FRANCE has announced a campaign to boost teaching of Latin and Greek in what commentators are saying amounts to a 'war on woke' amid allegations of racism against the Classics, while French officials believe the education effort will help strengthen European ties.


What’s happening?

Latin and Greek are widely regarded as languages of scholarship and have, throughout history, been considered essential for anyone wishing to join such circles, but they have been the focus of ‘racism’ allegations in the United States.



In the summer, it was confirmed by Ivy League Princeton University in New Jersey that classics students will no longer be required to learn Latin or Greek as part of a sweeping bid to address systemic racism. A diversity and equity statement on the department’s website states:  “The history of our own department bears witness to the place of Classics in the long arc of systemic racism”.


So the feeling is the field has not been inclusive?

The statement adds: “We condemn and reject in the strongest possible terms the racism that has made our department and our field inhospitable to Black and non-Black scholars of colour, and we affirm that Black Lives Matter.”


Not everyone agrees?

American linguist John McWhorter said he wanted to know “it's not a way of saying through the back door that we want to have more Black students, and it's racist to expect them to learn Latin and Greek”. 



Princeton professor Dan-el Padilla Peralta told Greek newspaper Kathimerini: “What I see as problematic is the incredible unwillingness to take seriously the provocation that there is a history of race and racism within Classics and that Classics as a discipline is very much a part of broader constructions, Euroamerica and global constructions of white supremacy.” 


It comes after…?

Howard University in Washington, DC cut its classics department and a Massachusetts High School removed Homer’s The Odyssey which followed an online campaign by progressive education activists to "disrupt texts" they believe may teach racism or other forms of hate.


So what is happening in France?

France has announced efforts to boost teaching the classics in schools, with education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, signing a charter, along with his peers from Cyprus, Greece and Italy, to pledge "a global and international strategy for the promotion and development of Latin and ancient Greek”.


They believe the anti-Classics effort is ‘woke’?

Blanquer said he has “read and heard these critics, some of whom go so far as to pretend that you can find in Homer an apology of slavery. In the US there are academics who draw up charters to decolonialise ancient authors. I find such interpretations absolutely flabbergasting: it is an unfathomable absurdity to stick a vision of the contemporary world on texts dating from 2,000 years ago. This is a sordid historic and moral revision”.


As for European ties?

Blanquer told The Times boosting the classics would help strengthen the bond between EU member states, saying that “our foremost link . . . our first federating element” were Latin and Greek.