“Anything to restrain the reverend father”: Catholic Clergy at the ASCSA, Pt. II

Posted by Dylan Rogers

Dylan Rogers holds a PhD from the University of Virginia, and he has been Assistant Director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens since 2015. This essay, the second of two parts, was inspired by recent research in the ASCSA Archives about the Summer Session program.

In my last post, I began an exploration of members of the Catholic clergy at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or School). My curiosity was piqued by the acerbic comments of Gertrude E. Smith who was not in favor of selecting Fr. Schoder to lead the School’s summer program in 1961. Was the School against admitting Catholic priests and nuns in its programs or was Smith’s dislike of Fr. Schoder personal and exceptional?

Part I examined the figure of Fr. Quinn, an accomplished scholar of Ancient and Modern Greek at the turn of the 20th century. Subsequent to Fr. Quinn ten more priests attended the School’s regular program. In addition, the SS has hosted at least 16 priests and nuns, from 1936 until 1973. The clergy came from a variety of orders, including parish priests, Benedictines (O.S.B.), a De La Salle brother (F.S.C.), a Sister of Mercy (R.S.M.), a Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (B.V.M.), a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur (S.N.D. de Namur), and two Sisters of St. Joseph (C.S.J.). But, by far, most of the priests (nearly 18) came from the Society of Jesus (S.J.), or the Jesuit order. And there were a number of interesting figures in this group, such as Fr. Thomas Bermingham, S.J. (1918-1998), a professor at Georgetown University, who had taught William Peter Blatty, the author of The Exorcist, Latin at Brooklyn Prep in the 1940s. Fr. Bermingham would later advise Blatty on the filming of The Exorcist, and eventually would play Tom, the president of Georgetown, in the film.

Fr. Thomas Bermingham, student at the ASCSA in 1961-62, as President of Georgetown University in The Exorcist.

Many of the priests were students of Classics with strong foundations in ancient languages, and they wished to come to the School to conduct doctoral research or to improve their knowledge of the Classical world for their own teaching in America. Fr. Charles Buckley, S.J., was a student of the School in 1951-1952. In his correspondence with Gertrude Smith about School membership, Fr. Buckley apparently had not mentioned his attainments in Latin, but Smith stated that “it is unbelievable that he has gone through Jesuit training without a large content of Latin. I have no doubt that he is well equipped in that language” (AdmRec, box 1001/3, folder 18, 9 May 1951). John L. Caskey, Director of the ASCSA, replied to Smith: “If a Jesuit should prove not to know Latin we’d better shut our doors and seek other employment!” (AdmRec, box 1001/3, folder 18, 14 May 1951).

Fr. Edward Bodnar. Source: Georgetown University Jesuit Community.

The School’s first Gennadeion Fellow in 1963-1964 was Fr. Edward Bodnar, S.J. (1920-2011), based primarily in the Classics Department at Georgetown University (for more see Keesling 2012). Fr. Bodnar, who devoted his entire life to researching Cyriac of Ancona, must have known of the School through his personal relationship with Homer Thompson, director of the Athenian Agora Excavations. Thompson’s papers in the ASCSA Archives reveal a correspondence that started as early as 1956 and continued to at least 1996. The two certainly met for the first time at Princeton, where Fr. Bodnar was completing his degree and Thompson was a faculty member of the Institute for Advanced Study. Indeed, the two must have forged a strong bond, as Fr. Bodnar would spend, after 1960, a great deal of time at the Institute, especially during summers. Thompson would also support Fr. Bodnar’s tenure and rise to full professorship at Georgetown University in 1970. An excerpt from Thompson’s letter of support for Fr. Bodnar’s tenure speaks volumes:

“Lest anyone infer that Dr. Bodnar’s concentration on Cyriac implies a narrow outlook I should like to emphasize the breadth of his training, knowledge and interest. He is at home in the literature, the history, the art and archaeology of both the Greek and Roman periods. The wide knowledge of the ancient world, coupled with intensive travels, has resulted in a personality of great urbanity. Add to this a genuine liking for people and the result must be an effective teacher” (Homer A. Thompson Papers, Box 4, Folder 7, 16 March 1970).

By emphasizing Fr. Bodnar’s scholarly breadth and not once mentioning anything about his affiliation with the Catholic Church, it would be safe to assume that there was really no discernable bias against Catholics, at least from one of the School’s leading figures. I now turn my attention to Fr. Raymond Schoder, who received the ire of Smith in that fated letter (see my earlier post).

