The Spirit of St. Louis Lives in Athens, Greece

Have you noticed that in the last ten days the press has been flooded with articles about the Doomsday Clock?  Here are some of the titles: “The Doomsday Clock is the closest to midnight since 1953” (Engadget, Jan. 28, 2017), “Nuclear ‘Doomsday Clock’ ticks closest to midnight in 64 years (Reuters), “Doomsday Clock Moves Closer to Midnight, Signaling Concern Among Scientists (The New York Times, Jan. 26, 2017), and “The Doomsday Clock is now 2.5 minutes to midnight, but what does that really mean? (Science Alert).

Martyl's design of the Doomsday Clock for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

Martyl’s design of the Doomsday Clock for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

The Doomsday Clock was created in 1947 by members of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’s Science and Security Board; several of them were part of the “The Manhattan Project” that led to the creation of the first atomic bomb. (For those of you who want to learn more about “The Manhattan Project,” I recommend a drama series that premiered in 2014; although the series was discontinued after the second season, it featured good acting and it was fun to watch. Also see Jack Davis’s Communism In and Out of Fashion, Sept. 1, 2016.)  “Originally the Clock, which hangs on a wall in The Bulletin’s office at the University of Chicago, represented an analogy for the threat of global nuclear war; however, since 2007 it has also reflected climate change and new developments in the life sciences and technology that could inflict irrevocable harm to humanity… The Clock’s original setting in 1947 was seven minutes to midnight.  It has been set backward and forward 22 times since then, the smallest ever number of minutes to midnight being two in 1953, and the largest seventeen in 1991” (after Wikipedia, accessed 28/1/2017). As of January 2017 (and this explains the flurry of articles in the press), the Clock has been set at two and a half minutes to midnight, a reflection of President Trump’s comments about nuclear weapons: “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.” Trump posted this remark on Twitter on December 22, 2016, and followed it with an even more worrisome comment: “Let it be an arms race,” he said, referring to the Russians.

While reading the history of the Doomsday Clock my eyes happened to fall on the cover of the 1947 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which featured for the first time the Clock (at seven minutes to midnight), and the name of the artist who had designed it: Martyl Langsdorf. Martyl is an unusual name, and I had seen it before. I went to the Archives Room of the American School of Classical Studies (ASCSA or the School hereafter), where we keep the School’s administrative records, and personal papers of its members. There, hanging on one of the walls, was an abstract painting depicting a mountainous landscape, and signed in the bottom left corner: “Martyl.” To my surprise, when I checked our inventory, there was a second work of art, an etching, by “Martyl” in the Archives of the ASCSA. But this one also carried a personal dedication: “To George and Lela with affection and admiration, Martyl.” This meant that Martyl’s other painting had also originally belonged to George and Lela Mylonas. Read the rest of this entry »


Tales of Olynthus: Spoken and Unspoken

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In memory of Barbara McManus (1942-2015)

In early March of 1928, David Moore Robinson (1880-1958), professor of archaeology at Johns Hopkins University, began large-scale excavations in Chalkidiki. His goal was to discover and investigate ancient Olynthus, the city that King Philip of Macedon had completely destroyed in 348 B.C. Since Olynthus had been abandoned after its destruction, Robinson was hoping to find temples, stoas, and other public buildings of the Late Classical period, without “any boring Roman stuff,” as one of the excavation participants observed. Until Robinson excavated Olynthus, the research focus of classical archaeology in Greece had been centered on the discovery of monumental public architecture and inscriptions. (For a biographical sketch of Robinson’s rich life, see https://dictionaryofarthistorians.org/robinsond.htm) Read the rest of this entry »


Living Like Kings: When the Palace of Prince George Was the Annex of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens

Immediately after the destruction of Smyrna in 1922, a sudden influx of hundreds of thousands of Asia Minor refugees created severe housing problems for all those arriving in Athens, including the incoming students of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (hereafter ASCSA or the School). Its female members could not find any accommodations, whether rooms in a boarding house or a hotel. Until then, only the male students were allowed to board in the School’s facilities. Plans for a female dormitory on a plot of land on the other side of Speusippou Street had been in place since 1916, but construction delays sprang up after communication problems between the School’s Managing Committee, headed by the mighty Edward Capps, and the Women’s Hostel Committee, led by M. Carey Thomas, the dynamic president of Bryn Mawr College.

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The palace of Prince George on Academias Street as Annex of the ASCSA, 1926 (American School of Classical Studies at Athens)

To cope with the situation, the School allowed women to live “on campus” for the first time since its establishment in 1881. Elizabeth Pierce (Blegen), Natalie Gifford (Wyatt), and Dorothy Cox were among the female students to stay in the School’s bedrooms in 1922-23 and share bathroom facilities with the male occupants of the building. Not surprisingly, the Managing Committee, unhappy with the solution, expressed its “earnest hope that the emergency arrangements of the year 1922-1923 might not recur….” It was suggested “that an annex might be rented which could be used for the accommodation of the women” (Louis Lord, History of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Cambridge, Mass. 1947, 163). Read the rest of this entry »