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Artemis Leontis, “Going after Eva Palmer Sikelianos”
For more than a decade, Artemis Leontis has carried out a recovery project researching and writing the life of Eva Palmer Sikelianos, publishing her biography in 2019. Leontis knew Palmer as a shadowy figure in Greek cultural history, known mostly as the wealthy American wife of the Greek poet Angelos Sikelianos, who spent all her money on his projects. Through intensive detective work, she has uncovered a bigger, more complicated story of a brilliant, beautiful, countercultural, queer woman who may be the most influential philhellene after Lord Byron. In this talk, she will speak of going “after” Eva Palmer Sikelianos in the double sense of pursuit and succession. She will recount some of her adventures pursuing the hidden archival resources of Palmer’s life, then foreground the stakes of modern encounters with the ancient Greeks in the light of spectrums of meaning found in Palmer’ legacy.
Artemis Leontis is C. P. Cavafy Professor of Modern Greek and Comparative Literature and Chair of the Department of Classical Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Her field of specialization is Modern Greek Studies: the study of Greeks, the Greek language, migrations in and out of Greece by various ethnic groups, and the idea of Greece cultivated in the West in the modern period. Greece gained independence from the Ottoman Empire in the 1820s by arguing historical descent from Greek antiquity. Henceforth the desire to align a corporeal, living Greekness with the idea of Greece cultivated in the West became a driving force in the country’s cultural production. Her first book, Topographies of Hellenism: Mapping the Homeland, compared Westerner’s projections of their collective fantasies on Greece and Greek literary modernism’s reterritorialization of those projections. It traced how Greeks inscribed the texts, materials, and geographical notions of Hellenism onto their national space: the forms of adaptation, resistance, and opposition to Western interventions they developed and deployed. Since the publication of that book, her inquiry into competing figurations of Greekness has expanded in several new directions. Her other book projects include Greece: A Travelers’ Literary Companion (1997) published by Whereabouts Press in a series that introduces English language readers to countries through those countries’ own writers; and Culture and Customs of Greece, written for a trade press to introduce students and general readers to countries of the world through a presentation of present-day cultural phenomena. Her multi-media interests are especially apparent in her investigation of the life and work of Eva Palmer Sikelianos (1874-1952). The Bryn Mawr-educated American visionary lived in Greece from 1907 to 1933 and was married to poet Angelos Sikelianos. She worked for a lifetime to animate the lost Greek life suggested by ancient ruins and living practices. Her writing of this book took her on a 10-year journey to recover the traces of her life, from the “Eva Sikelianou Papers” in the Benaki Museum Historical Archives to letters and artifacts collected (and sometimes hidden) in unexpected places such as the Center for Asia Minor Studies in Athens.