by Aria Socratous.
Professor Vassilis Lambropoulos is a renowned and acclaimed academic who over the last 35 years has been contributing substantially to the growth of full-fledged Modern Greek Programs at two major public universities, The Ohio State University and the University of Michigan. He is currently Professor of Classical Studies and Comparative Literature, and the first C.P Cavafy Professor of Modern Greek at the University of Michigan, and also the recipient of several fellowships and honors. The Cavafy Chair, which is shared by the Departments of Classical Studies and Comparative Literature, anchors the Modern Greek Program at Michigan and has been fully endowed by the University and the Greek-American community of Michigan under the pioneer leadership of the regional Foundation for Modern Greek Studies.
Professor Lambropoulos is a comparatist who looks at Greece and Cyprus not in isolation but in a broader framework, comparing them with their diaspora, past, neighbors, Western admirers and critics, travelers, idealizers. He also looks at what Hellenism has meant to non-Greek painters, composers, political theorists, educators, historians, and directors. Among his former students are two generations of today’s faculty promoting Modern Greek across the nation, including Giorgos Anagnostou at Ohio State, Eric Ball at SUNY, Vangelis Calotychos at Brown, Maria Hadjipolykarpou at Columbia, Konstantia Kapetangianni at North Texas, Neovi Karakatsanis at Indiana, Gerasimus Katsan at CUNY, Martha Klironomos at San Francisco State, and Yona Stamatis at Illinois.
He has authored three books (Literature as National Institution, The Rise of Eurocentrism, and The Tragic Idea), co-edited several books and special issues, and published scholarly papers, articles, essays, and reviews. He is married to an eminent third-generation Greek American academic, Artemis Leontis, also a Professor of Modern Greek at Michigan. Their daughter, Daphne Vander Roest, is a senior resident in Pediatrics at the University of Chicago.
On Michigan’s Greek campus
When the University of Michigan was created in 1817 it established a distinct Greek identity with a Greek name (Catholepistemiad), 13 courses with Greek names (like mathematica, ethica, economica, and iatrica), and a seal with classical columns and the word epistemia on it. For two centuries, it has retained and expanded its engagement with things Greek of all periods and places. Every year Michigan offers to some 40,000 students from all over the world a physical and cultural immersion in the inexhaustible varieties of Hellenism. The unique illustrated website, The Greek U-M Campus, lists and documents some 50 Michigan places that have a Greek connection.
On teaching Greek
Professor Lambropoulos has been teaching, lecturing, and writing on modern Greece because he believes that Greece helps us understand key issues of our world. Over at least the last three centuries it has been functioning as a fascinating laboratory where new ideas and methods are tried out with varying degrees of success. Economic, political, social, cultural, legal, educational, institutional and other measures are constantly applied and examined.
“Greeks love to experiment, and we can learn from their successes and failures as they have been embracing and rejecting the modern world since they started planning their national independence in the 18th century. Greece is a minor country in terms of power but a major domain in terms of symbolism,” he suggested.
Professor Lambropoulos observed that interest in Greece remains strong but its focus naturally keeps changing. Today, while criticizing many values traditionally attributed to them, people are reading the Greeks differently and are also studying neglected works, discovering alternative values and forgotten Greeks.
On Greek thought
To the question how he would assess ancient Greek thought’s place in the Western tradition, Professor Lambropoulos pointed out that we continue to encounter Greek ideas and principles everywhere in our daily lives, from the perfume counter to the gallery and from advertising to fiction. As examples he mentioned several mythological figures that appear unexpectedly in American movies, such as: Eurydice in Vertigo, Orpheus in The Adjustment Bureau, Perseus in Percy Jackson, Medea in Beloved, Ariadne in Inception, Amazon in The Hunger Games, Odysseus in Cold Mountain, Icarus in Birdman, Oedipus in Minority Report, Lysistrata in Chi-raq, Plato’s cave in The Matrix. “Every day Greek thought and imagery pop up somewhere to entertain and challenge us,” he concluded.
To the question how he would evaluate the prevalent cosmopolitan aura of Cavafy’s poetry, Professor Lambropoulos responded that so far Greece has had many important national poets, like Solomos, Kalvos, Palamas, Sikelianos, Elytis and Ritsos, but only one major global poet, Cavafy, who is a poet for the 21st century: cosmopolitan, multicultural, erotic, ironic, melancholic, philosophical. He noted his ongoing presence in the new Generation of the 2000s, the young poets of “Left Melancholy.” They may be called “Cavafy’s heirs” in that they share many features of the poet’s worldview, they have lived abroad, they are multilingual and diasporic, skeptical and ironic, and stand “at an angle” in today’s Greece.
On his book “Hubris in Modern Tragedy”
Professor Lambropoulos has a strong interest in tragedy and politics, in the ways theater and opera present unresolvable moral dilemmas between freedom and death, love and country, or means and ends. His last book discussed how philosophers between 1780s-1930s understood the idea of the tragic. His ongoing project analyzes several plays between 1790s-1960s which warn that revolution holds great emancipatory promise but often, though not always, it may violate a sense of measure, commit hubris, and self-destruct. These modern tragedies of revolution present on the stage tremendous conflicts between ethics and politics, with heroic rulers torn between the two.
On his blog
Apart from the classroom, the lecture hall, the scholarly journal, and the popular press Professor Lambropoulos can be found on his blog Piano Poetry Pantelis Politics that grows out of his multi-faceted collaborative work (recitals, talks, articles, interviews etc.) with the pianist Dr. Pantelis Polychronidis, Senior Lecturer at the University for Music and Performing Arts in Vienna, and represents another dimension of a very creative friendship that belongs to the open world. Its discusses intertwined questions of literature, music, friendship, and freedom.