Cicero Crosses the Color Line: Pro Archia Poeta and W. E. B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk

  • Mathias HansesEmail author
When W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963) was a student at all-black Fisk University in Nashville (1885–1888), the talented teenager spent two summers teaching rural African American school children of varying ages in a log hut outside Alexandria, TN. 1 Recalling this formative experience almost two decades later in The Souls of Black Folk (1903), Du Bois writes of the sharecroppers’ occasional scepticism toward the education he was providing their children:

When the Lawrences stopped [coming to school], I knew that the doubts of the old folks about book-learning had conquered again, and so, toiling up the hill, and getting as far into the cabin as possible, I put Cicero ‘pro Archia Poeta’ into the simplest English with local applications, and usually convinced them – for a week or so.2

Pro Archia Poetais a famous and influential vindication of learning and literature that the Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero delivered in 62 B.C.E. He was defending the poet Aulus Licinius Archias, a Greek...



I would like to express my gratitude to Harriet Fertik, Erin M. Hanses, Stephen M. Wheeler, and the journal’s anonymous referees for their many helpful comments, which have much improved this contribution. Further thanks are due to this paper’s original audience at the 2016 annual meeting of the Society for Classical Studies for a lively and rewarding discussion.

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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Penn State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA

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