HELLENIC STUDIES FROM A STUDENT'S POINT OF VIEW
An article by George Plamantouras, a Bachelor of Arts major in Communications and minor in Hellenic Studies student at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, and a recipient of the Constantelos Award.
To fully understand where the Hellenic Studies Program is today, it is first necessary to examine where it was when I first came to Stockton in the mid-1990's. When I enrolled, I was, of course, already familiar with Dr. Constantelos whom I had known from childhood. He was all Stockton College had at the time and, being the ignoramus I was, it seemed to me that there was little hope for and interest in expanding the Hellenic Studies program.
After a year, I temporarily abandoned my studies here in the United States to earn my teacher's training certificate in Greece. When I returned home to the States (and to Stockton), I was shocked to see a second professor in Hellenic Studies. Knowing only his last name and the courses he offered, I ran to his office to meet this mystery man. His name was Dr. Hippocrates Kantzios. He administered a fresh injection directly into the body of Stockton consisting of classes such as Greek and Roman Comedy, Classical Epic Tradition, Classical Myth and Legend, among others. I was thrilled that Stockton had decided to throw its weight behind this new initiative. It proved to me that there was institutional interest and support for Hellenic Studies. However, I was still uneasy because I knew that for the program to stay alive it would require a healthy enrollment from a student body which mostly came from American high schools which seemed to me (and still do to this day) to have Classical Studies and Eastern European history in low regard. Undeterred, I enrolled in as many courses as my Communications degree would allow. I took the above courses and Dr. Roger Jackson's Ancient Greek Philosophy which, aside from certain independent studies I have had since, is my all-time favorite course from Stockton. As I was taking these courses from 1996-98, two amazing things happened:
1. I noticed that there were times these classes were completely full. Students who didn't know any Greek and/or had no previous exposure to Classical Studies were filling classrooms to learn about Prometheus, Parmenides, Plato, and Plautus. Even the Biblical Greek series of courses attracted healthy enrollment.
2. I personally found myself obsessed with anything having to do with the Greek and Roman worlds.
Many things were falling into place. There were more and more courses offered. Students were attending. My interest was going to take me far beyond the requirements of my cognate in Greek Studies. I was completely unprepared for the effect that this once fledgling program would have on me. I felt this momentum growing and growing until one dark day when I was reported to Dr. Kantzios' office for my independent study. Before our session, he turned to me with a letter of resignation which had just been submitted. I was crushed. Though I was thrilled at the incredible opportunity offered him, I was sad for the program. He assured me that there would be a replacement for him but I took little comfort in that. It was inconceivable to me that anyone else could be found to succeed (let alone exceed) him and when I submitted my final paper to him on one of his last days on campus, I felt as though I was submitting any hope of furthering my education in Classics and headed off into summer to bury my nose in one of the many books that Drs. Constantelos, Kantzios, and Jackson had opened my eyes to.
The next fall, I had learned of Dr. Kantzios' replacement. A little skeptical, I went to meet this new fellow (whose office was eerily around the corner of Dr. Kantzios' office was). It didn't take long at all for all of my hopes to be rekindled. He effortlessly picked up where Dr. Kantzios left off. Many of the familiar classes were returning along with fascinating new ones. What was left of the financial aid loan money I will one day have to work very hard to repay was being spent on fascinating new studies which my Communications major and cognate didn't require or have room for any longer. And it wasn't just me. My fellow students returned for Biblical Greek III and IV. We were also lucky to have a new course, Medical Greek. The program was alive again and so was I. Dr. Alexander Alexakis re-engaged me with the re-energized program. He, like Dr. Kantzios, made it a goal to be available (even from home) to answer questions, to help guide the curious students who frequented their offices. I couldn't even begin to guess how many times I have called at the worst times of the day to get the definition of a word or an explanation of some obscure Robert Graves footnote. My demanding curiosity was (and is to this day) met head on and challenged. Dr. Alexakis gave me more than I could ever have dreamed of granting independent studies in translating from the original Greek, Plato's Apology, The Lamentations of Christ, and The Lamentations of the Theotokos. In addition to these, yet another influential course was offered by Dr. Peter Hagen on Rhetoric in which I learned more about Aristotle, Isocrates, Quintillian, Cicero and many others great orators and rhetoricians.
So, as I write this, gazing across at the plateau of graduate school so that I might further my Classics education with my BA in Communications and minor in Greek from Stockton in hand, I find that I am still puzzled about Hellenic and Classical Studies. I look at the area high schools and see the disinterest in Ancient Greece and Rome and of the tremendous history of the Roman and Byzantine Empires. In high school, we learned of the achievements of Western Europe. We learned that Rome fell in the fifth century A.D. Perhaps my future role in Classics and in Hellenic Studies will empower me to help my former high school's future students learn that Europe has an Eastern half, that the Roman Empire still had a 1,000 years of life to it, that sixty percent of English is directly based on Latin and Greek, that the Minoans thrived 2,000 years before the birth of Christ and that 2,000 years after Christ, we still marvel at their achievements, and perhaps even that the Dark Ages weren't so dark at all if you lived in Eastern Europe. These civilizations left us a tremendous inheritance and must ensure that it is available to all who now come and will come to stake their claim to their portion of it.
I am eternally grateful for the oppurtunity the ever growing Hellenic Studies program at Stockton has given me. I am thankful for the Constantelos Award which I received. I am thankful for Drs. Constantelos, Mench, Kantzios, Jackson, Hagen, Papademetriou, Alexakis and the others in the department whom I have not had the pleasure of meeting. I am thankful for the people who make the pens and paper with and on which their checks are signed. I am thankful to the benefactors and friends of the Hellenic Society whose support has had an incalculable impact on our program, to Richard Stockton College and especially to Dr. Vera King Ferris who, without leaving any room for doubt or misunderstanding, two years ago re-affirmed her commitment to this wonderful program (I was in the room when she said it.) and backed it up less than a year later by bringing in Dr. Papademetriou.