- Americans and the Experience of Delphi ed. by Paul Lorenz and David Roessel
This volume presents a selection of papers from a symposium organized by Paul Lorenz and David Roessel at Delphi in 2008. The idea behind this gathering belongs to Roessel, who wanted to explore the Delphic experience of Eva Palmer Sikelianos and George Cram Cook, both of whom are buried in the small, local cemetery. The one is remembered for her contribution to the revival of the Delphic Festivals (1927, 1930), the other for wearing Greek shepherds’ clothes. Next to these central figures looms a third, Cook’s wife, the novelist and playwright Susan Glaspell. In fact, it is largely through Glaspell’s Road to the Temple that one can grasp Cook’s passion for Greece and Delphi. Of the 15 papers in this volume, 10 focus on Palmer, Cook, and Glaspell. The editors have also included three papers that examine the work of the poet H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), for whom the Delphic myths had a formative effect. Finally, a work like this would not be complete without a pair of essays on the Delphic experience of two more major literary figures: Henry Miller and Lawrence Durrell (whose close association with Miller gave him a free pass in a volume otherwise dedicated to Americans).
Eva Palmer (1874–1952), George Cram Cook (1873–1924), and Susan Glaspell (1876–1948) were contemporaries. They were also part of an intellectual generation that felt estranged from America and gradually lost itself in Europe. Unhappy with the rapid industrialization of America in the early years of the twentieth century, the members of this generation found comfort in Nietzsche’s ideas, especially his criticism of their motherland. Artemis Leontis does an excellent job elucidating Eva Palmer’s unconventional youth in America and Paris before she became Mrs. Angelos Sikelianos. Early on, Palmer experimented with tableaux vivants, the emotional effect of music, and its “invisible force” on the masses (as Palmer confided to her lover Natalie Clifford Barney), as well as open-air staging (until then ancient and modern plays were all staged indoors). According to Leontis, these were the building blocks that Palmer brought with her to Greece before she met the poet Sikelianos and embraced his Delphic Idea. To these, Leontis adds Eva’s extensive knowledge of ancient Greek poetry and the possible influence of Jane Harrison’s theories about the origins of ancient Greek [End Page 403] religion. Leontis’s painstaking study of lesser-known archival sources sheds light on many unappreciated aspects of Palmer’s life and also explains some of her later choices made while organizing the Delphic Festivals.
In a dense but fascinating essay about Eva and Angelos Sikelianos, Gonda van Steen explores the ideologies of the interwar period in Greece and the couple’s Delphic Idea, which envisioned Delphi as a center for peace that would unite the world by balancing antithetical elements. Van Steen’s arguments are grounded in critical perception. On the one hand, she takes careful note of what contemporaries of the Sikelianoses read into the Delphic experiment. On the other, she cautions us about the risks of modern readings that employ “the benefit of hindsight” and interpret the couple’s ideological use of the past as a prelude to the evils of militarism and fascism (74). For example, their use of the army for pyrrhic dances and their preference for large, open-air performances can be interpreted in a sinister way in light of Mussolini’s and Hitler’s methods for involving and exciting the masses. The two essays by Leontis and van Steen are complementary and thus should be read together. For instance, by showing that Eva had experimented with amateur actors and open-air performances many years before staging her Delphic plays, Leontis casts doubt on the validity of some recent interpretations of the ideological and political agenda of Eva and Angelos Sikelianos in the 1920s.
With Linda Ben-Zvi’s essay, George Cram Cook enters Delphi. Like Leontis for Palmer, Ben...