The Historically Contingent 'Race' Problem

At a basketball game last weekend while sitting at the scorers tables keeping book, I was asked by a ref whether or not I believed that whiteness was real. It wasn't a totally random, inappropriate question--I had Denise McCoskey's book Race: Antiquity and its Legacy and he saw it sitting there. I think I must have looked at him puzzled, but then said "Yeah. It exists."

I mean, I find the whiteness of my normal environment kind of overwhelming sometimes--our whole team (6th grade girls travel ball) and pretty much all of our teams generally in my town are 100% white. And we were playing an almost entirely black team--the reality of our whiteness was pretty obvious. This is a normally odd feeling for someone who grew up in a minority white place with a mostly non-white family. And, yes, I think about (and write about and talk about) race all the time, so the question should not have puzzled me--the context just threw me for a second.

But it also got me thinking about how I often respond to questions about race in antiquity--all the caveats and the definitions and the fine distinctions and nuances. And then I thought about why we so often try to avoid talking about race in antiquity at all (we talk about "ethnicity" instead) and all the reasons we give--why I have done so, even. And then I thought about how I would have talked to the ref at the game about all of this and how big of an eye roll I would have gotten.

And yet, as an academic, I find explaining the history of race in a clear and meaningful way difficult, especially when most of us classicists seem to want to avoid talking about race in antiquity at all. Read any book on ethnicity and you'll find some dance around the term "race" explaining why we don't use it. Some of the ways scholars do this is with fun little trite phrases like:

"Race is a social construct" and so not real and so we can ignore it. Except that social constructs are thoroughly "real" in their impacts and in shaping the worlds we live in and study.

"Race is biological and we are talking about culture." No it isn't. It is cultural and social and political. The biological part is part of its imaginary reality. The rooting of it in biology is what makes it dangerous. It emphasizes that character is embedded in physiognomy at some primordial date in the past. It privileges a mythical 'nature' over the reality of socialized, racist 'nurture.'

I think for many of us, myself included, to speak of ethnicity carries less baggage than to speak of race, but also, to speak of ethnicity is easier because we can connect it to the Greeks, at least, through the term ethnos, while race is "foreign." In my book on metic ("immigrant") women, I used ethnicity to discuss individuals mostly because people were identified on their tombstones by an ethnos--their city of origin, and most of the foreign women in Athens of the 5th and 4th centuries BCE were Greeks, too, just not Athenians. But there was and is a valid reason for me to have talked about race, which I did, but maybe not enough.

If we think about what race is, its really a way of thinking, not a "thing." It's a way of thinking that assumes hierarchies. It assumes one group of people is inherently better than another. It assumes that there is a connection between geography and identity that can't change--that you take the geography of your primordial origins with you through time and space. The Athenians believed in something like this. Its why some of us (Susan Lape, importantly, here and here) talk about race and racial identity and citizenship--the Athenians very clearly believed that they were superior to others inherently based on their birth (indigenous to their land--an autochthonous birth unrelated to the descent of other humans) and that they had to preserve this superiority by rejecting intermarriage with non-Athenians (anti-miscegenation) and in this way retaining their purity. This is pretty close to race and race thinking in in the modern world.

So, the women I studied were excluded and legally oppressed because of their race--they weren't Athenian. Didn't matter that they were Greek. And yet, while I talked about "racial citizenship" and "racial thinking", I didn't use the word "race" but "ethnic identity" when speaking of individuals and the group they belonged to. That's kind of cowardly of me, in some ways. Whatever other types of identities they constructed, Athenians had a concept of "race" that maps pretty well onto ours--even if they didn't have anything like modern race science to underscore it.

In truth, no identities are "real," if by "real" we mean an impermeable category that someone is born into that is defined through immutable characteristics. That "real" doesn't exist. No identity that we have (internally of externally constructed) can meet this criteria. Does that mean identities aren't "real," though, in the sense that they matter in the way we navigate the world around us?

Could I have explained this to the ref at the game? That, well, yes, I study ancient Athens and they were racists and were the "white people" of their day, even though the only actual "white people" in the city would have been the rich women or the Scythian slaves or someone with a bad skin condition or disease? He probably would have asked me why I would want to study a bunch of racists. I think some of us still struggle with the answer to that particular question.

Sometimes, it takes just a moment to realize that, when people talk about academics as "out of touch," there are reasons for it. It takes a special form of distance to be able to treat something that is so much a part of the lived experiences of others (and not in a good way necessarily) and treat it in a rationalized and abstract manner. As one commenter on a recent Twitter conversation noted (about a different issue)*:

I don't say "objective manner" for a reason, though. Because when we talk about issues like sexual assault (which the above commenter is referring to) or race and racism, objective is really just another word for "not an issue I have to deal with" or "privilege." And it is also something that results from the viewing of "black" as a race but not "white." If we "don't see race" or think that we can deal with it "objectively" or "rationally" it's because we have lived without its weight for most or all of our lives.

We academics, especially those who deal with the distant past, are trained to abstract ourselves. But, as I tell my students all the time--objectivity is a myth (which is what ideals are); whoever writes the narrative or compiles the evidence and pieces it together is a subjective part of the history. Whoever asks the questions and sets the parameters for the experiment or interprets that resulting data has included their subjective self in the study. There are no self-evident, self-monitoring, self-completing, self-narrating events, studies, or experiments. All we can do is be aware of our subjective input and do our best to not let it overtake us.

And we need to recognize this when the quest for objectivity leads us to split hairs and our lack of experience leads us to only be able to theorize and not be able to engage with our object of inquiry when they are a real person's subjective reality. Race is a reality too many of us scholars on race and ethnicity in antiquity have trouble thinking about in anything but an abstracted way because we project race (regardless of our knowledge that skin color =/= race) onto people of color both in our field and in our studies and leave whiteness as a colorless, raceless norm. We assume whiteness for the Greeks and Romans even when we don't mean too because we only ever picture race and ethnicity in antiquity as non-Greeks and Romans.

But white people have race now and ancient Greeks--the Athenians, at least--also had race then. And still we treat "race" like a historically contingent nuisance that we can articulate away through philological sophisms and rhetorical sleights of hand. We act like it is our scholarly responsibility to place it on its modern shelf and not taint our ancients with. It's one of the many reasons we have a racism and race problem in Classics.

None of this ruminating helps me with the problem of being able to articulate a history of race to the ref on the fly during a time out. But at least I can be a little more honest with myself as I prepare to do more scholarship on the history of race in antiquity and classics' contributions to modern white supremacy.

For a recent discussion of some of the dynamics of racism and race in our field see "Episode 51: Race & Racism in Ancient & Medieval Studies, Part 1: The Problem." Episode 52 (Part 2) is coming out Wednesday. A good discussion of the terms for race, ethnicity, nation, etc. in the Greek, Latin, and Anglo-Saxon is their "Episode 44: 'Us' & 'Them' in the Ancient and Anglo-Saxon Worlds."


