Archive for Scholars Respond

Scholars Respond to SPQR and White Nationalism

SPQR is an abbreviation for Senatus Populusque Romanus, “The Senate and People of Rome,” which was used in antiquity to represent the Roman state. In the modern world the phrase and abbreviation is a symbol of the city of Rome, where it emphasizes that city’s status as the “eternal” city (perhaps most famously on their manhole covers). The hashtag #spqr is used joyfully by tourists, history buffs, and anyone who loves Italy and Italian culture. There is, however, a darker side to the way the abbreviation is used: as Pharos has documented, white nationalists in the United States and Europe have adopted it as a symbol. As such SPQR engages both of Pharos’ core goals: to raise awareness of the ways that Greco-Roman antiquity is being used in support of hate, but also to defend, where possible, that past from distortions, omissions, and misunderstandings that, in this case, threaten to poison a symbol that is a beloved source of identity, celebration of history, and pleasure for so many. Read More→

Scholars Respond to Racist Backlash against Black Achilles, Part 3: What Makes a Homeric Hero a Hero?

This is Pharos’ third post responding to racist criticism of the BBC/Netflix miniseries Troy: Fall of a City, in which a black actor plays Achilles. Our first post discussed Greek attitudes toward Africans in order to show that ancient audiences would have had no problem with a black Achilles, and our second post addressed the Iliad’s description of Achilles’ hair in order to show that the text does not definitively exclude a black Achilles. This post argues that the BBC’s decision to cast a black man to play Achilles should be understood as a modern extension of ancient epic’s flexibility in the representation of heroes. Read More→

Scholars Respond to Racist Backlash against Black Achilles, Part 2: What did Achilles look like?

This is Pharos’ second post responding to the racist criticism of David Gyasi being cast to play Achilles in the BBC/Netflix miniseries Troy: Fall of a City. Pharos documented that criticism here and here, and the first part of our response addressed ancient Greek attitudes toward Africans.

Racist commentators accuse the miniseries of erasing the white racial identity of Achilles by casting a black man to play him. As evidence for this racial identity, they claim that the Homeric epics describe Achilles as having blonde hair. We set aside the obvious point that one should not invest too much in the supposedly “true” hair color of a mythical person. In what follows we assess evidence for how ancient audiences would have understood these descriptions of Achilles’ hair to show that it is not possible to base a racial theory on the color terms used in the Homeric epics to describe Achilles’ hair. Read More→

Scholars Respond to Racist Backlash against Black Achilles, Part 1: Ancient Greek Attitudes toward Africans

In February of 2018, the BBC broadcast an eight-part miniseries, Troy: Fall of a City, that told the story of the Trojan War. Netflix later released the miniseries in the United States. The casting of David Gyasi, a British-born actor of Ghanaian descent, to play Achilles provoked a storm of racist criticism on social media and racist sites. There has been less controversy around other characters played by black actors, such as Zeus, Athena, Aeneas, Patroclus, and Nestor. Soon after the show started airing in the UK, Pharos contributor Tim Whitmarsh wrote a refutation of many of the racists arguments being made, which he followed up recently with a more detailed critiquePharos, too, documented the racist backlash against the show and over the coming days will report on the responses we received from specialists working on Greek epic. The volume and complexity of the response was such that we have decided to split our response into several posts.

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Scholars Respond to misogynist nostalgia for Roman Masculinity

Pharos documented a post on Return of Kings (now listed by the SPLC as a “male supremacy” hate group) that complained that “there are very few institutions left that teach the traditional manly character that built all of Western Civilization.” The post recommends that men emulate Roman virtus, which the post translates as “manly character,” and,  as a corrective to the “degradation of values” in the present, urges them to “adopt…the very way of life that ushered our civilization into the once-great civilization it has been in the past.” Read More→

Scholars respond to Aristotle being enlisted in support of misogyny

In a guest-post on the website of Matt Forney, author of Do the Phillipines, “a thorough analysis of Philippine culture, to better help you bang girls,” John Saxon argues that “The greatest thinkers from antiquity to the modern day have seen that there is a very dark side to women, that if ignored…would lead to individual men and society coming undone.” Read More→

Scholars Respond to Spartan Helmets

As Pharos documented previously, Spartan helmets were among the symbols displayed by white nationalist, homophobic, anti-immigrant, and misogynisitc marchers in the April 2017 Berkeley protests. [Update: Read our response essay]

Scholars Respond

Pharos invited specialists on ancient Sparta to comment on this appropriation: Read More→


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