NEW YORK – On June 18 at Revelation Gallery in New York’s Greenwich Village, the Greek-American Writers Association (GAWA) presented Sex in the (Ancient) City which included a lecture, poetry readings, and music.
The rector of Saint John’s in the Village, Rev. Graeme Napier, gave the welcoming remarks as Revelation Gallery is run by the church and presents a varied selection of artistic programs and art exhibitions like the current one featuring 10 LGBTQ artist for Pride Month. He noted the support for the arts at St. John’s and invited everyone to view the exhibition following the evening’s program.
Rev. Napier then introduced GAWA Director Penelope Karageorge who welcomed everyone to the event and introduced the speakers and performers for the program. New York University Classics Professor David Sider, an expert on Greek poetry and philosophy, spoke about the differences between ancient and modern concepts of sex and sexual identity. He noted that exclusive homosexuality was rare in ancient times and in most cases, things were “complicated” for the Greeks. There were certain expectations in ancient society for men to marry and have children to pass on their property, while women went from their father’s house to their husband’s house in marriage which featured elaborate ritual. Prof. Sider spoke about Sappho, noting that she was from Mytilene and famous in her own time. He said that there were fewer than 15 women poets in ancient Greece and Sappho was and continues to be the best known. Mytilene was known as a sophisticated place in ancient times, according to the professor, who pointed out that Sappho ran a finishing school for young women, teaching them how to act in marriage and including how to please their husbands. Prof. Sider highlighted his talk with slides featuring illustrations from ancient vases.
A Q&A session allowed the audience to further explore the fascinating topic. Karageorge asked about the inferiority of women in ancient Greek society to which Prof. Sider said, “It’s complicated,” and pointed out that while women were in many ways oppressed and had no rights, they were recognized for their importance in society and every ancient Greek tragedy has women in it.
Sider also noted that love in marriage, something generally expected today, was unheard of in ancient times, and mentioned the unusual case, recounted by Herodotus, of the King of Lydia who had fallen in love with his wife.
Nektarios Antoniou, Executive Director of the Axion Estin Foundation and Principal Cantor at the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity also performed songs based on the poems of Sappho. He told The National Herald that “I curated and arranged the music for the event inspired by the work of [composer Nikos] Xydakis and poetry by Sappho translated [into modern Greek] by Odysseas Elytis.”
Antoniou’s powerful vocals were accompanied by musician Adam Maalouf on the pantam, an instrument made of steel, Maalouf told TNH, adding that each note played on the pantam is a tone field.
Actor Theodore Bouloukos read poems by Sappho, the first woman in history to express her feelings about the joys and torments of love. He was accompanied on the orphic lyre by musician Mia Theodoratus who is of Mexican and Greek descent.
Hunter College Professor of Comparative Religions Constantina Rhodes, Theodoratus, and Antoniou read and performed Sappho’s To Anaktoria.
Theodoratus then spoke about the lyre and performed original music she wrote for the instrument. She later performed with Antoniou and Maalouf to conclude the evening’s program. Karageorge and Prof. Rhodes also read a selection of timeless poems from several famed poets of the ancient world collected in George Economou's book Acts of Love.
Academy Award-winning actress Olympia Dukakis was originally scheduled to appear at the event, but Karageorge explained that she had to cancel at the last moment for health reasons.
A reception in the garden followed the program with Greek wines contributed by Andreas Kelemidis, the founder/owner of Oinos Wine Imports, LLC.