Touring the Balkans with the Ladies of Ploutarchou 9

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 writes about women travelling alone through the western Balkans in the late 1930s, on the eve of WW II.


The second half of the 19th century saw the advent of mass tourism in the Mediterranean and Balkans. Despite a few blips (e.g., the Dilessi Murders in 1870 that resulted in the death of three Englishmen and an Italian at the hands of brigands; J. Gennadius, Notes on the Recent Murders by Brigands in Greece), travellers could be reasonably certain of their personal safety. Their passage was also facilitated by travel brokers and books of advice for tourists.  Thomas Cook tours began in Greece in 1868. The Baedeker guide for Greece was published in 1889 while and Murray’s Handbook for Travellers in Greece was already in its 7th edition by 1880.

Group and individual tourism became ever more common and secure.  American students in Greece experienced violence only on three occasions. In 1872 John Williams White, first chairman of the Managing Committee of the ASCSA, was the target of an attempted kidnapping. In 1886 University of Michigan student Walter Miller was commissioned a captain in the Greek army, so that he could hunt down his assailants. Only once did lawlessness end in death, in 1925 when John Logan was shot in Aitolia by attackers who fired on members of the American and British schools, in an apparent case of misidentification (http://www.ascsa.edu.gr/pdf/uploads/ASCSA-1882-1942.pdf, p. 179).

Since the late 19th century trips for the students of the ASCSA had been institutionalized, with a Peloponnese and an island trip led by Wilhelm Dörpfeld.  The Peloponnese trip was considered too rough for women, although the first woman member of the School (1885-86), Annie Smith Peck, travelled extensively there with friends. Several of the School’s female students would also hire Angelis Kosmopoulos (foreman for many excavations, including Olympia and Corinth) and his son George (later the husband of Alice Leslie Walker), as guides for their travels throughout Greece.

The more northern reaches of the Balkans began to attract tourists, including women travellers, a bit later than Greece, and there was an explosion of women travel writers there and elsewhere in the late Victorian period (http://www.womeninworldhistory.com/essay-07-07.html).

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The End of the Quartet: The Day the Music Stopped at Ploutarchou 9

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 the last days of Carl W. Blegen, Elizabeth Pierce Blegen, Bert Hodge Hill, and Ida Thallon Hill, the archaeological “Quartet” of Ploutarchou 9.

The Blegen/Hill house on Ploutarchou 9 in the 1950s

The Blegen house at Ploutarchou 9 in the early 1960s. Saved from the demolitions of the 1970s, today the “Blegen house” is the seat of the J.F. Costopoulos Foundation.

This short essay was composed to satisfy my own curiosity. Having recently edited Carl W. Blegen: Personal and Archaeological Narratives (Atlanta 2015) with Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan and Vivian Florou, it occurred to me that virtually the only aspect of Blegen’s life that had received no attention was its end. Nor had we, or indeed any of the authors who contributed to that volume, written of the later lives of the four amazing individuals who formed “The Quartet” that resided at 9 Ploutarchou St. in Athens: Blegen, Elizabeth Blegen, Ida Thallon Hill, and Bert Hodge Hill.

The start of that Quartet was tumultuous, as Bob Pounder has described it, but once ground rules were established in 1927, the Hills and the Blegens lived in perfect harmony, an arrangement that persisted for four decades until Blegen died in 1971 (Pounder 2015). Their relationships, although of an uncommon character, were no less significant for being unusual. The four loved each other and were totally devoted to their common cause. At the same time they left sufficient space in their marriages for each to address his or her individual needs. Read the rest of this entry »


Grèce en vogue: A New Wave of American Philhellenism in the 1920s

Raymond, Penelope, and Menalkas Duncan, 1912. From the George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress.

Raymond, Penelope, and Menalkas Duncan, 1912. Source: George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress.

In early October of 1924, Elizabeth Pierce Blegen, together with Ida Thallon Hill, was planning one of their first (perhaps the first) official dinners in the Director’s House at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (hereafter, the School or ASCSA). They were both new brides. In July Elizabeth (Libbie) had married Carl Blegen at Lake Placid, New York. Blegen was then assistant director of the School. Within a month, Ida, her lover and former professor at Vassar College, married Bert Hodge Hill in England. Hill had been the director of the School since 1906. Robert L. Pounder has recently written about the complicated nature of the Blegens’ and Hills’ relationship (or partnership as they themselves described it) [“The Blegens and the Hills: A Family Affair” in Carl W. Blegen: Personal and Archaeological Narratives, edited by N. Vogeikoff-Brogan, J. L. Davis, and V. Florou, Atlanta 2015, pp. 83-96]. Libbie kept a social diary recording the activities of the two couples during the academic year 1924-1925. 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 »