Rediscovering, Reconstructing, Using the Past: Archaeology
of the Classical World
A discussion of the interrelations between history and
historical stories clearly provides us with an appropriate opportunity to try
once again to assess the impact of the classical Greek legacy on modern society
in terms of its usefulness, its dynamics, and its misuse. Since much of our
knowledge of the classical world is based on archaeology, the exploitation of
material remains of that era by specialists and laymen becomes nowadays of
primary importance for the reception of classical Greece: remains of the past
have been and are still being broadly described as “the visible
part of history.” Ιn fact they are just the tangible
become really historically “visible” in the way they are
at any given time by their observer. In the case of
the classical world the contribution of its material evidence to history is
normally enhanced by or combined with a large number of written sources
(literature, epigraphy, other documents). Nevertheless even written sources are
always rendered “intelligible” by their user through interpretation. The quest
for the quality and the limits of interpretation of the classical world—an
unending process—as well as the breadth of inspiration, artistic or practical,
based on its legacy—another free and creative kind of interpretation—pose a wide
range of issues concerning different areas of modern life.
History and Scholarly Archeology
In the domain of scholarship, archaeology rediscovers pieces
of evidence from the past and makes every effort “objectively” to
history in accordance with the remains, and in
correlation with written sources, if they exist. Nevertheless the
interpretation, as is unavoidable when any attempt is made to
history from the study of historical evidence,
is not always sufficiently factual. It is frequently influenced, or even
guided, by theoretical, social, national, nationalistic, or personal
conceptions current at the time of the interpretation—the latter conceptions
sometimes aiming to impress and entertain the public, rather than offer
serious knowledge. Interpretations produced under such influences offer
temporary creations, stories, rather than history. A few well-known cases of
this kind of interpretation suffice to show how much these factors interfere
with the reception of the historical substance of ancient remains.
Archaeology became a science in the 1760s. About 150 years later classical
Greek art was considered, in a strongly idealistic theoretical environment,
to be the visual expression of an ideal way of life of an unsurpassed
standard, realized at the time of its creation. It took time for the
discrepancy between the high ideal and the real life of the period to be
recognized, and for the artistic expression of other periods and its
historical value to be properly estimated. Despite the full rehabilitation
of prehistoric, Roman, and Byzantine art in the course of the twentieth
century, the perception of classical art as the visual expression of an
exceptional period of history, unique in time and place, is still latent in
the minds of many specialists and laymen.The term archaic Greek
, for example, 
still remains in use, placing the beginnings
Greek art around 700 BC, when monumental Greek art began to develop, and
ignoring at least three preceding centuries of Greek art—and consequently of
Greek life and history. The term is a relic of the superseded but not wholly
extinguished idealistic conception.A good example of how deeply this latent
traditional conception can still falsely influence our reception of ancient
Greek art is the shock felt recently by scholars and the general public when
they visited the exhibition “Colored Gods: Colors in Ancient Sculpture.” 
The deeply rooted
idealistic conception of the “purified” human figure, incarnate in
glittering white marble, was violently overthrown by the coloured
reconstructions of well-known classical sculptures, showing that the surface
of marble statues had in reality been enlivened by multihued painting,
expressing a cheerful and vivid feeling of life. On the other hand, by no
means may one deny that classical Greek art embodies a most valuable ideal
of a well-balanced, creative personal and social life, always active as a
fund of ideas and inspiration.Like the idealistic approach they criticize,
sociologically motivated theories discrediting classical art and the
paradigm of life it represents as the creation of and for an élite 
—hence a reactionary
art—and focusing on the remains of popular artifacts as witnesses to the
real everyday life of the past, apply an equally exclusive approach to
history, ignoring the fact
that classical art was the
expression of the common spirit
of a coherent society, which
was the Greek city-state.
National parameters can also create stories rather than history. A good
example, out of many, is the case of the pyramidal ruins of ancient
buildings in the Argolid (fig. 1). After archaeometric measurements of their
building material they have been interpreted as real, small pyramids (tombs
or astronomical watchtowers) built early in the third millennium BC.
study, on the other hand, dates them to the fourth and third centuries BC
and interprets them as the remains of roadside guardhouse towers with a high
tapering base (fig. 2).
The character and antiquity ascribed to these
constructions by scholars who are attracted to the first option offers to
modern Greek pride a welcome story, locating the invention—or parallel early
use—of the famous Egyptian pyramidal form in Greece. But this story
contributes nothing to history so long as it ignores the strong
Personal scholarly visions produce equally unconfirmed “historical” images,
which can sometimes affect the current reception of a historical period. This, for example, is the case with the “restoration” of the “Palace of
Minos” in Knossos. On the basis of poor remains of the lower parts and the
decoration of the building complex (fig. 3), upper stories and a full
decoration were re(?)-constructed, following Evans’s intuitional ideas of
what they should look like (fig. 4).
