You are here

The Greeks and the ‘Rabble’: Popular Historiographies and Appropriations of Ancient Greece in Calabria, Italy

Marco Benoît Carbone

Brunel University

This study examines ethno-regionalist conceptions of identity and the reception of Greater Greece in popular history books produced by publishers based in the province of Reggio Calabria, Italy. Discussing how the heritage of Greek antiquity may have provided a foundation for identitarian discourses and alignment with ideas of Westernness and whiteness, I examine how such publications have reinforced foundational mythologies that have overtly or covertly sustained the othering of migrants and systemic forms of racism.

The study extracts data from an ongoing research project on popular and academic history books published in the region over the course of the past twenty years, as well as long-term ethnographic work, and it focuses on their treatment of notions of autochthony in relation to Greater Greece. History publications are often tinged with nativist mythologies and beliefs in a purported ethnic continuity with Greater Greece. Such identitarian views can be pervaded by a disdain for those constructed as Others to the Greeks, in contrast to their self-appointed heirs.

For Castrizio (2014), Greater Greece is the era of ‘founding Fathers’– a Golden Age that he compares to the ‘slovenly homologation’ brought about by ‘global’ and ‘barbaric’ cultures. In this view, today’s Reggio (the Author’s home town) is ‘forever bound’ to the Greeks. The pre-Greeks, such as the Bruttii, were ‘inferior’ and ‘indigenous’, ‘rabble’. Those who followed were ‘a muddle’. Likewise, Violi’s history of Greek Calabria (2007) is presented as a series of tightly compartmentalized arrays of ethnical substitutions: pre-Hellenic settlers such as the ‘the Peslagians from Africa’ are replaced by the ‘more evolved’ Greeks and their ‘splendid culture’.

Such cases exemplify a broad ideological and political appropriation of Greek antiquity in Calabria, where, not unlike Greece and other contexts (Herzfeld 1991) (Yalouri 2001), selective views of heritage based on supra-local, hegemonic Western traditions have been providing symbols of collective identity sustained by perceived prestige and systemic dominance. In Calabrian historiographies, the idea of descending from the Greeks may coincide with the Eurocentric white-washing of Greco-Roman cultures (Bernal 1987): Greekness operates like a myth that legitimises Laroux’s ‘autochthonous dream’, and is often funnelled through a Winkelmannian ‘rhetoric of the classical period’ (Tuan 1975: 26).

Naturalisations of a Greek-centric past and complacence with dominant ‘Western’ traditions contribute to erase the region’s complex historical and ethnic make-up in antiquity, while lending themselves to the weaponizing of heritage in the present. In this geopolitical fringe area of fortress Europe, popular history publications more or less willingly contributed to the perpetuation of a hegemonic cultural field where white privilege and systemic racism thrived alongside fear of migrants and xenophobia. Appropriations of the Greek past include the use of stylized ancient Greek lambda symbols and references to the Roman testudo and Rock of Tarpeia by far right groups like Generazione Identitaria and Casa Pound (Koch 2013: 29-30). Focusing on a few, significant case studies, this paper investigates how local scholarship and popular historiographies have partaken of hegemonic historiographical narratives in which xenophobic discourses may have found a breeding ground and legitimation.

Session/Panel Title

Greco-Roman Antiquity and White Supremacy

Session/Paper Number

59.5

© 2020, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy