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Group photo of the speakers in front of the Gennadius Library


One Hundred Years of Dialogue. Latin American Approaches to Hellenism

Maria Georgopoulou

One of the most significant accomplishments of a research institution is to be able to update its scope and to remain relevant. True to the call of its founder in this time of global concerns, the Gennadius Library tries to expand our understanding of the importance of Hellenism beyond the borders of Greece. At the instigation of Ohio State University Professor Gregory Jusdanis, a little known topic was explored in Cotsen Hall on May 18-20, 2017: the reception of Hellenism in Latin America.

The Venezuelan revolutionary, Francisco de Miranda (1750-1816), arrived in the Greek territories of the Ottoman Empire in 1786, one of the first Americans ever to make this journey. In contrast to European travelers, he did not reject contemporaneous Greeks him and never stole any antiquities. In other words, he brought his own concerns and gaze to Greece that were shaped by his own life and experiences in Latin America.  His love of classical Greek culture, his fascination with Modern Greek society, and his concern for the Greek uprisings, may stand as a metaphor for the wider Latin American preoccupation with ancient and modern Hellenism.  Indeed, his life-long captivation with things Greek shows that Latin Americans took an interest in the Greek world since the colonial times that was different from that in Europe or North America.  Yet this interest has been little studied in Greece.

More than twenty speakers (classicists, literary critics, philologists, art historians, translators, and historians) from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Mexico, Uruguay, the U.K., the U.S. and Greece, addressed this gap. They explored how Latin American scholars, poets, artists, and politicians understood, read, used, and represented Hellenism. Rather than focusing solely on ancient Greece, this conference opened discussion to the entire Greek tradition from antiquity to modern times. The emphasis fell on the uniqueness of the Latin American interpretations of Hellenism, which constituted a separate, discrete phenomenon, rather than a reflection of European concerns and practices. It showed how Hellenism became implicated in revolution, the establishment of new societies, the creation of national literatures, the struggles between indigenous and foreign models, and the concerns with belatedness.

Topics ranged from the significance of Miranda’s interest and travels to Greece and the place of classical culture in colonial education, to neoclassical architecture in Latin America and the Greek culture as inspiration during the Latin American revolutions.

Generous sponsorship from the Laskaridis Foundation, the Fundacion Maria Tsakos, and Aegean Airlines as well as the support of the embassies of Argentina, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Chile, Mexico, and Uruguay ensured the success of the conference along with some local wines and delicacies.

A photographic exhibition under the aegis of the Mexican Association of Classical Studies, the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and the Greek Embassy in Mexico explored the Greco-Roman influences in several pieces from the Glyptotheque of the National Museum of Art of Mexico.