Race and the Athenian Metic--Modeling an Approach to Race in Antiquity

A few months ago, I finished a chapter for an edited volume on the concept of foreignness in antiquity on the Athenian system of metoikia as an enactment of race in antiquity. I've been working on this idea now for about 4 years, trying to find ways of expressing 1. what we mean when we say 'race' in any context, 2. whether it can be seen in antiquity (contrary to the beliefs on both the majority of classicists and of scholars of modern race), and 3. how a model of race in antiquity might look. Many years ago (spring of 2019), I posted a talk I'd given at Duke-UNC Center for Late Antiquity that attempted a beginning of articulating what this might look like. The chapter on metoikia is the culmination of that work.  

In this blog post, I am going to provide a shortened version of that chapter that will hopefully lay out the model in an accessible way. I also gave a talk in this shortened form at a recent Monitor Racism conference. The audio recording can be found here (I begin at around the 2hr 11min mark. Denise McCoskey precedes me with a discussion of the history of race in the discipline of Classics). The images provided here are from that talk as is much of the text. This work builds from my last book, Immigrant Women in Athens and looks forward to research in other aspects of race and ethnicity in antiquity that I am currently working on or planning. 

I present this abridged version of my model and research as a proposal for what studying race in the ancient past can offer to understanding race in the modern world, but also as reflection of what deep engagement with critical race studies can help us understand about the ancient world as well. We must simultaneously dismantle the centuries of accretion of white supremacist world view from our understanding of the ancient past while also seeing where modern race systems borrowed and adapted their own ancient models. We have to be in conversation with, not borrowing from, modern critical race, if we want to change our discipline and also more accurately understand the past. 

I am willing to share the full version of this chapter for classroom or research use. I am still awaiting revision suggestions from the editors, so it is not yet in its final form. Contact me, if you are interested.


Let's start with who or what was a "metic". It isn't as easy a thing as we think. The term is frequently translated as either "resident foreigner" or "immigrant", though you can see from the the slide below that "immigrant" is a metaphorical use for many people who fell into this legal category. Essentially, it was a legal category that sat in between a citizen and the enslaved in Athens (and in some other Greek poleis, but we don't have as much information about how their systems worked). It contained free people, but free people whose status as "free" was not inalienable. 

List of groups included in metic status including free immigrants, freed former enslaved persons, illegitimate children of citizens, refugees, and the descendants of all these groups

When the category was first established, it was defined by a series of restrictions that set those counted as 'metics' and those who did not apart from each other. Central to the definition of metic is that it encompasses any free person in the city who has been there for about a month and intends to stay longer. They must register themselves with a local official (the polemarch) and pay a special tax. This separated them out from citizens (who did not pay a special personal tax), enslaved, and visitors from other places, including merchants just passing through. These initial restrictions will increase over time, which I will discuss below. 

A list of legal restriction placed on metics including bans on land and building ownership and special tax exemptions
Proxenia = honorary quasi-citizenship, isotelia = tax equality with citizens (don't have to pay the metoikion), enketesis = right of property ownership.

These are the basics. Now, for the details and how this legally defined group of people from ancient Athens can help us in articulating a transhistorical concept of race.

Metoikia as Race

Scholars have used race, a concept given to a frustrating multivalence, with different meanings when discussing the ancient Greek world. I must clarify both what I do not mean by ‘race,’ as well as explain the technical meaning I use here, adapted primarily from the work of Falguni Sheth and Karen and Barbara Fields--though their own definitions are rooted in long histories of critical race. Race as I use it here is a technology or doctrine of population management that institutionalizes ethnic prejudice, oppression, and inequality based on imaginary and moving signifiers for human difference, signifiers that manifest differently in different times and places (i.e. it is transhistorical and fluid). 

Summarizing the 3 definitions of race, racism, and racecraft listed in the following paragraphs

The imaginary and moving signifiers in the case of the Athenian and metic eventually follow what Fields and Fields define as the ‘doctrine that nature produced humankind in distinct groups defined by inborn traits that its members share and that differentiate them from the members of other distinct groups.’[1] Because these groups are imaginary, they can be constituted from those who might, in a different classification system, be very diverse. 

Race, then is the doctrine or technology for creating distinctions in institutions. In our Athenian case, I will focus on law thats crafts political institutions that create and then support a doctrine of inherent superiority of the citizen population while casting others as inferior. In this framework, we might define ‘racism’ as the ‘practice of applying a social, civic, or legal double standard.’[2] For the Athenians, the double standard inheres in the application of law (and particularly the right to enslave) between citizens and metics; racism is the application of law to enforce distinctions between political classes and their risk of experiencing state-moderated violence. The distinctions between Athenians and metics are then reproduced through what we call ‘racecraft, ‘the practical, day to day actions that reproduce the imaginary, pervasive belief in natural distinctions between the groups.’[3] Some examples of racecraft would be daily reminders of second class status like having to pay special taxes: the metoikion itself, ‘foreigners only’ taxes for using the port (pentekoste) or selling in the markets (xenika tele),[4] in limitations on contracts and ownership, bans from civic spaces, or segregation when participating in city rituals.[5]

Race forms and reproduces through a process that begins with defining a political community. This community then must recognize internal threats, which Sheth refers to as the ‘unruly’.[6] This recognition instigates a ‘taming of the unruly’ through the imposition or refining of laws that have the threat of violence as their mechanism for enforcement. These laws create distinctive racial categories into which the community is sorted. Next, the racial divisions are then naturalized[7] (or justified) within the community, frequently through narratives of biological sameness or purity, giving rise to ‘race.’ The system is then reproduced through the ‘enframing’[8] of vulnerability and violence as the defining characteristic of the group’s place within the community and ‘racecraft.’[9]

visualization of the 5 steps of race making listed in the above paragraph

This understanding of race is different from what we might consider ‘folk’ ideas of race in a modern context, what has been called ‘somatic’ or ‘epidermal’ race or ‘bio-race’.[10] This modern folk definition appears within my framework as a signifier of difference, but one that is historically contingent—it may not mean in one context the same as it means in another. For example, the specific modern signifiers of skin color, used as a shorthand to change racism into ‘race’ in the modern US, is not relevant as a component of race, racism, or racecraft in Greco-Roman antiquity.[11] Any biological fiction used as shorthand for ‘race’ is created as part of that process and is just that, a shorthand. 
Tomb of Demetria of Kyzicus. 4th c BCE. Mid-fourth century BCE. Athenian Agora I 3174  and Tomb of Melitta the nurse, daughter of  Apollodorus, an isoteles. IG II2 7873/SEG 30.235. 4th c. BCE. BM 1909,0221.1.

By focusing on the process and technology as race, we can retain the term ‘ethnicity’ as productive and meaningful in discussing antiquity.[13] When I use the term ‘ethnicity’ or ‘ethnic’ in discussions, I am referring primarily to self- or other-defined groups based on ideas of shared culture, language, or political affiliation that are not embedded within legally enforceable hierarchies of oppression. Here we might think of the difference between the two images above. One tomb, on the left, is for a woman identified through her "ethnic"--she is Demetria of Kyzicus. The image on the right is the tomb of Melitta, identified as the daughter of an isoteles, a privileged status granted to some metics in Athens. The tomb on the left was likely put up by a member of Demetria's family who self-identified as Kyzican. The tomb on the right was likely put up by the Athenian family Melitta worked for who identified her through her place within the Athenian metic system. The tomb on the left tells me about the ethnicity of Demetria. The tomb on the right tells me where Melitta fit in a racial hierarchy. 

In order for race to exist as most scholars of critical race suggest, it must exist within a political order, not simply as an abstracted category. Without the creation of hierarchies and the ability to enforce oppressions, we have prejudice or ethnocentrism—it is the power of a state or institutions to enforce socio-political Otherness that determines race. Ancient Athens eventually used a myth of indigeneity (autochthony) linked to biological descent as their justification for the segregation of their population, but it is the institutionalized (threat of) violence for enforcing a form of segregation or caste that makes the case for metics a type of ‘race’ in antiquity.

