Since its founding in 1746, Princeton University has enjoyed strong, enduring links with the Hellenic World and has been an international leader in the study of Greek culture. This intimate and continuous connection with Greece is distinctive among American universities. As scholars, educators, philanthropists, public servants, art collectors, and writers, Princetonians have contributed immensely to U.S.-Greek cultural and international relations.
Nicholas Biddle, Class of 1801, the President of the Second Bank of the United States and only the second American citizen of the independent United States to travel to Greece, was a precursor of the American philhellenic movement that aided Greece in her struggle for independence from the Ottoman Empire. Princeton’s long tradition of supporting international students began with the first two foreign students to receive scholarships from the College of New Jersey, Constantine J. Menaeos and Luke K. Oeconomos, Greek nationals who were members of the Class of 1840.
The Classics Department at Princeton also has a long and distinguished history dating back to the founding of the College of New Jersey. Until 1917, when the curriculum was reformed to allow electives, all Princeton students were required to learn ancient Greek. Princeton was one of the first American universities to establish the teaching of Classical Archaeology in the late 19th century, and one of the founding institutions of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens in 1881.
Princeton Classics Professor William Sloane was the leader of the American Olympic movement that successfully revived the Olympic Games in Athens in 1896. Led by Slaone, the small American team included four Princetonians. Among them was Robert Garrett, Class of 1897, who earned four medals in track events. In 1940, Garrett donated to Princeton his famous collection of more than 10,000 manuscripts, among them 16 Byzantine Greek manuscripts of the highest quality.
For much of the 20th century, Princeton University has played a leading role among American institutions in the development of Greek studies — ancient, medieval and modern. Edward Capps, Professor of Classics at Princeton from 1907 to 1936, left his mark on Greek education by chairing the boards of two American-sponsored institutions in Greece, Athens College and the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. Capps also led American efforts to help Greece during the two World Wars.
Scores of Princetonians have led major excavations and expeditions in Greece, most notably the Agora of Athens and Mt. Athos, as well as in the broader Hellenic world: at Mt. Sinai, Cyprus, Asia Minor, Antioch and beyond.
The renowned scholarship of Kurt Weitzmann in Byzantine art and Gregory Vlastos in Classical philosophy made Princeton the first American institution to establish academic programs in their respective fields. Robert Fagles' courses and translations of the Greek Classics made Princeton a magnet for generations of scholars and students. The Modern Greek Studies Association was founded at Princeton in 1968 with Edmund Keeley, the preeminent American translator of modern Greek poetry into English, as its first president. Keeley's translations, published by Princeton University Press, brought world attention to Greek poetry, including two Nobel prizes. The Program in Hellenic Studies continues to build on the strong intellectual tradition established by these and a variety of other scholars, such as Howard Crosby Butler, Charles Rufus Morey, Oliver Strunk, Georges Florovsky, Kenneth Levy and W. Robert Connor.
Princeton has also acknowledged its deep connections with the Greek world by bestowing honorary doctorates upon two Greek nations, Johannes Gennadius and Nobel laureate George Seferis. Many Princetonians today occupy leadership positions in Greece as scholars, educators and public servants.