*A reference to the Twitter convo I had with Mary Beard the other day on how using the USA Gymnastics case to talk about the need for sentencing reform was a bit tone deaf and she shouldn't be surprised if people just didn't have time for it. The commenter above joined the fray and said some very thoughtful things.

The Dorian Invasion and 'White' Ownership of Classical Greece?

I was speaking with a student last semester. She loves Classics, but she can't seem to get her parents to understand why. She's Indian and her family and family friends, she tells me, have asked her things like why she wants to give up her own culture and study someone else's. India, of course, has a long history with the ancient Greeks and Romans. Greeks even settled in parts of what was called India in antiquity (though are parts of various modern nations now). India appears in our Greek sources as early as Herodotus (and earlier is some fragmentary works), was an important players in the ancient trade networks that went through the Persian empire, and became part of Greek reality in the Hellenistic world as a major political and military player. The idea that the study of Classics is 'foreign' to a student from India more than the descendants of Celts and Germans and Norse people is weird. And one needs to wonder why (though we already know the answer: hint, it's racism).

I should not wonder why, however, as I (mistakenly) spent time today reading the comments on an article concerning the casting of a black man as Achilles in the new BBC Troy series, Troy: Fall of a City. Within the comments, all sorts of tales of genetics and descent are being thrown around--both for and against Europe or Africa as the originator of all races, the place of 'whites' vs. 'blacks' in Egypt (with the subset of Cleopatra as Greek, Arab, or black African), whether Neanderthals are part of this conversation or not, and then the "just because we come from Africa doesn't mean we are black" divisioning between sub-Saharan and north African. And then we get fun comments like (all screen grabs of comments are from the article on black Achilles unless otherwise noted):

I'm white. And yet, I have certainly not felt over the 25 years during which I have studied and worked to become a Classics professor that Classics and 'everything' came from me or belonged to me. I'm from a small town near Akron, Ohio in the middle of the US and then moved to San Diego, CA. I'm a first gen college student. Most of my family have no idea what I actually do. They certainly don't spend all that much time thinking about ancient Greece and Rome and their ownership of it in an unbroken line of descent. How can this field 'belong' to me? It doesn't. Or so I thought...

Turns out, I was wrong! I am pretty much solid German on my mom's side (she was the first generation of her family in the US to marry a non-German dating back to before the Revolutionary War) and, it so happens that, according to the Nazis and their Romantic-Nationalist predecessors and many a neo-Nazi today, THAT MAKES ME DORIAN GREEK!

In other words, it's time to talk about the myth of the so-called "Dorian Invasion" and the myth of an Aryan Ancient Greece.

H/T for the map.
As with many a historical myth about the origins of various Greek cultures, this one has a source in Herodotus and was an attempt by mostly German scholars (at first, it seems) to explain the changes in language from non-Hellenic to Hellenic. The mysterious Pelasgians appear as a 'native' substrate of possibly Anatolian origin (except the Athenians, who were indigenous but 'became Greek' by changing languages..maybe..Herodotus is a bit dodgy on this one), while the Dorians--those vigorously masculine Greeks best represented by the Spartans, as you can see from the map above--from a pre-Nazi text--those Dorians came from Germany!

The myth of the Dorian/Aryan/Nordic invasion begins, in many ways, as a failure of methodology, specifically, as a result of historical positivism. Historian Jonathan Hall once described historical positivism as a mode of seeing in "myths of ethnic origins a hazy and refracted recollection of genuine population movements" in the Bronze Age. Variants of these myths were "pathological aberrations from a 'real' historical memory" (Hall, Ethnic Identity in Greek Antiquity, 41). Unfortunately, these "pathological aberrations" became bound to ideological positions that became linked to political parties and movements and race science.

As one can read all about in my new favorite book Brill's Companion to the Classics and Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany (the chapters by Wiedemann and Whyte specifically) or (going back pre-Nazi) in Helen Roche's Sparta’s German Children, Hitler and many a German firmly believed that Spartans/Dorians and Germans were one people and that the martial valor and glory of Greece was the result of Germans invading Greece and establishing a civilization. They, the modern Germans, were the both the progenitors of ancient Greek civilization and its heirs. And they, as Tacitus explained to them, were a pure people. Their Blut und Boden  ideology explained both who they were and why they were born to be conquerors.

I've even read 19th century texts that suggest that some German scientists and anthropologists explained the fall of ancient Greek civilization by the deterioration of Germans too long from their proper climate--the heat of Greece enervated them over time, making the rise of a new Greece in Germany the only solution. Hitler certainly saw it that way as did many of his predecessors, like Karl Otfried Müller. Whatever other flaws there may be in Martin Bernal's Black Athena, pointing out the long trail of classical philologists and historians invested in a northern European invasion as the only possible explanation for the development of an advanced civilization in southern Europe was not wrong. The Aryan/Dorian (later Nordic) invasion was used to explain not only ancient Greek civilizations, but also those throughout Asia and even north Africa.
How long did historians and archaeologist struggle to fit the evidence into a narrative of a Dorian invasion? This great article from 1978 gives you a clue. And yet, even while scholars have moved on, the general population has not. And the recourse this public makes to genetics is complicating the issue. While there is quite a bit of good work being done in the realm of genetics, popularizing articles in magazines like Science and  National Geographic make it seem like we have hundreds upon hundreds of solid samples to text from, resulting in "new" discoveries every few months in the origins of genes for "whiteness" or "blackness" or homo sapiens vs. Neanderthals, etc.

Typically, however, we have only a few samples and tests of the sort that discovered "The Greeks really do have near-mythical origins, ancient DNA reveals" suffer from numerous flaws in the data (small sample sizes, assumptions about migration patterns, comparisons only with modern populations, choosing not to randomize samples) and give the general population a sense of certainty where there is none. The results are comments like:

This is a comment on Dimitri Nakassis' blog post about the Science article. The commentator and his predecessor "Double Helix" view the result of a 4-16% admixture of "northern" DNA possible for the samples labeled Mycenaean as DNA proof, to the commentator and others, of the Dorian/Aryan/Nordic reality of ancient Greece.  The longevity of this myth that all southern European, north African, and Eastern/Central Asian civilizations were the result of northern invaders is real, even if it is now playing out in the realm of pseudo-science. Whatever someone wants to believe, they will find evidence or skew evidence to support it because that's how ideology works.

But the Aryan/Dorian/Nordic myth does real harm if Classicists and ancient historians don't challenge it and do it regularly. It excludes people from our discipline whose history it is just as much as it is anyone's (more so in some cases) by allowing one small group of people--'white' people--to lay claim to it. It also puts a value on whiteness that encourages adoption of 'whiteness' as a way of viewing and moving in the world by those peoples who may have been excluded in the past--like  Greeks or Latino people, who are increasingly identifying as white while simultaneously developing virulent strains of white supremacy of their own. We see valuation on whiteness lead some individuals (like N. Taleb) to reject and work tirelessly to argue away cultural heritage and connections to a non-northern European past.

