Eleni Zachariou

Eleni Zachariou, a native of Greece, is a historian who holds a degree in foreign languages from the University of Geneva and a Master’s degree in Greek history from the University of La Verne. She has also worked as a translator in French, English, and German for the United Nations in New York. Eleni enjoys sharing her extensive knowledge and insight on archaeolgical sites of her homeland with Smithsonian travelers.

Q: On the Family Odyssey in Greece tour, how do you convey the intricacy and magnificence of ancient Greece to participants of all ages and generations?
A: The Family Odyssey is the greatest learning experience because families are drawn together to discover a new country, a new culture, and new ideas, but also they learn their own place and relation within the family. There is a special bond because they learn together and they experience together ancient and modern Greece. It is very rewarding to teach and plant the seed in the Young Explorers for a new interest in history, archaeology, art, and people. It is one thing to read and study the history of a land at home and another to experience, see the landscape, hear the language, meet the local people, eat the local food, and immerse yourself in the culture of the land. It is an experience that satisfies all the senses, and these are memories for life.

As a grandmother of a four-year-old toddler, I can say that a child’s energy and curiosity is boundless—children bring up interesting questions and their enthusiasm is contagious—it really brings a great dynamic to the trip.
Q: What do you look forward to seeing and experiencing in the course of the Greece by Land and Sea tour?
A: This is a unique tour because it offers the best of the mainland of Greece and the most beautiful of the islands. A land tour is an absolute must in order to understand the history of Greece, while the islands of the Aegean, with their dazzling whitewashed villages and blue-painted chapel domes on the terraced hillsides of vines and olives, have a fairy-tale quality.

Delos is one of my favorite places—it is a vast archaeological site, the birthplace and sanctuary of Apollo with the most complete residential quarter surviving from ancient Greece. It is always the most wonderful experience because of its light, the blue waters, the flowers in the spring, and the wind! I have spent many Easters and summers on Naxos with my family. It is a rich island with beautiful mountain villages; unique Byzantine churches; and a rich ancient, Byzantine, and medieval history.

Above all, the opportunity to meet a new set of guests—or future friends—is always exciting. Throughout the trips I make an effort to meet each individual and learn more about their interests so that my lectures will be relevant and enlightening on a more personal level.
Q: Which of the historical and archaeological sites visited on tour are most evocative to you and why?
A: In Greece, the configuration and the character of the landscape have been a primary influence in shaping the destiny of its people. Mycenae is one of the most important archaeological sites in the Peloponnese. Even if you do not know Aeschulus’s Oresteia you may feel the atmosphere of tragedy that haunts the ancient site. In Delphi, the sheer beauty of the site of the ancient oracle can inspire awe, and you feel that this is a place where one can capture the essence of religious experience. Ossios Loukas is near Delphi, which is no accident, because here one can capture the essence of Christianity. The 11th century monastery is a masterpiece of Byzantine architecture with its fine mosaics and icons.
Q: Your expertise of the region is vast and you relate much of its history through mythology. What is the relationship between Greek mythology and history?
A: I usually start with the myth and then relate it to history. Myths explain history in a fascinating way; they are honored as a national heritage and they play an important part in the education of the young because of their indirect impact and influence. Myths justify different courses of behavior and prepare the way for development. The three tragedians of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides all used familiar myths for their tragedies as well as heroic stories. Myth provided the framework of drama, and its strength is that it is both intellectual and emotional.
Q: You have also immersed yourself in the study of other great civilizations of the ancient Mediterranean and the Middle East. What do you feel set ancient Greece apart and has made the Greek experience unique?
A: I was very fortunate to attend a Biblical seminar in Jerusalem and work at a dig in Israel in l985. This opened new horizons and the study of Near Eastern, Egyptian, and Biblical history has enriched my life and given me the opportunity to see Greek history in a different perspective. I have led several tours with Greek participants to the Middle East. It is a great challenge to compare histories and to realize that globalization is an ancient concept. The comparison of Greek and Hebrew thought made the participants of the tour realize that we all think according to the Greek way, and we are so strongly influenced by Greek culture. In essence we are all Greek!
Q: Do you find Smithsonian groups to be different from other groups that you lead, and if so, how?
A: Definitely. The participants of a Smithsonian tour are interested in learning. They are well-educated and interesting people because they are interested! They ask intelligent questions and they give you food for thought. They are considerate to others and they respect others and themselves. They have studied ancient Greek and Roman history and they cannot believe that the Parthenon that they have always read about can be seen from the balcony of their hotel room! They comply to St. Augustine’s axiom that "an educated person is a person that can entertain themselves, others, and new ideas."