Are you the ideal Summer Session Member?

2018 Summer Session Director Daniel Levine

While the 2018 Summer Session has officially ended, the students and their adventures have made a lasting impression on the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.

Led by the fearless Summer Session Director Daniel Levine, this year’s program brought 20 undergraduate and graduate students and professors from universities across the United States to all corners of Greece. From Crete to Thessaloniki, participants visited major monuments, prepared site reports, and experienced both ancient and contemporary Greek culture. On long bus trips, participants even had Modern Greek lessons from Levine in which they learned useful phrases and lyrics to Happy Birthday and the children’s nursery rhyme ‘Το κοκοράκι.’  

Highlights from the session included lectures from notable American School staff and alumni/ae such as a tour of Roman Athens from Assistant Director Dylan Rogers, a visit to Eleutherai with current Mellon Professor Sylvian Fachard and NEH Fellow Alex Knodell, and a pottery workshop in the Agora with Managing Committee Vice Chair Kathleen Lynch.

The Summer Session persevered through the rain that swept the country during their 10-day trip to the Peloponnese taking refuge under trees and in museums. In Ancient Corinth, the group experienced a guided tour of the Archaeological Museum by Associate Director of Corinth Excavations Ioulia Tzonou-Herbst and of the site by Director of Corinth Excavations Chris Pfaff. They also saw excavations in progress at Corinth and later in the trip to Pylos, an American School-affiliated field project that has gained much media attention for its discovery of the tomb of the Griffin Warrior.

The program culminated with a farewell party in the gardens of the American School. Director Jenifer Neils addressed the participants one last time while Alumni Association President Georgia Tsouvala welcomed them into the American School alumni family. In his speech, Levine, who has directed four Summer Sessions in four different decades, described this year’s group to be the ideal παρέα, with boundless wells of κέφι.

Levine’s speech and his list of qualities for the ideal Summer Session participant:

I am overwhelmed with gratitude today. We survived. We thrived. Rain did not wash us away; heat did not shrivel us; rocky trails did not trip us. Bean by bean our little sacks filled up.

First and foremost, we enjoyed the greatest support from the staff in Loring Hall – breakfasts, lunches, dinners, clean rooms, and the staff’s smiling faces. They made us feel at home. They were also our Greek teachers. And every time we returned at the end of a long day we meant it when we said σπίτι μου σπιτάκι μου. Some of the Loring Hall staff are here now, serving us food and drink. They will clean up our mess. They put in long hours to make us comfortable. To them we say ευχαριστούμε πάρα πολύ!

During our travels this summer, wherever we went people would say καλώς ήρθατε, and we could truly say καλώς σας βρήκαμε. We met so many people who welcomed us, and whom we truly found well. It’s the human capital that makes this the best summer program in Greece, by far. We are grateful to them all, both the staff in Athens and those of you here who generously gave your precious time to share your knowledge and excitement about Greece’s history and artifacts, from the Neolithic to the present. To you we also say ευχαριστούμε πάρα πολύ!

This year’s summer session group was the ideal παρέα, with boundless wells of κέφι. Together we learned a lot, both about ourselves and about Greece. And most notably, υδρώσαμε πολύ... every day... και ακώμα υδρώνουμε. That’s what everyone does in Greece during the summer, so we fit right in.

I asked this year’s members to think about what goes into making ideal Summer Session member, and I hope that they will share their ideas. As for me, in the course of leading four summer sessions in four decades, I have a notion of what goes into making a good member of such a group. I’m looking at the ideal members right now, and I’ll try to put into words what makes them ideal, so that future Summer Session Committees can select such a great crop every year.

Ideal summer session members should be, basically:

#1 Youthful, beautiful, naked, autonomous, and happy. [ed. note: This is School Senior Member Andrew Stewart’s definition of a kouros statue]

#2 They should be able to consume equal parts of tzatziki, souvlakia, kolokythakia, tiropitakia, fasolakia, soutzoukakia, dolmadakia, barbounakia, keftedakia, mezedakia, saganakia, kalamarakia, psarakia, and paidakia. And bougatsa, baklava, brizola, gemista, fava, feta, fasolada, mousakas, spanakopita, salata, vasilopita, kotopita, hortopita, and kreatopita.

#3 They should know how to use squeeze paper and a brush. You never know when you need to make a good impression.

#4 They should love Athens as much as Hadrian did, and come back to finish their educations and maybe donate a stoa as an alumni gift (preferably an air conditioned one).