In the end, the lingering myth of a Aryan invasion in the popular imagination, though now grounded in different 'evidence',  perpetuates the whiteness of our field, continues to send a message that Classical Greece 'belongs' to northern Europe, and, perhaps the worst thing of all, seems to have made some corners of the internet nostalgic for the 2004 Troy movie and Brad Pitt as Achilles. What can we do when theories long debunked continue to prosper and cause harm? In addition to trying to make our research accessible to the broader public, I say we enjoy the new Achilles.

Impacts of Teaching Race and Ethnicity in the Classical World

One of the questions we ask ourselves whenever we rethink our teaching or, as has been an explicit part of the conversations around teaching race/ethnicity or gender/sexuality in antiquity, when we introduce new approaches to old material is what is the impact. This semester, I made explicit in my Ancient Identities class what I'd always interlaced implicitly--I incorporated current events and conversations directly in the reading and as part of the requirements for students' final projects. I wanted to share some of the results/impacts. I'll start first with providing comments from student course evaluations and then list the names (with some description) of student final projects. Excluded from the evals is the normal "Prof. Kennedy sometimes overestimates the amount of reading we can do..." Of course I do. We all do. It's how you know we are professors.

Evaluations from Ancient Identities (Fall 2017):

"After taking this course, I now have an interest in understanding how Greeks and Romans constructed their identity by analyzing and comparing their identity with others. Most importantly, I am now curious to see how people's interpretations of ancient texts influence modern events...The instructor was fun to learn from. She challenged my thinking and pushed me to be more analytical in my understanding of the readings. But beyond that, she encouraged me to think more in the abstract, which is something that is not often encouraged in many courses."

"You really pushed me outside of my comfort zone and got me to think about concepts in a new way which I really appreciate. I really learned so much in your class and I also struggled a lot but that is always a good part of learning."

"This course is an excellent one for dismantling assumptions. There are so many implicit assumptions about the ancient world present in modern society for which there is NO evidence in classical sources. This course was incredibly challenging, as we could not take any prior knowledge of the classical world for granted. I also liked the structure, starting with the theories of antiquity and then moving to evaluating evidence using those theories."

"I knew nothing about the class so I was skeptical but I was also really curious to take it...I feel like I have a whole new perspective on the subject and I am very glad I took this class."

"I was very interested in the time period but never really thought of the identity and race aspect of the time period...There were many tough questions asked, a lot of questions that really had no specific answer, which challenged you to really think about things ."

"I wasn't sure what the identities part of class would be but as a classics student I was already excited for the course...this course made me think very differently about the ancient world."

"It is really intriguing to consider the construction of race, but it is also discouraging to see all the biased/racist constructs in modern America that I feel like I have power to change...Our readings also sometimes required us to analyze issues I have not put much thought into...The diversity of reading material was great. It kept it more interesting when switching between ancient and modern texts. Class discussion was good...It would be interesting to have a segment of the class be about actions taken in the ancient world and modern world against racism. This would pair nicely when reading all of the depressing articles at the end of the semester and leave us more encouraged and driven to do something with the knowledge we have gained in this course."

"This class covered a lot of difficult topics and pushed my ability to think critically and push myself to think of topics in more than one light."

Titles of Student Final Projects (Fall 2017):

I am not including links to the project blog as I have now made their assignments private for FERPA reasons, but, here is the description of the assignment:

"The final project for this class is a hybrid creative/research project that asks students to look comparatively at the ancient and modern worlds by using ancient ideas about racial/ethnic identity to think through a contemporary debate/problem/etc.  For the project, students are asked to write an 1000-1500 word essay that includes citations to both our ancient readings and modern news/scholarship/texts/videos/etc."

Students picked their own topics, linked to current and recent media about the topic and used our ancient sources to think about the issue. I was (mostly) very impressed.

Pax Americana: How American Nationalism Rewrote the History of Rome
Cultural Theories in The Phantom Menace (an oldie, but a goodie)
Connections between ancient and modern Jews
How Has Ethnocentrism Transitioned Through Antiquity Into Modern Times?--on accepting refugees
Standing Rock and Roman Civilization
Decentralization: Greek Civilization, Athenian Democracy, and Bitcoin
The Next Step in the Evolution of Eugenics--from SParta and Plato to the Holocaust to  CRISPR cas9
Romans and Americans: Who are we to judge?--nation of immigrants, melting pots, and white supremacy
A Heritage or an Identity?--on Confederate monuments
Why are Native Americans still using blood quantum to determine tribal membership?--on the racist origins of blood quantum
Anti-Russian Propaganda--Use of Classical imagery during the Cold War
Immigration in the US, Athens, and Rome
Language and Identity: Russia and the Crimean Crisis
From Airs, Waters, and Places to Water, Lead, and Identity: An Analysis of the Fragile Human  
     ego to Control the Environment
Refugee Crises as a Threat to National Identity--are they?
Pocahontas Battling the White Man--Disney meets Herodotus
A Dichotomy: Being “white” on the census vs. being “white” in America
Seriously, Does Cultural Appropriation Exist?
The Film Industry Addressing Ancient Issues--Scottish stereotypes in Trainspotting
Rethinking Opportunity--on disability and the American Dream
Coerced birth control injections by the Israeli government: the continuation of an ancient stance 
     against heterogeneity
Since When Did Diversity Look So Dim?--asking why affirmative action exists and exploring whether it works as it should

So, I think the class this semester was a big success. I could not have asked for students to do more than they did (except maybe spend a wee bit more time reading...). But they engaged the big questions and the little ones that make up the big questions and came away thinking about them more than they did before. That's a win.

Reflections on Doing Public Scholarship

This August, I participated in a faculty symposium on my campus where I was one of 6 faculty reflecting on different aspects of what it means to do public scholarship or be a "public intellectual." It was really interesting to listen to my colleagues who either study public intellectuals of the past, study attitudes towards them today, or engage in different types of public scholarship than I do (theatre making as public scholarship, science blogging on the Discovery channel, etc.). 

One of the things that became pretty clear in the discussion is that if you are a white man, being a public intellectual is not as hard as it is if you are in some way something else. I have decided, as I prepare to head off to the annual conference for classicists and archaeologists that will be happening come hell or 'Bomb Cyclone', to post my remarks reflecting on the value of public scholarship from the symposium.


There are lots of great reasons from someone in a field like classics to engage in public outreach--it increases visibility of the field, helps entice donors to digs, increases the number of students who may want to study it and reduces the number of parents who don’t know what classics is. My own experiences and those of a number of my colleagues in Classics and ancient history (and our Medievalist colleagues), however, have shown the risks as well. The general public that tends to be interested in things classical is not necessarily the general public that one hopes to attract. While there are good people who took a class or two in college or even did their undergrad in it who want to connect, a large demographic of the public interested in classics are white people who view classics as “western”and therefore “white” history or who are openly supremacists and neo-nazis. They appropriate antiquity in a myriad of ways to support their dreams of a “white nation.” Public engagement for us, as a result, comes with both risks and rewards. 

Classics has a long and complicated history with respect to modern race constructs and justifications for colonialism and imperialism. Over the course of the last 40 or so years, however, the field--at least a portion of the field--has been coming to grips with its biases and complicity and sought to correct the historical record by engaging critically with past scholarship, with new archaeological and material artifacts, by widening the canon of authors and texts we teach and research on, and, more recently, by engaging in more public outreach to make all of this research accessible to a wider public. Many in the public, however, prefer the 19th and early 20th century writings about ancient Greece and Rome--writings that are in the public domain-- and that their ideologies depend upon. They do not take kindly to the so-called “Social Justice Warrior Revisionists” who are indoctrinating the youth in colleges and who are set on destroying the “foundations of western civilization.”

My colleague Prof. Sarah Bond, whose story you read about in one of the pre-symposium readings, is only one of several classicists who have found themselves in the cross hairs of white supremacists and right wing media for trying to bring what is established fact among scholars into public spaces. Sarah has a personal blog, publishes a regular column in Forbes, and also does invited pieces, like the one in Hyperallergic that earned her a large number of anti-semitic and sexist comments and even threats of violence. She is a member of our national organization’s outreach committee and had not considered it dangerous before. That can change quickly if you work in what is often called “identity politics”--Sarah doesn’t normally, but her art history article touched a nerve with people who want classics to be white history for white people and any hint that the ancient Mediterranean was “diverse” raises a cry from them.

Sarah’s article was in a popular publication, but others are being targeted for their scholarship in academic journals and presses. Her case, though, is illustrative of how the targeting works--first, her article was picked up by an intern at Campus Reform, a group that considers itself a policer of liberal academics. They like scholarship on climate change,  studies on “whiteness”, gender and sexuality studies, diversity in the classical world, etc. They write an article about it, typically one that misrepresents what the scholar actually writes. This then mobilizes a literal army of trolls who begin to attack the author in the comments sections to their article, in emails or, more frequently, on Twitter. They sometimes contact university administrators making threats or calling for the person’s firing. Sometimes, as in the case of both Sarah and another one of her colleagues at Iowa, the scholar might receive a call from the schedulers on the Tucker Carlson Show, which one should always, I am told, reject. If you are lucky, you both published in a forum that helps moderate the threats and work at a university that mobilizes behind you and provides you risk management and legal support, if needed. Sarah was fortunate on both counts, others are not so lucky.

If any of you are not aware of the current situation surrounding Prof. Tommy Curry, a philosopher at Texas Tech, you should look it up. Lack of institutional support for his public scholarship has left him living under continuing threats of violence. When we do public scholarship, the question of how it “counts” or where it “fits” in our roles at the university, something our colleague Paul Djupe's survey engaged, matters, as does how our institutions support us. And it is something I’ve thought lot about as I’ve made my return to public engagement. Because it isn’t just a matter of whether it counts for tenure and promotion, but whether our institutions--institutions that benefit greatly from the work of public scholars--actually support us if things get messy.

I first considered venturing into public scholarship back in 2009. I had an opportunity to be a “talking head” in 3 episodes of a History Channel international series (sorry, no aliens). Filming was fun, the reactions of my friends and family when they saw me on TV was fun. Not fun were the sexually harassing and disgusting emails I starting receiving (and occasionally still receive) from men whose only response to women being experts in anything (and I was the only woman in 2 of the episodes, one of 2 in the other) is to try to make them go away. And that’s what I did. But last year something changed my mind.

Another colleague of mine, Donna Zuckerberg, found herself last November the recipient of anti-semitic and sexist threats on Twitter, in emails, and in comments on an essay she wrote calling upon the field of classics to engage more directly in the teaching and researching of race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, the positions of women and slaves in antiquity. Her own research has focused on the way Men’s Rights Activist groups and so-called “Red Pill” communities on the web appropriate classics to justify and support their idea about women and race. Her work bringing this material to the public has put her in their crosshairs, especially since she has opted to forgo a traditional academic career to create and edit an online magazine called Eidolon for bringing the work of scholars to the general public. What institutional support does she have?

S0, my return to public-facing work started with me asking Donna what the Women’s Classical Caucus, an organization I currently co-chair, could do to support her. It ended with me writing for her. I was, you might imagine, a little apprehensive. But, as a specialist in race and ethnicity in antiquity and the reception of these ideas in modern race science, the best thing I could do to support her and others was to write about it for the public.

Since my conversation with her in January of last year, I have written 2 articles for her magazine (one published in May, the second in Sept). I’ve restarted my blog (previously untouched since 2014), where I focus mostly on the way the intersection of ancient views of race and modern one, of racist appropriations of the classical past, and sometimes, women and gender. I am also using the blog to promote better public knowledge about the diversity of the ancient world and for providing material for learning about it. To that end, I have created an online bibliography to which my colleagues have also begun contributing for the study of and teaching of race and ethnicity in antiquity and I make my  own syllabi available to anyone who wants to adapt them. I’m also participating in public syllabi projects. I’ve also been invited to participate in a number of conference panels or workshops on classics and white supremacy. 

The audience for my public scholarship is both my colleagues in classics and anyone in the public at large who has interests in the classical world. Frequently, the readers who have the most issue with what I and my colleagues say about race in antiquity are the non-professionals. As one commenter on a said “It seems that opinion is divided with professional historians and classicists on one side and interested lay people on the other.” So, one of the questions I have had to consider when it comes to audience is what do “interested lay people” have invested in classics?

Many seem to be invested in the idea of a fully “white” antiquity, which suggests they may not want to hear what I and my colleagues have to say.  So, part of my public engagement goal is to try to sway those who can be swayed to love the classical world for reasons other than a false fantasy of it being a white wonderland and to get them to embrace a more accurate picture of the past. I also try to demonstrate how modern misconceptions came into being--though it is challenging to get people to understand that pointing out past racism in classical scholarship isn’t an accusation of racism in all current admirers of antiquity. I’ve been accused of betraying my race, of trying to induce white guilt, and even of hating classics. The toughest part of public engagement for me really is not replying to everyone who is wrong on the internet.

These are the risks. But, there are rewards as well--Prof Bond’s article and the response to it have engendered real conversations concerning the display and teaching of classical art. Donna’s journal Eidolon, has a regular readership of around 10,000 now and just celebrated its 2nd anniversary; it has been inspiring a more diverse classics and  giving voice to many in our field who haven’t felt like they couldn’t speak before.

For me, the rewards have been more personal. I feel invigorated doing the work and I’ve been thanked by younger scholars for bringing issues of racism and classics’ role in it to more public attention. In a field that is over 90% white, being public and reflective about our own history as a field can make a big difference. We need to own our past and recognize how embedded racism (and sexism) are in our field.