For the Athenians, the metic was perhaps the most salient ‘other’ in their daily lives in so far as they had another free population against which to rank themselves. It was certainly more operational than than the ‘barbarian’ and it cut across and dismantled on a regular basis the notion of unified “Greek” identity. Demetra Kasimis has discussed this aspect of the metic in the  political theory of Plato (mostly) in the 4th century, for those interested.

How did the ‘metic’ (and so the ‘Athenian’) became racialized? For, it is my contention that the Athenian is only racialized as a result of the process that created the metic.[14] We see the following historical steps: first, the constitution of the Athenian demos (i.e. male citizens) through patrilineal citizenship (510 BCE), next, the creation of the metic as a legal category (ca. 460s BCE), followed by dual-descent citizenship (451 BCE), and, finally, the elevation of the myth of autochthonous ancestors to a myth of full Athenian indigeneity and ethnic purity (starting in the 430s BCE).[15] Later laws, like the requirement for deme registration (410s BCE), reinstatement of the Citizenship Law (403 BCE) and the ban on marriage (380s BCE), are refinements and reassertions of the system. In the first step, we see the construction of a political community, in the second, the identification of what Sheth refers to as ‘the unruly’, a group within a community identified as a threat to the political order. This is followed by the group’s segregation in an attempt to reduce their potential harm to the political order.[16]

A timeline visualizing the dates listed in the paragraph above.

The physical and even cultural sameness  of the metic, their Greekness or, even more broadly, Mediterraneanness, may be what made the ‘metic’ threatening; there were only subtle differences that could be sensed, but not easily identified.[19] In the case of the metic, the original unease centered, perhaps, on the basic premise of them not being citizens. We do not know how large this population was.[20] Whatever it was, in consciously creating and defining through legal restrictions a category beyond ‘not citizen’ and designating certain individuals within the community as members of it, the Athenians succeeded in also re-emphasizing their own identity as citizens and the political order upon which their own status rested. They continues to shift the laws over time to adjust policy as prejudice was naturalized.
The next phase of the process of racialization after ‘taming the unruly’ is naturalizing the distinctions. The original definition of metic rested on a patriarchal justification; the citizenship law focused on a more purely biological justification. This shift in policy and in definition of the legal category crafted the underlying framework for the racialization of Athenians through the metics. The ancient rationales for the passage of the law (“too many citizens,” Aristotle & Plutarch) are unsatisfactory as a full explanation. I think, in fact, an important element came from an upswing in prejudice, prejudice that resulted from viewing the metics as a distinctive class after the 460s when the legal category came into being--racist ideas and policy precede race. This increased prejudice led to the development of a concept of Athenian indigeneity (autochthony), which functioned as the naturalizing, retroactive justification for the metic’s status.
Although laws initially segregated metics, the idea of Athenian autochthony naturalized the category of citizen, grounding the fiction that the law simply reinforced a division made by and through biology or the environment.[21] This naturalization process appears reasonable and rational when we recognize that indigeneity in Athens was a type of environmental determinism, a broadly held idea that the geography, topography, and climate of places shaped and defined the peoples who resided there.[22] The Athenians, indigenous to the land and imbued with certain characteristics from the land, came to identify themselves with a closed kinship group invested in an idea of a ‘real’ or ‘pure’ Athenian.[23] Autochthony myths were the metaphorical manifestation of this doctrine, a racial doctrine, as Susan Lape has argued, that demonstrated the superiority of the Athenians.
The process of racializing the metic did not end with either the passing of the 451 Citizenship law nor with the naturalization of the metic as inherently and threateningly different that we see emerging with the development of indigeneity and autochthony as identity. While much scholarship has treated the 451 BCE citizenship law as a ban on marriage between Athenians and non-Athenians, it likely did not. Rather, the evidence suggests that marriage was not banned between citizen men and non-citizen women until the 380s. And, in fact, the law went either unenforced or even was relaxed or repealed for decades during the Peloponnesian war.[24]
In 403 BCE, however, the laws requiring that Athenian citizens have two Athenian parents and restricting land ownership to only Athenian citizens were reinstated as foundational laws of the newly revived democracy after the brief government of the Thirty, a reactionary oligarchy that had aggressively and violently dismantled the Athenian democracy in 404 BCE.[25] In the aftermath of this reinstating of the law, the demarcation between metic and citizen became increasingly harsh (eventually leading to the marriage ban in the 380s), suggesting that the prejudices that inhered in the status of metic that required segregation previously did not disappear even under the extreme circumstances of the wars. Relaxing the laws and allowing metics (and even enslaved persons) access to citizenship may have been blamed, in part, for the loss.[26] Once the metic had been racialized and this racialization naturalized, they would always be deemed inherently threatening. That the metic population in the 4th century was increasingly made up of formerly enslaved persons may have contributed to this prejudice.
Because of the variety of persons and origins and statuses that made up the metic class, however, and although metics were defined as a single class by law, the laws were not experienced equally by all metics. While scholarship on metics has done a good job at recognizing class distinctions among metics and acknowledging that privileges offered to metics rarely accrued to those who had been freed enslaved persons or working class metics, most scholarship on ‘metics’ talk of the laws and structures surrounding them as if they are default male (i.e. gender neutral) and also absent most forms of ethnic prejudice.[27] But this was not the case for any but the wealthiest or most useful male metics and mistakenly assuming that prejudice diminished because more elite men were granted access to citizenship points to why we need intersectional analysis. Metic was a racialized category that included lots of different groups. It was founded upon and enforced through threat of violence, which some metics were more vulnerable to than other. Nonetheless, even those who did not directly experience that violence were conditioned by its possibility.

Race and Violence 

By 403 BCE, the legal structures were in place for the perpetuation and reproduction of race in Athens through the metic. In other words, the process of racializing the metic (and the Athenian) had been mostly completed. The reproduction of race, which may be understood through the ‘racecraft’ of everyday life, happened in many ways but often through violence or the threat of violence. To be a metic was to be vulnerable to such violence. The penalties (enslavement and execution) enforced segregation and submission to the metic system in Athens, classifying the metic as inferior to the Athenian and closer to enslaved. Metics received only alienable humanity, according to Jackie Murray’s usage of race.[28] Discussing Homer’s Odyssey,  Murray places race and ethnicity on a continuum, with ‘ethnic others’ granted a higher level of humanity while racialized groups, who are further away from the inalienable humanity of the dominant group, are granted less humanity. Thus, in the Athenian context, a Milesian visitor or business partner was closer to Athenian to the extent that they still functioned as their ‘ethnic’ self. But once they became ‘metics’ their racialized status meant that they were subject to Athenian institutional violence in ways visiting foreigners were not. Metics could not appeal to shared Ionian or Greek identities or even to being from an Athenian colony to mitigate their being metics. Such distinctions were erased once they became a metic in law and the Olynthian was no different from the Thracian or the Skythian (or any other ‘barbarian’) in their status and their being subject to state violence.

list of types of violence permitted against metics and the modeling race and ethnicity on a spectrum from inalienable humanity to alienated
Obviously, not all metics (and, in fact, the majority) would ever have experienced the violence of being sold into enslavement or being executed for breaching their status. They were also, as Ben Akrigg has pointed out, theoretically subject to torture for evidence.[29] We do not have evidence that this was very common, but, this is one of the fundamental characteristics of race—the experience of violence is not necessary, only the threat, which is validated by the fact that others within the group do experience this violence as part of their everyday existence and within the scope of the law.[30] The threat is what allows for those metics with privileges to have them and to feel them as privileges and even argue against the interests of their class as a whole in order to maintain them. 
Wealthy metics and those who arrived in Athens as refugees were granted a series of privileges within the scope of law that could mitigate their vulnerability to violence. For some metics, living in Athens approached citizen status, but without assembly attendance and voting: they performed liturgies; they dined with (and in the 5th century still intermarried with) their social peers; they participated in the Panathenaiac procession. And the reward system of privileges, like grants of isoteleia and enktesis, rewarded those metics who not only followed the rules but were deemed most useful to the polis.[32] They became, in some ways, ‘model minorities’, whose privileging could encourage them to become complicit in the enforcement of violence on others within the metic group.[33]

