CLAS/ANTH 3009: Modern Issues, Ancient Times
Race & Antiquity
Spring 2018
Tuesday Thursday 3:30–4:45 pm
VAC 1B88

Instructor information

Professor Dimitri Nakassis
Office:                  Eaton Humanities 1B25
Office hours:       10 am – 12 noon on Wednesday (or by appointment)
Phone:                  303-492-8184

Class description

This class is an introduction to identity and difference in the ancient Mediterranean world, with special emphasis on the Greeks and Romans. How did ancient authors and artists express and understand differences (which today we might call ‘racial’ or ‘ethnic’) between various communities living in and around the Mediterranean? How did they explain these differences? In trying to answer these questions, we’ll survey the rich evidence, mostly textual but also material, that survives about the peoples of the ancient world, from Ethiopians to Scythians, from Indians to Gauls. In exploring this evidence, we’ll also reflect on modern identities, and especially the way that ancient perceptions influenced modern ideas about ‘race.’ No background in the ancient world or anthropology is necessary or expected.

Course objectives
  • To understand better the ways that the ancients (and moderns) understood and organized human communities and the world through their creative and literary production;
  • To explore the complex developments in thinking about difference from the ancient Greek and Roman world to the present;
  • To read, write, discuss, and think critically about ancient evidence and modern scholarship.
Required reading
  • Anthology = Race and Ethnicity in the Classical World: An Anthology of Primary Sources in Translation, by R.F. Kennedy, C.S. Roy and M.L. Goldman (2013). ISBN 978-1-60384-994-4 (paperback).
  • McCoskey = Race: Antiquity & Its Legacy, by Denise McCoskey (2012). ISBN 978-0-19-538188-7 (paperback).
  • Canvas = Readings on Canvas:

General attendance and participation: 20%

I expect you to attend class regularly and to participate in class discussions. Although there will be some lecture, ultimately the most meaningful progress in our understanding will happen through class discussion.

Leading class discussion, three times: 30%

Over the course of the semester, starting in Week 3, you’ll be in charge of helping to lead class discussion three times. We should have about four discussion leaders per class, so you won’t be alone. I’ll create a sign-up sheet on Canvas so that we can all track who’s responsible for each class.

At the beginning of the class for which you’re a discussion leader, you’ll turn in to me a short written assignment (500-1000 words). This will help you to prepare for class discussion and help me to evaluate your engagement with the readings. Your goals are twofold:

(i) Briefly summarize what you understand to be some of the most important points of the readings, and

(ii) Respond in some way to the readings, either by criticizing them, or adding to them, or asking any obvious questions, or comparing what you find in the readings to something else, or connecting ideas that you find in the readings to other ideas or materials that you’ve encountered elsewhere (in this class, another class, something that you’ve read or experienced, etc.).

I would prefer the written part of this assignment in hard copy (in a pinch, electronically to me via e-mail).

Two short papers (due March 8 and May 3): 30%

Imagine that you are approached by The New Yorker, The New Criterion, The Atlantic, or a similar literary/cultural magazine to write a short (1500 to 2000-word) article aimed a general audience who doesn’t know all that much about the ancient world. The subject of your article is the topic of our class: how is the ancient world “good to think with” about modern issues? How does ancient history help us to understand the problems that we face today?

Final exam (take-home, due Sat. May 5 by 4:00 p.m.): 20%

I’ll provide you with a set of four (or more) essay questions based on the class readings (and discussion) in advance, of which you’ll answer two.

Academic Policies

Accommodation for Disabilities

If you qualify for accommodations because of a disability, please submit your accommodation letter from Disability Services to your faculty member in a timely manner so that your needs can be addressed.  Disability Services determines accommodations based on documented disabilities in the academic environment.  Information on requesting accommodations is located on the Disability Services website (  Contact Disability Services at 303-492-8671 or for further assistance.  If you have a temporary medical condition or injury, see Temporary Medical Conditions under the Students tab on the Disability Services website and discuss your needs with your professor.

Religious Holidays

Campus policy regarding religious observances requires that faculty make every effort to deal reasonably and fairly with all students who, because of religious obligations, have conflicts with scheduled exams, assignments or required attendance.  In this class, you must notify me at least 14 days in advance of any religious observance so that we can make alternative arrangements for your absence.

