Zach Heater

Attending the Living in Greece Program

Photographing Greek inscriptions on grave markers in the Kerameikos district of Athens.
Photographing Greek inscriptions on grave markers in the Kerameikos district of Athens.

Selianitika, Greece: Summer, 2016

This summer I was in Greece thanks to a generous grant from the Teasley Family Antiquities Fund. I spent two weeks as a participant in the Paideia Institute’s “Living Greek in Greece” program. The Paideia Institute (http://www.paideiainstitute.org/) offers programs in both Ancient Greek and Latin wherein students approach them as “living,” that is, spoken languages. To that end, we read passages from numerous prose authors each morning, sections of Homer’s Odyssey in the afternoons, and held our discussions entirely in Ancient Greek. We were able to carry on surprisingly dynamic discussions of the texts, and we quickly fell into using Ancient Greek in our day-to-day conversations too. My class was asked to compose and deliver by memory a few of the classical progymnasmata exercises. For me this culminated with a 9 min. speech-in-character of King Alcinous, inspired by Book 6 of the Odyssey. In a council with his Phaeacian lords, I discussed his daughter Nausicaa’s impending marriage. Since we spent much of our time in Books 6-8 of the Odyssey, we took a weekend trip to the islands of Cephalonia and Zakynthos in search of Odysseus’ Ithaca.

 My Greek improved more than I can say. By practical use of the language I was able to commit to memory some of those paradigms and particles which had always been difficult to master by rote memorization. I came away with a new energy for reading Greek, but also with a new perspective on language acquisition. Questions going forward: How do we come to inhabit the systems of thought and expression that ancient languages construct? Can trying to speak them help? I am excited to return to Latin this semester after a much-too-long hiatus with these questions in mind. 

The other two weeks were spent “on a mission” from Prof. Josh Sosin. I collected over 2,000 high-resolution images of Greek inscriptions at the Sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi, the Kerameikos district of Athens, and the Sanctuary of Apollo/Asclepius at Epidavros. The Duke Classics Computing Collaboratory will use these images to further develop web and software applications for identifying and analyzing Greek inscriptions. I was floored at how many inscriptions are in plain sight but of little interest to tourists passing by. Standing in front of the “Polygonal” Wall at Delphi for hours on end caused a few passersby to ask what I was doing. It was a real joy to tell them a little bit about the wall, what the inscriptions say, and why I was photographing them. 

I also managed to visit the sites at Corinth, Mycenae the well-founded citadel, and Tiryns famed-for-walls. Mycenae and Tiryns in particular were breathtaking, and made the world of Homer feel “tangible” and “visible” beyond my expectations. The mental pictures I made while standing in these places will remain with me for quite some time. As the Greeks do, I spent some beach days in Nafplio and (quite enough) time in the heat of Athens. This was my first time in Greece, and it completely affirmed my choice to study classics at Duke. Χάριν έχω ‘υμιν, Duke CLST and our donors, for making it possible!