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Don’t cancel the Classics The ancient world has become the latest battlefield in today's culture wars

What would Herodotus say? (Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

What would Herodotus say? (Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)


February 25, 2021   5 mins

Classics was already having a bad month when Sir Antony Gormley intervened. After building a career on erecting casts of his naked body around the globe, the artist decided to rail against the British Museum and its “obsession with the classical world”. To those familiar with Gormley’s work and its visual debt to the antique — one that was recently explored through its display among the ancient Greek ruins of Delos — his disapproval felt particularly rich.

But it was also rather timely; in the past weeks, Classics has endured quite a hammering. At the beginning of the month, Dan-el Padilla Peralta — a Dominican-born, New York-raised professor of Classics at Princeton — gave an explosive interview to the New York Times Magazine in which he expressed his desire to do away with “Classics” as a term and “explode the canon”, on the basis of it being appropriated by xenophobes and white-supremacists. For Padilla, it’s an endemic problem: “The production of whiteness turns on closer examination to reside in the very marrows of Classics.”

What does this mean in practice? For Walter Scheidel, a professor of Classics at Stanford University who was also interviewed for the NYTM piece, we should simply get “get rid of” Classics altogether: “I don’t think it should exist as an academic field”. Which may seem like an odd thing for a Classicist to say, but it’s a view that’s becoming increasingly widespread, and even institutionalised. Already, some departments in the US have embedded Classics within courses such as “Ancient Mediterranean Studies”. (Such rethinks are, of course, unlikely to be a universal solution; Gormley, for one, is particularly upset about the British Museum’s supposed fixation with the Mediterranean.)

Tensions over the value and ethics of studying Classics have been simmering for some years. Indeed, it is hard to think of another subject that has required its devotees to defend their field of study with such frequency. We’re told that it’s the study of useless “dead languages”; that it’s the preserve of public schoolboys, such as our Pericles-loving Prime Minister; even worse, that it needs to burn because it’s an inspiration for far-Right extremists in the US.

The latest battle over Classics is a culmination of all the above. The fact that it remains a relatively marginal and unstudied subject in the educational system has made it an easy target in today’s culture wars. It means, for example, that Classics can be dismissed as simply the “history of Greece and Rome” — even though North Africa, Asia Minor, Gaul, the Russian steppe and many other territories also form part of it.

This cognitive blindness is made all the more peculiar when you consider how broadminded and enquiring Herodotus, Tacitus and many ancient historians could be about their fellow citizens. Although they were mostly interested in questions of national identity, when they did write on matters such as skin colour, they tended to do so with more curiosity than judgement, attempting — albeit mostly without success — to explain difference through factors such as climate and geography.

This meant that for Herodotus, the Ethiopians were dark-skinned on account of their proximity to the sun, while the inhabitants of colder territories were paler as they were further away from it. For Tacitus, the climate of Germany was such as to render its people naturally resistant to cold and hunger. It’s all nonsense, of course. But as Padilla himself has conceded, the Greeks and Romans “would have not really understood our racial categories”. One could be a Roman regardless of where you originated or what you looked like.

More importantly, these sources constitute the classicist’s raw materials; they are what lie at the heart of Classics as a field. Why is it, then, that in the debate that is now raging over the future of the subject and its right to exist, they barely get a look in? One would have thought that the actual texts and archaeological finds used by classicists today would be the first things to be considered in any reappraisal of the subject.

Those who wish to banish Classics instead emphasise what has been done with these sources. They point to entitled Grand Tourists trundling over the ancient sites and pocketing things at will; to the likes of Winckelmann, the German art historian who idealised the whiteness of ancient statues despite the fact that they were once painted in bright hues; to the tendency of today’s far-Right to draw upon Classical imagery. Meanwhile, under the Third Reich the writings of Plato and others were mined and distorted so that they would appear to endorse Nazi eugenics.

But such a history of Classics, one which highlights only the ways the discipline has been used to incite racism and prejudice, is strikingly selective. Indeed, if the main argument against Classics resides, as it appears to, in its development as a discipline and reception in the modern world — more than in the ancient material itself — then the other side of this journey ought to be told, too. For example, it would be easier to refute claims of Classics’s Eurocentrism if attention were paid to things such the transmission of texts; if it wasn’t for the scholars of places such as Baghdad in the eighth and ninth centuries, who painstakingly translated and copied ancient manuscripts, the corpus of literature studied by classicists today would be considerably poorer.

More importantly, for every account of the abuse of classical material, there is another of inspiration. Take the growth in recent decades of “Classical Reception”, a relatively new field through which classicists engage with ancient material through the lens of more contemporary writers and artists. This specialism has helped to broaden the horizon of Classics by revealing some of the positive or at least enriching ways antiquity has permeated the modern world. The works of writers who have drawn legitimately and powerfully on ancient sources — whether it’s William Shakespeare, the St Lucian poet Derek Walcott or Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka – surely form a more meaningful aspect of the story of Classics than the misquotations extremists upload to online forum. Even Antony Gormley’s engagement with the classical tradition has inspired a number of academic papers in this area.

If anything, the abuse of Classics ought to be used as an argument for saving it. For the alternative, abandoning it, would be to hand it over to those very groups Padilla and others identify as ransacking it. The field does not deserve to be razed because of the way it has been tended in certain quarters. If a study of Classics teaches us anything, it is how much easier it is to knock down than rebuild. As the so-called Liberators of Rome discovered to their regret, assassinating Julius Caesar, rather than what came after, was the easy part. Demolish Classics — and then what?

No one is denying that aspects of the ancient world and its reception are ugly — this is true of all cultures and periods — but that is no reason to abandon Classics itself. There is no call to study the ancient material through the eyes of Nazis. The arguments of Winckelmann can be read to be disregarded. The so-called Classics of white supremacist organisations such as Identity Evropa can be disregarded — they do not deserve the airtime.

The current climate, in which individuals cherry-pick classical quotations to their own ends, ought to be a summons to the original sources that form the heart of Classics. They ought to provide the impetus to return to Classics’ roots, to read old texts anew with our own eyes, to look at art that crossed the globe knowing no borders, to read legitimate engagements with the classical past, to think for ourselves. As Heraclitus wrote: “our eyes are more accurate witnesses than our ears”. So let’s not be afraid of using them.


Daisy Dunn is a classicist and critic. Her latest book is In the Shadow of Vesuvius: A Life of Pliny. 

