Just Above Sunset
April 24, 2005 - From the Department of Useless Information

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From Bob Patterson, columnist for Just Above Sunset


One of our regular readers works near my apartment and we chat often. He asked me if there was a period when Greek literature diminished and then bounced back. He wanted to know when the revival in Greek Literature occurred.

I wondered if there had been one long gradual decline in interest in Greek Literature. I have no idea how to answer this question? Any feedback that I can relay to him?


Ah, yes.

Ah - it comes and goes.  What brought Greek literature back from obscurity was Greek fascination with the French Enlightenment (Voltaire and those dudes) that got the proto-nationalist folks there looking at the local roots of the local culture and digging up old texts - Candide may be responsible for that, and much more - and a tad later the Romantic poets, particularly Byron traipsing around Greece with Keats.  In fact, Byron died of a fever at Missolonghi in April 1824 - a town in western central Greece, on the north shore of the Gulf of Patras (it was under siege by the Turks in the wars of 1822-26 and he was way pro-Greek as they tried to break away from the Turks).  Think also of the Elgin Marbles swiped from the Parthenon being a big deal in England at the time.  The Brits still have them.  Lord Elgin loved Greek stuff, and stole it when he could.  All things Greek were big around 1820 - and not much before and not much since.  That was the peak.  Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn" was first published in 1820 - and so on and so forth.

I must admit I never caught the enthusiasm for all things Greek - but way back in the early seventies I was an eighteenth-century English lit PhD student and thought Keats was for misty-eyed girls, and Byron with his clubfoot and brooding was a bit too Hollywood.  My guy was Swift.  (Byron was nicely cynical, however.)

You see, from Dryden through Pope and Swift, and on out to Johnson, the model was Roman.  That was the Augustan Age, after all. Caesar Augustus.  August.  Wise.  Retrained and controlled.  Think Cicero, Juvenal, Ovid, Tacitus and Virgil.  You imitated those guys.

Then comes 1798 and Wordsworth publishes "Lyrical Ballads" and all things fall apart.  (In fact, I had a professor in grad school at Duke who said English literature itself ended that year.)  Anyway, for the next three or four decades you get Homer, Sappho, Herodotus, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Thucydides, and Plato.  Oh my!  George Chapman had translated Homer way back in 1611 and suddenly THAT was rediscovered - and we get Keats' sonnet "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer" in October 1816.  Geez!  It's not THAT good a translation!  (I used to teach the Robert Fitzgerald translation back in Rochester - and it is mighty fine.)

But I digress.

See this


Under Turkish rule, Greek literature virtually ceased, except in Crete. In the late 18th cent. two patriots, the poet Rhigas Pheraios (1751-98) and the intellectual Adamantios KoraŽs (1748-1833), sought to encourage a revival of Greek letters. The revolutionary society Philike Hetairea, founded in 1816, reflected the growing influence in Greece of the French Enlightenment and the rise of European romanticism; both furnished the intellectual framework for the War of Independence (1821-27) and spurred the postwar nationalist revival that awakened a modern Greek literature.


Fascinating stuff?  Probably not.

But Greek food is great – lamb, and spanakopita!  Great stuff.  And retsina?  Fine.  Ouzo?  Interesting.



From our friend Vince in Rochester, New York –


Why am I fascinated by meaningless patter?

Curiosity - from the unenlightened peanut gallery... is there a similar reflection of the Greek revival in architectural design (that showed up in North America as Southern plantations or things column-iar? (how would you say that adjectively?). What about the differences in Roman and Greek columns and architectural styles? Also the ebb and flow in those timeframes?

Dumb questions... to go with useless topics?

Bit it is interesting to note in your final quote, however, that the impact of Greek/French attention was bi-lateral - reflected with renewed energies in and on both cultures/societies.


My reply to Vince is that if you think about what is at this site – Greek Revival Architecture (1800-1850) - and sites like it, you see this is all part of the same deal.  And here you don’t blame Voltaire and Candide – you blame a follower of Voltaire’s ideas, Thomas Jefferson.



Inspirations and beginnings: Thomas Jefferson designs Monticello, Charlottesville, VA in 1770. Influenced by Palladio. Jefferson believed in architecture as a symbol; he despised Williamsburg due to English origins: Williamsburg represented colonial exploitation. In France, Jefferson learned of Roman architecture and its symbolic association with Greek democracy.


Okay, Lord Byron is writing loopy poetry and fighting for Greek independence in the early 1820’s – and Jefferson was in Paris decades earlier, or was that Nick Nolte?  (Jefferson in Paris is an amusing movie.)  It was a time for thinking about Greece in its Golden Age.

Think about this.  Our revolution in 1776 and that French one in 1789, were efforts towards “democracy” – a Greek word, isn’t it?  That there AGE OF REVOLUTION (1789-1848) in the history books was full of all sorts of references to ancient Greece.  That was the model for all the changes planned and executed, so to speak and not to bring up Robespierre and Doctor Guillotine.  Why wouldn’t architecture follow?


To Jefferson architecture was a form of visual education in support of democratic ideal. The Greek Revival movement becomes widely accepted throughout the early U.S. as a symbol of the new democracy.


Of course.


Dominant style in America, 1820-1850.  Also called ‘national style’ due to popularity.  Known as the ‘Territorial style’ in early Western towns, including Santa Fe, NM. Style diffused westward with settlers (especially New Englanders, across upstate New York), first American architectural style to reach West Coast.”


And this?  “Greek place names, street names, and architecture became dominant throughout the Northeast.”

One sometimes contributor to these pages - our high-powered Wall Street attorney - grew up in Greece, New York, just a few miles west-northwest of where Vince sits in Rochester.  His mother still lives there.  I remember the area.  I used to shop at the Greece Town Mall, which our high-powered Wall Street attorney tells us has gotten huge lately.  Heck, if Rochester weather were better they would have build it differently – with outdoor colonnades and Doric columns and fountains – and called it the Greece Town Agora.  But winters there are too harsh.  (This web log is published not too far from Agora, California.)

Oh, and on styles of Greek columns see this from Boston College.  The page has links to items on the styles.  The four JPG examples are from the US northeast, including the Custom House down in The Battery in Manhattan, right in front of the park, the old Bowling Green, where Rick, our News Guy in Atlanta, reminds us, after looking at the picture of the bull down there –


Bowling Green, where the Dutch in New Amsterdam used to go bowling, and where, on the evening of July 9, 1776 - moments after George Washington, in what is now City Hall Park, had the newly-arrived Declaration of Independence read to the troops - a mob of exuberant citizens descended on the park to haul down the equestrian statue of George III (that they themselves had paid for), and to knock the heads of the royal family that were on the posts of that very fence you see there, later melting them all down into shot to be used by Continental soldiers to shoot redcoats. That other building beyond the park is the Customs building, which sits on the spot of the original New Amsterdam fort, which was essentially the first settlement on the island, out of which the whole city grew.


The NYC Custom House columns are Doric.  The spirit is Greek and revolutionary.

Minor note – the scale patterns in music theory are called modes. And they are named somewhat like the columns – Dorian and such.  You see, music had been studied mathematically, and there were many such collections of “pleasing pitches,” generally called modes.  There is the Phrygian.  And Lydian.  And the Mysolidian.  And the Eolian.  And the Locrian.  There’s a lot of Dorian mode in rock music, and in much of Miles Davis. T hat’s what I meant by saying this is a minor note – listen to “So What” from his best album, “Kind of Blue” – as Miles had a Dorian career.

Ah, them Greeks!


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