Friday, June 7, 2013

The joys of late spring and early summer in Athens

From the latter part of May through the first half of June is a transitional period for the archaeological community here. It is a time of annual meetings , such as ours, the Finnish Institute, the Belgian School and last night at the French School; for one day colloquia, such as two a week ago at the American School of Classical Studies: “Carl and Elizabeth Blegen Remembered; Ploutarchou 9 Celebrated” and “The Weiner Laboratory: A Celebration of Twenty Years of Archaeological Science Research”; and starting today is a two-day international conference entitled “Communities in Transition” about the Neolithic period on both sides of the Aegean basin held at the Akropolis Museum. This event is organized by the Danish Institute in Athens and many other institutions. There are as well as still a scattering of lectures in the evenings. These excellent opportunities have been keeping me from my blogging.

By late June, after the British School’s famous Garden Party, the local scene is in full summer mode. The regulars of the foreign schools and institutes will have decamped, replaced by the annual influx of the summer people to do research in the libraries and the members of the numerous study tours and in situ courses. For those not doing fieldwork or research outside of Athens, the pace slows. It is a time to catch up on unfinished projects and to plan for the coming academic year. It is too soon to think of an island escape.

Agamemnon and Achilles fighting
Into this leisurely routine serendipitous adventures can happen. Two nights ago my wife and I were captivated for five hours (yes, from 8:00 PM to 1:00 AM with 3 short intermissions!) in a dramatic performance of the entire Iliad (no scene/action was left out, including the Catalogue of Ships!!). This production, staged by Stathis Livathinos and based on the Modern Greek translation by Professor D. N. Maronitis, is playing for five nights this week as part of the Athens Festival. It was “staged” in a huge, empty old factory at Odos Piraios 260. The minimalistic “set” on the black floor was created mostly from car tires, old desk chairs, an assortment of tables and metal bunk beds that moved around as the scenes required. A large, shallow pool served as the “sea”. A tall metal spiral staircase and the concrete support pillars were used for the gods on “Mt. Olympos”. The ragged costumes and the facial hair on the men gave the appearance of Greek partisans fighting the Germans and each other in WW II. The goddesses were sensuous. The 15 actors (who played a variety of characters) took full possession of the huge expanse in their choreographed and graceful movements. The performance was as much dance as it was theater. For the scenes with “military action” a Chinese monk trained in martial arts, and who had advised the Chinese film industry, helped to make them dramatic and gripping. The recorded music, major speeches and chanting were accompanied live by a talented percussionist. The depictions of the principal players were believable and engaging. Wit, irony, comic delivery and body humor enlivened and lightened the relentless telling of the tale of Achilles’ spoiled behavior at Troy and its deadly consequences. As you may recall the Iliad has almost every theme one can think of at one point or another and this production emphasized them in a telling fashion. It was a tour de force in all senses of the production. The large audience gave the company at the end long and loud applause. It was a theatrical event not to have been missed. The evocative scenes will stay in my mind for a long time.

David Rupp

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