DaisyfDunn

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Seb Dakin
Seb Dakin
3 years ago

I hardly know where to begin. The Classics shouldn’t exist as a field of study? So we shouldn’t bother looking at several centuries of history that produced civilisations and living standards unmatched until arguably the industrial revolution a thousand years plus several centuries later?. Who cares how they did it, why they made the decisions they made, how it worked out? All that history, poetry, philosophy written down at the time – let’s just bin that shall we? Just a bunch of old white guys (though funnily enough wouldn’t they count as hispanic or something in the American racial taxonomy?).
A history of Greece and Rome – coupla countries in the Med, who cares?
Well, it’s the beginning of the history of Western thought, and goodness knows half the reason these critics probably want rid of it is the the quality of thought and reason on offer two thousand years ago highlights just how pitiful many of the modern nostrums are, how inadequate the ‘education’ being given to the students paying through the nose for it at our universities.
More than anything else, it is a lesson that civilisation can go backwards, and take a very long time to recover, if you are not careful. And right now, the people who ought to be the custodians of our culture, and I’m not suggesting they be uncritical, seem to be unable to comprehend their own historical role.

stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago
Reply to  Seb Dakin

Thumbs up.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  stephen f.

‘Thumbs up’ (or down), of course, comes down to us from the classical world. At least, so we are always led to believe.

Richard Audley
Richard Audley
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Perhaps the other way round to what we think.
When the crowd wanted death they would scream ‘Jugula’ and perhaps indicate the neck with an upward movement of the thumb!

“Ave Caesar morituri te salutant!”

Jos Haynes
Jos Haynes
3 years ago
Reply to  Seb Dakin

Both thumbs up

David Morley
David Morley
3 years ago
Reply to  Seb Dakin

Well, it’s the beginning of the history of Western thought

problem in a nutshell!

skwearing
skwearing
3 years ago
Reply to  Seb Dakin

I’m a 56 y.o. white, British man who studied Classics at university.
I remember a Turkish Cypriot Muslim asked me why the study of Classics was mostly about Ancient Greece and Rome and I didn’t really have a satisfactory answer.
Classics should perhaps be the study of all the ancient civilisations in the Mediterranean after all none of them developed in total isolation.

John MacDonald
John MacDonald
3 years ago
Reply to  skwearing

As a Turkish Cypriot his ancestors would have been firmly part of the ancient Greek world and subsequently part of the Roman Empire, as would the ancestors of his co-religionists in North Africa and the Levant. Why would he not want to understand the history of his own people?

George Bruce
George Bruce
3 years ago
Reply to  John MacDonald

The Turks moved in much later, so if he is genuinely Turkish, then his ancestors did not exist within in the Classical world. If as is likely, he is not genetically all that Turkish, but more the descendant of whoever was on hand when the Turks took over, then as you say, his ancestors were within the Classical world and their history largely covered by its history.

Kathy Prendergast
Kathy Prendergast
3 years ago
Reply to  skwearing

I would have told your classmate – as I presume a professor would have, if asked – that Classics basically refers to the study of ancient Greece and Roman civilizations, their languages, art, literature, politics, history, mythology, architecture. etc. They are singled out as a field of study because of the importance of their influence on western European culture. Also so much of their culture has been preserved; we don’t have to study them as archeologists study older civilizations, in bits and pieces. Classicists are very aware of the influence of earlier cultures on their development, and these connections are routinely acknowledged in the field. One of the first things I learned about, when I took a Classics course, was the ancient origins of the Roman alphabet.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
3 years ago

I think the professor you mention would have been too busy trying to destroy his own subject to give such a sensible answer.

rosie mackenzie
rosie mackenzie
3 years ago
Reply to  Seb Dakin

Yes, quite so. It is depressing that the authoress seems to think she must cede territory in order to defend it.

Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
3 years ago

“… for Herodotus, the Ethiopians were dark-skinned on account of their proximity to the sun, while the inhabitants of colder territories were paler as they were further away from it. […] … all nonsense, of course.”

Not entirely, he was on the right lines. Dark skins evolved to be more resistant to exposure to a lot of strong sunlight. Pale skins evolved to be more absorbent of vitamin D where the sunlight is weaker and of shorter duration for part of the year.

Last edited 3 years ago by Sharon Overy
Shane Dunworth-crompton
Shane Dunworth-crompton
3 years ago
Reply to  Sharon Overy

Exactly. Whiteness is a genetic mutation that enables the absorption of more sunlight and Vit D in regions where there is less available. More pigment in skin protects the body from too much harmful light

Judy Simpson
Judy Simpson
3 years ago
Reply to  Sharon Overy

My thoughts exactly. And in my experience, people from cold places are far better at resisting the cold than those from warmer climes.

Stephen Quilley
Stephen Quilley
3 years ago

I work in a university. I agree with every word. But it will do no good. We are probably screwed. Most universities have been captured and are in a terrible condition. To a large extent, the lunatics are running the asylum. Reasonable opinion is cowed. By the time the politics of woke has worked its way through the system, Classics will have disappeared. Disciplines such as sociology have been ‘not fit for purpose’ for two decades. AOC’s attack on people who have a pedantic obsession with ‘accuracy and facts’ rather ‘moral rightness’ is fast becoming the guiding principle. Truth has become a victim of misconceived virtue. As far as I can see, conservatives and genuine liberals should probably defect and create their own institutions ASAP, and seek to withdraw public funding from the ideology-machines.

Last edited 3 years ago by Stephen Quilley
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
3 years ago

If only

Joe Blow
Joe Blow
3 years ago

AOC’s attack on people who have a pedantic obsession with ‘accuracy and facts’ rather ‘moral rightness’ is fast becoming the guiding principle.”
She said that??? I am not doubting you for a second – I am simply astonished. I knew she was a fool – but that bad??

Sean Arthur Joyce
Sean Arthur Joyce
3 years ago

Thank you for putting some context into the Classics and not merely succumbing to the mind-rot of cancel culture. As UnHerd columnist Ralph Leonard wrote in “The West is Not Racist”: ““The science resulting from all human knowledge has no nationality,” observed Sekou TourĂ©, who lead Guinea to independence: â€œThe ridiculous disputes about the origin of such and such a discovery do not interest us since they add nothing to the value of the discovery.”” Exactly. This corpus of world literature transcends culture to become a universal legacy for the benefit of all, quasi-Marxist specious critiques be damned.
And what about the incredible sophistication of philosophical thought developed in the 5th century BC? Are we to throw that out too? The Socratic method as just one example is an intellectual tool that can be used with as much benefit today as it was 2500 years ago. In Plato’s portrait of Socrates, the philosopher was less concerned with articulating doctrines than teaching people HOW to think, not WHAT to think, which seems to be the current mentality of academia.

