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Overviews of the Collections

The Modern Greek Collections at the Library of Congress

David H. Kraus
Former Assistant Chief,
European Division

General Evaluation and Size

The Modern Greek collection comprises about 65,000 volumes of books and bound periodicals, as well as non-print materials such as music scores, maps and atlases, prints and photographs, manuscripts, motion pictures, and sound recordings. For this paper we consider Modern Greece to begin in 1453, with the end of the Byzantine Empire. The European Division's responsibility for building the Modern Greek collection begins with 1821, the onset of the War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire. The collection from or about the period 1821-present amounts to about 50,000 volumes of books and bound periodicals, with about 70% in the Greek language and the remainder primarily in West European languages.

Systematic collecting of materials from or about Greece began in 1969 with the appointment of a specialist for Greece in the Slavic and Central European Division (now the European Division). Before that, materials were received primarily on exchange with Greek academic, governmental, and professional organizations; transfers from other U.S. government agencies; and purchases through various agents. The results were quite good, abetted by events such as the acquisitions trip by Jennings Wood, Assistant Chief of the Exchange & Gift Division to Athens in 1959 to improve official exchanges, and the recommendations for additions to the literature collection made in 1960 by consultant Andonis Decavalles, a Greek poet who reported favorably on the Library's holdings in this field. The acquisitions situation proved volatile in the 1970s, with several changes of blanket-order dealers and unreliable receipts from exchange partners in the Greek government, and from academic and professional organizations. A reliable book dealer for commercial publications was engaged in 1984, following an acquisitions trip by the Assistant Chief of the European Division to Greece, and in 1988 a reliable supplier of non-commercial publications, in the form of a bibliographic services contractor, was employed. Currently, the Library's coverage of Greek publications may be considered excellent.


The strength of the general collection in both quality and quantity by subject, is approximately as follows, in descending order: literature, history, philosophy and religion, language, fine arts, politics and government. The strong special collections are to be found in rare books, law, maps and atlases, prints and photographs, and music. In addition, the Library holds about 1,000 Greek serials and 100 newspaper titles, including 12 current newspapers, representing the major political or social forces.

In general, the strength of the Modern Greek collection rests in the strength and extent of its holdings, rather than in rarities. The history collection comprises more than 10,000 volumes; the law collection more than 3,000 volumes; the literature collection about 15,000 volumes; and there are more than 3,000 maps and charts.


The Library of Congress' Greek collections are perhaps the largest and most diverse in the United States, and are capable of supporting advanced research in practically all fields of human endeavor. The exceptions are clinical medicine and applied agriculture, which are the domains of the National Library of Medicine and the National Agricultural Library.

Some items of special note in the Library's collections are the exchange of correspondence in 1823 between the Greek scholar, Hellenist, and patriot Adamantios Koraes, and Thomas Jefferson, in which Koraes sought advice on the best constitution for Greece, and Thomas Jefferson responded.

Language and Literature

The Library's collection of works on Modern Greek philology, language, and literature approaches the comprehensive, with all the major Modern Greek authors and literary movements well-represented. The philhellenism that renewed patriotism in Greeks, and that drew international attention and support for Greek independence from Ottoman rule in the first quarter of the 19th century, was inspired to a considerable extent by Greek literature, for example, the poetry of Dionysius Solomos (1798-1857), the commentaries on classical Greek literature by Adamantios Koraes (1748-1833) that raised the pride of Greek in their heritage. In independent Greece a language controversy prevailed for decades, whether Greek literature should be written in katharevousa, a "high" literary language, the heritage of the ancients in modern form -- or in demotike, the spoken language, and, if in spoken language, then which spoken language in a country that had strong regional dialects and had suffered disunity under 450 years of Turkish rule... Athenian demotike and the descendants of the Ionian school finally prevailed, but not until the 20th century, and demotike did not replace katharevousa in the official press until 1970. To illustrate the emotions that the language controversy raised, the publication of a vernacular translation of the New Testament led to a riot in Athens in 1901.

The Library's literature collection represents all the literary movements of the 19th and 20th centuries. Alexandros Rangabe (1810-1892) and the aforenamed Koraes were outstanding proponents of katharevousa, and Dionysios Solomos and Andreas Kalvos, of the Ionian School, of demotike. Solomos' Ode to Liberty became the Greek national anthem. Statistics for the number of works held by the Library of or about some of the leading Greek authors will give an idea of the strength of our collection: Andreas Kalvos (1792-1867), 23 works; Konstantinos Kavaphes (1863-1933), 34; Kostes Palamas (1859-1943), 80; Angellos Sikelianos (1884-1951), 59; Nikos Kazantzakes (1883-1957), 137.

