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Letter from Athens: Cancel My Subscription to Cancel Culture, Save Homer!

Ευρωκίνηση

The Statue of Homer in Stavros, Ithaca. (Photo by Eurokinissi/ Yiorgos Kontarinis)

Well, zippity doo dah, now it's come to this, that people want to erase from human history with revisionist rants the greats of literature, from Homer right up to Shakespeare and the inimitable Dr. Seuss, who should have written Green Eggs and Hamlet: “To be or not to be, that is what I think of me.”

Okay, Dr. Seuss wasn't right up there with Harper Lee, but now her To Kill A Mockingbird is also being assailed for not confronting racism, these works in the 20th Century, not more than 2,000 years ago when this subject wasn't exactly on the table.

It must be stated up front that racism is abhorrent, despicable, and a part of human behavior that stains the human race, but you can't go back in time and try to change what wasn't known then.

Some years ago I was watching a samurai movie at a theater and women in the film were being very badly mistreated, which happened in 18th Century Japan (and today too of course) and two women seated behind me said that shouldn't have been shown.

Well, neither should Breakfast at Tiffany's for Mickey Rooney's abysmally racist and goofy depiction of Mr. Yunioshi, but that movie is still being shown and why didn't Audrey Hepburn condemn it at the time, I ask you!

If you want to honestly question racism or whiteness in literature from films to books to music (Brown Sugar, Turning Japanese, Kung Fu Fighting) then it must be discussed, and apparently misogyny is okay, like Snoop Dogg's Ain't No Fun (If The Homies Can't Have None.)

People who are upset with these outrageous mischaracterizations have a point that must be heard, but so must other voices, which is the nature of critical thinking and learning that goes back to Ancient Greece and up to the Pnyx where people could speak their minds.

In his trilogy Black Athena, author Martin Bernal argued that the ancient Egyptians and Phoenicians colonized ancient Greece, despite there being no archaeological evidence, such as the Parthenon being a pyramid.

He said it was a change in the Western perception of Greece starting in the 18th Century that led to a denial by academia of any significant African and Phoenician influence on ancient Greek civilization, to withering criticism from academics.

Most cultures borrow from other cultures over the eons or else there wouldn't any countries, just one big giant Mesopotamia, so people who argue that the contributions of Ancient Greece should be of a different color have insulated themselves from debate.

It's a tiny step from wanting to cancel any culture you don't like to a fatwa like Salman Rushdie has been living under, and the problem here is rule #1 in life: it all depends on whose ox is being gored. Your guy is wrong but mine isn't.

The doubting of the value of Ancient Greek thinking has now reached an apex, or perhaps a trench more accurately, with the sophistry (that's a Greek word but maybe the Greek language was stolen from some other culture) by Dan-el Padilla Peralta.

From the Dominican Republic, he teaches at Princeton and is a leading historian of Rome, which stole much of its culture from Greece, which stole much of its culture from Egypt, which stole most of its culture from ... well, you see where this thread becomes a Gordian Knot – a legend from the city of Gordium in the ancient kingdom of Phrygia – cut by Alexander the Great, who may have used a sword borrowed from another culture.

Padilla said those who wrote the Classics, back to Homer, contributed to a thinking that should be rubbed out, and Ancient Greece not portrayed as saving Western Civilization, so apparently it was some other country's soldiers who were at Marathon and Thermopylae.

This makes it fashionable to assail everyone from Homer to Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Heraclitus, and perhaps even Pythagoras for his tricky cup, which to some thinking is as valuable to humanity as Rubik's Cube.

Heather Levine, an English teacher at Lawrence, Mass. High School, said she was “very proud to say we got the Odyssey removed from the curriculum this year!” What's next, burning books?

Padilla said Classics were instrumental to the invention of ‘whiteness’ and its domination because the people who wrote them were white, the kind of perception you can only find in the Ivy League.

This would make him second there among Princeton greats behind only Pete Carrill, the former basketball coach who bedeviled far superior teams with his theory of constant motion and back door cuts, but he got that from Bernard ‘Red’ Sarachek, who coached at Yeshiva from 1938-77 so time for Carrill to be canceled.

The Parthenon Marbles that the thieves at the British Museum stole are white and another argument, correct as it is, notes that there were slaves in Ancient Greece. So let's talk about why that was, not just eliminate it.

Padilla has legitimate points, and the contributions of African, Latino, Asian, and other cultures to humanity are undeniable and enduring, but starting a class war just provokes war, it does not end it, and I guess Princeton will have to stop teaching the Classics.

That's okay by him. “I want nothing to do with it. I hope the field dies,” he said, but it won't and will still be taught long after his argument dies.