Shane Dunworth-crompton
Shane Dunworth-crompton
3 years ago

Excellently stated. You probably had a “classical” education

Sean Arthur Joyce
Sean Arthur Joyce
3 years ago

Actually, aside from a couple years of college, I’m self-educated! But I made it a point to remedy my poor public school education (in Canada we refer to our primary schools education as “public schools” unlike in Britain) by making the study of the classics a lifelong pursuit. I read 50+ books per year, most recently Plato, Xenophon, Herodotus, Ovid and Aristophanes. Already some decades ago as a young man I was seeing academia veer into teaching people what to think rather than how to think, and decided I could do better on my own by consulting the great minds of the ages directly. I expand my definition of “classics” to include the acknowledged masterworks of more modern times, although if I had to draw a line in history it would probably stop at about 1969. After that with postmodernism and identity politics we seem to have lost the ability to appraise a work of art on its own merits (rather than politics) and within the context of the total corpus of world masterworks.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago

I disagree. I think the listing of discovery into categories of who made them shows us what kind of societies were what. The nu-Liberals who espouse this all must have prizes, all people gave equally to the greater, is crazy and just intellectual lies.

This is the Rapping of art, the idea that it does not have to have artistic, philosophical, inventive, merit to be as much art as real art, just must be popular, is mere self loathing. It is the Bansky cr* ping on real art.

The Picasso, Gauguin, Van Gough all were excellent classic artists before moving on, first craft was perfected. This is the basis of art. Tangerine Dreams, the Electronica band which sounds like random noise all had real music skills, actual credentials, and expertise in electronic equipment, they were artists, not Djs spouting thumping rythms. To make art one first must understand art, have a background in what is art, and why. Tracy Emin had her MA in painting from the London School of Art before doing her Unmade Bed.

David Green
David Green
3 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

If Emin has an MA, it confirms my belief that art degrees are rubbish

Kathy Prendergast
Kathy Prendergast
3 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

However, an unmade bed is not “art”, no matter how arty the one who produces it. I could drag an unmade bed into a gallery, or (as I’ve seen in a gallery) a cracked discarded porcelain toilet bowl, but I couldn’t produce a quality oil painting. This I suppose is why “artists” getting paid millions for this rubbish pisses so many people off. True works of art show mastery; the whole point of becoming a master at something is being able to create things few others can. The vast majority of us would prefer that people trained in fine art would just continue to practice it.

Charles Rense
Charles Rense
3 years ago

When I read that article (note: I didn’t read that article because there was a paywall, and I’ll be damned if I’ll pay real money to read trash like that), all could think of was “let the classics burn? You mean like what happened at the Library of Alexandria?”

And yes, they do mean that. That’s the kind of people they are.

Richard Kenward
Richard Kenward
3 years ago

How quickly things change as it was only 5 or so years ago the world was horrified by the wanton destruction of ancient history by the Taliban.
The Taliban were/are some of the most vile people to ever walk this planet yet their desire to smash everything they disagree with has been taken up by the wokery and hard left.
Now we see daily the attacks not just on the classics, because they are European and white but the very sinews that tied us once tightly together as a nation. Statues toppled, names changed, history falsified and intolerable bullying of anyone who stands in their way. Even free speech has retrenched into some feeble non offensive form where honest debate is denied not just on the university campus, but in our media and our civil service.
It is time not just to defend the Classics but our very being, our heart and soul.

Last edited 3 years ago by Richard Kenward
Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago

the Taliban’s critics have co-opted its tactics, much like the people in the US who claim to oppose fascism adopt many of the brownshirts tactics.

Richard Kenward
Richard Kenward
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Exactly

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Antifa came from post Weimer Germany where they were Marxist thugs trying to make Germany into a German Stalinist State, they fought their opponents the Fascists, thus anti-fa for a name, not because they were appalled by Fascist ways, but because they wanted the exact same but with a Marxist flavor and them in charge, and used the same tactics as the fascists. They are one and the same at core, as this last year in USA shows, and how leopards do not change their spots.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
3 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

I can’t remember who said it but during the troubles in 1920s Italy some philosopher said:
“The fascists have split into two camps: the fascists and the antifascists”

Kathy Prendergast
Kathy Prendergast
3 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Exactly; they and the Nazis were just political rivals.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago

The Taliban at least were for something, they were an odd mix of Pushtunwali (the code of the Pashtun) and Deobandi Salafism and could be thought of as Traditional Afghani going back to Alexander.

These new forces in USA are totally a modern invention, a pathological hate of the past which they sprung from. They are the opposite. Your anology is 100% wrong. Almost everyone who uses Islam to make a point just shows how little they really know, and how they are a product of MSM drip feed, yet think they understand the world.

Jayne Lago
Jayne Lago
3 years ago

I agree totally, in fact I would say that we have had a terrible time with Coronavirus, but this will be nothing compared to the eventual consequences of what is happening not only in our country but elsewhere

Angus J
Angus J
3 years ago

Anything coming out of academia in the USA will be full to the brim with the mind-poison of Critical Race Theory. I suspect that the US is too far gone to rescue, but in the UK every effort needs to be made to keep this destructive philosophy out.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
3 years ago
Reply to  Angus J

I don’t understand why that is. I’m both studying and teaching in the USA. Anytime I’m made to confront this crap, I denounce it loudly and clearly. Admittedly, it hasn’t made me popular with some people.

Jos Haynes
Jos Haynes
3 years ago

I think the cancelling should begin with the academic posts of the two individuals who believe that what they teach is a waste of time, or worse. And their pensions, because they have spent a lifetime in hypocritical time-wasting.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago

Academics who want to memory hole certain subjects. The problem is far larger than cancel culture.

