The Agora Benches


Judith Robinson Levine has a high fashion design degree from Les Écoles de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne in Paris, France. She worked for 12 years in film and still photography in France as a stylist and a costume designer. Currently, she is a photo stylist specializing in package photography and, in her spare time, she does interior design and a variety of special projects for private clients and non-profits. She lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas with her husband Daniel Levine, Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Arkansas, whom she has assisted during his ASCSA Summer Session directorships in Greece.

In 2008 Daniel and I spent spring semester in Greece. I spent a lot of time in the Archives of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or School hereafter) researching the history of the School’s Summer Sessions. In studying old logbooks and Annual Reports, I was fascinated by the WW II years and the story of Anastasios Adossides, Administrator and Business Manager of the Athenian Agora Excavations from 1931 to 1942. He and his wife Elie, who was active with the Red Cross, were responsible for making sure that the School was occupied by the Swiss and Swedish Red Cross commissions to Greece during the war; thus they ensured that the School’s property in Kolonaki could never be confiscated by the Germans (Meritt 1984, p. 17).

Jack Davis in an essay titled “The American School of Classical Studies and the Politics of Volunteerism” noted about Adossides and Edward Capps, Chair of the School’s Managing Committee: “The careers of two individuals exemplify the sorts of ties forged between ASCSA members and influential Greek statesmen, and the resulting benefits to the School. The first is Anastasios Adossides (1873–1942), administrator of Samos in 1914–1915, a member of the provisional government of Venizelos in Thessaloniki in 1917, governor of Macedonia in 1918–1919, prefect of the Cyclades and Samos in the early 1920s, and subsequently the business manager of the Athenian Agora and consultant to the ASCSA (1931–1942)… Their personal relationship was valuable to the School during the negotiations between the ASCSA and the Greek government that established the legal groundwork for the inception of excavations of the Athenian Agora in 1931” (Davis 2013, p. 16). Sylvie Dumont in her recent publication of Vrysaki: A Neighborhood Lost in Search for the Athenian Agora (Princeton 2020) has dedicated an entire chapter on Adossides’s role in the expropriation of the land where the ancient Agora once stood (pp. 63-73).

Anastasios Adossides, 1930s. Source: Dumont 2020, fig. 53.

Adossides died in October 1942 during the great starvation that afflicted the city of Athens during the war. His death was reported with great sadness, and it was noted that his very last words to his wife were messages to his successor (lawyer Aristeides Kyriakides) so that this important preservation work might continue. One only needs to read two of the necrologies that his American friends wrote to understand how devastated the School was by his loss (ASCSA Annual Report 1942-43, pp. 15-17; The Philhellene, vol. II, 1942-1943, no. 3-4, p. 3-4.)

The completion of the initial phase of the Agora Excavations followed the reconstruction of the Stoa of Attalos (see also Liz Papageorgiou, “That Unspeakable Stoa“), and the landscaping of the Athenian Agora in the 1950s by the American landscape architect Ralph Griswold; the latter project included the installation of commemorative benches and exedras:

“During that first winter and spring of 1954-55 the modern retaining wall below the Hephaisteion was removed, and earth terraces were restored and planted. The Garden of Hephaistos, the slopes of Kolonos Agoraios, the whole west half of the Agora were planted, and graveled walks with benches (two in memory of Anastasios Adossides and Margaret MacVeagh) at intervals were laid out. General public interest was aroused and maintained by special planting ceremonies. The enterprise had been inaugurated on June 4, 1954 by Their Majesties when King Paul planted an oak and Queen Frederika a laurel beside the Altar of Zeus Agoraios…” (Meritt 1984, p. 189).

In addition to the bench, “an olive was planted nearby for Mr. Adossides, where his office once stood” (Meritt 1984, p. 190).

Landscaping of the Agora. Boy scouts of Athens and Attica in the yard of the Old Excavation House at 25 Asteroskopeiou Street. Among them H. A. Thompson, J. L. Caskey, and Ralph E. Griswold. The scouts participated in the tree planting program at the Agora, 1955. Source: ASCSA, Athenian Agora Excavations ( 2003.01.0372)

We know about Adossides. But who was Margaret MacVeagh, in memory of whom the second bench was built? Margaret Charlton Lewis (1886-1947) of New York was an alumna of Bryn Mawr College (Class of 1908), and “a serious student of classical languages” according to John Iatrides, who edited and published Ambassador MacVeagh Reports: Greece, 1933-1947 (Princeton 1980). She married Lincoln MacVeagh (1890-1972) in 1917.

