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Reviews 119 David Constantine. Early Greek Travellers and the Hellenic Ideal. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984. Pp. xii + 241. $49.50. "We had endeavoured to avoid, as much as possible, communicating with the people ofthe country," wrote Richard Chandler of his travels in Asia Minor. In giving these words without further comment (192), Constantine laconically transfers to his own study ofthe antiquarian tradition something of its indifference to modern Greece. Latter-day Greeks themselves hardly appear, either in Constantine 's book or in the texts on which he comments, except in an idealized and shadowy form. The "Greek travellers" ofthe title were all foreigners, their claim to a birthright of understanding eventually brought to its ugliest extreme in the Nazis' political travesty of it (214). In the late seventeenth century and throughout the eighteenth , interest in Greece essentially consisted in the rediscovery (or indeed inventio, as Constantine [38] finds it aptly called in Chishull) of Classical Greek antiquity by Western European thinkers and travellers. Constantine's book is essentially the history, not of a place nor yet of travellers to it (though he is replete with marvellous anecdotes —an antique pillar drum used to roll an English bowling green [ 10], ancient coins hidden by swallowing and recovered with the help of a spinach laxative [18]), but of an idea. That idea was the ancient Greece whose refraction through foreign prejudices was to haunt its modern inhabitants through "sentimental indignation" (151) at their failure to behave like Spartan heroes; their absence from most of this account is indeed an apt harbinger of their later treatment by sundry Great Powers. Spon and Wheler in the seventeenth century, Chishull and Tournefort breaching the eighteenth, then Robert Wood in the middle of the eighteenth—these were not the first to travel east to Greece, of course, but their accounts plausibly ground the neoclassical aesthetic that, as Constantine remarks with characteristic economy , it would be merely a "facile convenience" (211) to separate from nineteenth-century romanticism. By and large, the travelling was done by the English and French, while the Germans did a great deal more in their imagination (1-2): Winckelmann, especially, dithered with emblematic magnificence about a journey east from Rome that in the end he never made. In Rome, Winckelmann found enough that was Greek to satisfy a lifetime of aesthetic exploration. Nevertheless, Constantine suggests, had he not been murdered while 120 Reviews travelling home to Germany, Winckelmann's penetration of the merely second-rate might eventually have led him away from the recent copies and Hellenistic originals of Rome to the more severe delights of Classical Greece itself. His pupil, Riedesel, who did make the journey, never approached either his teacher's imaginative intuition or the precise economy of the best of the English travellers (such as Chandler or Stuart and Revett), though he did at least initiate the progressive modification of Winckelmann's once fashionable climatic explanation of national character. Other, perhaps less wellknown figures (like Heyne) or those whose contribution was literary rather than archaeological (like Hölderlin), play important roles in this account, as do such later writers as Guys (who begins to appreciate the modern land, though always with antiquity as his touchstone ), the restrained and scholarly Chandler, and the unsympathetically opportunistic Choiseul-Gouffier. For students of modern Greece, this book provides an intellectual prehistory, in which the international intellectual currents of the pre-Independence age are suggestively captured in the critical use of contemporaneous translations. The book's drily ironical style seems at times to reproduce the indifference of its earlier subjects to the modern land; but this is deceptive. As the paradox of Winckelmann 's failure to go to Greece first reveals, and as Constantine's treatment ofthe tragic events of 1770 and the emergence of a more overtly political philhellenism indicates, the Hellenic Ideal, with its partial exclusion ofthe living Greeks, both anticipated the conditions of political emancipation and laid the ground for the philhellenes' eventual disillusionment. Michael Herzfeld Indiana University ...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3265
Print ISSN
0738-1727
Pages
pp. 119-120
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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