A Mycenaean “Matter of Fact”: Part I, Joe Alsop Reports on the Greek Bronze Age

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 to The Archivist’s Notebook an essay about political columnist Joseph Alsop and his passion for the prehistoric archaeology of Greece.

Several months ago Louis Menand’s New Yorker review (Nov. 10, 2014) of Gregg Herken’s The Georgetown Set: Friends and Rivals in Cold War Washington kindled my interest in Joseph W. Alsop (1910-1989), influential journalist, syndicated newspaper columnist, and trustee (1965-1985) of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. A bit of archival sleuthing at the University of Cincinnati (see below) led to the discovery that on Saturday, December 14, 1963, Alsop had summoned an A-list of Classical archaeologists and art historians to dine with him and his wife, Susan Mary, in their Georgetown, Washington, D.C., home — a strange flock for this longtime Washington insider to host.

On the cover, Joseph and Stewart Alsop (photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson)

On the cover, Joseph and Stewart Alsop (photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson)

Guests included Jack and Betty Caskey, professors at the University of Cincinnati, Emmett Bennett, professor at the University of Wisconsin, Emily Vermeule, then professor at Boston University, Cornelius Vermeule, curator of Classical art at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and Sterling Dow, professor at Harvard. Read the rest of this entry »


Unbalanced Academics, Scribblers, and an “Odd Christmas”

Jack L. Davis, Professor of Greek Archaeology at the University of Cincinnati and former director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (2007-2012), here contributes to The Archivist’s Notebook an essay about the non-archaeological pastimes of some of the School’s most distinguished past members, including Carl Blegen, Emily Vermeule, Rhys Carpenter, Oscar Broneer, and Dorothy Burr Thompson.

Not so long ago I stumbled across an internet site called “The Academic Ladder,” a career counseling service. Its newsletter headlined a story of interest: “Get A Life!  A Chart For Living A Balanced Life (Even If You’re An Academic),” by Gina Hiatt, clinical psychologist.

“Why do academics lead unbalanced lives?”

You can never do enough. The academic life is a writer’s life, only worse. This is because the academic constantly feels that he or she has not done enough. … There is always someone better than you.  Academics constantly compare themselves to each other. … And face it: no matter how good you are at some aspect of a profession or field, there is someone else who does another part of the profession better.

In the long run, this is no way to live a life. You will end up with health problems and not enjoy your career, if you don’t balance your life better.  There is more to life than academia!

Theodor W. Adorno (1903-1969)

German philosopher Theodor W. Adorno (1903-1969)

While recognizing that academics may not feel they “deserve” leisure time as a “reward,” Gina suggests ways to live more balanced lives by finding things to do, other than work, that are relaxing, fun, and important. Most of us at least are somewhat familiar with the concept (I am constantly being told by loved ones that I should relax more and have more fun), but the notion that leisure time should be filled with important activities is another matter entirely, and brings to mind Theodor Adorno’s 1963 essay “Free Time.” There he succinctly wrote:

Time and again in interviews and questionnaires one is asked what one has for a hobby. … I am startled by the question whenever I meet with it. I have no hobby. Not that I’m a workaholic who wouldn’t know how to do anything else but get down to business and do what has to be done. But rather I take the activities with which I occupy myself beyond the bounds of my official profession, without exception, so seriously that I would be shocked by the idea that they had anything to do with hobbies -that is, activities I’m mindlessly infatuated with only in order to kill time- if my experiences had not toughened me against manifestations of barbarism that have become self-evident and acceptable. Making music, listening to music, reading with concentration constitute an integral element of my existence; the word hobby would make a mockery of them. Read the rest of this entry »


“I Once was Lost but Now I’m Found”: The Search for Missing Archives, Marion Rawson, and the Excavations of the Palace of Nestor at Pylos

Jack L. Davis, Professor of Greek Archaeology at the University of Cincinnati and former director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (2007-2012), here contributes to the Archivist’s Notebook an essay about his favorite topic, Carl Blegen and the Pylos excavations. He also describes the recent discovery of Marion Rawson’s personal diaries.

