Princeton Athens Center hosts inaugural Summer Institute 2018

Dec. 3, 2018
Written by
Julie Clack, Office of Communications

This summer, three graduate students in Princeton’s Department of Classics, Malina Buturovic, Teddy Fassberg and Bryson Sewell, and two of their counterparts at the University of Patras, Greece, Michalis Marinis and Nicole Vassalou, convened at the Princeton Athens Center for the inaugural Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies Summer Institute 2018.

The Greek graduate students were admitted to the Summer Institute, a non-credit academic offering, by nomination and application, and participated without tuition and with support from the Seeger Center. The Princeton graduate students were supported by the Department of Classics.

The Seeger Center invited Mark Janse, BOF-ZAP Research Professor in Ancient & Asia Minor Greek at Ghent University, to teach the Summer Institute, a seminar that introduced the graduate students to “peculiar varieties of Greek resulting from invasive contact with other languages,” or what scholar J.B. Bury referred to as “a barbarian blend.”

These “barbarian blends” were acquired by peoples throughout time “either through imperfect acquisition of Greek as a second language or through extended reciprocal bilingualism with Greek as the first language,” said Janse. “Any kind of aberrant or divergent Greek could be called ‘barbarian.’”

The seminar covered a range of topics, from the comic plays of Aristophanes to the Greek of the New Testament and Old Testament translations to modern Greek dialects. In addition, Janse taught a modern Greek class, where the group discussed modern Greek poetry, folksongs and folktales — in Greek.

While many of these topics, particularly the later material, are not typically studied by classics graduate students, they each gleaned important insights that they are bringing to bear on their research.

“The topics we discussed, such as the Scythian's Greek or the Lord's Prayer, tied in incidentally to things I happened to be working on at the time and allowed me to see things from a different point of view,” Fassberg said. “The close attention we paid to language helped shed new light on things I had been thinking about.”

Buturovic, who studies Classical literature, was most excited by the group’s discussion of modern Greek dialects. “The Summer Institute opened my eyes to the range of ways that language itself — and not just the content it records — can function as a document of history: providing proof of the depth of contact between two different peoples, or giving valuable information about the register in which a text was written, or the audience it was intended to reach,” she said.

After the seminar concluded, Buturovic headed north to Thessaloniki to study Modern Greek, where she saw many of these themes play out firsthand. “I've been continually struck by how much what I learned in the Summer Institute has deepened my language study [in Thessaloniki],” she said. “The Summer Institute helped me understand how the rich linguistic diversity of this region intersects with its broader political and religious history. I'd like to continue pursuing these connections.”

Sewell shared these takeaways. “Greek needs to be studied as a language in contact with other languages; to study it in isolation would be like trying to study a star while ignoring space.”

He added: “Greek was used, both in a written and spoken form, among peoples of diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds, which affected its production and reception, and thus the identity of the users. Language is a major factor in establishing, or in presenting, one's identity. The Summer Institute has helped me to think more critically and systematically about this problem.” 

For Marinis and Vassalou, who are both linguistics scholars, the Summer Institute proved equally beneficial. “The seminar gave me insight into some of my profound research questions regarding my study on dialects in contact,” said Vassalou.

Marinis presented his own research — on Greek varieties spoken in Southern Italy — to the group. “Participating in the Summer Institute afforded me the privilege of interacting and exchanging ideas with Ph.D. researchers from Princeton,” said Marinis.

Learning and discovery in the seminar was not limited to the students. “[The seminar] was really very intensive both for [the students] and for me,” Janse said. “Because they were so interested in the material, I would search for new texts in the evenings and bring them to class the next day, where we would discuss them for hours.”

“They were the reason I didn’t sleep very much,” Janse joked.

Janse and the students took advantage of their proximity to ancient sites with day trips and weekend visits to Mycenae, Delphi and Epidaurus, where they saw a performance of “Acharnians,” by Aristophanes.

“Our excursions were wonderful; nothing brings the history of language to life better than visiting the places where it has been spoken and written for thousands of years,” Sewell said.

The students also benefited from guest lecturers, such as Katerina Stergiopoulou, assistant professor of Classics and Hellenic Studies, who gave a lecture titled “‘To Compose in a Greek Tongue’: Cavafy’s Modernist Poetics of Citation” that was attended by a group of about 20 leading literary scholars from Greek institutions.

“The Summer Institute 2018 inaugurates a series of such institutes — two to four each summer — that will bring together Princeton graduate students with their counterparts at Greek institutions for two weeks of intensive study, led by distinguished Princeton faculty and invited scholars, on a range of disciplines and topics related to Hellenic culture — ancient, medieval, modern, and contemporary,” said Dimitri Gondicas, director of the Seeger Center.

The Summer Institute 2018 was made possible with the support of the Dimitrios and Kalliopi Monoyios Modern Greek Studies Fund, recently established by Nikos Monoyios ’72 and Valerie Brackett.