Over the last year, white supremacist’s love for the classicists has manifested in distressing ways and the question of the risks vs. rewards for public scholarship has become all too real. But none of the women I know who are doing this work--and the people doing this work are overwhelmingly younger women in the field--are not backing down despite the threats. And, far from intimidating me into hiding this time around, the attacks on my colleagues and friends, and the open references to things classical by white supremacists in their hateful manifestos and recruitment campaigns, have galvanized me to do more and to work with others to create support for any scholar in our field who chooses to use their expertise to inform public debate.

The question of support should concern us all, though. Was Prof. Bond supported by her institution because her work was not directly related to contemporary race and so the response easily classifiable as absurd? My own public scholarship engages directly with racism today and how classics is used to support it. Would my university support me if I were threatened for that writing? What can and should universities do to be prepared for the possibility that they too may face a challenges of public outrage over public scholarship by their faculty? And what about our colleagues who may not be full-time faculty, who may be graduate students, who may not be directly affiliated with a university but are members of our profession and our professional organizations? What can our professional organizations do to help?

We live, for better or for worse, in interesting times, and now more than ever, I’ve come to believe that those of us who can participate in public engagement should--even though the risks are real and the rewards are not necessarily always immediate or clear. And I hope that as more faculty decide to use their expertise to inform public debates more institutions will support them in doing so.


Top Posts of 2017--An Assessment

Everybody's doing it, so why don't we! Here is a run down of the top 10 posts (based on stats) to my blog for 2017 and what we can tell about the state of the world from it.

The List

10. How is the Ancient Mediterranean Diverse If Everyone There Is "White"?

An attempt to disconnect the ubiquitous concept of "whiteness" from the issue of "diversity" as it pertains to both ancient Mediterranean contexts and to our modern construct of race.  Lots of links to good work being done in biological/forensic anthropology.

Roy Moore isn't the only one to think that dating children is OK! It was a widespread ancient practice and if you (selectively) base your morality on ancient texts (I'm looking at you, evangelical Christians), you might think it is OK, too. It's not. 

The idea that North Africans are all historically "white" and sub-Saharan Africans all historically "Black" is not supported by our ancient sources. We should think about how we selectively use evidence to demonstrate modern racist points. Or how we unwittingly continue parroting 19th century racist ideas without going back to the sources. 

Lots of Neo-Nazis like to point to genetics as the proof that white people rule the world and are the source for all cultures worth studying. Sad for them, it's not true. This post examined the way modern genetics categories are created and their inherent subjectivity. Genetics runs the risk of becoming the new eugenics as it becomes popular with people who don't actually know much about genetics or know enough to manipulate it to look like it proves their points (looking at you, Taleb).

This one is a work in progress, but it shares my own and others' syllabi for teaching race and ethnicity in classical antiquity. Keep watching it as it will just keep expanding.

Conservative defenders of the current President often point to his defense of "western civilization". But the Western Civilization of DT and his friends is a toxic stew of white supremacy and misogyny that many of us who study and teach it don't recognize. Mark Bauerlein tried to support this stew on Thanksgiving and I. Just. Could. Not. 

There is a long-standing trope in scholarship and among modern people who want to deride affirmative consent movements that antiquity did not have a concept of consent. On the contrary, laws from Greece and Rome as far back as the 7th century BCE (and further back in Hammurabi's Law Code outside of GReece/Rome) show a clear concept of consent. Consent matters and it always has.

My favorite since it is part of an ongoing research project that is close to my heart, here I did a cursory look at the ways classical iconography and architecture were used at the Chicago World's Fair to intentionally connect the Classical with the idea of "whiteness" and white supremacy. The words of the creators were explicit, so this isn't something I just made up. Sorry. And, not a bit of polychromy in sight, of course...

Another ongoing labor of love that I want to share with others in my ever growing bibliography for studying and teaching race and ethnicity in the classical world. Since going live, I've added a reception section and am happy to add any new book I come across or that you recommend. The biblio is vast and I'm absolutely sure I don't have it all.


This one took off and has a life of its own with almost 30,000 hits since August 8. It takes its inspiration from the backlash to the BBC cartoon using a dark skinned family as well as the attacks on Sarah Bond and the response to one of my Eidolon articles. The answer to the question, of course, is that people are racist and want antiquity to match their white wonderland view of it. It doesn't. Get over it.

Honorable Mentions

1. Ethnicity in Herodotus--the Honest Entry (every scholar gets frustrated with their subject from time to time)


Well, it seems that this is the year when it is finally not only OK to talk about race and ethnicity in Classical antiquity, but it is actually of interest to the general public (my articles on the topic over at Eidolon were apparently very popular, both making the Eidolon top 12 for 2017). Why might that be?

White Supremacy in the White House, Charlottesville, Nazis. Also, everyone is confused about what "whiteness" is. Western Civilization is FAILING (according to David Brooks). We all know race is a constructed category (even those in denial), but one with a lot of power. And, we seem to finally be ready to come to grips a bit more with Classics' complicity in US racism. 

I'll be writing more on this in the new year as I work on a book and some articles on the topic, especially on its ties to scientific racism, but I'll also do a bit more on women/gender/sexuality since I'm teaching it next term and I get a lot of inspiration from my students. Will I ever write about anything else? Probably. I just haven't gotten there yet.

All in all, this has been a good year for the blog. It's the year I actually started using it and, it turns out, I actually have some things to say...

Classically White Supremacy--The American Dream of a White City

Sarah Bond has written on the issue of the fetishization of whiteness in the history of art with respect to ancient sculpture. Her discussion centers on the influential work of  Johann Joachim Winckelmann and his monumental Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums (1764). Museums and expensive art books were one way Winckelmann's theories were popularized in the 18th and 19th centuries, at least in Europe, where there were large, "encyclopedic" museums developing (the British Museum, the Louvre, etc) with increasing numbers of marble sculptures. In the US, however, museums were not prevalent in the 19th or early 20th centuries and were still limited to places like Boston and New York. And yet, it is in the United States that this fetishization of classical whiteness seems to have become especially prevalent in popular culture. The question I want to examine here is how. And my suggestion for an answer is that the  1893 Chicago World's Fair, aka the Columbian Exposition, and the White City catapulted classical whiteness as ideal into the consciousness of Americans, and its impact has yet to fade. This is not a complete guide or exploration of the connections forged at this fair between Classics and white supremacy, but merely an attempt at a beginning.

Recently my class discussed the  Fair. That this fair (and those that followed), the forerunners of Disney Parks and Coney Island, were designed to popularize white supremacy came as a bit of a shock to them. It is probably a bit of a shock to many people. But the creators of the fairs--the masters of industry, the banks, the federal and state governments, university academics and museum officials--didn't hide this fact. Documents written by the designers of the fair were open that the fair was for white Americans to see their place at the top of a racial hierarchy, and for non-whites to remember their subordinate place (there are some awesome anecdotes about this--ask me sometime).

