Imagining and Reimagining Greece


Posted by Clayton Miles Lehmann

Clayton M. Lehmann, Professor of History at the University of South Dakota, here contributes an essay about American college students coming to Greece, as part of study-abroad programs. This post represents a modified and shortened version of the 63rd Annual Harrington Lecture, which he delivered 28 October 2015 to the College of Arts and Sciences of the University of South Dakota.  Lehmann was a Regular Member of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens in 1982/3, lived in Greece while he wrote his doctoral dissertation, and has returned often, three times as the Director of the Summer Session for the American School and regularly since 2005 as one of the professor-captains of the University of South Dakota’s short-term faculty-led study-abroad program “The Isles of Greece!”.


After disappointing tourism numbers for the 2004 Olympics, the Greek National Tourism Organization launched a major campaign, “Live Your Myth in Greece,” to rekindle Greece in the world’s imagination.  When a group of my students arrived in Athens in 2005 for the study-abroad program The Isles of Greece!,[1] they saw the advertisements for this campaign on the billboards and buses on the way into the city.  At first glance, the images appeal to the typical touristic expectation of the Greek quartet of sea, sun, sand, and sex.  But the classical architecture and supernatural figures suggest a more complex imaginary mix.  The fine print on some of these posters read:

Greece: a land of mythical dimensions. Where the spirit of hospitality welcomes you as a modern god. And the siren song draws you into its deep blue waters. Where a gentle breeze through ancient ruins seems to whisper your name. And a dance until dawn can seem to take on Dionysian proportions. In Greece the myths are still very much alive. And in amongst them sits your own . . . patiently waiting for you to live it. Live your myth in Greece.  Ask your travel agent.

 

Eros and Mermaid posters for Live Your Myth in Greece, Greek National Tourism Organization campaign, 2005; designed by K. Karavellas; and creative design by McCann Erickson-BBDO-Cleverbank Joint Venture. Photographs courtesy of the GNTO.

Cover of The Spectator, 12 September 2015; cartoon by Morten Morland. By kind permission of The Spectator 1828 Ltd.

The campaign successfully captures the aura of Greece’s magical, mythical, and sensual appeal.  Many people seeing these images, however, would have known perfectly well, without consulting a classics professor, the potential danger of falling victim to Eros’s arrow, or what happens when Dionysus takes control of a community or the Sirens draw you not into deep blue waters but upon the dangerous rocks at their edge. Τhe illustrator of James Forsyth’s cover story for The Spectator on 12 September 2015 captured the hazard of failing to plug up one’s ears when about to hear the Sirens’ song: Forsyth decries Angela Merkel’s brave and humane policy welcoming Syrian refugees to Germany by cloaking xenophobia with a disingenuous concern for the refugees’ safety.

Images from Greek mythology and the Greek landscape work so powerfully on us because of the multiple layers of meaning they have, and every time we encounter Greek persons, events, places, and works of art in new ways, we add more layers of meaning to them.  For example, when Greece’s sovran debt crisis preoccupied the international news in the spring and summer of 2015, the flamboyant finance minister of the new Syriza-led Greek government, Yanis Varoufakis, became a hero not only for Greeks but also for all those struggling against the hijacking of the democratic process by financial institutions; altered images in social media and online news outlets portrayed him as Superman, a Terminator, the Guy Fawkes-masked Vigilante, Mr. Spock, and Walter White—images all based on modern Western popular culture.[2]

St. Varoufakis the Troika-Eater. Anonymously altered image of a Byzantine saint, widely disseminated on the Internet in the summer of 2015.

But another image, which derives from a native Greek visual tradition, will seem unfamiliar to most people outside of Greece.  Varoufakis appears as a saint in an icon of the Orthodox Christian church, here styled as άγιος Βαρουφάκις ο Τροϊκοφάγος: “St. Varoufakis the Troika-Eater,” Greece’s savior from the troika of financial institutions imposing austerity during the debt crisis: the European Central Bank, the European Commission, and the International Monetary Fund.  This image evokes the powerful saints popular on Byzantine icons and affords a striking way to imagine a critical episode of contemporary Greek history to those familiar with Byzantine religious art.  To non-Greeks, however, it will resonate less than do the images appropriated from Western popular culture.

Even before arriving in Greece people have strong expectations of what they will find: ruins and museums, brightly painted houses, clear skies and brilliant sunlight on sandy beaches, and an impossibly blue sea.  The present and the past come together with an eternal landscape in the touristic imagination.  The gateway to the Greek National Tourism Office’s website, visitgreece.gr, expresses the current advertising slogan (in 2015-17), “Greece: All Time Classic” and evokes all these elements, ancient and modern, through images of beaches, ruins, yachting, and mountains and sea.  The website encourages us to make our travel plans, and once in Greece we experience its rocks and water and light, and we imbue the reality with the ideas we bring from previous personal and cultural associations.