The spirit of Carl Blegen surrounds us. In 1972 I came to the University of Cincinnati to study Aegean Prehistory, the field that Blegen helped to create. (Curiously, Blegen himself objected to the term “prehistory” on the grounds that early humans had a history, preferring to call it “Preclassical archaeology”). I am the Carl W. Blegen Professor of Greek Archaeology at the University of Cincinnati. Our department is in Blegen Library. We use the Blegen Library of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. But I never met Carl Blegen — and, in fact, until last May, when we discovered an old audio tape in a file cabinet at UC, I had never heard his voice. Blegen Library_UC

CWB, as he signed himself, died in 1971. In his final months he was nursed in Athens by his sister Martha, then buried in the First Cemetery beside his beloved wife, Libbie, Bert Hodge Hill, and Ida Thallon Hill. Of the quartet that lived at Plutarchou 9, he was last to depart.

The story of CWB and his world maps Greek prehistory over six decades, from its fumbling beginnings until its emergence as a modern scientific discipline. In May 2013 in Athens, my friends Vivian Florou and Natalia Vogeikoff organized a conference about the Blegens with me: “Carl and Elizabeth Blegen Remembered. Ploutarchou 9 Celebrated.” See http://www.ascsa.edu.gr/index.php/news/newsDetails/ascsa-co-organizes-colloquium-on-carl-and-elizabeth-blegen.

Carl Blegen in 1929

Carl Blegen in 1929

Chasing the spirit of CWB has been rewarding for us, particularly in that we have had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of several of his associates. One initial goal in so doing was to locate excavation records missing from the main Palace of Nestor archive. (It was transferred, after CWB’s death, from Ploutarchou 9 to ASCSA). Thus several years ago we contacted Bill Donovan, one of the authors of the third volume of The Palace of Nestor at Pylos, and Professor of Classics, emeritus, at MacAllister College. Bill still had in his hands his notebooks that recorded excavations of chamber tombs in the Tsakalis cemetery.

More recently, as planning for the May 2013 event progressed, we approached others, not to collect errant excavation records this time, but to cull reminiscences. George Papathanassopolos shared his at the workshop. See http://vimeo.com/68540982. Others wrote us: John Pedley, David French, and Kaddee Vitelli. John Camp gave us a transcription of his own diary from Pylos. Preparation also demanded a close reading of CWB’s personal daily diaries. These reside in the Archives of ASCSA. In composing my own project for the workshop, the “backstory” of the Pylos excavations, I, however, discovered a large archival gap. Where were Marion Rawson’s travel diaries? Rawson was, after all, Blegen’s principal collaborator. The diaries were not at Bryn Mawr College, her alma mater, nor at UC where she studied architecture, nor in Nantucket where she left only her summer diaries to the local historical society. Read the rest of this entry »


Two Academics “Ruin” the Spirit of Valentine’s Day: A Response to “My heart is beating.”

 Emily Egan and Jack Davis, two “over-intellectuals” from the University of Cincinnati, could not resist the temptation to explore the Bronze Age antecedents of the Valentine card sent by Carl Blegen to Elizabeth Pierce in 1923. Check out their remarks below.

It is always dangerous to over-intellectualise love, particularly when expressed by a man to a woman on Love’s own holiday, but it is difficult, nonetheless, for scholars to avoid casting an academic eye on the caricature produced by Piet de Jong for Carl Blegen’s 1923 Valentine to his future wife, Elizabeth Pierce (see “My heart is beating: February 13, 1923”), as posted recently to this blog by Natalia Vogeikoff.  For the drawing that de Jong produced must be a caricature of Blegen himself, one immediately recognizable from the distinctive blond hair. That makes this modest little drawing one of the very first in a series that de Jong famously executed in Greece during the 1920s and 1930s, and that were later collected and published by Rachel Hood in 1998. Read the rest of this entry »


