Center for Ancient Studies Holds Lunchtime Seminar on the Appropriation of Antiquity

December 1, 2017

As part of their 2017–2018 Lunchtime Seminar Series, the Center for Ancient Studies (CAS) presented “The Usage of Antiquity in Modern Times: The Manipulation of the Past,” a lecture by Joseph Farrell, M. Mark and Esther K. Watkins Professor in the Humanities. The talk, held in November, focused on the alt-right’s appropriation of the values of Greek and Roman antiquity—a controversial representation that has been met with shock and anger.

Farrell discussed the backlash that some classicists have received when presenting on themes of race. One such academic’s findings—that classical marble statues that were originally painted with color are now often left bare to accentuate the “homogeneity of antiquity”—were picked up by fringe groups which responded with racially-charged rhetoric and threats to the researcher.

According to Farrell, these partisan and self-interested interpretations of heritage have long been a part of American political discourse. “I was very pleased when the Center for Ancient Studies decided to make this a topic of focus,” says Farrell, who highlighted examples from different sides of the political spectrum in order to provoke discussion. “I [presented] out of conviction because it's something that we need to talk more about."

CAS strives to bring together Penn faculty and students, as well as members of the greater Philadelphia community, who share a passion for the ancient world. CAS is based on the idea that scholars of antiquity can benefit immeasurably from contact and conversation with each other across different areas and disciplines. The Center co-sponsors many lectures, conferences, and workshops across campus.