The vulnerability to violence inherent in the status of metic did manifest on a daily basis for metics who were not of the privileged economic classes or who had not been granted special status through grants to specific refugee groups, because of their gender, economic status, or status as formerly enslaved. As I demonstrated in Immigrant Women in Athens, women metics were especially vulnerable to all sorts of violence in law and through loopholes in the laws.[37] Let me offer an example (you can read Chapters 4&5 of Immigrant Women for many many examples). The so-called phialai inscriptions. These are most likely inscriptions that record dedications made by metics who had been charged with not registering or paying their tax, but successfully defended against it.[38] 

Extant are over 400 names, including men, women, and children, some appearing as families. The inscriptions list over 100 different professions, all of them what we would call ‘working class.’ The inscriptions are broken and only a small percentage of those originally carved are extant. They record, likely, about seventy or so years of cases. Hundreds of them. Any citizen could prosecute them and they had incentives. What this suggests is that metics, especially those without wealth or connections to citizens, could be subjected to regular surveillance by citizens, could not trust that a citizen would not turn on them, and were always vulnerable to the violence inherent within their legal status.[39]
I would like to end with a quotation from Falguni Sheth, who for me, sums up what the process in Athens looked like over the course of the 5th -4th centuries, a summary which I think would be even more obvious if I could provide for you in this abbreviated space the dozens of legal cases and acts of violence leveled against metics, especially women. Sheth says: 
And so we see through any number of legal judgements, race is never merely about ‘race.’ It is in the drawing of the lines between ‘evil beings’ and ‘moral beings,’ between persons and nonpersons, human beings qua citizens and those who cannot be citizens because they are ‘not human like us,’ where we find the salience of race. Understood as a vehicle by which to draw and redraw the boundaries by which select populations are assured the protection of the law, race becomes deployed as a technology. It is when we understand it as a technology that we begin to understand how race locates and domesticates the ‘unruly,’ and in so doing, ‘reveals’ the apparatus by which the normative ground of racial classifications was once naturalized and concealed.[43] 
My hope with this analysis is that if we can see it happening clearly in the case of metics in Athens, we can better articulate and reveal how it functions at the level of institutions today and elsewhere in our histories, where too many people and governments insist that because race is not a biological fact, it somehow isn’t still real and embedded in our laws and everyday practices.

A list of works mentioned in the talk with their full citations.


[1] Fields and Fields 2013, 16. This is their definition of ‘race.’
[2] Fields and Fields 2013, 17.
[3] Fields and Fields 2013, 18-19.
[4] Blok 2017, 273. Blok sees these as reasonable taxes for non-citizens and does not agree with Whitehead’s assessment that the tax was meant to be a humbling and even humiliating reminder of their second-class status.
[5] On marching in the Panathenaia as a mark of privilege, see Wijma 2014. Obviously, the metics selected would have been from among the privileged class. This does not make the segregation a mark of metic privilege. See Fields and Fields 2013, 33-4 for a discussion of sumptuary laws and enforced clothing distinctions historically as racecraft.
[6] “This is the element that is intuited as threatening to the political order, to a collectively disciplined society. As the term suggests, this element threatens to disrupt because it signifies some immediate fact of difference that must be harnessed and located or categorized or classified in such a way so as not to challenge the ongoing political order” (Sheth 2009, 26).
[7] After the initial ‘processing’ of the unruly through the production of certain categories, the process—the political context—of classifying becomes forgotten, concealed, or reified. Thus, it appears as a ‘natural foundation’ for racial categories (Sheth 2009, 28).
[8] “Enframing refers to the cultural, political, social, moral, methodological apparatus that both shrouds and infuses our current quest for the meaning of race” (Sheth 2009, 35).
[9] The enframing of race exemplifies not merely division, but a method of using the unruly as a way to “cultivate vulnerability or the threat of potential violence among its populace in connection with a certain mode of political existence, namely one in which our relationship to society must be understood as one of vulnerability and violence” (italics original) (Sheth 2009, 36). For ‘racecraft’, see below.
[10] On the idea of bio-race, see Fields and Fields 2013, Ch. 2, especially discussion of the idea of ‘blood’ equaling ‘race’.
[11] Somatic race, however, has been usefully deployed, e.g. by scholars such as Shelley Haley, Frank Snowden, and, now, Sarah Derbew (both in her dissertation and now in a forthcoming book), to undermine and reverse the ‘whitewashing’ of the ancient Mediterranean. Scholarship and popular representations of the ancient world since the 19th century have been engaged in this ‘whitewashing,’ and we need to engage with the work cited earlier and produce more.
[12] See Lape 2010, 1-7 and 31-52 for her conceptualization of race through Appiah’s idea of racialism, which she calls a ‘quasi-biological paradigm.’ For my own earlier conceptualization of race in early Greek thought, see Kennedy 2016. I would not now use the term ‘race’ to discuss genealogies and descent outside of enforceable hierarchies, but ethnicity. I agree with J├ícome Neto (2020) that what many scholars are discussing under these headings is not ‘race’, though I disagree that ‘race’ is a particularly modern concept. See Heng 2018 for thorough discussion and examples of pre-modern race.
[13] pace McCoskey 2012, 31 who uses ‘race’ exclusive of ethnicity to ‘force[s] us to confront our all-too-frequent idealization of classical antiquity. In the recent Oxford Classical Dictionary entry, McCoskey uses ‘race’ for any system of classification regardless of the ability to enforce any hierarchy based on the classifications and fuses etic and emit forms of identity formation. Yet many scholars of modern race reject its presence in antiquity precisely because the dominant theories of human variation (environmental determinism, descent-based, cultural) lack any institutional structures for enforcement.
[14] Lape 2010 provides a strong argument for the Athenians as ‘racialized,’ but within a framework of ‘before race.’ She devotes only 5 pages to the metic.
[15] Shapiro 1998. 
[16] Sheth 2009, 26.
[17] Kennedy 2014, p and forthcoming (a) 2021. On the relationship between Suppliants and the development of metoikia, see Bakewell 2013.
[18] A primary argument of Kennedy 2014.
[19] “That which is unruly can be evasive enough to be ‘intuited’ or ‘felt’ rather than seen or perceived—because the ‘intuition’ is one of ‘danger’” (Sheth 2009, 26). We might here think also about the statement in the Old Oligarch that one of the problems of Athenian democracy was the impossibility of knowing the difference between a citizen and a slave (citation). Missing from the equation, of course, is the metic, who would also be indistinguishable.
[20] Efforts to calculate the metic population over time have been attempted by Patterson 1981 and then Watson 2010. Both population estimates were used in the service of arguments for the date of the creation of the metic as a class as if once the threshold of foreigners in a place reaches a certain level, citizen anxiety demands action. On the psychology of this phenomenon in the contemporary US, see Craig and Richeson 2014.
[21] The scholarship on Athenian autochthony is large. See Roy 2014 for a recent summary of the scholarship. Most scholarship following Rosivach 1987 have generally accepted his timeline of the development of the concept, but see also Blok 2009, 251-75. I find Loraux 2000 to be the best discussion of the ideology underpinning autochthony. Though see also Lape 2010, 95-136, who discusses it through the myth of Ion.
[22] On archaic and classical concepts environmental determinism, see Kennedy 2016 and Kennedy and Blouin 2020. For discussion of the broader reach of environmental determinism theories in antiquity, see the essays in Kennedy and Jones-Lewis 2016.
[23] For specific ways the autochthony myth appeared in Athenian public discourse and in the landscape, see Clements 2016 for discussion of the Erechtheion, autochthony, and the landscape of the Acropolis. On the visual catalogue of autochthony on pots, see Shapiro 1998. On funeral orations and autochthony, see still Loraux 1986. On Euripides’Ion and the deployment of myths, see Lape 2010, 95-136. The discussion in Kasimis 2018 follows a similar path to Lape’s.
[24] See Kennedy 2014, pp for discussion and bibliography.
[25] On the basic outlines of Thirty and restoration after the civil war, see, Carawan 2013.
[26] Bakewell 1999. See also Lape 2010, 262-74.
[27] E.g. Rubenstein 2018. Carugati 2019a.
[28] Murray 2020.
[29] Akrigg 2015, 166.
[30] As Sheth writes: “When race is deployed through law to demarcate distinctions between populations, violence per se is not immediately manifested through these categories. But more accurately…the sheer capacity to instantiate such distinctions gains its power of enforcement through the potential violence that is inherent in it” (Sheth 2009, 37).
[31] Carugati 2020.
[32] Carugati 2019a, Ch 4.
[33] See Lee 2020 for definitions and debates over its efficacy as a concept.
[34] Bakewell 1999 discusses this period from Lysias’ perspective using Lysias 12 and 31. See also Wolpert 2002.
[35] On the ancient debates, see [Arist.] Ath.Pol. 40.2; Aesch. 3.187– 90.
[36] Loraux 2002, 246-264 is a most illuminating discussion of the restoration of the laws in the context of the amnesty, though see also Wolpert 2002 and Carawan 2013, though Carawan hardly mentions metics.
[37] See Ch 4 in particular for discussion. My analysis of violence as it impacts non-citizen and working-class women is inspired primarily by Crenshaw’s legal concept of intersectionality.
[38] See Meyer 2010 for a detailed reappraisal and updated edition of the inscriptions.
[39] There are also cases of men recognized by their demes as citizens being challenged under the law of graphe xenias. Two particularly interesting orations recording or referring to these cases are Dem 57 (Euxitheus) and Isaeus x (. ). In the former, the speech is his defense of his citizenship and we do not know the outcome. The latter is an inheritance speech and we are told that the father of the heiress was charged but won his case (if only by a slim margin).
[40] Fields and Fields 2013, Ch. 2.
[41] As Schapps 1977 has demonstrated, the naming of women in public for a like the courts or stage was typically reserved for women who were being targeted as ‘not respectable’ and so being classified in these discourses as women who could be targeted. His arguments have been frequently misinterpreted as saying that the women named were somehow shameful. For further discussion, see Kennedy 2014, pp and Kennedy forthcoming (b) (specifically on the courts).
[42] Although there is no space to discuss it, Apollodorus’ attacks on his brother Pasikles (a natural-born citizen), mother Archippe (a woman with quasi-citizenship status; see Kennedy 2014, pp), and step-father Phormio (also a naturalized citizen and former enslaved person) are remarkably enlightening in understanding how the Athenian legal system can be used to police race.
[43] Sheth 2009, 38.

