Today we will begin with an excellent query as posited by one of your fellow readers, Inês from Portugal:
“Hello Classical Wisdom! Happy new year!
I’m a huge fan of your work and all things of the classics.
I’ve been attending your webinars and I think that a great theme for discussion would be “The classics and Nationalism.”
I’m from Portugal, and I’ve been noticing that all Nationalist pages on instagram make great references to the classics, be it the philosophy, the architecture, the Roman legions, the art, etc.
I think this theme would be extremely interesting and I personally am a Nationalist, and I don’t think that Nationalism has any type of bad meaning.
The classics are the backbone of European/ Western civilization, and with a lot of young people searching for inspiration and references of their culture and countries growing day by day, I thought it would be an interesting idea to bring to you.
Thank you so much for the amazing work you do, and I look forward to all your new activities.”
First off, a big thank you to Inês for writing in with ideas for investigation. I think it’s important that we can inspire a dialogue and that we can hear and learn directly from each other… after all, we want nothing more than to continue ‘the great conversation’.
As to the request on hand, it is an interesting history of Classics and Nationalism… not all of it so cheerful, unfortunately.
In fact, there have been many times when the Classics were used to justify or prop up one or another political faction, some of which have had a downright negative impact on civilization. Mussolini’s grand archeological works and Hitler’s bizarre search for Atlantis pop to mind.
And this hasn’t happened just in Europe either…
Even today in China, ancient Chinese works are used to promote the current government.
Over in the new world, Rafael Trujillo, the 1930’s Dominican Republic Dictator, invoked the classics as vindication for their dominance on the island of Hispaniola.
But it’s not just 20th-century fascists that promote themselves as the inheritors of a grand European tradition that originated in Greece and Rome.
Anyone remember Virgil? Wasn’t the Aeneid essentially Augustus’ great endeavor to associate himself to the ancient Greeks? To illustrate his classical lineage?
All this to say, is that before we delve into the themes of Nationalism and the Classics… perhaps we should first ask if they should be connected at all? Some of these efforts have resulted in remarkable works and discoveries… others not so much.
So this week we ask: Should the Classics be used for Nationalistic endeavors? What benefits or dangers come from this collusion?
As always, you can comment below or write to me directly.