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Not Black and White: Seeing and Naming Africans in Greek Art

April 6, 2023 @ 6:00 pm CDT

Nashville Parthenon
2500 West End Avenue
Nashville, TN 37203 United States

AIA Society: Nashville

Lecturer: S. Rebecca Martin

How do we know when we are looking at images of Africans in Greek art? And how can we talk productively about what Greeks saw in these images? Neither question has a straightforward answer thanks to the conventions used by Greek artists and the conflicting expectations of ancient and modern people about the representation of “race”. In this lecture, I consider the increasingly popular subject of the representation of Africans in the ancient Mediterranean by focusing on the Greek visual evidence, especially vase paintings of Aithiopians. I first explore the somatic approach used by Frank M. Snowden, Jr. While his influential work is only sometimes useful for identifying Africans in Greek art, it is revealing of the ideological frameworks Americans bring to the subject. I then offer observations about how current scholars employ terms such as “Negro”, “Black”, and “African” (or “Black African”) to describe painted and plastic imagery. I conclude by sharing some alternative approaches for seeing and naming Africans in Greek art.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic (for lay reader):

Jeremy Tanner. 2011. “Race in Classical Art.” Apollo Vol. 173, Issue 584.

Tim Whitmarsh. 2018. “Black Achilles: The Greeks didn’t have modern ideas of race. Did they see themselves as white, black – or as something else altogether?” Aeon (link:

Kershaw Lecture

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April 6, 2023
6:00 pm CDT
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Nashville Parthenon
2500 West End Avenue
Nashville, TN 37203 United States
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