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Elderkin, George

    Full Name: Elderkin, George Wicker

    Other Names:

    • George W. Elderkin
    • G.W. Elderkin

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1879

    Date Died: 19 December 1965

    Place Born: Chicago, Cook, IL, USA

    Place Died: Venice, Sarasota, FL, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): ancient, Ancient Greek (culture or style), and Classical

    Career(s): art historians

    Institution(s): Princeton University


    Classicist art history professor and archaeologist.  Elderkin was born in Chicago in 1879.  He graduated from Darthmouth in 1902 continuing to graduate work at Johns Hopkins University.  His Ph.D., was granted from Hopkins in 1906 with a dissertation topic of speech in Greek epics.  He joined Princeton University in 1910, part of the founding nucleus of the University’s Art and Archaeology department being developed by Charles Rufus Morey.  His first book, Problems In Periclean Buildings. was published by the University in 1912; a second work, Kantharos: Studies In Dionysiac And Kindred Cult, appeared in 1924.  Morey had begun excavations at Antioch, a Hellenistic city in modern-day Turkey, starting in 1928. Elderkin oversaw the fieldwork of Antioch that began on March 4, 1932. He was there on behalf of Princeton; however several other institutions were stakeholders in the project including Musées de France, Worcester Art Museum, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the Fogg Museum of Art. It was Elderkin’s intention to devote the second half of the next five academic school years to the excavation. In 1934 the Corinth Museum was opened and Elderkin was one of the initial directors of the educational work at the museum. He was elected a corresponding member of the Deutsche Archäologische Institut in 1936. He began teaching at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens in 1938 and continued to do so for the next four years. The excavations in Antioch officially ended in September of 1939 with the declaration of war in Europe. Notable discoveries in Antioch made by Elderkin from the excavation included a mosaic floor showing Dionysus, Hermes, Athena, Aphrodite, and other Greek deities. The imagery on the mosaics included landscapes and hunting scenes bordered by a pictorial atlas of Daphne. He later published a book on the excavation titled Antioch on the Orontes. Because of his work on Antioch Elderkin was named vice president of the Archaeological Institute of America in 1942.

    His graduate courses at Princeton included; Etruscan Art, Olympia, Delphia, and Epidaurus, Greek Archaeology, Greek Vase Painting, Greek Archaeology, and Art Commentary on Greek Literature. In 1948 he retired from Princeton as a professor emeritus after reaching the statutory age limit of 68 enforced by the university.

    In 1954 he joined a public religious controversy at the University, publishing The Roman Catholic Problem in response to objections by Princeton’s Catholic chaplain, Reverend Hugh Halton (1913-1979.) Elderkin described the book as a “challenge to the authoritarianism of the Vatican” and criticized the Catholic church’s hold on Princeton. Halton’s response claimed Elderkin’s piece was blasphemous and questioned Elderkin’s academic integrity. This, in addition to similar unpleasant critiques of Princeton’s religion department staff, caused Halton to be removed from Princeton’s faculty.

    Two portraits were donated to the Princeton University Art Museum in Elderkin’s name by his daughter; a German Portrait of a Young Man was donated in 1968 and a Dutch portrait from 1542 was donated in 1992.

    Elderkin’s work, Problems in Periclean Buildings, was credited with shining a new light on the potential architectural workings of the Propylea and the Caryatid Porch of the Erectheum. In Golgotha, Kraneion, and the Holy Sepulchre he also applied a unique architectural perspective on pre-Christian sites which was previously missing from the work’s analysis. Elderkin was considered an expert on Greek religions and mystic cults, this is particularly evident in his work Kantharos. Elderkin’s book focused on the study of religion in the ancient world and its connections to other religious narratives. He analyzed the iconography of Greek and Roman gods and explained the evolution of these symbolic meanings through time. In addition to his personal writings, he also brought a variety of subjects to his students at Princeton. He was reported to be “informative, sensitive, and generally satisfying to students”(Smyth and Lukehart). The junior courses Elderkin provided are the following; Minoan and Mycenean Painting, Minoan and Mycenean Metal Work, Vase Paintings with Scenes from Epic Stories, The Works of Praxiteles, Types of Greek Coins, and the Comparative Study of Greek and Roman Portraits. Elderkin, in collaboration with Morey, is credited with teaching the first course at Princeton focusing on Classical Numismatics.(Lavin). This course was particularly innovative because it worked in collaboration with Princeton’s museum collection, an opportunity that previously had not been offered.

