Erected by Attalos II King of Pergamon 159-138 B.C. / Destroyed by Barbarian Invaders from the North 267 A.D. / Rebuilt by Philhellenes of America 1953 A.D
Department of Sociology The New School for Social Research New York, USA
The rather improbable title for the paper I propose here was suggested in the 1950?s as a commemorative plaque for the American contribution to the reconstruction of the Attalos Stoa at the ancient Agora of Athens in Greece, the museum of the Agora excavations, an American project since the early 1930?s. The project, which stands on the shoulders of the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan, evoked American Philhellenism as its heart. In this paper I seek to explore the nature and the components of this most recent Philhellenic tradition, to unravel its origins and understand its impact, if any, on those who are served by the museum.
Philhellenism, the love of Greek culture, which over the years has drawn archaeologists, scholars and cultural amateurs to the land and to its study has, like any other kind of love, never been unconditional. If European philhellenism, in vogue early in 19th century, cast the nascent Modern Greece as the progeny of Socrates and Pericles, now American philhellenism would exercise its own power of love and would seek to cast the land and its culture into a new image. American archaeology, in this specific historical space and time, occupies a special if not unexpected place in this new expression of philhellenic zeal; on the one side, it provided all the necessary safeguards studying and protecting the ancient legacy from the distractive powers of modernity and on the other, it promised to propel it into the future and assist the efforts of development, political, social and certainly of cultural development. The cultural heritage of the country, as interpreted and evaluated by some of its defenders, offered the subtext and the rationale for the economic and political disposition of the country, which was understood as incompatible with communism that according to many observers threatened to engulf post-war Greece.
Studied as a case of cultural mediation from the Cold War perspective the American interest in Greece constitutes, I believe, a very distinct expression of what in the literature is broadly understood as ?Philhellenism? and explores a very specific aspect of its historical and political uses.