Although we do not know how they
really looked, the image of these “modern ruins” of Knossos exercises a
considerable influence on our reception of Minoan civilization.
On the other hand, theoreticians have tended recently to deny any objectivity
in our reading of the past, stressing the above-mentioned and other factors
as leading inevitably to the forging of a modern image, on the basis of a
modern interpretation of cultural remains. With regard to classical Greece,
a strong challenge arose to the “established” perception of it. In
particular, the approach to Greek antiquity as a unique
historical moment of the highest human creation, and its use by modern
Greeks as the nucleus of their tradition and identity, has been declared to
be a constructed modern conception.
It is not the aim of this paper to examine whether reference to classical
antiquity at the time of the formation of the modern Greek state was
determined merely by its citizens’ need to put down deep and glorious roots
in the past, or rather by the general admiration of the “Greek miracle” then
prevailing in contemporary romanticism and idealism. What I am concerned
with here is to explore briefly the two main streams through which classical
antiquity and its remains are a living presence today, and will continue to
be so in the future. The first stream is constituted by their function as
strictly historical evidence, as pieces of human experience that have
permanent value. The second stream is constituted by their function as a
fund of facts, achievements, and images of life, a fund of pregnant content
always at the disposal of modern thinkers and doers for inspiring or
expressing current preoccupations.
With regard to the function of classical antiquity and its remains as
historical evidence, it is first necessary to say a few words about
“objectivity.” One can in no way deny the role of the living experience of
any scholar in attempting to reconstruct life in the past. On the other
hand, one can register a multitude of facts
that are not
susceptible of doubtful interpretation and that constitute a sound basis for
our approach to the past. If in this approach we try systematically to take
everything that we have or can discover of this literally
evidence into consideration and base our
interpretation on it or with reference to it, then the story of the
interpretation will each time be as near to objective history as
contemporary human cognitive capacity allows.
Modern methods and possibilities of
interdisciplinary research, including the application of the methods of
natural science, combined with the rapidly growing recognition of the
importance of nonartistic archaeological evidence (agriculture, handicraft,
trade, and private, social, and religious life) constantly enlarge our
about the past. Their careful and sober
synthesis, the creation of a story that aspires to be
, can vary, highlighting different aspects of the reality
that the data represent; or it can at any time be modified on the basis of
This is the highest point of objectivity which modern “historical
can attain: the limits of knowledge are clearly defined by the etymological
meaning of the word “history.” It is derived from the root of the verb
‘I get to know’. Ἵστωρ
is ‘the one who
knows’, while the verb ἱστορῶ
look for knowledge’. Hence history is the constant struggle to
true knowledge. Speaking of historical archaeology with
reference to the classical heritage, I would go so far as to say that in any
historical approach to the period , the manifestly anthropocentric character
of classical art, and its expression of an ideally free and balanced human
nature, should be considered as objective data.
A scholarly archaeological activity that is increasingly gaining ground in
our own day is the preservation and comprehensible presentation of material
cultural remains, with the aim of offering historical knowledge to a broad
public through visual data. In countries like Greece this work, managed by
interdisciplinary teams of archaeologists, architects, engineers, and
others, mostly involves classical monuments.
Strict international rules are
already in place concerning the extent of restoration that is historically
permissible, or the extent of the intervention that is acceptable in order
to conserve the remains and produce out of their chance dismembered
condition an easily comprehensible image of their form and function, thus
revealing their historical testimony.
The intervention of the present in
the making of this image is nevertheless, again, in the nature of this
activity. Intervention sometimes risks producing a falsified image:
restoration is allowed up to the point at which scholars are absolutely sure
of how the monument originally looked. But what should be the percentage and
the quality of new material added to what has survived, in order to restore
a comprehensible image of the ruin? Is this “comprehensible image,” which up
to the present has never existed, a falsification, or rather a further phase
in the life of the monument? If the monument preserves elements of different
periods of its history, as for example is the case with an ancient Greek
temple converted later into a Christian church, to what extent can one
preserve and present each phase, or on the basis of what criteria should one
attribute more weight to one or some of them (original phase, best
preserved, or connected with important events)? A characteristic example is
the dilemma faced in the restoration of the temple of Zeus in Olympia (fig. 5): The drums of most of the columns of this building still lie as they
fell. Restoring them would have produced a much more complete image of the
original form of the building, which was a human creation
the other hand, though, the condition in which the ruin is found forms part
of its history, even if this condition, caused by an earthquake, forms part
of its natural history
. Which of these two poles is the more
significant? A balanced compromise was chosen: one of the columns was
re-erected, giving again the sense of height and grandeur of the original
building, while the rest were left on the ground, testifying to its later
The recent definition of restored monumental ruins as “scientific
expresses laconically but thoroughly the character of archaeological
restoration and presentation: restoration and presentation are based on
research; they are images recording the result of a historical study, and
are therefore the historical interpretation of the cultural remains. Should
we avoid such interpretations? Many arguments can be adduced in support of
restoration. The care and conservation of the monuments (restoration and
presentation contribute much to conservation) is indispensable; we are
obliged to preserve the remains, which in this case constitute the
historical evidence. Restoration and presentation make the monuments
readable, revealing their otherwise unrecognizable history to society in a
direct manner, for society cares about the past and its tradition and needs
to know about it.