An Ethics of Citation

By Rebecca Kennedy (RFK) and Maximus Planudes (MP)

“The intellectual seeks to be attuned to the multivalent meanings of silence, to the names that never rate footnotes and citations, to pro forma, perfunctory nods in  acknowledgments pages, to the erased thinkers in the hinterlands of the metropole.” -- Omedi Ochieng*, Theses on the Intellectual Imagination


Interrupting Lovemaking to Answer the Door.[1] 

There has been discussion of late about best practices for citation in scholarly works. Is it a problem if our citations are limited to mostly white male scholars from elite universities? If so, are we to use a quota system of scholarly citation to ensure a diversity of voices? Do we cite scholars who have proven 'problematic,' as the saying goes today? Anyone who believes that these questions are silly or have obvious answers probably has not thought much about the history and purposes of citation. There is a lot more diversity in practice than our training would admit. Even the two of us, who agree on everything except Euripides Hippolytus [2], have different views on citational practices (as will be made clear below). 

Two recent blog posts--one from Mary Beard (MB), the other from Joel Christensen (JC) at Sententiae Antique--have addressed this issue of citations from a similar, but slightly different position. MB’s offering is titled “Footnote Politics”, JC’s “Good Words from Bad People”. They consider whether one should cite work by “scholars who are tainted (politically or sexually or however)” (MB) or when “a scholar or artist of some renown is a terrible person” (JC). In both cases, the focus is on the behavior or morality of the individual. For example, JC asks if we should cite the work of a convicted pedophile. The answer is, of course, complicated: is the work about sexuality and children? If so, the work may be tainted by the biases of the person. But what if the situation is like MB imagines: What if THE “most authoritative recent work on a particular subject ... were written by (eg) someone whose public remarks have been taken to be racist, or who is plausibly alleged to be a harasser.”[3] Can you NOT cite them?

We have written this blog because we feel that it can be unproductive to focus on the immorality of a “great” scholar or the idea of “key work” in abstract. We often emphasize the character of the person (not) cited. We find it is more helpful to consider citations from the perspective of the person (not) citing--you. It may be useful to bring our focus to the writer, to the scholar in the process of composition, and their ‘ethics’ of citation. We call it an ethics, and not a politics of citation because we frame it within a community of scholars rather than within individual political commitments. 

We explore the problem from the perspective of the scholar mediating between the work of others and their audience, acknowledging that they are producing and shaping knowledge and not just funneling the ideas and words of others. We write this, then, for two reasons: (1) to bring awareness and understanding to the fact that citation methods have always varied widely and (2) to provide some ideas for a practical ethics of citation that is aware of this variety instead of turning every footnote into a moral conundrum. 

Why cite at all? 

Fustel du Coulanges, the 19th century ancient historian known primarily for his fine sideburns [4], complained about having to document his research, lamenting that in his day people just gave the results of their research. Nowadays (19th c), however:
The scaffolding matters more than the structure... learning wishes to make more of a display of itself. Scholars wish above all to appear learned (cited in Grafton Footnote, p.70-1).
This complaint reminds us that the norms and practices of citation that we encounter today have a history. As practices with a history, we have more freedom in modifying them than our training in graduate school might have led us to believe. If we are going to think about our citational practices, particularly in relation to the endlessly prolonged growing pains of the field, we should really explore them with an awareness both of their historical contingency and from the perspective of what citations do and what we might want them to do.

Most students arrive in first-year college writing seminars believing that they should cite to avoid plagiarism. While not wrong, it is an impoverished justification for a core scholarly practice.[5] To understand citation better, it helps to look at the footnote, whose history and practice is tied to citation without being coterminous with it. Grafton writes about how footnotes allow historians to tell two stories: the main story of the text and the secondary story of the research behind it. He also points to how it transforms a monologue into a conversation. Unlike historical narrative, however, scholarship tends to elevate some conversations to the main text, while relegating others to the footnotes . This practice suggests that the idea of ‘two stories’ cannot be pressed too schematically. We should, however, continue to think about how citational practice serves to highlight conversations and to reveal the story of the research. 

Grafton also documents the variety of citational practices, both historically and nationally. Although footnotes cannot bear all the weight we imagine they should--will we really be denied tenure for a refusal to cite Holt Parker in a work on Roman sexuality?--, they do serve to "convince the reader that the historian has done an acceptable amount of labor" and "indicate the chief sources the historian actually used."

Footnotes (or the dreaded endnote), as repositories for citations, thus serve essential functions: they provide the intellectual context for our arguments, refer to other related scholarship or different points of view, and acknowledge our debts. This last function, the most important, perhaps, overlaps with the practice of Acknowledgments (in articles, these are usually in the initial footnote, of course). 

Citations also supposedly signal the professional competence of the author. In "Fussnoten: Das Fundament der Wissenschaft," Steve Nimis demonstrates the fundamental role footnotes play in the professionalization of scholarly knowledge.[6]
The documentation of the work of predecessors can be one of the most odious tasks of the professional scholar, but there is no other requirement which is more insisted upon than this one. To be trivial, to be over-speculative, to be downright boring are all minor failures--often they can be endearing traits--in comparison to the failure to demonstrate a comprehensive knowledge of what in literary studies is called "secondary literature," but is more generally referred to simply as "the scholarship."
Nimis sees citation as the nexus of scholarly and professional authority, the key space where academic relations of power are expressed, as Reviewer #2 knows all too well. Nimis calls our attention to the professional, disciplinary functioning of citation as a form of virtue signaling--especially in what he calls ‘the pile,’ the long list of books on a topic that the author feels obligated to include--and the traditional, but unnecessary reference to Wilamowitz. 

Recognizing that citation is a form of professional positioning, however, need not be negative. It can also serve to remind us that in mastering this scholarly practice, it becomes a tool we can control, rather than be controlled by, in the creation of the academic community we want to see and be part of. So, what are some practical considerations?

