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Doing Justice to the Classics

The following discussion questions are intended for classroom use in connection with Pharos’ Surveys of Appropriations of Greco-Roman Antiquity. Instructors are invited to consult our advice on using Pharos in the classroom for ideas about how to incorporate these questions into your classes.

It is tempting to dismiss white supremacist interpretations of Greco-Roman antiquity as “abuse,” “misappropriation,” or pseudo-history. Certainly they often distort ancient evidence, employ flawed methodologies, and ignore or suppress aspects of the ancient world that do not confirm their hateful politics. Such dismissals, however, prevent us from reflecting on any similarities between how we, or those who trained us, assign value to the Classical past. As Dani Bostick has written for Learning for Justice, “the glorification of classics and its artificial linkage to whiteness is a toxic combination.” Overtly hateful interpretations of the Greco-Roman world bring us face to face with the fruits of such uncritical admiration for antiquity.

The following discussion questions are intended to prompt reflection on the historical methods employed on these sites as well as on how the attitudes toward antiquity that inform their invocations of it may be similar to more mainstream attitudes, including our own.

  • How do the essays you examined say or imply that the Classical world supports their positions?
  • Why do they believe the Classical world lends credibility to their positions?
  • How do these appropriations distort or misrepresent the ancient world and its remains? What aspects have they left out?
  • What aspects of the ancient world do these appropriations represent accurately?
  • What assumptions about the value of the Greco-Roman past can you identify in these uses of that past?
  • What assumptions do they make about whom the Classical past belongs to or is relevant to?
  • Where else have you encountered similar assumptions about Classics  (its value, who “owns” it, whom it’s relevant to)? How do these assumptions line up with your perception of the discipline/major/area of study? Where/How do you think you got these assumptions? Does anything at your institution contribute to those assumptions?
  • Do you think it is important for students and scholars of Classics to know about these appropriations? Why?
  • How can you actively resist the version of Classical Antiquity that these present?

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