Donna Zuckerberg, Not All Dead White Men: Classics and Misogyny in the Digital Age

Hardcover: 288 pages Harvard University Press (26 Oct. 2018) ISBN-13: 978-0674975552 £14.90

This book by a young Californian classicist, editor of Eidolon (an online Classics magazine) who also happens to be the sister of Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook), enters into territory unfamiliar to many classicists.   This is the world of the Red Pill and the manosphere, of Pick-up Artists and incels, of (more familiarly perhaps) misogyny and the Alt-Right.  This is all played out mainly in the USA, online in internet forums and blogs where white males express their anger at the way they perceive the world is organised to their disadvantage by women.  You would not expect this to be of much interest to European Classics teachers except for the fact that many of these expressions of opinion are based on classical antiquity in several ways. It is a remarkable example of how Classics can spread into the most unlikely areas of current culture, and I suppose today’s teachers should be aware of this phenomenon and of how what they teach can be used in unexpected ways.  We should be grateful to Donna Zuckerberg for trailing through lots of this unpleasant material so that we don’t have to; and for making us aware of exactly is going on in the name of Classics.  After an introductory chapter to the main themes of the manosphere movement and of some of the principal contributors, she outlines how they attempt to base their case on aspects the classical world.  The first main platform is on Stoic philosophy where they try to claim acceptance for their ideas of male supremacy from such thinkers as Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius.  Zuckerberg carries out a reasoned and calm demolition of the case for Stoicism giving authority to modern misogyny and male supremacy in the face of writers who feel that reference to classical authors gives their views some kind of authority.  The second place that is felt to be relevant is Ovid’s Ars Amatoria.  There exists a movement of men who style themselves as Pick-up Artists who claim to teach others how to attract women and explain how to treat them to demonstrate their own supremacy.  Ovid’s text is felt, through their partial and selective reading of it, to give some legitimacy to this kind of behaviour which the contributors feel contemporary female culture unfairly condemns.   She concludes with a chapter on rape and attitudes to it in the ancient world and today, which contains a discussion of the Phaedra and Hippolytus myth amongst other stories from Greek tragedy.  Some of the accounts of the thinking of these white male supremacists is unpleasant reading and Zuckerberg does not gloss over any of the details.  This is not an enjoyable book to read and much of the material is disturbing, but we should as teachers of the classical world to today’s young people be aware of what is being said by some men in their attempt to invoke the authority of Classics, in order to anticipate any students who may appear to be tempted by this kind of thinking, and to counter arguments from anyone who says that this is the kind of thing that study of the classical texts can lead to.


John Bulwer