The intervention—in most cases necessary in order to preserve the
monuments—is justified, first if the story it produces is once more as
“objective” as possible (resulting from secure data), and second if it
allows for potential modification (which is foreseen by the rule of
reversibility of the intervention) in the event that new evidence makes this
One more field in which historical stories are intentionally created is that
of educational programs produced in schools, museums, and other institutions
for children. Here a great deal of simplification and animation through the
use of modern elements is admissible in order to make learning attractive. But it is not at all easy for children to distinguish the naturally and
aesthetically modern forms that invest the historical object (often by a
process of abstraction) from the real historical content to which the modern
images are meant to lead them—especially in the case of the classical form
and its message.
A characteristic example of the danger of disseminating unhistorical images
that these educational instruments entail is the mascots of the Olympic
Games held in Greece in 2004, the dolls “Phoebus” and “Athena” (fig. 7).
The intent of
their creation was not to educate; it was rather to advertise (although
advertising “educates” in a way). But the intended simplification and
modernization was in principle the same as in the case of the programs for
children: I quote in translation the “source of inspiration” for their
They were inspired by an ancient Greek doll.… The oldest
and most desirable toys for children through the ages, from antiquity to
the present day, are the dolls.… Their main feature is the movable
limbs.… [The mascot-dolls] are two children, who symbolize the tight
bond linking Greek history to the modern Olympic Games, and show,
through the pleasure of the game, that what is important is to
participate, not to win in a game.… Just as they were inspired by an
ancient Greek doll, they received names connected with ancient Greece:
the boy is named after the god Apollo-Phoebus, the girl after Athena,
sister of Apollo.…
One could accept the use of dolls as cheerful
diachronic symbols of the games. But these dolls did not embody even the
slightest element of the essence of the two ancient Greek gods. What kind of
idea about these two highly suggestive mythical conceptions could be formed
by the crowds of lay people from different cultures who attended the Olympic
Games? It is the task of scholars and teachers who create educational
programs to plan them in such a way that children on the one hand can get to
know the historical object—as simply as is appropriate to their mental
capacity—and on the other can become aware of its potential as a source of
forms and ideas for new creations in the present.
Classical Heritage: A Permanent Fund of Inspiration
The second stream through which classical antiquity remains
active in modern life is, as I have already said, its function as a fund of
human experience and inspiration. This interactive approach to the classical
heritage, re-forming or studying inherited images and ideas of the past and
using them as vehicles with which to express modern experiences and needs,
creates continually modern versions of, or subjectively motivated approaches
to—in other words modern stories
“reality.” Despite the fact that this activity often risks distorting the
historical conscience of modern society acquired as a result of scholarly
effort (I shall come back to this point), one has to admit that this
interaction is as important for life as is the knowledge tied to
scholarship, and constitutes an essential part of the notion of the
. The classical legacy is present in almost every
aspect of modern life (see, for example, the unit “Ancient Greece, In Us and
Around Us” in a teaching program of Kennedy Center Artsedge, or the book by
P. Koronakis-Rohlf and M. Batzini, Ancient Greece and the
, Athens 2009).
Modern literature continues to refer abundantly to classical Greece. It
suffices to mention here the paper on “The Influence of Classical Greece on
American Literature—An Overview,” delivered by A.Karanikas at a conference
held in Boston in 1993, 
or the Open University’s on-line program “Classical
Receptions in Drama and Poetry in English from c.1970 to the Present,” 
or even the Percy Jackson
series of fictional adventure and
fantasy books (fig. 8), based predominantly on Greek mythology, which as of
July 5, 2010 has been on the New York Times
Seller list for children’s books for 155 weeks.
How unexpectedly wide the range of
modern experiences seeking expression through classical archetypes can be is
manifested by an ode written early this year by the British poet laureate,
Carol Ann Duffy, for England’s leading football player, David Beckham: 
Beckham tore his
Achilles tendon (fig. 9) and was going to miss the World Cup in June; Duffy
imagines him as the Greek hero Achilles who was dipped as a baby by his
mother Thetis into the River Styx and became invulnerable, except for his
heel, the part of the body she held him by (fig. 10).
