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Doing Justice to the Classics

This page collects coverage in the popular press of Pharos’ work documenting and responding to appropriations of Greco-Roman antiquity by hate groups.

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The far right is using antiquity to re-brand itself – but classicists are fighting back” The New Statesman, July 4th, 2018

“There’s a fear, and this fear has been voiced to me, that if we talk too much about [far right misappropriations of Greco-Roman antiquity] nobody is going to study antiquity,” Dozier says. “But there are ways of studying antiquity that counterbalance and counteract the hateful appropriations of it. I don’t think we should feel afraid to start teaching this material in classes.”

Myth Appropriation: Classics scholars confront poorly read pillagers” The Baffler, September 21st, 2018

Dozier launched the site, he explains, thanks to “a growing realization that all forms of knowledge are implicated in political structures in one way or another. If the people who actually have expertise in that form of knowledge are not the ones activating it politically, then someone else is going to do it for them.”… Dozier recognizes a certain irony in his site’s self-consciously progressive responses: “I think it can look like what we’re doing is the opposite version of what the white supremacists are doing. I’m actually okay with that. I think there’s some truth to that. It’s probably true of any history, but especially a fragmentary history like ours can be made to mean whatever you want it to mean.”

Classics and the Alt-Right Conundrum” History Talk: Origins Podcast, September, 2018

“I think the best way to sum up what [white supremacists] say is that the classical world provides either a positive or a negative model for us. So they’ve noticed that Plato seems to recommend eugenics in the Republic and so they say we should have eugenics. They notice that in classical antiquity women had fewer rights than men so they say we should imitate that. On the negative side they look especially at the end of the Roman Empire and they say that Rome fell because of immigration and sometimes they also say because of the decline of morality. And so they say we should be worried about that because immigration leads to collapse of society.”

How Latin Got Woke” The Nation, October 12th, 2018

“Future generations of readers deserve a better kind of discourse about the ancient world: one that is free of elitism and neither uncritically admiring nor rashly dismissive,” [Dr. Donna Zuckerberg] writes.

Donna Zuckerberg’s Not All Dead White Men and Red Pill Reductionism” Ploughshares, October 16th, 2018

In his role as the head of Vassar’s Pharos Project, which catalogues (without a paywall) misinterpretations of classical texts and ancient cultures, Dozier has seen how debunking bad arguments only goes so far, and how a larger conversation would be beneficial. “I think it raises a more fundamental question of: what is our philosophical relationship to antiquity? I kind of realized after I started doing the [Pharos] work that there’s a lot of stuff about classical reception as a subject…, and that work assumes a sort of fundamental value of antiquity.”

The Myth of Whiteness in Classical Sculpture” The New Yorker, October 22nd, 2018

On the Web site Pharos, which was founded, last year, in part to counter white-supremacist interpretations of the ancient world, a recent essay notes, “Although there is a persistent, racist preference for lighter skin over darker skin in the contemporary world, the ancient Greeks considered ‘darker skin’ for men to be ‘more beautiful and a sign of physical and moral superiority.’”

Hate Groups Love Ancient Greece and Rome. Scholars Are Pushing Back” Undark Magazine, May 27th, 2019

While Dozier has found many articles that are “cherry-picking evidence or sometimes just being outright wrong or even lying,” he says, “a lot of the sites are not really distorting antiquity very much. The problem is that they are saying because Greco-Roman antiquity is admirable and the ‘height of civilization,’ we should model our world on their world.”

Pharos: Doing Justice to the Classics, w/ Curtis Dozier” CTRL+D Podcast, June 2019.

“Most of the hate groups I document, their vision of Greco-Roman antiquity is one that’s about a century out of date right now. They are only interested in a vision of ancient Greece and Rome that focuses on the ideas and experiences of a few politically powerful men at the center of their respective cultures and that vision of antiquity is very congenial to their politics. But the vision of antiquity that I think most responsible scholars are trying to develop in the contemporary world is a much more varied, much more culturally diverse, frankly much more interesting vision of that past.”

