By day, young Gilbert Bagnani studied archaeology in Greece, but by night he socialized with the elite of Athenian society. Secretly writing for the Morning Post in London, he witnessed both antebellum Athens in 1921 and the catastrophic collapse of Christian civilization in western Anatolia in 1922. While there have been many accounts by refugees of the disastrous flight from Smyrna, few have been written from the perspective of the west side of the Aegean. The flood of a million refugees to Greece brought in its wake a military coup in Athens, the exile of the Greek royal family and the execution or imprisonment of politicians, whom Gilbert knew.
Gilbert’s weekly letters to his mother in Rome reveal his Odyssey-like adventures on a voyage of discovery through the origins of western civilization. As an archaeologist in Greece, he travelled through time seeing history repeat itself: Minoan Knossos, Byzantine Constantinople and Ottoman Smyrna were all violently destroyed, but the survivors escaped to the new worlds of Mycenaean Greece, Renaissance Venice and modern Greece.
At Smyrna in the twentieth century, history was written not only by the victors but was also recorded by the victims. At the same time, however, the twentieth century itself was so filled with reports of ethnic cleansings on such a scale that the reports brutalized the humanity of the supposedly civilized people reading about them, and the tragedy of Smyrna disappeared from public awareness between the cataclysmic upheavals of the First and Second World Wars.
Lost Worlds of Ancient and Modern Greece: Gilbert Bagnani; The Adventures of a Young Italo-Canadian Archaeologist in Greece, 1921-1924 by D. J. Ian Begg. Hardback; 380pp; 14 figures; 5 maps. Archaeological Lives series by Archaeopress Publishing. Available both in printed and e-versions. Printed ISBN 9781789694529. Epublication ISBN 9781789694536.