Orientations in Sunlight: With Durrell in Rhodes

“In Rhodes the days drop as softly as fruit from trees. Some belong to the dazzling ages of Cleobolus and the tyrants, some to the gloomy Tiberius, some to the crusaders. They follow each other in scales and modes too quickly almost to be captured in the nets of form,” wrote Lawrence Durrell (1912-1990) in the first pages of his acclaimed memoir Reflections on a Marine Venus: A Companion to the Landscape of Rhodes (1953). More than seventy years later, if Durrell were still alive, he would have added “… some to the crusaders, some to the Italians.”

Durrell was stationed in Rhodes for two years when the Dodecanese was under British Administration (1945-1947). As Information Officer, he supervised the publication of three daily papers, in Greek, Turkish, and Italian. (I found copies of the Greek one, ΧΡΟΝΟΣ, in the Nicholas Mavris Papers in the ASCSA Archives. Mavris, a prominent member of the Greek American community, in 1948 became the first governor commissioner of the freed Dodecanese.)

ΧΡΟΝΟΣ, Aug. 8, 1945. ASCSA Archives, Nicholas Mavris Papers.

WW II had just ended and the fate of the Dodecanese was still uncertain. Despite their Greek past, these islands in the southeastern part of the Aegean (also known as Southern Sporades) did not join Greece until 1947, having passed from the Ottomans directly to the Italians in 1913, from the Italians to the Germans in 1943, and from them to the British. In 1946, the Allied Forces in Paris finally agreed upon the integration of the Dodecanese with Greece. It was not until the 31st of March 1947, however, that the British officially delivered the administration of the Dodecanese to the Greek State.

Durrell did not write Marine Venus while on Rhodes but a few years later, relying on his memory and “sifting into the material, now some old notes from a forgotten scrapbook, now a letter” (Marine Venus, p. 3).[1]

“Of Paradise Terrestre”

I read Marine Venus for the first time about ten years ago, when I was doing research triggered by the reissue of Triumph Over Time.  Produced by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or School hereafter) in 1947, in addition to promoting the School’s excavations at Old Corinth and in the Athenian Agora, this film presents a serene and idyllic view of Greece, emphasizing the country’s rural aspects and her continuity with ancient Greece. Reissued in 2007, the film received mixed reviews during viewings: older Greek people embraced it with great fondness since for them it was a walk down memory lane, especially for the those who had grown up in villages; younger people, on the other hand, especially those born post-1970 found fault with it because it did not show the ruined state of Greece after WW II, lacked urban scenery, and avoided any references to the Civil War. Seventy years after its production, Triumph Over Time was criticized for not being a true historical documentary.

Out of curiosity, I started looking for literature that had been published immediately after WW II. I was nonplussed to find that one of my most favorite novels, The Three Summers (Τα Ψάθινα Καπέλα) by Margarita Lyberaki, ­was first published in Greece in 1946 (and in France in 1950). Like Triumph Over Time, “the world inside the book could [not have been] more unlike the world it came into when it was first published in 1946,” as Karen Van Dyck, Kimon A. Doukas Professor of Modern Greek Literature at Columbia University, who translated the novel in English (Paris Review, July 16, 2019), recently emphasized in an interview. Idyllic and timeless, this coming-of-age- novel “must have offered [its readers] an oasis from the unbearable realities of the day,” Van Dyck added. Another common thread between Triumph Over Time and Lyberaki’s Three Summers is that both works are steeped in the sun. “The sun has disappeared from books these days. That’s why they hinder our attempts to live, instead of helping us. But the secret is still kept in your country, passed on from one initiate to another. You are one of those who pass it on,” wrote Albert Camus to Margarita Lyberaki when he first read the book in 1950.

My literary wanderings eventually led me to Durrell’s Marine Venus, which I had not read. I wasn’t even aware of it. Having not ever visited Rhodes or any of the islands of the Dodecanese, I read Marine Venus impatiently, unable to appreciate Durrell’s rich descriptions of the island. Yet its reading left me with a residue of happiness, as if in a “paradise terrestre.” Later I read that, before publication, Marine Venus was chopped almost in half by Faber & Faber’s editor Anne Ridler, who cut most of the passages dealing with the recent war, and “oriented the book to sunlight, blue skies, and clear sea.” (See David Roessel in his Introduction to the 2001 Faber & Faber edition.)


I finally made it to Rhodes last September. Not being able to find a hotel we liked within the boundaries of the castle of the Knights of St. John, we opted for one outside, in Mandraki. Within a few hours on Rhodes, I began to notice that Mandraki was full of public and private buildings dating to the interwar period, but constructed in diverse architectural styles. On the one hand, there were fascist buildings, such as the Theater and the City Hall; on the other, highly eclectic buildings, such as the Palazzo del Governo, or modernist ones, such as the Ronda.

Rhodes, Teatro G. Puccini (now National Theater). Architect: Armando Bernabiti, 1936-1937.

Rhodes, Il Palazzo del Governo (now The Perfecture of the Dodecanese). Architect: Florestano di Fausto, 1926-1927.

Rhodes, Ronda (now ΕΛΛΗ). Architect: Armando Bernabiti (?), 1936-1938.

Florestano Di Fausto, ca. 1930.

Soon after the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), which recognized officially the Italian possession of the Dodecanese, the first civilian governor of the “Italian Aegean Islands” Mario Lago (1878-1950) enlisted the services of architect Florestano di Fausto (1890-1965).  By 1926, Di Fausto had laid out Rhodes’ city plan. retaining the Medieval zone, while setting the new city outside the castle by Mandraki harbor. That’s where one can find today many works  by Di Fausto and other Italian architects, works such as the Palazzo del Governo, the Catholic cathedral of the Knights of Saint John (now the Evangelismos church), the Post Office (1927-1929), the New Market, and the famous Grande Albergo delle Rose. Di Fausto’s career in Rhodes did not last long since he and Lago came into a conflict that ended with a legal dispute in 1927, forcing Di Fausto to leave Rhodes. (Di Fausto continued his illustrious career in Albania, Ethiopia, and Libya, and became Italy’s most important colonial architect.)