Fr. Raymond Schoder: The Outlier

One of the most colorful priests to have come through the School’s doors was certainly Fr. Raymond Schoder, S.J. (1916-1987). Fr. Schoder, who entered the Jesuit order in 1933, began his training at West Baden College (Indiana), earning a BA in 1938 and a MA in 1940. He proceeded then to St. Louis University to complete a PhD in 1944, with a dissertation entitled, “The Classical Canons of Literary Character Portrayal” (Bolchazy 1994, 570). Fr. Schoder was also one of the co-authors of A Reading Course in Homeric Greek in 1945-1946 (Sutton and Creighton 1989). In 1947, Fr. Schoder was ordained as a priest.

Fr. Raymond Schoder. Source: Sutton 1989.

During the 1949-1950 academic year, Fr. Schoder was a junior fellow at the School. In the Annual Report for that year, it was reported that “Rev. R.V. Schoder has travelled widely with the School and alone, contributing his full share whenever reports were called for. He is an expert photographer and has been collecting a large series of lantern slides in color for use in teaching” (AR 69 (1949-1950) 29). That year, Fr. Schoder would also meet his later nemesis, Gertrude Smith, who was one of the School’s annual professors.

After his year at the School, Fr. Schoder returned to West Baden College, where he taught Greek and Latin from 1951-1959. In a letter to Caskey, upon his return to Indiana, Fr. Schoder confided that life seemed slow-moving after eight busy months in Greece. He also reflected on the importance of his year in Greece:

“Anyhow, I have that Greek background to draw upon, and it will mean a great deal to me and my students. […] I will always remember my year in Greece as a most memorable experience, and one fully enjoyed. […] I am among your enrollment boosters. […] I trust that you have had a good year, with a cooperative group and decent weather. Still, nobody should be allowed to leave Greece without knowing the unique merits of Boeotian mud; however, little danger of missing that” (AdmRec, box 1001/3, folder 18, 28 February 1951).

He also promises to act as an ‘enrollment booster.’ Indeed, just a few months after that letter, a Rev. Francis A. Sullivan, S.J., who was then in Rome, inquired about membership at the ASCSA in May of 1951, which “should be a good season as Fr. Schoder, S.J., assured” him (AdmRec, box 1001/3, bolder 18, February-March 1951). And throughout the years, there are indirect clues that Fr. Schoder promoted membership at the School, especially among his students and other Catholic clerics.

Fr. Schoder, however, was not limited to working in Greece. For seven summers, he directed the Vergilian Society’s Summer Study Tours at the Villa Vergiliana at Cumae for seven summers (1953-1957, 1961, 1965; “Participants in the Summer Study Tours” 1988, pp. 96-98, 101, 103). In addition, he helped to reestablish the summer programming for the Vergilian Society, which had lapsed during and after World War II. He often fought against harsh odds, including “rapacious custodians, surly and dishonest cooks, lethargic officialdom in Naples, collapsing fabric at Cumae, and the trials with the water supply,” believing that the mission of taking students around these ancient sites was of utmost importance (McKay 1987, 4).

Fr. Schoder repeatedly wrote to Caskey asking to have the Cumae program included in the ASCSA program (e.g., AdmRec, box 1001/4, folder 6, 11 April 1953; and box 1001/5, folder 8, 25 January 1957). But the response of the School to Fr. Schoder’s programs at Cumae was generally not favorable. From 1960 on, Fr. Schoder expressed interest in leading a Summer Session (SS) at the ASCSA.  Gertrude Smith’s response was not positive. The next year, while in the process to appoint a new director for the SS, deciding between Alan Boegehold and Charles Alexander Robinson, Smith made it clear to the Chairman of the Managing Committee, Alfred Bellinger, that they had to decide between those two candidates:

“Anything to restrain the reverend father. I had a report from a former student of mine of his conduct of the Cumae school this summer and it was anything but favorable—no encouragement toward fun or hilarity, prominence of Roman Catholicism with stupid remarks about ‘non-Catholics’, many minor acts that lacked consideration. I certainly do not wish to destroy what we have built up”(AdmRec, box 106/1, folder 3, 23 September 1961).

Reports such as this certainly colored Smith’s perception of Fr. Schoder’s ability to lead a SS for the ASCSA, even though the two had known each other for over a decade at that point.