A Golden Rule: Acknowledge Obligations 

In the course of research, we are bound to incur debts to people, to institutions, to ideas found in other works. These debts are obligations that we should acknowledge. There is naturally leeway on what counts as a serious enough debt to warrant citation in our scholarly notes, to be listed in the acknowledgments section versus what can be passed over. It is, however, a fundamental principle of honesty, the golden rule, if you will: acknowledge obligations. If your work is built from or dependent upon the work of another, you must cite it--even if this person is a horrible monster. 

One can acknowledge hindrances too, of course, like the person who promised to read your chapter but never got around to it or the douche professor in grad school who tried to have you kicked out, but there is no obligation here. Some people have suggested stating alongside any acknowledgment of debt that the person is a horrible monster. This may or may not make it past the editorial stage. Maybe a more practical approach is to include a statement of your ethics of citation, perhaps in your initial note or in your methodology section. It might be as simple as “citation =/= endorsement of the person, it only acknowledges a scholarly debt to someone’s work.” 

Other than this golden rule (and working in tandem with it), we suggest thinking in terms of two principles in considering the way our choices of citation situate our work within a scholarly conversation. The first is an ethics of inclusion, the second an ethics of exclusion. Both have risks and value. 

Ethics of inclusion

Let’s start by distinguishing this ethics from ‘the pile’ criticized by Nimis. By ethics of inclusion, we do not mean that one should cite everything ever written on a topic in a paragraph-long list in one’s notes. Instead, consider it this way: How might the idea of citation as the creation of a scholarly conversation inform the way we approach the problem of who to cite? 

In other words, should we care about citations limited to the predictable set of scholarship, the greatest hits parade of top 40 classics? As MB points out, we do have a problem here:
More important there is a real concern that the range of works cited in academic books and articles is inward looking, self-reinforcing and circular. To parody slightly, the line-up of footnotes in some books consist mainly of the author and his stale, pale, male friends all citing each other’s work.
It is important to make sure that our footnotes don’t participate in an elite, prestige-invested circle jerk--even if those “stale, pale, male scholars” are the ones we were told while writing our dissertation (or by reviewer #2) that we MUST cite in order to prove our professional competency. The truth is, we do not have to cite them unless we have a direct intellectual debt to them, even if we read them (out of some sense of scholarly obligation). We will naturally read more than we cite in any research. The question we should ask, however, is: Who constitutes our ideal scholarly conversation? 

In the prestige bound world of academic classics, it is natural to want to set ourselves in the context of the most well-known scholars. And the gatekeepers may insist on certain names being present. But you can ask yourself: is that citation to Wilamowitz a debt I owe or the display of membership that I can do without? In fact, we argue, it is more important for younger researchers and more recent scholarship to be centered in our conversations, even if our debt to them might be small. We want them to be included in the conversation more than anyone else. Also, citing more recent scholarship will most likely incorporate engagement with those older ‘foundational’ or ‘key’ works (e.g.”See X 2020 with bibliography”) and it puts you more directly in contact with the current state of your question. Thus, it is not about reaching some quota, ostentatiously performing some sort of scholarly affirmative action--as is a frequent accusation against those who support an intersectional feminist politics of citation [7]. It is an ethics of inclusion where we consider, in the broadest possible way, who we want to be a part of this scholarly conversation, who we want to be in conversation with.

And it doesn't have to be only about today. Can you find that hidden gem from the past, a work neglected that still has value for the conversation? Perhaps that work, because it has been excluded in the past and their ideas ignored, struck something new and exciting within you? As we conduct our research, it typically becomes clear relatively quickly who the standard voices in a conversation are, who we find ourselves in disagreement with, who we vigorously agree with, whose work we find compelling and engaging even if we aren’t talking about exactly the same thing. We are willing to bet that if instead of playing the prestige game, we focus on neglected voices from the past, from different national traditions, and younger voices, not only will our own scholarship be enlivened, but our citations will be far broader than the “stale, pale, male.” An ethics of inclusion will encourage us to add these voices to the conversation and in this way we can work to create the scholarly community we want to be part of, which is especially important if we are doing work that is non-traditional or seeks to revise previous closely held ‘foundational’ scholarly doctrines.

RFK was long ago informed by an editor (while revising her oddly underestimated first monograph)[8] that it was better to present oneself as a part of a rising tide than a voice in the wilderness. The idea was that positioning oneself as the only or the first may grant some personal satisfaction and feed the ego, but it doesn’t do much to invite people into your ideas or include you within their already existing conversations. By choosing the community we want our own work to be positioned within, we invite them to also include us in theirs. And such invitations don’t come by positioning ourselves in opposition to our community, but as part of it. 

Senior scholars can practice an ethics of inclusion by inviting new voices into their work and early career scholars can decide where they want their work to be situated and whose they think it intersects with the most. An ethics of inclusion means not being afraid that your ideas are “too close to” or might overlap in places with those of others. It means looking specifically for those intersections and leveraging them to make your arguments and ideas better and then acknowledging it. This ethics can work in tandem with the Golden Rule, but also (maybe surprisingly) with the second principle, the ethics of exclusion. 

Ethics of exclusion

We might think of the gate-keeping scenario of citation as an exclusionary practice. It is. But this is not what we mean by the ethics of exclusion. Nor, really, do we mean here a type of ‘cancel culture’ that seeks to eliminate the personally problematic scholar. Instead, we mean here a practice of notable non-citation that, partnered with an ethics of inclusion, can speak quite loudly.

Grafton (because of course MP must cite Grafton) points to a particular Italian tradition of the polemical non-citation. We might think here of an example in the study of ancient disability. A scholar working on this topic might read, but then refuse to cite R. Garland’s Eye of the Beholder because he frames the study of ancient disability within the study of monstrosity. The non-citation of this work would stand out as it is often considered a ‘foundational’ or ‘key’ work in bringing disability studies into Classics. This pointed absence would tell the audience everything it needed to know--that the author does not consider the book a work on disability at all. 

This is not to say that this exclusion is fair to Garland or that we would advocate it (we aren’t advocating here, just suggesting options). What it would not be, however, is unheard of. In the Italian tradition (and given the difficulty of obtaining modern secondary works in some Italian cities), Grafton seems right to express his admiration:
The combined precision and obscurity of the Italian citation code compels admiration -- especially in light of the practical difficulties that confront any Italian scholar who wants to read a given work before not citing it.
When we consider the ethics of not citing something, it is helpful to remember simply that non-citation may indeed be an option. In our view, if you owe a debt to a work, however, you should acknowledge it. But outside of that, there is significant space for non citation. It doesn’t mean refusing to read something. It means reading the work and then deciding that it is NOT a work you want yours to be in conversation with. 

Let's look at what seems to us an easy example: Tenny Frank. Tenny Frank’s arguments that ‘race-mixture’ caused the fall of the Roman empire are racist and do not hold up to scrutiny. They also have a large following in deep dark places in the internet that promote ideas like race-mixture = white genocide, that white women who marry Jews are ‘race traitors’, etc. Do we really need to cite something (unless it is the primary source under scrutiny) as a potentially valid explanation for why Rome fell? His work has been superseded in every way, including in the collection of tombstones he relies upon. And yet, it was still being cited in a serious work of scholarship in 2018 and was reprinted by D. Kagan in a history textbook in 1990! Why? Why? Why? Just read Emma Dench’s Romulus’ Asylum and save yourself the trouble of associating yourself with Nazis or of wanting to stab your eyes out to cleanse them after reading it. We care not about the possible personal, moral failings of Dr. T. Frank. He could have been a monster or not. But his scholarship in this case is racist and promotes racist, unfounded, and inaccurate ideas. There is no value in citing it unless the Race and IQ crowd is the community you want to be a part of. 

The question is tricker when we are considering not citing something because the author, not the work, is objectionable. Here, to be clear, we are not talking about evading an obvious debt: if, in presenting your research, you find that you have incurred an obligation to a person or piece of scholarship, this obligation should be acknowledged. While I (MP) can understand how that might put us sometimes in an awkward position, I am not particularly bothered by it because I see it as acknowledging a debt incurred rather than promoting a whole person. While I (RFK) take a somewhat different approach--if the problematic scholar produces scholarship that is directly related to or promotes the problematic behavior (i.e. if one argues for certain types of male-boy relationships in antiquity and uses this to advocate for their legality today), then we can question the value of the scholarship, especially if some of it is published on a ‘press’ that is actually the front for an advocacy group or clearly and dangerously biased think tank. This is different from a person expressing racist ideas whose scholarship is to produce critical commentaries on Lucretius.

