The Souls of Black Folk: One Hundred Years Later

By Dolan Hubbard | Go to book overview

The Wings of Atalanta
Classical Influences in The Souls of Black Folk
Carrie Cowherd

W. E. B. Du Bois learned Latin and Greek in high school and continued his study at Fisk University. At Harvard he considered majoring in philosophy. His first employment after Harvardwas as the chair of classics at Wilberforce University.1 Although Greek and Latin languages and literatures were not among his primary interests, the body of his work reveals that his training and reading in classics contributed to the totality of his thinking andto who he was.

The Souls of Black Folk has much to offer the reader who notices classical references, both direct and indirect. These fall into three broad categories: (1) casual, incidental use of Latin or Latinate phrases, Roman historical references, and Greek and Roman philosophy, myth, and religion; (2) direct references that are more or less important to the structure of the chapters; and (3) underlying attitudes, associated with Cicero, Socrates, and Plato, that are expressed in varying ways throughout The Souls of Black Folk, including as a secondleitmotif after that of the Veil, andthat operate as a kind of ring composition for the entire text. Ultimately, because the underlying attitudes help to determine other choices, the three categories are interrelated.

Du Bois uses several Latin expressions; however, these expressions are all more a part of the scholarly language of Du Bois's time than they are derived from classical Latin literature.2 In fact, the more striking aspects of his vocabulary might not be noticedif one were not on the lookout; an example is the word riddle, among those words to which Arnold Rampersad

____________________
1
See The Autobiography of W. E. B. Du Bois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life from the Last Decade of Its First Century, ed. Herbert Aptheker (New York: International Publishers, 1968), 101, 112–13, 183–87.
2
Latin expressions usedare toto caelo (28), trivium and quadrivium (58), tertium quid (62, 106), a priori (68), ipso facto (113), and dum vivimus, vivamus (129).

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