1950s Athens as Palimpsest: A BBC Radio Play by Louis MacNeice
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Louis MacNeice’s Portrait of Athens, a radio play broadcast by the BBC in November 1951, came at a time of reconstruction throughout Europe but also at a time when the world was on the verge of yet another war. In it we find the city’s bones, Athens of Thucydides, Demosthenes, Pericles and Socrates, but also a modern city where you could hear street cries, radio tunes and trams and visit both Kolonaki and the district of New Smyrna where Asia Minor refugees had settled almost thirty years earlier. Twenty-four centuries were transposed to twenty-four hours and twenty-four hours squeezed into the space of one with the play focusing on questions of memory, identity, and lived or remembered traumas. What the audience got as a result was a representation of the varied layers that made up modern Athens, a portrait of the city as palimpsest in contrast to other accounts of the same period where the past dominated over the present making the latter non visible.