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
3 years ago

” … if it wasn’t for the scholars of places such as Baghdad in the eighth and ninth centuries, who painstakingly translated and copied ancient manuscripts, the corpus of literature studied by classicists today would be considerably poorer.”
Indeed. Violet Muller gives a very readable account of this in her book The Map of Knowledge – How Classical Ideas Were Lost and Found: A History in Seven Cities” that deals with key texts of Euclid, Galen and Ptolemy. Her account tracks the transmission and the importance of these texts and their influence on nascent European Renaissance thought by way of the seven cities and key translators.
If there is any danger from whatever ideological position, it is in the nature of that ideology’s ‘theoretical’ propositions that undergird whatever activism it proposes. In this case I think the underlying proposition is what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls Retrospective Bigotteering – accusing ancient individuals or groups of violating todays ethical norms – in essence the application of the ahistorical fallacy of Moral Presentism. That in itlesg arises from an ideological moral/political theory IMO.
Whatever agenda this serves is another matter.

Last edited 3 years ago by michael stanwick
Joe Blow
Joe Blow
3 years ago

Oh dear. I had high hopes for Unherd. It seems they have gone the way of all press, and begun censoring comments on peculiar grounds. Oh well. Onwards to find another publication…

Richard Audley
Richard Audley
3 years ago
Reply to  Joe Blow

I couldn’t agree more, it is absolutely pathetic.

stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Audley

Thumbs up…which I now have to say as a reply, as they do not permit one to see who is voting, and further, absurdly have this totaling function where up and down votes cancel each other out.

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
3 years ago
Reply to  stephen f.

oh really? What a bad idea. Controversial things with 30 up votes and 30 down votes are interesting because they are controversial.

Jos Haynes
Jos Haynes
3 years ago

Thumbs up

stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago
Reply to  Joe Blow

Thumbs up. I may soon join you…

Jos Haynes
Jos Haynes
3 years ago
Reply to  Joe Blow

Where? What? When? The censoring. I mean.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
3 years ago
Reply to  Joe Blow

Is it censorship or just incompetence? It is a bit annoying, whichever. I started reading Unherd because I was interested in the views of the writers and stayed around because of the comments. Most of which I disagree with but the serious and thoughtful ones I disagree with are the most interesting.

David Morley
David Morley
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

but the serious and thoughtful ones I disagree with are the most interesting.

Of course they are, and good for you Mark. But I fear that is precisely the attitude we are losing.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago
Reply to  Joe Blow

My theory is Unherd is held to the threats of canceling by you*u be and others if they get too full of themselves and try to represent thinking outside the orthodoxy. Potental to be called Far Ri gt and lives wrecked and nasty, hateful, twitters. Defending classical Western values is the new hate speech.

Richard Audley
Richard Audley
3 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

That’s terrible! I was recommended this platform because it was said to be outspoken, but sadly I seem to have arrived too late.

Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
3 years ago

Daisy has written an eloquent defense of the classics, but, at least from what she has written, she seems to have the same secular mindset as Peralta, whose interview she criticizes. She makes no mention in the book that the New Testament was written in Greek or that the divine liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil were written in Greek. In translation these are the liturgies used in Orthodox churches all over the world. The Septuagint, an old Greek translation of the Old Testament, has been immensely valuable in shedding light on problems with the surviving Hebrew versions of the Old Testament. So for people of faith these texts in classical Greek are important not only historically, but spiritually. I don’t have a good knowledge of religion myself, so I am sure I am neglecting documents in classical Greek that are of great religious significance and have not spoken of classical Latin at all. I am sure some other readers of UnHerd know much more about this than I do.

Hugh R
Hugh R
3 years ago

Dan-el Padilla Peralta seems a bit of a drama queen to me….all this tizz, when all he needs to di to achieve his goal, is to put the books in a big pile, and set fire to them.

Joel Sweek
Joel Sweek
3 years ago
Reply to  Hugh R

It would be fine if Padilla Peralta only wanted to burn his own books, but it seems as if he wants to burn mine as well … over my dead body.

Last edited 3 years ago by Joel Sweek
Paul N
Paul N
3 years ago

Some people tend to value the new – others prefer tradition – and both have benefits. But the idea that we should toss out whole areas of knowledge because they are “to old” or “too rooted in a particular culture” is… unwise.
But let’s not panic just yet. Voices in the literary establishment have been trying to abolish the canon for decades, but we still have Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer, Dickens, and many brilliant contemporary and more recent writers in addition. The sky is not yet falling.
But there are threats. Complacency is also dangerous.
Don’t imagine the only threat is the anti-classics barbarians at the gates, and those who hate literary tradition and heritage. The previous Vice Chancellor of Queens University Belfast claimed there was no need for 6th Century Historians, and the University of Ulster slashed modern languages.
Perhaps the greatest threat to knowledge and learning comes from those who believe its only value is financial (or how much profit our businesses can make with a steady supply of compliant and carefully trained workers). Finace is important, but knowledge is worthwhile for its own sake, and for the perspectives it gives us.
A further, but related, threat is ideological (not from Right or Left but from the powerful) – from those who dislike the social sciences, not because of poor scholarship (of which there is always plenty, in any discipline), but because they prefer not to have our society, economy and political structures to be critiqued in a rigorous and evidence-based manner.
If we reduce education to just a marketplace, we will lose a great deal.

Last edited 3 years ago by Paul N
Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul N

Oddly, as this piece points out, the greatest threat to learning seems to be coming from those in the learning industry. When academics are agitating for the elimination of certain works, it’s more than a social justice play.

Richard Audley
Richard Audley
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

“Those who do, do! Those who can’t teach “.

Christopher Thompson
Christopher Thompson
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Audley

And those who can’t teach teach teachers.

Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Sounds like Padilla is trying to hang on to a tenured position at Princeton. Maybe the current American academic playbook in order to achieve this includes a Big Controversy in a Respected Newspaper (?).
As a sciencey sort of person I don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other about “The Classics” – whatever that vague umbrella term is supposed to include. However I do see much value in preserving and examining from all angles older belief and cultural systems whether it’s the Greeks, Egyptians, Xia dynasty, Mayans, Incas, Harappan’s, Etruscans, Angkor Empire, Australian Aborigines, Mughals, etc. etc. There is a smorgasboard out there.
The sun does not rise and set only on the fertile crescent and it is not the only area on the planet that has produced a coherent philosophical or belief system. Western culture, in it’s little bubble, lucked out – the ideas were written down not just sung or spoken or carved or painted into stone or wood or whatever.
I agree with other people here that the new UnHerd comment system is a complete dog’s breakfast. I have complained (and even got a response which read like something that had been written by an actual live human being) but nothing much has changed – can’t downvote anyone and upvotes can be anything from 1 – 5. Totally random.

