This article focuses on an unpublished oration that the civil-rights activist W. E. B. Du Bois delivered on his eightieth birthday in 1948. In this speech, Du Bois engages directly with Cicero's De senectute, arguing that Americans should follow the Romans' example of venerating old age, i.e., old texts and old people. If they did, they would find themselves better protected against repeating the mistakes of prior generations and might avoid slipping into yet another World War. In the pursuit of this argument, Du Bois presents an alternative model of descent that is not based exclusively on biological race, but that connects him, via a continuous chain of learned predecessors, to the thinkers of Greco-Roman antiquity. He suggests that this literary lineage is alive and well in himself and other people of colour the whole world over, but that many contemporary Americans have abandoned the intellectual accomplishments of classical antiquity that they supposedly cherish. The speech thus constitutes an important, but as yet unappreciated contribution to the history of Black Classicism, and an invitation to reflect on the role the Classics (and Du Bois) could and should play in one's own intellectual self-fashioning at the start of the twenty-first century.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Cultural Studies
- Arts and Humanities(all)