BMCR 2010.01.43

A Singular Antiquity: Archaeology and the Hellenic Identity in the Twentieth Century. Mouseio Benaki 3rd Supplement

, , A Singular Antiquity: Archaeology and the Hellenic Identity in the Twentieth Century. Mouseio Benaki 3rd Supplement. Athens: Benaki Museum, 2008. 418. ISBN 9789608347960. $35.00.

[The reviewer has written more extensively about some of the chapters in this book on his blog, Objects-Building-Situations.]

Although seemingly neutral, the discipline of archaeology has served explicit ideological agendas, legitimizing colonial regimes and nation states. Despite the currency of postcolonial perspectives developed in academia, state agents have resisted acknowledging archaeology’s sinister role in the manipulation of political power. The populist revival of nationalism in Greece has made historiographic transparency an unpopular ideal. The end of the Cold War, the dissolution of the Balkans, the rise of a trans-national Europe, the perceived military dominance of the U.S., and the rise of global finance have highlighted the fragility of the nation state. Faced with new challenges and worrisome scenarios, Greece has increased its defensive rhetoric. The campaign for the return of the Elgin marbles, or the obsession with Macedonia’s Greekness, belongs to this phenomenon. Given such a reactionary climate, “Antiquity, Archaeology and Greekness,” a conference held at the Benaki Museum in 2007, is doubly significant. Dimitris Plantzos and Dimitris Damaskos, who collected the papers in Singular Antiquity, recognize the gravity of the national lens dominating Greek archaeology. Even if archaeology proves to be irrelevant in future cultural debates, its centrality in the previous world order must be appraised, so that the sociopolitical enterprise of scholarship may move on and flourish. In the words of Damaskos, “Only by escaping the suffocating embrace of nationalism can our singular antiquities indeed become global cultural property.” [406]

The Greek intelligentsia has become more inclined to demystify the historical prerogative of the nation, while the Greek state and the general public continues to revel in rhetorics of nationalist exceptionalism. Following the footsteps of postcolonial studies in British, American and French universities, where many Greek (including authors in this volume) have studied and now teach, a new scholarly generation embraces a critical stance towards the motherland. Critiques of imperialism, nationalism, Orientalism, or Balkanism have infiltrated so deeply in the Anglo-American curriculum that they seem occasionally clichéd in their programmatic acceptance. Debunking the nation-state has produced its own cottage industry. Fifteen years after Eric Hobsbawm described the general parameters of the problem, academic discussion of nationalism is showing some early signs of fatigue and intellectual boredom. So how can we deal with this polarized impasse between an increasingly reactionary nation, on the one hand, and an increasingly progressive academic community, on the other hand? The situation is, of course, not unique to Greece. America’s own Culture Wars share a similar impasse between a conservative political bloc and a fatigued (or, at least, dated) intelligentsia kicking and screaming from the pulpit of the academic tower.

Singular Antiquity is a work with many merits, but one of its greatest achievements is to navigate between revisionism and the pitfalls of critique. Unlike a monolithic battle narrative, Singular Antiquity collects diverse case studies from anthropology, classics, museology, cultural heritage management, history, art history, philology, philosophy, drama, and music. Collectively, it manages to refresh the older arguments and inject new life into the post-colonial discourse. The authors range from academic super stars to young scholars. Regardless of authorial vintage, all the essays stand up to the highest standards. Each could have been published separately in journals of their respective disciplines, but their very gathering in this volume transcends the individual merits and, like a good cocktail, intoxicates with greater pleasure than its parts alone. In other words, tactics are more effective than strategy, microecologies (in Peregrine Horden and Nicholas Purcell’s sense of the term) more timely than grand-narratives. Praise needs to be given, moreover, to the book’s immaculate production with flawless translations from Greek, eloquent copy-editing, and beautiful black-and-white illustrations.