Rhodes, Grande Albergo delle Rose (before 1936). Architect: Florestano di Fausto, 1925-1927.

According to architectural historian Vassilis Kolonas, the Italian architects of Rhodes, after an initial experimentation with academic examples, began “to incorporate elements from the island’s various historical periods in their designs… from the city’s Byzantine, Crusader, or Islamic past… the local anonymous architecture…, folk art and even echoes from the architectural tradition of Middle Eastern countries,” creating a new colonial Mediterranean style, unmistakably recognizable today.  Lombardi, who replaced Di Fausto in the Directorate of Public Works in 1928, managed to blend harmoniously Byzantine, Islamic, and Classical elements in the Kallithea Baths (1928-1930), “a fantasy set for tourist Rhodes that would remain the island’s symbol for many decades” (Kolonas and Gerolympos, 2002, 55). Moreover, the Italian architects in the Dodecanese under Lago, a visionary politician who promoted cultural assimilation, felt free to adopt their architecture to the local climate and history, strongly embracing the concept of mediterraneità:

“…not a single stone was placed by me without having filled myself in advance with the spirit of the place, so as to make it my own,”

wrote Di Fausto in 1937 in the only essay he ever wrote about his work. (His essay carried the title “Visione mediterranea della mia architettura,” and the quote comes from Santoianni 2008, p. 93).

An Italian Tourist in Rhodes, 1933

Aspiring to make Rhodes a cosmopolitan destination, the Italian Administration of the Aegean Islands (Governo delle isole italiane dell’ Egeo), on the tenth anniversary of Lago’s governorship in 1933, published a celebratory, forty-page guide, Rodi: L’ isola delle rose, a copy of which I found in the Gennadius Library.  The guide begins with a brief historical introduction underlining the island’s illustrious Greco-Roman past, and continues with the glories of the Knights of St. John until it was finally reduced to a sleepy oriental village (“un sonnolento borgo orientale”) in the hands of the Ottomans after 1522. By taking it from the Turks in 1912, it fell upon Italy to restore Rhodes’ previous glory, as an intermediary between east and west.

RODI: L’ISOLA DELLE ROSE (1933). ASCSA, Gennadius Library, E. Dalleggio Collection. Note the all inclusive imagery on the cover (deer, rose, Maltese cross, hydroplane, cruise ship, crusader’s boat, and castles).

By promoting Rhodes’ mild climate throughout the year, which allowed the growth of exquisite oranges and grapes, dates and bananas, and flowers such as roses, hibiscus, and bougainvillea, the guide invited the tourist to explore the walled city (“la città murata”) and its monuments; by then, the Grande Ospedale dei Cavalieri had been transformed into a museum to hold the treasures that Italian excavations had brought to light since 1912.

Once outside the medieval castle, Italian visitors could continue their wanderings in the new city which combined “Venetian, Sicilian architecture with oriental elements” (“architettura veneziana e siciliana tutta impregnate d’ Oriente”). To top off their Rhodian experience, the tourists were encouraged to explore the countryside of the island on a newly constructed 400 km ring road. For mountain lovers, there was L’ Albergo del Cervo on Mount Prophetes Elias and for those seeking a recreational cure, the “Terme di Calitea” combined the Greek Hippocratic tradition with the Roman passion for elaborate bathing complexes.  And where could one stay? From the Grande Albergo delle Rose, as luxurious and comfortable as any European hotel of that class, to a host of inexpensive but good family pensions, the Italian Administration of the Aegean Islands met the needs of all tastes and wallets.

The alpine-in-style Albergo del Cervo (now ΕΛΑΦΟΣ Hotel). Architect: Rodolfo Petracco, 1928-1930. Photo: Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan.

Rhodes, Le Regie Terme di Calitea (The Kallithea Baths) after their recent restoration. Architect: Pietro Lombardi, 1928-1930.

From Splendid and Thoughtful to Florid and Tasteless

Durrell used these two pairs of adjectives to describe the diametrically opposed personalities of Governors Mario Lago and Cesare de Vecchi.  1936 marked a significant change in the administration of the Dodecanese that presaged the disastrous years that were to come. It was that year that Mussolini formalized his alliance with Hitler and set in motion a series of changes across the newly established “Italian Empire,” including the replacement of Governor Lago with Cesare Maria de Vecchi (1884-1959). The latter, a card carrying member of the Fascist Party, persecuted the local population by terminating the autonomy of the various ethnic groups, banned all newspapers except for Italian ones, activated racial laws, created Italian settlements on the islands, and instituted Italian as the only official language of the Dodecanese. He also introduced a period of architectural purification in Rhodes, by stripping all the ornamental elements from Di Fausto’s buildings, including the arabesques from the Grand Hotel of the Roses (Grande Albergo delle Rose). De Vecchi promoted a rationalism in architecture that sought to provide a unified and nationalist architecture across the Italian Empire, banning any kind of borrowings from other civilizations except for Imperial Rome.

The Grande Albergo delle Rose after De Vecchi stripped all of Di Fausto’s ornaments.

In the collective memory of the Rhodians, the two administrations also remained separate. Until recently people distinguished between the “good Italians” and the brutal fascists; they also remembered that, from the 1920s until the mid-1930s, their lives had been transformed largely for the better, containing one of the biggest problems of the Dodecanese — emigration (Doumanis 2005).