Two outstanding representatives of the golden age of Greek poetry in the late 20th century are the 1963 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, George Seferis (1900-1971), and the 1979 Nobel Prize winner, Odysseus Elytis (1911- ). The Library holds 110 works by or about Seferis and 68 by or about Elytis.

The monograph collection of Greek literature is supported by literary periodicals.

History and Political Science

All periods of Modern Greek history are well covered in both Greek and Western works, with approximately 15,000 volumes. The Library's collections are strong in 15th to 19th century Western accounts of travel to Greece under Ottoman rule. These are important sources of information on many aspects of Greek life, customs, political and economic status for that period of history. An element of strength of the collections for the period of independence (1821+ ) is local and regional history, covering the traditional regions of Greece such as Crete, the Cyclades, Epirus, the Ionian Islands, Macedonia, the Peloponnesos, and Thrace. In the past decade, there has been a flurry of Greek publishing on Macedonia, as the Slav-Greek rivalry in that area has heated up, particularly since 1989 when the newly-independent Yugoslav republic of Macedonia has sought world recognition under that name.

Rare Books

The Library's sizable collection of rare Greek books pertains principally to Ancient Greece, including incunabula produced in Italy after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Among the Library's holdings one must also mention the first book to be printed entirely in Greek, Konstantinos Lascaris' Epitome ton okto tou logou meron [Summary of the Eight Parts of Speech], published in Milan in 1476, although it concerns Ancient rather than Modern Greek.


The Library limits its collection of manuscripts to those that have an American connection. Therefore, its papers relating to Greece are mainly those of American statesmen or travelers. The correspondence of President Jefferson and Adamantios Koraes has already been mentioned. President Martin Van Buren's Second Annual Message to Congress (December 3, 1838) contains a copy of the Treaty of Commerce and Navigation between the United States and Greece, ratified in 1837. The papers of Nicholas Biddle contain an account of his travels to Greece in 1806. The papers of President Woodrow Wilson and his Secretary of State Robert Lansing for 1919 include reports on Greek claims in Eastern Thrace. The papers of Henry Morgenthau, senior, Chair of the Greek Settlement Commission in 1923 are particularly important. They describe the tragic transfer of more than one million Greeks from Asia Minor to Eastern Thrace, following the disastrous Greek invasion of Anatolia. The papers of Cordell Hull, Secretary of State during the Franklin Roosevelt era, contain numerous memoranda on Greece during the period 1933-1944.

Prints and Photographs

Perhaps the most interesting Library of Congress holding in this area is the collection of stereographs, 600 in number, showing Greece at the turn of the 20th century -- buildings, archeological sites, churches, monasteries, street scenes from Athens, views of other towns, localities, and areas. The views of Athens are particularly interesting today because they show the city's historic landmarks before their devastation by atmospheric pollution. Another collection showing the progression of Athens is the Holland (Leicester B. Holland, Chief of the Fine Arts Division of the Library) Views of Greece, 1919-1921. Collections with a noteworthy Greek component are the Riggs and Carpenter collections that are geographical in character. Mention is also due Joseph Pennell's 27 lithographs and eleven etchings showing Greek temples and the monasteries of Meteora. The Greek poster collection amounts to several hundred items dating from 1930 to the present.

Geography and Maps

The first separate map of Greece, Hellados perigraphe [Description of Greece], drawn by Nikolaos Sophianos in 1543, is held by the Library in a 1545 edition issued by Johannus Oporinus in Basel with a descriptive commentary in Latin by Nicolaus Gerbel, and Sophanos' table of ancient and modern place name equivalents. This was part of the Melville Eastham gift presented to the Library of Congress in 1958. The Library's single sheet maps include 16th, 17th, and 18th century maps of mainland Greece and the islands, as well as modern maps that depict regions, provinces, cities, islands, and harbors, and thematic maps that cover economics, weather, natural resources, industry, commerce, demography, in all more than two thousand maps.

The multi-sheet map collection includes official maps made periodically following Greek independence, covering the expansion of Greek territories in its struggle with the Ottoman Empire, and, ironically, the maps of German and British forces in Greece and Crete during World War II, as well as those of the U.S. Army Map Service.

The nautical, that is, hydrographic charts, include all the important Greek harbors -- Piraeus, Saloniki, Patras -- and coastal charts include gulfs, bays, straits, and canals. Once again, the Greek surveys are supplemented by British Admiralty charts of Greek waters.

The Library has a substantial collection of atlases, including industrial and economic atlases as well as geographic ones.

Edited by Harold M. Leich, European Division, who notes: David Kraus apparently wrote this description of LC's Modern Greek holdings around 1991; it was found among Mr. Kraus' papers at the time of his death in October, 1997. I have changed very little in the draft, so the figures and statistics about holdings reflect the situation as of the early 1990s.

Additional Greek resources at the Library of Congress

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  February 23, 2017
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