Fr. Schoder would end up at Loyola University Chicago in 1960—until his retirement in 1981. In 1961-1962, Fr. Schoder was an Annual Professor at the ASCSA. For his seminar at the School that year, he taught a course entitled, “Ancient Sources on the History of Greek Sculpture and Painting,” which combined his training in philology (focusing on readings of Pliny, Philostratus, and Callistratus) and his passion for archaeology (AdmRec, Box 109/1, Folder 2).

One of the most significant contributions of Fr. Schoder to the field of Classical Studies was his aerial photography, which he began in the early 1960s, and culminated in his book, Ancient Greece from the Air (1974). With his training in photography, he was able to convince the Greek Air Force to fly him around Greece to take low lying (oftentimes at around 1000 feet) shots (in color) of ancient sites. With the rear door of the DC-3 airplanes open, Fr. Schoder would be strapped in, juggling a camera with four different lenses to capture the sites (Schoder 1974, 11-13; Dow 1989, 19-20). In 1962, Fr. Schoder made his first flight with the Air Force, which was connected to his time as an Annual Professor at the ASCSA (AdmRec, box 109/1, folder 2, Statement of Study Project of Schoder, S.J., for 1962). Most of the photographs that Fr. Schoder took for the book were actually completed in 1967 and 1968, in a series of 13 flights that lasted 5-7 hours each. It is reported that Fr. Schoder would often get airsick, which makes the success of these flights particularly relevant (private comm. with Jack Davis, 6 April 2017). Through Ancient Greece from the Air scholars and students were able to see shots of sites throughout Greece, which were rarely seen—particularly in color (Dow 1989, 19). Fr. Schoder made a point in various correspondences on the project that the photographs were also for the benefit of the wider archaeological community, especially his Greek counterparts, such as those in the Archaeological Service (AdmRec, box 109/1, folder 2, 10 November 1972; Dow 1989, 19).

Fr. Schoder photographing from an airplane. Source: Sutton 1989.

There is one final story to tell of Fr. Schoder: “Our Miserable, Inhumane Treatment in Greece” (AdmRec, box 109/1, folder 2, 8 September 1984). In June and July of 1984, Fr. Schoder led a tour group from Chicago around Greece on a yacht. Despite having noticed some problems with the condition of the boat initially in Athens, the group journeyed to Crete. While docked in the port of Herakleion, with most of the group out site seeing, the yacht caught fire and sunk in the harbor. Two of the American passengers were noticed to have been on board before the incident; they were immediately taken into custody and charged with arson. For nearly a month, the couple was detained in a Cretan jail, while Fr. Schoder fought on their behalf to get them out of jail and to have the charges dropped. The authorities of the time (remember, this was a period of great anti-Americanism in Greece) did not seem to listen to the evidence of expert testimony that Fr. Schoder was able to obtain on the couple’s behalf, prompting Fr. Schoder to send a scathing letter to the Greek Ambassador to the US, the US State Department, the Greek National Tourist Organization, and the Greek Consul General of Chicago, upon the release of the American couple. Fr. Schoder painfully asked: “Not only my testimony, but these experts’ reports were ignored—because they were favorable to the accused foreigners, perhaps?? This is Greek justice, in which visitors to the country of Aristotle and Solon are supposed to place their trust and security?” (AdmRec, box 109/1, folder 2, 8 September 1984). Ever the showman, Fr. Schoder invoked his occupation as a priest with the couple: “Finally, they both solemnly swore to me, a priest, in the name of God, with their hands on a Bible, that they did not cause the fire, or scheme to do so” (AdmRec box 109/1, folder 2, 8 September 1984).

One of Fr. Schoder’s aerial photos (the theater of Epidauros) on the fireplace mantel of an administrative office at the ASCSA.

Fr. Schoder was a consummate self-promoter. Countless numbers of people have commented on his ability to talk about his own accomplishments. In his Eulogy of Fr. Schoder, Fr. Robert Wild, S.J., said, responding to the fact that Schoder had authored eight books, 94 articles, 65 book reviews, and given 1500 lectures:

“We must ask, what was the driving force that kept Ray so busy and so active? Part of it, to be sure, was his own need for fame and recognition. He wanted his accomplishments known, and he himself very lovingly kept the statistics that I listed above. I suspect that he perhaps was a little bit afraid that if he himself did not remind us of the things that he had done, we might think that he was not contributing all that much. No chance of that! If Ray Schoder never had spoken a word, his many works would speak for themselves” (Wild 1989, 10).