Thus people who come to Greece for the first time, such as my students, arrive with a host of imagined Greeces that integrates with the realities they encounter as they engage with and think about the people, culture, and landscape.  In the fall of 2015 I asked past participants in The Isles of Greece! to tell me how they imagined Greece.  One said she expected to see “historic buildings, ancient architecture, and ruins almost everywhere” (Ellie Dailey).  Another commented, “I pictured Greece as very picturesque—white buildings on a hillside in a bay with sun reflecting off of clear blue water” (Kayla Pochop). Others thought in terms of how their previous reading about Greece prepared them for the real thing: “Before arriving in Greece, I had only the images rendered from books . . . : open skies and crisp waters; old temple ruins that shimmered softly in a dry sun” (Michelle Corio).  Others considered first the natural environment and noticed how the reality compares to the expectation: “I have always loved the ocean and expected it to be beautiful on the coast of Greece, but my experience there was so much more breathtaking than anything I have ever seen. The blue waters of the Aegean Sea are unlike any color I could point out and describe at home” (Susan Wik).  Others again added figures to the landscape:

“Steep, resilient, cutting, forging. From winds to rocks to waves, the magnitude of the landscape was raw and enthralling. . . . The islands have changed. The trees are gone. The seas have shifted. The Greece I experienced was a very different place than the Greece of antiquity. But at the same time, when sailing the warm waters or roaming old sheep herders’ trails, the very same weather-worn and wisdom-encrusted landscape stands guard. And the Hellenes of old are as near as ever” (Michelle Corio).

Students attending The Isles of Greece! 2012, including three mentioned in the text: Kayla Pochop far left, Susan Wik third from left, and Michelle Corio far right. Photograph by Clayton Lehmann.

Portrait of Nicholas Biddle (1786-1844) by an unknown French artist in Paris, November 1805, a few months before he left for Greece (Wainwright, 1975, p. 956). Photograph courtesy of Antiques.

These ways of imagining Greece do not differ greatly to those of a young Nicholas Biddle (1786-1844), although he had the advantage of a classical education and the Greece he visited still labored under Turkish rule.  Many know of him as the president of the Second Bank of the United States in the 1820s and 30s, some as the original editor of the journals of Lewis and Clark.  Biddle visited Greece in the spring and summer of 1806 while on the Grand Tour.  As Lewis and Clark traveled eastward on their return from the Pacific, the twenty-year-old Biddle wrote in his journal:

“I had long felt an ardent desire to visit Greece.  The fate of a nation whose history was the first brilliant object that met my infancy . . . was so interesting that I had resolved to avail myself of any opportunity of witnessing it.  The soil of Greece is sacred to Genius & to letters.  The race of beings whose atchievements [sic] warm our youthful fancy has long disappeared.  But the sod under which they repose; the air which listened to their poetry & their eloquence; the hills which saw their valor are still the same” (Biddle Journals, p. 49).

In two important respects my students’ reactions differ to Biddle’s: their liberal education includes no hefty doses of the classics, and the Ottoman Empire no longer rules Greece.  Therefore they do not share his nostalgia for a Greece long gone and regret at encountering a people so unlike what he expected.

Nostalgia and regret for a good old Greece that never really existed has a long history.  The Romans saw Greece’s current military and political weakness even as they admired its cultural achievement.  One thinks of Horace’s “Graecia capta ferum uictorem cepit et artes / intulit agresti Latio” (“captive Greece captured its savage conqueror and brought the arts to rustic Latium,” Epistulae 2.1.156-57).  Or consider this famous, moving passage from one of Cicero’s correspondents: “On my voyage from Asia, as I was sailing from Ægina towards Megara, I began to survey the localities that were on every side of me. Behind me was Ægina, in front Megara, on my right Piræus, on my left Corinth: towns which at one time were most flourishing, but now lay before my eyes in ruin and decay.” (Epistulae ad familiares 4.5.4, trans. Evelyn Shuckburgh.)

Or compare Byron’s “Fair Greece, Sad Relic” (Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, 2.73) or the young Biddle’s thoughts in the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi: “How sad & solitary a picture.  This spot once the center of Grecian arts & religion where the genius & the superstition of the first of nations loved to display its power & its extravagance, now oppressed by a foreign people, its altars changed for a new religion, its monuments dispersed & ruined by barbarians, has [just?] scanty enough remains to indicate its position & proclaim its misfortunes.  . . .  These ruins are indeed complete & desolating to the mind.  This awful abode of the Gods . . . now lies defaced, & mutilated. The hum of his people has ceased.  His oracle is silent…” (Biddle Journals, pp. 94-95).

Or when he reaches Athens: “Athens presents every visage of desolation & despair.  When I walk amongst her ruins & first recalling her ancient greatness meditate on her fall, the mind sickens over the melancholy picture.  When I see her citadel adorned with temples which have defied not only the barbarian rage of conquest, but the shock of the elements, now degraded by the hand of violence or idle curiosity [he means Lord Elgin’s]; when I see her temple of Theseus which teaches us to admire the grand simplicity of a great people, her temple of Jupiter, the most stupendous of all ruins; when I see all this I feel for the decline of human greatness.

But even worse, the Areopagus and Pnyx, ancient centers of government, have fallen silent, the orators have left to inspire foreign nations while their modern countrymen have forgotten their names and become like the “beasts whom they drive heedless over the ruins” (Biddle Journals, p. 112).  Typically of early travelers to Greece, Biddle found the actual experience unsatisfying once the initial enthusiasm wore off: the people he encountered led an impoverished, squalid life debased by the tyranny of their Turkish masters.

