Emmanuel Aprilakis is much looking forward to his second year as a graduate student in the Rutgers Classics department, having earned his B.A. summa cum laude from the Macaulay Honors College at CUNY Hunter College in 2015. He is mainly interested in Greek literature and religion with a focus on Attic drama. Emmanuel’s broader research interests include ancient epic, comparative mythology, ancient athletics, sculpture, vase painting, and museum ethics.
This summer, thanks to the generosity of Rutgers Classics’ Ethel S. Cook Travel Scholarship, Emmanuel participated in the Summer Session of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. We asked Emmanuel a few questions about his experience in Greece this summer.
RUTGERS CLASSICS BLOG (RCB): Can you describe the ASCSA Summer Session in a few words?
EMMANUEL APRILAKIS (EA): The program runs six and a half weeks and offers a totally unique opportunity to travel across much of Greece, visiting an incredible amount of the country’s ancient sites, museums, and even more modern places of importance and entertainment. It seemed clear to me that the program intended to have its students absorb a vast amount of knowledge about ancient Greece, while also fostering a sense of modern philhellenism, which manifested itself in trips to modern Greek sites such as battlefields of liberation from the Ottomans and resistance from the Nazis.
RCB: Where did you start?
EA: The first week of the program was spent in Athens, where we of course visited the Agora, Acropolis, and National Archaeological Museum amongst a wide variety of other sites and museums. We also took a day trip to south Attica where we visited Brauron, Thorikos, Laurion, and Sounion. By the end of the program we spent about three weeks in Athens, including other day trips around Attica and to Aegina, using the capital as home base between our longer trips.
RCB: So where else did you visit outside of Attica?
EA: Our second week was spent on Crete, which we completely traversed. Busing from the beach at Phalasarna on the west coast to the palace at Kato Zakro on the east coast of the island, we made serious use of our time. Naturally, the experience was anchored by Minoan sites—I gave the first site report of the program at the palace of Phaistos—but we also took time to see more modern places such as the Venizelos tombs in Chania and the Arkadi Monastery in Rethymno.
The next trip took us to the Peloponnesos for ten days, where we moved down the east coast and then back up the west coast stopping at an array of important ancient cities such as Corinth, Argos, Mycenae, Sparta, Messene, and Olympia, and also at sites off the beaten track such as Methone, Malthi, and even Dervenakia.
Our final trip outside of Attica was up north; after crossing the Rio-Antirrio bridge, we moved up the west side of central Greece through Epiros to Thessaloniki and then down the east side through Thessaly. The wide variety of the sites of this trip echoed that of the others, but the progression towards Greece’s northern borders raised new questions for the group about Greek history such as the Macedonia naming dispute, which was tied into our visit to the Tomb of Philip II at Vergina.
RCB: Your main research interest is tragedy. Do you feel that the visual focus of this program was able to offer much for what we normally treat as such a literary endeavor?
EA: Absolutely. It is an unfortunate consequence of time that such a spectacle of the ancient world is somewhat ‘reduced’ to the literary texts that survive for us, but there is so much to see when you actually visit Greece. First, even just museum holdings—tragic masks, victors’ lists, vase painting scenes, etc.—can shed light on various aspects of Greek tragedy. Further, and most rewarding for me, was the amount of theaters that we were able to visit on this trip. Throughout our travels, we couldn’t go far without stumbling upon a theater, and every single one of them provided something new and useful to me.
RCB: For the theaters, were there any favorites?
Of course, the very famous theaters such as the Theater of Dionysos Eleuthereos in Athens and the Theater of Epidauros in the sanctuary of Asklepios were truly amazing to experience. However, I found that the smaller, less known theaters were the ones that struck me more intensely and left me pondering more deeply. For instance, the oddly shaped theater at Thorikos, which is perhaps the earliest surviving theater, makes us wonder about the original size and shape of the orchestral area. And this is of course important to me as I speculate about the origins of the tragic chorus and how it may have looked and functioned early on. Moreover, our group was fortunate enough to experience a further kind of interaction with ancient drama—a modern production of Aristophanes’ Ploutos at the magnificent Theater of Epidauros, where I was thrilled to give my second site report, just before the festivities.
RCB: How about your interests in ancient athletics? You mentioned a few sites already—did you get to see much that corresponded with your research?
EA: I was very excited to visit the sites of all four crown games—Isthmian, Nemean, Olympian, Pythian—which was something special. I am interested in the Panhellenic nature of these games and the uniformity of certain events versus the lack of others at certain sites. I have also wondered much about racetracks, so I was very happy to be able to get up close and personal with the stone balbis (or starting block) at Nemea—where I’m proud to say I won the barefoot reconstruction of the stade race—and the reconstructed starting gates at Isthmia. We also visited the Panathenaic stadium in Athens, which had me thinking more deeply about the idea of turning posts on a straight track as opposed to the oval loop that we’re normally accustomed to.
RCB: You mentioned some sites concerning more modern Greek history—could you tell us more about those?
EA: Yes, as I mentioned, the program itinerary clearly had late antique to modern Greek history in mind, which was something that I truly appreciated as an ethnic Greek student. We visited numerous Byzantine churches, such as Panagia Kera on Crete, and also the Byzantine museums of Ioannina and Thessaloniki. We received a proseminar on Venetian Crete at the School in Athens before embarking on our first trip. We saw sites both of Ottoman atrocity, such as at Mesolongi, and of Greek liberation from Ottoman rule, such as on the battlefield of Dervenakia, where the Greek independence movement earned its first decisive victory in 1822 under General Theodoros Kolokotronis and motivated Greek forces all across the country to continue the rebellion. We visited the Suda Bay Commonwealth War Cemetery outside of Chania, where Allied casualties of the two world wars were laid to rest, and other difficult sites such as the Skopeuterion Kaisarianis, a shooting range in Athens that Nazi soldiers turned into an execution area. We also got to visit many of Greece’s new and focused state of the art museums such as the Museum of the Olive and Greek Olive Oil in Sparta.
RCB: How would you sum up the ASCSA summer program?
EA: The Summer Session at the School is simply an unparalleled invite for students who want to intimately understand the ancient life and the lasting culture of Greece. For someone who had travelled to Greece many times before, I was pleasantly surprised at how much there still was to see. The program allows the serious student to visit some of the greatest museums and artifacts that survive from the ancient world and links him or her up with world experts in a variety of fields, oftentimes getting a personal tour around their sites of expertise.
RCB: Who were the experts on hand?
EA: Well, having John Camp show you around the Athenian Agora, walking through the National Archaeological Museum with Andy Stewart, and listening to the head director of restorations, Tassos Tanoulas, explain the ongoing project at the Propylaia on the Acropolis—all in the same week—are unbelievably special experiences made commonplace at the School. Also, the multifaceted approach to experiencing Greece and its history—so well demonstrated by one day late in the program where the itinerary had us visiting the Sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi in the morning, the Museum of Nazi Victims at Distomo in the afternoon, and the Middle Byzantine monastery of Hosios Loukas in the evening—was truly extraordinary and for that I have to thank our leader, Professor Denver Graninger, who skillfully herded the group around Greece wielding his vast knowledge and prior experience.
RCB: If you had to single out just one benefit of the ASCSA Summer Program, what would it be?
EA: Overall this program reinforced the idea that there really is no substitute for seeing the sites in person with your own eyes and being able to move through a space with your own body. The pictures and videos that I brought home with me, coupled with my memory of personally interacting with the spaces will forever provide me with an innumerably more in-depth knowledge than I could ever receive from a textbook or online source. I am already looking forward to spending time in the future at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.