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Unraveling White Supremacy: Reflections on Becoming Anti-racist

By Dr. Heather Harwood, Classics Faculty

Unraveling White Supremacy: Reflections on Becoming Anti-racist

As Penelope, the heroine of the Odyssey, awaits her husband’s return from the Trojan war, she spends her time weaving and unweaving the same piece of fabric- a shroud intended for her father-in-law’s funeral. 

“[E]very day she wove the mighty cloth and then at night, by torchlight, she unwove it.” (2.107-108) The poet tells us that she had been doing this for three years before the dozens of suitors – local men who have been visiting her palace to ask for her  hand in marriage – discovered the trick. When they finally realize she has been deceiving them, these suitors become angry and tell her son Telemachus to force her to choose one of them right away – a crisis that begins the action of the rest of the poem’s long narrative.

Readers of the Odyssey often point to this passage as an example of Penelope’s “capacity for clever deceit and false storytelling,” evidence that she too, like her husband Odysseus, is polytrope, clever and versatile, or, as Emily Wilson newly translates this epithet, “complicated.” But as Wilson rightly points out, Penelope’s practice of doing and undoing is different from the kind of trickery for which her husband is known. While Odysseus’s lies are always designed to advance his way in the world or achieve some heroic feat, Penelope’s action is not a fabrication of the truth, but the opposite: a refabrication of her reality. With her nightly unfurling of the cloth, she is seeking to hold the sometimes violent threat of the suitors in check while simultaneously holding space for a different ending to her story, the ending she wants to come true and which will in fact be the end of the story, namely her husband’s homecoming. Penelope’s trick (if it can be considered one) both saves her life and makes it possible for the rest of the story to be sung. (Wilson, 45) 

I want to offer this story about Penelope as a starting point for my reflections on how to begin the work of becoming anti-racist for two reasons. First, many of the words currently in use to describe our relationship to racism and white supremacy (implicit, explicit, complicit) derive from words that can also be used to describe the intricate work of ancient textile production. Second, I think this story of Penelope weaving, unweaving and reweaving provides an apt metaphor for the work of becoming an anti-racist. Unraveling and untangling all of the threads of white supremist culture in your life is difficult work — ongoing, messy and often very uncomfortable. The narrative of American history is only part of the tapestry of white supremacy, which has its origins in ancient and modern European history. In what follows, I will present one way to think about how to develop a capacity for identifying, explicating and finally unraveling the threads of white supremacy. 

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What’s Old is New: Changes in the Classics Department at St. Mark’s School

By Ms. Jeanna Cook, Classics Department Head

What’s Old is New: Changes in the Classics Department at St. Mark’s School

I know what you’re thinking, how could anything related to the Classics be new? You are right to assume that our body of evidence about the ancient world is limited to that which has survived. Fresh discoveries pulled out of the sands of Egypt or deaccessioned from a private collection are few and far between. The evolution, the excitement, and the new in Classics is in the reinterpretation of the material we have had in hand for thousands of years. Recently this reinterpretation has asked better questions about what is missing in order to form new understandings. What evidence of everyday lives in the ancient world has been passed over in favor of the historical record of Roman elites? Whose voices are missing in the historical, or written, record? How can we use the archaeological record to listen for these voices?

In response to the St. Mark’s: Actions to Be An Anti-Racist School petition and in alliance with the voices amplified by the BlackAtSM Instagram account, we introduced a new textbook, Suburani in the Classics Department over the summer. The readings in this text represent the real and imagined voices of the majority non-elite population, with numbers in the millions, who both benefited from and suffered under the dominance of Roman Imperium. 

