By Alexander Karanikas

                        I           Summary of lecture by Dr. Alexander Karanikas at

                                    the Second Scientific Symposium on “The Aegean

                                    Through the Centuries” sponsored by the Aegean

                                    Foundation, Athens, Greece, June 4-5, 1987.


                      II            Text of the lecture, “The Aegean in American Literature”,

                                    presented at the Symposium on June 4, 1987.


                     III           Bibliography


                     By Alexander Karanikas

                     Professor of English Emeritus University of Illinois at Chicago


            Summary of lecture by Dr. Alexander Karanikas at the Second Scientific

            Symposium on “The Aegean Through the Centuries” sponsored by the

            Aegean Foundation, Athens, June 4-5, 1987.


The Aegean World in American Literature


Alexander Karanikas began his talk on “The Aegean World in American Literature” by stating that modern Greece has “long been a favored setting for romantic, adventure, and mystery novels among American, British, and continental authors.”  To support his statement he cited thirty-three American writers who have used Aegean locations, characters, and themes in their creative works.


Among those mentioned were William Cullen Bryant, Herman Melville, George Horton, Ernest Hemingway, Irving Stone, Harry Mark Petrakis, Theano Papazoglou-Margaris, Demetrios A. Michalaros, Demetra Vaka, Sidney Sheldon, Phylllis A. Whitney, and James Jones.


Dr. Karanikas stated:  “The very antiquity of Greece resonates with memory and imagination enriched by archetypes from myth, classical literature, and history.”  Several novels deal with ancient Crete and the legend of Ariadne.  Modern Cretans are also characters in American fiction.


Great events in Greek history that have inspired American novels include the Greek Revolution, the massacre at Chios, the Catastrophe of 1922, and the German Occupation during World War II.  Besides Crete and Chios the settings include the Dardanelles, Prinkipo, Pyrgos, Mytilene, Smyrna, Poros, Thera, Rhodes, Tsatsos, Antikythera, Vomos, Baos, the site of Troy, Missolonghi, Piraeus, and Athens.


Some novels have plots that begin in America and end somewhere in the Aegean.  They and others have themes that include adventure, romance, mystery, crime, espionage, and war.  The dozens of characters dramatized by the thirty-three authors help to establish in a unique way the Greek nature of the region.


Dr. Karanikas concluded his talk at the Symposium with these words about the Aegean.  “Strong cultural forces both old and new operate here.  They radiate in every direction.  The Aegean is the Holy Land of classical and Christian humanism.  Here the best that was inspired by Mt. Olympus combines with the best inspired by Mt. Athos.  American writers respond to the Aegean as the soul of western civilization.  We who are Greeks respond because the Aegean embodies the heartbeat of Hellenism.”


The Aegean World in American Literature


Modern Greece and her Aegean Islands have long been a favored setting for romantic, adventure, and mystery novels among American, British, and continental authors.  Many stories begin in the United States and then shift to Greece to be developed and resolved.  The popular tourism has attracted writers many of whom found useful settings, characters, episodes, and themes.  The very antiquity of Greece resonates with memory and imagination enriched by archetypes from myth, classical literature, and history.


We may begin our survey with Demetrios Michalaros who for twenty-six years edited Athene Magazine in Chicago.  In his Sonnets of an Immigrant he writes about Greeks who leave their Aegean homes for a new life in America.  Among his titles is the epic poem The Minoan. A young Minoan prince, Antalos, leaves Crete with his comrades, sails westward into the unknown, discovers America, and on the great western plains defeats a vast army from the orient for control of the new world.


Several novels also deal with ancient myths associated with Crete, with King Minos, the Minotaur, with Ariadne, Theseus, and Daedalus.  For one example there is June Brindel’s Ariadne, written from a feminist point of view.  The book states:  “As Minos plots against the matriarchy, as famine stalks the mountains and the people grow restive, Ariadne struggles to preserve her religion, her throne, and her life.  Bold, handsome Theseus, prince of Athens, appears to offer help: but does he come to save Ariadne—or destroy her?


In The Age of Wizardry, by Jack Williamson, the Minoans including Ariadne and Daedalus are seen as wizards with dark mystical powers. When Theseus severs the head of Keke, Ariadne’s beautiful dove, the head turns into the “dark, skeletal visage of Daedalus.”  A dwarfish wizard becomes the brazen giant Talos.  For Theseus the lovely Ariadne at the end renounces the power of wizardry.


Barbara Michaels in The Sea King’s Daughter presents a modern heroine named Ariadne whose father seeks a fleet of Minoan ships sunk in the harbor of a Greek island, the alleged location of Atlantis.  They search for the ships near Thera, one of the islands in the Cyclades group.


