The Department of Classics at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville condemns the recent acts of violence by white supremacists that occurred on the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 11 and 12, 2017. The department also condemns the hateful ideology espoused by all white supremacist groups. We mourn the loss of Heather Heyer, H. Jay Cullen, and Berke Bates, and express our condolences to their families and friends. We grieve for all those who have suffered from racism, anti-semitism, and racial terrorism.
Following the statement issued by the Board of Directors of the Society of Classical Studies, we further condemn “the use of the texts, ideals, and images of the Greek and Roman world to promote racism or a view of the Classical world as the unique inheritance of a falsely-imagined and narrowly-conceived western civilization.” The ancient Mediterranean world has long been a source of examples for later generations to use in the pursuit of their own interests, for better and for worse. The appropriation of the Classical past toward promoting hatred and racism is injurious and wrong. It is intellectually shallow. It runs counter to the spirit of the study of history that requires a mature understanding of the past in all its failures and virtues, and the role that history has in the present. In this light, it is imperative that the lessons of the Classical world should serve not as a justification for the basest prejudices of this age, but as inspiration for greater empathy and understanding.
While the tragic events of Charlottesville have just occurred, averting future outrages demands constant vigilance. It is in this present moment that this generation, like those before it, must make a conscious choice to strive for a more just and humane society that acknowledges the equal rights of all. The cause of that perpetual and admirable goal requires at all times a readiness to confront and condemn hatred, racism, fascism, and all those who intimidate and terrorize others through their language and behavior. This hostility is threatening to the very fiber of society, and warrants censure by all people of good conscience. A free nation requires that everyone stand in the vanguard to protect their neighbor’s rights.