“My heart is beating…”: February 13, 1923

This little Valentine was included in a letter mailed from Athens to Rome in early February 1923.   Carl Blegen, Secretary of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, asked his friend and artist Piet de Jong to draw the Valentine for his beloved Elizabeth Pierce. The Bronze Age figure on the card alluded to his recent work with Alan Wace which argued that the Mycenaean culture of mainland Greece had nothing to do with Minoan colonization, as Sir Arthur Evans had believed, and should instead be called “Helladic.” The image certainly hits the mark. Read the rest of this entry »


“An Odd Christmas” or the “Christmasless Year of 1923” in Greece

The story that follows was written by the American archaeologist Carl W. Blegen (1887-1971) at an unknown time, most likely to be read at the Literary Club of Cincinnati. It was recently re-discovered by Professor Jack L. Davis of the University of Cincinnati among the papers of Blegen’s close friend and co-digger at Pylos, Marion Rawson.  In his own phlegmatic style, Blegen narrates a major change that took place in Greece exactly ninety years ago: the country’s switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. I thank Jack for sharing Blegen’s manuscript with me.

1923 was a difficult year in the political history of Greece.  In the aftermath of the Asia Minor Disaster in the late summer of 1922, Greece witnessed the influx of more than a million refugees, the abdication of King Constantine, and the establishment of a revolutionary regime by colonels Nikolaos Plastiras and Stylianos Gonatas in September of 1922.  On November 28, 1922, six politicians including two former prime ministers were executed at Goudi, an act that shocked Europe and America.  Blegen had known some of them personally. In July 1923, the Lausanne Treaty delimited the borders of Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria, and by the end of the year, the revolutionary regime of Plastiras and Gonatas was finally able to restore some semblance of political order and lead the country to elections.

1923 was also a tumultuous year in Blegen’s personal life. In January he was engaged to Elizabeth Denny Pierce, who broke the engagement (and his heart) a few months later. That summer and fall found Blegen somewhat disillusioned as he tried to win Elizabeth back, which he eventually did, albeit under certain conditions that would irrevocably alter the course of his life.


“An Odd Christmas” by Carl W. Blegen

“In spite of a reputation for violence, disorder and general lawlessness, the people of the Balkan countries have always been with relatively few exceptions a quiet, respectable, and until recently, a highly conservative folk. Most of them were content to accept what was handed down to them by their fathers, and on the whole they have held soberly and tenaciously to their own local traditions. Especially in matters concerning their religious faith and in the relations between church and State they have stood firmly against the encroachments of the modern age and have usually resisted the introduction of any change. This attitude has been particularly well illustrated in their retention of the old calendar, which to westerners long constituted a chronic and perennial source of difficulty and confusion. For the Eastern Orthodox Church continued stubbornly to adhere to the Julian system through many centuries after the Catholic Church and west European nations had adopted the Gregorian modification. Read the rest of this entry »


The Not-So-Shallow Waves of Cold War Cultural Diplomacy

The marble carvers, carpenters, and workers who participated in the reconstruction of the Stoa of Attalos, 1955.

The marble carvers, carpenters, and workers who participated in the reconstruction of the Stoa of Attalos, 1955.

“Often one senses the feeling – and I have occasionally heard it put into words- that since Greece has culture and America money, each should contribute its own commodity to the collaborative enterprise.  It is a European outlook, of course; not limited to Greece.”

The excerpt above was written in 1958 from the pen of John (Jack) Caskey, Director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (1949-1959).  It epitomizes the perception that most Europeans had of America even after European culture had entered into its American phase. It is also a passage quoted in a brilliant review of the development of the Greek-American relationships from 1947 to 1961, published with the title “Shallow Waves and Deeper Currents: The U.S. Experience of Greece, 1947-1961. Policies, Historicity, and the Cultural Dimension,” by Evanthis Hatzivassiliou in Diplomatic History, vol. 37 (2013), pp. 1-28. Read the rest of this entry »