Athens: a hub for graduate-student research and study

Graduate students from the Department of Classics work in the newly opened Princeton Athens Center and explore the city’s museums and monuments.

For graduate students studying ancient Greek, Athens has long been a destination for dissertation research. With the newly opened Princeton Athens Center as their home base, three graduate students in Princeton’s Department of Classics, Malina Buturovic, Teddy Fassberg and Bryson Sewell, participated in the inaugural Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies Summer Institute. They all gleaned important insights that they are bringing to bear on their research.

By Julie Clack

Together with graduate students at the University of Patras, Greece, the group studied what Greek scholar J.B. Bury refers to as “barbarian blends,” or “peculiar varieties of Greek resulting from invasive contact with other languages.”

The seminar covered a range of topics, from Aristophanes to Greek translations of the New and Old Testaments to modern Greek dialects. In addition, students took a modern Greek class, where the group discussed modern Greek poetry, folk songs and folktales — in Greek.

“The topics we discussed, such as the Scythians’ Greek or the Lord’s Prayer, tied in incidentally to things I happened to be working on at the time and allowed me to see things from a different point of view,” says Fassberg, a scholar of early Greek prose. “The close attention we paid to language helped shed new light on things I had been thinking about.”

Buturovic, who focuses on Greek drama and religion, was most excited by the group’s discussion of modern Greek dialects. “The Summer Institute opened my eyes to the range of ways that language itself — and not just the content it records — can function as a document of history: providing proof of the depth of contact between two different peoples, or giving valuable information about the register in which a text was written, or the audience it was intended to reach,” she says.

After the seminar concluded, Buturovic headed north to Thessaloniki to study modern Greek, where she saw many of these themes play out firsthand. “I’ve been continually struck by how much what I learned in the Summer Institute has deepened my language study,” she says. “The Summer Institute helped me understand how the rich linguistic diversity of this region intersects with its broader political and religious history. I’d like to continue pursuing these connections.”

Sewell, who specializes in the post-classical Greek language and literature of late antiquity and early Byzantium, shared these takeaways. “Greek needs to be studied as a language in contact with other languages; to study it in isolation would be like trying to study a star while ignoring space.”

He adds, “Greek was used, both in written and spoken forms, among peoples of diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds, which affected its production and reception and thus the identity of the users. Language is a major factor in establishing or in presenting one’s identity. The Summer Institute has helped me to think more critically and systematically about this problem.”

The students took advantage of Athens’ proximity to ancient sites with day trips and weekend visits to Mycenae, Delphi and Epidaurus, where they saw a performance of Aristophanes’ “Acharnians.”

“Our excursions were wonderful; nothing brings the history of language to life better than visiting the places where it has been spoken and written for thousands of years,” Sewell says.

The group also benefited from guest speakers at the Princeton Athens Center, such as Katerina Stergiopoulou, assistant professor of classics and Hellenic studies at Princeton, who gave a lecture on the Greek poet C.P. Cavafy that was attended by a group of about 20 leading literary scholars from Greek institutions.

“Providing a context for onsite learning and research by Princeton graduate students is central to the mission of the Princeton Athens Center,” says Dimitri Gondicas ’78, director of the Seeger Center. “By connecting Princeton scholars with Greek colleagues and institutions, the center has become a forum for interchanging ideas.”

Summer at the Princeton Athens Center

It has been two years since the Princeton Athens Center for Research and Hellenic Studies opened. With a robust event calendar of lectures and conferences, the center has become a hub of activity for Princeton scholars in Greece, especially throughout the summer months.

Undergraduates in the 2018 PIIRS Global Seminar “Athens Now: Culture and Politics in the Urban Space,” led by Efthymia Rentzou, associate professor of French and Italian, attended workshops at the center, where they heard from Athens-based architects, artists, authors and documentary filmmakers.

Daniel Garber, the A. Watson Armour, III, University Professor of Philosophy, hosted a three-day workshop titled “Order and Disorder in the History of Philosophy,” which included scholars from Athens, Princeton and Sydney.

In July, Brooke Holmes, the Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Humanities and professor of classics, held her second annual multimedia workshop titled “Liquid Antiquity,” a multimedia project that emphasizes the intersection of modern art and antiquity through text, images and video from multiple perspectives.

Several Princeton professors also visited the center: Jeremy Adelman, the Henry Charles Lea Professor of History, gave a talk titled “Photography and Humanitarianism: Is There a Contradiction?”; Su Friedrich, professor of visual arts at the Lewis Center for the Arts, screened and discussed some of her recent films; and Katerina Stergiopoulou, assistant professor of classics and the Stanley J. Seeger ’52 Center for Hellenic Studies, spoke on C.P. Cavafy’s modernist poetics of citation.