Reconnecting to the Past in the Greek Present*
Drawing on a growing literature in material culture studies, this chapter calls for a more systematic engagement with ‘matter’ as a way of illuminating the dynamic ways in which antiquity converses with the Greek present. Dealing with ‘matter’ instead of repudiating it as simply irrelevant, or as concealing ‘the true spirit’ or other ‘immaterial’, ‘deeper’ forces of social reality, is of particular relevance to the Greek case. Here the quest for ‘the spirit of antiquity’, ‘the Greek spirit’, or ‘the Olympic spirit’ (terms often used interchangeably) has been inseparable from different, and often contested, forms of ‘materiality’, ranging from antiquities, monuments, human bodies, or souvenirs to soccer trophies, ever since the establishment of the Greek state. A case in point is the staging of the modern Olympics where, in spite of the negative connotations attributed to the contemporary material world, it has provided potent means of expressing the ‘immaterial’, ‘spiritual’ power of the Games, illustrating the blurring of boundaries between the seemingly opposing poles of ‘matter’ and ‘spirit’, past and present, present and absent.
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