Margaret L. MacVeagh, 1930s. Source: MacVeagh 1939, p. 17.

Lincoln (Harvard Class 1913), a personal friend of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor, was appointed U.S. Minister to Greece from 1933 to 1941, served as Ambassador to the Greek government in exile in Cairo in 1943-1944, and after Greece’s liberation, was back in Athens as Ambassador from 1944 to 1947. Their daughter Margaret Ewen (Peggy), born in 1920, started learning Greek at the age of nine and not only developed a serious and lasting interest in Greek literature and culture, but also inspired her son, Stuart MacVeagh Thorne, to become an archaeologist (Thorne has participated in many excavations in Greece, including Isthmia, Palaikastro on Crete, and more recently Geraki in Laconia).

Bert Hodge Hill and Lincoln MacVeagh, 1930s. Source: ASCSA Archives, Bert H. Hill Papers.

Lincoln and his wife Margaret were both accomplished scholars and helped raise funds for the Agora excavations and the American School. They published together “Greek Journey” in 1937, and before that, she had translated and he published George Clemenceau’s American Reconstruction, 1865-1870: And the Impeachment of President Johnson (1928). Lincoln also published a long essay “On the Margins of Greek Tourism” (1939), and ardently fundraised for the restoration of the Lion of the Amphipolis in the 1930s. (For Lincoln MacVeagh’s philhellenism and his involvement with Greek archaeology, see Betsy Robinson’s excellent essay, “The Pride of Amphipolis.”) Margaret died in Athens in 1947 at age 61 and Lincoln left Greece soon afterward. I believe that the bench was a memorial to that good match; in fact, it commemorates the dates of their marriage, 1917-1947.

Ten years later, in April 2018, during our semester off-campus, while walking in the Agora Park, we saw the Adossides bench and I remembered his dedication to preserving the School’s buildings from pillaging during WW II.  A month later, Deputy Director Craig Mauzy was able to secure permission from the Ephorate of Antiquities to clean and recolor the engraved lettering on that bench and also on the one dedicated to Margaret MacVeagh along the steps leading up from the Tholos to the south side of the Hephaisteion, where the Adossides bench stands.

The MacVeagh bench at the Athenian Agora (before and after cleaning the inscription). The inscription reads: MARGARET MACVEAGH | ΜΝΗΜΗΣ ΕΝΕΚΑ | 1917-1947 | LINCOLN MACVEAGH. Photo: Judith Levine.

In May 2018, armed with neutral-PH dish-soap, water, and a toothbrush, I was able to clean the two inscriptions of the dirt, moss, and lichen that had accumulated over the years and then refill the letters with terra-cotta color similar to that which had been used originally in 1954. It was a joy to be able to make a good head start on the renovation of this memorial project. The restoration of the Agora Park benches will continue as time and funds allow.

The Adossides bench (before and after cleaning the inscription) with the Temple of Hephaistos in the background. The inscription reads: ΑΝΑΣΤΑΣΙΟΣ ΑΔΟΣΙΔΗΣ | 1873-1942 | ΜΝΗΜΗΣ ΕΝΕΚΑ. Photo: Judith Levine.

Partial plan of the Athenian Agora with the Temple of Hephaistos on the upper left corner.


Soon after the cleaning operation, I contacted MacVeagh’s grandson, Stuart Thorne, who was kind enough to send me a copy of what appears to be Carl W. Blegen’s handwritten remarks at the dedication ceremony for the MacVeagh bench in 1956 during the 75th-anniversary celebration of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Blegen read:

“Just above the Tholos is a stone seat, presented as a memorial for Margaret MacVeagh by her husband Lincoln MacVeagh. Margaret MacVeagh, as those of you who had the privilege of knowing her warm and gracious personality will remember, had a deep-rooted abiding love for Greece, ancient, medieval, and modern. She made many journeys about the country, knew at first hand its people of today, its natural beauties, its flowers, its birds, its legends, its archeological treasures. She took a keen interest in excavations, was at home on the Acropolis, familiar with Mycenae and Tiryns; came twice to Troy and saw some of the many “cities” emerging to view, looked in at Pylos and took part in the actual digging of a tholos tomb.

