George P. Savides has temporarily left his native Greece this fall to become Harvard's first Seferis Professor of Modern Greek Literature and Language.
Savides, whom several sources in the Classics Department yesterday described as a leading scholar in his field in Greece, will spend both semesters this year at Harvard. In future years, he will divide his time between Harvard and the University of Salonika in Greece, where he is a professor of Philology.
"It's important for me to return to Greece because I'm needed there. Obviously, the real center of modern Greek studies is Greece," Savides, a specialist in 20th century literature, said last night.
Although Savides said he is impressed with the possibilities Harvard offers, he added that Greece has neither a dead civilization nor a dead literature. "Things are happening there all the time," he said.
Several of Savides's new colleagues said yesterday the appointment is an excellent one. Savides is "the best person we could possibly have," Emily D.T. Vermeule, Zemurray Stone-Radcliffe Professor in the Classics Department, said yesterday.
Ihor Sevcenko, professor of Byzantine History and Literature and the head of the search committee that recommended Savides, said yesterday the committee unanimously selected Savides as their first choice.
The committee also sent letters asking for recommendations to scholars throughout the world, and all but one selected Savides as the best candidate to fill the post, Sevcenko said. Harvard received $1 million from the Greek government in 1975 to establish a chair in memory of the Greek poet, George Seferis, who died six years ago.
Seferis's widow was very instrumental in getting the gift which Harvard had not actively solicited, Dr. Chase N. Peterson '52, vice president for alumni affairs and development, said last night.
After the Greek government made the donation, officials requested that Harvard keep the gift confidential until Greek Prime Minister Constantine Caramanlis's administration decided to make an official announcement.
Sources here speculated at the time that the Caramanlis administration had political motivations for keeping the gift a secret. Greece had been at war with Turkey over Cyprus the previous year and the Greeks were attempting to build up their military strength.
The large expenditure for the Seferis chair might have caused Caramanlis embarrassment at the time.
The Greek government had no voice in selecting a scholar to fill the chair, Peterson said.
The University is now trying to raise an additional $1 million for Greek Studies, which would allow Harvard to hire an assistant professor, fund two graduate student fellowships, and pay for library resources in the field, but it had little success to date in soliciting additional funds, Peterson said.