The Agora Benches

BY JUDITH LEVINE

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.

Postscript

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.


Note
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.

References
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.


“So very far away, but maybe it’s only yesterday”: Greece in Crisis, 1964, 2014.

The Admiral's House, 1964

The Admiral’s House, 1964 (ASCSA Archives, Administrative Records)

“The decision made at the last Board of Trustees meeting… was to appoint a committee… to make an immediate study and prompt report on the Admiral’s House which as you know the School for some time has had the opportunity to buy. Will you, as Chairman of the Committee of the Admiral’s House, be good enough to write immediately to Henry Robinson, asking him to request [of] Mr. Kyriakides that he make a careful report as to the desirability of the house, the possibility of obtaining it and an appraisal not only of the price which the School should be willing to pay for it, but also his estimate of the price the owners would accept, the best terms available, the cost of maintenance, the cost of repairs or changes the School would need to make, the use to be made of it by the School, the income which the School would expect to receive from it, and the estimated cost of taxes or any other expenses which would be involved by the School in the advent of its purchase” wrote on December 7, 1964, Ward Canaday, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) to Charles Morgan, Trustee of the School and one of its former directors (1936-1938), and chair of the Managing Committee (1950-1960). Read the rest of this entry »


That Unspeakable Stoa

 

Posted by Lizabeth Ward Papageorgiou

Lizabeth Ward Papageorgiou here contributes to the Archivist’s Notebook an essay about Nancy Mitford’s visit to the Athenian Agora during the re-construction of the Stoa of Attalos in 1955. Unhappy with the building, Mitford, one of the famous Mitford sisters, wrote acidic comments about it in the press as well as to the Director of the Agora Excavations, Homer A. Thompson. Lizabeth (Liz), who studied Art History at the Institute of Fine Arts in New York University, found Mitford’s letters when she catalogued Thompson’s vast correspondence for the Archives of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens a few years ago. Her extensive catalogue of Homer Thompson’s papers is available at: http://www.ascsa.edu.gr/index.php/archives/thompson-finding-aid/

 

Over a decade ago, I archived the papers of Homer A. Thompson. Two of his letters are the subject of this article.

It [Athens] is probably the ugliest capital in Europe . . . [with] formless conglomerations of modern buildings overlooked by an immortal monument . . . . The traffic is noisier, wilder, and more evidently intent on homicide than that of Paris, and consists entirely of enormous pastel-colored American motor-cars.

Nancy Mitford, “Wicked Thoughts in Greece”, The Sunday Times, 24 July 1955.

The Mitford sisters

The Mitford sisters

Nancy Mitford (1904–1973), acclaimed author of comedies of English upper class manners (The Pursuit of Love), biographies (Madame de Pompadour), essays and reviews, was the eldest of six intelligent, beautiful and sometimes scandalous daughters of Lord and Lady Redesdale (Ben Macintyre described the sisters as Diana the Fascist, Jessica the Communist, Unity the Hitler-lover; Nancy the Novelist; Deborah the Duchess and Pamela the unobtrusive poultry connoisseur).1  In the summer of 1955, she traveled in Greece. She spent time with Patrick Leigh Fermor, who was living in Nikos Ghikas’s house on Hydra; went to Tatoi, the summer residence of King Paul; and visited friends in Spetses, Crete and the Peloponnese.2

Nancy Mitford, 1932

Nancy Mitford, 1932

When she was in Athens, she stayed at the Grand Bretagne and visited the ancient sites. One day she went to the Ancient Agora, but since the reconstruction of the Stoa of Attalos was not finished—it was covered with scaffolding and only the lower storey and colonnades had been reconstructed—Mitford must have needed permission to visit the site and one of the Agora staff to guide her. Homer A. Thompson, director of the Agora excavations from 1945 to 1967 and deeply involved with all aspects of the reconstruction of the Stoa, often mentioned visitors to the Agora in his letters to his wife, Dorothy Burr Thompson; but he made no mention of a visit by Nancy Mitford. Possibly Judith Perlzweig or C. W. J. Eliot, who bore the brunt of conducting visitors through the excavations and museum, served as her guide.3

Shortly after Mitford returned to her home in Paris, she wrote an article about her trip to Greece for The Sunday Times. Published on 24 July 1955, the title, “Wicked Thoughts in Greece”, gave readers a heads up that this was going to be another of her scathing attacks. Opening with the declaration that Athens is probably the ugliest capital in Europe, full of homicidal drivers and enormous pastel-colored American motor-cars, she continued to deplore the hideous newness of Athens, which from the air is a desert of khaki-coloured cement. But she did find an oasis in Plaka, where she delighted in the classical monuments, churches and old houses, until . . .

 Alas! After ten minutes of happy wandering the dream is shattered and the dreadful wasteland of the Agora appears. Here the American School of Classical Studies seems to have torn down whole streets in order to search for a few pots. Here the Americans are building, in a ghastly graveyard marble, the Stoa, said to be ‘of Attalos’, but really of Mr. Homer A. Thompson. And here a gracious garden will be planted, complete, no doubt, with floral clock.

The Stoa of Attalos under construction, 1955. Photo: ASCSA, Agora Excavations

The Stoa of Attalos under construction, 1955. Photo: ASCSA, Agora Excavations

A few pages later, describing her visit to Knossos, she again attacked the reconstruction of the Stoa of Attalos:

. . . Knossos, a fraudulent reconstruction like the Stoa, English this time, alas, and built in an art nouveau style reminiscent of Paris metro stations. It is evident that Anglo-Saxons should be kept away from Mediterranean sites . . . . Knossos, however, matters less than the Stoa, because it is out in the country and does not spoil anything else. The Stoa in all its vileness hits the eye from the Acropolis and the Temple of Hephaestus. It is as though the French had allowed Frank Lloyd Wright to build his idea of a Petit Trianon at the bottom of the tapis vert at Versailles. Read the rest of this entry »