A friend of the American School and a supporter of its work, she came often to the Agora, following regularly the progress of this great excavation. She liked to stroll about the site and would frequently sit during the sunset hour on the slope below the “Theseum” whence she could look out across the widening expanse of the area under clearance and see the lovely violet glow ascending the side of distant Mt. Hymettus.  As nearly as may be to this favorite vantage point the bench has now been placed. From it may other lovers of Greece find a like enjoyment and satisfaction in close communion with the ancient and modern spirit of this land of Hellas!”

The MacVeaghs at Troy, 1934. L-R: Margaret MacVeagh, Peggy MacVeagh, Dorothy Rawson, and Lincoln MacVeagh. Source: Department of Classics, University of Cincinnati.

Many thanks to Agora Deputy Director Craig Mauzy, Registrar Sylvie Dumont, and Conservator Maria Tziotziou for advice and facilitation of this collaborative effort, and to Jennifer Hoenig Bakatselou for much-appreciated assistance and encouragement.

Davis, J. L. 2013. “  in “The American School of Classical Studies and the Politics of Volunteerism,” in Philhellenism, Philanthropy, or Political Convenience: American Archaeology in Greece, ed. J. L. Davis and N. Vogeikoff-Brogan, Hesperia 82:1, Special Issue, pp. 15-48.
Dumont, S. 2020. Vrysaki: A Neighborhood Lost in Search for the Athenian Agora, Princeton.
MacVeagh, L. 1939. On the Margins of Greek Tourism, Athens.
Meritt, L. S. 1984. History of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1939-1980, Princeton.

Is this Julia Ward Howe?


Curtis Runnels, Professor of Archaeology at Boston University and an expert in Palaeolithic archaeology in Greece, and his wife Priscilla Murray, an anthropologist and Classical archaeologist, here contribute to From the Archivist’s Notebook a story about the purchase of a miniature portrait of an elegant, young woman in an antique fair, their research to identify both the subject of the portrait and its creator, and, finally, their thrilling discovery.

Even from a distance, the small portrait of a beautiful young woman had a commanding presence. We bought the miniature watercolor on ivory (less than 10 by 8 cm) at an antique fair in Holliston, a town near Boston, Massachusetts, because the sitter was dressed a la Gréque with a Greek column in the background. The quality of the painting, which points to a very accomplished miniaturist, together with the appearance and accoutrements of the subject, suggest that the painting was an important commission by a socially prominent person. We loved the painting, and of course, we were intensely interested in the identity of the young woman.

Julia Ward Howe (?). Miniature on ivory, 3.9 x 3.1in. Curtis Runnels and Priscilla Murray Collection.

The antiques dealer could not provide a provenance, but we believe that the picture spent much of its life in Boston or thereabouts.  The period frame, perhaps original, is marked “Foster Bros., Boston,” and the style of the miniature is typical for miniature artists working in Boston and New York City in the 1830s and 1840s. (The Foster Brother Records are housed in the American Art Archives.) Although miniature watercolors on ivory were popular in the years before photography, the quality of this miniature was such that only the most affluent could have afforded the commission.  So who would have chosen to be depicted in a “Greek” costume and setting? 

Queen Amalia, ca. 1855. Lithograph by Franz Hanfstaengl, based on the oil painting by Ernst Rietschel. National Historical Museum, Athens.

The sitter wears a white dress with a striking blue shawl. She has a red tasseled hat of the kind made popular by Queen Amalia of Greece (1818-1875). Pearls are strung in her hair and she has pearls around her neck.  The dress and jewelry suggest high status and wealth, and the beauty of the sitter is remarkable. We listed names of prominent young women in New York and Boston and considered the possibilities.  We concluded that this may be a portrait of Julia Ward, a “bluestocking” born into an affluent New York family and a notable heiress who at the age of 24 moved to Boston about the time this portrait was painted to marry Samuel Gridley Howe (1801-1876), the famed physician, philanthropist, and Philhellene. Did Julia Ward Howe have this miniature painting executed as a gift for Samuel Gridley when they were engaged, or soon after their marriage, as was the custom of the day?

We studied the picture and frame carefully but could find no identifying information, so we had to look elsewhere for clues to the identity of the sitter. The young woman in the painting resembles the marble bust of Julia Ward at age 22 by Shobal Vail Clevenger (1812-1843) in the Boston Public Library, which is illustrated in the Pulitzer-Prize winning biography of Julia written by two of her daughters (Laura E. Richards and Maude Howe Elliott, Julia Ward Howe, 1819-1910, Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1915).