Indeed, Fr. Schoder was prolific and dedicated to the field as a whole, and he let everyone know the fact. Indeed, this is where Smith was concerned with Fr. Schoder, despite their long-lasting relationship that was cordial in person, but more decisive in her private correspondence. Certainly she was reacting to his self-promotion—and maybe this was the largest part of her distaste for Fr. Schoder. But academics are often known for not being the most modest of human beings. Yet, does the collar of the Roman Catholic Church require a priest to be modest? Priests are certainly not above venial sins. Regardless of what comes down to us through the ASCSA Archives, it is clear that Fr. Schoder not only was a driving force to ensure that other Catholic clerics enjoyed the School, but he also wanted to advance the field of Classics (through various outlets) to the wider archaeological community in Greece and beyond.

Vatican II & the ASCSA

One last point should be made about the presence of Roman Catholic clergy at the ASCSA. The Second Vatican Council, the third worldwide ecumenical congress called by the Catholic Church since the Reformation, lasted from 1962-1965. While no doctrinal changes were made to the Church, the experience of the Church was modernized throughout the world through measures such as masses being not being offered in Latin but in modern languages.

There are clues that in the time before Vatican II, the rules of the Church impacted the lives of students at the School. Gertrude Smith would try to help Catholic students:

“In the two sessions which I have done I have had each time four or five Roman Catholics, but I could usually control that and get them meatless meals when they had to have them and get them to places where they could get to church on time and so on” (AdmRec, box 106/1, folder 3, 26 October 1960).

While Vatican II might not have caused the religious behavior of students to change drastically, they might have felt less inclined to adhere to its strict rules while traveling throughout Greece during their time at the School.

Further, there was an increase of Catholic clergy during the ASCSA Summer Sessions (SS), especially of nuns, after 1965. Brunilde Sismondo Ridgway, Director of the Summer Session for 1967 and a Roman Catholic herself, reported:

“The 1967 Session included a Roman Catholic nun among its members. Sister [Mary Joseph] Carton [B.V.M.] proved to be one of the greatest assets to the group: her cheerful attitude, her sense of humor, her ‘humanity’ were difficult to match. Though in her early fifties, she climbed and tracked with the youngest, and her modernized religious habit did not cause greater impediment than any common skirt. Although other nuns had been admitted to the Summer School in the past, none had ever actually attended because of the restrictive rules imposed on them by the Roman Catholic Church. It is encouraging to note that such rules have now been relaxed and permit full participation of the religious in the Summer program”(AR 87 (1967-1968) 64).

The relaxation of the strict rules of the Church, the product of Vatican II, finally allowed nuns to participate fully in the rigorous summer programming of the School.


I began my research intent to discover any bias within the ASCSA against Catholic clergy, especially given Smith’s often disparaging comments about Fr. Schoder. But he seems to be the outlier. Indeed, Smith, in correspondence with Caskey about Fr. Buckley, reveals that fact:

“I suppose we cannot expect all Jesuit priests to give as much color to the School as Father Schoder did, but I have found them always well trained and very serious students who get the most out of what is offered” (AdmRec, box 1001/3, folder 18, 9 May 1951).

Catholic priests and nuns were well qualified, with a strong background in philology, and flourished at the School. For many of them the School’s emphasis on archaeology opened up new worlds, altering their careers and ministries. And many had clearly heard about the School through other priests who had attended the program(s). In the end, the Catholic priests and nuns that came to the ASCSA, as students and scholars, were admitted based on their training and aptitude in the Classics, without any discernible bias towards their vocations.

Addendum: Catholic Clergy of the ASCSA (after Meritt 1984)