Yet in the broader sense of imagining the scholarly conversation we want to be part of there is leeway for simply not citing something. Your personal ethics of citation may lead you to cite it because you believe that a person is not defined by some act, however horrific. Or, your personal ethics of citation encourages exclusions of some people from the scholarly community. Not everything must be cited and passing over in silence is also an age-old venerable scholarly practice. Our goal is not to dictate the correct practice, but to provide a way of thinking that may help you navigate choices that have to be made. For that purpose, we suggest that your citations create as well as possible the community of scholars you want to be part of. If you can pass over something in silence or if your silence can be its own statement, then having a practice that includes an ethics of exclusion can help. This is scholarship. It is neither unusual nor radical.


There is no obligation to cite everything. Acknowledge your debts, yes. But mostly, build the community you want your work to be read and considered within through your practice of citation. Let’s not assume that there is a clear and obvious standard for citation that you deviate from by not citing the Princeton-Harvard-Oxbrige set, by passing over in silence some reviewer’s idea of the ‘foundational’ work and instead citing the forthcoming work or dissertation of a new voice in the field (who you know was obligated to include the lit review!). Something you can consider, however, if it helps, is noting your citation ethics in the methodology section in the introduction of your book or in the acknowledgment footnote of an article. That way, your audience can understand your silences and your inclusions and can better see the community of scholars you envision your work being a part of. 

Perhaps, more important, we ask that you consider why you write. Why do you write? As a student, you wrote often to demonstrate your mastery of the scholarly tools. The dissertation has its own role and is really designed to show your committee that you have jumped through all the hoops, crossed all the ‘T’s and dotted all the ‘i’s, that you are professionally competent. Later, you may need to publish for a job, for tenure, if you are one of those few scholars who 1. has a TT job, 2. is at an elite research university, and 3. has a tenure and promotion committee that cares about whether your work is liked by Prof. Y at Yale. But there is another way to think about it, one that centers our scholarship as writing in and for people and not for the elusive, abstract, and increasingly unattainable ‘tenure’ or the achievement of other metrics. 

One of the authors of this blog post is tenured, but works for a school that privileges teaching and service above scholarship--one of her colleagues has written only one article since 1999 and the other has only published 4 or 5 in 35 years. Neither has ever published a book and the campus is filled with dedicated teachers who only publish the minimum to get tenured and then devote themselves to serving the college and students. Literally no one at the college cares if she ever writes anything ever again nor do they care about the content of what she has already written. The other author has never held a TT position and is in his second decade of being contingent; he only gets reviewed based on teaching. As a result, he writes whatever scholarship seems interesting to him and has the CV of a spectacularly unmotivated magpie. One of us loves discursive notes and over-cites regularly, once producing a 14 page bibliography for a 177 page book. The other is a minimalist who hates any citation that can’t fit in the main text. We both still write scholarship--not because we have to fulfill some metric, but because we want to participate in the conversations happening on topics we enjoy. For most members of our field today, the only reason to write is because we want to be part of a scholarly community. We embrace an ethics of citation that helps us be part of our chosen communities.

In other words, there is no universal standard for citation. You have the ability to decide your own ethics of inclusion and exclusion, as long as you acknowledge debts owed. Hopefully, this short (haha) excursus helps.

*We acknowledge no one in the production of this post, except Omedi, who had nothing at all to do with the writing of this. We just really wanted to cite this quotation from his work.


[1] This description of footnotes by Noel Coward is related by Grafton, 1997, The Footnote: A Curious History, p.69-70. Grafton's "oddly underestimated" book is a major inspiration of MP and the source of most quotations here. RFK has not read the book on footnotes, but feels like she knows it based on how much MP citesplains to her from it all the time. 

[2] We have a major dispute, which has on multiple occasions led to the slamming of doors and at least an hour of not talking, over whether or not the letter accusing Hippolytus of rape could have been written by the gods as part of the plan to ruin Hippolytus and not by Phaedra. On the possibility of this, we disagree. Through no fault of his own, the work of David Konstan (who may never even have stated an opinion on this issue) has been cited as part of this dispute. Often citations are more symbolic than substantive.

[3] As part of her discussion, MB brings up this conundrum: “Suppose the best work on the subject on the coinage of Roman Bithynia was written by a convicted gangland murderer.” We are wondering why it has to be a “gangland” murderer. Could it just be “murderer”, ‘Ndrangheta side hustle in Roman Bithynian coinage notwithstanding. 

[4] He famously refused even to read Mommsen until the end of his groundbreaking “Ancient City” was completed, and then he didn’t even cite it, or really any modern scholarship at all. See Momigliano, Studies in Modern Scholarship. 

[5] RFK assumes she is not alone in writing all of the citations at once after the main body of any article is written, going back to fill in all the notes of “CITATIONS” left dangling in the footnotes during the process of writing? 

[6] MP would regularly assign this article to graduate students, back when it was part of his job to help radicalize professionalize them. RFK has never taught graduate students but remembers reading this article and using it as the justification for her refusal to ever cite Wilamowitz (which she has never done) and for her random announcement while writing her dissertation that she would not cite any work on tragedy written before 1929.

[7] Ahmed, Sara. Living a Feminist Life. Duke University Press Books, 2017. 

[8] Published on a non-prestige press, but with a pretty hefty royalty arrangement, unlike what seems to be the standard with certain unnamed university presses that think first books should not come with much of anything for the author. The book also contains some pretty awesome typos--7 of them in total--including one in German. 

"No Higher Law"

I inherited this image from a recently retired colleague in History. According to the New Hampshire Historical Society, it is a reproduction of an etching from 1851 created by an unknown artist but likely published by William Harned (publishing agent) of New York City. Harned is probably most well-known for his distributions of anti-slavery publications. It is a useful image for understanding some of the ways that the Classical was connected both to pro-enslavement and abolitionist arguments. 

Here is the description from the New Hampshire Historical Society:
In center, throned figure (Slavery) leaning against a table of four skulls supporting a closed Bible covered with a scroll titled, "Fugitive Slave Bill"; figure is wearing a crown of finger bones, holding whip up in air with right hand, left hand bent supporting head, two guns tucked into belt of robe. In front of central figure (allegorical wild beast) appears as an altar decorated with a cat's head, rosettes, urns, two crossed rifles, and flanked by knives with flames at top; labeled, "SACRED TO SLAVERY / LAW".Three crouching slaves and a man (Daniel Webster) standing on the right looking at viewer, holding a scroll of paper that reads: "I propose to support that / bill...to the fullest extent -to / the fullest extent." To the far right, profiled male figure (Liberty) with long hair and beard, hunched over, holding a crown in his right hand that reads "FREEDOM", and in his left a liberty pole and cap. Figure to left is robed figure (religious minister) arguing at central throned figure; left hand pointing toward flag; right hand pouring incense on the fire. Left middle ground, bare-chested (fugitive) slave fights pack of dogs spurred on by two horse and riders. In background, slave family flees into open arms of white family on left; on right toppling statue (Goddess of Liberty) on hill.
The image shows "Slavery" styled as Olympian Zeus, surrounded by the appropriate clouds on his elevated throne, a slavers whip in his hand, while the religious-looking figure to his lower left (maybe representing Christian Abolitionists, in contrast to the Bible resting under his right elbow) is positioned very much in the manner of Ingres' 1811 Zeus and Thetis, pleading with him. Of course, this plea will be unheard and this may be manifested in the separation between the pleading figure and Slavery as opposed to the closeness granted Thetis to her Zeus.  

While Daniel Webster looks at the viewer with his declaration of support for the act, "Freedom" (looking kind of like an Orthodox priest?) is taking off his crown and his Liberty cap (a French Revolution reference) is hanging at the end of its pole (is it glued on?). 

