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Doing Justice to the Classics

The First Year of Pharos

by Curtis Dozier, Director of Pharos

The end of this month will be the one-year anniversary of the launch of Pharos: Doing Justice to the Classics. I started the site as an experiment to try to raise awareness of what hate groups were saying about Greco-Roman antiquity online and to create a platform for classical scholars to point out the errors, distortions, and sometimes outright lies that underlie those appropriations. And I had a further goal: to try to articulate politically progressive and inclusive ways of talking about the ancient world as an answer Donna Zuckerberg’s call to “seek better reaesons for studying Classics” than the traditional notion of Greco-Roman antiquity as the “foundation of Western Civilization” that all the hate groups Pharos documents rely on as the bedrock of their admiration of the ancient world.

I’ve been delighted and humbled by the interest that progressively-minded audiences have shown in our work, both among scholars and the broader public. I didn’t know whether specialists busy with their own teaching and research would take the time to respond when I wrote to them to ask for comments on appropriations, but more than one hundred people have answered our call to contribute. I never imagined that The New Statesman and The Baffler would publish profiles of our site, that I’d be invited to be on Ohio State University’s History Talks podcast with scholars who have inspired our work, or that we’d be part of the conversation about the political awakening happening in Classical studies in The Nation, Ploughsharesor The New Yorker. So to everyone who believed in this project and encouraged me from the beginning — especially Donna Zuckerberg, my colleagues at Vassar College, and the contributors to our first “Scholars Respond” pieces who showed that yes, specialists do want to speak out against hatred — thank you.

Here’s a look back over some of what we’ve accomplished this year, with a brief reflection on the evolution of the site and thoughts about what’s next.

As of this week, articles on our site have been viewed more than 47,000 times by 17,500 users in 138 countries. Our site is reaching an audience beyond specialists in departments of Classics. You can help get the word out by sharing our articles on social media or by telling your friends about the site: is an easy-to-remember URL that will get new visitors to our articles.

We’ve published thirty-eight documentations of hate groups appropriating Greco-Roman antiquity, and seven responses by scholars (with several more currently in draft form).  The most-viewed posts have been:

A different way of measuring readers’ engagement is to look at how long readers spend looking at each post, on average. After the “Black Achilles” post that was also our most-viewed post, the articles that readers spent the most time reading were:

  • Our documentation of a white supremacist site claiming that classical Greece was built by “Nordic” invaders
  • A response from scholars to an article arguing that the modern world would be better off if we would just start respecting the author’s distorted version of Roman masculinity
  • A documentation of a misogynist arguing that Macrobius (no aspect of antiquity is too obscure for these guys) understood that ancient Rome was a society organized for the oppression of men but, like modern people living under the same “gynocentric” tyranny, was afraid to say so openly

120 specialists have responded to our requests for comment on the appropriations we document. Those who wish to be acknowledged are listed at the bottom of the essays to which they contributed. One of the most exciting and gratifying aspects of working on Pharos has been the willingness of scholars to share their expertise and passion for social justice in support of our work.

Our database of articles and sites to document currently has 232 items in it, with new ones being added all the time by me, my staff, and readers who call our attention to such appropriations on social media (Twitter/Facebook) or by emailing us at The length of our list is one way of answering anyone who still doubts the pervasiveness of hateful ways of talking about antiquity.

Inevitably Pharos has changed in the year since I launched it. Our early documentations did little more than announce the existence of an appropriation, but some readers asked for more interpretive guidance, so now our documentations are often essays in their own right that attempt to situate each appropriation of antiquity in relation to the hateful politics of the site on which it appears and to cast at least some doubt, when possible, on the argument being made about antiquity. Originally Pharos‘ mission was to document hateful appropriations of antiquity online, but we’ve ended up covering appropriations “in real life” as well as some that straddle the online and “real” worlds.

With so much material to cover some of my original plans have fallen by the wayside. I have only published one essay articulating progressive ways to talk about antiquity, partly because our “scholars respond” pieces have provided an opportunity to do this. And even in our documentations we have attempted wherever possible to connect the study of antiquity with accessible and timely articulations of progressive values from outside the field of Classics, whether about the social constructedness of the category “race,” pernicious myths about rape, the legacy of worldwide structural inequality and discrimination, or the often deadly effects of the kind of masculinity the sites we document promote.

Looking ahead to the project’s second year, we have a lot more documentations planned, several “scholars respond” pieces in the works, plus a new initiative or two. If you follow the site (you can receive an email whenever we publish by clicking “follow” at the bottom of any of our articles, or you can find us on social media @pharosclassics) you’ll hear about all of those. But I also want to take this opportunity to identify a few areas for improvement that we’ve recognized.

Because it is abundantly clear from our documentations that hateful appropriations depend on a narrow vision of what constitutes the study of antiquity, we need to find a way to ensure that our response pieces incorporate the perspectives of scholars from diverse backgrounds. Similarly, Pharos has primarily focused on appropriations of antiquity in the United States and, to a much lesser extent, in the wider English-speaking world. A recent workshop in London on the topic of “Claiming the Classical” included many examples of hate groups throughout Europe that invoke the prestige of classical antiquity in support of hatred: Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party is only one example of a much wider movement. I’m exploring partnerships with scholars working in Europe to find ways to let Pharos readers know about a more diverse set of groups.

There’s a lot of work left to be done to shed the elitist and politically regressive associations of Classical antiquity, and Pharos is only a small part of that work, but it’s work we’re going to continue and we’re grateful for your support and interest over the past year. Keep sending us those appropriations of antiquity that you find, keep sharing our work with your students and friends, keep sending us corrections that help make our essays stronger. Together we can build a community of people who love Greco-Roman antiquity and who want its study to contribute to inclusion and liberation.

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