By some invisible editorial hand, Damaskos and Plantzos have produced a scholarly model that enhances the genre of conference proceedings. The editors have succeeded in choreographing a singular whole out of 25 voices. “The bricks in the Lego-set” [257] loosely adhere to a coherent schema, which is modest in its parts but outright polemical in its collectivity. Singular Antiquity instructs us in the exploration and presentation of controversial topics, building the big picture out of minute case studies that would not ordinarily reside in the same disciplinary neighborhood. Singular Antiquity does not simply undress the Greek myth with revisionist fervor but celebrates the many costumes that have accumulated inside the ethnic closet. Ioannis Gennadios’s foustanella [56], Nelly’s nudity [324], Eva Palmer Sikelianos’s khadi dress [368], and the ancient headgear of soccer fans [22] are multifarious dresses that fit in the book’s wardrobe.

Singular Antiquity opens with Plantzos, “Archaeology and the Hellenic Identity, 1896-2004: The Frustrated Vision,” a phantasmagoric overview of the problem in both its theoretical depth and its kitsch superficialities. The opening ceremonies of the Athens Olympics set the stage and encapsulate the Foucauldian heterotopia that Plantzos reads as the Greek predicament. Mark Mazower’s “Archaeology, Nationalism and the Land in Modern Greece,” warns the reader that nationalism itself is a historically contingent notion. Mazower seems most suspicious of nationalism’s thematization by a powerless academia: “the appeal to nationalism can be construed as a legitimizing slogan by a scholarly community all too conscious of its own feeble standing in daily life rather than a self-evident truth of unstoppable force; all the more so as what is to be an archaeologist—sociologically, intellectually—changes so fast between 1830 and 1950.” [34] Michael Herzfeld’s “Archaeological Etymologies: Monumentality and Domesticity in Twentieth-Century Greece” explores the tensions between public presentation and private secrecy in Greek life. Classical antiquity has provided Greece with a cultural façade behind which private life enjoys illicit and familiar practices. Herzfeld argues that this private/public contradiction is not unique to Greece but a common symptom in modern states whose self-image was created by others.

After the theoretical breadth of Plantzos, Mazower, and Herzfeld, we turn to a set of focused case studies. George Tolias, “National Heritage and Greek Revival: Ioannis Gennadios on the Expatriated Antiquities,” discusses Greece’s attitudes towards the export of antiquities during the 19th century and the tensions between nationalism and humanism. He focuses on a treatise by Gennadios (the Anglo-Greek diplomat and book collector) that argues for keeping antiquities strictly within Greece. Andromache Gazi, “‘Artfully Classified’ and ‘Appropriately Placed’: Notes on the Display of Antiquities in Early Twentieth Century Greece,” investigates the museological principles used in 16 regional museums built by the Greek state during the first decade of the 20th century, pointing out that the majority of the curators studied in Europe (mostly in Germany) and neoclassical models formed their attitudes. Most museums in Greece were reinstalled after 1948, offering an opportunity for rebirth. Marlen Mouliou, “Museum Representations of the Classical Past in Post-War Greece: A Critical Analysis,” investigates postwar museum history and the political forces that shaped it. A narrative of regeneration from fascism dominated the first phase (1948-76), and most installations were guided by a linear evolutionary model. The Museum of Volos, curated by George Hourmouziadis, is the single noteworthy exception, introducing principles of New Archaeology. After 1976, museums became strained by resources and by the “Vergina syndrome” [95] condemned in the 1990s as “treasure hunting” and distorting the relationship between archaeology and contemporary politics (Macedonia’s Greekness). Since 1996, it is refreshing to read, Greek museums have entered a phase of creative solutions. Niki Sakka, “The Excavation of the Ancient Agora of Athens: The Politics of Commissioning and Managing the Project,” reveals the political negotiations surrounding the 1929 law that permitted Americans to excavate the Athenian Agora. Written into the Greek Constitution, the legal status of the Agora excavations has been an idiosyncrasy. Sakka explains that the 1922 exchange of population between Greece and Turkey pressured public real estate with the installation of refugee housing. The Agora was under such threat but was, ultimately, saved by the shrewd collaboration of three powerful individuals, Edward Capps (American School of Classical Studies at Athens), Konstantinos Kourouniotis (Greek Archaeological Service), Eleutherios Venizelos (Greek Prime Minister), and John D. Rockefeller (American financier). Daphne Voudouri, “Greek Legislation Concerning the International Movement of Antiquities and Its Ideological and Political Dimensions,” surveys the nuances of Greek law that, since 1825, have controlled the exportation of antiquities. The draconian measures are especially evident when the issue at hand is not permanent exportation but temporary loan for international exhibitions. After reviewing the ambiguities evident in current legislation (2002), Voudouri addresses the broader implications of cultural nationalism versus cultural internationalism and explores its permutations. If, for instance, cultural heritage belongs to the nation, it would also belong to the international Greek diaspora (according to the 1834 law); under such scenario the Hellenic Museum in Chicago could house Greek loans, while the Metropolitan Museum in New York could not. Current debates of ownership and copyright complicate Greece’s legislative position. Delia Tzortzaki, “The Chronotopes of the Hellenic Past: Visuality, Edutainment, Ideology,” explores the implications of virtual reality in the presentation of sites by private organizations. The essay is narrowly focused on the site of Miletos and its virtual reconstruction by the Foundation of the Hellenic World. The first part of Singular Antiquity concludes with an essay on literature. Vassilis Lambropoulos, “The Rehearsal of Antiquity in Post-Modern Greek Fiction,” investigates three works published in 1998-2008 and concludes that the postmodern novel provided an early challenge to the hegemony of national history. Similarly, the Greek engagement with productions of the Bacchae exploited the play’s modernist appeal as a vehicle for experimentation.