A wonderful book about the Aegean as a whole is George Horton’s Home of Nymphs and Vampires: The Isles of Greece.  Another fine book by Horton is In Argolis, about his family’s stay on the island of Poros after his position ended as American minister to Greece.  He served as consul in Smyrna during the Catastrophe of 1922.  Among his Poems of An Exile is a tribute to his wife’s bravery as she witnessed the tragic events.  Two of Horton’s novels deal more with the Aegean area than with Greece proper.  Constantine is about a young Greek sailor who is betrayed by his godfather.  In Like Another Helen, a ship leaves Piraeus for Crete with a load of contraband weapons for the Cretan rebels.


The Greek Revolution of 1821-29 inspired a real “Greek Fever” of writing and support in America.  M. Byron Raizis and Alexander Papas have documented the extent of the phenomenon in an excellent new study.  About the Aegean area in particular was the poem “The Massacre at Scio” by William Cullen Bryant.  In recent years three novels have been set on Chios.  Athena Dallas-Damis in Island of the Winds and Windswept wove love stories into the larger events of the massacre.  In The Quarries of Sicily, Thomas Doulis has a great but neglected modern Greek author living on Chios.


Still another novel of the Greek Revolution era is The Missolonghi Manuscript by Frederick Prokosch, describing the last days of Byron.  And The Hour of the Bell, by Harry Mark Petrakis, relates to the Aegean in that Petrakis describes the roles of the Greek islands at the start of the rebellion.


The Dardanelles area has its authors, too.  Herman Melville’s impressions of Greeks he met are included in Journal Up the Straits when he visited Constantinople before going to Jerusalem.  Demetra Vaka’s excellent novel Delarah is set on the island of Prinkipo in the Sea of Marmora.  The time is 1909 and the revolt of the Young Turks against Sultan Hamid.  The Greek girl Alcmene teaches her Turkish girlfriend Delarah how to read and write.  At the end, because her own parents are doomed, Delarah assumes a Greek name, Daphne Mousouros.  The novel Delarah ends happily when the two girls depart from Turkey for Paris on the Orient Express.


Several thrillers and mysteries written by Americans are set in the Aegean.  Among them is Dardanelles Derelict by the popular author Van Wyck Mason.  His hero is Major Hugh North.  Because of his brilliance as a secret agent, the Soviet Union rescinds an ultimatum that could have precipitated war with the United States.


Many of the Anatolian Greeks who left Turkey during the Catastrophe of 1922 and after settled in a new village named Pyrgos near Mt. Athos, the Holy Mountain.  In that part of the Aegean are set two delightful books by Joice M. NanKivell, Tales of Christophilos and Again Christophilos.  The author lived in Pyrgos both as a Quaker relief official and as a doctor to the villagers and the monks.  The two books represent the writer as an archaeologist of the mind who gathers a literary treasure from the rich, vibrant memory of the Greek folk.


The island in Edward Fenton’s juvenile book Aleko’s Island is Mytilene.  Aleko is a poor orphan whose beloved goat Lesbia happens to dig up a valuable bronze artifact—that of a boy carrying a lamb on his shoulders.  Instead of selling the treasure for cash, Aleko accepts an offer for the artifact to be placed in a museum in exchange for his getting an education in Athens—to become an archaeologist.


In a biographical novel, The Greek Treasure, Irving Stone recreates the love and adventure story of the famed archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann and the Greek girl who became his wife, Sophia Engastromenos.  She was seventeen, he forty-seven.  In twenty years of working together they found not only Homer’s Troy but also Pausanias’s royal tombs at Mycenae, the treasury at Orchomenos, and the palace at Tiryns.


The catastrophe of 1922 has been most tragically recorded by Greek writers who experienced it themselves.  A notable example is Number 31328 by Elias Venezis.  Thomas Doulis, a Greek American scholar, has examined all these works in a valuable study, Disaster and Fiction: Modern Greek Fiction and the Impact of the Asia Minor Disaster of 1922.


Ernest Hemingway witnessed the aftermath of the destruction of Smyrna and wrote dispatches for the Toronto Star Weekly.  He also describes the “never-ending staggering march” of the Christian population of Eastern Thrace fleeing toward Macedonia.


Two recent books, one factual and the other fiction, recall those grim and bloody days.  Marjorie Housepian in The Smyrna Affair gives what the book terms “the first comprehensive account of the burning of the city and the expulsion of the Christians from Turkey in 1922.”  She bitterly condemns the western Great Powers for permitting the genocide.  Richard Reinhardt’s novel The Ashes of Smyrna is equally valuable as history and as entertainment.  It is a story of love between a Greek girl and a young Turk, Abdullah, in the midst of social upheaval.  The love leads nowhere because Abdullah dies.  The author of The Ashes of Smyrna does not take sides in the conflict.  He notes, however, that as hordes of refugees jam the quay at Smyrna, Allied warships sit in the harbor oblivious to the carnage and panic.