Karen Lindquist
Karen Lindquist
3 years ago

And next perhaps they can wheedle out all language derived from ancient empires that are deemed “problematic.”
I am trying to adopt an even more twisted sense of humor than I presently enjoy, as an antidote to the mass hysteria and insanity that is driving the new religious cult we all know as the former progressive left.
The only true comfort is in knowing that unless they suddenly embrace a rather bloodthirsty and violent desire to back up their bulldozing of all human history and any dissent in their doing so, the people driving this are a lot of virtue signaling idiots and a selection of pandering politicians. None of them truly have a backbone, and even fewer have a useful life skill between them. It should not be hard to turn this “revolution” around and ask the adult children to simmer down and let the functional adults take over again.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago

you act as if the violence is only an afterthought. Why? The left in the US is quite willing to use violence has spent months doing so. It’s ongoing in a couple of Western cities where there is virtually no fear of pushback.

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
3 years ago

I’m glad you said ‘the former progressive left’, and not just ‘the left’. But I still wish you’d use some other term for these totalitarian woke wannabe censors. CLR James was an unashamed marxist, and Noam Chomsky doesn’t object to being called a radical anarchist. Yet both are proud to draw on the traditions of ancient Athenian democracy, and explicitly value the study of the classics, both in the sense of ancient Greek and Latin, and of the canon of Western art and literature.
At least no other commenters have in any way equated this new barbarism with ‘the left’. I was expecting to see almost the exact opposite!

Andrew Kirk
Andrew Kirk
3 years ago

They won’t need violence to destroy learning. They’ve already done most of the work, and they are persistent enough to wear people down and pressure them. Don’t forget, they’ve been doing this in the US at least for more than a generation, so the teachers indoctrinating children are already indoctrinated. It will be hard to turn that ship around, especially when they have no basis for discussion and even reject the notion of rational argument.

Jayne Lago
Jayne Lago
3 years ago

I couldn’t agree more, but it would seem to me that the current situation has arisen very quickly and therefore I suggest there are indeed very powerful people behind these events. I think it is safe to assume “they are feeling the power”.

G Harris
G Harris
3 years ago

The ancient Roman empire was a pretty disparate animal and, by numerous accounts, social trouble was always abrewin’ somewhere within it, but ‘race’ as such was never really apparently much of an issue.

Having said that, the most serious ‘race’ riot lasted a week and actually involved the disputed outcome of a chariot race in Constantinople in 532AD resulting in half the city being sacked and tens of thousands losing their lives.

Now that’s a ‘race’ riot!!

Last edited 3 years ago by G Harris
David Morley
David Morley
3 years ago

Isn’t part of the problem for a modern woke audience that the classics present a picture which is at odds with woke narratives.
the woke narrative is that slavery is a specific evil perpetrated by European whites against African blacks.
but look to the classics, and you find slavery completely normalised, with a history going back into the depths of time, the slaves are not (generally) black, and in at least one famous case they are specifically English.
this has the unfortunate effect of portraying more modern Europeans not as white devils, the slavers par excellence, if not the inventors of slavery, but as the people who abolished slavery and who, in the case of the British, did all they could to put an end to the trade worldwide.

Andrew Sinclair
Andrew Sinclair
3 years ago

Very interesting article. Thanks.

Joe Blow
Joe Blow
3 years ago

We must be clear: what is in progress is a push as ghastly and dangerous as Mao’s cultural revolution. This mob-mentality, untroubled by nuance and fact, has already normalised debate on the legitimacy of political violence; some have engaged in actual political violence (“mostly peaceful” of course), such as trying to burn law-enforcement officials alive (Seattle, 2020).
The museums and charities recent meeting with the UK government was a small start. It’s importance was underscored by a museum representative whining laughably about how outrageous and undemocratic it was to have the (elected) government intervening in this process among (appointed) custodians of the national heritage.
The government should – must – introduce law to create a substantial hiatus in the actions of these vandals. We know from other examples – not just Mao, but architects in the 1960s who wrecked scores of irreplaceable buildings, the islamist mobs (Syria, Afghanistan) – that irrecoverable damage can be done quickly. A ten year pause (to assess whether the moronic “ideology” of critical race theory still pollutes academe) would be a start. More direct democracy in the appointment of the custodians of our national institutions would help.
It is clear that they are not just motivated by facts and reason, but by prejudice. Given the crude and simplistic insistence on highlighting “links to slavery” on buildings or in the display of various cultural artifacts, can we expect to see explanations of the role of islamic teaching in slavery added to every museum’s display of islamic art? You already know the answer to that…

Last edited 3 years ago by Joe Blow
stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago

Thumbs up.

Richard Audley
Richard Audley
3 years ago

A most interesting and provocative essay, that has inadvertently exposed the ‘cold,dead, hand’ of UnHerd’s ridiculous censorship instincts.

vince porter
vince porter
3 years ago

When they get to the Dark Ages stuff, the woke will obviously ban Islam and Islamic studies.

Simon Moore
Simon Moore
3 years ago

The descent into Utopia continues.

Richard Audley
Richard Audley
3 years ago
Reply to  Simon Moore

Don’t you mean Hades?

Starry Gordon
Starry Gordon
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Audley

I believe that’s irony. ‘Facilis decensus Utopiae.’ Pretty good, almost a koan.

Richard Audley
Richard Audley
3 years ago
Reply to  Starry Gordon

Agreed, pretty good, although I would have thought ‘ascent’ to Utopia would have been better?

Simon Moore
Simon Moore
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Audley

I fear it is a descent. The road to Hades is paved with Utopian intentions. Maybe Hades began as a Utopian experiment, like so many earthly Hades in human history.

Richard Audley
Richard Audley
3 years ago
Reply to  Simon Moore

I wish I could deny you, but sadly I cannot.

Richard Audley
Richard Audley
3 years ago

Daisy Dunn, Charlotte Higgins and Catherine Nixey to name but three female classicists, have all made similar pleas to revive the moribund teaching of the Classical World.

I have already tried twice today, and failed due to censorship, to explain the impossibility of such a task.

The world has degenerated so far intellectually from its Athenian zenith, centuries before the arrival of Christ, that rational discussion is no longer possible.

Let us remember it as a world of “Dives in omnia”
and move on to the squalid future that awaits us all.

