Eva Sikelianos:The eccentric American who adored Ancient Greece and became the wife of Angelos Sikelianos

 

Eva Palmer-Sikelianos

 

She loved women, adored Ancient Greece and married Angelos Sikelianos with whom he revived the Delphic Festival. The life of Eva Palmer Sikelianos is the stuff novels are made of:

Athens, August 1906: Three enigmatic, elegant figures roam the city wearing ancient Greek tunics and sandals. The Athenians watch them with curiosity. They are Raymond Duncan, brother of the notorious dancer Isadora Duncan, his Greek wife Penelope, sister of the poet Angelos Sikelianos and their eccentric American friend Eva Palmer who will soon become the poet's wife...

 

 

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"I remember her as if it was yesterday " Yianni Tsarouxis writes. "She was wearing a short Doric tunic made of auburn wool, the same color as her hair. She wore her hair in a long braid and had pink pale skin full of freckles. Fotis Kontoglou likened her to Saint John because he also wore a short tunic of fur. She had a modest and strict way of pull down her hand when you tried to kiss it. Whenever we met on the street, I had the joy of a child who sees a rare bird "

Eva Palmer was born in Gramercy Park in Manhattan, New York in 1874. Her parents were Courtlant Palmer and Catherine Bennett, eclectic thinkers that promoted liberal thinking, unconventional education and the free exploration of music, theater and literature. A Follower of American philosopher Emerson and fond of free spirits, Courtland Palmer gathered at his home some of the most enlightened minds of his time, from every religion and nationality. As music had a central role in the life of their mother, all Palmer siblings Palmer were encouraged to be musical. Eva would later study music theory and the chorus of ancient tragedy.

 

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She studied literature and theater but abandoned her studies before getting a degree, choosing to live with her brother in Rome for a year and then moved to Paris. There she perfected her French, and participated in impromptu performances at parties in the garden of her teenage girlfriend and mistress, Natalie Barnef with whom she had a turbulent relationship that lasted decades. At the same time she met the legendary actress Sarah Bernhardt. During her stay in Paris Palmer also met Raymond Duncan, brother of pioneering dancer Isadora Duncan, and his Greek wife Penelope, sister of Angelo Sikelianos. Penelope taught Eva Palmer how to weave in the Greek traditional art of the loom. In the hope that they could reproduce the quality of the original ancient Greek garments, the three of them built their own loom and quickly began to weave greek robes and wear them. So Palmer started wearing those garments and leather sandals she made herself. On the other hand, Penelope would recite her brother's poems and that intrugued Eva who wanted to meet him. So this strange companion took their ancient greek inspired garment their sandals and their loom and settled in Athens, at the foot of Mount Hymettus. They would soon become notorious with the help of Isadora Duncan,who was a frequent visitor.

 

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I saw him for the first time standing in the hot sun outside my door ... Even when he passed through the band of light and came to the shadow in the centre of the room he maintained a luster," wrote Eva about the first time she met the beautiful like a Greek God young poet Angelos Sikelianos who was the darling of the Athenian literary circles.

The young poet is enthralled with this charming eccentric woman who older than him in age and worldly. After his trip to North Africa where he writes "Alafroiskiotos" the work that established him, he travelled with Eva to America where they married. After 1907, Eva Palmer-Sikelianos is settled in Greece and in 1909 she gives birth to Glaucus, their only child.

 

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Young Glaucus Sikelianos. 

 

 

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The couple built a beautiful cottage in Sykies Corinth, in the late 1910s.

 

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The house as it is today.

Through their discussions on culture and peace their dream of a revival of the Delphic ideal and the Delphic Festivals took shape. The purpose of the couple was to bring different people together and through art, music, dance and theater to spread a message of harmony between people of different ethnic backgrounds, religious and political beliefs.

 

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The first Delphic Festival, organized by Angelos and Eva in Delphi, began on May 9, 1927, including speeches, performances of ancient drama and folk art exhibitions. Eva Palmer spent the fortune she had inherited from her parents, and additionally secured loans to finance the project. H She undertook the production of "Prometheus". She directed the show, trained the Chorus created masks and wove all the costumes of the actors herself.

 

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"You could see Eva rehearsing if you woke up early in the morning.Her rehearsal began long before the sun rose and stopped shortly after sunrise," wrote Yiannis Tsarouxis. Sikelianos believed in bringing to life the figures she saw on ancient red vessels. She copied several postures from them and connected with steps from traditional greek dancers. She admired Angelos very much. "I'm not nothing!" she would say "I have a practical spirit that allows me to do things because I'm an American. If there is greatness in what we do it belongs to him".

 

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At their house in Delphi

She had great conviction in her cause and in an inherent goodness in all people. When she once learned that her gardener was stealing money from her she did not sack him but instead increased his salary and gave him a suit as a present, saying that only great poverty would lead him to such a discredited action.

 

 

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Eleftherios Venizelos and his wife Elena at the Delphic Festival.

 

The second Delphic Festival,took place in 1930. However, various difficulties that followed,including large financial debts leading to the sale of the house at Sykies and forced her to leave Greece. She returned to America and there continued working as a director, choreographer and as teacher for Greek tragedy while at the same time she was promoting Angelos' work. Her marriage to Sikelianos was however canceled in 1934 and the poet would later remarry in Greece with Anna Karamanou. Palmer and Sikelianos nevertheless continued to correspond and remained good friends. During German occupation she worked to raise funds for Greece and supported the poet and his second wife. In 1950 Eva was planning her return to Greece and the revival of the Delphic Festivals.. Her plans were upset by the poet's death in 1951. However, next year Eve would make the trip she had waited for so long.

 

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Eva Palmer returned to Greece in the spring of 1952 for the last time. Two weeks after her arrival she suffered a fatal stroke while attending a theatrical performance in the revival of the Delphic Festival. She was 77. According to her wishes was buried at Delphi, next to Angelos Sikelianos. "I saw her tomb at Delphi" Yiannis Tsarouxis wrote. "A peace emanated from it and a sense of hope, the same feelings Eva sent out when she was alive."

 

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