    Selected Bibliography

    • [dissertation:]  Aspects of the Speech in the Later Greek Epic. Johns Hopkins University, published, Baltimore: J.H. Furst Company, 1906;
    • Problems In Periclean Buildings. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1912;
    • Kantharos: Studies In Dionysiac And Kindred Cult. Princeton: Princeton University Press,1924;
    • Antioch on the Orontes. Princeton: Department of Art and Archeology, 1934;
    • Studies in Early Athenian Cult. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1936;
    • “A Pedestal in the Light of Aristophanes.” Classical Philology 32, no. 4 (1937): 365–66.;
    • “Aphrodite and Athena in the Lysistrata of Aristophanes.” Classical Philology 35, no. 4 (1940): 387–96.;
    • “The Name of Sardis.” Classical Philology 35, no. 1 (1940): 54-56.;
    • The Lenaion, Limnaion and Boukoleion at Athens. Archaeological Papers 5.. Springfield, MA: Pond-Ekberg Company, 1943;
    • The Bull and the Dove at Costig: Eastern Influence in Basque. Springfield Mass: Pond-Ekberg, 1945;
    • Zagreus in Ancient Basque Religion. Princeton N.J: Princeton University Store, 1952;
    • Mystic Allusions in the Frogs of Aristophanes. Princeton: Princeton University Store, 1955;
    • A Comparative Study of Basque and Greek Vocabularies. Princeton: Princeton University store, 1958;
    • The First Three Temples at Delphi: Their Religious and Historical Significance. Princeton: Princeton University store, 1962;
    • Related Religious Ideas of Delphi Tara and Jerusalem : A Study of the Dionysiac Tradition. Springfield Mass: Pond-Ekberg. 1962;


    • M.C. [Martin Conway “Problems of Periclean Buildings [review].” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 24, no. 128 (1913): 116;
    • Robinson, David M. The Classical Weekly 6, no. 26 1913: 206–7;
    • Princeton Alumni Weekly 18. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1917;
    • “First Century Art Found In Corinth.” New York Times, August 4th, (1932): 21;
    • “Find More Mosaics Buried in Syria.” New York Times 1923, Feb 13, (1933): 6;
    • “3 Retire at Princeton’” New York Times, August 15, (1948): 9;
    • “Individuals Held Heart of Nation.” New York Times, March 24, (1958): 52;
    • “Dr. George Elderkin, 86, Dies; Archaeologist at Princeton to ’48.” New York Times, December 20, (1965): 35;
    • Lavin, Marilyn Aronberg. The Eye of the Tiger: The Founding and Development of the Department of Art and Archaeology, 1883-1923 Princeton University. Department of Art and Archaeology and the Art Museum, 1983;
    • Dyson, Stephen. Ancient Marbles to American Shores: Classical Archaeology in the United States. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998, pp. 161, 163, 168, 202;
    • De Giorgi, Andrea U. Ancient Antioch: From the Seleucid Era to the Islamic Conquest. Cambridge University Press, 2016: 27;
    • Smyth, Craig Hugh., and Lukehart, Peter M. The Early Years of Art History in the United States : Notes and Essays on Departments, Teaching, and Scholars in, Smyth, Craig Hugh and Peter M. Lukehart. Princeton: Dept. of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University, 1993, pp. 26-27, 42,176;
    • Hugh Halton, O.P. and the Princeton Controversy Archive. Booth Family Center for Special Collections, Georgetown University Library, Washington, D.C.


    Contributors: Caitlin Childers


    Caitlin Childers. "Elderkin, George." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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