In Response to: Who Owns the Past?

Using Greco-Roman culture to support political agendas, for good or bad, goes back centuries. Examples:

  • Dante used the idea of a secular emperor to argue against papal power.
  • At the beginning of the Age of Exploration, a Spanish scholar named Sepúlveda used Aristotle to defend slavery.
  • During the Counter-Reformation, the Catholic Church used Aristotle to bash Galileo for “heresy.”
  • In later centuries, religious skeptics like Gibbon and Nietzsche considered ancient Rome the embodiment of “manly virtue” and blamed Christianity for undermining it.
  • In the Victorian Era, homosexuals used terms like “Sappho” and “Greek love” to escape what was then a stigma.
  • In Edwardian England, classics professor Gilbert Murray used Greek philosophy to support liberal causes. His friend George Bernard Shaw portrayed him in Major Barbara as the scholar Adolphus.

 What the alt-right is doing is just more of the same politicking. The crucial thing is not to accept their caricature as real history.

Charles Brown ’77
Atlanta, Ga.