With regard specifically to classical art
as a source of
inspiration, modern poets and writers continue to produce works in which
they present their own world with reference to or in contrast with material
remains of the classical era.A good example of such creations is the notion
of “classical tourism” in works of leading American modern poets, as
described in a r ecent article by Marsha Bryant and Mary Ann Eaverly under
the title “ Classical tourism in Debora Greger’s
(a relevant interesting statement in this text: “Interacting with ancient
artifacts and sites through a process we call ‘Classical tourism’ can
provide women poets a greater flexibility than the scripted characters of
literary ‘monuments’”). In Greece, ancient works of art continually inspire
a broader circle of writers in a more direct way, due to their sense of
classical antiquity as national heritage.
It would be beyond the scope of this overview to explore even some of the
aspects of inspiration that ancient Greek masterpieces and forms generate in
the production of modern art. Contemporary artists go back to classical art
to feel its presence in our life, to comment on it in modern terms, to
explore actuality through, or in contrast to, the “established” classical
material, creating their own visual “story.” It is sufficient here simply to
mention some collections of this kind of art exhibited recently in Athens
(K.Veinoglou, O You, Land of Pnyx
Society, Plaka-Athens, 2006; 
European artists in Mythos: Myths and
Archetypes in the Mediterranean
, Byzantine and Christian Museum,
Athens, 2006; 
Chromy, Mythos Revisited
, Garden of the National
Museum, Athens, 2007; 
Vana Xenou, The Soul of Land
National Garden, Athens 2010; The Myth of
, Center “Leonidas Canellopoulos,” Eleusis, 2010). This approach to re-forming classical images within the context of
contemporary story-telling is well represented in a comment concerning the
exhibition The Myth of Erysichthon
of Thessaly had cut down trees in a grove sacred to Demeter. The goddess
punished him by giving him an unrelenting and insatiable hunger. He sold all
his possessions, including his daughter Mestra, to buy food, but was still
hungry. Mestra was freed from slavery by Poseidon, who gave her the gift of
changing her shape in order to escape her bonds. Erysichthon sold her
numerous times to make money to feed himself. In the end he ate himself in
his hunger. The comment reads (in translation) as follows:
later one would rediscover the myth of Erysichthon, because [this myth]
is about the lack of measure in consumption, about irresponsibility and
impunity and … about their consequences. It is, perhaps more precisely,
about the inconsiderate exploitation of natural resources and the
devastation of the environment. Today the myth of Erysichthon is revived
in the work of 61 artists.
A special field of art in which the
classical legacy directly or indirectly remained vividly productive is
architecture.Instead of listing the different aspects of its diachronic
influence, I quote from Wikipedia’s short article on “Neoclassicism in the
21st century”: 
After a lull during the period of modern architectural dominance
(roughly post-WWII until the mid 1980s), neoclassicism has seen somewhat
of a resurgence. In the United States some public buildings are built in
the neoclassical style as of at least 2006, with the completion of the
Schermerhorn Symphony Center [in Nashville].
In Britain a
number of architects are active in the neoclassical style. Examples of
their work include two university Libraries: Quinlan Terry’s Maitland
Robinson Library at Downing College [Cambridge] and Robert Adam
Architects’ Sackler Library [Oxford] . The majority of new neoclassical
buildings in Britain are private houses.
As of the first
decade of the 21st century, neoclassical architecture is usually classed
under the umbrella term of “traditional architecture.” Also, a number of
pieces of postmodern architecture draw inspiration from and include
explicit references to neoclassicism, the National Theatre of Catalonia
in Barcelona among them.
These buildings create their own
monumental story with reference to classical monumental forms. The creators
of the Sackler Library (fig.13) which succeeded the old Ashmolean Library
explained, for example, that the entrance of the building is based upon the
Doric Temple of Apollo at Bassae, first excavated by Charles Robert
Cockerell, the man who designed the Ashmolean Museum, 
while the National Theatre of
Catalonia (fig. 14) envelops a modern construction, where modern materials
such as glass prevail, in an architectural wrapper in the
of a Roman temple.
A very influential branch of art production, namely theatre and
cinematography, deals frequently with classical antiquity. Especially
relevant to the subject discussed here is the “revival” of ancient Greek
drama, whose essence is best described in an article by G. Sifakis on the
Web site of the Encyclopedia of Death and
Productions of Greek tragedies have increasingly carved a
considerable niche in contemporary Western (and Japanese) theater, so
much so that one may wonder what it is that ancient tragedy has to say
to modern audiences that have no familiarity with or belief in Greek
mythology and religion. It seems that the basic shape of the stories,
the examples of heroic defiance, and above all the uncompromising
dignity with which tragic characters accept the predicament imposed on
them by superior powers which they cannot overcome or avoid, hold a
universal message of humanity that is as valuable for modern men and
women as it was for ancient ones.
As characteristic, on the
other hand, of the motivation of modern “translators” of ancient plays or
dramatic myths, I quote here a comment by a leading modern Greek
scenographer, Dionysis Photopoulos, concerning his collaboration with Peter
Stein for the performance of John Barton’s Tantalus
in Denver, England, in 2000: 
“Tantalus is a work that speaks about the foolery of war
and contains characters very familiar to me throughout my life; I feel as if
I belong to these families.”
