CULTURE

A literary bridge links UK, Greece

Any periodical that combines Greek topics from all eras with British philhellenism is likely to pack plenty of literary punch and depth. The Anglo-Hellenic Review is one such publication, a little gem that deserves wider attention that it doesn’t actively seek. It is modest both in size, with a mere 30 pages of text (and still costing just two pounds sterling) and, evidently, in commercial ambitions – qualities too rarely found even, or perhaps especially, in the publishing world these days. Yet, judging from the high quality of the contributors, the word is clearly out already. If modesty is one apt modifier, then excellence is the necessary counterpart for this biannual publication put out by the Anglo-Hellenic League. It provides admirably wide coverage of Greek topics, in forms ranging from review essays to memoirs to book reviews to previews of coming events, mainly in Britain, which in practice often means London. The focus is more historical than contemporary, but not only classical. Indeed the thematic centerpiece of the latest issue (No. 24, Autumn 2001) is the 60th, and quite possibly last, major anniversary of ceremonies held this past May in remembrance of the Battle of Crete. This, the Germans’ first notable setback in the war, was the first military operation to be spearheaded by British-Greek cooperation and led, ultimately, to an early Dunkirk (with the evacuation of 18,000 men from the island). The longstanding British/Commonwealth and Greek ties were thereby solidified in blood and sacrifice, not just in excavations and Romantic literature. The link was broadened further in 1945, when the original Anglo-Hellenic Review was established under the formidable editorship of George Katsimbalis, who helped put modern Greek literature on the map while serving as an unofficial cultural ambassador and mentor to countless young writers. It is hard to match the original publication’s influence, but at least in longevity this relaunched Review, which began on a shoestring in 1990, has already outlasted its predecessor’s 10-year lifespan. Multidimensional ties The volume opens with an engaging review piece by Eleni Hatzaki, currently Knossos curator for the British School of Athens, on one of her illustrious predecessors, John Pendlebury, a precocious archaeologist who took up that post in Crete in 1930 at the tender age of 25 and held it until 1934. Pendlebury was an equally ardent traveler and, by all accounts, an ebullient personality whose vivacity is captured in a striking photo of him drinking raki with friends. Sadly, it is often the incandescent presence that dies young, as he was executed, aged just 36, by German soldiers on the battle’s second day. (The next issue will include a tribute to Pendlebury by a particularly illustrious wartime figure, the writer Patrick Leigh Fermor.) A Byzantinist, Anthony Bryer, takes up the controversies over the Acropolis, and how it became, early in the young Greek State, the source of a struggle of historical interpretation that did not do justice to those whose lives were lost in its defense during the war of independence. With erudition, but without mincing words, Bryer admonishes those who have obliterated traces of historical periods other than the fifth century BC from the Parthenon and its accompanying buildings, bemoaning the lost Acropolis, including its Mycenaean, Byzantine and Ottoman legacies that were cleared away in misguided, postindependence zeal to restore the Acropolis, not as found but to suit the wishes of the restorers in ascendancy at the time. Political correctness may be a new term, but its roots are old. This cry for balance in restoring and interpreting is accompanied by assertions that seem baldly controversial when taken in themselves (… the Acropolis itself, that barren building site, is something frankly best seen from afar. It is dead.), palatable fare only from such a clear philhelline, and indeed one who supports the restitution of the Parthenon Marbles. Philhellenism is also taken up with aplomb by Sir Michael Llewellyn Smith, until recently British ambassador to Athens and author of the well-received Ionian Vision on the Asia Minor catastrophe. His Varieties of Philhellenism (actually an excerpt of his Runciman Lecture in London in February) looks at the term’s manifestation through a trio of early 19th-century writers, France’s Chateaubriand and the British literary pair of Byron and Shelley. As the latter proves, one can be expansive without first-hand knowledge, as he never actually set foot in Greece. But to Llewellyn Smith, Byron epitomized philhellenism nearly 200 years ago, not only in literature (the long poem Childe Harold, and the accompanying essay Thoughts on the Present State of Modern Greece), but through (eventually) embracing the cause of independence and freedom and dying in its cause in 1824 – even if he shied away from the age-old question of the extent to which modern Greeks can claim a direct linear descent from the ancients. Indeed, for all the classical bearing of so many students of Greek culture, for whom Hellenists is a clearer description, Llewellyn Smith gives a definition of philhellenism – a love of Greece deriving from attachment to the country and to the Greek people – that is refreshingly straightforward, unhindered by bookish allusions, and, in its own way, timeless. The Runciman legacy runs deep, and there is a reprint of Roderick Beaton’s presentation of the annual Runciman Award for 2001, given to Cyprian Broodbank for his work An Island Archaeology of the Early Cyclades, published, as are most of the other entries, by Cambridge University Press, which maintains a significant foothold in publishing books on Greek subjects. Later on, 10 full pages are given to reviews of other recent books on Greece in English, mainly with ancient themes but modern historical subjects too (e.g. David Brewer’s The Flame of Freedom) and a couple of social or travel-type books of more contemporary interest, including one on the history of Aegean sponge-diving. The focus on the Battle of Crete remembrances is self-explanatory, but also carries a note of melancholy; while it celebrates a high point in British-Greek ties, solidified further in archaeology, in classical studies, and in literature, it also serves notice that an extraordinary generation, on both sides (noting also the passing not long ago of George Psychoundakis of Cretan Runner fame) is rapidly passing. Following the death of Runciman himself last year, obituaries to Prof. Nicholas Hammond, Lord Terrington (C.M. Woodhouse) and Nigel Clive in a single volume itself speaks volumes. They embodied a combination of wartime daring and first-rate scholarship on Greece that seems uniquely to characterize that group, the likes of which we are not likely to see again; a parallel, more cross-national version of the Greatest Generation currently captivating contemporary America. Dedication in every sense seems to pervade the illustrious figures from that era; all three obituaries indicate marriages sustained for at least a half-century. It is sad to see such an extraordinary generation passing, but also a comfort to know they were here for so long and left such a rich legacy. Yet a closing review of Susie Pugh’s BBC documentary Are You Captain Corelli? provides a healthy reminder that philhellenism is international and multifaceted. With that in mind, it might be worth suggesting that the editors consider branching out, either in Europe or across the Atlantic, whether in terms of readership, contributors or advertising, if only to help sustain such a worthy endeavor well into the 21st century.