The goal of the Fair designers was to create a utopic vision of America that intertwined the idea of technological progress to imperialist and colonial racial hierarchies to divine will--to merge Christian morality with evolution and industrialization as a new form of American patriotism, to "heal" the country after the horrors of the Civil War with a new "American" brand of patriotism--a national holiday was proposed (Columbus Day) so people could attend the Fair's dedication and the Pledge of Allegiance made its public debut as part of the ceremony. The utopia and the unified America the Fair constructed, however, was an explicitly white one inspired by the classical past. The White City (the Fair proper) was constructed as:
"a little ideal world, a realization of Utopia...[foreshadowing] some far away time when the earth should be as pure, as beautiful, and as joyous as the White City itself" (Chicago Tribune Nov. 1, 1893 quoted in Rydell 1984. All the World's a Fair. U of Chicago Press). 
The position of non-whites was outside that utopia on the Midway Plaisance.

The construction and appearance of the White City was a homage to the Classical past in form, content, and ideology. The decision to build the White City along a stretch of marshy land along the shore of Lake Michigan reflected a confidence in the engineering and technology of the builders--Vitruvius himself would have been done proud by the feat. The designs for the building were neo-Classical and, although not marble (they weren't intended to be permanent), they were faced with plaster and painted white to reflect the whiteness of Parian marble.

Of course, how white were the buildings of Athens that coloration of the White City was intended to reflect? Pretty white (except for all the color!)--the Expo buildings lacked the painted friezes and other elements of their inspirations in Athens. More importantly, though, were the sculptures everywhere throughout the White City. It's one thing to surround oneself with white building, quite another to do so with monumentally sized white sculptures intended to reflect ideal beauty.

Each of the sculptures was commissioned for the Fair and showed clear Classical referencing. Even those sculptures that were not allegories or mythical (such as that of Agriculture right or the Statue of the Republic, also below) were intended to Classicize those they represented and elevate them to the level of the Classical past. Farmers, in particular, the "Average American" at whom the Fair's morality lessons were directly aimed--the "plain, sturdy, self-reliant, ambitious man" appeared in Classically monumental form.

This White City and its idealized America was set in direct contrast to the Midway Plaisance where the different peoples of the world were put on display as entertainment and morality lessons. Just a few images demonstrate the contrast intended between the power, beauty, and technological advancement of "white" America and the darker skinned "savages" both within the US and without.

The geography of the fairgrounds was designed to show the difference between the world of the white race and the world of those "lesser races." The contrast was not lost on fairgoers (and they discussed it in Classical terms):
"That Midway is just a representation of matter, and this great White City is an emblem of mind. In the Midway it's some dirty and all barbaric. It deafens you with noise; the worst folks in there are avaricious and bad; and the best are just children in their ignorance, and when you're bewildered with the smells and sounds and sights, always changin' like one o' these kaleidoscopes, and when you out that mile-long babel where you've been elbowed and cheated, you pass under a bridge--and all of a sudden you are in a great, beautiful silence. The angels on the Woman's Buildin' smile down and bless you, and you know that in what seems like one step you've passed out o' darkness and into light." (from the novel Sweet Clover, quoted in Rydell)
From the Nuremberg Chronicle.
The parade of "types" of peoples was meant to entertain and resembled more Pliny's peoples at the edges of the world than an accurate map of the world--stereotypes and exoticisms were emphasized in the name of entertainment.

How much of the theory of the expo, and not just the visuals, was also an explicit attempt to harness the wisdom of the classical past to white supremacy? The Congress on evolution on the "Intellectual and Moral Exposition of the Progress of Mankind" gave academic and scientific weight to the representation of the non-white peoples on the Midway.

The director of the government anthropology displays, Otis Tufton Mason, was himself immersed in ancient ideas on human diversity and embedded it into the fair.*
"The Chicago Exposition furnishes an excellent opportunity for testing the question--how far language coordinated itself with industries and activities as a mark of kinship and race, and how far climate and the resources of the earth control the arts and industries of mankind in the sphere of language and race." Otis Mason, Smithsonian Anthropologist and Coordinator for US Govt. Anthropology display at Chicago 1893
The ancient theory of environmental determinism (most explicitly discussed in the Hippocratic Airs, Waters, Places and in Bk 6 of Vitruvius' de Architectura) linked climate, geography, and topography to human cultural and physiological differences. Otis Mason was a strong proponent of the theory and linked it explicitly to technological advancement, particularly the ability of a culture to use technology to overcome limitations of environment. The thrust of his scholarship and his Smithsonian and World's Fair displays underscored this link, heavily influenced by his Classical education (he was, in fact, a Classics teacher before turning to Native American studies).

But the goal of the fair was to popularize these theories, particularly the race theories upon which white supremacy was founded and supported. And popularize these ideas, it did. Commentary on the Fair in Puck espoused a less "scientific" type of environmental determinism that shows how the science of the Smithsonian and university anthropologists would translate outside of academic circles:

Puck's illustration to mark the day set aside at the fair for African-Americans is particularly obvious:

The connection between the Classical past and the white guests was emphasized, particularly emphasizing the patriotism and Americanness of both classicism and whiteness:

The anthropological hierarchy of white America over all other races of the world was not subtle in the least:

The combination of the Classical past in imagery and idea with the technological innovation and patriotism expressed in the fair had the aim of creating a unified white America and recruit them on a journey to a great white utopia--a utopia that "average" Americans could be a part of. The impact of the fair's Classical architecture was decades of architectural mimicry in cities throughout the country. The equation of Classical antiquity with America and with "civilization" was a lasting memory.
"May we not hope that the lessons learned here, transmitted to the future, will be potent forces long after the multitudes which throng these aisles have all measured their span and faded away?" (Potter Palmer, 12 Oct. 1892, at the public dedication of the Fair).
Palmer's wish came true. The 1893 Chicago World's Fair forged an indelible bond between Classics and white supremacy that we are only now starting the shake loose over 100 years later.


For a fuller picture of the extent of Classical imagery used in the Fair, see the Rand McNally & Co. Handbook of the World's Columbian Exposition (1893), especially the sections describing the Midway, and the documentary Expo (narrated by Gene Wilder).

For those interested in the extent to which ancient theories of environmental determinism permeated the Smithsonian, see Brill's Companion to Classics and Early Anthropology, ed. by Emily Varto and scheduled for release in 2018. Among other relevant chapters in the volume, I have one on Mason and the relationship between his classical education and anthropological theories.

