Harvard Summer Program in Olympia, Greece
A survey of cross-cultural interaction from ancient times to the present
Faculty: Gregory Nagy and Olympia Fellows
“I believe I echo a unanimous sentiment when I say that each of us took away something from Olympia that was unique and intensely personal and enriching, be it an appreciation for the classics or Greek sculpture and poetry, a better understanding of the Balkans or of the imperial and urban encounter, or just a compendium of Greek swear words, pet rocks, sand, and Mediterranean salt. It was fabulous.”
– Olympia Summer School 2007 student
Olympia—birthplace of the Olympic Games—is a historical and symbolic reminder of the ideals of peace and international cooperation. Inspired by this unique site, the program seeks to promote cross-cultural understanding by combining historical, literary, philosophical, and linguistic approaches to cultural exchange.
In the second half of the program we move to the facilities of the Harvard Center for Hellenic Studies in Nafplio, a seaside town full of modern Greek history. Students are exposed to historical periods from the ancient world to the medieval and modern eras. Thanks to the wide-ranging interests of its faculty, the program offers a rich curriculum that includes seminars, guest lectures, and weekend excursions, such as guided tours, and dramatic and musical performances in the most important historical and archaeological sites of Greece. In the past 10 years, the program has attracted students from many countries, including the United States, England, France, Bulgaria, Greece, Guatemala, Turkey, China, and the Philippines.
Note: The first three weeks are spent in Olympia and the last two weeks in Nafplio. Students are expected to arrive in Olympia on the weekend preceding the beginning of the program. Two bus trips will be arranged to take students from Athens International Airport to Olympia. Successful candidates are notified of the two departure times in late spring.
There are weekend visits to important sites in different parts of Greece, such as Athens, Delphi, Sparta, and Mystras/Monemvasia. During the week, there are also shorter beach-trips near Olympia and Nafplio. Archaeological visits to sites closer to our bases include ancient Olympia, Mycenae, and the theater of Epidaurus—where we attend a dramatic performance. Moreover, students have the chance to visit, on a one-day excursion, to the beautiful islands of Poros, a popular island destination in the Aegean Sea.
Course of study
For this course and its seminars, there are no prerequisites required. All seminars are in English, and students are always surrounded by proficient users of the English language. Students do have the opportunity to pick up some Greek, if they wish, through their interactions with Greek students and faculty and the immersion in the towns and experiences of Olympia, Nafplio, and the various other places we visit across Greece.
LITR S-107 Study Abroad in Greece: Cross-Cultural Contact Between East and West from Ancient Times to the Present (32256)Gregory Nagy
Focusing on the eastern Mediterranean, this course undertakes a diachronic examination of models of empire (Athenian, Byzantine, Ottoman), concluding with questions of nineteenth-century European and modern colonialism and postcolonialism. Particular emphasis is paid to legacies of Hellenism, and to the challenges and possibilities of cross-cultural interaction. The aim is to expose students to historical, philosophical, literary, and political models for studying this interaction.
Now in its eleventh year, the five-week course consists of seven interrelated seminars. Each week-long seminar meets daily (Monday through Thursday), for a total of four two-hour periods. Seminars run in pairs over the first four weeks of the course; students write two short response papers (two pages) per week. The fifth week is devoted to the writing of the final ten-page paper. Students are contacted about book purchases and preparatory reading in late spring; other material is available online and through access to Harvard digital resources. Seminar topics are listed below.
1. Homer as a “Spokesman” for the Athenian Empire (Gregory Nagy)
The earliest form of the Athenian empire—the Delian League—was considered an expression of Ionian identity. This identity, once centered on the sacred island of Delos, was modified when the treasury of the Delian League was transferred from Delos to Athens, sometime around the middle of the fifth century BC. In terms of this transfer, the Ionian identity of the empire could be maintained and even reaffirmed most consistently on the basis of the idea that Athens is the mother city, or metropolis, of all Ionian cities.
A spokesman for the ideological world of the Delian League—and for the political reality of the Athenian empire—was Homer himself, figured as a universal poet and educator. This Homer was an imperial Homer, ideologized as koinos (common) to all Hellenes—at least, to all Hellenes in the Athenian empire. The status of Homer as the koinos polites (common citizen) of all Ionian cities is linked to his central role in the pan-Ionian festival of the Delia.
That festival— as we know independently from Thucydides—was reshaped in the late fifth century by the Athenian statesman Nikias, who sought to link the myths and rituals of the pan-Ionian Delia with the cultural and political agenda of the Delian League (that is, of the Athenian empire).