The Dodecanese Islands figure in American literature because, among other reasons, the Greek spongers at Tarpon Springs, Florida, came mainly from that region.  Five novels and many articles have been written about the spongers.  The islands of origin mentioned include Symi, Halki, Kos, and Kalymnos.  Jennie Harris wrote an article on Tarpon Springs for the National Geographic.  There she watches an incoming boat and thinks:  “Such a boat entered Aegean ports in the epic days of Homer.”  She mentions that for centuries the Dodecanese Islands were famous as sponge centers.  “Among these…were Kos, where Hippocrates, father of medicine, had lived, and Patmos, where the exiled St. John wrote the Revelations of the Bible.”


Indeed, many novels about Greek immigrants in America stress the villages and areas from which they emigrated.  In Gold in the Streets, by Mary Vardoulakis, George Vardas arrives from Crete to joining other Cretans already working in the mills of Chicopee, Massachusetts—the state now governed by a Greek, Michael Dukakis.  The grandfather in Ariadne Thompson’s The Octagonal Heart grew up in Smyrna where he had a lucrative silk-manufacturing business.


The hero of The Odyssey of Kostas Volakis by Petrakis came from Crete, as did the forbears of Petrakis himself.  And many characters in the moving stories of Theano Papazoglou-Margaris lived in Anatolia before joining the Greek diaspora.


The island of Rhodes has been popular as a setting for American fiction.  One fine case of tourism at work is Clair Bishop’s book for children, A Present from Petros.  A note about the author states:  “During a recent stay in Greece she fell in love with the country and the young guide and his donkey she knew there were her inspiration for Petros and Kyrios in A Present from Petros.”  The girl in the story, Susan Spencer, is taken by Petros to the Valley of the Butterflies on Rhodes.  His gift to her is the most beautiful specimen he can find.


Just as Nick Carter and other American secret agents go to Greece on suspenseful capers, so do the Bobbsey twins and other young sleuths and adventurers.  Some are drawn there by mysteries that originate in the United States, while others are caught up while touring the country.  In the opening paragraph of Mystery of the Hidden Hand, set on Rhodes, Phyllis A. Whitney writes:  “Neither Gale nor Warren had any idea of the strange events that would soon involve them in unexpected adventure.”  The novel is also a travelogue in that the children explore an old Venetian castle and examine the spot where the Colossus once stood.


Two adult novels set on Rhodes are The Martlet’s Tale by Nicholas Delbanco and The Blind Cave by Leo Katcher.  The first begins and ends on Rhodes with the middle section set in Athens.  The episodic plot revolves around a dying old lady who allegedly has a large fortune to bestow.  She leaves behind a family of relatives who will bicker and fight among themselves.  In fact, however, she might have not wealth but only bitterness to offer.


An American CIA agent named Richard Landon is the hero of Katcher’s thriller The Blind Cave.  Landon comes to the Aegean in search of some plutonium missing from one of America’s satellites.  To recover the plutonium he has to work with both Greek and Soviet agents as well as his own.  To Landon the cruise of the Greek islands means constant danger and continual searching.  Some evil person has the means to create an atomic bomb.  His cruise takes him to Istanbul, Delos, Mykonos, then back to Athens.  The madman turns out to be Landon’s own superior and top intelligence official in Washington.


As we might expect, the German Occupation of Greece and the Greek Civil War inspired novels by American authors.  The very earliest, in 1945, was Apartment in Athens by Glenway Wescott.  A Nazi officer, Major Kalter, is quartered in the home of the Helianos family.  When Kalter’s wife dies in an air raid and his two sons die in combat, he commits suicide.  A dedicated Nazi, he makes his death appear like murder in order to falsely implicate Helianos and guarantee his doom.


George N. Rumanes, a Greek American writer, uses the port of Piraeus as the locale for The Man With the Black Worrybeads.  His protagonist is Petros Zervas.  He works with British Intelligence to sabotage a fleet of German supply ships in the harbor.  The supplies are desperately needed by Field Marshall Rommel in North Africa.  Petros succeeds, but is killed by a misguided Greek youth who blames him for Nazi air raids upon Athens.


The legend of the Greek shipowner took a giant step forward in Sidney Sheldon’s The Other Side of Midnight, 1973.  A murder trial in Athens gives Constantin Demiria, the shipowner, a chance to wreak vengeance on a couple who have betrayed him.  The word ruthless is often applied to the fictional Greek shipowner.  Sheldon contributes to the stereotype.  Demiris’s private joy is to destroy anybody who betrays, delights, or otherwise opposes him.


Several other Greek islands may be mentioned in this all too brief report on the Aegean world in American Literature.  The famous agent Nick Carter in Seven Against Greece breaks up a spy operation on Baos Island, and he again save the world from almost certain destruction.