After stopping for a coffee at Hotel ΕΛΑΦΟΣ (Albergo del Cervo), we hiked up to see the (abandoned now) villa that De Vecchi had built for himself. Photo: Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan.

While looking for more information about the Italian Occupation of the Dodecanese, I also came across an old promotional film that must have been produced on the occasion of Lago’s tenth anniversary in office. (In fact, I noticed that the RODI guide of 1933 used stills from the film.) The online version of the film is about 13 minutes long and one does not need to know Italian in order to enjoy it, and also appreciate the multicultural approach of the Lago administration.

Two American Women in Rhodes, 1933

In late January 1933, two young American women, members of the ASCSA, Dorothy Burr (Thompson) and Lucy Shoe (Meritt) took the boat to Rhodes. What they recorded both in writing and film, matches very much in spirit the descriptions of the Italian guide: a multi-ethnic crowd in a multi-period city.

“We walked down to the quay, by Turkish tombs and a minaret with lattice balustrade, past a handsome series of modern buildings in an Oriental Italian style, sarcophagi mounted on canon balls with the shields of the Grand Master –to the modern market [i.e., the Mercato Nuovo built by Di Fausto] in a sort of store around a central pergola of fish-market, full of Turks in pale pink and violet turbans, Greeks, women in leather boots… an almost Roman sight of underlying order with the color of squalor and independence of the East fretting on top” (entry for Jan. 26, 1933).[2]

Rhodes, Il Mercato Nuovo (New Market), 1933. Architect: Florestano di Fausto. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Dorothy Burr Thompson Photographic Collection.

Rhodes, Il Mercato Nuovo (New Market), 1933. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Dorothy Burr Thompson Photographic Collection.

At Embona, a mountainous village, Dorothy and Lucy chatted with the local women in “queer Greek with soft lambdas and perhaps mixed with Turkish” and photographed their dresses, “blue skirt over a white jerkin with red embroidery, very high-waisted, leather boots, and the head tied up in white” (entry for Jan. 29, 1933).

Rhodes, Embonas, 1933. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Dorothy Burr Thompson Photographic Collection.

Of the many photos that Dorothy took, my eyes rested longer on one depicting the Murad Reis Mosque. Thirteen years later, Durrell would write: “…we stumbled upon the little garden which encircles the Mosque of Murad Reis—a garden at whose heart I was later to find Villa Cleobolus; and here we sat for a while perched upon Turkish tombstones, smoking and enjoying the darkness which had now an almost touchable smoothness, the silkiness of old velours.” Durrell dedicated an entire chapter of his book to the garden of the Villa, where he, together with his beloved E[ve] Cohen, entertained their close friends: the idiosyncratic A. Gideon, the newly appointed Director of Agriculture, doctor Raymond Mills and his Greek wife Chloe, Hoyle (whose first name is not given), and Egon Huber, the gifted Austrian potter of ICARO (Industrie Ceramiche Artistiche Rodio-Orientali). “Here in the evenings we gather for drinks and gossip, sitting in cane chairs around the little painted table, hearing through the dusk the shallow strains of some forgotten fugue wafted to us from the old gramophone which is the Mufti’s special pride. Here Gideon and Hoyle play out those interminable games of chess… . Here, sitting on the ground, the grave, detached Huber is whittling at the hull of a ship or the bowl of a pipe” (Marine Venus, pp. 127-128).

Rhodes, Murad Reis Mosque, 1933. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Dorothy Burr Thompson Photographic Collection.

Marine Venus vs. Rhodian Venus

I left until last the inspiration for the title of Durrell’s book: the Marine Venus. It took many readings of the relevant passage for me to understand that Durrell’s Venus was the armless, standing Aphrodite, also known as Venus Pudica. Why did he choose the Marine Venus over the dazzling Rhodian Venus? When we were at the Museum, everybody stood in awe in front of the small, kneeling, long-haired Rhodian Venus, hardly paying any attention to the solemn, mutilated Marine Venus.

The Rhodian Venus at Rhodes Archaeological Museum. Photo: Natalia Vogeikoff_Brogan

Durrell credits his friend Mills for inspiring him to write a book about their time on Rhodes. Mills wanted Durrell to capture “not history of myth—but landscape and atmosphere…” (Marine Venus, p. 35). I suspect that the defining moment that encapsulated “all the charm and grace of our stay in Rhodes,” must have been the “rediscovery” of the Marine Venus some time in 1945 or 1946. Although the statue had been fished out of the sea in 1929, Durrell and his friends must have witnessed her retrieval from the crypt where she had been hidden for protection during the war. “I can still the faces of my friends as they surrounded the dark trap door out of which she rose so gravely into the sunlight. Hoyle and Gideon sitting astride a plank; Ego Huber, who had helped to bury her, smiling with pleasure to see her undamaged; while Mills and Sergeant Croker and a collection of barefoot urchins grunted and groaned on the ropes which were raising her” (Marine Venus, p. 36).

The Marine Venus or Venus Pudica, as she was found at the bottom of the sea in 1929, and as Durrell would have seen her at the Rhodes Museum ca. 1945. Photo: G. Jacopi, “Monumenta di scultura del museo archeologico di Rodi,” Clara Rhodos V.1.

Durrell would not return to Rhodes after 1947, though he would sail by her in 1953, together with his two-year daughter Sappho, on his way to Cyprus; but not with his beautiful E[ve] who had suffered a mental breakdown in 1952. “It is good to see places where one has been happy in the past—to see them after many years and in different circumstances… each minaret like the loved worn face of an earthly friend. I am looking, as if into a well, to recapture the faces of Hoyle, Gideon, Mills—and the dark vehement grace of E.” wrote Durrell in the Epilogue to Marine Venus in 1952.

