HON 394: Whitewashing Ancient Greece and Rome

Whitewashing Ancient Greece and Rome: When most people close their eyes and imagine ancient Greece or Rome, they tend to see white, white statues, white buildings, white people. But this image of whiteness is demonstrably wrong. Classical antiquity was always awash in color. The image of gleaming white statues and buildings is the product of historical, cultural, and archaeological accidents which recent research and new technologies are allowing scholars to correct. But along with images of pure whiteness in art and architecture has arisen the notion that the achievements of Greece and Rome belong "to the West" that the Greeks and Romans were White and "Western" from the beginning, a notion reinforced by everything from Renaissance sculpture to Neo-Classical architecture and Hollywood films. In this class, we will investigate the connection between the (accidental) whitewashing of Greek and Roman art and artifacts and the (intentional) whitewashing of the Greek and Roman people in the Western imagination. The primary objective of the course is twofold: to fight back against the projection of Early Modern ideas of whiteness onto the Greeks and Romans while simultaneously resisting the unhelpful urge to dismiss the study of Greco-Roman antiquity as the realm of dead white men an assertion that not only ignores the evidence, but also needlessly consigns the achievements of untold numbers of diverse people to oblivion.

Course semester: 
Spring 2021
Instructor: 
Dr. Joseph O’Neill