Contemporary Greece is often imagined, by friends and foes alike, as the revival of classical Hellas or as the land where ancient glories may be re-lived. The by now standard assortment of classically themed brand names – from democracy and the theater to the ‘Greek nose’, ‘heroic nudity’ and the highly romanticised notions of ‘Greek love’ – are evoked, time and again, to frame modern Greece as the cradle of Western culture, or, often enough, as one of its gravest disappointments.
Colonised by the rampant imagination of Western elites since the Renaissance, Greek antiquity was promoted as some sort of a highly coveted European modernity, until the modern Greeks themselves decided, some time in the 19th century, to claim classical heritage as their own. Branding Greekness as an archaeological exercise has had its fine moments, to be sure: one needs only to think of Sophia Loren or Melina Merkouri playing naïve, free-spirited Greek girls in love with American archaeologists in highly acclaimed movies of the 1950s and 60s. Yet, these same stereotypes may often be seen to backfire – as in the case of more recent examples, where Greek antiquity has been used to castigate modern Greece as a ‘failed state’. Is there still room in this late modern world of ours for branding Greekness as an archaeology of sorts?