The next section of Singular Antiquity deals with archaeology and its internal paradigms. Kostas Kotsakis, “Paths to Modernity: Dimitrios R. Theocharis and the Post-War Greek Prehistory,” overviews prehistoric archaeology, arguing that focus on the Homeric Bronze Age has spelled the demise of Neolithic studies as pioneered by Christos Tsountas in the 1900s. Theocharis’ excavations in the post-war period approached modern paradigms, cultural processes, and extra-historical universal contexts. By breaking down the cultural-process model, Theocharis cleared the way for George Hourmouziadis (also discussed in Mouliou), but he was the exception. The Neolithic period was generally suppressed because it did not fit into the mold of a national narrative. Vangelis Karamanolakis, “University of Athens and Archaeological Studies: The Contribution of Archaeology to the Creation of a National Past (1911-1932),” gives a fascinating overview of Greece’s premier academy and highlights the omissions in the curriculum. Although Byzantium began to factor prominently in Greek nationalism by the mid-19th century, it took half a century for the influence of Spyridon Lambros and Constantine Paparrigopoulos to factor in the teaching of archaeology. A position in Byzantine Archaeology, held by the renown Adamantios Adamantiou, was not established until 1911. Dionysis Mourelatos, “The Debate over Cretan Icons in Twentieth-Century Greek Historiography and Their Incorporation into the National Narrative,” studies another marginal period, the art of Renaissance Crete. In 1947, Manolis Chatzidakis posited Cretan art as the connective link between Byzantine and modern European art while, in contrast, Dimitris Pallas stressed the ecumenical, Orthodox, and Balkan dimensions of the same artifacts. Chatzidakis’ perspective prevailed. Olga Gratziou, “Venetian Monuments in Crete: A Controversial Heritage,” surveys the management of Crete’s Ottoman and Venetian monuments and their haphazard destruction in the process of modernization. Looking at all the major case studies from Chania and Herakleion, Gratziou notes an inconsistent policy towards post-Byzantine monuments, ranging from the destruction of a Franciscan chapel (and mosque) to build Herakleion’s archaeological museum to the preservation of a Franciscan church to house Chania’s archaeological museum. Greece’s post-war orientation towards the West shed positive light on Venetian Crete, but the preservation of its monuments took a long time to catch up. The process was interspersed with changing ideologies, including the program of Xenia hotels built over historical landscapes in the 1960s. By 2007, the Xenia in Chania became an archaeological ruin itself.