[1]. For the quotes from Marine Venus, I used the 2009 edition by Axios Press.
[2]. Dorothy Burr Thompson’s diaries are housed at Bryn Mawr College, in the Department of Special Collections of its library.

References and Suggested Reading

Anderson, S. “The Light and the Line: Florestano Di Fausto and the Politics of ‘Mediterraneità,’” Californian Italian Studies 1:1, 2010 (https://escholarship.org/uc/item/9hm1p6m5 ).

Doumanis, N. “Italians as ‘Good Colonizers’: Speaking Subalterns and the Politics of Memory in the Dodecanese,”in Italian Colonialism, ed. Ben-Ghiat R. and M. Fuller, New York 2005, pp. 220-231.

Fuller, M. “Building Power: Italy’s Colonial Architecture and Urbanism, 1923-1940,” Cultural Anthropology, vol. 3, no. 4 (Nov. 1988), pp. 455-487.

Kolonas, V. and Y. Gerolympos, Italian Architecture in the Dodecanese Islands, 1912-1943, Athens 2002.

Santoianni, V. “Il Razionalismo nelle colonie italiane 1928-1943: La «nuova architettura» delle Terre d’Oltremare” (unpublished dissertation: University of Napoli, 2008). http://www.fedoa.unina.it/1881/1/Santoianni_Progettazione_Architettonica.pdf

How Modern Greek Came to America

Posted by Curtis Runnels

Curtis Runnels, Professor of Archaeology at Boston University and an expert in Palaeolithic archaeology in Greece, here contributes to From the Archivist’s Notebook a story about how Americans first heard Modern Greek being spoken in the early 19th century. An aficionado of antiquarian shops, Runnels has frequently discovered unique documents of great historical and informational value, such as the four documents presented below, which tell us the story of a Greek merchant, Nikolaos Tziklitiras, who, after landing by accident in Boston in 1813, became the first Greek teacher in town and laid the foundations for the spread of Modern Greek studies in America.

On a late autumn day in 1813 the ship Jerusalem made its way slowly into Boston harbor.  She was a long way from home.  The 750-ton ship began her journey in Smyrna with a Greek-speaking crew bound for Cuba to take on a cargo of coffee, sugar, copper, and hides for Boston.  Unfortunately, things did not go exactly as planned.  Contemporary reports in the Niles Weekly Register, a popular news periodical of the day, relate that the Jerusalem was detained in September on her way to Boston by the British on account of the copper ingots in her cargo, and the ship was diverted to Halifax, Nova Scotia.  She evidently put into Boston on her way to Canada (“September 18: The Greek Ship Jerusalem”).  Now, in November, having sorted out her difficulties with the British authorities, she was at last bringing her cargo to Boston (“November 27: The Greek Ship Jerusalem”).

The news of Jerusalem’s detention as announced in Niles Weekly Register, Sept. 18, 1813.

The arrival of the Jerusalem in Boston was newsworthy because as far as the authorities knew she was the first Greek ship to reach the United States.  It was something of a sensation, and members of the public, along with officials, merchants, students, and at least one Harvard College scholar, Edward Everett, flocked to the dock to see the ship.  One man in the throng, however, was not interested in the story of her voyage and capture, nor was he interested in her cargo of Cuban sugar and coffee.  John Pickering (1777-1846) had come to hear the crew talk.

Once in a Lifetime

Having learned “Oriental” languages while serving as secretary to the American Minister in Portugal in the 1790s, John Pickering now practiced law in Boston.  There he acquired a reputation as a grammarian and a linguist, and his keen interest in languages, both ancient and modern, led him to perceive in the unexpected appearance of the Jerusalem a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn modern Greek from living speakers of the language (Larrabee, p. 299n4).  His desire to learn how Greek was pronounced was at least in part because of the well-known three-hundred year old controversy over the correct pronunciation of ancient Greek begun by Erasmus (Pickering, p. 4-25).

Few people in the United States knew anything about modern Greece in the years before the Greek War of Independence.  Though ancient Greek culture and language were staples of American education, only two Americans are known to have travelled in Greece before 1821: Joseph Allen Smith and Nicholas Biddle (Larrabee, p. 10-11).  I suspect there were other visits by American merchants and sailors in the early nineteenth century, as ships plying the Mediterranean must have put into ports in the Aegean, especially the island of Syra.  But if there were American visitors other than Smith and Biddle they left no records of their impressions.  Nicholas Biddle (1786-1844) kept a journal and wrote several very descriptive letters home, but these unfortunately remained unpublished until our own day (McNeal 1993).  Biddle made the trip to Greece in 1806 as part of a tour of Europe, and his travels were undertaken in order to learn something about the political circumstances in other countries to fit him for a political career when he returned to Philadelphia.  His observations on modern Greek culture and language, especially its pronunciation, would have been of great value for scholars like Pickering had they been known.  As it was, Pickering was unable to find out anything about modern Greek even during his time in the Mediterranean.  He was prevented from travelling to the eastern Mediterranean because of quarantine laws, and Greek-speaking merchants and sailors rarely ventured beyond Malta in those days (they were under pressure from the Sublime Porte to remain within the eastern Mediterranean).  So it is not surprising that Pickering was excited by the prospect of speaking with the Greeks on board the Jerusalem.

