CULTURE

New portrait of Athens reveals hidden layers

“Modern Athens is a bustling, overgrown city, continually coming to terms with its illustrious past. Dominated by the Parthenon, the world-famous symbol of classical antiquity, it has been touched by every aspect of Greece’s turbulent history, suffering invasions and occupations, sieges, division and dictatorship, and has grown dramatically into a metropolis of 4 million people. Mixing old and new, the Greek capital is a treasure house of Eastern Orthodox and Western culture, rich in the visual arts, architecture and poetry. Michael Llewellyn Smith describes the history and culture of Athens, site of the 2004 Olympic Games and city of monuments enduring, purged and restored. Exploring its streets and squares, he reveals layers of ancient Greek, Roman and Byzantine history, elegant Bavarian neoclassical buildings and a modern city of concrete and glass.» With this foreword, Professor Roderick Beaton introduces Michael Llewellyn Smith’s new book, «Athens: A Cultural and Literary History.» As a student, while preparing his dissertation on the Asia Minor catastrophe, he was in Greece when the military junta staged its coup in 1967, and stayed on as correspondent for the Spectator magazine. As a diplomat he served at the British Embassy in Athens as an adviser and as ambassador from 1996 to 1999, when he ended his career as a diplomat, but not fortunately, as a writer. His new book is published by Signal Books of Oxford to coincide with the 2004 Olympic Games. A careful researcher and historian, Llewellyn Smith has studied and written excellent books on the Asia Minor catastrophe and on his travels in Crete. He is now writing about the 1896 Games, a detailed history including the personalities and events of the time, to be released soon. Today, he talks to us about Athens, in a book with a foreword by another Philhellene, the biographer of George Seferis, Professor Beaton, and which includes references to history and culture, Olympic Athens from 1896 to 2004, a city of monuments that has endured. He walks its streets and squares, discovering the layers of ancient Greek, Roman and Byzantine history and Bavarian neoclassical buildings among the modern city of concrete and glass. He talks about the city of travelers and Philhellenes, of Byron and Winston Churchill, the city of the Athenians from classical times until today, its citizens, soldiers, intellectuals, poets, politicians, princes and refugees. Parliament House, the Parthenon, the Discus Thrower on the cover and Kapnikarea Church on the back cover, the book has a final chapter explaining Greek words and phrases with humor and knowledge – from the adespota (stray dogs) to the Dekemvriana (the events of December 1944) and mezedhes (appetizers). Illustrated with drawings by Wendy Skinner Smith, the book also has an index and maps. Written with great love, it is bound to find a Greek publisher for the translation. As for its English-language readers, they will discover for themselves the depth of the author’s love for Athens, past and present.