Using Greek Classics to Better Understand Relationships: An Interview With Donna Zuckerberg

By Randi Zuckerberg

July 11, 2017 5 min read

I've known Donna Zuckerberg all her life; she is my sister, after all. But just because she's younger does not make her little. Donna studies big ideas that create even bigger change. I could not be prouder of what she does.

That's why I support this woman's work.

Donna Zuckerberg is the editor-in-chief of Eidolon, an online publication for informal classical scholarship. She received her doctorate in classics from Princeton in 2014. Her first book, "Not All Dead White Men," is under contract with Harvard University Press.

1) How does the study of classics lead to a better understanding of human relationships?

All great literature, from all periods, helps us understand human nature and human relationships. This is just one example, but my dissertation was about Greek tragedy and comedy, and those texts — especially the tragedies — have great insight into human relationships. Most tragedies feature at least one character who has been pushed to the absolute limit of what they were capable of bearing and then either rises to the occasion or cracks under the pressure. Euripides, especially, has a great sensitivity for how crises affect relationships between siblings, parents and children, and romantic partners.

2) What sort of modern day-meets-classical studies essays can be found on Eidolon? Do you have a favorite?

We launched Eidolon in April 2015 with three articles. "Aeneas in Palestine," by Michael Fontaine, was a comparison between "The Aeneid" and the conflict between Israel and Palestine; "Hungry Eyes," by Curtis Dozier, was about an image of Medusa on the back cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue; and "Not All Tragedians," by me, was about the challenges of writing feminist scholarship about misogynistic writers. More by accident than design, the themes in those three pieces have continued to form the bulk of our content: comparisons, especially political ones; the intersections of classics and pop culture; humorous and light approaches to the ancient world; feminism; personal essays about the discipline of classics. We've also published a number of fascinating pieces on the culture of spoken Latin, like "The Latin Speakers of West Virginia," by John Byron Kuhner, and some about pedagogy, like "Teaching Latin to Humans," by Justin Slocum Bailey, and "Giving It Up in the Classroom," by Lisl Walsh.

I couldn't possibly pick a favorite of the nearly 200 articles we've published. There are so many articles on there that I love, and I wouldn't want to offend anyone by leaving something out. But I will say that I have a soft spot for articles where you can tell that there's something really important at stake for the writer — articles that combine the best elements of scholarly argumentation and personal meditation. A few that come to mind are "Barbarians Inside the Gate," Dan-el Padilla Peralta's boundary-shattering exploration of anti-immigration sentiment in ancient Rome and Trump's America; "Making a Monster," Sarah Scullin's pensive, measured take on how we should read the scholarship of Holt Parker, a respected and influential scholar of ancient sexuality, in light of his arrest last year for possession and distribution of child pornography; and "On Not Knowing (Modern) Greek," Johanna Hanink's plea to classicists to consider Greek a language at least as useful to learn as French and German.

3) Your forthcoming book, "Not All Dead White Men," is a study of the reception of classics in the Red Pill community. How are classics being misinterpreted today? Why is this harmful to their legacy?

There's much more discussion of ancient Greece and Rome in various Red Pill groups — the men's rights activists, the so-called "alt-right," the "manosphere," the pickup artist community, Men Going Their Own Way, etc. — than I ever expected. Some of them do misinterpret the classics. Pickup artists who claim Ovid was the first PUA tend to read his work very superficially, for example. But more often, these men don't precisely misinterpret the classics so much as they use their cultural capital to lend weight to misogynistic and racist ideas. You can see that particularly in their embrace of Stoicism, which is all over the manosphere. Stoicism is actually a wonderful and very healthy philosophy, but not when it's being used to reinforce the inherent "superiority" of white men over those they consider emotional and irrational, including women and people of color.

Randi Zuckerberg is the founder of Zuckerberg Media, a best-selling author and the host of a weekly business show on SiriusXM, "Dot Complicated." To find out more about Randi Zuckerberg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at

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