This reincarnation, however, of images of ancient life in our modern world is
not without problems. Intense criticism is often expressed of modern
theatrical interpretations of ancient tragedies and comedies, as just two
examples out of many can show: Antony Keen argued, commenting on Peter
Stein’s production of Aeschylus’ Oresteia
(Edinburgh, 1994), that“the hopes for grand drama were partially fulfilled,
at least in Agamemnon
,” but “in the Eumenides
all [went] horribly wrong,” because “it soon became obvious that Stein was
deliberately playing the Eumenides
while “ Eumenides
is not a funny play.It is a
deadly serious examination of the debate between two standards of justice,
one based on equity and one on revenge, a debate as relevant today as it was
two-and-a-half thousand years ago.” 
On the other hand, Kraounakis and Hatzakis’s production of Aristophanes’
(Epidauros, 2010) has been described
by spectators as “Acharneis” without Aristophanes, because they saw a rich
show, with many elements of modern reference and satire, but missed
Obviously there is a problem with the reception of this movement of ancient
: are modern plays renderings of the
classical stories with allusions to present circumstances, making use of the
universal messages of humanity
that these plays contain, or
are they free, more or less discordant adaptations of the ancient works to
A similar problem troubles cinematography. Here the demand for originality,
commerciality, and relaxing entertainment leads frequently to stories which
have nothing, or very little, to do with the classical characters and
situations they allegedly reproduce. An indicative example is the recent
hit—as a comic book, a movie, and a TV series—of Hercules and Xena (fig. 16), which has been presented as a renaissance
of ancient Greek
myth (“watch the old Greek tales with a new spin, as they are resurrected
weekly for us”), but at the same time as destroying myths through
the series, very loosely based on the tales of the classical Greek cultural
hero Heracles, is set in a fantasy version of ancient Greece not precisely
located in historical time. Although set in ancient Greece, the show also
has a mixture of oriental, Egyptian, and medieval elements in various
episodes. It is interesting to navigate through the great number of sites
and assess positive and negative references to this production. Negative
criticism concerning its complete falsification of ancient myths comes
mainly from the side of Greek viewers, as a result of their feeling
themselves to be heirs to the genuine myth, but perhaps more than that
because of their developed sense of familiarity
classical myth.Internationally reactions are generally positive, finding
the characters “extremely thoughtful at times and self indulgent, pleasant
time-wasters at other times.” 
Some spectators report that they were prompted by
characters featured in the series to learn more about ancient Greek
mythology—but this is exactly the point where the danger of mixing knowledge
with entertainment is hidden, especially with regard to children.
It is of great interest to explore the ethics of artistic creation especially
in this important field of theatre and film. One cannot begrudge anyone’s
drawing from the classical tradition the elements that they find suit their
creative imagination, and reshaping them in any direction their vision or
their needs lead them. On the contrary, one would say that this is
desirable: in the end, the ever-active, unbounded power of inspiration is
the essence of the classical. On the other hand a clearer distinction
, between ancient
history—as well as ancient stories belonging to history—and our modern
stories, is imperative. Should not people whose work is inspired by a
classical play or a mythical image, but strays too far from it, abstain from
entitling their work with the ancient writer’s or hero’s name?
Or at least should
they not entitle it in a way that makes clear the modern different version
This and surely other
proposals—which one would welcome in the “Athens Dialogues”—could deal with
the problem effectively. A constraint on what was said above concerning the
freedom of inspiration should be accepted in the case of staging
performances in ancient theatres: it is important here to give serious
consideration to the damage or disturbance modern staging can cause to the
irreplaceable remains of ancient monuments.
Athletics is yet another field of modern life in which the classical legacy
plays a significant role. Interest in the training of the body and care for
its physical condition, which has developed very widely since the nineteenth
century, has much to do with classical ideals.I quote on this matter a
characteristic passage from a volume edited by James Porter in 1999, whose
texts “attest to the particular richness of the body in classical antiquity
and as an object for study today”: 
Classicists may query any definition of a Greek ideal of physical
culture that regards ancient athletes as a “celebration of the human
body,” pure and simple. They see Greek athletics, rather, as a social
institution of the ancient city-state, which fully integrated the
aesthetic ideal of the beautifully formed male physique (the kalos ) with the moral and political ideal
of the good male citizen (the agathos ). Yet … as product of the nineteenth century,
bodybuilding—the practice of putting highly defined musculature on
public display—drew its initial context and much of its validation from
the ancient world.