Last edited 3 years ago by Richard Audley
Paul N
Paul N
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Audley

I’m not sure even unHerd’s filters can detect excess pessimism. Maybe you used one of their “naughty” words, by mistake?
I’m sure rational discussion is possible some of the time, with some of the people. Even about the classics…
I’m not even convinced that Athens was be all and end all of philosophical thought, or even necessarily the high point.

Richard Audley
Richard Audley
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul N

Yes, I used two forbidden words, monotheism and christianity.

Unfortunately due to the catastrophic recent changes to the comments system, it is now impossible to have any meaningful dialogue even on such a interesting subject as the dominance or otherwise of Athens as a centre of Greek philosophical achievement.

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul N

Ancient Greece was most definitely not the be all and end all of all philosophical thought. I believe our modern notion of West and East dates back to the ancient Greeks. Study of the Western classics is the study of the origins of Western thought. Unfortunately, most Western classicists have next to no knowledge of Eastern thought. Consequently, for all their learning and erudition, they are often at a complete loss dealing with the ‘Eastern mentality’. Hence such nonsense as ‘inscrutable orientals’ as an explanation for anything Asian which Westerners fail to comprehend.
Surely in this day and age of globalism whether we like it or not, it would be of benefit for Classics to include more than a passing acquaintance with the history of Chinese, Indian or Iranian thought? Even those who wish for the defeat and downfall of one or more of those great nations might remember the adage “know thine enemy”.

Richard Audley
Richard Audley
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

You are right off course the Greeks were not the
‘be all and all’, the Romans brought a huge amount to the party, particularly Law. If one had only one word to describe Rome it would be Lex/Law.
However we, the British had/have plenty of Sino Indian and Persian scholars, mainly as a result of our days of Empire that date back to 1603 in the Far East.
A visit to the British Museum will confirm that fact.

Saras Seth
Saras Seth
3 years ago

Sometimes when I go to the pub (yes, it did happen once upon a time) I meet someone who is so impassioned by politics or the state of the world that you cannot make a counter argument back to their views and opinions. Not because they are brilliant, but they have gone off in so many directions, you’re not quite sure where to start in unpicking their arguments.
So let me start by saying that if one was looking for an argument to actually cancel classics, I’d seriously offer this article up to support their case! The reasoning is all over the place and I don’t really know where to start. And so I won’t.
However, as an alternative what would Daisy have written if she were asked to write “Why we should cancel the Classics?”
If I could make a wager; some two and half thousand years ago, when the Greeks were writing what we now consider to be part of the canon of classics, I bet they weren’t sitting there thinking “oh in about 3 millennia my work is going to be considered a classic and hotly debated”. Taking a punt here, but I think they were writing for their contemporaries to debate and argue, and agree and reject.
But somehow, over time the classics have become untouchable, sacrosanct, and debated in structured frameworks. I wonder, if Socrates were alive today, would he embrace them?
To be clear, I absolutely support the continued teaching of the classical languages and thought but when I have met those with who have studied the classics extensively (and admittedly a very small sample), the conversations are not one of erudition, but often of just plain, old dogmatism (actually, that might say more about me than the classically educated!)
And so I think Daisy is right but for the wrong reason. The debate is actually about how we cancel Classics, to reject them and burn them. But then, equally, for those of us who cherish them, how we reshape them, give them rebirth and find new life within them. If you want to continue worshipping the Classics, then I suggest we confine them to the dustbin of any modern day article (or online debating platform!) But for those who wish to cherish the Classics by embracing that rejection and always looking to challenge their interpretation, well then, bring forth Demosthenes once again!

David Morley
David Morley
3 years ago

This cognitive blindness is made all the more peculiar when you consider how broadminded and enquiring Herodotus, Tacitus and many ancient historians could be about their fellow citizens. 

Isn’t this perhaps the issue – that classics presents alternative ways of seeing and understanding the world which might threaten the approved modern narratives.
Why would those who are convinced they are right want anyone’s mind broadened further. Better that we be locked within a more limited and contemporary range of understandings.
Is cancel culture not best understood as an attempt to close down all other voices – including those from the past?

George Bruce
George Bruce
3 years ago

This meant that for Herodotus, the Ethiopians were dark-skinned on account of their proximity to the sun, while the inhabitants of colder territories were paler as they were further away from it. For Tacitus, the climate of Germany was such as to render its people naturally resistant to cold and hunger. It’s all nonsense, of course. 
Nonsense? Thats quite severe. If an intelligent child came up with these, would a severe telling off for stupidity be the correct response?
Okay, in the case of Ethiopia, the sun
s rays are stronger because it is nearer the Equator, not because the sun is nearer. But fundamentally the correct cause has been identified. The population`s skin colour evolved that way due to the stronger sunlight.
And the climate of Germany – very different from now, it would seem, much colder – would certainly have an effect on the people, both in an evolutionary way and on the individual during his or her lifetime. Who do you think bears a cold day better, Daisy? A Russian or an Indonesian?

Richard Audley
Richard Audley
3 years ago

How can one possibly teach Classical Philosophy through the miasma of monotheism?
They are diametrically opposed, the former based on reason (logos) the latter on faith.

robert scheetz
robert scheetz
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Audley

Not so. The Greeks, like all of us, were pursuing the “unified field theory” and St. Paul supplied it. Christianity, the inexorable synthesis, is an Hellenism.

Richard Audley
Richard Audley
3 years ago
Reply to  robert scheetz

I completely disagree, but it is almost impossible to continue this discussion under the present system.

Last edited 3 years ago by Richard Audley
Ben Hazard
Ben Hazard
3 years ago

I tend to agree that Classics as a college major should be abandoned, but for very different reasons. Of course Padilla’s woke arguments against his chosen field are absurd. But I really don’t see the point of isolating it as a distinct field either. Ancient Greece and Rome figure very prominently in all courses of art, philosophy, political science and literature. And of course one can always study Latin or Greek languages. And yes, I know there are interactions within the various disciplines during the Classical Era, so for example a study of the Greek playwrights is helpful to understanding its role in history and philosophy as well. But the same can be said for almost any period or culture, as for example Durant’s Story of Civilization series tries to demonstrate. And it just seems more interesting and relevant to see how the classics affected the progress of civilization through the ages rather than just focus on that one period in isolation. So I guess I’m not saying they should be banned, I just think prospective students should think long and hard before they sign up as a classics major.

