Aspects Of The Greek Tragic Hero In American Literature

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Courses in modern Greek literature, language, and history are offered for credit in many colleges and universities. Some were initially promoted by members of the Modern Greek Studies Association, founded at Princeton in 1969. Most relate to Greece, of course, but the scholarly study of Greek America has also expanded in recent years. Such systematic study goes back at least to 1911, when Henry Pratt Fairchild published Greek Immigration to the United States. Thomas Burgess followed with Greeks in America (1913). Since then many books and monographs, including master’s theses and doctoral dissertations, have helped to make the Greek minority one of the more thoroughly researched in the nation. The most authoritative account to date remains The Greeks in the United States (1964) by Theodore Saloutos. Of late an interesting adjunct to these endeavors by social scientists has been an inquiry into the modern Greek presence in our literature, with respect to both fictional characters and creative writers. Until now the bibliographies either sparely reported or completely ignored the Greek ethnic component. The two-volume collection of essays Ethnic Literature Since 1776: The Many Voices of America, by W.T. Zyla and Wendell Aycock (1978), for example has no section on this subject. A fairly sizable segment on Greek Americans does appear in Wayne C. Miller’s Comprehensive Bibliography for the Study of American Minorities (1976), although its listing of Greek writers and Greek characters in American fiction is incomplete. The standard literary indexes that mention immigrant and ethnic works are also unsatisfactory. The current popularity of the ethnic dimension in American literature promises to hasten the needed bibliographical work. The establishment of MELUS, for the study of the multiethnic literature of the United States, indicates the growing value that scholars are placing on the new literary emphasis. Greek immigrants did not begin to arrive in large numbers until the 1980s. Coming mostly from peasant and pastoral backgrounds, unlearned and poor, they did not immediately express in writing the wonder, anguish, and triumph of their odyssey. Their initial publications were both utilitarian and ephemeral – Greek-language newspapers such as Atlantic, National Herald, and Chicago’s Greek Star. Some earlier accounts consisted of fugitive narratives and personal history deriving from the Greek Revolution, captivity and atrocity tales, and reminiscences. During the nineteenth century many non-Greeks visited Greece, however, and wrote interesting though usually impressionistic travel essays. Most of them wanted to learn at first hand if four hundred years of Turkish enslavement had left in the Greeks any traces of their classical greatness.

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