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Xenophon and the Nazis: A case study in the politicization of Greek thought through educational propaganda

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In National Socialist Germany, radical reinterpretations of Classical texts were always on the agenda. The Reich Education Ministry decreed unequivocally that only those ancient texts which could serve the regime’s new ‘national-political’ education should be taught in schools, and many school-teachers were all too eager to follow this prime directive. This article will consider a number of articles on Xenophon published in the Nazi Teachers’ League (NSLB) Classics journal, Die Alten Sprachen, in order to illuminate the ways in which aspects of Xenophon’s thought could become ‘politicized’. Thus, one article takes selected passages from Xenophon’s Hellenica and weaves them into a treatise on ancient and modern political theory, condemning individualism and providing a systematic indictment of the dangers of democracy, while another elevates aspects of the Spartan constitution to the status of contemporary political principles, placing Sparta (rather than Athens) at the centre of the German political imagination. As a whole, the article seeks to reveal the contingency of political analysis based on the ancient world, and the ways in which, in certain circumstances, almost any aspect of Greek thought can become ‘political’. An authoritarian regime can just as easily style itself as an heir to the legacy of ancient politics as a democratic one, and Greek thought can ultimately be mobilized for almost any ends — however attractive or rebarbative these might seem to observers in today’s society.



47 Language, Communication and Culture, 4705 Literary Studies

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Classical Receptions Journal

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Oxford University Press (OUP)