Emmanuel Macron's education minister has leapt to the defence of Latin and ancient Greek after "mind boggling" suggestions from US universities that pushing the study of the classical languages could foster institutional racism.
Jean-Michel Blanquer, who has been leading the French president's "war on woke" , made the comments as he prepared to launch a joint project on Monday with counterparts from Italy, Greece and Cyprus to promote the languages.
Ancient languages have come under fire of late in the US, where Princeton University caused a stir in the summer by announcing that it was removing Greek and Latin requirements for classics majors to combat what it saw as discrimination.
The university's classics department said it was removing the requirement to learn Latin or ancient Greek to give more students from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to major in the discipline.
The department also said it would take into account how Greek and Roman cultures "have been instrumentalised, and have been complicit, in various forms of exclusion, including slavery, segregation, white supremacy, Manifest Destiny, and cultural genocide."
Mr Blanquer said: "I read and heard these criticisms, some of which went as far as claiming that they found Homer an apology for slavery".
"I find such interpretations absolutely mind-boggling," he told Le Point.
"To stick categories and a contemporary world view on writings dating back two millennia is an abyssal absurdity".
He added: "What these civilisations brought us was precisely openness and a search for the universal."
‘The glue that binds Europe together’
Mr Blanquer said that ancient languages were the glue that bound many European countries together.
Creating a "common linguistic fund" would help spread "common values", namely "humanism, the culture of truth and beauty, the demand for logos (language as a tool for reason), which has shown itself to be so necessary in our age where a lack of reason is spreading like wildfire".
The French education minister last month launched a think tank dedicated to fighting the "Anglo-Saxon import" of wokeism , a hot-button issue ahead of next April's presidential elections.
The Laboratory of the Republic seeks to tackle cancel culture, notably among young people.
It also focuses on defending laïcité, France's blend of secularism, which transcends race, gender and religion to uphold universal values of the Republic.
Detractors of the concept argue that French secularism is a smokescreen for promoting white and Christian ideals that bolster discrimination against minorities.
This week, he said that Latin and ancient Greek would be opened up to technical baccalaureate students and made an option for 11-year-olds.
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