This week Pharos is launching a new initiative: the Onomasticon of Classical Pseudonyms and Avatars. It’s a list of names and images taken from Greco-Roman antiquity and used by those who espouse hateful politics. Many of these are authors who publish under classical names or use classicizing avatars on the sites Pharos documents. Others are people who leave comments on those sites (these are listed at the bottom of the Onomasticon’s list). Some, like “Lysander” or “Carnifex“, are figures who have attracted broader media attention. All of them are attempting to use the prestige of Greco-Roman antiquity to dignify their regressive views. An “onomasticon” is an index of names related to a particular theme; several ancient and medieval examples survive, such as Eusebius’ index of places mentioned in the gospels, or Pollux’s list of words and phrases in the Attic dialect of ancient Greek.
Using classical pseudonyms for political speech has a long tradition in the United States: Alexander Hamilton used several, including “Phocion” for his attacks on Thomas Jefferson and “Publius” in The Federalist. Opponents of the ratification of the US Constitution also used Classical pseudonyms such as “Cato” and “Brutus“. Given the popularity of antiquity with contemporary racists, xenophobes, and misogynists, as documented by Pharos, it is hardly surprising that these groups have adopted this rhetorical tactic too, and indeed our list includes several examples of authors on hate sites using the same names that the founders of the United States did. One wonders how many Classically-themed pseudonyms will appear in the recently announced “academic” journal that will allow authors to publish on “controversial topics” without using their real names.
This is a new kind of documentation for Pharos. The site was founded to document appropriations of Greco-Roman antiquity in support of hate, which for our first year has meant sites that make implicit or explicit arguments about antiquity: that because Aristotle said women are inferior to men they really are inferior to men, that “Plato and Hitler saw the sublime rays of the same glorious Sun,” that the supposed decline of modern culture could be arrested by a return to (a fantasy version of) Roman masculinity. The people listed in the Onomasticon have written hateful content but may or may not have said anything about antiquity beyond their use of a classical pseudonym or avatar. Even if they do not mention antiquity, however, they have still appropriated Greco-Roman antiquity in support of hate: rather than invoking antiquity to give historical depth or academic credibility to an argument, each of these authors use the pseudonym or avatar to bolster his or her personal intellectual credibility without necessarily saying anything concrete about Greco-Roman antiquity as a model to be emulated.
The Onomasticon also creates a space for Pharos to document social media accounts that are registered under Greco-Roman pseudonyms or that use classical imagery for their profile pictures. There is so much hatred on social media that it is impractical for us to document every example of it, so we have focused on blogs and similar platforms that hate groups create specifically for the dissemination of hatred. However it may be valuable to document the existence of high profile accounts that have a pattern of promoting hate and that authorize their views with a classical name or image.
What “high profile” will mean is, admittedly, a work in progress. We began planning this project when a reader called our attention to a tweet documented by “Racism Watch Dog” saying “A multi-racial English team lost to an all-white Croatian team [in the 2018 Football World Cup]. So much for diversity being our greatest strength.” The tweet is obviously racist but has nothing to do with antiquity, except that the account that tweeted this uses a bust of the Homeric hero Menelaus from the Vatican Museums as its profile picture. We have not yet included this account in the Onomasticon because we have not yet been able to gather examples of its hateful content beyond this one tweet: its feed is visible only to approved followers. But it has almost 12,000 followers on Twitter and 4,600 on Gab (a more-permissive shadow-twitter that has become a haven for white supremacists and other hate groups). For future social media accounts that we may choose to document we are, for now, considering this number of followers sufficiently “high profile” to merit inclusion in the Onomasticon. We welcome your comments on this initial baseline at email@example.com.
The purpose of the Onomasticon is to raise awareness of the ways that classical names and images are being used in support of hate. It does not aim to reveal the real identities of those who write anonymously. When authors’ real names are widely known, as is the case with “Lysander” or “Sargon of Akkad,” we will include them but we do not attempt to identify them ourselves.
We have launched the Onomasticon with a few examples of pseudonyms and avatars that we have identified, and we will be adding more from our database in the coming weeks. We will announce these updates in our feed. The Onomasticon itself will be linked in the menu in the upper right-hand corner of Pharos’s front page.
Many of the pseudonyms listed in our initial list came from readers: “Carnifex,” “Lysander,” “Musonius Rufus,” and “Sargon of Akkad.” Please keep your eyes peeled on social media especially and send us examples you find at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Facebook or Twitter. We look forward to hearing from you.