His Western Civilization is not My Western Civilization

The Parthenon in Athens. Often viewed as a symbol of
"Western civilization," it shows up in lots of articles on the
"demise of western civilization."
I read something stupid on the internet today. I know--I should just stop reading the internet. But this was an article that had the potential to not be stupid--its an article in Politico by Mark Bauerlein on "This Is What It’s Like to Be the Only Trump Fan at Thanksgiving Dinner" [note: all quotations that follow are from the article unless otherwise noted]. I was kind of hoping that it would be a serious rumination on what it means to have supported and continue to support a man who has already done so much harm to so many people in our society and only promises more (yes, I've laid my politics bare here--sorry, not sorry). And you get a little of this. Bauerlein recognizes that there are real grounds for some of us (including his mother) to dislike the president as a person:
Any career woman, especially a single one, who entered the workforce in 1970 is never, ever going to look at Donald Trump as anything but a sexist bully. She remembers too many ill-mannered bosses and co-workers, condescending males who, when they didn’t hit on her, dismissed or exploited her. My mother made a go of it and put up with a lot. Those humiliations don’t fade.
And yet, beside that lifetime of humiliation his mother and countless other women, people of color, LGBT, and people with disabilities continue to face in the workplace and the world, he places "Western civilization" and its apparent demise. Specifically, he points to "identity politics" and his graduate school experience during the 1980s at UCLA. The paragraph is worth quoting in full for its absurdity:
When I first saw identity politics at work, I was a graduate student in English at UCLA in the 1980s. These were the years when the heritage of genius and beauty was recast as a bunch of Dead White Males. Western civilization slipped from a lineage of reason and talent, free inquiry and unsuppressed creativity, into “Eurocentrism,” one group’s advance at the expense of others, women and people of color. Art for art’s sake gave way to art for politics’ sake, for identity’s sake. I spent my 20s in a grimy room reading Dante, Wordsworth and Nietzsche—only to find when I went to campus that my intellectual giants had become objects of suspicion and derision.
This trauma clearly ran deep (deeper than his concern for systemic sexism and racism, apparently)! And so, when Bauerlein heard Trump's Warsaw speech, "and unapologetically hailed Western civilization, I felt a 30-year discouragement lift ever so slightly."

But, of course, he had to have voted for president before that speech, which makes his use of saving "western civilization" as a reason for supporting DT a bit disingenuous. There was a lot about what DT said before the election that clearly appealed to this nostalgia and discouragement, however, and it wasn't an "unapologetic defense of Western Civilization". Unless by "Western Civilization," Bauerlein means racism, sexism, threats, walls, and anti-intellectualism-i.e. Eurocentric men without talent or reason, seeking to limit and having disdain for free inquiry, hoping to suppress creativity, and do so to advance one group--ELITE WHITE MEN. The idea that DT freed Bauerlein to unapologetically read Dante, Wordsworth, and Nietzsche again (like DT has read them) is absurd.

Most images of Augustine of Hippo recast him as
"white" European, but he was from north Africa and
his family "Berbers," a group whose skin color was
unknown and likely mixed. The Roman playwright
Terence was also likely African and not "white."
DT's unapologetic defense during the election campaign was a defense of being a powerful white man "who likes walls, guns and threats." His threatening of immigrants and muslims, his dismissal and mocking of women he sexually harassed, his disregard for any "intellectual giants" or "heritage of genius and beauty"--these are the things that Bauerlein seems to have found appealing about Trump. The Western Civilization of DT is not a pleasant place for women, people of color, LGBT or many others--it is by white men, for white men. Here's a quote from a foundational text that underscores his idea of Western civilization:
"Numerous attempts have been made to establish the intellectual equality of the dark races with the white;and the history  of the past has been ransacked for examples, but they are nowhere to be found. Can anyone call the name of a full-blooded Negro who has ever written  a page worthy of being remembered?"
Sound familiar? That is from 1849 by well-known justifiers of slavery Nott and Gliddon. But it might as well have been Rep. Steve King from earlier this year:
"I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out,” King said, “where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you’re talking about, where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?”"
Images of, for, and maybe even by women abounded
in antiquity. They have more traditionally been
taught as part of "western civilization."
If Bauerlein wonders why people treat the construct of "Western civilization" as limited to and invested in the power of only white men, there it is! Who is excluded? Anyone who isn't of European descent, apparently.

But, there is so much more in the classical past and other texts and arts that are viewed as its foundation of western civilization that the gatekeepers (the Dead White Men and their minions) have suppressed. The Western civilization of DT, and Steve King, and, apparently, of Mark Bauerlein, is one that creates hierarchies that place the words and actions of European, elite men at the top while those of others (women, non-whites) are excluded, hidden, dismissed, derided, ignored. (much like those career women Bauerlein of the 1970s and 1980s sympathizes with).

This is what the culture wars started and what many of us who are its children continue to do--we examine the concept and content of Western civilization and don't shy away from its unpleasantness. It is at the core of why we study it. We want to broaden what civilizations are deemed worthy of study, to break down the hierarchies that pretend that only the words of "Dead White Men" are worth study. In fact, part of my goal is to show how it isn't just Dead White Men who make up the foundations of our culture. Those voices--because of who they were, because of their identities as not powerful 'white identified men--have historically been excluded from the canon. We want to let them in. It doesn't destroy western civilization, it destroys a simulacrum of civilization that poses as all of what our culture contains. We expand the idea to be more inclusive while acknowledging that it isn't the only culture worth study and inherently valuable.

The identity politics Bauerlein bemoans are the very politics that made these truths evident and for many of us actually made European (and, for me, Classical) civilization worth exploring--because we didn't have to pretend those exclusions and prejudices and horrors didn't exist. The culture wars invited in those of us against whom this vision of Western civilization was wielded as a weapon. And what many of us found was a world below the surface, a suppressed world, that was not about "guns, walls, and threats" dressed up in the guise of "genius and beauty" but a world of actual beauty, of diversity, exploration, experimentation, reflection, and, yes, war, and politics, and prejudice, and violence, and sexism. The critical approaches the culture wars brought to these issues allows for examination of how those -isms form. It allows for the exploration of identities and how they are formed. It opens up alternatives even to the exclusions, to the "walls, guns, and threats" that have underscored the "western civilization" of rich white men historically in the US.

Tomb of an immigrant family to Athens. They
lived in Piraeus, the port of ancient Athens.
I, too, went to a California university during the culture wars (UCSD) and I had a required first year course on the breakdown of western values! I became a classicists despite this! In fact, I chose to study (and make a career out of) the “intellectual giants” Bauerlein worshipped and seems to have felt he was shamed over liking because we were allowed to question them and look at them with new eyes and different perspectives. Because we weren't asked to simply worship them. Because we were allowed to see who was excluded and to discuss why there are exclusions, why being included in identity matters and why identities are such fragile, fractured, and necessary things. It's why I teach and write about identity in the ancient world today.

