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The Osterman Common Room was packed for a moderated discussion with author Artemis Leontis discussing her new book “Eva Palmer Sikelianos: A Life in Ruins” on Thursday afternoon.
The event was part of the Author’s Forum series presented by the LSA Institute for the Humanities. The conversation was moderated by Prof. Yopie Prins.
Leontis’s book is the first biography about Eva Palmer Sikelianos (1874-1952), an American poet, composer and dancer who extensively studied Ancient Greek history. Palmer recreated ancient art forms, staging Greek tragedy with her own choreography, costumes and even music. She was most famously known for reviving the Delphic Festivals in Delphi, Greece.
The lecture began with Leontis discussing how she had been fascinated by Palmer’s body of work, but how research on her artistic process and life had been limited. Leontis recalls how after getting promoted to associate professor at the University of Michigan and having the resources of the Humanities Department backing her up, she was able to start embarking on cataloging the life of Palmer.
In the early stages of her research, Leontis organized an event that brought a poet who had personally known Palmer to campus. Baldwin shared several personal anecdotes with Leontis and helped shape the framing of the narrative of Leontis’s biography.
“This was not just a Greek story … this is also a ladies’ Greek story,” Leontis said. “Those two pieces had never been brought together. The transnational movement, women who entered into classical studies sort of triangled and learned Greek and always presented themselves as amateurs, but had felt that their life was quite interconnected with their one in Greek.”
Leontis said her research allowed her to travel to several parts of Greece, including Delphi. In these archives, Leontis describes finding fascinating love letters between Palmer and her husband in an archive.
“Most interesting and challenging was an archive of love letters that were the center for Asia Minor studies in Greece,” Leontis said. “So just finding out the papers were there was an adventure.”
When asked about Leontis’s feelings about Palmer, she was hesitant at first to respond, as she purposely tried not to allow her personal feelings to reflect in her book.
“I worked very hard not to develop a relationship with the person, but it’s very hard to divorce her now. I think that she would be really quite unbearable sometimes. … I think I would really disagree with her fundamentally on almost everything … but I fell in love with her stuff.”
LSA sophomore Dana Papandreadis noted how it was interesting that Leontis started off wanting to document Palmer’s life but was able to delve into so many other disciplines.
“It’s really cool that she dove into … so many different angles that she went into,” Papandreadis said. “She just started writing a biography but it hit so many different categories.”
LSA senior Tim Bennett was fascinated by how the lecture exposed him to a completely different aspect of Greek culture.
“There’s a whole realm of Greek history that I just knew nothing about. That there were even these festivals, these Delphic festivals,” Bennett said. “That there were these people who were bringing aspects of American culture, Indian culture, to the costume design, choreography. There’s archives for choreography? That’s crazy.”