Classroom Behavior

Students and faculty each have responsibility for maintaining an appropriate learning environment. Those who fail to adhere to such behavioral standards may be subject to discipline. Professional courtesy and sensitivity are especially important with respect to individuals and topics dealing with race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, age, disability, creed, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, veteran status, political affiliation or political philosophy.  Class rosters are provided to the instructor with the student's legal name. I will gladly honor your request to address you by an alternate name or gender pronoun. Please advise me of this preference early in the semester so that I may make appropriate changes to my records.  For more information, see the policies on classroom behavior and the Student Code of Conduct.

Sexual Misconduct, Discrimination, Harassment and/or Related Retaliation

The University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder) is committed to maintaining a positive learning, working, and living environment. CU Boulder will not tolerate acts of sexual misconduct, discrimination, harassment or related retaliation against or by any employee or student.  CU’s Sexual Misconduct Policy prohibits sexual assault, sexual exploitation, sexual harassment, intimate partner abuse (dating or domestic violence), stalking or related retaliation. CU Boulder’s Discrimination and Harassment Policy prohibits discrimination, harassment or related retaliation based on race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, age, disability, creed, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, veteran status, political affiliation or political philosophy. Individuals who believe they have been subject to misconduct under either policy should contact the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance (OIEC) at 303-492-2127. Information about the OIEC, the above referenced policies, and the campus resources available to assist individuals regarding sexual misconduct, discrimination, harassment or related retaliation can be found at the OIEC website.

Honor Code

All students enrolled in a University of Colorado Boulder course are responsible for knowing and adhering to the academic integrity policy. Violations of the policy may include: plagiarism, cheating, fabrication, lying, bribery, threat, unauthorized access to academic materials, clicker fraud, resubmission, and aiding academic dishonesty. All incidents of academic misconduct will be reported to the Honor Code Council (; 303-735-2273). Students who are found responsible for violating the academic integrity policy will be subject to nonacademic sanctions from the Honor Code Council as well as academic sanctions from the faculty member. Additional information regarding the academic integrity policy can be found at the Honor Code Office website.


If you believe that your work has been incorrectly or unfairly graded, you may ask for a remarking. You must make this request as soon as is reasonably possible after receiving the marked work. If the test is remarked, you are required to accept the remark, whether it goes up or down.


I will make announcements verbally in class and electronically via D2L and e-mail. It is your responsibility to check D2L and your University e-mail address on a regular basis.

Complicated materials

Some (or maybe all) of the material we’ll deal with in this class is complicated; some of it may be difficult to read and to talk about. I’ll do my best to deal with class materials sensitively, but please do talk to me if you have any questions or issues. This is primarily a class about the ancient world, and it’s also very empirical (that is to say, there’s a lot of ancient evidence – too much evidence! – that we’ll be sorting through and dealing with). But the nature of the class is to interrogate the relationship between ancient times and modern issues, and so we’ll inevitably talk about race in 21st century America. We need to maintain a civil classroom atmosphere, especially because so much of the class is discussion-based. That doesn’t mean that we should always agree: far from it! It’s through disagreeing that we’ll learn the most about our positions (i.e., not only what we believe but also, and more importantly, why we believe the things we do). I’ll do my best to be a neutral arbiter in the classroom, but please speak with me if I’m falling short of my duties.

Course schedule

Subject to modification.  Readings should be completed before the class for which they are assigned.

Week 1

Tuesday, January 16

Topic: Class introduction

Reading: none

Thursday, January 18

               Topic: Some preliminaries


Discussion: What is meant by “race,” exactly, in 2018? What about “ethnicity”? How much change has there been in what “race” has meant, and how does that influence your expectations for what we’ll find in ancient authors?

