Edmund Keeley Dies at 94; Shone a Light on Modern Greek Culture

From the beginning, Professor and Mrs. Keeley were at the heart of the campus social scene, organizing parties and picnics for new hires, graduate students and visiting professors.

“Newcomers to Princeton were made to feel welcome amid a dazzling ensemble of writers, poets, professors, and friends from both Princeton and New York,” said Joyce Carol Oates, who arrived in 1978 intending to teach just one year but, thanks in part to Professor Keeley’s generosity, remains on the faculty today.

At the time, scholarship about Greece at Princeton was limited to the past and centered in the Classics Department. Starting in the 1970s, Professor Keeley built what became the Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies, now one of the leading institutions of its kind in the country.

Through the center, he invited Greek artists and scholars to visit the United States and took scores of students on trips to Athens and its environs, standing at the front of the tour bus, microphone in hand, lecturing about his favorite Greek poets.

“It would be fair to say that for the last half-century he was America’s leading cultural ambassador to Greece,” Dimitri Gondicas, who now directs the center, said in a phone interview.

Professor Keeley’s interest in Greece was always shaped by his family’s connection to it. He was long haunted by rumors that his father, as an American diplomat, had played a role in the country’s efforts to quash left-wing dissent. His sense of guilt most likely informed his presidency of PEN America.

After he retired from both Princeton and PEN America, he turned to writing full time. He had already written several novels, and he went on to write several more — eight in all, most of them set in Greece and revolving around the theme of foreigners coming into contact with Greek culture.

He also took up poetry. Among his last works was “Daylight,” which appeared last year in The Hudson Review. A meditation on the Covid pandemic, it reads in part:

Why not leave it all to Nemesis

And take a long walk outside

In whatever direction holds the prospect

Of your recovering things to remember

From those lighter years in open spaces

That shore beside an endless sea.






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