Sarah F. Derbew
Joined Stanford as part of the Faculty Development Initiative in 2020.
Assistant Professor, Classics

Sarah Derbew explores literary representations of black people in ancient Greece across genres such as ancient Greek tragedy, historiography, satire, and the novel. She also examines artistic renderings of black people in Greek antiquity—considering the objects themselves and the museums in which they live. Her interests extend all the way to the twenty-first century; She has written about the reception of Greco-Roman antiquity in Africa and the African diaspora.

She recently finished her first book, currently titled Untangling Blackness in Greek Antiquity (2022, Cambridge University Press). In the book, she traces the role of black people in ancient Greek literature and art while critiquing contemporary prejudicial thinking about Greek antiquity. She is currently co-editing the forthcoming volume Classics and Race: A Historical Reader with Dr. Daniel Orrells and Dr. Phiroze Vasunia.

Book: Untangling Blackness In Greek Antiquity

How should articulations of blackness from the fifth century BCE to the twenty-first century be properly read and interpreted? This important and timely new book is the first concerted treatment of black skin color in the Greek literature and visual culture of antiquity. In charting representations in the Hellenic world of black Egyptians, Aithiopians, Indians, and Greeks, Sarah Derbew dexterously disentangles the complex and varied ways in which blackness has been co-produced by ancient authors and artists; their readers, audiences, and viewers; and contemporary scholars. Exploring the precarious hold that race has on skin coloration, the author uncovers the many silences, suppressions, and misappropriations of blackness within modern studies of Greek antiquity. Shaped by performance studies and critical race theory alike, her book maps out an authoritative archaeology of blackness that reappraises its significance. It offers a committedly anti-racist approach to depictions of black people while rejecting simplistic conflations or explanations.