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

Modern ways of imagining Greece depend mostly on the way we imagine ancient Greece (as does Biddle) and partly on the romantic construction of revolutionary Greece that began to develop just as Biddle visited Greece.  Add the touristic expectation of a holiday destination and a spattering of news reports—these days mostly about the debt crisis.  These ways of imagining Greece need reimagining through further study and informed travel in Greece.  As Lincoln MacVeagh, US ambassador to Greece in the 1930s and 1940s, wrote, “Perhaps of no country could it more truly be said that she requires to be better known because she is already known so well.  Certainly none is in greater need of being seen in perspective” (MacVeagh 1955). (For MacVeagh’s campaign to restore the Lion of Amphipolis in the 1930s, see Betsey Robinson, “The Pride of Amphipolis.”)

As I mentioned, unlike Biddle, my students do not come to Greece with much more than a few preparatory meetings with the faculty.  On the other hand, unlike Biddle, once in Greece they encounter free and independent people, and the fact that our hosts do labor under harsh economic conditions hardly affects the kindness, interest, and generosity they show to us visitors.  My students engage wholeheartedly in the leisure culture—the cafés, βόλτες, slow meals.  The extent of popular political activity, from demonstrations to posters and graffiti to the variety of newspapers, fascinates them.  Above all, they enjoy getting to know the people.

“Before traveling to Greece, everyone stateside bombarded me with warnings about the danger of the country and the people. On our first day, I journaled about how friendly everyone was and how interesting and exciting it was to meet Greek people and hear their stories. We witnessed a scheduled protest during our initial time in Greece, something that I was coerced to be afraid of by social media as well as friends and family. However, it was a completely peaceful display by citizens who are taking action and standing up for their beliefs. I actually found it inspiring. The other surprising factor was how comical it was to communicate with so many people who didn’t speak the same language. I was amazed to find that I really could have a conversation even though we had minimal words in common” reflected Susan Wik, one of my students, recently.

Clayton Lehmann at Monemvasia, May 2012. Photograph by Nelson Stone.

Perhaps my love for Greece and its people appears so palpable that my students hide any negative responses, but I like to think they share my affection.  Indeed, the great reward for me as I lead these tours comes from reimagining through the students my own first impressions of Greece.  Even from a distance of thirty-five years, those impressions remain vivid.  My first strong memory has to do with very first visit to Greece as a college student in 1978.  Our car started to overheat, and we stopped at a gas station on the national highway in Thessaly.  I tried to ask for water, using the ancient word ὕδωρ rather than the modern νερό; like Biddle I had certain unconsidered expectations about Greece based on my undergraduate training in classics.  Only appropriate gestures got what I needed from the patient and good-humored attendant.  I made sure to work hard learning modern Greek the summer before I returned to Greece as a regular member of the American School in 1982.  The effort paid off: because I came with a young family, we had to live off-campus and deal with Greeks on a daily basis.  Our landlady made us members of her family, and we went on vacations with them and attended their grandson’s name-day ceremony.  Generosity, hospitality, genuine interest in their guests, and appreciation at the interest visitors show in their county have constituted my essential impressions of the Greek people ever since.

Clayton Lehmann holding his baby daughter Hilary in the company of Kiki, Nikos, and their grandson Nikos at Thermopylae, August 1982. Photograph by Erika Lehmann.

But let me conclude with more of my students’ own words.  Michelle Corio read Nikos Kazantzakis’s Zorba the Greek in preparation for our program in 2012.  Soon after arriving she found herself in Syntagma Square, where she had a conversation with a Greek.  He told her:

” ‘Only by truly appreciating something can you love something. And only by truly loving something can you truly enjoy it.’ He was 78 years old, and every day, his life was just beginning. I had met Alexis Zorba himself.  Like the man I met in the Square, Zorba has mastered the art of appreciation, love, and pleasure. His character is inspiring, raw, and pure” (Michelle Corio).

Hannah Nagy remembers a waiter running after her as she rushed from a restaurant to get on the bus; he had packed up a complimentary desert for the ride.  She describes another encounter that reminds me of my trouble getting water many years before: “I was looking for a dream book in Greek and stopped in a bookstore. I tried using my limited Greek to describe the type of book and the two ladies looked at me like I was a top notch idiot and yet made me feel so welcome and they sympathized with my plight at the same time. When impromptu charades/sign language succeeded when poor Greek and non-existent English failed, the two of them were so proud of themselves and me for getting across the barrier that the earlier embarrassing feeling fled completely. I always felt liked even if there seemed to be a reason to dislike me—it’s a very disconcerting and confusing feeling that I have only found to exist when visiting with the Greeks.”

Hannah did comment with regret on the sexism she sometimes felt from Greek men: “There are attitudes or beliefs towards women that impact the decisions men make, such as smacking lips [or] taking pictures of women without permission; there’s a sense that women should bend to men’s wills/desires. Greece isn’t the only place I’ve traveled to like this by any means (and the US can be no better sometimes), but it is the reality I had there. I found this characteristic to be more prevalent in big cities, such as Athens, compared to smaller cities or islands.” But, she continued: “Overall, the Greeks were simply wonderful. I would go again in a heartbeat, not only for the stunning sites along the way, but also, if not mostly, for experiencing that famed hospitality . . . .  I’m eternally grateful I had the opportunity to experience Greece and its people, and would gladly jump at another chance.”

