Sunday, October 12, 2008

Singular Antiquity 5: Tolias on Gennadios

Greek intellectuals of the 19th century worked very hard to cultivate Philhellenism among the western supporters of Modern Greece. Exporting antiquities to the West helped advertise the international relevance of the ancient tradition and, thus, generate support for the emerging nation state. Statesmen such as Adamantios Korais, a renown classical philologist, or Alexandros Moustoxidis did not encourage anti-exportation laws, but remained silent, seeing the political and economic advantages of dispersing Greek antiquities throughout the world’s collections.

Another school of thought that flourished in the late 19th and early 20th centuries became militant about keeping antiquities in Greece and banning any further export of treasures. Ioannis Gennadios, who is best known for the library that he donated to the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, belonged in this latter group and is the subject of George Tolias’ essay “National Heritage and Greek Revival: Ioannis Gennadios on the Expatriated Antiquities,” in A Singular Antiquity: Archaeology and Hellenic Identity in Twentieth-Century Greece (Athens, 2008), pp. 55-65. Ioannis Gennadios, son of the scholar Georgios Gennadios, spent most of his life as a diplomat in London. Interestingly enough, his diplomatic career started when he was fired from a job in a Greek commercial firm because he wrote an apology for the Dilessi/Marathon murders of 1870, see Romilly Jenkins, The Dilessi Murders (London, 1961). Gennadios’ diplomatic career took him to the Hague, Washington, D.C., Constantinople; he spent most of his life in London, where he amassed a personal library of 24,000 books. He married Florence Laing Kennedy but had no children. He died alone at his home in Surrey in 1932.

Two years before his death, Gennadios published a Treatise, Lord Elgin and Earlier Antiquarian Invaders in Greece, documenting 75 cases of looting from Cyriac of Ancona (1440) to the foundation of the Archaeological Society of Athens (1837). Gennadios’ militant position was influenced by Alexandros Rizos Rankaves, who was a student of Gennadios’ father. The Treatise includes a speech that Rankaves gave on May 12, 1842, at the Parthenon, a foundational document for stigmatizing the export of antiquities. Tolias’ essay provides the intellectual and historical context for Ioannis Gennadios’ activism towards “restoring Hellenism.” Tolias warns that “it would be easy to dismiss the positions adapted by Gennadios in 1930 as the romantic ideas of an aged radical patriot.” Rather, we should see the Treatise as an expression of an ongoing tension between Greek nationalism (which sees all Greek antiquities belonging to the Greek state) and Humanism (which sees classical Greece as a universal heritage). The return of the Elgin marbles has been a subject of international debate perculating at different times in history, and most recently as the celebrated cause of Melina Merkouri, when she became Minister of Culture under Giorgos Papandreou’s government. Tolias’ essay brings historical bones to a debate that we presume was always the same. We can almost visualize an 86-year-old Gennadios pacing through his personal library, pulling books out of a collection that he spent an entire life time building. The Treatise suddenly justifies the book collection and illuminates the fundamental nature of a library now owned by an academic institution equally devoted to restoring Hellenism.

For additional reviews from Singular Antiquity, see here.

No comments:

Blog Archive

Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States