Cancel culture and classics in the pillory


By John

And the index of forbidden books, the books at the stake, the control of culture, the systematic attack on the study of the classics were not enough. It also took the “cultural erasers”, the “persecutors of memory”, to impose censorship starting from the prestigious universities of Princeton and Howard University in Washington, which from 2021 have no longer required their students to have knowledge of Latin and Greek as a precondition for graduating in classics. The motivation? «To create a more inclusive and egalitarian program, given the role of the classics, “accomplices” in the history of systemic racism, from colonialism to female marginalization up to the supremacy of “whites”». In short, to “remove everything that does not conform to the values ​​and models of the present” the texts of the ancient Greeks and Romans must be removed as they are racist. A dangerous drift, that of cancel cultureThat Mario Lentanofull professor of Latin Language and Literature at the University of Siena, where he is also a member of the “Anthropology and Ancient World Center” directed by Maurizio Bettini, as well as the author of numerous scientific and popular texts, explains in his beautiful book «Classics in the pillory. The Romans, racism and cancel culture” (Salerno Editrice), presented at the Regional Interdisciplinary Museum of Messina. A meeting full of suggestions, born on the initiative of Fulvia Toscano, teacher and artistic director of Naxoslegge and with the patronage and participation of the Classical Culture Association, “P.Sgroj-G.Morabito” Delegation of Messina, and its president Anita Di Stefano (University of Messina), of the Archeoclub of Italy, Integrated area of ​​the Strait and its president Rosanna Trovato and of the Archeoclub of Italy, Naxos-Taormina-Valle Alcantara and its president Tamako Chemi.

Conversing with Lentano, after greetings from the director of the Museum Orazio Micali, were Anna Maria Urso, professor of classical philology at the University of Messina, and Daniele Macris, teacher of Latin and Greek at the “Maurolico” high school and president of the Hellenic Community of the Strait. «This book is a j'accuse towards cancel culture – said Urso –, this is already demonstrated by the cover image, a bleached Athena that alludes to the theme in an iconic way. In the epilogue chapter you respond to one of the charges with which cultural erasers send the ancient world to trial on charges of racism. But in the three preceding chapters, through the stories of the founding myths of Rome and the analysis of the words of classical texts, an investigation is carried out aimed at discovering whether the Romans were actually racist. The conclusion is a full acquittal for the accusation of racism, although they certainly cannot be acquitted of that of sexism, of violence, of imperialism, of having practiced slavery on a large scale.”

«Words – continued Lentano – are great descriptors of the world and if a culture does not feel the need to equip itself with a term, it means something. In the Latin vocabulary there is no term comparable to the Italian “race”: in fact the term “genus” has a breadth of meanings that go far beyond any biological and genetic concept of race. And then the adjective “albus”, “white”, has never been used in the plural to designate light-skinned individuals, identifying them as a distinct division of humanity as opposed to others. The Romans were aware of the fact that there are different skin pigmentations (also thanks to the practice of slavery) but they attributed this to environmental and climatic factors, not to genetic characteristics, as is clear from the term “Aethiopes”, Ethiopians, to indicate those who have “ his face burnt by the sun.” Ethiopians, moreover, held in high esteem by the gods, as attested in Homer and Herodotus.”
The word “race” – Macris then observed – «seems to be present for the first time between the end of the 13th century and the beginning of the 14th, in a text attributed to Dino Compagni. Used in the masculine, “rocket”, it derives from haraz, “enclosure in which horses are bred”. Which makes us reflect on the degradation of the term and its use in the great slave trade towards America and Europe.”

«Roman history is a story of grafts and exiles – added Lentano –, as Seneca's enlightened words remind us. The Romans, the founding myths tell us, were not indigenous, the idea of ​​an open, “inclusive” society, which “gives asylum”, has been present since Romulus, and even before Aeneas, Evander and even Saturn, the exiled god, and by Janus, the wandering god. It is anti-historical to attribute our parameters of judgment to the ancients, we cannot build an open society by erasing diversity and reducing the cultural offering. Certain ancient pages make us face our lies, our discomfort in the face of what we have been and still are. The ancients, even if they are sometimes irritatingly different, intrigue us, teach us, concern us.”