My Athens: Understanding Identity through Beauty

When asked what it means to be Greek, writer Konstantinos Poulis decided to take a step back and consider the complexity of this question from an identity standpoint. We often do not think about our identity until it is put in conversation with other cultures and backgrounds. Specifically, it is a means of comparison, allowing us to relate to another’s experiences and achieve a widespread sense of belonging. However, to Konstantinos, identity can be understood on a much more fundamental level as what do you think is beautiful. Instead of getting caught up in the global popularity of classical monuments and mythological stories, he shared several snapshots that best capture the charm of his everyday life. They were not intended to mean anything to us, but rather represent his identity as not only a Greek, but an individual thinker.

Throughout this semester, I have become well acquainted with Athenian history and culture through engaging readings and challenging essay prompts. Now, this blog post provides me with an opportunity to reflect upon all that I have learned and relate it back to myself. The following images have been carefully selected to exemplify what I find elegant about Greece and its people. While they may not be significant to you, I hope that they provide insight into my identity and inspire you to think about your own.

The featured image depicts the south-west side of the Acropolis. However, instead of the bright blue skies and beaming sunlight we normally associate with the Acropolis, the sky is a chilly purple color with snow covering the monuments and surrounding trees. Growing up in the Midwest, I am continuously humbled by the four seasons. While I prefer the warmth and anticipation of the summer months, the change of seasons push me into the future. Even though large snowfalls are not common in Athens, the image of the Acropolis is unwavering. I admire the fact that it has stood tall for thousands of years, largely unphased by its environment. It is not reliant on the weather to remain culturally relevant.

Image 1. Heracles and Amazons. Spencer Hanson. April 17th, 2019. Taken from Kelsey Museum of Archaeology.

After our class trip to the Kelsey Museum, I gained an appreciation for the Greek attention to detail. Specifically, the consistency of their pottery. Pictured below is an Athenian amphora that depicts the hero Heracles, famous for his strength, fighting several Amazons. Notice the deliberate choice of skin color. This matches the accepted style of the time, with men having black skin and women having white skin. Furthermore, the red and black coloring scheme indicates a strong connection to the Earth and contrasts with the whitewashed artifacts of today. The overall intricacy of design indicates a functional, yet artistic, piece of pottery.

Image 2. Greek Dancing. Jules Dassin. October 1st, 1960. Taken from Never on Sunday.

At the beginning of the film Never on Sunday, American Homer Thrace erupts into applause after a Greek man finishes his dance. However, the man becomes insulted, as he is dancing for himself and nobody else. While Greek music does not speak to me, last summer, I worked with a developmentally disabled adult who used it as a way to decompress. Being blind and unable to speak English, he often becomes frustrated when someone does not understand what he is asking. Instead of getting angry, he listens to music, similar to what Konstantinos played for us in class, through his headphones, swaying along to the rhythm. Growing up in a Greek-speaking household, he associates each songs with unique feelings of comfort and familiarity. Furthermore, he does not concern himself what other people think, much like the Greek man dancing exclusively for himself.

Image 3. Anthora. Michelle Young. June 21st, 2017. Taken from Untapped Cities.

Pictured above is the Anthora, a paper cup design meant to appeal to the Greek-owned coffee shops in New York City. The letters resemble ancient Greek text and the colors come from the Greek flag. Additionally, it was once the city’s “go-to” coffee cup and has found its way into popular culture. Much like the Parthenon Coca-Cola advertisement, this cup engages debate between acceptable and unacceptable uses of the Greek image. New York City is a melting pot, filled with immigrants who have brought along their passions and dreams. After exploring Greece’s modern-nation building and potential, I began to question the impact a country so invested in preserving the past could have on the future. However, if the Greek identity can make it in New York City, I am sure it can make it anywhere.

Image 4. Spyridon Louis. Paul Popper. 1896. Taken from Wikipedia.

The first Modern Olympiad took place in Athens in 1896. While the games were dominated by the United States, Spyridon Louis of Greece won the Marathon race. This event is closely connected with Greek history, making his victory that much more special. His finishing time would put him almost an hour behind the world record today, but he was running for something greater than himself. Instead of wearing athletic attire, he wore a fustanella. This stiff white kilt was a national costume, symbolizing solidarity with the new Greek democracy.

Image 5. Greece Basketball Star. Angelos Tzortzinis. February 19th, 2017. Taken from Forbes.

If you follow professional basketball, then you have likely heard of Giannis Antetokounmpo, also known at “The Greek Freak.” His nickname indicates that Greece has a stake in his freakish athleticism and success. However, this was not always the case, as for the first eighteen years of his life, Giannis was effectively stateless due to Greece’s lack of birthright citizenship. Growing up in poverty in Athens, he learned to speak Greek fluently and had to walk over five miles to practice everyday, often sleeping at the gym with his younger brother. The picture below, taken in the Athens neighborhood of Sepolia, juxtaposes the success he has had on the court with his difficult upbringing off the court.

Self-Assessment

This essay provided me with a great opportunity to reflect upon everything we learned throughout the semester. Particularly, the Greek identity and leveraging images to gain insight into events, people, or monuments. Before selecting my collection of images, I wanted to outline the objective of my essay. I elected a personal approach centered around invoking identity. It was based on our conversation with Konstantinos Poulis and his thoughts on what it means to be Greek. Next, I shifted my attention to finding a feature image. I choose a picture of the Acropolis covered in snow because it reminded me of the Canvas discussion we had about Angell Hall. Before selecting the remainder of my images, we took our class trip to the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. This added one image to my collection and got me thinking about how they could be put into conversation with one another. In terms of formatting, I could have spent more time constructing my blog post and creating multiple drafts of my essay. Exam season is a busy time of the year and prohibited me from getting a head start on research. I feel that my essay sufficiently captions each source, but could be more coherent overall. Specifically, the introduction is strong and makes a lot of promises. However, the analysis of the images may fall short in some areas. I really enjoyed this course and the fresh perspectives it provided on not only Athenian culture and history, but understanding identities on a high level.

Works Cited

Never on Sunday. Directed by Jules Dassin, performances by Melina Mercouri and Jules Dassin, Lopert Pictures Corporation, 1960.

Popper, Paul. “Sport, Athens Olympics, 1896. Spyridon Louis, Greek Marathon Champion.” Wikipedia, Getty Images, vol. 2, p. 25. Popperfoto,https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spyridon_Louis.

Tzortzinis, Angelos. “Greece-Basketball-All Star-Art-Culture-Antetokounmpo.” Forbes, Getty Images, 19 Feb. 2017,https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewwagner/2019/03/31/giannis-antetokounmpo-has-made-the-small-market-milwaukee-bucks-an-international-brand/#a7b7d328c3ed.

Wallace, Robert. “Snow on the Acropolis.” Flickr, 13 Feb. 2004, https://www.flickr.com/photos/robwallace/7746460.

Young, Michelle. “Anthora.” Untapped Cities, 21 June 2017, https://untappedcities.com/2017/06/21/nyc-fun-facts-the-story-behind-the-famous-greek-coffee-cups/.