The next series of essays turns away from monuments and archaeology to consider theoretical and philological paradigms. Alexandra Bounia, “Ancient Texts, Classical Archaeology and Representation of the Past: The Development of a Dialogue,” summarizes concepts of mimesis and highlights Paul Ricoeur’s theories in an essay whose thesis seemed vague. Even if the reader follows how the hermeneutical tradition evolved, a convincing connection with archaeology is never made. Vangelis Kalotychos, “The Dead Hand of Philology and the Archaeologies of Reading in Greece,” lucidly discusses the endurance of positivist philology in spite of developments in literary and critical theory during the 1960s. The early practice of archaeology, moreover, projected a direct extension of texts onto the landscape. Textual and archaeological readings have become strangely intertwined in Greek nationalism. Plantzos, “Time and the Antique: Linear Causality and the Greek Art Narrative,” takes up the paradigm of art-historical time and deconstructs its linear, teleological structure. Most thoroughly critiqued are the methodologies of connoisseurship and the influence of Sir John Beazley, who taught Classical Archaeology and Art at Oxford (1925-54) and directly influenced the post-war generation of Greek scholars. Yannis Hamilakis, “Decolonizing Greek Archaeology: Indigenous Archaeologies, Modernist Archaeology and the Post-Colonial Critique,” takes another theoretical turn, already rehearsed in his award-winning monograph, The Nation and Its Ruins: Antiquity, Archaeology and the National Imagination in Greece (Oxford, 2007), and reminds us of Trigger’s thesis that archaeology has three political manifestations: colonialism, nationalism, and imperialism. As a crypto-colony, Greece gave up its indigenous archaeology by embracing Western modernist archaeology. In order to de-colonize, Greece must return to those older, irrational relationships with its past and make antiquities part of multisensory daily life.