Modern activity inspired by ancient Greece
came to a peak with the “revival” of the Olympic Games in 1896. Pierre de
Coubertin idealized the Olympic Games as the ultimate ancient athletic
summarizes Coubertin’s advocacy of the Games as follows:
[It was] centered on a number of ideals about sport. He believed
that the early ancient Olympics encouraged competition among amateur
rather than professional athletes, and saw value in that. The ancient
practice of a sacred truce in association with the Games might have
modern implications, giving the Olympics a role in promoting peace. This
role was reinforced in Coubertin’s mind by the tendency of athletic
competition to promote understanding across cultures, thereby lessening
the dangers of war. In addition, he saw the Games as important in
advocating his philosophical ideal for athletic competition: that the
competition itself, the struggle to overcome one’s opponent, was more
important than winning.
Also summarized are the differences and
similarities between the ancient and modern Olympics: The ancient Olympics
were rather different from the modern Games. There were fewer events, and
only free men who spoke Greek could compete. The Games were always held at
Olympia rather than alternating to different locations as is the tradition
with the modern Olympic Games. There is one major commonality between the
ancient and modern Games: the victorious athletes are honored, feted, and
praised. Their deeds were heralded and chronicled so that future generations
could appreciate their accomplishments. One could enlarge the list of
similarities by citing political interventions, violations of the rules and
ethics of competition, etc. that happened in antiquity as well as today. Yet
the “revival” of the Olympic Games is supposedly based not only on their
historical reality, but also and especially on the ancient
about them, that is, the ideal conception that the
ancient Greeks shaped for them. Inasmuch as the modern Olympics and their
new story, or ideal, continue to be inspired by the ancient ideal and allow
it to guide their function, they will be one of the most genuine and most
influential cultural activities of today inspired by ancient precedent (fig. 17).
A final issue to be addressed is the broad use of the classical heritage by
modern societies in defining social identities.
Even small local societies in
countries with a classical past feel the need to link their identity to
glorious moments of history. The recent restructuring of municipalities in
Greece with names that refer mostly to antiquity is a good example. But
can be produced in different places. Thus,
for example, the inhabitants of the Peloponnesian village of Karyai erected
in their village a full-scale copy of the porch of Caryatids on the
Acropolis of Athens, with the intention of proving the importance of their
ancestry (fig. 18).
This is evidently an unsuccessful “historical” story. The Erechtheion as
work of art and as a temple has nothing to do with the history of the
village. Even the ancient female figures serving as architectural supports,
inspired by, or likened to, female worshippers of Artemis in the ancient
town of Karyai, have nothing or very little as an artistic invention to do
with the past of this village. The importance the copy of the Parthenon
acquired for the image of Nashville in the United States could be considered
an exaggerated extension of this kind of reference to classical
Classical antiquity has supplied the nucleus of the modern Greek state’s
identity, a state formed at a time when Europe was still strongly influenced
still understood as a major component of this national identity, not as a
hereditary gift, but rather as the experience of a language with an
extraordinary richness of notions, which developed uninterruptedly down the
centuries, an experience of living in the same places in which ancient Greek
culture developed and among its remains, of being the natural guardians of
the multitude of these internationally praised material remains and the
recipients of an education strongly influenced by this environment. One
cannot criticize the Greek authorities who designed the current Greek
passport, on whose pages faint representations of monuments representing
different periods of the country’s history tell the story of the national
identity of modern Greeks. While some nationalistic conceptions of identity
based especially on the legacy of classical Greece still exist, the sober
conception I have just described is by far the most prevalent. The same
components, apart from language, played a similar role in the local identity
of the inhabitants of Magna Graecia
Italy, or in a more casual way in other places where classical culture
Beyond national identities, broader cultural groups define themselves by
referring in a greater or lesser degree to the legacy of classical Greece:
Even Duroselle, 
whose book on European history has been strongly criticized 
for setting the
origins of “Europe” much later than antiquity, clearly registers the Greek
sources of modern “European culture.” Furthermore, European culture has been
widened as “western culture” or “civilization.” The identity of this
globalized cultural entity is characteristically defined as the culture
began with the Greeks, was enlarged and strengthened by the
Romans, reformed and modernized by the fifteenth-century Renaissance and
Reformation, and globalized by successive European empires that spread
the European ways of life and education between the sixteenth and
The modern Olympics, among other things, are a universal manifestation of
this culture. Another manifestation of its universal influence is the use of
images symbolizing it to represent international and intercultural
activities.The logo of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and
Cultural Organization is a case in point, 
imitating an ancient Greek temple
(fig. 19), but representing legacies and monuments of many different
cultures. An analogous phenomenon is the symbolic use of classical images in
publicity all over the world to advertise merchandise as purportedly
possessing enduring value (fig. 20).