In the background, we see a statue tumbling, which is said to represent the Goddess of Liberty, but it styles very much as an Athena,with spear and shield. As an Athena enthusiast, I should look for more of these obvious uses of her as Liberty.
The representation of Slavery as a Zeus-like Olympian brings to mind the Zeus of Promethean reception, maybe here we see the influence of Goethe or Shelley or some other Romantic version inspired by [Aeschylus] where Zeus is tyrannical and the tone misotheistic

There is a lot to say about such a positioning of Zeus and the Romantic idealisms that influenced and inspired ideas of Freedom (Liberty) and American Slavery--how does the Romantic impulse interact with the supposed Enlightenment ideals of the Constitution? Does the image seek to make clear that those supposedly natural rights and ideas that kept Black Americans enslaved and ineligible for Freedom were in fact fits of temper and tyranny? I keep coming back to Prof. Danielle Allen's "Our Declaration", in which she argues that the ideas of liberty and equality are not in opposition and that they were intended in the Declaration to be mutually supportive--there is no "Separate, but Equal," an argument made by Southern enslavers to prop up first, enslavement, and then Jim Crow. To quote from Steven B. Smith's 2014 NYTimes article on Allen's reading:
"Separate and equal implies mutual respect and reciprocity; separate but equal, hierarchy and domination. To paraphrase the great Dinah Washington, what a difference a word makes!"
Images like this one made to comment on the place of Slavery as an institution in America suggest that not only is Allen correct, but that in the debates over the continuation of slavery, slavery apologists knew it and needed to find ways to combat it and erase that 'self-evident' truth in order to support the continuation of a tyrannical, non-democratic practice. They won this war of words and meanings, as the history of our country since 1865 makes clear, but we should never forgive any of those who fought for enslavement and Black oppression--because it is pretty clear that as 'men of their time', they knew damn well it was evil.   

As for the use of the "Classical", this one is getting added to my collection for discussion. The image makes it very clear what Olympian Zeus/Slavery means to the enslaved--death, torment, despair. How much of this characterization is purely an appeal to the Romantic Prometheus myth? And how much of it reflects the centrality of Greco-Roman classicism to Southern defenses of enslavement? Someone who has done more work than me on these types of images may be able to answer that. For now, I am just putting it out there. 

"Calling Your Students 'Terrorists' is not 'Brave'" and Other Things One Should Not Need to Tell a Colleague

By Rebecca Kennedy and Maximus Planudes

It is never surprising (sadly) when a member of the discipline of Greek and Roman studies outs themselves fully as a willing participant in and peddler of traditional White supremacist ideas. It is even less surprising when the person doing it is a member of the Heterodox Academy. And when they (of course) publish their screed in Q***ette, we come full circle. No one should be shocked. But everyone should be (in the words of one former student in the department of said Classicist) "appalled." And, of course, it is always disappointing in the extreme when we see people who have made their careers on being insightful and smart readers write things that are so full of common errors and ignorance. It always makes us question how very insightful and smart as readers they ever really were. 

The most recent installment in the annals of Classicist Gone White Supremacist is Prof. J. Katz (Princeton) "A Declaration of Independence by a Princeton Professor," a response by Katz to a letter written and signed by hundreds of his colleague at Princeton and published as an Open Letter. And it is all the more appalling because it, as these things often do, presents itself as a work of reasoned thought and correction instead of the ignorant, shallow, and racist opinion piece it actually is. This post is a response to it, co-authored by myself and Maximus Planudes. We write this response for a few reasons. The first is that Katz just has some things wrong, specifically about the history of the US generally and of academic research and knowledge in the last 60 years. He should be corrected. 

Secondly, because he is in a position of power and authority and situated in the heart of the prestige economy of Classics and academia in general. He has had the ability and continues to have the ability to cause harm to many within the field and on his campus--no one who ever speaks of their students as "terrorists" (see below for further discussion) should be allowed in ANY classroom, let alone working in "Freshman Seminars in the Residential Colleges" and "Teacher Preparation," as he lists on his faculty page. We may not have much real power and authority (and will surely never be Fellows at All Souls, as he was), and we do not have nearly the auctoritas and prestige of Prof. Katz, but we have a platform and those of us who have these should speak out when and where we can. 

We must recognize that Katz is positioning himself as a "voice of reason" and "neutral" arbiter and only deems those things that can be fit into the "colorblind" category as appropriate responses. His op-ed is a textbook case of colorblind racism wrapped up in smugness, self-righteousness, and historical inaccuracies being deployed to neutralize any race-conscious anti-racist reparative action. On the other hand, we are cognizant that this is not a fair and balanced response to his response. But, it is neither bullying nor a call for firing nor cancellation. We are merely engaging in robust debate with some occasional snide commentary.

Just be warned: We are not linking to it. You have to do that search yourself. We hate driving traffic to drivel, but feel the op-ed must be addressed.

See also now, this somewhat different response to Katz by Vanessa Stoval.


Let's start at the beginning.

"whom were considered heroes just a few minutes ago": Our colleague opens his piece with what he likely views as a clever comment on "cancel culture". What he misunderstands is that there exist decades (not minutes) of scholarship on these numerous "Founding Fathers," scholarship that questions and, indeed, dismantles their status as "national heroes." For example:

This is the opening of William Freehling's 1972 "The Founding Fathers and Slavery." 1972.  Freehling is, of course, pushing against the negative views of the Founders (specifically Jefferson)--which Katz himself likely agrees with--, but we cite this only to point out that this "cancellation" has been happening for over half a century. That it is only gaining any traction outside of academic circles now is a measure of how powerful our White supremacist institutions are. Katz either does not know that this debate has been around since his birth or is just trying to be cute and failing. 

"In Princeton, New Jersey on July 4th, 2020": Although the Faculty Letter only made the slightest allusion to the Declaration of Independence (it was released on July 4), Katz makes it the conceit motivating his piece, with some confusing consequences. His only comparison does not make much sense. He appears to be aiming at wit with his notion of capitalization (united States vs United States), but the Faculty Letter nowhere says United States. (Incidentally, the Declaration uses 18C conventions of capitalization and the articles of confederacy did capitalize United).  

None of this, of course, addresses the quoted first sentence of the Faculty Letter.: “Anti-Blackness is foundational to America.” It’s worth taking the claim seriously, something Katz seems unable to bring himself to do. Let’s hear from the man once referred to by historians as “the first professional racist in American history,” John H. Van Evrie. Evrie was well known as a popularizer of scientific racism and had a great deal of influence on politicians in his lifetime. He was the author and editor of a weekly magazine called the Weekly Day Book, with its publication masthead “White Men Must Rule America."  He was a slavery apologist who often put slave and slavery in quotation marks because he did not consider the condition of enslavement to be forced, but was simply the natural order of things. In particular, we find his 1867 book White Supremacy and Negro Subordination, or Negroes, A Subordinate Race and Slavery Its Normal Condition helpful to make our point. 

It seems (based on his later comment that anyone who believes this will teach the 1619 project as dogma) that Katz considers the statement obviously false. But! The man who helped popularize scientific racism begs to differ! Let’s see what Evrie tells us about what most “right-thinking” Americans thought about the foundations of America back in 1867. After explaining how climate meant that most Black enslaved people were eventually settled in the southern part of the US, he explains how it was that in Virginia in particular (home, of course, to Thomas Jefferson), the close proximity of a large Black population is what led these once English aristocrats to turn away from their love of monarchy and embrace “new ideas” of governance. 

Further, after another lengthy proof of his point, he declares that the men of Virginia had no choice but to adapt their institutions around the “unalterable fact” of Black natural inferiority:

With a result, of course, that these once English aristocrats became the staunch promoters of democracy and liberty for white men, as exemplified in the “great revolutionary moment of 1776”:

Although Katz seems to think that it makes absolutely no sense for anyone to think that anti-Blackness was a foundational value in America, it seems that there are, in fact, many people historically who have not only thought this was so but embraced it and promoted it widely and used it as evidence for the continued enslavement of Black Americans and then, after Emancipation, for the institution of Jim Crow. Perhaps his inability to realize this self-evident truth is because we as a society have been told repeatedly by those embracing colorblind ideologies that racism is over because we elected a Black president.