I’ll let Chris Zimmer have the last word.  He found Greece:

“… rewarding in all of the expected ways: the sights, sounds, and tastes were impeccable. The most rewarding experience though, was the one I expected least: building relationships with Greeks. After all, how realistic is it to forge meaningful relationships with strangers of a foreign land and language in just three weeks? With Greeks, the answer is simple . . . a lifestyle . . . that fuses the warmest, most welcoming hospitality imaginable and an embrace of our shared experiences, similarities, and differences.”

Chris returned to Greece last fall as a Fulbright Teacher at Athens College and will continue there for another year.

Photograph of Hannah Nagy giving a report on ancient piracy to The Isles of Greece! 2014 in a cove on Antiparos; Chris Zimmer to the left, wearing a hat. Photograph by Clayton Lehmann.


NOTES

[1] For this program see http://islesofgreece.org/ and Clayton Miles Lehmann and Nelson Stone, “Greece from the Sea: An Interdisciplinary, Intercollegiate Adventure in Teaching and Learning,” The Classical Journal 105.2 (2009/10), pp. 163-73.  The website includes students’ testimonials with more examples of how they imagined Greece.

[2] Nick Squires, “How Greece’s Finance Minister Became a Viral Web Sensation,” The Telegraph, 5 February 2015.  The last image I mention, Varoufakis as Walter White, appeared on Mr. Varoufakis’s personal website (http://varoufakis.com) in October 2015; the website no longer exists, but the image appears widely on the Internet, as a search of “Varoufakis Breaking Bad” shows.

REFERENCES

Biddle, Journals = R. A. McNeal, ed. 1993. Nicholas Biddle in Greece: The Journals and Letters of 1806. University Park.
MacVeagh, L. 1955. “Introduction,” to Perspective of Greece, The Atlantic 195.6 suppl (June, 1955), p. 100.
Wainwright, N.B. 1975. “Nicholas Biddle in Portraiture,” Antiques, November issue, pp. 956-64.


Greece 1935-1938: Involuntary Testimonies

For the really significant history is that grass roots history which reveals the everyday life of people, in their homes, and at their retreats, in their work and in their play, in turbulence and in repose.
Theodore C. Blegen, 1948

“I suppose you have heard about the Revolution which is taking place here. It began last Friday night -March 1st. During dinner we heard various rumblings and shots out in the city, but didn’t think much about it, believing them just the ordinary noises of the city. But afterwards they became so pronounced that we knew something was happening. So Betty [Dow] and I went down-town, in the direction from which the shots came. We met many troops marching through the streets, and finally came to the region where the firing came from – near the Akropolis. A revolution is such a strange thing here – everyone takes it as a matter of course, and a little as a joke – and the firing isn’t widespread at all. We were able to approach so near –without any danger – that we witnessed a tank storming a barracks for soldiers, and saw the firing on both sides… after the attacks on the barracks which we saw (we were in a crowd of about 25 – the sole witnesses), we saw other tanks, at close range and finally came upon battalions of soldiers drawn up with guns and bayonets in the streets and ready for action… ” wrote Richard (Dick) H. Howland, age 25, to his family back in America.

Most of Howland’s letters carry the “Stadium” stamp, which was issued in 1932 as a supplementary stamp of the 1927 “Landscapes” set. The “Stadium” was withdrawn from sale in 1939. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Richard Howland Papers.

The attempted coup d’état of March 1, 1935, a failed Venizelist revolt against the government of Panagis Tsaldaris, would hasten the collapse of Greece’s short-lasting parliamentary democracy (1924-1935) and the return of the king in November that same year. Fifteen months later, on August 4th, 1936, Howland, Gladys Davidson, and a few others from the School would look desperately for a taxi to take them to Piraeus to catch the boat to Istanbul. Howland reported to his family that they managed to arrive in the harbor “despite the fact there was a taxi strike in town and a general strike of all workers because the premier of Greece had just made himself dictator. Soldiers in the streets everywhere, but no goings-on. No newspapers published at all that day. I have learned since, of course, that it all went off quietly and things settled down, but as we left, it looked as though we were going to miss a big revolution.”

Having come to Greece in the fall of 1933 to attend the year-long program of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter), Howland and his peers at the School became “witnesses in spite of themselves” to critical events in the political history of the nation (Ricoeur 2006). Their “involuntary testimonies” (and the “target of a historian’s indiscretion”) may or may not add new information to what was already described in the press at the time but they suggest real potential for any systematic study of mundane history which lies unacknowledged or hidden in archival reserves. This is a type of social history, one that starts from the bottom rank of social agency, even if, in our case, the agents were privileged foreigners living protected lives within the walls of the “white tower” of academia.  This is also “applied history” in the sense that it engages and connects its readers with “large history,” and allows, as in novels, “one’s own mind to be temporarily inhabited by that of another person” (Phillips 2017).