Week 2

Tuesday, January 23

Topic: Background on the Greek world (lecture)


  • Oxford Classical Dictionary entries on “Greece (prehistory and history),” “Persia” and “Egypt” (Canvas)
  • John Coleman, “Ancient Greek Ethnocentrism,” pp. 175-220 (Canvas)
  • Benjamin Isaac, “Ethnic Prejudice and Racism,” pp. 328-339 (Canvas)

Discussion: none

Thursday, January 25

Topic: Background on the Roman world (lecture)

Reading: Oxford Classical Dictionary entry on “Rome (history)” (Canvas)

Discussion: none

Week 3

Tuesday, January 30

Topic: Race in Antiquity


  • Oxford Classical Dictionary entries on “Race” and “Nationalism” (Canvas)
  • Erich Gruen, “Fictitious Kinships: Greeks and Others” (Canvas)
  • Erich Gruen, “Did Romans Have an Ethnic Identity?” (Canvas)

Discussion: Based on what you have read so far, what (in broad strokes) seems similar and different about ancient Greek and Roman ideas of identity and difference from modern ones?

Thursday, February 1

Topic: Skin color and antiquity


Discussion: For us, skin color is an important marker of difference; what about the Greeks and Romans?

Week 4

Tuesday, February 6

Topic: “White” Greek statues


Discussion: Were you surprised to learn that Greek and Roman statues were originally painted? How much does it change the way you think about them? Do you agree with Sarah Bond about the implications of whitewashing ancient statues?

Thursday, February 8

Topic: Homer and Hesiod


  • Anthology, ch. 1 (pp. 3-13)
  • Dougherty, The Raft of Odysseus (Canvas)
  • Brent Shaw, “Eaters of Flesh, Drinkers of Milk” (Canvas)

Discussion: What awareness do early Greek poems show of what we would call “race” or “ethnicity” generally? How should we interpret the Cyclops episode in the Odyssey in particular?

Week 5

Tuesday, February 13

Topic: Genealogical theories


  • Anthology, ch. 2 (pp. 15-33)
  •  Jonathan Hall, Hellenicity, ch. 1 (Canvas)
  • Robert Fowler, “Genealogical thinking” (Canvas)

Discussion: Reflecting on this week’s readings and on the Gruen articles that we read last week, what characterizes genealogical modes of explanation? How do they work to articulate sameness and difference?

Thursday, February 15

Topic: Greeks in the Mediterranean


Discussion: What effect, if any, did “colonial” encounters have on Greek identities?

Week 6

Tuesday, February 20

Topic: Environmental theories


  • Anthology, ch. 3 (pp. 35-51)
  • McCoskey, pp. 35-49
  • Benjamin Isaac, The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity (Canvas)

Discussion: How do various authors describe different groups? Are the differences natural, environmental, cultural, or all of these?

Thursday, February 22

Topic: Genetic & cultural theories


  • Anthology, ch. 4-5 (pp. 53-80)
  • McCoskey, pp. 49-76
  • Rebecca Futo Kennedy, “Airs, Waters, Metals, Earth” (Canvas)

Week 7

Tuesday, February 27

Topic: Egypt


  • Anthology, ch. 6-7 (pp. 83-140)
  • James Redfield, “Herodotus the Tourist” (Canvas)
  • François Hartog, “Greeks as Egyptologists” (Canvas)

Thursday, March 1

Topic: Libya


  • Anthology, ch. 8 (pp. 141-178)
  • Erich Gruen, “Punica Fides” (Canvas)

Week 8

Tuesday, March 6

Topic: Ethiopia


  • Anthology, ch. 9 (pp. 179-201)
  • Frank Snowden, Jr., “Greeks and Ethiopians” (Canvas)
  • Margaret Miller, “The Myth of Bousiris” (Canvas)

Thursday, March 8

Topic: Africans in Greek and Roman art


  • Frank Snowden, Jr., The Image of the Black in Western Art ch. 3 (Canvas)
  • McCoskey, pp. 132-143

Week 9

Tuesday, March 13

Topic: Persia


  • Anthology, ch. 10 (pp. 203-242)
  • McCoskey, pp. 148-152
  • Pierre Briant, “History and Ideology: The Greeks and ‘Persian Decadence’” (Canvas)

Discussion: What characterizes the Persians in our ancient sources? Are the descriptions surprising, considering that much of Greece had just fought and won a war against an invasion commanded by the Persian Great King?