Pickering hit the jackpot.  There were two men on the ship fluent in Italian (the lingua franca of Mediterranean commerce) who were able to converse with him.  One of them, Captain Lazarus Nicholas Katara, a native of Hydra, had little education and knew nothing about ancient Greek, but the other one was the man for the job.  Nikolaos Tziklitiras was a merchant who had resided for many years in Constantinople and was now the supercargo, or officer in charge of the cargo, on the Jerusalem.  A native of Navarino (modern Pylos) in the Peloponnese, Tziklitiras was intelligent, educated, and familiar with ancient Greek; and he was willing to instruct Pickering in modern Greek and its pronunciation.  Pickering’s first lesson was how to pronounce his tutor’s name: he tells us that Tziklitiras pronounced his name “cheek-lee-teeras” and went by the Italian version of his name “Nicola Ciclitira.”  Thus we have a record of perhaps the first modern Greek lesson on American soil (Pickering, p. 1-3).

From Supercargo to Greek Teacher

Olympic gold medalist Konstantinos Tsiklitiras, grandson of Nikolaos Tziklitiras. Source: International Olympic Committee, public domain.

The ship and its crew probably remained in Boston over the winter (Pickering referred to his conversations with Katara and Tziklitiras as taking place “in 1814”) and sailed for the Mediterranean with the return of good sailing weather in late spring.  Captain Katara would turn up again in Greece where he ran into Edward Everett, the Harvard scholar he met in Boston (Larrabee, p. 29).  After a few years Tziklitiras returned to Boston to stay and to earn his living as a teacher of modern Greek and its pronunciation (Pickering, p. 1-3).  He remained in Boston for four years, and he married in 1815 a French woman (Phebe Catharine Ouvre) and had two children, one of whom, his son Nicholas, would become the grandfather of the noted athlete Konstantinos Tsiklitiras (1888-1913).

These facts can be gleaned from the reports in the Niles’ Weekly Register, the biographical background provided for Konstantinos Tsiklitiras on line, and a small book on the pronunciation of Greek published by Pickering in 1818.  Particularly interesting is the lithographed facsimile in Pickering’s book of a letter in Greek by Tziklitiras that establishes the date of his return to Boston and his intention of becoming a teacher.  To these sources we can now add a small collection of manuscript documents in the Archives at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA).  One day about 20 years ago I received a small packet in the mail from a bookseller in Brockton, Massachusetts (John William Pye, 1948-2016).  Pye explained that the documents were miscellaneous items that had turned up in a box of materials obtained at auction.  He had no idea of their provenance or content, but knowing my interest in all things Greek, he thought I might like them.  A short examination led me to believe that they were possibly an independent record of Tziklitiras’s contribution to the teaching of modern Greek in the United States, and for this reason I donated them to the ASCSA.  They deserve a detailed description.

One document is a piece of tattered paper on which are written names (including “Tzikliteras” and “Jenks” in Greek), a Greek alphabet, and a quotation from the Greek New Testament.  At the bottom, in English, is a note: “[This] specimen of Greek chirography is from Mr Tzikliteras, [a native] of the south of the Morea, now resident in Boston, [and a] teacher of youth. He was supercargo of the Greek ship, lately in this port. My introduction to him was due [to the] kindness of my much esteemed & accomplished friend, the Hon. [John] Pickering Esq. Boston August 25, 1818.”  The note is signed “W. J.” for William Jenks.

William Jenk’s note about Tziklitiras, 1818. ASCSA Archives, Curtis Runnels Collection.

The second document is a holograph letter in Italian signed (in Greek) by Nikolaos Tziklitiras and addressed to the “Honorable John Pickering Esq.”.  Tziklitiras reminds Pickering that he promised to provide some proverbs and other quotations in idiomatic Greek to Mr. Jenks and asks Pickering to give the enclosed manuscripts to Jenks when he sees him.  The letter is also dated “Boston, 25 August 1818.”

Handwritten note by Nikolaos Tziklitiras to John Pickering, 1818. ASCSA Archives, Curtis Runnels Collection.

The third document bears the same date and a text in Greek on one leaf written and signed by Tziklitiras.  It consists of Greek alphabets, proverbs, and Biblical quotations.  On the second leaf of the paper the Greek texts are translated into Italian and signed ” il peloponnissio greco, Nicola Ciclitira.”

Handwritten note by Nicholaos Tziklitiras, 1818. ASCSA Archives, Curtis Runnels Collection.

The final manuscript is a letter in Greek addressed to “loanni Zugomala (Chiote) in America” from “his mother” and dated “Smyrna, June 15, 1830.” The writer hopes her son’s studies are going well and begs him to “dip your pen in the ink” and write her a letter.  The Greek text has a note in English (“My own omission”) keyed to a word that has a correction to the spelling, suggesting that this manuscript is a copy of an original letter.  An English translation on the back in another hand ends by stating “The above transl. by a Greek, probably” and “Tr. Dec. 3rd. 1830”.  It is unknown whether this letter is connected with Nikolaos Tziklitiras (perhaps the translator mentioned in the note?).

Letter addressed to Ioanni Zugomala in America from his “mother,” 1830. ASCSA Archives, Curtis Runnels Collection.

These documents belonged to William Jenks (1794-1884), a minister, one time professor of Oriental Languages and English at Bowdoin College, the founder of a mission for seamen in Boston, and the author of a Comprehensive Commentary on the Holy Bible (six volumes, 1835-1838).  Jenks was also a co-founder of the American Antiquarian Society and the American Oriental Society.  Jenks, who was a private teacher in Boston at the time of the arrival of the Jerusalem was, like Pickering, an accomplished linguist.  He was reputed to have the largest private library in Boston. (The William Jenks Collection is housed at the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan.) The significance of the documents that once belonged to Jenks and are now in the ASCSA is that they confirm the presence of Tziklitiras in Boston in 1818 and his connection with John Pickering, and illustrate how Tziklitiras engaged with scholars who were interested in modern Greek and the nature of the information they sought.

Tziklitiras remained in Boston until the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence when he returned to Greece with his son and young daughter (who died at sea).  During the war he served in the Peloponnese in a series of administrative positions before returning to Pylos at the end of hostilities.  He became a magistrate and died in Pylos in 1840.