In this seminar, I offer an analysis of the pan-Ionian festival of the Delia, focusing on the acknowledged role of Homer as the spokesman for the Delia and, by extension, for the Delian League. I then compare the pan-Hellenic festival of the Olympic contests, held in Olympia. Students are guided through a set of relevant readings in translation of selected passages taken from Homeric poetry, and the lives of Homer, Thucydides, and Plato.
2. The Byzantine Empire: Power, Ideology, and Representation (Dimiter Angelov)
Byzantium was the direct heir to the Roman Empire in the medieval Eastern Mediterranean. Its civilization was a unique combination of Roman political culture, Greek learning, and Christianity. This seminar investigates the construction of the idea of empire in Byzantium throughout the millennium of its existence (330–1453) by examining key texts and monuments.
We consider how people in Byzantium from different walks of life knew that they were living in an empire: the elites and the masses, the inhabitants of Constantinople and people from the provinces. We ponder the tensions and contradictions inherent in the ideology of empire in Byzantium. Finally, the course looks at how western, Islamic, and Jewish travelers in the Middle Ages interpreted the imperial identity of Byzantium and how some of their interpretations foreshadow popular modern views of the Byzantines.
3. Archeology, Empire, and Nationalism in the Ottoman Mediterranean (Sahar Bazzaz)
In the nineteenth century, the collection and study of ancient objects and the deciphering of writing systems associated with the empires/societies/peoples of the ancient Near East gave rise to modern academic disciplines such as Egyptology and Assyriology. In this course, we will consider the development of these fields of study in terms of three major phenomenon that defined the eastern Mediterranean lands during the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. First, the Ottoman Tanzimat, a series of state-guided reforms intended to modernize the Ottoman empire; second, the development within the Ottoman realms of local forms of nationalism, specifically, a literary movement known as the ‘Arab Awakening’ (Nahda); and third, the extension of French and British imperialism in the Ottoman lands of the eastern Mediterranean.
4. The Classical Ottoman Empire: Politics, Culture, and Society (Dimitris Kastritsis)
In the classical Ottoman Empire, political power was expressed in areas such as art, literature, diplomacy, and the functioning of government itself. This seminar aims to introduce the history, culture, and legitimizing ideology of the Ottoman Empire as these developed from the late Middle Ages to the seventeenth century. By examining a variety of sources, including travel and advice literature and visual representations of the Süleymaniye mosque and Topkapi palace, we will try to gain a basic understanding of the structure and functioning of the classical Ottoman state. In the process, we will touch upon more general problems of textual and historical analysis, such as the advantages and limitations of a structuralist approach.
Please note that while much of the course focuses on the imperial capital of Istanbul, we will also be considering the history of the Morea (i.e. the Peloponnese, where our program is taking place) as an Ottoman province. The excursion to Mistras and Monemvasia is especially relevant from this point of view.
5. Theater in the Age of Empire: Late-Nineteenth-Century Star Actors and the Circuits of International Fame (Anna Stavrakopoulou)
This seminar moves from the questions of imperial representation examined in the earlier courses on Ottoman and Byzantine history to a cultural history of theater in the age of empire. In the second half of the nineteenth century, while Romanticism was ceding its place to other literary movements, major changes took place representing a turning point in theater history: the shaping of the first stage directors in Europe, as well as the emergence of major playwrights, like Henrik Ibsen, who revolutionized the stage with his dramas.
At the same time, at the peak of colonialism, Europe started exporting stage actors, who dazzled audiences at the Comédie Française and Broadway alike. In this seminar we explore the colonial circuits of the star system of the time, with Adelaide Ristori, Eleonora Duse, Benoit-Constant Coquelin, and above all Sarah Bernhardt, breaking the barriers of their countries and gaining international acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic.
6. Saints and Sinners in Byzantine Literature: Biography and Satire in the Medieval East (Sarah E. Insley)
This course will provide a short introduction to life and letters in the Byzantine Empire (ca. 330-1453 AD) by focusing on the depiction of such figures in Medieval Greek literature. Combining selections of Byzantine biographical and hagiographical writing (i.e., saints’ lives – one of the most popular literary genres in the Middle Ages), folk and religious tales with subversive texts drawn from the lively tradition of Byzantine satire, we will explore the often surprising relationship between the sacred and the profane in the Medieval Mediterranean. Topics for reading and discussion will include literary portraits of unconventional saints (transvestites, ‘holy fools’, harlots and thieves) and spectacular sinners (magicians, heretics, necromancers and grave robbers), along with subversive treatments of religious figures otherwise venerated in Byzantine society. During class sessions, reading of texts in translation will also be paired with images drawn from the spectrum of Byzantine art and material culture in order to offer a more complete introduction to Byzantine society.