The King Does Not Eat Better Food Than We Do

“I haven’t met the King yet, but then, none of the American School, even the Director has. We trade at the same grocery, however, and the King has no better food to eat than we do. Very often, when we stop by in the evening for a box of crackers, some cheese, or wine, we see the King’s kitchen buying a can of peaches or something similar for the royal dessert” Howland wrote on Feb. 9, 1936. A week later, at the School’s Open Meeting, “his highness, the Crown Prince Paul sat down in front, and left as soon as it was over, not stopping to talk to anyone except to say a word to Dr. Shear and Dr. Capps, the Director” he reported to his family with some disappointment, not perhaps realizing that there was probably a better explanation for the Crown Prince’s lack of interest in socializing with the leadership of the American School. It must have been known to the royal family that both T. Leslie Shear and Edward Capps had been ardent supporters of former Prime Minister Eleutherios Venizelos. In fact, immediately after Venizelos’s death on March 18, 1936, Stuart Thompson, the architect of the Gennadius Library, was asked, most likely by Capps, to draw up plans for an extension to the building which would be named after Venizelos (“Μουσείον του Ελευθερίου Βενιζέλου”). (The plans, long-forgotten, were discovered in a closet of the Gennadius Library during construction work in 1999; see Kalligas 2004).

Plan for the “Venizelos Library and Museum” next to the Gennadius Library, July 20, 1936. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Architectural Plans.

Howland’s wish to meet or, at least see, King George II up close was granted a year later, at the Open Meeting of the French Archaeological School. Howland noted (February 19, 1937) that “the king, who sat in a chair about 15 feet away from mine, looked tired and thin and yellowish, as if he was getting jaundice. He left the minute it was over, of course, as a King can’t stick around to chat with people… ”.  A month later he would find King George attending the Archaeological Society’s meeting “where the lecture was delivered at break-neck speed – in order not to tire the King…” (March 21, 1937). Deserted by his wife, Queen Elizabeth (the former Princess Elisabeta of Roumania), who divorced him in July 1935, and childless, the King cultivated a reserve that was noticeable to everybody.

From a late visit of King George II to the ASCSA in 1940. Front row (left to right): Theodore Leslie Shear, ?, King George II, Annette Stevens, Lincoln MacVeagh, Gorham P. Stevens. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Administrative Records.

Howland’s descriptions of the royal family’s aloofness provide a sharp contrast to the narratives of other members of the School from the earlier 20th century. The letters of Nellie Marie Reed (1895-1896), Ida Thallon (1899-1901), Theodore Heermance (1903-1905), and those of long-time Athenian residents Carl Blegen and Bert Hodge Hill describe the court as lively and hospitable during the reign of King George I and Queen Olga, and later during the short reign of King Alexander (1917-1920). But back then, the royal family had not yet experienced long periods of ­­­exile and the extent of Venizelos’s power over the Greek people.

Looking Like an English Lord

Richard Hubbard Howland (1910-2006) was born and raised in Providence, Rhode Island. He studied at Brown (B.A., 1931), Harvard (M.A., 1933), and Johns Hopkins (Ph.D., 1946) universities. Following the end of WW II, he made a career in historic preservation in the U.S., the U.K., and Ireland. He served as the first president of the (U.S.) National Trust for Historic Preservation (1956-1960) and served for many years in various positions at the Smithsonian Institution.

From 1933 until 1938 Howland lived in Athens, first as a student and later as a fellow of the ASCSA, excavating both at Corinth and the Athenian Agora. Having lost his mother in 1932, he addressed most of his letters to an extended family (“Dear Folks”), the Hubbards and the Howlands, who lived in a “two-family,” eight bedroom house (according to the State of Rhode Island Historic Property Search) on 89 and 91 Whitmarsh Street, Providence.  There he took great care of his appearance — always impeccably dressed— and surroundings. Tall, blond, and handsome, he was often mistaken for a noble Englishman during his time in Greece. In a few cases he was even mistaken for the Crown Prince and “treated to much embarrassed formality, which fled when they found out I wasn’t,” he wrote after a week of vacation at Corfu in July 1938.

Richard Howland outside Loring Hall, ca. 1934. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Richard Howland Papers.

During his second year in Greece he met Carol Bullard, whom he initially described as “a Chicago debutante with lots of money and no ideas at all of archaeology. Her aunt [Ada Small Moore] gave the new Corinth Museum, and thought her niece might enjoy a year in Greece…” Soon after, however, he would take Carol to late dinners and dancing at the Cosmopolite Roof, the Fix Brewery “where there is an excellent restaurant run by a Hungarian, in connection with the brewery,” and the Glyphada Casino (July 27, 1936).

Carol Bullard and Richard Howland clad in Skyrian costumes, Skyros ca. 1935. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Richard Howland Papers.