Allen, Sister Marjorie E., R.S.M.  (S1973)
Baxter, Rev. Robert S., S.J. (S1967)
Benda, Rev. Frederick J., S.J.  (S1969)
Bermingham, Rev. Thomas S., S.J.  (1961-1962)
Bodnar, Rev. Edward W., S.J. (1963-1964)
Buckley, Rev. Charles E., S.J.  (1951-1952)
Carton, Sister Mary Joseph, B.V.M  (S1967)
Christie, Rev. Frederick, S.J. (S1973)
Evans, Frances Taylor  S1936 (Sister Margaret Thérèse, S.N.D. de Namur)
Felton, Rev. John N., S.J.   (S1955)
Festle, Rev. John Edward, S.J. (S ?)
Fuerst, Rev. Barholomew, O.S.B.  (S1954)
Gerdes, Sister Florence Marie, C.S.J. (S1973)
Grimaldi, Rev. William M.A., S.J.  (1953-1954)
Infantino, Rev. Stephen S., S.J.  (S1970)
Kolar, Rev. Basil Charles, Benedectine  (1932-1933)
McCauley, Rev. Leo P., S.J.  (1947-1948)
Miller, Rev. Edward F., S.J.  (1976-1978)
Mitchell, Sister Eileen, C.S.J.  (S1973)
Moan, Rev. Francis X., S.J.  (S1965)
O’Neil, Rev. John J., S.J.  (1964-1965)
Quinn, Daniel  (1887-1889, 1892-1893, 1900-1902)
Ruegg, Brother S. Dominic, F.S.C.  (S1956)
Schlatter, Rev. Frederick William, S.J.  (S1961)
Schoder, Rev. Raymond V., S.J.  (1949-1950, 1972-1973)
Taylor, Rev. John H., S.J. (S1952)
Walter, Sister Maria  (S1971)
Yumont, Rev. Alphonsus Charles, S.J.  (S1962)

Works Cited: 

AdmRec: ASCSA Archives, Administrative Records

Bolchazy, L.J. 1994. “Schoder, S.J., Fr. Raymond Victor.” In Biographical Dictionary of North American Classicists, ed. W.W. Briggs, pp. 569-570. Westport, CT.

Dow, S. 1989. “Father Schoder and Ancient Greece from the Air,” in Sutton 1989, pp. 13-28.

Keesling, C. 2012. “Edward W. Bodnar (1920-2011).” The Classical World 105.4, pp. 553-554.

McKay, A.G. 1987. “RAYMOND VICTOR SCHODER, S.J. 11 April 1916, Battle Creek MI, 1 May 1987, Chicago IL.” Vergilius 33, pp. 3-5.

Meritt, L.S. 1984. History of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1939-1980. Princeton.

“Participants in the Summer Study Tours, 1937-1987.” 1988. Vergilius Suppl. 3, pp. 95-119.

Schoder, R.V. 1974. Ancient Greece from the Air. London.

Schoder, R.V. and V.C. Horrigan. 1945-1946. A Reading Course in Homeric Greek. Ann Arbor.

Sutton, R.F. (ed) 1989. Daidalikon: Studies in Memory of Raymond V. Schoder, S.J. Wauconda, IL.

Sutton, R.F., and M. Creighton. 1989. “Bibliography of Raymond V. Schoder, S.J,” in Sutton 1989.

Wild, R.A. 1989. “In Memoriam Raymond V. Schoder, S.J.: A Homily Delivered at the Funeral Mass of Father Schoder, May 5, 1987,” in Sutton 1989, pp. 9-11.

Archaeological Hikes and Accidental Discoveries

 In addition to administering the School’s institutional records and hundreds of collections of personal papers in the archival repositories of the Blegen and the Gennadius Libraries (which will soon be consolidated under one roof), the Archivist of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or School hereafter) also oversees the School’s Antiquities Collection. Catalogued by the School’s former Archivist, Dr. Carol Zerner, and a host of volunteer archaeologists, the Collection features more than 10,000 sherds, hundreds of pots, figurines, fragments of sculpture, various metal objects, and roughly 3,000 coins, all registered with the Ministry of Culture. With one exception, all of the antiquities are kept in a separate, well-guarded room. The exception is a small collection of Geometric vases displayed in the Blegen Library.

“… While on a Sunday excursion we ran across a newly looted Geometric grave out at Thorikos. The sherds showed lots of joins and after talking about the problem to Gene Vanderpool, we took them down the Agora and they were [competent?] to restore a handsome amphora, an oenochoe, a very fine tripod stand and a bowl fitting it. The problem now is to inform the [M]inistry and try to get permission to keep them for the exhibit to be housed in the new wing of the School. I must talk to Mr. Papademetriou this week about it…” confided William (Bill) A. McDonald to Homer A. Thompson, Director of the Athenian Agora Excavations, on November 23, 1958.

Shortly after his discovery, McDonald published the four vases in Hesperia (vol. 30, 1961, pp. 299-304). Dated in the Middle Geometric period, the looted grave at Thorikos belongs to an extensive Early Iron Age cemetery spread on the sides of Velatouri hill. (The Belgian School at Athens has been surveying and digging the site of Thorikos since the late 1960s.) The School also received permission to display McDonald’s finds in the newly built Arthur Vining Davis Wing of the Blegen Library, which was inaugurated in the fall of 1959. Thirty years later, in 1991, when the New Extension to the Blegen Library was completed, the vases were placed (where they still are) inside a vertical glass case, on the ground floor, next to the Rare Book Room. A short text explains the conditions of their discovery.