A final word should be added concerning the current image of modern Greek
national identity outside Greece. Especially instructive on this point are
the cartoons which appeared recently in the international press, commenting
on the difficult financial situation of the country: almost all of them did
so with reference to classical Greece, representing modern Greece (and of
course modern Greeks) in the form of an outstanding classical Greek work of
art. I will comment briefly on two examples out of many: the first is a
front cover of the German magazine Focus
of 3 May 2010) representing the Aphrodite of Milo draped in the flag
of modern Greece
and extending her hand in the characteristic
gesture of a beggar (fig. 21).
The famous statue of the ancient Greek goddess stands
for modern Greece asking for money from her partners in Europe. The second
example is a cartoon by Chappatte under the title “Greece in Debt” ( International Herald Tribune
of February 2, 2010; fig. 22): 
Discus-thrower of the famous ancient sculptor Myron has in his hand a euro
instead of the discus. He throws the euro-discus out of a building with
classical features in which he is housed, after having broken the glass pane
of a window. Outside the window earlier throws have accumulated a pile of
coins. The meaning is evident: modern Greeks, who live among the remains of
classical Greece and experience its precious heritage, have betrayed it in
the current situation and have foolishly spent the resources they once
Two statements can be made on the basis of publications of this kind. First,
in the mind of the broad international lay public there still exists a
latent feeling that the classical past represents a major component of
modern Greek identity (in spite of the contrast with the current state
suggested by the cartoons). One should study this phenomenon on the one hand
in relation to international criticism that Greece places too much weight on
its classical past, and on the other to the efforts of Greeks today to
balance the different components of their identity, that is their history
and their recent and present creations. The second statement is that the
perception of the classical as an ideal paradigm of life (which in the
present situation—so the cartoons imply—Greeks have ignored) is still
vividly alive in the international community.
Agard, W. R.
1930. The Greek Tradition in
2003. The Parthenon. Cambridge,
Bol, P., ed. 2001. Die
Geschichte der antiken Bildhauerkunst I: Frühgriechische
eds. 2010. Συντήρηση, αναστήλωση και
αποκατάσταση μνημείων στην Ελλάδα, 1950–2000.
Brinkmann, V., N. Kaltsas, and
R. Wünsche. 2007. Πολύχρωμοι Θεοί:
Χρώματα στα αρχαία γλυπτά. Athens.
Charbonneaux, J., R. Martin,
and F. Villard. 1969. Grèce archaïque. Paris.
1960. Archaeology and Society:
Reconstructing the Prehistoric Past. 3rd rev. ed.
Damaskos, D., and D. Plantzos, eds.
2008. A Singular Antiquity:
Archaeology and Hellenic Identity in Twentieth-Century
Greece. Mouseio Benaki Supplement 3. Athens.
de la Torre, M., ed. 1997. The Conservation of Archaeological Sites in the
Mediterranean Region. Los Angeles.
1988. “Γας ομφαλός III.” Χαίρε ποτέ. Athens.
1993. L’Europe: Histoire de ses
peuples. Nouvelle ed. Paris.
Étienne, R., C. Müller, and
F. Prost. 2000. Archéologie historique de la Grèce antique.
2010. “Greece and Germany Fight over
Aphrodite of Melos.” Hurriyet Daily News
and Economic Review, August 1. Accessible online at
1980. Simples observations sur la façon
d’écrire l’histoire. Travaux de la faculté de Philosophie et
Lettres de l’Université catholique de Louvain 23, section d’histoire 4.
2010a. “Προς ανιστόρητους.” ΤΑ ΝΕΑ, August 13–15.
———. 2010b. “Γόνιμος
έρανος.” ΤΑ ΝΕΑ/Ορίζοντες, August
Grandsaignes d’Hauterive, R.
1948. Dictionnaire des racines des langues
1976. Utopische Vergangenheit: Archäologie
und moderne Kultur. Berlin.
2001. Archaische Koren.
Kottaridi, A., and S. Chondrogiannis,
eds. 2007. The Present and the Future of
Our Monuments. Thessaloniki.
2008. Δέκα Μαθήματα Αρχαιολογίας: Από την
αρχαία ΕΛληνική Τέχνη στη σύγχρονη ζωή. Athens.
Lambrinoudakis, V., L. Kolonas, S.
Sinos, et al., eds. 2006. Το έργο των Επιστημονικών Επιτροπών Αναστήλωσης,
Συντήρησης και Ανάδειξης Μνημείων. Athens.
1995. Πυραμίδες στην Ελλάδα. Athens.
le Goff, J.
1992. History and Memory. Trans.
S. Rendall and E. Claman. New York.
1998. The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils
of History. Cambridge.
1997. “Knossos.” In de la
1988. “To άγαλμα.” Τα Αντικλείδια. Athens.
1998. “Οι πυραμίδες της
Αργολίδας.” Πρακτικά Ε’ Διεθνούς Συνεδρίου
Πελοποννησιακών Σπουδών (1995). Athens.
Porter, J., ed. 1999. Constructions of the Classical Body. Ann Arbor.