Thursday, March 15

Topic: Persians in art


  • McCoskey, pp. 143-148
  • Margaret Miller, “Persians in the Greek Imagination” (Canvas)
  • Margaret Miller, “I am Eurymedon” (Canvas)

Discussion: What do the artistic sources add to our understanding of Greek attitudes towards Persia?

Week 10

Tuesday, March 20

Topic: Asia


  • Anthology, ch. 11-13
  • Erich Gruen, “Romans and Jews” (Canvas)
  • Grant Parker, The Making of Roman India (Canvas)

Thursday, March 22

Topic: Europe


  • Anthology, ch. 14-15
  • McCoskey, pp. 76-80
  • Despoina Tsiafakis, “The Allure and Repulsian of Thracians in the Art of Classical Athens” (Canvas)

Spring break

Week 11

Tuesday, April 3

Topic: Roman art, part one


  • McCoskey, pp. 153-166
  • I.M. Ferris, Enemies of Rome, chapter 1 (Canvas)
  • John Clarke, Looking at Laughter, chapter 5 (Canvas)

Thursday, April 5

Topic: Roman art, part two

  • Brian Rose, “The Parthians in Augustan Rome” (Canvas)
  • I.M. Ferris, Enemies of Rome, chapter 3 (Canvas)
  • Jas Elsner, Imperial Rome and Christian Triumph, chapter 5 (Canvas)

Week 12

Tuesday, April 10

Topic: Slavery


  • Vincent Rosivach, Historia (Canvas)
  • Page duBois, “Slavery,” The Oxford Handbook of Hellenic Studies (Canvas)
  • Keith Bradley, “On Captives under the Principate” (Canvas)

Discussion: What was the relationship between race/ethnicity and slavery in the ancient world?

Thursday, April 12

Topic: Hellenistic & Roman Egypt


  • Graham Shipley, The Greek World After Alexander (Canvas)
  • McCoskey, pp. 81-131
  • Debbie Challis, “What’s in a Face?” (Canvas) & skim images of mummy portraits (Canvas)

Discussion: Hellenistic and Roman Egypt was diverse and multi-cultural, but there are some indications of prejudice, too; what does this tell us about ancient attitudes?

Week 13

Tuesday, April 17

Topic: Ancients & race theory


  • Richard McMahon, The Races of Europe, chapter 3 (Canvas)
  • Debbie Challis, “The Ablest Race” (Canvas)
  • Robert Knox, The Races of Men: A Fragment, pp. 39-51 (Canvas)

Discussion: Why, do you think, were ancient Greeks and Romans associated with Europeans, especially northern Europeans?

Thursday, April 19

Topic: Nazi race theory


Discussion: Nazi appropriations of race theory resulted in the latter being thoroughly discredited, but not other ideas, like the notion that ancient Greeks and Romans were effectively ‘white’ Europeans; why not?

Week 14

Tuesday, April 24

Topic: Orientalism

  • Edward Saïd, Orientalism, pp. 49-73 (Canvas)
  • Dirk Held, “Shaping Eurocentrism: The Uses of Greek Antiquity” (Canvas)
  • Edith Hall, “Aeschylus’ Persians via the Ottoman Empire to Saddam Hussein” (Canvas)

Discussion: How have modern ideas about “the East” affected the way we’ve placed the Greeks and Romans into historical narratives?

Thursday, April 26

Topic: The problem of modern Greece


  • Madison Grant, The Passing of the Great Race, pp. 158-164 (Canvas)
  • The Immigration Commission, Dictionary of Races or Peoples, pp. 68-71 (Canvas)
  • Johanna Hanink, The Classical Debt, chapter 1 (Canvas)
  • Gail Holst-Warhaft, “Great Expectations: The Burden of Philhellenism and Myths of Greek Nationalism” (Canvas)
  • Michael Herzfeld, Anthropology through the looking glass, chapter 3 (Canvas)

Discussion: What characterizes the relationship between ancient and modern Greece?

Week 15

Tuesday, May 1

Topic: Black Athena


  • Martin Bernal, Black Athena, pp. xii-38 (Canvas)
  • McCoskey, pp. 167-201
  • Edith Hall, “When is a Myth not a Myth?” (Canvas)

Discussion: What do you think of Black Athena?

Thursday, May 3

Topic: None; I’m giving us an extra day just in case…