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Pharos

Doing Justice to the Classics

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Greco-Roman Antiquity, the Basis of White Identity

At the end of 2015, as the white supremacist “Alt Right” movement had begun to attract mainstream attention, one of its leaders, Richard Spencer, released a video that he wrote “expresses our fundamental values at NPI and Radix and our conception of identitarianism” (NPI is the white supremacist think tank that Spencer leads and Radix is its premier online journal). The video encourages viewers to claim and celebrate a white racial identity as a revolutionary act; a year after the release of this video Spencer summed up its message to an audience at Texas A&M University: “Have a goddamn identity…[it’s] the greatest challenge to the power structure that there is.” And the identity Spencer wants his viewers to adopt in one grounded in Classical antiquity.

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Ancient Orientalism in Modern White Ethnonationalism

The opening months of 2021 witnessed a surge in violence against Asian Americans, most visibly the murders of Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Delaina Ashley Yaun Gonzalez, Soon Chung Park, Hyun Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, and Paul Andre Michels in Atlanta in March 2021. One result has been new attention to the history of anti-Asian racism and violence, particularly against women, in the United States. The ideas that justify violence against Asian people, however, have an even longer history, stretching back to ancient Greco-Roman perceptions of “the East,” as Nandini Pandey has shown. And these ancient ideas don’t just lurk at the root of modern racism but continue to be quoted as justification for racist ideas by contemporary white supremacists.

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Mahindra Lecture: Classical Athens and Contemporary White Ethnonationalism

On April 27th, 2021, Pharos director Curtis Dozier delivered a lecture entitled “Classical Athens and Contemporary White Ethnonationalism” at the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University. A video of that lecture, including the extensive Question and Answer period, is now available at the Harvard Classics Department’s webpage.

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Classical Imagery in the Album Artwork of White Supremacist Metal Bands

Editor’s Note: In this article, Pharos welcomes Jeremy J. Swist as a guest contributor to share his expertise concerning the function of Classical themes and imagery in the work of metal bands that identify with the “National Socialist Black Metal” subgenre of heavy metal music or otherwise engage in white supremacist politics. Interested readers will find more context and analysis of this topic in a lecture that Dr. Swist delivered earlier this year.


Heavy metal music and its culture (henceforth referred to as metal or one of its many stylistic subgenres such as black metal and death metal) have long attracted controversy, even becoming the subject of moral panics, due in no small part to the genre’s traditional valorization of transgression and sensual liberation. As a medium for often incendiary rejections of the status quo, metal can also become a haven and charismatic platform for right-wing ideologies expressed with unabashed racism, xenophobia, and antisemitism, including lyrics and imagery drawn from classical antiquity. 

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“America First Caucus” revives promotion of Classical Architecture

After a flier announcing the formation of an “America First Caucus” in Congress was leaked, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene first confirmed her involvement before abandoning the idea a few days later. Greene is known to Pharos readers for wearing a Molon Labe mask while defending the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol and to everyone in America for her promotion of racism and conspiracy theories. Thus it came as no surprise that the Caucus’ flier was brimming with racist and xenophobic dog-whistles. Of particular note to historians was her claim that America is “strengthened by a common respect for uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions,” since “Anglo-Saxon” is a historically incoherent term that originates in American nativism (which was also used as the name of a major scholarly society until 2019). What has not received as much attention is that the same flier invoked the Classical world as well.

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Athens and Sparta (Pharos Surveys of Appropriations)

This page collects examples of articles on prominent white supremacist websites that invoke the ancient city states of Athens and Sparta in support of hateful politics. In connection with the recommendations and discussion questions on our “How to use Pharos in the Classroom” page, they are intended to spark discussion and further research about the ways that white supremacists use the prestige of Greco-Roman antiquity to legitimize their racist views, and about the historical and ongoing complicity in white supremacy of the discipline of Classics discipline of Classics in providing the basis for these beliefs through the promotion of an idealized and/or sanitized version of that past. We have provided links to PDFs of the articles extracted from the sites on which they appeared. Links to archived versions of these articles are available to instructors upon request at pharsoclassics@vassar.edu.

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Misogyny and Gender (Pharos Surveys of Appropriations)

This page collects examples of articles that illustrate how modern white supremacists and misogynists use Greco-Roman antiquity to justify their gender politics. In connection with the recommendations and discussion questions on our “How to use Pharos in the Classroom” page, they are intended to spark discussion and further research about the ways that ancient history is used to legitimize hateful beliefs, and about the historical and ongoing complicity of the discipline of Classics in providing the basis for these beliefs through the promotion of an idealized and/or sanitized version of that past. We have provided links to PDFs of the articles extracted from the sites on which they appeared. Links to archived versions of these articles are available to instructors upon request at pharsoclassics@vassar.edu.

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How to Use Pharos in the Classroom

It is essential that students of Greco-Roman Antiquity understand that Classics has deep connections with white supremacy if we are to avoid reproducing and strengthening this connection in our classrooms. Pharos’ documentations of contemporary white supremacist appropriations of ancient history, including our thematically organized curated collections, are one tool instructors can use to help students begin to recognize this connection and reflect on how they can disrupt it.

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Announcing Resources for Teachers on Pharos

BY CURTIS DOZIER, DIRECTOR OF PHAROS

The murder of George Floyd on May 25th, 2020 brought national attention to the Movement for Black Lives and its demand for justice for Black people in the United States. However, as most people of color already knew, Floyd’s murder was no isolated incident: 164 Black people were killed by police in the United States in the first eight months of 2020 alone. And police brutality without accountability is only one example of our white supremacist social order, which also perpetuates, for example, racial disparities in wealth and life-expectancy.

In a society so riven with anti-Black policies and structures, everyone has an obligation to resist. This obligation extends to our work as teachers of Classics. Writing in reaction to Floyd’s murder, Pria Jackson wrote in Eidolon that “White Classicists MUST resist and do the work. Every. Single. Day. To unlearn white supremacy in themselves, to unwrite the white supremacist narratives they discover, and to unteach the white supremacist ideologies they will invariably discover in students who approach Classics as a white history.” Her essay is a must-read for its articulation of the complicity of Classics and white supremacy, for its insistence on the fact that “white supremacy is already in your classroom,” and its diagnosis of the refusal of many white Classicists to acknowledge both.

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Virgil’s Aeneid Gives Hope to Totalitarians after Failed Capitol Attack

Following the domestic terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, white supremacist websites were awash with conspiracy theories, praise for the rioters, and false equivalencies between their violent insurrection and the summer’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations. One contributor to the white supremacist site Counter Currents, however, expressed his disillusionment with President Trump, calling it “unforgivable and inexcusable for him to condemn and abandon the supporters that answered his call and attended this rally.” It is hard to tell how widespread this disillusionment is among white supremacists with a president who did more than any other recent elected official to advance their agenda, but this author suggests that after being “betrayed by Trump,” “it is time for white Americans to form a new identity and a new mythos.” What follows is a call for totalitarianism wrapped in the veneer of Classical prestige. “In many ways,” the author writes, “the Roman poet Virgil did these things for the Roman Empire and the Roman people.”

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