As White Supremacists Try to Remake History, Scholars Seek to Preserve to Record” The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 5, 2019.

It’d be difficult, but Dozier wants to see his discipline re-examine how it justifies the study of Greco-Roman antiquity. A basic reason to study ancient Rome has long been that its society was supposed to have been a high point in human history, he says. But that way of thinking, he says, can lead to some “unpalatable things.”

Christian nonprofit claps back after Vassar claims it is a ‘homophobic’ and ‘misogynist’ ‘hate group’” Campus Reform, August 6, 2019.

Vassar’s complaints about ADF center around accusations that the organization makes misleading “comparisons between 21st century Christians in America and early Christians who were persecuted under the Roman Empire” and “references to ancient Rome to promote homophobia and to establish a sense of victimhood and persecution among its supporters.” [Campus Reform’s article was also reprinted at Breitbart]

Loving Latin at the End of the World,” Boston Review, November 21st, 2019

“O tempora! O mores!” we cry with Cicero upon seeing classics used by hate groups. Scholars such as Curtis Dozier (with his Pharos project) and Sarah Bond (with her tireless public outreach) have worked alongside mainstream authors such as Myke Cole to record and expose these misunderstandings and misuses of the past. But the fact remains that classics has been a force of imperialism, classism, racism, and colonialism since its inception. (The historian Rebecca Futo Kennedy has joined others such as Dorothy Kim in cataloguing this long legacy.) We need to look to the history of our discipline more critically to understand how easy it is to use what remains of Roman and Greek culture as shackles rather than means of liberation.

Western Civilization” interview on the podcast, November 22nd, 2019.

“It’s very easy to say that [Western Civilization] is such a wonderful cultural inheritance, because when you are benefiting from that cultural inheritance it’s very easy to celebrate it … the critics of Western Civilization I don’t think are actually saying that we shouldn’t have these ideals but I think what they are saying is that we need to recognize how imperfectly and unfairly and unequally they have always been distributed, going right back to the supposed origins of these ideals.”

“Dr. Schliemann or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Classics,” review of lecture at Dartmouth College by Pharos Director Curtis Dozier in The Dartmouth Review, March 4th, 2020.

“Dozier himself, however, represents the extreme form of critical history. In so thoroughly condemning both antiquity and the tradition of studying it for its failures, he has concluded that it is of no inherent value. Thus, he can use it most cynically to advance his agenda.”

“A Fascist Manifesto is Gaining Fans on the Right, Including [MN] State Senator Roger Chamberlain,” Minnesota Reformer, August 24th, 2020.

“The violence of Pervert’s ethos may be a metaphor or a joke, [but] Dozier cautions that… appreciation of Classical culture can be innocuous, but in the world of online racist propaganda, it is frequently repurposed to serve a narrative about the innate superiority of white people.”

“RNC speaker criticzed for several actions seen as dogwhistles to alt-right,” Fast Forward, August 26th, 2020.

“Cawthorn’s real estate company is called SPQR Holdings…the phrase was a commonplace reference to Roman government in antiquity, but in modern times has been coopted by white nationalists. In one of his campaign videos, Cawthorn can be seen displaying a Spartan helmet on his chest as he aims a rifle. The Spartan helmet, in addition to being the logo of Michigan State University sports teams has also been appropriated as the logo for the Oathkeepers, one of the largest anti-government militia groups in the United States.”

“Special Guest Episode on Classics and White Supremacy w/ Curtis Dozier,” The History of Ancient Greece Podcast, October 8th, 2020.

“The real value of studying this material, and taking the white supremacists seriously, in a sense, is that I think it shows us in a really obvious way, in a really hard to ignore way, how important it is to resist that idealizing impulse, how important it is for us to be really conscious of these fundamental ideas in the study of antiquity and be conscious of what those can lead to if they are not complicated with a more sophisticated methodology which recognizes the biases of the sources and a more all-encompassing view of what the ancient world included.”

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