. Perry, concerning this choice of passage. Both men were distinguished classicists: Capps (1866-1950)­ was a professor of Classics at Princeton and one of the three original editors of the Loeb Classical Library, and Perry (1854-1938) taught Greek and Sanskrit at Columbia University for several decades.

The original guidelines from the architects of the building, John Van Pelt and W. Stuart Thompson, limited the length of the inscription to twenty letters; in addition, the architects insisted on placing two rosettes to the left and right of the inscription.

The discussions about the inscription began in late 1922, as soon as the School had secured funding from the Carnegie Corporation for the construction of the library. “The book plate of [John] Gennadius contains: ΚΤΑΣΘΕ ΒΙΒΛΙΑ ΨΥΧΗΣ ΦΑΡΜΑΚΑ [buy these books, which are the medicine of the soul]. I think you could get up something better for the frieze over the entrance” Capps teased Perry on October 29, 1922. [1]. To which Perry answered: “I have been thinking over the matter a good deal, but so far have hit upon nothing that pleases me. As he [John Van Pelt] says ‘an inscription some twenty letters long’ I feel a good deal crammed. I will send him, as a mere suggestion to work with, the following, taken with slight changes from Aeschylus’s Prometheus, line 460: ΣΥΝΘΕΣΕΙΣ ΓΡΑΜΜΑΤΩΝ ΜΝΗΜΗ ΑΠΑΝΤΩΝ [“the combinations of letters, memory of all things”] which is thirty letters long” (AdmRec 311/3, folder 5, November 3, 1922).  

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The Transatlantic Voyage of a Greek Maiden

On March 31, 1947, Gisela Richter, Curator of Greek and Roman Art at the Metropolitan Museum of New York, sent a confidential letter to Carl W. Blegen, Professor of Classics at the University of Cincinnati and a distinguished archaeologist. Richter approached Blegen not only because they were friends but because, by having lived in Greece for many years, Blegen had formed strong connections with the local community at all levels. In addition, during World War II, Blegen had offered his services to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and, upon his return to Greece, he had served as Cultural Attaché at the U.S. Embassy (1945-1946). Richter was writing Blegen about five pieces of Greek sculpture on loan to the Metropolitan Museum, including Kore 675 from the Acropolis. Richter refers to her as the “Maiden”.

The Maiden (Kore 675) from the Athenian Acropolis depicted on a Greek stamp of 1974.

“As I think I told you, we are naturally anxious to return to the Greeks what they have kindly lent us but very much hope that some arrangement can be made by which we may retain that one Maiden. The other pieces we are not even going to ask for, as there are obvious reasons in each case why the Greeks would not want to part with them, and asking for them would only weaken our case for the Maiden. The latter is one of many, and would hardly be missed in Athens, whereas here she would act as an ambassadress of goodwill, etc., etc.”

Richter sought Blegen’s advice about how to proceed with the request. “The loan to Greece ought to create goodwill for America, but naturally we don’t want to seem to cash in on it.” Richter was referring to President Truman’s announcement of March 1947, known as the Truman Doctrine, whereby the U.S. government granted $300 million in military and economic aid to Greece and $100 million to Turkey. “Would it be better to ask for the piece as a gift and perhaps compensate for it in some other way, or would a direct purchase be better? You who have been in Greece recently and know Greek politics will be able to advise us better than anyone else,” concluded Richter.

Blegen’s response exists only as a draft in his personal papers at the Archives of the American School of Classical Studies (ASCSA or School hereafter). The mention of [Spyros] Skouras’s name in his response (not mentioned in Richter’s letter) suggests that Richter might have followed up with a second letter or a telegram or a note to Blegen’s wife, Elizabeth. To Richter’s disappointment, Blegen could not think “of any altogether satisfactory way of approach to recommend” (ASCSA Archives, Carl W. Blegen Papers, Box 13, folder 1, April 6, 1947). However, he did not reject the idea of having Spyros Skouras, the Greek-American movie mogul, mediate with the Greek authorities “since he has much influence and could apply some pressure. If he could propose it in the right quarters as an idea of his own, not inspired by you, there might be some hope that he could persuade them to make the offer as a spontaneous gesture of friendship.” Blegen thought of another alternative as well: “to ask Bert [Hodge] Hill to try his powers of persuasion.” Hill, Director of the American School from 1906 until 1926, was still considered to be social capital by many at the School. A gifted individual with access to the upper echelons of a small Athenian society, including the royal family, Hill “had his way with men” and could influence politicians. Blegen thought that it would have to be a political decision since the Archaeological Service would likely oppose to it.

There is no other correspondence between Blegen and Richter on this matter. We know that the Acropolis Maiden and the other pieces of sculpture were returned to Greece, so one assumes that either Richter did not press the issue further or that the mediators were unsuccessful. However, it is interesting to read an announcement in the Greek newspaper ΕΛΕΥΘΕΡΙΑ on August 11, 1948, titled “The Greek State will Sell Certain Antiquities. Superfluous in Museums,” which implies that the Ministry of Education might have considered briefly the idea of selling duplicate antiquities, in order to finance the reopening of Greek museums and the beautification of those archaeological sites that had suffered much during the War.

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In 1897 a young American woman announced in the newspapers her return to Chicago after a year in Europe. “Miss Mabel Gordon Dunlap of Michigan Boulevard, who has been in Europe for a year, will sail for home on Wednesday” (Chicago Inter Ocean, August 15, 1897). The same woman had also made an earlier announcement that she was still in London “spending most of her time at the British Museum” (17 July 1897). While in London she printed a handsome pamphlet, titled “A Critical Study of Sculpture and Painting,” that contained information about her as a teacher and a lecturer, and a summary of two art courses that she was “ready to deliver before ladies’ clubs and schools” in the winter: “A Course of Twelve Lectures on the History & Philosophy of Greek Sculpture,” and “A Course of Twelve Lectures of the History of Painting in Italy.” While in England she had attended lectures by Charles Waldstein, Professor of Fine Arts at Cambridge University (and former Director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens), whom she quoted in her brochure: “There are those who make art, there are those who enjoy art, and there are those who understand art.” Dunlap’s courses, fully illustrated with stereopticon views, were designed to help people understand art.

The pamphlet that Mabel Gordon Dunlap published in 1897. ASCSA Archives, Ion Dragoumis Papers.
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