By the 1930s Glyphada, a newly developed suburb on the south side of the city, had become the preferred recreational destination (including night swims) for Americans and other foreigners living in Athens. In July 1937, Henry Beck, the U.S. Vice Consul, hosted a big party “at his villa in Glyphada – a buffet cocktail and supper on the terrace, with musicians in a balcony above. Afterwards dancing and at midnight, when the moon came up, everybody got into a small boat and were paddled, with the musicians, to the Glyphada casino, for more dancing. It was quite a brawl” (July 17, 1935 to Gladys Davidson, with whom he shared a close friendship). After two years of courtship, he and Carol were married in 1937 setting up their first household on the second floor of a house behind the School on Dinokratous Street. The uncertainty of the times, however, forced them to return to America in 1938. After their divorce in 1942, Howland did not remarry but continued to lead a vigorous social life that contributed to successful fundraising for the institutions he served. As chairman of the School’s Managing Committee (1965-1975) he persuaded Claire Woolie Mayer to donate her house in New York to the American School in 1974. The so-called Mayer House housed served for years as the School’s base of operations in America until it was sold for $5,850,000 in 1998, thus enriching the ASCSA’s endowment.

But for Classical archaeologists (and I have to admit it took me some years to realize this) his most lasting contribution to the field was Greek Lamps and Their Survivals (Princeton 1958) —a.k.a. Agora IV. Sixty years after its publication it remains one of the most important reference volumes in Greek archaeology. Very few, however, are aware of the man behind H[owland]T[ype] 24, or HT 25 Prime.

An Innocent Abroad

I was, however, fortunate to meet Howland in 1996 on his last journey to Greece — an elderly, distinguished man who walked into the Archives and introduced himself as Dick Howland. He had brought with him his collection of photos from his various times in Greece. He had already entrusted his personal correspondence to his old friend and Trustee of the School Doreen Canaday Spitzer. (His photographic collection, as well as that of Gladys Davidson Weinberg, was digitized as part of a recent ESPA project.) Although there are a number of photographic collections from the 1930s in the School’s Archives, Howland’s letters to his family are perhaps the only written record preserving information about the daily activities of the small “colony” of American expatriates living in Athens during that decade. Dorothy Burr Thompson’s diaries at Bryn Mawr College also exist, but after 1933 these accounts are limited to descriptions of summer visits. There also are the M. Alison Frantz’s papers in the Firestone Library at Princeton, which I have not yet had the pleasure of reading.

A few years ago Kostis Kourelis published a rich and multi-layered essay exploring the avant-guard leanings and bohemian background of several of the School’s members, including directors Rhys Carpenter, Richard Stillwell, and Charles Morgan, artists Piet de Jong and Georg von Peschke, and their occasional interactions with members of the Greek “Thirties Generation” through the extended social circles of Eva Palmer Sikelianos and Joan Bush Vanderpool (Kourelis 2007).  Howland did not belong to this group, either because he was too young, just “an innocent abroad,” or perhaps because the “others” (i.e., the Carpenters and the Stillwells) were an exception to the rule. His letters rarely mention social interactions outside the orbit of the American colony in Athens. Although he and others from the School were invited to parties at Olga Cheimonas’s new apartment on Speusippou street — Mme Cheimona being the Russian widow of Greek-Russian painter Nikos Cheimonas (1866-1929) — where they might have met Greek artists, these encounters seemed not to have generated new ones (July 17, 1935 to GD). (I must mention here that the School owns two paintings by Nikos Cheimonas, which are currently on display in the dining room of the Director’s residence.) On another occasion, he, Gladys, and Ted Erck (Assistant Librarian at the Gennadius Library) “were invited to the Vanderpools for dinner. The Sikelianos were there…; we had a good dinner down in their garden” (July 27, 1936), but again he did not seem to have been able to reach out further  into contemporary Greek intellectual circles.

The program from Dimitri Mitropoulos’s Concert at Old Corinth, 1936. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Oscar Broneer Papers.

On Sunday morning, September 27, 1936, Howland and others from the School visited Corinth “as the Athens Symphony Orchestra with Mitropoulos directing, gave a concert in the ancient theater, at old Corinth” attended by 3,000 people. “The concert was very good, Beethoven’s 1st and 7th Symphonies and was well appreciated, despite the rain which immediately preceded it.” (The program from that event has survived in the papers of Oscar Broneer, who also must have been in attendance.)

A few months later, during the week of April 17, 1937, Howland represented Brown University at the festivities for the 100th Anniversary of the University of Athens. There is a great photo in the Howland papers commemorating the event, which was attended by many members of the School who had been appointed delegates of American Universities.

Ida Thallon Hill, Charles Morgan, Oscar Broneer, Elizabeth Pierce Blegen, Hazel Hansen, Arthur Parson, U.S. Minister Lincoln MacVeagh, and Richard Howland at the 100th Anniversary of the University of Athens, 1937. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Richard Howland Papers.

But most often, when Carol Bullard was not in Athens, Howland would dine with Rodney Young, Gladys Davidson, Alison Frantz, and Mary Zelia (Philippides). Other guests on these evenings might have included junior members of the U.S. Legation such as vice-consul Burton Berry (1901-1985), Henry Beck (died in 1939), and Harold Schantz, all bachelors with a laissez-faire attitude to life and a preference for Balkan or Eastern Mediterranean posts. Ambassador Charles W. Yost, in his memoirs, described Beck, upon his arrival in Alexandria in 1931, as a “natty little man in a Panama hat and tropical suit” who introduced him to the talents of an Egyptian belly dancer. Burton Berry who spent many years between Istanbul and Athens before he was appointed Ambassador to Iraq (1952-1954), is mostly known today for his valuable textile collection (Art Institute of Chicago) and his coin collection (American Numismatic Society).

