Back to the Ancient Greek Future? Greek Antiquity as Paradigm in National Socialist Classical Education

Presented at an international conference entitled Writing Ancient History in the Interwar Period (1918-1939), Newcastle University, 24 January 2020.

This paper provides an overview of the ways in which Greek ideals were seen as having intrinsic relevance to educational questions in the Third Reich. As pure-blooded Aryans, the Greeks fitted the Nazis’ racial worldview; they could be portrayed as providing a paradigm of political-versus-personal relations which privileged the community at the expense of the individual; additionally, examples from Greek literature and history could always be used to provide fodder for numerous Nazi educational tropes, such as self-sacrifice, the Führer-principle, or the necessity of rigorous physical training.

We cannot speak of one systematic ideological drive here, but rather of a continual selection by individual educators of those aspects of ‘the glory that was Greece’ and ‘the grandeur that was Rome’ which in their view could best sustain and inspire the new Germany. Ultimately, the Nazi regime encouraged its advocates to behave as ‘cultural magpies’, snatching from the dust-heap of history whatever gleamed most brightly by their current cultural lights, and, in particular, anything which might provide the regime with historical legitimation.

This paper draws on material previously published in Publications of the English Goethe Society and Brill’s Companion to the Classics, Fascist Italy, and Nazi Germany.