Andrew Kirk
Andrew Kirk
3 years ago
Reply to  Ben Hazard

Universities are supposed to be about studying certain areas in a focused way; classics are no different, and we need true scholars of them to inform everyone else who talks about them or uses them only as ancillary companion subjects as you seem to advocate.
However, they should definitely be used in parallel with other subjects. Doctors should know some Shakespeare and Cicero. The barbarians who want to abolish it want an intellectually impoverished world, possibly because it’s easier when you don’t have to think.

Alex Sydnes
Alex Sydnes
3 years ago

It’s strange the author thinks Gormley is contradicting himself by denouncing classical Greek culture. His work is typical of the modernist rejection of gods, heroes and athletes as subject matter. Greek sculpture also employed a dancing rhythmic style totally absent in Gormley and other modernists. He’s not classically oriented but most certainly is anti-western.

Richard Audley
Richard Audley
3 years ago

What has happened to Chris Wheatley and Fraser Bailey’s discourse on Shakespeare?
It was there up until to 2 hours ago, eg: 1300hrs GMT.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Audley

It’s still there, with contributions from many others. Just scroll down.

Last edited 3 years ago by Fraser Bailey
Richard Audley
Richard Audley
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

As If by ‘magic’ it has returned! Thanks.

Helen E
Helen E
3 years ago

What do posters mean by censoring? Are people’s posts disappearing?

Richard Audley
Richard Audley
3 years ago
Reply to  Helen E

Yes, disappearing!

Paul N
Paul N
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Audley

I think the new system has a tendency to flag comments for moderation rather too enthusiastically. Maybe some words that are quite common in political discussion set off the alarms. Or maybe I’m on a naughty list 🙂
At least someone is checking the queue these days…

robert scheetz
robert scheetz
3 years ago

Thank you, Professor Daisy.
It’s hackneyed but true, our cultural heritage is Judaeo-Greek. You can no more reject The Bible & Plato than deny your own parents. It’s in your genes whether you like it or not.
Nevertheless, Aristotle’s epigones have after all succeeded in resolving the totality to “the food chain”, … with the consequence that Homer and the Bible have ever more scant libation bearers.

Last edited 3 years ago by robert scheetz
Miguelito
Miguelito
3 years ago

I’m afraid that the greatest creation of the Classical Era, Western Philosophy became a casualty of the Science vs Religion wars of the early twentieth century (Scopes Trial, etc.) Science claimed all knowledge. Religion didn’t defend philosophy either.
Who needs Critical thinking to evaluate truth? Who needs truth? Thinking is hard so maybe we should reject the Classics that demand thought.

Anthony Rossomando
Anthony Rossomando
3 years ago

This article is about two professors opinions not “they“ as you prescribe above. Using the word “they” is baiting and provoking as to some “other”. I agree with some of the major point of this piece but I think the sentiment is a bit alarmist.

stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago

The teaching moments also show how in many ways society has regressed: “the N word” was not always a slur-read Conrad or other authors…people have become very sensitized to words-even the sound of words-one can no longer use the word “niggardly”, for example.

stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago

Thumbs up.

Simon Denis
Simon Denis
3 years ago

Oh, another disingenuous complaint about language from a rattled leftist. The article might concern two profs but they’re typical, and typical of a whole climate of intolerant opinion. You know this as well as I do. Alarmist? When villages are being scouted by fanatics for third party, long forgotten links to Atlantic slavery, whilst all other slaveries are veiled and Wilberforce dismissed? Alarmist? Really? There are two forces which enable bigotry to prevail: vandals first; and second their apologists, reduced now to pedantry – two professors indeed – in a desperate attempt to pretend that there is no problem.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago

When I was young, I never read the Classics, I hated Shakespeare and poetry – didn’t see the point.
Older and wiser, I have tried and tried to read Shakespeare and still don’t see the point. Other people might see something in the drama and the poetry but I can’t see it.
Classics, in translation, seem more interesting and more apt. The plays of Aristophanes are really funny in parts and their society, the Greeks’ about 2200 years ago, seems to mirror our society. They have the same issues with authority, the same crass politicians, they seem to have free speech and they have people who are generally trying to improve things. You can see why a politician like BJ would like to read these things.
BUT there are no women, except in a joking sort of way – women are there but they are either scheming and nasty or just bearers of children. (No women actors, of course). There is a whole subculture of people, the slaves, who don’t count and don’t get a mention. This hardly seems to set a good example for our young people of the future. After reading for a while, it all seemed to get a little sour for a modern person.

Last edited 3 years ago by Chris Wheatley
Simon Denis
Simon Denis
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

A good example? So literature is moral propaganda, is it?

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

Literature is what you make of it. There is no right or wrong. If it seemed sour to me, then it seemed sour to me. You can’t take the high ground and say that your opinion is correct.
Read any of the Plato dialogues and you will see that Socrates murders everyone who thinks that they represent virtue.

Last edited 3 years ago by Chris Wheatley
Richard Audley
Richard Audley
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

That’s fighting talk! Maligning Socrates, whatever next?

I was expecting George Lake to rise to the challenge and savage you, but sadly he died on Sunday.

Starry Gordon
Starry Gordon
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Audley

I. F. Stone wrote a book titled, I believe, ‘The Case Against Socrates‘. As it happened the book actually gave me a better opinion of Socrates than I had had before I read it. Previously, I took him to be basically a wise-ass, but perhaps misrepresented by Plato into a sort of protofascist, as in The Republic. It seems (going by the record) that he stood up to and tripped up the authoritarians of his time as well, to such an extent that they forbade him to speak to them.
As for throwing out the Classics, this has been going on all my life. They were doing it in the 1950s and they’re doing it now. Of course, they keep coming back, as they’ve been doing for 3000 years or so. (More, if you get beyond the narrow confines of lower-school curricula.) The Classics will be interesting and relevant long after those who want to throw them out are forgotten.

Richard Audley
Richard Audley
3 years ago
Reply to  Starry Gordon

For my money Diogenes of Sinope was the real deal.
We are very unlikely to see his like again, sadly.

Christopher Wheatley
Christopher Wheatley
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Audley

Is that really true? Was he I’ll?

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Audley

I am sorry to hear that George Lake died. Had he been ill?

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

How can you not see the point of Shakespeare?! Even you don’t enjoy, or see the point of, the plays, surely you can appreciate the miracles of language that occur in almost ever line.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Sorry to let you down.

Shane Dunworth-crompton
Shane Dunworth-crompton
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

So agree. Shakespeare is extraordinary. Otherworldly. Makes me think aliens did visit the planet

Richard Audley
Richard Audley
3 years ago

‘They’ soon realised their mistake and moved on.