Three of the four Geometric vases (ASP 85-87) that McDonald found on Velatouri Hill, Thorikos. ASCSA Archives, Antiquities Collection.

 A Pathfinder

In 1958-59, McDonald (1913-2000), Professor of Classics at the University of Minnesota, enjoyed a sabbatical year, supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship, at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. He was familiar with the School since he had participated in the academic program as a regular member the in 1938-1939. An athletic Canadian, who loved to play rugby and hockey at the University of Toronto, McDonald followed his professor’s advice (no other than Homer Thompson) to enroll for graduate studies at Johns Hopkins University and also spend a year at the American School. While in Athens he made use of the School’s rich library to research his dissertation topic, The Political Meeting Places of the Greeks.

In the spring of 1939, McDonald was invited by Carl W. Blegen to join his new dig at Pylos. It was in McDonald’s trench on the first day of the excavation (April 3, 1939) that the pick hit the rich cache of Linear B tablets. McDonald would return to Pylos in 1953 for another season. He was so eager to get back to the field that he offered to do anything on the dig. “Please feel no constraint in putting me at whatever job you have that needs doing-even washing potsherds. Remember how useful I proved in 1939 in the luncheon commissary department?” McDonald wrote to Blegen a couple of months before arriving to Greece (McDonald to Blegen, undated but postmarked April 2, 1953). By then he had already found a position in the department of Classics at the University of Minnesota, where Theodore Blegen (Carl’s brother) was dean of the Graduate School. It was during that season that McDonald, most likely at Blegen’s suggestion, went on a four day field trip (June 18-20, 23, 1953) in the company of Charalampos Christophilopoulos to survey the area that once comprised the Mycenaean kingdom of Pylos.  McDonald continued his project in 1955, this time with the help of Nionios Androutsakis (Blegen’s trusted foreman), and during his sabbatical year in Greece, in 1958-59.

William A. McDonald, Nichoria 1969. ASCSA Archives, Nichoria Excavation Records.

An interdisciplinarian in the making, McDonald sought to combine the results of his first field survey with a study of modern toponyms. The study of place names and their origin flourished in the wake of Michael Ventris’s decipherment of the Pylos tablets in 1952. Ventris’s discovery “had made it possible to compile a list of phonetic approximations of the names used ca. 1200 B.C. to designate the towns, villages, and districts which belonged to the kingdom of Pylos,” as McDonald explained in the preface to his publication of the place names (Place Names of Southwest Peloponnesus: Register and Indexes, Athens 1967).  To publish his research McDonald collaborated with lexicographer and professor of Modern Greek at the University of North Dakota, Demetrius J. Georgakas.  “This valuable pioneer work, however, has been overshadowed by his later achievements,” noted Nancy Wilkie and William Coulson in the preface to their Festschrift for McDonald, titled Contributions to Aegean Archaeology: Studies in Honor of William A. McDonald (Minneapolis 1985).

The Nichoria Excavation team in 1969. Except for McDonald in the middle, I also recognize Mary Sturgeon on the lower right. ASCSA Archives, Nichoria Excavation Records.

In addition to his extensive survey of Messenia under the auspices of the University of Minnesota Messenia Expedition and his excavations at Nichoria, today McDonald is remembered as a “pathfinder,” who “pioneered in bringing about changes in the theory, methodology and general conduct of archaeological research in Greece” (for the quote see N.C. Wilkie, “William Andrew McDonald, 1913-2000” AJA 104:2, 2000, p. 310). He was one of the first archaeologists who applied interdisciplinary—not multidisciplinary, as he emphatically stressed— methods on his field projects. McDonald summarized his contributions to Greek archaeology in a daring speech (still remembered by Aegean archaeologists who are in their 60s and 70s today) that he gave on the occasion of his acceptance of the Gold Medal for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement, awarded by the AIA on December 29, 1981. (The speech is reproduced in the preface of Wilkie and Coulson 1985.) His speech, which criticized the elitist, art historical approach that dominated the studies of ancient Greece until the 1970s, must have felt like a manifesto to a new generation of field archaeologists, particularly prehistorians. After all, it was the time of the “Great Divide,” but unlike the “New Archaeologists” who chose to break away from classical studies and history, McDonald looked for ways to build bridges between classics (that focused on the extraordinary) and anthropology (the ordinary). McDonald strongly objected to compartmentalization and envisaged Classics departments that reached out and hired scholars with expertise in geology, metallurgy, botany, etc.