In the Footsteps of Tziklitiras

The scholarly interest in modern Greek in the United States, however, did not end with the departure of Tziklitiras.  Colonel Alexander Negris, a distinguished veteran of the War of Independence, settled in the Boston area around 1827 and taught modern Greek at Harvard for two years.  He published a Grammar of the Modern Greek Language in 1828, the first grammar of modern Greek in the New World, in which he remarked “I can claim the credit of being the first to inspire men of learning and taste in America…with the desire of becoming acquainted with the living dialect of Greece” (Negris, Preface).  After Negris’ departure, modern Greek instruction at Harvard was undertaken by Evangelinos Apostolides Sophocles, who would make the greatest contribution to Modern Greek studies in America.  Sophocles was born at Tsangarada on Mt. Pelion in Thessaly about the time of Tziklitiras’ arrival in the United States (there is some inconsistency in Sophocles’ date of birth, between 1807 and 1814, an inconsistency due no doubt to Sophocles’ noted reticence in personal matters.  Sophocles was educated at St. Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt, and at some point came to the attention of missionaries from the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions in Boston.  He sailed for Boston in 1828 with the missionary Josiah Brewer and two other Greeks.  After studying at Amherst College and holding various teaching posts, he moved to Harvard College in 1842 as Tutor in Greek (Professor of Greek after 1860), where he remained until his death in 1883 (Larrabee, p. 181, 255).  His contributions to modern Greek studies were many.  Besides teaching ancient and modern Greek to generations of students and scholars, he published many books, including a Romaic Grammar, and a History of the Greek Alphabet, which were standard texts for many years.  Sophocles was succeeded at Harvard by Aristides Phoutrides (1887-1923), who translated modern Greek literature and established Helikon one of the first Greek student organizations in the United States.  And today, thanks to the endowment in 1977 of the George Seferis Chair of Modern Greek Studies at Harvard University, the study and teaching of modern Greek introduced two hundred years ago by Nikolaos Tziklitiras from the deck of a ship has become a permanent part of higher education in the United States.

On How to Pronounce Ancient Greek

While the interest in modern Greek flourishes today in the United States, the same cannot be said about Tziklitiras’s views on the pronunciation of ancient Greek.  Pickering tells us that Tziklitiras effected a change in his thinking about the pronunciation of ancient Greek:

“It now appears to me highly probable, nay almost certain, that the Greeks of the present day pronounce very nearly as their ancestors did, as early as the commencement of the Christian era” (Pickering, p. 3-4).

Biddle too had been surprised to learn that modern Greek was pronounced differently from the way he had been taught to pronounce ancient Greek.  At first he was skeptical about the application of modern pronunciation to ancient Greek, but he changed his mind.  He asked in his journal:

“Can a foreign people dictate to the descendants of the Greeks how Greek is to be read?”

concluding that “[there] was a strong argument in favor for the use of modern pronunciation” (McNeal, p. 146-148).

Tziklitiras’s letter to Pickering about how to pronounce ancient Greek, as published in Pickering 1818.

The question of the correct pronunciation of ancient Greek has been debated for centuries.  Before the time of Erasmus in the early 16th century it was not uncommon for ancient Greek to be pronounced much like modern Greek.  Erasmus adopted a new, and in the view of many scholars arbitrary, method of pronouncing ancient Greek that would eventually become the accepted pronunciation in Europe and later the United States (Pickering, p. 4-15).  Tziklitiras obviously did not accept the Erasmian pronunciation.  A. E. Sophocles, on the other hand, summarily treated the matter saying “we may safely assume that the Romaic pronunciation, as a system, cannot go farther back than the seventh century of our era” (Sophocles, p. 92, emphasis in the original).

John Gennadius (1844-1932), the founder of the Gennadius Library of the ASCSA, however, was in Tziklitiras’s camp.  He expressed his views on the subject in a number of periodical articles at the end of the nineteenth century.  Always a sharp critic of contemporary methods of teaching Greek in Europe, Gennadius believed that the prevailing Erasmian system of ancient Greek pronunciation impeded the learning of ancient Greek.  Gennadius argued that it was better to learn modern Greek first because the knowledge of modern Greek and its pronunciation would facilitate the learning of ancient Greek.  Unfortunately the views concerning the pronunciation of ancient Greek held by Gennadius, and before him Biddle, Pickering, and Tziklitiras, have not won over the majority of American scholars, and today the Erasmian pronunciation of ancient Greek yet prevails.  It is fitting, therefore, that Tziklitiras’ unpublished papers, disiecta membra from the ship that brought modern Greek to American shores, and at least temporarily convinced American scholars to pronounce ancient Greek in the same manner as the living Greeks, should be housed at the Gennadius Library.

Note: For a brief presentation of the four manuscripts when they were first received by the ASCSA in 2006, see AKOUE Fall 2006, p. G4.


Gennadius, John, 1895, “The Proper Pronunciation of Greek,” The Nineteenth Century, vol. 38, no. 224, pp. 681-698.

Gennadius, John, 1896, “Erasmus and the Pronunciation of Greek,” The Nineteenth Century, vol. 39, no. 227, pp. 87-97.

Gennadius, John, 1897, “The Pronunciation of Greek in England,” The Contemporary Review, vol. 71, pp. 373-393.

Larrabee, Stephen A., 1957, Hellas Observed: The American Experience of Greece 1775-1865, New York.

McNeal, R. A., 1993, Nicholas Biddle in Greece. The Journals and Letters of 1806, University Park, Pennsylvania.

Negris, Alexander, 1828, A Grammar of the Modern Greek Language, Boston.

Pickering, John, 1818, On the Pronunciation of the Greek Language, Cambridge.