The third and final part of the book turns our attention to the appropriation of antiquity by creative disciplines. Dimitris Tziovas, “Reconfiguring the Past: Antiquity and Greekness,” outlines four paradigms by which we relate to the Greek past—revival, continuity, memory, irony—and analyzes their application in Greek letters. Angeliki Koufou, “The Discourse of Hellenicity, Historical Continuity and the Greek Left,” investigates the notions of Greekness (Hellenicity) created after 1922 and embraced by the Left. At first, the Left rejected the notion of Greek geographical and racial unity. After the Fourth Congress of Soviet Writers in 1934, communist intellectuals renounced avant-garde internationalism and embraced folk cultures. The Greek Left followed suit. Paradoxically, Fascists and Communists adopted the very same folkloric ideals. The Communist Party had to distance itself from the slave-owning society of Ancient Greece and the feudalism of Byzantium, but it needed to embrace patriotic history. A “people grown” version of the Greek past was constructed with tensions that remained unresolved through the post-war period. Dora F. Markatou, “Archaeology and Greekness on the Centenary Celebrations of the Greek State,” looks at the festivals that commemorated the Greek War of Independence in 1921, spearheaded by Spyridon Lambros and supervised by archaeologists and folklorists. The celebrations were a fascinating hodge-podge of historical reenactments prefiguring Eva Palmer’s and Angelos Sikelianos’s Delphic Festivals of almost a decade later. In addition, the Centenary put into motion the restoration of monuments (Herodes Atticus’s Theater), the foundation of new museums (Christian and Byzantine Museum, Historical and Ethnological Society Museum), and the erection of war memorials (Herakleion, Kavala). Dimitris Damaskos, “The Uses of Antiquity in Photographs by Nelly: Imported Modernism and Home-Grown Ancestor Worship in Inter-War Greece,” turns our attention to photographer Nelly’s and her work commissioned by the Greek Archaeological Service. Trained in Dresden, Nelly’s ran a photographic studio in Athens between 1924 and 1939. Her archaeological photos brought a modernist aesthetic to Greece, evident also in the work of Hitler’s photographer Walter Hege (who studied under the same mentor as Nelly’s and photographed Olympia for the Nazis). In addition to her famous Parthenon series, Nelly’s also photographed the Delphic Festivals. Through physiognomic comparisons between Modern Greeks and ancient/Byzantine art, Nelly’s served the national propaganda machine, which sent her to the New York World’s Fair in 1939. Paradoxically, New York became her adopted home. Elena Hamalidi, “Greek Antiquity and Inter-War Classicism in Greek Art: Modernism and Tradition in the Works and Writings of Michalis Tombros and Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika in the Thirties,” focuses on two painters from the celebrated “Generation of the Thirties.” Tombros and Hadjikyriakos-Ghika appropriated notions that they learned from the School of Paris and brought them to Greece. After the experiments of Cubism, a purist style reconfigured the classical tradition into a formalism that appealed to Greeks. Hamalidi looks at contemporary art journals like Cahiers d’Art (Paris, 1926-1960) and To Trito Mati (Athens, 1935-1937) and documents the creation of a paradoxically international nationalism. Artemis Leontis, “An American in Paris, a Parsi in Athens,” takes the greatest internationalist leap and contemplates a conversation between India, Greece, and the U.S., namely the meeting of music/theater intellectual Eva Palmer Sikelianos and Khorshed Naoroji. The two met in Paris while researching non-western music in 1924. Naoroji traveled to Greece, where she shed her western clothes. Looking out of the window from a train traveling from Athens to Corinth, Naoroji realized that the Greek landscape encapsulates the essence of India “all joined together … North, South, East and West all in one” [365]). The Greek experience clarified Naoroji’s renewed commitment to India and to Gandhi’s dream specifically. The two women created a collective rebellion against the western tradition. Dimitris Philippides, “The Phantom of Classicism in Greek Architecture,” looks at Greek architecture. While embracing modernism in the 1930s, architects like Dimitris Pikionis could not abandon the classical past. Their classicizing modernism was, in turn, rejected in the 1950s and 1960s by a purist modernism of Takis Zenetos and Nikos Valsamakis. Philippides then makes an unconvincing turn, attributing the birth of postmodernism to the 1967-1974 dictatorship. Certainly, some scenographic classical elements were sanctioned by the junta, but the lack of ironic posturing or theoretical sophistication cannot qualify them as postmodern. Finally, Maria Diamandi, “The Archaeologist in Contemporary Greek Novel,” surveys the inclusion of archaeologists 20th-century novels and points out that, despite the appeal of antiquities, archaeologists never became popular literary character. All five literary archaeologists, moreover, are male (in contrast to the relative desegregation of the profession), and all five defer to foreign intellectual authority at some point in their respective novel.

Damaskos, “In Place of a Conclusion,” completes the volume with a provocative question. How will Greece’s new multicultural demography—immigrants from Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa—change the homogenous social state in the future? Interestingly enough, Naoroji did not enter the Parthenon in 1924. In contrast, Damaskos shows two Indian tourists visiting the Acropolis in the 2000s. Plantzos’ reference to the Bengal School of Art, Herzfeld’s reference to Sri Lanka and Thailand, and Leontis’ essay on Naoroji are the only other examples with nonwestern examples. The bulk of Singular Antiquity is myopically Greek, lacking substantive cross-cultural comparisons. Greek nationalism may be exceptional, but it is singular. The flourishing non-Greek scholarship, Nadia Abu El-Haj’s Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society (Chicago, 2001), or D. Medina Lasanksy’s The Renaissance Perfected: Architecture, Spectacle, and Tourism in Fascist Italy (University Park, 2004), for example, would have enhanced the volume’s provocative breadth. Speculating further on globalization would have opened a window into the future of antiquity’s relevance. We must remember that Southeast Asian hands built the infrastructure of the 2004 Olympics with great human loss. Ultimately, it will be ethnic groups like the Sikhs that cultivate the land of Marathon who will determine the intellectual currency of Greek archaeology. Their perspective warrants consideration. The accomplishment of Singular Antiquity gives us great faith in the intellectual arsenal that will answer those future challenges with equal sophistication.