Greek philanthropist’s donation to Oxford

Many Greeks study at Oxford, about 300, according to the university’s statistics, and they do well in their studies. Just as Greek parents keep up the tradition of investing heavily in their children’s education, there is also an element in the Greek private sector that places a very high value on culture and is prepared to invest significantly in it. Greek investment in Oxford University – that remarkable accumulation of knowledge, material and courses – is highly effective, supporting the university while fostering the development of Greek-related studies. The inauguration of the Stelios Joannou School for Research in Classical and Byzantine Studies is the most recent example of that investment and the most impressive. Oxford University Chancellor Lord Patten of Barnes, who opened the school, noted that the investment would attract more researchers and students. Growing interest A growing interest in classical studies has become apparent in the past 10-15 years, and the number of undergraduate and postgraduate students of classics has multiplied. The major donation by Dakis Joannou in the name of his father, the Greek-Cypriot entrepreneur and philanthropist Stelios Joannou, not only exemplifies that dynamism but will also help channel it into new paths. Lord Patten thanked the Joannou family for their «generosity and vision.» Such a donation is like an act of foreign policy – without national overtones, since classical studies are universal – but which clearly enhances Greek prestige. The Stelios Joannou School is a new building for the university with multiple missions and uses. It is, above all, a research center, with important courses taught by leading classical scholars. But it is also a pole of attraction for research right in the heart of Oxford. It will also be the base for a classics outreach program that will attract future students. Strategically located at St Giles, the school forms part of a triangle with the Ashmolean Museum, which is currently in the process of building new wings, and the renowned Sackler Library, both of which have formidable collections. The new, ultra-modern school will accept students who have no previous knowledge of Greek or Latin, as the notion of classical studies changes to favor the Greek approach. The study of classics at Oxford now officially includes Byzantium, removing it from the hitherto separate departments of history and medieval studies and connecting it directly with the Greco-Roman world. This creates a bridge to post-Byzantine studies and modern Greece, which is matched by the opening up to new subjects. Greek and Latin studies now include and are linked to literature, art history, theater studies, linguistics and history. It is interesting to look at these developments in the light of geopolitical alliances. The ebb and flow of interest in different disciplines is related to many factors, first among them economics. Now, as the academic tradition of classical studies at Oxford joins forces with private investment, they will build a strong basis for development on an international map where in recent years other subjects, such as Chinese and Islamic studies, have been competing for the attention of the new educational elite.