“September 18: The Greek ship Jerusalem,” Niles’ Weekly Register, volume 5 (1813), p. 42.

“November 27: The Greek ship Jerusalem,” Niles’ Weekly Register, volume 5 (1813), p. 214.

Sophocles, E. A., 1842, A Romaic Grammar Accompanied by a Chrestomathy with a Vocabulary, Hartford, Connecticut.

Sophocles, E. A., 1848, History of the Greek Alphabet with Remarks on Greek Orthography and Pronunciation, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Online References

“Modern Greek Studies Harvard” (accessed 29 July, 2019) https://moderngreek.classics.fas.harvard.edu/about

“Konstantinos Tziklitiras,” (accessed 29 July, 2019) https://el.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Κωνσταντίνος_Τσικλητήρας

“Sophocles obituary” http://www.mparaschos.com/Boston_Greeks/Sophocles.html

“William Jenks Collection” https://quod.lib.umich.edu/c/clementsmss/umich-wcl-M-260jen?view=text


To Live Alone and Like It: Women and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens Between the Wars.

“But it is not education only that is needed. It is that women should have liberty of experience… to idle and loiter, the mental space to let your mind wonder,” wrote Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own in 1929. The work was based on lectures she delivered in October 1928 at Newnham College and Girton College in Cambridge (both for women). She further advised her female audience “to drink wine and have a room of their own.” I will not dwell on the issue of wine because women of all classes had access to alcohol, at least privately, but for a woman to have a room of her own was highly unusual before WW II, especially for women who had not inherited wealth. Woolf would be eternally grateful to her aunt for leaving her a lifelong annual stipend of 500 pounds.

That a woman could live alone by her own choice was almost unheard of. Young women who moved to the big cities in search of work were usually sharing apartments with others of the same sex, for a few years at most, until they got married. However, WW I upset traditional demographics by creating a population imbalance in the western world: more women than men. To put it bluntly, for these extra women it meant that the prospect of marriage was less attainable (Scutts 2017). If Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) was fighting her own battles in ultra conservative England, Marjorie Hillis (1889-1971), an American writer and contemporary of Woolf, was sufficiently daring to publish in 1936 a book that encouraged single women to take control of their lives and Live Alone and Like it. “A Lady and Her Liquor,” “Pleasures of a Single Bed,” and “Solitary Refinement?” were some of the chapter titles. Her book became an immediate best-seller and remained popular for many years.

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Exploring the Relationship of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens with the Greek Omogeneia in the United States in the 1940s.

In 1947, the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) produced a color movie titled Triumph over Time; it was directed by the archaeologist Oscar Broneer and produced by the numismatist Margaret E. Thompson with the aid of Spyros Skouras (1893-1971), the Greek American movie mogul and owner of Twentieth Century Fox (see Spyros Skouras Papers at Stanford University). Triumph over Time portrays Greece rebounding from World War II and the staff of the ASCSA preparing archaeological sites for presentation to postwar tourists. The film was made to promote the first postwar financial campaign of the ASCSA, the direct goal of which was to increase its capital and finance the continuation of the Athenian Agora Excavations. Indirectly, the ASCSA was hoping to contribute to the rehabilitation of Greece by providing employment for the Greek people and by promoting the economic self-sufficiency of Greece by developing the country’s tourist assets (Vogeikoff-Brogan 2007).

Oscar Broneer, ca. 1938. ASCSA Archives, Oscar Broneer Papers.

Triumph over Time begins with a brief overview of impressive Greek antiquities, such as the citadels of Mycenae and Tiryns and the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion, before continuing with rare ethnographic material capturing parts of rural Greece that no longer exist. It then moves from the Greek countryside to the buildings of the ASCSA, especially the Gennadius Library with its rare treasures. The story then covers the ASCSA’s two most important projects, the excavations at the Athenian Agora and at Ancient Corinth, explaining all stages of archaeological work. The documentary ends with a hopeful note that financial support of the ASCSA’s archaeological work will contribute to an increase in tourism so that this major source of revenue for Greece’s economy can “restore stability and well-being to this simple pastoral land.”

Stills from Triumph Over Time

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To Know One’s Country as a Foreign Land

I have always found informal travel accounts fascinating. By informal, I mean accounts found in personal diaries or letters. Occasionally, they are published posthumously by the writer’s relatives (usually for family consumption) and attract little attention because of their mundane nature. Until recently, such letters and diaries of anonymous folk were avoided by historians who considered their content subjective or inaccurate. After all, why use the private diary of an American expatriate in Greece as a source, when the event (e.g., a local revolution) was described in more detail in the newspapers or other official reports?

I, on the other hand, pay particular attention to these types of publications because they provide valuable information, otherwise undocumented, about the level of local awareness, participation or aloofness within foreign communities. Gilbert K. Chesterton (1874-1936), an English writer and philosopher, once said that “the whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land: it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” It’s the second part of Chesterton’s comment that makes me delve into the travel accounts of foreigners-mostly Americans in my case–who have experienced Greece as a foreign land. Here I am not interested in the tourist but instead the engaged traveler, the expatriate, or, in rare cases, the committed immigrant (that is the foreigner who has almost “gone native”).

My latest source of inspiration for getting “to know my country as a foreign land” is a privately published collection of letters which came to my attention after a visit to the newly established Archives of the American College of Greece. There, Dr. Demetra Papakonstantinou, an accomplished archaeologist who now serves as the College’s Archivist, graciously shared with me a copy of a book titled Odyssey of a Learning Teacher (Greece and the Near East 1924-1925). Published in 2005 by David L. Aronson, the book contains transcriptions of the letters that his mother, Charlotte Eleanor Ferguson, a graduate from Mount Holyoke College and a teacher at the American College for Girls (what is now Pierce College), sent to her family in 1924-25. (The original letters are now part of the American School of Greece Archives.)