As a couple, Howland and Carol socialized with the Joneses, the Kohlers, and the Rankins. G. Lewis Jones (1907-1971), Assistant Commercial Attaché at the U.S. Legation in Athens (1935-1939) would later become Ambassador to Tunisia (1956-1959) and Assistant Secretary of State; Foy D. Kohler (1908-1990), the Legation’s Secretary from 1936-1941, who would conclude his diplomatic career as Ambassador to the Soviet Union (1962-1966); and Karl Rankin (1898-1981), the Commercial Attaché (1932-1939), would later be appointed U.S. Ambassador to China (1950-1953) and Yugoslavia (1953-1957). To a mover and shaker like Howland these early brushes with the diplomatic corps must have come in handy later in his career, as the head of U.S. cultural foundations. (With this new information in mind, his chairmanship of the ASCSA Managing Committee deserves to be studied anew.)

The Magic of Old Corinth

If life in Athens required compliance with a certain decorum, the rural environment and simplicity of life at Old Corinth not only freed the School’s students from the city’s dos and don’ts, but also encouraged contact with the locals during excavation or time at the dig house. Apart from the local hospitality, this was for many their only opportunity to practice Greek, or even learn αρβανίτικα. “It is spoken in Corinth very much, as most of the natives for miles around are of Albanian descent. It causes them great amusement to hear me speak it… I have had one ‘lesson’ from Argyrie, my pot mender. The maid, Helene, nearly dropped the soup when I talked to her in Albanian, and returned to the kitchen where she told the cook and the other maid about it with great astonishment. She’s my friend for life,” he wrote to his family with pride (Oct. 28, 1934).

Richard Howland and the Lekkas family after the baptism,  Old Corinth 1935. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Richard Howland Papers

And indeed, young Richard did not hesitate to form a life-long relationship with one of the local families, when Evangelos Lekkas, the foreman of the dig, “asked me to baptize and be godfather to his daughter aged 10 months… In Greece it is quite a thing to be a Godfather… So according to customs and much advice from Greek friends in Athens, I went down to Corinth armed with a complete Baptismal outfit… all nicely embroidered, seven candles to use during the ceremony, a cake of soap, oil and incense, [and] some forty tin crosses to give to each guest as a souvenir, and last but not least a cash present to start a bank account for the baby. Any money I may have spent was certainly worth it, for I never had such a time in my life” (Jan. 21, 1935). Proof that he was not an “accidental” godfather, sixteen years later, in 1960, Howland would become again νονός, this time to Lekkas’s grandchild; and every time he came to Greece, even during his last visit in 1996, he would travel to Corinth to spend time with his Greek family.

Richard Howland baptizing Lekkas’s grandchild, 1960. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Richard Howland Papers.

 


References
I have borrowed the terms “involuntary witness” and “witnesses in spite of themselves” from Paul Ricoeur’s Memory, History, Forgetting, trans. K. Blamey and D. Pellauer, Chicago 2006.
Blegen, T. C. “The Saga of Saga Hill,” Minnesota History 29 (1948), pp. 289-299.
Kalligas, H. “1936: Μουσείον του Ελευθερίου Βενιζέλου,” The New Griffon 7 (2004), pp. 33-35.
Kourelis, K. “Byzantium and the Avant-Garde: Excavations at Corinth, 1920s-1930s,” Hesperia 76 (2007), pp. 391-442.
Phillips, S. “Should you Feel Sad about the Demise of the Handwritten Letter?” Aeon Magazine April 12, 2017 (https://aeon.co/ideas/should-you-feel-sad-about-the-demise-of-the-handwritten-letter, accessed April 30, 2017).

 


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

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

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

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Expat Feasts in Athens on the Eve of the Balkan Wars

One of Zillah Pierce Dinsmoor's letters to her mother, October 1910

One of Zillah Pierce Dinsmoor’s letters to her mother, October 1910.

“Maybe I asked you before, but will you save all my letters, dear, for I may want to use some of the material in them” Zillah Pierce Dinsmoor (1886-1960) reminded her mother a month after her arrival in Greece (Oct. 20, 1910). And because Emma Pierce respected her daughter’s wish, a valuable collection of private correspondence describing the daily life of a young American bride in Athens in the early 20th century has been preserved in the Archives of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA).

This is the second time From the Archivist’s Notebook features an essay about Zillah Dinsmoor.  In February 2014, guest author Jacquelyn Clemens published an account of Zillah’s Greek experience, mining information from her letters. “Students and scholars who study at the American School… have often been accompanied by their spouses, significant others, and children who live with them here in Athens. In the early 20th century, Zillah Pierce Dinsmoor was one of these women who traveled to Athens along with her husband, architect William Bell Dinsmoor” wrote Clemens in her introductory paragraph. (Read J. Clemens,”Letters from a New Home. Early 20th Century Athens Through the Eyes of Zillah Dinsmoor“)  Barely 24 years old (and away from home for the first time), this fashionable young woman from Massachussets wrote long letters once a week to her mother about her new life in Athens. Read the rest of this entry »


The Man from Damascus, the Good Wife, and Baby Solon: R.I.P. at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens

ASCSA Library, 1902

ASCSA Library, 1902

“You enter a reception hall of marble and go up a flight of marble steps which give the effect of entering a museum, as there are marble busts and old sculptures round that have been dug up…” Major A. Winsor Weld wrote to his wife on October 26th, 1918, upon entering the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or School hereafter). He and six other officers of the American Red Cross including Lieutenant Colonel Edward Capps would live in the School’s premises until July of 1919. (At the time one entered the Library through the Director’s residence.) Although the ASCSA was already building a small collection of antiquities –mostly pottery sherds and other small objects picked up on walks and informal surveys– the antiquities Weld described are of a different scale. The busts he refers to must have been plaster casts of originals similar to the one displayed above the fireplace mantle in the Library in a photo from 1902. I believe that the other “old sculptures” on display, the ones that “have been dug up,” were three Roman marble funerary reliefs unearthed in 1894, at the corner of Vasilissis Sophias (then Kephissias) and Merlin (then Academy) street, exactly opposite the Palace (now the Greek Parliament), during the construction of a mansion by Charles Edward Prior Merlin (1850-1898). Named after one of Merlin’s French ancestors, the “Hôtel Merlin de Douai” has housed the French Embassy since 1896.

“Hôtel Merlin de Douai” (French Embassy at Athens)

The “Hôtel Merlin de Douai” (French Embassy at Athens)

“In digging for the foundations of the large house which Mr. C. Merlin, the well-known artist and photographer of Athens, is building at the corner of Academy and Kephissia Streets, the workmen came upon considerable remains of an ancient cemetery. At my suggestion Mr. Merlin made over to the American School the right of publishing these discoveries, and afterwards generously presented to the School three reliefs and one other inscribed stone, together with some smaller fragments. The finds were made in the autumn of 1894. Only a part of them came under my observation at the time; hence the description of the graves and their location rests in part upon the accounts of Mr. Merlin and his workmen” reported Thomas Dwight Goodell a year later (American Journal of Archaeology 10, 1895, pp. 469-479).

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Communism In and Out of Fashion: The American School of Classical Studies at Athens and the Cold War

Posted by Jack L. Davis

Jack L. Davis, Carl W. Blegen Professor of Greek Archaeology at the University of Cincinnati and a former director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (2007-2012), here contributes an essay about attitudes of the ASCSA and its members toward Communists and Communism in the 20th century.


“Feeling they were witnessing the demise of capitalism, many writers moved left, some because their working class origins helped them identify with the dispossessed, others because they saw socialism or Communism as the only serious force for radical change, still others because it was the fashionable thing to do; they went where the action was.”
Morris Dickstein, Dancing in the Dark (2009), pp. 16-17.

DancingDark_smallIn 1974, when I first arrived at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter), we youngsters were told that we should not express our political views in public. The ASCSA’s institutional mission might be hurt, were it perceived not to be neutral. In September 1974 that was certainly a reasonable position for the ASCSA to assume. Yet I was curious. In 1974, I was myself radicalized, and had definitely headed left. I could not condone U.S. policy in respect to the Junta, or the suppression of the Left in Greece. Could I say nothing? Had the ASCSA always maintained a position of strict neutrality? Or were its postures more convenient than sincere? Read the rest of this entry »


Gertrude Smith: A Classic American Philhellene

Posted by Dylan Rogers

Dylan Rogers holds a PhD from the University of Virginia, and he has been Assistant Director at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens since 2015. The essay he contributes to “From the Archivist’s Notebook” was inspired by his summer experience at the School.

“Summers at the ASCSA are a vibrant time for the School, full of students and scholars, with the buzz of activity and chats at Ouzo Hour. Taking on the role of the Assistant Director of the School last year, I was intrigued to learn that each Summer Session Director is given the title, “Gertrude Smith Professor.” At first, I was only vaguely familiar with Smith’s scholarship on Greek law. So, why would the School associate SS Directors with her? This led me on a quest to find out more about Smith—and to find out what her story exactly was. She must have had a passion for Greece, but why? And in what ways did she spread this love to others?”


Gertrude E. Smith in her office at the University of Chicago, ca. 1950.

Gertrude E. Smith in her office at the University of Chicago, ca. 1950. Photo: University of Chicago Library, Special Collections Research Center.

Gertrude Elizabeth Smith (1894-1985) spent most of her adult life in Illinois. Born and raised in Peoria, Smith would later go on to receive her education at the University of Chicago, writing a PhD dissertation on Greek law– after which Smith would begin teaching at the university, eventually becoming the Edwin Olson Professor of Greek in 1933. From 1934 until her retirement in 1961, Smith was the Chairman of the Department of Classics at Chicago, making her a prominent female figure in the field of Classics in America in the 20th century. Smith also served as a founder of Eta Sigma Phi, the national Classics honor society, was the first woman to serve as the president of both the Classical Association of the Middle West and South (CAMWS, 1933-1934) and the American Philological Association (1958), and was a long serving member of the editorial board of the journal, Classical Philology (1925-1965). After her retirement from Chicago, Smith would go on to teach briefly at the University of Illinois, Loyola University in Chicago, and Vanderbilt University (Gagarin 1996-1997). Read the rest of this entry »