The American School of Classical Studies at Athens
ASCSA
09/05/2016

Meet a Member: Marion Meyer

Moira Lavelle

Marion Meyer is a Senior Associate Member at the American School of Classical Studies. She graduated with PhD in Classical Archaeology from Bonn University in 1984 and received a 1 year travel grant from the German Archaeological Institute in the fall of 1984. She then taught at the universities of Munich and Hamburg, with one semester at the University of Florida. She received her habilitation degree at the University of Hamburg in 1997. From 1997 to 2003 Meyer served as a professor of Classical Archaeology at the Archaeological Institute of the University of Bonn, and since 2003 has served as a professor of Classical Archaeology at the University of Vienna.

Q: What is your particular field of interest?
A: Greek Archaeology. The project that I’ve been working on for some time now is on the history of the cult of Athena in the Acropolis in Athens, at those times when the Athenians planned 8 temples for the goddess on the Acropolis. So I’m looking at the early phases of the cult until the Erecthion was built. I’ve been working on it for many years and have written most of it here at the American School over the summer.

Q: So what evidence are you looking at for this project?
A: I’m looking at all the evidences. I study the temples and I studied other material evidence, but then I found out that myths—the mythical tales about local figures and Athena—can tell you quite a lot about the change in expectations and the change in perspective the Athenians had on their goddess. So I am now using literary sources and visual evidence for mythical tales.

Q: Have you used this kind of evidence before?
A: I’ve been working with Athenian material evidence and myth for decades actually. I worked on an Athenian subject even for my dissertation and then I looked at the document reliefs. It’s an old interest of mine and I’m quite happy that the American School has been provided me with the means to continue these studies. Even when I was a student working on my thesis I would come here and use the library, and that was 35 years ago.

Q: When did you first come to the ASCSA?
A: I came here when I was a student in the 1980s working on my dissertation, and I’ve been coming for the past decade to work in Athenian studies. I try to spend large parts of the summer in Athens working on the topic.

Q: And what keeps you coming back to the American school?
A: For my work in Athenian studies the Blegen library is the best you can imagine. It's the best for three reasons: First for the amount of books and the acquisition, second for the discipline and organization in the school—I appreciate that the stock is always available, even the administrators here who have offices make their books available, and the third reason is service-- the service is absolutely excellent if you ever need help to find a book or anything. I depend so much on this library I want to make clear it’s not just that here are some books you wouldn’t find elsewhere, it’s the quantity but also the organization of the library and the service.

Q: What draws you so strongly to Athenian studies?
A: What I find extremely interesting about Athens and why I also like to teach my students Athens is that you have a plethora of evidence. You have a lot of sources and a lot of types of sources-- material evidence, written evidence, visual evidence. Having all of this gives you a fuller picture than in a site where, say you have only archaeological sources and you may have a temple but you may not even be able to find out which divinity it was for or anything specific. I think Athens is one of the best places to study ancient culture, and of course because of these sources, there are so many interesting issues that you cannot raise in a different city. You can say a lot about Sparta but there are not so many philosophers or lawsuits. In Athens there is a diversity, quality, and quantity of sources which allow us to always ask new questions all the time.

Q: What is your favorite place in Athens?
It is the Acropolis. I have to say that. Specifically not just being there but also the sensation of getting a glimpse of the Acropolis where you do not expect it--walking around Lykavitos and then suddenly seeing the whole Acropolis. I also love going to Faliron to the beach to sit there and see the sunset over Piraeus.

Q: What’s your favorite souvlaki place?
I don’t have a favorite souvlaki place because I do like meat but I like even more where you get the prepared cooked vegetables. I have my favorite restaurants in various parts of town and am always anxious to find out when I come back in the summer if they are still there. There’s the Efemaro, a small place up in the northern part of Exarchia that is very good. One of my favorite restaurants actually is the Trata, which is near the German school. They have these kafenion chairs each labeled with the name of a Greek island, so every time I go there I do not pick a table but I pick a chair and cherish my memories.

Q: What other places in Greece do you want to visit?
A: I’ve been traveling in Greece since 1974 but there are still some places I have not visited but want to go, such as the island of Milos. I have not been in Macedonia in some time. I have my favorite places where I would like to go to more often, for examples the Cyclades, of course I’ve been several times but would like to go more. In the mediterranean I’ve not been to Lebanon and Libya and to Albania, I would like to go these places too.

Q: If you could choose to be a Greek god, what Greek god would you choose to be?
Of course it’s got to be Athena. I would have chosen Athena before I started my Athena project because I just think she’s the coolest goddess. She’s the goddess of civilization, and all the cultural techniques, and everything that makes life agreeable. I always would have chosen Athena.

Q: What do you get from your experience here at ASCSA?
The library and the three advantages I mentioned. But I also found out that just by being here in the Blegen I meet a very large amount of my Greek friends who go to the German school and American school. It is a meeting place for international scientific communities, people like me who tour their "native schools" so to speak but also come to the American school for whatever reason. I expect to have my sabbatical next summer to do more research and I look forward to coming back!