The very questioning Bauerlein says he saw as a rejection of western civilization and tradition, many of us saw as invitations to participate in the very texts and cultures that had been used to exclude us. What I saw in college during the culture wars wasn’t a Greece and Rome that belonged to old white men, but an invitation to look beyond that construct and see more. And instead of 30 years of discouragement, I and many others have devoted those same years to pursuing the study of these texts and the questions they raise more deeply. If an elite white man felt that the presence of a first gen woman in the conversation was destroying civilization, if he viewed the questions of black men or hispanic women on where they fit in that civilization narrative as a demise, then clearly it is a civilization worth destroying.

Women Gazing upon Sexualized Boys

As the accusations against men in power continue to pour out, I've been compelled to consider the complicity of women in silencing or ignoring boys and men who have also been assaulted by these men. In some instances, it is the singular focus on girls and women in advocacy. While there is so much I agree with in Laurie Penny's "The Unforgiving Minute", it ignores the role of men coming forward about their trauma as part of and important for this moment.

In other instances, the silencing occurs as anger at a supposition that when boys are the objects of assault, the media and general public are far quicker to condemn.  For example, Kevin Spacey's fall from grace has been fast and hard and came after only a handful of accusations, while it took over 90 accusations and decades of people knowing about it to take down Harvey Weinstein, more that 16 women accused our current president with no impact and Roy Moore has plenty of defenders because 14 year old girls are too often considered appropriate targets for men's sexual desire--in ancient and modern times. And now, George Takei, everyone's favorite former Star Trekker, has been accused of assaulting a young man (not underage)--let's see how this one plays out.

I've read quite a few Twitter posts in this vein--that abuse/harassment of boys and young men is taking more seriously--and it makes me sad. Boys and young men who are sexually abused or harassed also have long term impacts. Our collective anger should include boys and young men who have also been victims of men in power. Because there is still something to be said for how much we minimize the amount of sexual assault boys are subjected to, especially when the perpetrator is an adult woman. Let's not forget how many boys it took speaking out to even start a conversation about priests and the Catholic Church.

All of this has gotten me thinking about the sexualization of boys (young boys) in ancient vase paintings and the ways that women are sometimes positioned as viewers of their sexualization. We have many vases from antiquity, particularly from between approximately 525-475 BCE, that show boys being pursued and fondled by men. Sometimes these boys are slaves (whom we would expect to be sexually exploited by owners regardless of sex or gender), other times not. I m not going to go into details here on ancient pederasty, which you can read about here (and here is specifically in Athens). Instead, I want to focus on vase images in which women are represented as viewers of pederastic acts.

Munich 2421. Screenshot of CVA entry @ Beazley Archive.

A particularly interesting one of these vases is in Munich (Munich 2421). Here is a link to the full set of images from the Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum. This is what we call a kalos vase--a vase given as a gift that has the word "kalos" ("beautiful") inscribed upon it. It is usually (so people suspect) a gift for  a boy from his older pursuers. The lower register of the vase (pictured) shows older men admiring the kalos Euthymides.

This particular image of the boy Euthymides is rather tame considering images on these vases often show the young man/boy being fondled by the older man, as pictured above and below.

What has stuck some scholars as unusual in this vase, however, is that the vase includes a group of women on the upper register relaxing like male symposiasts and playing the game kottabos with the inscription "I cast for you, beautiful Euthymides."
Munich 2421. Also screenshot from CVA entry @ Beazley Archive.
These women are most frequently said to be prostitutes of a certain type--a "hetaira" or "courtesan." I've argued in print, however, that these women should actually be viewed as of like status to the men admiring the boy in the lower register (Kennedy 2013, 71). Thus, we see elite men and women both offering their approval and registering their desire for the "beautiful" young man. In other words, the women are complicit in the sexualization of the young man/boy.

Bottoms up! Interior bottom (tondo) of a drinking cup.
Sympotic vases often represent sexualized scenes with women (women who are almost universally deemed to have been prostitutes by scholars). These women (not just in the vase pictures, but universally) are called prostitutes because of supposed hard and fast rules about women at these drinking parties--the only women who should have been there, according to some of our Athenian sources (and later, Roman era sources looking back at Classical Athens) would have been paid sexual labor, or at least, they must be fully sexualized women. The images are imaginary, however--they are not mirrors for real life--so calling the women in them 'prostitutes' is kind of a signal of what we mean when we equate women with sex. It also makes it less uncomfortable if the women who are sharing the sexualized gaze directed at these boys are 'women of ill repute' and not 'respectable' women.

Bottoms up! Interior bottom (tondo) of a drinking cup.
The young men and boys, however, are not considered male prostitutes when they appear in these vases (though certainly male prostitutes existed in Classical Athens). Instead, they are considered the proper objects of male affection, sexualized young men and boys to be admired and fondled and pursued by important men. Given gifts, they were expected to concede to their much older lovers. When they grew older, it was assumed they would participate in the same game, this time as the 'lovers' instead of as the 'beloved.'

The images of women gazing upon and approving these relationships and the desirability of boys suggested in the image above from Munich 2421 is made real in the fact that the cups that both male and female symposiasts drank from contained images of boys being pursued and fondled by men. What is only implied on the exterior of the kalos vase pictured (where our boy is fully clothed), is made clear in the round images painted at the bottom of the cup--finish your wine and you get to see the sexual fantasy of capturing your kalos boy.

Men and women both drank from those cups. Women, too, gazed upon the sexualized boys. Did they approve of and maybe share the pleasure of the sexual pursuit of boys as the fictional Munich 2421 women did? Or did they gaze uncomfortably at the image and stay silent? Were they just happy the image at the bottom wasn't of yet another naked women? Or can we dismiss what the drinkers of that wine might have thought at all because they weren't 'respectable' women, after all? Of course their gaze was corrupt and corrupting...

But let's assume that some of the viewers of these images were 'respectable' women--wives, daughters, mothers. Since most girls were married at around ages 13-16 to men who were usually around 30 (an ancient practice we should not think is ok to follow), this meant entire societies where girls were being sexualized and subjected to sex with much older men as 'just how things are.' It isn't hard to see why a 'few boys' being sexualized and pursued and groomed and fondled might not register outrage by women. Or why women might feel like protections for boys were greater than for girls. But were there?

Ancient Athenian pederasty is often discussed as a 'mentoring' relationship or as a 'social institution' that had rules. Marriage had rules, too. 'Rules' don't make it any less exploitative and abusive when the rules themselves are designed to maximize the pleasure and power of the older man and diminish the safety, power, and pleasure of the young woman or young man.

All of this is to say that I don't believe that the wheels of public condemnation or justice move any more swiftly when the sexually abused is male instead of female. The silence around the sexual abuse and exploitation of young adults is damaging for everyone and is perpetuated because those in power feel, it seems, Zeus-like in their abilities to sexually harass, abuse, and exploit anyone and everyone. As women, we have endured millennia of silencing, abuse, harassment, and exploitation. And many feel that we in a historic moment when maybe, just maybe, we will now be believed and won't need to stay silent for fear of retaliation or shame. But let's not forget who the perpetrators are. Let's not help those perpetrators silence their other victims just because they happen to not be women.