CULTURE

The battle of Thermopylae and its timeless values

The annual Runciman Lecture has become an institution. Held each February by the Center for Hellenic Studies at King’s College, London, it is the best possible way to honor the memory and work of the late Sir Stephen Runciman, a true philhellene and an admirer of Greek Orthodoxy. When Runciman, a distinguished Byzantinist, academic and writer, received the International Culture Award from the Onassis Foundation in the presence of the Greek president, in his address he spoke of the significance of Greek culture in the West, and the importance of the living Greek language from Homer up to the present day. His speech, delivered in Greek, which, as he said, «I learnt to speak at the age of 7,» moved the celebrity audience at the Athens Concert Hall. The Runciman Lecture was the idea of artist Nicholas Egon, who is its sole sponsor. Thirteen years ago at King’s College, the late Giorgos Savvidis gave a memorable lecture on Seferis. Egon, who is chairman of patrons at King’s Greek Studies Center, requested permission to establish an annual lecture in honor of Sir Stephen who was always present at any intellectual or cultural event related to Greece. Egon received permission and went ahead, leaving a sum in his will to support the institution, which includes an official dinner before the lecture, in perpetuity. At the first eight lectures, Runciman was always seated in the front row, and he attended the dinners at the Egon residence in Thurlowe Square, opposite the Victoria and Albert Museum in Knightsbridge. When Runciman was no longer fully mobile, Egon and his wife Matti held the last two dinners at his club, the Athenaeum, where he stayed when in London, a practice they continued after his death. A highly religious man, Runciman donated his award to the Friends of Mount Athos. On February 5, the hosts invited the distinguished speakers from previous years to this year’s event. Honored guests included Center for Hellenic Studies Director Judith Herrin, author of «Women in Purple» (available in a Greek translation from Okeanida) who is currently on sabbatical, writing her next book; Dr Karim Arafat, who is acting director; and writer Paul Cartledge, professor of Greek history at Cambridge and recipient of the Gold Cross of the Phoenix from the Greek president for his work as a philhellene.