Your RDA of Irony

Inspirations and Repercussions

1st US museum dedicated to Greek culture opens: 


December 28, 2011 (CHICAGO) — There is still plenty to see: shelves filled with items from a Greek family in New York, a wall of black and white pictures that chronicles the story of Greek immigrants in America and an area to learn the Greek alphabet. Visitors can watch a short introductory video narrated by, who else, George Stephanopoulos.

Museum curator Bethany Fleming hopes to travel to Greece and make casts of columns, gates and parts of temples to bring back to Chicago.

Downstairs the temporary exhibit space is home to “Gods, Myths and Mortals: Discover Ancient Greece,” an exhibit on loan from the Children’s Museum of Manhattan until August. It’s a child’s view of the daily life of ancient Greece and its legends and heroes, like Aristotle, Odysseus and Cyclops.

There’s a kid-sized recreated Greek temple, and children can dress up in togas in front of a mirror or crawl into a jungle-gym Trojan horse. Interspersed are nearly three dozen Greek artifacts, including coins, pottery and figurines. One Macedonian drachma coin dates to 336-323 B.C. and is about the size of a dime.

“So much of our world is inspired by the ancient.”

From Aristotle to Nick’s’ Coffee Shop—and nothing in between?  The Hellenic museum doesn’t seem enamoured with its medieval heritage.  The Byzantines, however annoying, were also significant and certainly deserve their own exhibition. We can call it   “Dogma, Bureaucracy and Arrogance:  The Unbearable Genius of Byzantium.”

Children can experience the fun of being a medieval Greek.  We can have contests to see who can come up with the most convoluted definition of the Trinity.  (There is never a right answer, at least for more than 30 minutes.)  The little Byzantines can then use their rhetorical guile to avoid being beaten up by bigger German and Slavic kids.  Being the brightest kid in the class–in fact, the only literate one–be sure to help the biggest Slavic kid with his homework.  You will make a lasting friend, one who will be nursing your grudges when you are long gone.

However, as a little Byzantine, you don’t have to nice to the Italian kids.  Slap them around, take their lunch money, threaten to break their crayons, and dare them to start their own church.  Be sure to bully the Egyptians and Syrians, too; it is not as if they would defect the empire and convert to another religion.

To avoid lawsuits from the Art Institute, we won’t teach the children about Iconoclasm.  Nonetheless, our exhibit will give visitors an appreciation of our Byzantine legacies–religious schism, the Middle East and the Cold War.  Our world may be the heir of Athens, but it is also the repercussion of Constantinople.

  1. Laura W says:

    To be fair, the Italian savages were speaking Latin.

    Thank you for sharing your observations. As usual, I’ve enjoyed them tremendously.

  2. Hi Eugene,
    Sounds like the Greeks did a landslide into the modern age, and they have forgotten the Byzantines. I went to my friends daughter’s wedding in Greece and I marvelled at how ugly the modern city is compared to ancient Athens. I guess no slaves, no beauty. How did they have all that taste then, and descend into low slung cement buildings? I have aJapanese/Chinese friend (born here, but her parents were from Japan and China) who was married by Stephananopoulos’s father, to a Greek, and her husband is George’s friend. They did fund raising for the Democrats together. I hate him on Good Morning America. What a wreck of a journalist. All that inanity!

  3. Having been to Greece and having a Greek sister in law I can testify to the fact that Greeks have never forgotten 1453. Almost 600 years later and they refuse to call Istanbul anything by Constantinople. Their dislike of Turks isn’t simply an ethnic dislike predicated on years of subjugation. It has deep historical enmity that can be traced at least as far back as Manzikert in 1071. Perhaps it was the stinging defeat at Manzikert and then the long slow decline into historical oblivion that causes some Greeks to ignore Byzantium. That’s unfortunate because for centuries it was an eastern bulwark for a weak and divided Europe. It permitted Europeans to play amongst themselves for a 1,000 years and then begin the slide into a centralized modern era. I find it somewhat ironic that after 14 centuries of utter incomprehensible division and bitter rivalries with perhaps a hundred million dead and Europe is desirous of a form of reunification. It’s also ironic that the country that may unravel the whole concept is Greece. I found Greece utterly charming with great people, lovely countryside, and fantastic history and archaeology. Yet, it is rather different from the rest of Europe, in part owing to centuries of Turkish domination but in greater part owing to Byzantine culture. When the rest of Europe was illiterate and savage, Byzantium was a city of enormous wealth, beauty, art, and culture. It’s government and culture was, well, it was byzantine. The West lost a great deal in the 4th Crusade and believe me when I say Greeks haven’t forgot who sacked the city in 1204.

  4. Clara Berman says:

    Hi Eugene,

    Interesting to think about Greece and Byzantium from a different angle; lots of history and many centuries.
    Thé description of the museum brings it to life in many ways. I believe, there is some interesting scholarship by Greek Orthodox theologians pertinent to the question you raise and even a series of books. I’m sorry to be unable to provide the citation.



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