Bust of Julia Ward Howe by Shobal Vail Clevenger. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

We have other evidence that our portrait is Julia.  One of the most celebrated miniaturists working in this period was Anne Hall of New York (1792-1863), who is known to have painted Julia Ward as a child with her siblings Samuel and Henry.  Anne Hall was also directly connected to the Ward family through her sister Eliza’s marriage to Henry Ward and is known to have made several paintings of the Ward family. The style of our miniature is consistent with those miniatures of Anne Hall that we have examined. The most conclusive evidence that the young woman in our picture is Julia comes again from her daughters’ biography where we learn that one of Julia’s prized possessions was a string of pearls given to her by her father, fabulously valuable jewelry for the time. 

Anne Hall, her sister Eliza Hall Ward, and her nephew Henry Hall Ward, 1828. Miniature on ivory, 4 1/4 x 4 1/4 in. New-York Historical Society.

Even better is the account by a visitor to New York City in 1843 that describes Julia as she strolled down Broadway with her fiancé, Samuel Gridley Howe. The witness relates that “the pretty blue-stocking, Miss Julia Ward, with her admirer, Dr. Howe…had on a blue satin cloak and a white muslin dress” (Richards and Elliott 1915, p. 75). We see this very outfit, along with the famous pearls, in our painting.  And what about the Greek cap? Julia’s daughters relate that the Wards gave sanctuary to a Greek orphan child, Christy Evangelides, for a time, so such a cap might have been familiar to them. Or perhaps it was a token to Samuel Gridley Howe’s fame as a Philhellene?

Samuel Gridley Howe. Public Domain.

All together, we believe that there is strong circumstantial evidence that the sitter is Julia Ward Howe.  Yet one difficulty remains.  Julia had red-gold hair and the person in our painting has brown hair. Was this perhaps artistic license? Our question was answered, once again, in the daughters’ biography: red hair was unfashionable at the time, and Julia was known to color it with French pomade or comb it with a leaden comb to darken it (and ornament it with pearls, as Julia recalls in her autobiography, Reminiscences, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1899, p. 65). 

At the time of Julia’s marriage, Samuel Gridley Howe was already famous. He was celebrated for his participation in the Greek War of Independence (and he would be active in Greek relief efforts for the rest of his life), and for his work in the Perkins School for the Blind, which he founded and directed, and which continues today in Watertown, Massachusetts, after 191 years. His most notable achievement was his breakthrough in teaching Laura Bridgman, a blind and deaf girl, to read, write, and speak. This success represented a tremendous advance in the teaching of deaf and blind people and Samuel Gridley Howe was lionized for this achievement in scientific and humanitarian circles in America and Europe. He would continue to champion many humanitarian causes in his lifetime, from abolitionism to sanitary reform.

Julia Ward Howe herself became a noted advocate of human rights, abolition, and women’s rights. She traveled to Greece with Samuel Gridley in 1867-1868 to distribute humanitarian aide to Cretan refugees (clothing that she had collected from the women of Boston, as recounted in her book From the Oak to the Olive. A Plain Record of a Pleasant Journey, Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1868). The Howes were both active in the Union cause during the Civil War, and Julia gained lasting fame as the author of Battle Hymn of the Republic, the unofficial anthem of the Union to this day.  In addition to her other activities on behalf of women’s rights and suffrage, it was Julia who first proposed Mothers Day in 1873, which has now become a national celebration.

Letter of Samuel Gridley Howe to the Greek Relief Committee, 1868. Curtis Runnels and Priscilla Murray Collection.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, Julia Ward Howe and Samuel Gridley Howe were among the most famous Americans as noted authors, philanthropists, humanitarians, and Philhellenes. If confirmed as a portrait of the young Julia Ward Howe, we hope that this beautiful image will continue to keep alive her memory, and the memory of the Howes together.  

Editor’s Note (1): Before the construction of the Gennadius Library in 1926, the street that leads up to the Library, was known as “Howe street,” named after Samuel Gridley Howe. Today the street carries the name of the founder of the Library, Johannes Gennadius (Ιωάννου Γενναδίου).

Editor’s Note (2): Curtis asked me if I could add to the post an out-of-frame photo of the miniature for more detail and truer color.

A close-up photo of the portrait of Julia Ward Howe (?). Curtis Runnels and Priscilla Murray Collection.

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” Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »