Spotlight on ...
Dr Erini Allen
Erini lives in Connecticut and she attended the summer school in 2020 to learn Beginners Greek. Since then she has continued to take classes with me and is dedicated to her goal of reading Homer's Iliad in the original.
We recently had a non-classical-Greek-related chat and she told me about her first experience of ancient Greece.
"Growing up in a diaspora Greek community, I can’t think of a time when I was not aware of and engaging with the ancient Greek world. From reading Aesop’s Fables and sculpting clay replicas of archaeological monuments in elementary school to hearing my dad quote the Delphic maxims and reading the Iliad aloud with my high school Greek teacher, the ancient Greeks were always present and alive in daily life.
"As is not unusual in diaspora communities, ours included survivors or ancestors of survivors of wars, occupation, famine, genocide. The ancients were our teachers and our cautionary tales. They were our touchstones and our painful reminders: the most seemingly brilliant ideas still have their limits. The greatest civilizations can be reduced to rubble, subject to conquest and plunder. However high we soar, we will have to contend with gravity and lose, at some point, and all we will have left is each other.
"This is what reading the ancient Greek classics in a Greek context means to me: we have learned through painful experience that culture is not the monuments or the texts that we can hold in our hands. It’s not the roads that we travel on or the laws that govern us or the leaders who organize us. Culture is the community of people who belong to and are responsible for each other, paradoxically evolving continuously and fixed in time through the act of remembering."
What do you enjoy most about Greek myths?
"I love the myths because they never stop challenging me. They are simultaneously so familiar and so strange. The fundamental way they operate seems contrary to modernity – our binarisms, labels, and linearity. It’s not just the way they’ve organized the world that differs but also the way they’ve organized their minds."
Three things Erini encourages when approaching ancient Greek texts are:
- Embrace paradox. Whatever you think the texts are about, the art is about, the culture is about, think of its opposite and hold that in your hands too.
- Try to approach ancient Greece ontologically not only teleologically. Try to set aside the idea of ancient Greece as the “foundation of western civilization,” and see it as “other,” as its own thing.
- Try to pay as much attention to what feels most alien, challenging, and un-relatable as to what feels most familiar.
Erini holds a PhD in Teaching and Learning, and a MA in Literature, with an emphasis on dialogism and the reception of texts. She is especially concerned with the way we interact with and respond to texts. She has taught literature, writing, and media studies at university. Currently, she is the director of the Institute for Classics Education.
You can follow Erini on Instagram @bookishinct, read her blog here: whyhomer.com/blog and the Institute for Classics Education website is here: classicseducation.com