New York.- By Vicki J Yiannias
Modern Greek studies are happening. Approximately forty-two Modern Greek Programs in America are exploring multiple aspects of modern Greek identity and values. Vassilis Lambropoulos, the first holder of the Constantine P. Cavafy Chair at the dynamic Modern Greek program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, feels that the most advanced of these programs operate like academic think tanks for Greek principles and interests all over the world, exploring Greek positions in a rigorous way and articulating the views of the recent Greek tradition in a manner consistent with modern values.
The Modern Greek department at the University of Michigan addresses pressing issues about Greek identity today , with questions such as where does Hellenism stand in the so-called culture wars, what does Hellenism represent in the so-called value wars, how does Hellenism resonate with conservative, liberal, or progressive attitudes, and where does it fit in the academic liberal arts curriculum.
In the mid-twentieth century, when in some places immigrants felt uncomfortable speaking Greek among an English-only public, who would have guessed that currents of cultural specificity would become cool, coursing through the land in an era when it seems that worldwide, more and more people listen to the same music and wear the same fashions?
But it is true that academic interest in things Greek is on the upswing. At Michigan, where the Modern Greek program has been very popular with students, there is increasing demand for the courses, which attract as many 150 undergraduates each term. This term, Professor Lambropoulos told the Greek News, there are now 20 students pursuing a degree, with 20 students pursuing a Modern Greek Major and 10 students pursuing a Modern Greek Minor.
Students combine Modern Greek with a variety of fields, from History and Political Science to Communications and Microbiology, Modern Greek a very flexible and attractive undergraduate degree “for the global 21st century,” says Lambropoulos, who counts the numbers in the program as very similar to those of Italian and Russian despite the fact that the other languages have six times as many professors as the Modern Greek department. ”Kudos to Artemis Leontis and Despina Margomenou, the other two faculty members, for their superb dedication to our students.”
The Modern Greek program at Michigan has another significant function In addition to its academic mission. The program operates as a very lively regional cultural center, organizing on campus and in the larger Detroit area as many as 30 cultural events each year some very hard to come by, such as Greek films. There are lectures, symposia, art exhibits, museum shows, concerts, performances, and roundtable discussions.
The Modern Greek program at Michigan is involved in another groundbreaking activity that will make a huge difference in Greek visibility, publishing Greek literary translations into English in alliance with the University of Birmingham in England, beginning with a landmark 2006 edition of poems by Kostas Karyotakis, the last poet from the Greek canon not yet translated into English. Michigan English faculty member, Keith Taylor, and William A. Reade, translators, won the 2004 Keeley and Sherrard Award from Poetry Greece magazine for two path-breaking Karyotakis translations.
This is a major step toward reversing the reality that only approximately 5% of literary books are translations from other languages because extremely few non-English writers command international attention and that American university presses, which used to support translations from less commonly taught languages, are cutting down and turning more commercial.
Also distinguishing the University of Michigan’s Modern Greek program is the Window to Greek Culture section of their website, http://www.lsa.umich.edu/modgreek/window, where people from around the world can find poems, reviews, commentaries, commissioned essays, and papers that have been delivered on campus.
The latest addition to Window to Greek Culture is Dr. Nicholas Papandreou’s unpublished essay “On Greek Literature”. Also brand new is the program’s first online forum, “Cavafy”.
In “On Greek Literature”, Dr. Papandreou, who is a fiction writer, essayist, finance & development consultant, offers an eloquent account of his encounters with poems and novels in the Greek language.
The online forum, “Cavafy”, was inspired by responses to a paper by Manuel Savidis titled “Cavafy Through the Looking Glass”, solicited by the Modern Greek Program and posted on the website last year. Five academics from the new generation of English-speaking scholars in Modern Greek Studies have been invited to write responses and offer their scholarly agenda on Cavafy. All five scholars teach in Australian, British, and American universities. and have published and presented extensive work on the Alexandrian writer at conferences. “Their responses have methodological ramifications for Modern Greek cultural studies in general and may in turn generate further discussion,” says Professor Lambropoulos.
On January 15-17, Dr. Fan Mallachou-Tufano head of the Acropolis Restoration Service of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture in Athens presented a series of lectures, for the first time in this country, about the philosophy and ideology of past and present restorations of the Acropolis, and on February 9, Dr. Helen C. Evans, Curator for Medieval Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art presented a lecture “Byzantium Revisited: The Mosaics of Hagia Sophia in the Twentieth Century.”
The University of Michigan has had an impressive connection with things Greek for almost two centuries. its original name “Catholepistemiad” was Greek, with Greek names given to its first courses, such as “Mathematica,” “Astronomia,” “Ethica,” and ”Oeconomica”. It offered its first classes in Modern Greek in the 1870s.
Building on all these ancient connections, the Program is determined to celebrate modern Greek achievers in the arts and sciences such as poet George Seferis, singer Agnes Baltsa, composer Mikis Theodorakis, composer Dimitri Mitropoulos, director Theo Angelopoulos, novelist Nikos Kazantzakis, philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis, designer Theoni Vachlioti Aldredge, scientist Michael Dertouzos, physician George Papanicolaou, and actress Melina Marcouri, and Greek Americans such as singer Maria Callas, director Elia Kazan, novelist Jeffrey Eugenides, choreographer Hermes Pan, composer George Tsontakis, scholar Nicholas Negroponte, philosopher Gregory Vlastos, script writer Albert Bezzerides, businessman Spyros Skouras, performer Johnny Otis, and painter Lucas Samaras.