Front cover photograph: Charlotte Ferguson and Helen Larrabee departing from New York.

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The Mystery Artist: In Search of François Perilla

The American School’s haphazard art collection continues to fascinate me. It lacks any thematic cohesion and at first glance often makes no sense, because most of the works have little to do with the institution itself. Yet, it remains a source of mystery because these same works are also associated with people who were once deeply involved in the School’s affairs. Before they ended up at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or School hereafter), these objects decorated the walls of private houses and were part of those households’ life history. In Janet Hoskins’s Biographical Objects: How Things Tell the Stories of People’s Lives (1998), six women and men from Eastern Indonesia tell the history of their lives by talking about their possessions, thus creating an identity for themselves through objects they made, bought, were given, or collected. Our people are no longer alive but many of their possessions are with us, and they have a story to tell us (if we ask them…).

The Blegen-Hill house at Ploutarchou 9, ca. 1960s. ASCSA Archives.

Most of the artwork that hangs on the walls or decorates the mantels of the various buildings of the School comes from two households. One was the residence of two couples, Carl and Elizabeth Blegen (the Blegens) and Bert and Ida Hill (the Hills), who lived together at Ploutarchou 9 (Kolonaki) in the 1930s; the other belonged to the archaeologist George Mylonas and his wife Lela who lived in Saint Louis (Missouri) in the 1930s before they moved back to Greece in the early 1970s. Although both households were set up about the same time, the Blegens/Hills, because of Elizabeth’s personal wealth, began purchasing artwork immediately, while the Mylonases, both younger and refugees from Asia Minor, did not begin acquiring art until the early 1950s. (I have written about the nature of the Mylonas collection in a post titled “The Spirit of Saint Louis Lives in Athens”; on the two couples living at Ploutarchou Street read “The End of the Quartet: The Day the Music Stopped at Ploutarchou 9,” by Jack L. Davis; and Pounder 2015.)

Lately I have been trying to identify the items from the Blegen-Hill household, which came to school almost intact after the death of the house’s last occupant, Carl Blegen, in 1971. Although we have an inventory, the fact that the objects were not photographed or tagged before they were dispersed among the various buildings of the School (including Corinth) makes it difficult to identify their origin today.  Some of the art, such Giovani Battista Piranesi’s “Vedute di Roma,” is easily identifiable, but portions of the collection remain shrouded in mystery.

In addition, we also lack indoor photos of the house, except for the one that shows the so-called “Greek Room.” (Take for comparison the interior of John Gennadius’s house in London, which was professionally photographed, making it easier to identify the artworks from it that came to the Gennadius Library.) Still we are slowly putting together a picture of the life and art at the Blegen residence. In a recent conference about Carl and Elizabeth Blegen, Vivian Florou reconstructed through archival research some of the social life of the house at Ploutarchou 9 during its peak times, before and after WW II (Florou 2015).  In “Skyromania? American Archaeologists in 1930s Skyros,” I identified some of the embroideries and pottery that were once part of it.  In “The Grecian Landscapes of Anna Richards Brewster,” I suggested that an oil by Brewster might also have once been belonged to the Blegens.

Today’s post focuses on another large painting that once hung on the walls of Ploutarchou 9 (item no. 10 in the Blegen Collection), but is now adorning the walls of my new office: a watercolor depicting the temple of Hera at Olympia, signed “F. Perilla 1930”. A quick search on the internet produced a few brief references to auction catalogs that identified him as a French art historian and artist, born in 1874, as well as to two recent translations of books he wrote about Chios (1928) and Mount Pelion (1940). A search in “Ambrosia” (the ASCSA’s online book catalogue) proved more fruitful, with several entries to publications by Perilla.

Temple of Hera at Olympia, watercolor by F. Perilla. ASCSA Archives, Art Collection.

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“The haughty arrogance of the Nordic people”: A Scandal in the German Colony of Athens on the 20th of April 1935.

Posted by Alexandra Kankeleit

Alexandra Kankeleit here contributes an essay about an unknown episode, almost a scandal, which took place in 1935 in the German community of Athens and involved the local Catholic church and members of the German Archaeological Institute.  Alexandra, an archaeologist who specializes in the study of Roman mosaics, has also since 2016 been part of an extensive project of the German Archaeological Institute (Athens and Berlin), titled The History of the German Archaeological Institute at Athens during the National Socialist Era. As part of the project, she has examined a host of bibliographic and archival sources in both countries that document the activities of the German archaeologists in Greece from 1933 until 1944. A list of her most recent publications can be found on Alexandra’s own website.

A recently discovered episode from 1935 offers a striking picture of the predominant mood in the so-called “German Colony” in Athens following the National Socialist seizure of power in Germany. (“Deutsche Kolonie” was the official name of the German-speaking Community in Greece until the end of WWII.)  It illustrates in dramatic fashion what battlefronts were being drawn up at the time and what the representatives of the German Archaeological Institute at Athens (DAI Athen hereafter) saw as their role in this critical period.

I stumbled more or less by chance upon this incident while carrying out research at the Politisches Archiv des Auswärtigen Amtes (Political Archive of the Federal Foreign Office). The relevant documents are to be found in a folder that deals with the “Schwarze Front” (“Black Front”) in Greece, an underground organisation that was opposed to Hitler and his policies, and which was founded in 1930 by Otto Strasser (1897-1974), brother of the infamous Gregor Strasser (1892-1934). From 1934-1937 members of the “Schwarze Front” were based in Greece publishing illegal flyers and articles, and encouraging Germans living in Greece to turn away from Hitler. Read the rest of this entry »