The Greek Summer is a State of Mind
Happy is the man, I thought, who, before dying, has the good fortune to sail the Aegean Sea.
– Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek
In the midst of 2020, as it emerged from its first COVID lockdown, Greece launched a tourism campaign. “The Greek Summer is a State of Mind,” declared the commercials and internet banner ads trying to lure a reluctant public to the beach. The reason was clear: The Greek economy needs tourism to survive and even a single year of a missed tourist season posed a serious threat to Greece’s fragile economic health. This makes the full-throttle return of travel this summer very good news for Greece and its economy. In fact, many of you reading this may be just heading out on your adventure to the Land of Pericles.
What may come as a surprise to many is that this is not a modern phenomenon, confined to an age of fast and affordable travel; rather, Greece has been a tourist destination since the Roman Period, before there was even a Greek state. During the Hellenicistic Period, those people living in the wider Hellenistic world, some from as far east as modern-day India, would come to the Greek peninsula, particularly to Athens and Crete. Later, young Romans were frequently sent to Greece, not just to study (though that happened frequently as well) but to take in all that Greece is. The idea that Greece, the land and people, in and of themselves, have some kind of positive effect in shaping a character and mind is present in Roman literature, including in the work of Cicero and Seneca. This is not to say Greece was the first tourist destination. Egypt holds that distinction, but this is something we know because of Greek writers such as Herodotos.
The travelers who began arriving in Greece not long after Herodotos wrote about his own adventures were looking for what modern tourists are looking for as they make their way to Greece. They want to visit historical sites, eat good food, take in the stunning landscapes, sit on pristine beaches, and enjoy the hospitality of the Greek people. There is something special about Greece. And people have always known it.
This includes Greek Americans, who frequently choose Greece as their vacation destination. The fact is that Greek Americans return to Greece with a regularity that is uncommon among most Americans. In fact, many Greek Americans own homes and property in Greece, making their trip to Greece each year less a vacation and more a journey home. In part, this is because Greek Americans are not technically immigrants, but members of a diaspora. That is to say, while immigrants seek complete assimilation in their adopted homeland, members of a diaspora keep their distinct identity even while making a second home. For this reason, many Greek Americans feel close to Greece even generations after their families have arrived in America.
This continued connection to Greece, including the allure of the Greek summer, is one of the stories we tell at the National Hellenic Museum. If you would like to know more about how the Hellenic legacy lives today in Chicago and beyond, please visit us at nationalhellenicmuseum.org to learn more about our work and support our effort to promote inquiry and share the Hellenic legacy for generations to come.