The writers of Suburani by HandsUp Education developed this textbook in response to student interest in the lives of everyday people in Roman society. Most texts written for the Latin students of the past century have relied upon the historical record to tell the experience of Roman culture from the perspective of Roman boys and men. These characters are literate, involved in the conflicts of Rome’s political sphere, and authors and consumers of the literature and philosophy of their time. In contrast, Suburani couples the limited extant record of everyday people with the artifacts of everyday life. In this text, physical clues, such as amphorae that carried olive oil from Hispania to Rome, stamped roof tiles from large apartment blocks, and graffiti inscribed on neighborhood walls, develop the stories of the individuals who left a less verbose record of their lives in the first century CE.

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Classical Diploma Mosaics

By Illia Rebechar and Emily Taylor, VI Form

Classical Diploma Mosaics

Note: Each year students who are taking Greek II and have also taken three years of Latin work together throughout the spring to present a project at the end of the year to receive their Classical Diplomas. This year the project was driven by the question: How is the study of Classical languages and cultures still relevant to the 21st-century learner? Students worked through rounds of brainstorming over Zoom and ultimately ended with a project that would use a classical art form, mosaic pieces, to communicate the relevance of classical influences all around us.

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My Summer of Shoshin: Applying Beginner’s Mind to Learning Ancient Greek

By Dr. Heather Harwood, Classics Faculty

My Summer of Shoshin: Applying Beginner’s Mind to Learning Ancient Greek

Imagine this. You fly across the ocean to a different continent to go to school. You miss a connection and your plane is delayed, so you arrive a day late. You make your way from the airport to the campus of the school where you meet your roommate (someone you have never met before) and several other “ new” students. Most of the students you soon realize are returning for their third or fourth year to the school. These students know the campus, they know each other, and they know the teachers. At the opening night ceremony and for the remainder of your time at the school, the teachers and many of the returning students all converse in a language which, while you have studied it in books your whole life, you have never really heard spoken or spoken yourself. You go to bed a jumble of conflicting feelings: brain-numbing exhaustion from your journey, excitement and eagerness to start learning, uncertainty about whether you should even be here, homesickness for your dog, and total fear.

Sound familiar?

While this is the experience of many students coming to St. Mark’s for the first time from abroad, it was also my experience this past summer when I traveled to Greece to participate in Paediea Institute’s Living Greek in Greece program. I now have a much better understanding of what many of you who come to St. Mark’s from another country experience. The “school” I attended, however, was actually only a two week workshop held in a small coastal town called Selianitika where students, professors and high school teachers of Ancient Greek gathered to learn how to understand and speak Ancient Greek.

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Nepos: What Was No Spartan Woman Too Proud To Do?

By Tommy Flathers, IV Form

Nepos: What Was No Spartan Woman Too Proud To Do?

When Ms. Cook and I were going over what I had read over the week sometime early in Window 1, we came across this phrase. I flagged it down as a potential essay topic and have looked forward to exploring it in more detail. I am looking forward to researching the morality of the Greeks and Romans, or how the Romans viewed the morality of the Greeks. Currently, I have almost no knowledge of the subject. All that I know I learned from reading Nepos. I think that it might be “ad scaenam” because in line 5 he also mentions the stage.

Research question:

What could Nepos have written on line 4 of his Prologue? What was no Spartan woman too proud to do? Judging by contextual clues, which option makes the most sense? What evidence from the Latin text supports your claim? (more…)

Self-Paced Learning in Latin III and III Honors

By Jeanna Cook and Dr. Heather Harwood, Classics Faculty

Self- Paced Learning in Latin III and III Honors

The Classics Department is trying something new this year: self-paced learning. We kicked off this departmental goal almost accidentally as we planned for separate courses in separate places this past summer. Dr. Heather Harwood was working on revamping the Latin III Honors course to better support students who continue with the language in Advanced Latin Readings thereafter. Jeanna Cook was looking for a way to restructure the Latin III course to better serve incoming students who place into Latin III. In our first department meeting of the year, we realized that we were attempting to solve different problems, but that we had designed curricula that pulled from the same methodology. Self-paced learning, assisted by the module structure in our LMS, Canvas, offered a common means by which we hoped that we could achieve our individual course goals. (more…)