The Auctoritas of Antiquity
Debating Slavery through Classical Exempla in the Antebellum USA
This chapter considers which models from antiquity seemed most appropriate to the understanding of the momentous arguments framed (and violently contested) in antebellum America from the 1830s to the Civil War. How and why African Americans mobilized knowledge of classical texts and antiquity in their fight for liberty and equality, and how, along with abolitionists, they legitimated, debated, and contested their political and cultural identity through references to Greek and Roman antiquity, is demonstrated. Those who the ancients saw as ethnically other 'barbarians', the Abolitionists found inspirational: the Carthaginians resistance to Rome, and Medea's defiance of Jason, for example. At the same time proslavery advocates, pointing to the ancient world’s reliance on slavery, also quarried antiquity, particularly Aristotle’s writings, in support of their position, while Herodotus and the texts related to the Roman Republican heroes were used with equal passion by polemicists on both side of the slavery debate.
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