How to Be a Good Classicist Under a Bad Emperor
Donna Zuckerberg
21451

While I understand your desire to keep classical studies from getting high-jacked by fringe elements, I admit to some worry (as well as a bit of confusion) about some of your prescriptions.

  1. “ When you hear someone — be they a student, a colleague, or an amateur — say that they are interested in Classics because of “the Greek miracle” or because Classics is “the foundation of Western civilization and culture,” challenge that viewpoint respectfully but forcefully.”

Classical cultures while not the sum total of Western civilization are certainly ONE OF the fundamental roots of our culture. And I think that learning about and preserving our roots, whichever of those you might be drawn to, is a perfectly laudable reason to begin classical studies. The fact that people of ill-will can twist an idea to endorse a concept such as white-supremacy does not mean that the originating idea was without merit, just that one must be careful and, as you say, define the terms they are basing their study on.

2. “ In your scholarship, focus on the parts of antiquity that aren’t elite white men.”

This is a good thing to do, and certainly there are many areas of study needing attention, but it sounds as if you are saying we should toss out Cicero and Aristotle with the bathwater (to corrupt a good metaphor beyond repair). Personally, I could study Sappho or Hypatia til the cows come home, but if someone loves Julius Caesar, I feel there is plenty of good to be had in further exploring his work.

All this can be done while still standing strong against bad thinking, ill-will, prejudice, and the like. If we stand strong both speaking and writing against bad ideas as well as refusing to allow our words to be used by people of malicious intent, we need not let them passively control the direction of our research.

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