James Jones, the celebrated author of From Here to Eternity, fell in love with Greece; and late in his career he wrote a thriller, A Touch of Danger, set on the island of Tsatsos.  His aging hero is Lobo Davies.  Another rich, powerful, and mysterious Greek shipowner looms large in the action.  Decadence, drugs, and murder inform the plot.


Edmund Keeley, the well-known translator of Cavafy and brother of Robert Keeley, the American ambassador, has also written several novels set in the Aegean.  The Libation is a modern version of the Oresteia by Aeschylus that begins with the Catastrophe of 1922 and the burning of Smyrna.  In The Gold-Hatted Lover the hero goes from Pireaus to Crete and also spends time in Poros.  The theme of Keeley’s third novel, Voyage to a Dark Island, is treasure hunting off the island of Anti-ky-thera.  The hero is looking for a galleon loaded with artifacts.


A more successful treasure hunt in Greek waters occurs in The White Hand of Athene by Jim Thorne, himself an adventurer with expertise in underwater archaeology.  The fictional hero, Jib Gordon, searches off the island of Vomos where he finds the submerged ruins of Emborium, City of Commerce, a Minoan center which vanished in 2450 B.C.  The title refers to a fake artifact that his benefactor wants him to validate in a conspiracy for fame and profit.  The novel ends with Jib Gordon sadly remembering the beautiful Greek actress he had loved and lost.


We may conclude from the authors and their works mentioned that the Aegean world has indeed had a significant affect on American literature.  Additional research could add many more titles. All the books noted have Greeks as characters, testifying in a creative and unique way to the Greek nature of the Aegean.  Strong cultural forces both old and new operate here.  They radiate in every direction.  The Aegean is the Holy Land of classical and Christian humanism.  Here the best that was inspired by Mt. Olympus combines with the best inspired by Mt. Athos.  American writers respond to the Aegean as the soul of western civilization.  We who are Greeks respond because the Aegean embodies the heartbeat of Hellenism.


Alexander Karanikas

The Aegean World in American Literature


            Author                                                  Book                                        Location


Demetrios A. Michalaros          Sonnets of An Immigrant                       Aegean

                                                The Minoan                                          Crete


June Brindel                              Ariadne                                                Crete


Jack Williamson                        The Age of Wizardry                            Crete


Barbara Michaels                     The Sea King’s Daughter                      Thera


George Horton             Home of Nymphs and Vampires           Aegean

                                                In Argolis                                             Poros

                                                Poems of An Exile                                Smyrna

                                                Constantine                                          Aegean

                                                Like Another Helen                              Crete


William Cullen Bryant   “The Massacre at Scio”                        Chios


Athena Dallas-Damis                Island of the Winds                               Chios

                                                Windswept                                           Chios


Thomas Doulis              The Quarries of Sicily                           Chios


Frederick Prokosch                  The Missolonghi Manuscript                 Missolonghi


Harry Mary Petrakis                 The Hour of the Bell                             Aegean

                                                The Odyssey of Kostas Volakis            Crete


Herman Melville                       Journal Up the Straits                            Dardanelles


Demetra Vaka                          Delarah                                                Prinkipo


Van Wyck Mason                    Dardanelles Derelict                              Dardanelles


Joice M. NanKivell                   Tales of Christophilos                           Pyrgos

                                                Again Christophilos                               Pyrgos


Edward Fenton             Aleko’s Island                                      Mytiline


Irving Stone                              The Greek Treasure                              Site of Troy


Thomas Doulis              Disaster and Fiction                              Smyrna


Ernest Hemingway                    Newspaper dispatches                          Smyrna


Marjorie Housepian                  The Smyrna Affair                                Smyrna


Richard Reinhardt                     The Ashes of Smyrna                            Dodecanese


Mary Vardoulakis                     Gold in the Streets                                Crete


Theono Papazoglou-

            Margaris                       Short stories                                         Anatolia


Ariadne Thompson                   The Octagonal Heart                            Smyrna


Clair Bishop                             A Present from Petros                          Rhodes


Phyllis A. Whitney                    Mystery of the Hidden Hand                 Rhodes


Nicholas Delbanco                   The Martlet’s Tale                                Rhodes


Leo Katcher                             The Blind Cave                         Rhodes


Glenway Westcott                    Apartment in Athens                             Athens


George N. Rumanes                 The Man With the Black Worry-

                                                            beads                                       Athens


Sidney Sheldon             The Other Side of Midnight                   Athens


James Jones                             A Touch of Danger                               Tsatsos


Edmund Keeley                        Voyage to a Dark Island                       Antikythera


Jim Thorne                               The White Hand of Athene                   Vomos


Nick Carter                              Seven Against Greece                           Baos