The attempt at wit, though, seems designed only to set up his second anxiety about capitalization: how can Black be capitalized but white not (perhaps a reference recent press decisions to capitalize B in Black)?  This bit is disturbing. He is either ignorant of or pretending to be ignorant of decades worth of scholarship on Whiteness (even though he was a colleague of Nell Irvin Painter)--such claims to ignorance by respected scholars are always baffling. The capitalization of a letter designates the category as a recognized, constructed, non-natural racialized status. To leave “white” lower case pretends that Whiteness is an unraced norm or default. It is one of the ways that Whiteness maintains its invisibility. This is one reason why there was push back for not capitalizing both terms.

But, that is not really what we think his point is. The way this is worded (and here we are practicing philology again!), it is almost as if he thinks of himself as White and cannot accept that he should be subordinated to Black by not getting his own capital letter. 

“This moral erosion has made it quite impossible for those who  think of themselves as white in this country to have any moral authority at all—privately, or publicly.” (Baldwin, On being white and other lies).


"I am friends with many people who signed the Princeton letter":  Can't fault him for optimism! 


While the Faculty letter makes no explicit reference to the Declaration, Katz titles his essay a Declaration of Independence. This choice raises a few questions. Does Katz believe that his declaration is indeed a comparable document? At some point, a healthy regard for oneself slips into arrogance. What truths does Katz believe are self-evident?  One more question for those on the job market: he references part of the opening, “When in the course of human events,” but does not complete the sentence. Instead, he complains about the youths these days, whinging that every American child no longer knows the whole sentence. 

What is the whole “long and elegant sentence”? 

"When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation" (Actual Declaration of Independence).

Holy Cow! Is Katz leaving Princeton!? Does he have a job at Ramsey Center for Western Civilization!?  Who knows. It is clear, however, that Katz is a fan of the Declaration. Let us imagine the Katz' family festive fourth of July table. We are told that they read the stirring prose of the Declaration. Surely, they follow it with the powerful and equally moving short speech by Fredrick Douglass. They then, surely, discuss at length Prof. Danielle Allen's important "Our Declaration." Yeah, that surely must be how it goes. 

These plausible imaginings aside, there are numerous additional elements of this letter that one could address. This response is already long; we will restrict ourselves to just a few more of the most egregious. 

For example, in listing the possible reasons many Princeton professors signed the letter, Katz tells us that the last is the largest category.

"(4) They agree with some of the demands and felt it was good to act as “allies” and bring up the numbers even though they do not assent to everything themselves.

I imagine that the majority fall into this last category. Indeed, plenty of ideas in the letter are ones I support."

Reading this, We wondered what separated Katz from category 4. He agrees with some of the demands without assenting to everything. In such a document, one can reasonably sign in that situation. Perhaps, the self-revealing scare quotes around allies resolve the question. Katz perhaps worries that someone might believe him an ally. He need not worry.  

Katz does not support the Faculty Letter, his declaration implies, because he worries that “dozens” of the proposals will lead to a campus “civil war” and undermine the public’s confidence in higher education. Katz is given to reckless exaggeration. We doubt he could find 24 objectionable proposals (there are 43 in total), let alone one that would lead to civil war. In fact, he cites nearly as many proposals that he agrees with as those he dislikes. But let’s explore some of what will bring on Princeton’s “civil war.”

What of the specific proposals that bother him? Let’s start from the clearest statement in the entire letter of his devotion to White innocence and colorblindness: “It boggles my mind that anyone would advocate giving people...extra perks for no other reason other than their pigmentation.” This one is a doozy. Firstly, because it suggests just how ignorant (willfully or accidentally) he is of the history of anti-Black racism in America and how it has functioned since the Civil Rights movement (we would recommend Bonilla-Silva Racism without Racists, but Katz doesn’t seem much interested in scholarship written on race in the last 5 or 6 decades). It is especially clear that he does not recognize how much his own skin color provides him with advantages. More distressing, however, is how he seems to understand it as a matter of pigmentation. One of the most obvious and enduring aspects of Whiteness is its position as the absence of color, which, again, identifies Whiteness as normal and everything else as deviant.

Then there is the principle of White neutrality: anyone who thinks that anti-Blackness is foundational would “teach the 1619 project as dogma.” Controversy over the 1619 project aside, this is an almost explicit statement that Katz does not trust his Black colleagues or anyone who signed that letter (if they are one of the “believers'') to be balanced and neutral in their teaching of US History. While he, on the other hand, of course, recognizes that slavery and race had something to do with America (just not much). This is why we are certain that he read Douglass and discussed Allen at his festive 4th of July table--because he is balanced and reasonable. This is no different from Black journalists who were barred by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from reporting on the George Floyd/Black Lives Matters protests since they (but not White colleagues) were deemed unable to do so without bias. This statement by Katz makes it clear that he does not think anti-Black racism has shaped American society. And, honestly, for people who believe this, there is no evidence that will ever be enough evidence to convince them otherwise. This type of belief in the face of overwhelming evidence is the actual dogma. 

What follows next is probably the most egregious misrepresentation in the entire op-ed:

This student organization is NOT listed as a known terrorist organization. We checked. This statement, one of his numerous exaggerations in the op-ed, presents a claim so misleading that it borders on hate speech itself (by legal definition). We are not at Princeton and have no first-hand evidence about this group. Katz says that they made people who disagreed with them “miserable” and that he watched something on Instagram, something that he classified “as one of the most evil things he has seen.” We are guessing he has not watched any videos of the numerous Black Americans killed by police. Regardless, it is still not terrorism. It sounds more like a dog whistle to those who believe that anyone advocating for Black lives is a terrorist. We hope he didn't mean it that way. (PS. he made a "800-word statement" on his 'metaphorical use' of the terms. Lol. You can find it linked in this article along with a department statement and uni president statement).

The last in the list worth addressing is the call for a committee. Even Katz agrees that racist behaviors and incidents require disciplinary actions. The more troubling is faculty oversight of research and publications. This is a place where we also would want to be careful and we think that the letter writers themselves recognize the dangers. (See now this detailed response by Prof. Andrew Cole of Princeton on this element of the letter).

Katz asks rhetorically whether there is anyone who “doesn’t believe that this committee would be a star chamber with a low bar for cancellation, punishment, suspension, even dismissal?” We don't believe it nor, seemingly, do those who signed the letter. Katz’s discussion is alarmist, but let’s look at the actual proposal from the Faculty Letter:  

"Constitute a committee composed entirely of faculty that would oversee the investigation and discipline of racist behaviors, incidents, research, and publication on the part of faculty, following a protocol for grievance and appeal to be spelled out in Rules and Procedures of the Faculty. Guidelines on what counts as racist behavior, incidents, research, and publication will be authored by a faculty committee for incorporation into the same set of rules and procedures."

This is academic bureaucracy, as familiar to Katz as to any faculty member. They want a group of faculty to create a document that sets out guidelines for what counts as racist actions on campus. Such a document would be crafted by Princeton faculty and have to pass, we imagine, a full faculty vote. There would then be a faculty only committee to oversee the enforcement of those rules, including a process for appeal. The devil will, of course, be in the details, but an arbitrary star chamber is not envisioned. And we want to add a dose of realism to hysterical academic handwringing. From our experience, any document that makes it through a full faculty vote will be so watered down that it will hardly be anti-racist anymore. 

And, let’s also be clear--there already are committees and people who police research and scholarship. Sometimes it happens in peer review, sometimes at the tenure and promotion committee table. Sometimes it happens in conversations where we are told that x topic (insert something involving race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, reception) is not an “appropriate” topic for a “real scholar”. We all know it happens. Katz’s alarmism is perhaps addressed to people who carry on what can be understood as research with explicitly racist goals (race and IQ studies, for example--a favorite topic at Q***ette). We will never know.

In the end, the Faculty Letter is clear that it is offering “principled steps” that require “faculty endorsement and input.” The letter expresses the desire for discussions of its content.  Did Katz speak with any of the signatories, many who were(?) his “friends”, about his concerns?  Why did he publish this? In contrast to the Letter writers, his goal is unclear, unless it is just an anti-woke, self-aggrandizing, virtue signal to his colleagues over at the Heterodox Academy. We hope not.