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The Way We Teach Latin Has Consequences

Let’s save the cosplay for fandoms and grapple instead with what we want this field to be.

Until we start critically engaging with the horrific realities of Classical reception, questioning what we mean by Classical outreach, questioning why we don’t teach history and culture from so much of the rest of the world in the same depth to the same age range, and asking what messaging is being presented to impressionable minds around gender, race, and power, our subject will continue to be fodder for extremists.

There is undoubtedly a great deal to be admired in the ancient world. I have spent almost my entire life studying the rich cultural tapestry of the Roman Empire and those it came into contact with, the beauty of much of the surviving literature and art, the architectural marvels created by the Romans (especially after the invention of concrete) that still survive today in numerous places in three continents. I even have two Classical tattoos with plans for more. But the ancient world, for all that it produced, was a society that thrived because of enslavement and conquest for resources, a society that, as Dr. Dan-El Padilla Peralta points out, brought about the destruction of so many knowledge systems as a result of its violent spread, a society with a mythology punctuated with stories of rape, murder, and war, a society with huge economic disparities, a society founded upon toxic national pride. Does that sound familiar? While many of us critique the same qualities in the modern United States and its history, the atrocities of the ancient world tend to get a pass.

And this is what concerns me: that children who partake in all of this are raised surrounded by messaging of male dominance and female subservience, of military glory and its intrinsic links to national pride, of a superpower’s divine right to not only exist but to impose itself upon others because it is inherently better than other places politically, morally, and militarily.

In the twentieth century, however, there was a new movement of Classics outreach that is still celebrated and rewarded today by various organizations. Classical associations appeared internationally for younger students to partake in reenactments and workshops inspired by the ancient world. Books about Greek myths were written for children of all ages. Classics is, almost uniquely, a discipline that does this with especial vigor. A student of mine recently made fun of the notion of Classics conventions for students pointing out that there aren’t similar conventions for other subjects and asking what makes Classics so special. I would argue that a sense of connection to a supposed white, European past makes Classics seem so special to so many as it has since its inception, even if we don’t consciously recognize that. Please, take a moment and think about just how unnerving all of this celebration of the European past is when other subject areas of no lesser value either don’t choose to do it or simply aren’t given the opportunity.



Towards a more equitable Classics

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Ian Lockey

Latin teacher at Friends Select School, Philadelphia, PhD from NYU