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Post-Classical Memories: Modern Greek Attitudes to Antiquity

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  1. Post-Classical Memories: Modern Greek Attitudes to Antiquity ‘An obsession with past glories, progonoplexia, or ‘ancestoritis’ has been characteristic of so much of the country’s cultural life’. (Richard Clogg, A Concise History of Greece, p. 2) Hayden White, Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe, 1973.

  2. Symbolic or Archaeological • Revival, Resurrection, Return of the Muses • The medieval past (Byzantium) is ignored • Approach of the past as a monument and the process of purification from later additions (language, Acropolis)

  3. Andreas Kalvos ‘To the Muses’ (1824) Your long exile has ended now. A happier time returns and the Delphic mount beams in freedom. The clear, silver water of the Spring flows. Its sounds are heard here. Today Greece calls her daughters back. You came, o Muses, I hear you! My soul soars in bliss. I hear what the lyre preludes. I hear the hymns.

  4. O Leandros (1834) by Panayiotis Soutsos Do you share the melancholy I feel as I walk through these ancient ruins and the new settlements? Does this comparison between the great past of Greece and her little present make you sad?

  5. Hellenization • After Independence, many Albanian, Turkish or Slavic names of cities, villages and other place names were hellenized: Vostitsa, for example, became Aigion, Leontari was renamed Megalopolis, and Koulouri Salamis. This process of hellenization continued even in the twentieth century.

  6. Acropolis • From 1836 to 1875 there was a systematic stripping of all post-classical additions from the Acropolis. • The clearance was completed in 1875 when the Archaeological Society in Athens, with the financial support of Schliemann, demolished the Frankish Tower. • A historical palimpsest until 1821, after Independence the Acropolis rejected its historicity, demolishing large parts of its past.

  7. Revival of the Symbolic ApproachIt could be said that this practice has been revived today by plans to demolish listed buildings which obstruct the view of the Acropolis from the new Museum built nearby. These proposals suggest a desire to link the classical past with the present by obliterating or ignoring vestiges of the periods in between.

  8. Organic -Romantic • Notion of continuity • Incorporation of ignored periods of the past • Material traces of the past in the present (Folklore Studies) • From the nostalgia for the past glory to the nostalgia for a lost authenticity

  9. PSYCHARIS To Taxidi mou (My Journey) 1888 • The ancient language has not been lost; you will find it in people’s mouths. The ancient tongue will make you understand the modern and with the modern you will grasp the meaning of the ancient. Our demotic (romeiki) language is a continuation of the [ancient] Greek, but in order to represent this continuity it had to change otherwise it would have been forever the same.

  10. Mascots were based on this clay model at National Archaeological Museum. Minoan swallow motif from the ‘Spring Fresco’ discovered on the island of Santorini (Thera) as the official logo of Greece’s Presidency of the European Union in January to June 2003

  11. Aesthetic or Modernist • The past as an archetype • Memory, style and the aestheticization of the past • The notion of continuity is not defined in material, historical or linguistic terms but in aesthetic and metaphoric terms.

  12. George Seferis • In the Parthenon (…) we have indeed two completely different emotional triggers side by side in the same object. One, the historical, archaeological or what we might call the cyclical, makes me daydream of travelling to the past; reflect on the futility of human affairs; raise the flag of insurrection against Morosini’s cannonballs; be ecstatic in the face of the beauty of the life of the ancient Greeks. The other, the aesthetic, is a completely different matter; a sudden presence, something intense and exclusive; a marble cloak covering me from head to toe; a voice which I do not understand, though I feel an urgent need to speak like it in order to understand it.

  13. Mythistorema (1935) • ‘Still one more well inside a cave. It used to be easy for us to draw up idols and ornaments’ (2) • ‘I woke with this marble head in my hands’ (3) • ‘so that the age-old drama could begin again’ (1) • ‘the ancient dead have escaped the circle and risen again’ (21)

  14. Ironic or critical • Irony and demythologization • Postmodernism and relativity • The past is reinterpreted and revised • Role of the Hellenistic, Ottoman, Balkan past

  15. Antiquity and the Greek Left ‘In the domain of literary production, and of intellectual life generally the modern Greek world remains completely cut off from its ancient Greek cultural heritage … No trace of survival or memory could be found anywhere. Continuity here is deeply, radically and completely broken. Modern Greek literature is the literature of a completely new world’. (Dimitris Chatzis in 1954)

  16. Photograph by Nelly

  17. Kostas Karyotakis DELPHIC FESTIVAL At Delphi two spirits from Greece competed. Aéschylus revived the echo of the Phaedriádes. Lorgnons, Kodaks, opérateurs, gave a tone particularly graphic to Prometheus’ pain. A sob stirred those unlikely crowds. And when, 5 without a curtain falling, the audience dispersed, nothing disturbed the sacred silence. And then an eagle split the sky…

  18. ATTITUDES TO THE PASTWhen we contemplate ruins, we contemplate our future • Symbolic or archaeological • Organic or romantic • Aesthetic or modernist • Ironic or critical