7. “Our Greece”: Western Visions of Greece (George Syrimis)
This seminar examines the constructions of the terms "Hellenic" and "Greece" from the Enlightenment to the present through the prism of what we have come to call “Western” culture. We explore the relationship between adaptation and interpretation through various media (literature, film, philosophy, literary criticism), as well as the social movements that have informed our concept of the Hellenic (political, sexual, aesthetic, religious, etc.).
The seminar addresses the way in which ancient Greek civilization was refigured as an ideal cultural template, symbolic origin, and philosophical reflection for both contemporary Greeks and European Philhellenes. Materials include work by Lord Byron, Georgios Vizyenos, Thomas Mann, and C.P. Cavafy.
Gregory Nagy, Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature in the Department of the Classics and Professor of Comparative Literature, Harvard University; Director, Harvard University Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, DC
Dimiter G. Angelov (Medieval and Byzantine History), Visiting Associate Professor of Byzantine History, Harvard University, and Professor of Byzantine History, University of Birmingham
Sahar Bazzaz (History, Middle East and North Africa), Associate Professor of History, College of the Holy Cross
Sarah E. Insley (Byzantine Literature), College Fellow, Department of Classics, Harvard University
Dimitris Kastritsis (Ottoman History), Lecturer in History, University of St Andrews, United Kingdom
Anna Stavrakopoulou (Theater Studies and Modern Greek Literature), Assistant Professor of Theater Studies, Aristotle University, Thessaloniki, Greece
George Syrimis, (Comparative Literature), Lecturer in Comparative Literature and Associate Chair of the Program in Hellenic Studies, Yale University
The application period is now closed.
All students, wherever they study—in the United States or abroad—can apply. In the past, participants have been undergraduates, graduate students, or independent scholars. Please note: Students must be at least 18 years old, have completed at least one year of college or be a first-year student, and be in good academic standing to apply.
The application materials, outlined below, are due January 31, 2013:
- A completed online application that includes:
- A $50 nonrefundable application fee
- A statement of interest in the program, including information on relevant coursework and travel experience abroad (previous travel is not a prerequisite)
- Letter(s) of recommendation from a current or most recent teacher or advisor, mailed to the Study Abroad Office or e-mailed as a PDF directly from the recommender to email@example.com:
- Harvard College applicants: submit one recommendation
- Non-Harvard applicants: submit two letters of recommendation so program staff can learn about the applicant’s academic background and preparation for this program
- Transcripts (student record accepted for Harvard students)
Interviews and letters of recommendation may be requested.
Students will be notified of admission decisions by mid-February.
There is a nonrefundable $50 application fee. The cost of the program is $7,000 and includes the following:
- Room, breakfast, and dinner
- All scheduled excursions and extracurricular activities
In addition to the program fee, students are responsible for:
- A health insurance fee (waived if students have US insurance that provides coverage outside the United States)
- Transportation to and from Olympia
- The cost of passports and visas (if the latter is needed)
- Any immunizations
See a sample budget for estimated expenses.
How to pay and funding options
See Funding and Payment for payment deadlines, deposit amounts, and more information, including funding options for Harvard College students.
In Olympia, accommodations are provided at Hotel Europa. Classes take place in a fully equipped seminar room—including video projector, printer, computer, and Internet access—within the hotel. Students share double-occupancy rooms and eat buffet breakfasts and dinners at the hotel; they make their own arrangements for lunch. Dinner is usually eaten outside in the garden. The hotel provides a free wireless Internet connection in every room and a swimming pool.
In Nafplio, we stay at Park Hotel. Classes take place at the state-of-the-art facilities of the Harvard Center for Hellenic Studies (greece.chs.harvard.edu), located on the Nafplion waterfront, whose Greek branch was recently inaugurated.
“This summer in Greece was an amazing, truly enriching experience for all of us! In me, it inspired a whole new horizon of thoughts on my own subject, the classics, but also on a huge range of other issues, such as the Ottoman and Byzantine Empires, modern imperialism, and Mediterranean mentality. Most of all, though, I learned about this wonderful, richly historical country, Greece, and built up a really personal connection to it. The many wonderful individuals I got to meet and know really well in the course of the program—such as my fantastic Greek roommate—left a lasting impression on me too, and I will certainly keep cherishing the many memories we share. I know I will look back to this summer in Greece countless times with joy and infinite gratitude. Thank you so much to the faculty and organizers for allowing me to take part in this wonderful program!”
– Olympia Summer School 2008 student
See the Greece summer program website or contact one of the individuals listed below.
Academic and administrative coordinators:
Sahar Bazzaz, Department of History, College of the Holy Cross, firstname.lastname@example.org
Students with disabilities
Students should contact the disability services coordinator as soon as possible. See Students with Disabilities for more information.