Οξυδερκείν or the Act of Sherding

Archaeologists love to take field walks (frequently dragging their entire family with them) looking for ancient walls, horos (boundary) inscriptions, pottery sherds, stone tools, or rock art. Older archaeologists, such as Bert Hodge Hill and Blegen, called it “οξυδερκείν” (to be sharp at sight), using an ancient Greek verb to describe the act of sherding. This is how Blegen discovered the site of Korakou in 1915. In search of Homeric Ephyra, one Sunday morning very early in May 1915, Blegen and his friend Emerson H. Swift “climbed the hill from the landside and immediately began to find prehistoric potsherds. There were great quantities of Mycenaean fragments scattered about the surface of the ground. We filled our pockets in no time… There were many sherds that looked earlier than Mycenaean but neither of us could identify them properly…”  By Friday, May 8, 1915, Blegen and Alan Wace, the famous British archaeologist, were excavating at Korakou.

Royal Walks

In the personal papers of Bert Hodge Hill, Director of the ASCSA (1906-1926), there is a letter from Princess Alice of Battenberg, wife of Prince Andrew of Greece (1903) and mother of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, written on April 7, 1922, at Mon Repos. (Prince Andrew and Princess Alice appear in the last episode of Season 2 of The Crown on Netflix.) Addressing Dr. Hill, whom she obviously knew from before, she described some recent finds from Corfu and invited Hill for an autopsy: “I wonder if you are very busy just now, for walking along the shore of our little property we found what we think are the remains of an ancient Greek necropolis. Quite close to the sea is a fairly perpendicular beak of clay which at a certain level is full of fragments of pottery and bones and traces of skeletons lying horizontally… As we are rather ignorant of the periods of Greek pottery, we send you some samples which we think are characteristic and should be glad to know your opinion… If by any chance you think the matter sufficiently interesting to investigate it yourself we should be only too pleased if you will come to be our guest for a few days.”

Princess Alice of Battenberg writing from Corfu to Bert H. Hill, 1922. ASCSA Archives, Bert H. Hill Papers.

Princess Alice of Battenberg (aka Princess Andrew of Greece and Denmark after her marriage). Portrait by Philip de László, 1922.
Private collection of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Public Domain.

You would think that Hill would not have passed on an invitation to take a trip to Corfu as a guest of the royal family; but he did, delaying in answering her letter for two months (his response dates to June 6, 1922) and then begging her Royal Highness not to judge his “dilatoriness intentionally discourteous.” Nevertheless he dated the sherds to the “fifth century B.C. (one or two may be of the sixth) to about the first century B.C.,” and hoped that the graves would be “properly excavated someday” because there had been “altogether too little scientific investigation of ancient nekropoleis.” What they could not have imagined –Hill and Princess Alice- was that a few months later Prince Andrew would be blamed, arrested, and court-martialed for the Asia Minor disaster of August 1922, and that he and his family would be sent into exile for the rest of their lives.

Sherding in Boeotia

Blegen was also aware of another site with large concentrations of surface material. “Near the site of ancient Thespiai on the south bank of the river Thespios opposite Eremokastro, there is a low mound which marks the place of a prehistoric settlement. As early as 1920 it was known to Professor C.W. Blegen, who first showed it to me. In recent years members of the American School have stopped there several times and have gathered samples of the fragmentary pottery that lies scattered over it whole surface,” wrote John L. Caskey in the introductory paragraph of a short, two-page article about one fragment of pottery that one of the School’s students, Charles Fleischmann, had picked up and presented to the School’s study collection in 1950 (Hesperia 20, 1951, p. 289).  The fragment, which preserves small part of a rim and side wall and dates to the Neolithic period, is highly unusual because it preserves a human face. “The brows are heavy, ending at either side in projections that are almost hornlike. The forehead, where the brows meet is unnaturally prominent and forms a sort of lug; the nose is disproportionately small. Eyes and mouth are formed by lumps of clay, deeply cut with horizontal slots… Bulbous eminences on either side of the mouth portray the cheeks,” according to Caskey’s accurate description of the fragment, who also sees “character and individuality” in the piece.