Starry Gordon
Starry Gordon
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Shakespeare is often presented badly, especially in schools. School can kill almost anything. For many people, the best chance of getting Shakespeare is probably the movies made from his work, if they’re not too influenced by academics.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
3 years ago
Reply to  Starry Gordon

Yes, Shakespeare is meant to be watched not read. I watch modern filming of Shakespeare’s plays with closed captioning with my students so that they can read and watch simultaneously. It doesn’t guarantee that they all enjoy it but a substantial amount do.

David Morley
David Morley
3 years ago
Reply to  Starry Gordon

And the language presents difficulties until you are used to it. The cultural references are often lost on us. And explaining all this – even some of the jokes – does kill the fun.

steve eaton
steve eaton
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I agree. Not until Oscar Wilde has anyone even been close to Shakespeare’s wit.

stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Re: slaves-the Romans had Greek slaves…many were tutors.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago
Reply to  stephen f.

Yep. See my note above about Cowboys and Indians. Indians used to work for the Cowboys but they were still treated as Indians.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I believe your note has been erased from the board. Unless I have suddenly gone blind.

stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Thumbs up.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

When I was young we used to play at Cowboys and Indians. Is this also a good way to teach young people?

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

We played cops and robbers, too. I’ve been all four of those at one point or other. They were games, not morality plays.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Cops and Robbers is not the same as Cowboys and Indians, which you realise. My problem with the so-called morality plays is that they can only be explained by a third party. This third party takes over as the new author because a middle-man can only express his own views and interpret the original author. This interpretation leads itself to all kinds of pressures on the young people.
In my opinion, and I’m still allowed an opinion, they feel wrong in today’s society. I think of boys in public schools (private schools, of course) gloating over all those things that the wicked Greeks did.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Why are these games wrong? We were kids being kids. We took turns being either cowboy or Indian.
My problem with the so-called morality plays is that they can only be explained by a third party. 
This problem is compounded when the third party decides that the material is now out of bounds and that no one can read them and make independent decisions. It’s easy to paint the cowboys as the bad guys. No one wants to explore the brutality among the various tribes and what they did to each other, let alone Spanish or English explorers.

Lillian Aldus
Lillian Aldus
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

My daughter studied Classics – she is from a working class background and went to a normal comprehensive school in England. She also studied history. Both subjects are not ‘examples’ to set young people, they are academic subjects which intelligent people can enjoy and learn from. History in particular should be left alone. We cannot ‘revise’ history – it exists and changing it to suit new social ideologies will not make for a better future, it just panders to minority groups and power hungry megalomaniacs.

Last edited 3 years ago by Lillian Aldus
Jos Haynes
Jos Haynes
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

OMG. Kids have fun. Not everything is about teaching. You don’t seem to have much fun in your life, and want to condemn younger generations to a similar miserable existence.

Shane Dunworth-crompton
Shane Dunworth-crompton
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

“There are no women”. Rubbish. There are brave and strong women, and some scary ones too. Clytemnestra, Electra, Cassandra, Antigone etc google it!

Richard Audley
Richard Audley
3 years ago

Don’t forget the wonderful Medusa and her lovely sisters!

David Morley
David Morley
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Audley

And Medea.

Starry Gordon
Starry Gordon
3 years ago

You forgot Medea.

Richard Audley
Richard Audley
3 years ago
Reply to  Starry Gordon

Then off course there is enormous freedom of action enjoyed by Roman woman due to their legal ability to own property, but UnHerd is no longer the place for such a digression, sadly.

Last edited 3 years ago by Richard Audley
Richard Audley
Richard Audley
3 years ago
Reply to  Starry Gordon

They make the Virgin Mary appear very tame indeed.

Katy Randle
Katy Randle
3 years ago

Indeed! Suspect Chris might not have come across Lysistrata either!

David Morley
David Morley
3 years ago

Yes, in literature, but at Athens peak, respectable women seem to have been largely confined to the home, and were probably veiled in public. To what extent women broke the rules is hard to know. Aristophanes suggests they did, but we don’t know how accurate a picture he gives us.

Jos Haynes
Jos Haynes
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

“a good example for our young people” – Is that the function of history, language & ancient cultures? What a miserable existence you must have if everything to be measured by how good an example something is. Ever tried bringing up a few children? They learn from bad examples too. My father was an alcoholic. That taught me!

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

“BUT there are no women, except in a joking sort of way – women are there but they are either scheming and nasty or just bearers of children. (No women actors, of course). There is a whole subculture of people, the slaves, who don’t count and don’t get a mention. This hardly seems to set a good example for our young people of the future.”
What does this tell about such reactions to literature? To me it highlights the issue of a particular approach to historical texts and, in my view, that approach is grounded in the realisation that a default reading of history is commonly from a moral perspective. That can result from an inappropriate cognitive bias, hence the ahistorical fallacy of Moral Presentism. Moral Presentism is the ingredient in the activity of what is called Retrospective Bigotteering – accusing ancient individuals or groups of violating todays ethical norms. This inevitably results in serious anachronisms.
And surely the study of history is to enable an understanding of individuals, groups and events such that it can inform us about what beliefs, attitudes and ethics motivated individuals to behave the way they did and how these compare to those of today. Hence comparisons can inform us of how these have changed in the meantime according to changing historical contexts.

Last edited 3 years ago by michael stanwick
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
3 years ago

“And surely the study of history is to enable an understanding of individuals, groups and events such that it can inform us about … Hence comparisons can inform us of how these have changed in the meantime according to changing historical contexts.”
Or inform us as to some fundamentals in human nature that never change and the importance of a current environment in encouraging these less “civilised” traits to emerge.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Chris – I’ve just given you a “Thumb Up” but it seems to have increased your negative tally. ?????

Andrew Kirk
Andrew Kirk
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

You’re right. You don’t know anything about Shakespeare.

David Morley
David Morley
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

This hardly seems to set a good example for our young people of the future. 

But we shouldn’t be coming to the classics for simple morality tales or off the peg solutions to current problems. Surely at least part of what we are doing is tapping into debates that have been ongoing for a long time.
Finding that in some ways people in the past were like us, while in others they were very different (slaves, women), but that they themselves did not see this as particularly incongruous, is part of the interest.
And it sets us thinking about the aspects of our own cultures that will seem bizarre and incongruous to those who come after us.