#5 Applicants should be ready to learn about flutes, mutuals, guttae, metopes, triglyphs, epistyles, taeniae, cornices, antefixes, anathyrosis, acroteria, and geisons. And know that a temple is really just a box within a cage.

#6 All should be ready to climb to the top of Mt. Lykavitos, and to come down in a good mood, richer for the experience.

#7 They need to be happy to get on and off the bus under their own power.

#8 All must be at ease with the elite status that the School confers at certain sites, like the executive privilege of entering the Parthenon, the Gortyn Law Code Inscription, the Nike Bastion, Propylaia, and Poseidon’s temple at Sounion.

#9 Anybody who seeks “legacy” summer session admission must come from a background that includes blood of the Alcmaeonidai, the Eumolpidai, the Herulians, the Tetrarchs, the Comneni and Palaeologan dynasties, Sultan Murad, Barbarossa, the Venetians, and at least two heroes of the Greek revolution (preferred are those from the Makryiannis and Kolokotronis families). Lineal descendants of Heinrich Schliemann and Wilhelm Dörpfeld will get automatic admission, even if they meet none of the other criteria. Descendants of Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix go straight to the waiting list. Any relatives of Demetrius Poliorcetes must be interviewed in person.

#10 Members must be excited about caves, like those of Pan and the Nymphs on Mt. Parnassus, Eileithyia at Amnisos, Franchthi in the Argolis, and Davelis on Mt. Penteli. Any application that contains the words CAVE CAVERN will automatically be rejected.

#11 Should be able to walk on endless thorn-lined trails over loose and unpredictable rocks. And be able to get their asses…. up Mt. Parnassus.

#12 Should have some hair styling experience to appreciate fully the Caryatids’ coiffure.

#13 Should be able to sleep in small ferry cabins, or at least be strong enough to make it through the next day’s site visits anyway.

#14 Should be ready to learn Linear B, Linear A, Cretan hieroglyphic, Cretan boustrophedon, Boeotian epichoric and Attic scripts, both before and after the late fifth-century alphabet reforms.

#15 Should know their LH III from their LHIII-A, for heaven’s sake.

#16 Be willing to sing the Greek Birthday Song and to kokoraki at the drop of a capello… and a capella.

#17 Be willing to accept ambiguity and acknowledge uncertainty – in archaeological and historical contexts, and when faced with questionable hotel internet connections.

#18 They must know their pillar crypts from their lustral basins.

#19 Be willing to take refuge from the rain in a Late Minoan Chamber tomb.

#20 Be flexible, for example…

#21 Be ready to tour and enjoy a Byzantine Museum when soaked to the skin.

#22 They have to be willing to crane their necks to see the Pantokrator wherever he might appear. [And please don’t ask me to explain the Pantokrator in this church’s dome… it’s way over your head.]

#23 Treat sea urchins with care.

#24 Tolerate rain for days at a time, especially during student reports; and to appreciate the sanctuary of nearby churches and handy tavernas that offer ice cream birthday treats. And to thrill to the rain, fog and clouds on winding roads in mysterious and mountainous Arcadia.

#25 Enjoy goat soup, or at least tolerate others who do.

#26 Know well enough to only run on the stadium at Olympia, and NOT to jump there.

#27 Ideal members must not suffer claustrophobia, especially when descending beneath the Acropolis Nike Temple, using certain toilets, and locating the aperture of the Amphiareion’s water clock.

#28 Appreciate a good trireme gently rocking in the water.

#29 They must be able to imagine raging battles on plains that are now peaceful farmlands.

#30 They must not suffer vertigo when climbing up to the Meteora monasteries.

#31 Enjoy each other’s company and laugh at the speakers’ and the Director’s jokes.

#32 Be able to appreciate a joke about a Greek and Phoenician.

#33 And appreciate hot springs, even on a torrid day.

#34 Love healing sanctuaries, and feel better leaving than they did entering.

#35 Be OK about seeing bones of real people who died gruesome deaths.

#36 Be able to take in their own hands potsherds, skulls, ostraka, and carved marble while thinking “I can’t believe that I’m holding these things,” without dropping or breaking them.

#37 Finally, the ideal summer session member should return to the School to enjoy its many pleasures and reap its rewards, with other like-minded Philhellenes.

I thank you all for enriching one another’s lives, and for giving me the pleasure of getting to know you. ΓΕΙΑ ΜΑΣ!

— Daniel B. Levine