Fragment of anthropomorphic vessel found at Thespiae. ASCSA Archives, Antiquities Collection.

A few years later, another student of the School, George F. Bass (Professor Emeritus at Texas A&M University and a pioneer in the field of underwater archaeology) would publish in 1959 (Hesperia 28:4, 1959, pp. 344-349), at Caskey’s instigation, a small collection of Neolithic steatopygous figurines in the ASCSA study collection, also from Thespiai. With accentuated breasts and buttocks and well-defined navels, the Thespiai figurines fit within a strong, local Boeotian tradition with parallels in near-by Chaironeia and Eutresis.

Young George F. Bass at Lerna, 1956. ASCSA Archives, George F. Bass Photographic Collection.

Caskey was intrigued by the site, and, if he had had the time, I think he would have applied to conduct excavations at Thespiai. But he was near the end of his term as ASCSA director (1949-1959), and already involved in another major prehistoric excavation at Lerna in the Argolid. His interest in prehistoric Boeotia, however, led him and Elizabeth Caskey to revisit the site of Eutresis, dug by Hetty Goldman, in 1958 to conduct a one-season dig. In addition to refining the stratigraphical sequence of the site, the Caskeys also found fragments of two Neolithic female figurines, also “built up with pellets of clay,” like their “sisters” from Thespiai and Chaironeia.

I became aware of the Thespiai figurines in the School’s study collection about three years ago when Kalliope Sarri of the University of Copenhagen visited the Archives to examine them for inclusion in an article she was writing (“The Neolithic site at the Thespiai Magoula,” for the Boeotia Project, vol. II: The city of Thespiai, ed. J. Bintliff, E. Farinetti, B. Slapšak, and A. Snodgrass 2017). In fact, we had to re-identify some of the Thespiai figurines since their “provenance” had been lost over the years. Thanks to Bass’s article, this was easy to do.

One of the Neolithic female figurines (AST 36) found at Thespiai and published by George F. Bass. ASCSA Archives, Antiquities Collection.

Sherding: A No-No

Many study (or teaching) collections in archaeology departments of Greek and foreign universities have been built through οξυδερκείν, at a time when Greek Law still allowed for the collection of surface material. Today the act of “sherding” should be limited to a brief, in-situ examination of the material before fragments are placed back on the ground without any disturbance of their context. Archaeologists have become very conscious of the dangers of destroying evidence valuable for future archaeological surveys. We are, however, still able to glean important information from these earlier methods and data. In 2015 on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the first investigations at the site of Korakou and inspired by Blegen’s οξυδερκείν, the ASCSA organized a conference that featured results from both old and more recent fieldwork in the Corinthia. This scholarly bridge would no doubt have also pleased the likes of Bill McDonald.


Barbarians at the Gate

Jack L. Davis, Carl W. Blegen 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 history of  the School’s admission exams.

ASCSA Gates, 1900s

ASCSA Gate, 1900s

Είναι οι βάρβαροι να φθάσουν σήμερα.

Και τώρα τι θα γένουμε χωρίς βαρβάρους.

Οι άνθρωποι αυτοί ήσαν μια κάποια λύσις.

The barbarians are coming today.

What will become of us without barbarians.

They were in themselves a kind of solution for us.

Constantine Cavafy, 1908

Are Greek-less barbarians knocking at the gate of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens?

Louis Menand (The Marketplace of Ideas, 2010), has written that there “are things that academics should probably not be afraid to do differently — their world will not come to an end…”.  Yet institutions of higher learning are notorious for the “gate-keeping” mechanisms, procedures, and policies they employ to preserve the status quo. Central to the process of academic reproduction are examinations.

Exams have long puzzled me, particularly those administered by the American School of Classical Studies (ASCSA or “the School”). Forty years ago when I arrived as a student, I found in place a system that remains largely the same today. Candidates for the following academic year sit for admission exams.  Of the 16 foreign schools in Athens that are recognized by the Ministry of Culture, ASCSA is, I think, the only one that controls membership in this way.

Members of the Managing Committee of the School, representing mostly Classics departments in nearly 200 universities and colleges in the United States and Canada, set the exams. There is one in Ancient History and another in Ancient Greek that all applicants must take, while students may choose between a third in Ancient Greek Literature or in (pre-Byzantine) Greek Archaeology. The prize is a yearlong fellowship in Athens that includes room and board. 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 »