2010. “«Πλούτος» σαν κόμικς, με μια Πενία
από τον Μπέκετ.” ΤΑ ΝΕΑ/Ορίζοντες,
2010. “«Αχαρνής» χωρίς τον
Αριστοφάνη.” Kathimerini, July
2010. “Ο καταγγέλλων νικά.” ΤΑ ΝΕΑ, August 13–15.
Tournikiotis, P., ed. 1994. Ο Παρθενώνας και η ακτινοβολία του στα νεώτερα
Ursini Uršič, G., and N. Kantzia,
eds. 2005. Διονύσης Φωτόπουλος, Σκηνογράφος.
See e.g. Charbonneaux et al. 1969, or Karakasi 2001. Cf.
Brinkmann et al. 2007.
See conveniently the article “ Υψηλή τέχνη ” in Wikipedia. Cf. Clark 1960.
Piteros 1998:344–394; Lambrinoudakis
Theories put forward by scientists and other writers
trying to “interpret” ancient Greek myths or remains as proof of
spectacular achievements at that time can only be seen as modern
stories. See e.g. the recent report of the retired British submarine
commander and author Gavin Menzies to the Royal Geographic Academy,
Britain, alleging that Minoans discovered America in the third
See recently Damaskos and Plantzos 2008.
Génicot 1980:112–121, le Goff 1992.
Étienne et al. 2000; Lambrinoudakis
Grandsaignes d’Hauterive 1948:233, weid-
See e.g. Agard 1930 or Beard 2003.
Lambrinoudakis et al. 2006; Kottaridi and Chondrogiannis
Best presentation in the collective volume by Bouras and
See note 12 above.
D. Lowenthals’s definition of heritage (Lowenthals 1998)
is too narrow. It does not match its conception as described in related
international conventions (UNESCO Convention of 16.9.1972. ICOMOS,
Charter for the Protection and Management of the
Archaeological Heritage , 1990, Introduction: “The
archaeological heritage constitutes the basic record of past human
See a risky detail in a generally exemplary case of
educational programs http://www.ysma.gr/Gr/pdf/DODEKATHEO.pdf, page 35
(here fig. 6).
S. Karypidou, Τα εμβλήματα και τα
μασκότ του 2004 :
Achilles Wounded in the Heel by Paris, statue
by Charles Alphonse Gumery, 1850.
Lambrinoudakis et al. 2006:17. Cf. Pavlopoulos 1988,
Dimoula 1988, and many others.
Cf. her own comment on one of the sculptures ( Europe and the Bull, fig. 11): “With my
interpretation of the Rape of Europe I intend once and for all to give
this tale a contemporary significance away from the old image with the
bull. In my sculpture, the God in form of a white bull has already
drowned and a charitable wave of history brings the princess back to our
shores where her crystal ball predicts a radiant future for our
http://aisxylia.gr/index.php?option=com_content & task=view & id=377 & Itemid=43;
see figure 12.
G. M. Sifakis, Greek Tragedy ,
Ursini Uršič and Kantzia 2005:144–145.
Sella 2010:13; Theodoropoulos 2010:36; Georgousopoulos
2010a:37, 2010b:10. Compare “Menelaos” and “Tyndareos” in Euripides’
Orestes (Epidauros 2010), dressed in modern
costumes (fig. 15), http://www.tanea.gr/default.asp?pid=
2 & ct=4 & artid=4587364.
Theodoropoulos 2010; note 32 above.
A recent example might be the performance of Ploutos—Triumph of Poverty in Epidauros,
See e.g. the controversy on allowing live sheep to
appear in the theatre of Epidauros during the performance of Sophocles’
Electra in 2007, staged by Peter Stein. The
Greek Archaeological Service, responsible for the protection of the
monument, did not accept this proposal, taking into consideration the
risk of uncontrolled movements of the animals on the fragile remains,
TA NEA, August 10, 2007:19–21.
Large sand creation with an ancient Greek Olympic
athlete throwing the discus, on Zhujiajian Island, East China's Zhejiang
Province, Sept. 29, 2007. This and other sand sculptures were made by
thirty artists from ten countries, including China, the U.S., and
Russia, to welcome the 2008 Beijing Olympics (Xinhua photo).
See again Lowenthal 1998; note 14 above.
See the sites
http://www.karyes.gr/TO%20XWTIOgr/TO%20XWRIOgr.htm. A copy of the Porch
of the Caryatids had already been added to the church of St. Pancras in
London early in the nineteenth century; see Tournikiotis
Damaskos and Plantzos 2008.
The new Alexandrian Library, for example, became a major
component of the identity of modern Alexandria in Egypt:
http://www.lawnet.gr/news.asp?cat=12 & article=20067.
Himmelmann 1976:110–119; Lambrinoudakis et al.
http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=122870917725261. Cf. Ferentinou
2010, accessed at http://www.elginism.com/20100324/2783/.