We Philhellenists

Things have, predictably enough, gone quiet on the Greek economic crisis front; the drama of negotiations and ultimata has passed, and the ongoing questions of whether the agreed reforms can be implemented and whether the promised negotiations over debt relief will get anywhere are, so far as the anglophone media are concerned, of interest only to a few obsessive economic commentators. Mention of Thucydides has therefore largely switched to the latest version of the ‘Thucydides Trap’ meme, plus the intriguing suggestion that he records the invention of baked cheesecake.

Classicists may therefore be mourning the passing of their brief moment in the sun as sought-after commentators and experts on the inexhaustible importance of classical metaphors for the crisis. They should rather be breathing a sigh of relief that they’re no longer faced with the temptation of embarrassing themselves, as an excellent piece by Johanna Hanink suggests (thanks to Stephen Clark for the link). Continue Reading »

Before anyone says anything, yes, I know it was a mistake to search for ‘Thucydides’ on Twitter. And to keep searching every couple of days. And to start replying to all the people who insist on quoting the line from William F. Butler’s 1889 biography of General Charles Gordon – “the society that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools”, or words to that effect, so bring back national service and/or replace all the professors with retired military men – as if it was written by Thucydides, to correct them. Whether or not it was a mistake to embark on trying to create an autonomous twitter account, The Thucydiocy Bot (@Thucydiocy) to do all the searching and responding for me, time will only tell (especially once I’ve worked out the technology to make it genuinely autonomous). But there really seems to be only one place this is leading… Continue Reading »

Well, that’s probably a bit of an exaggeration, but certainly this past year or so has seen Thucydides achieve a rather higher media profile: a series of appearances on BBC Radio 4 (including Tom Holland’s adaptation for Book at Bedtime), and ever more mentions in the context of the Greek economic crisis, including at the head of Channel 4 News the other night. There’s still a long way to go before Thucydides can be taken for granted as an authority figure in general current affairs discussions in Britain, compared with his established status in the US – one of the things that’s struck me is the extent to which almost every person mentioning him (see e.g. the letter in today’s Grauniad) feels the need to sketch in a load of background, and appears to assume that this is the first time Thucydides will actually have been mentioned. But we do seem to be getting there.

This isn’t simply a product of events in Greece; the groundwork was already being laid… Continue Reading »

Original idea from @cath_fletcher, but we’ve had so many more since then…


One thing Greece certainly isn’t short of, besides sunshine and beaches, is mythological and historical referents. On Friday, Larry Elliott in the Grauniad offered us Sisyphus – “Alex Tsipras has also angered the gods”, and so has to keep pushing the boulder of reform proposals up the hill again and again.* This morning brings Brian M. Lucey’s hilarious parody of the whole “cultural mine that keeps on yielding” thing, presented through the myth of Tantalus:

He was condemned to stand in a lake of water with a grapevine over his head. If he stooped to drink the water receded, if he stretched to eat the grapes drew back. If Greece tries to cut its way from a depression the debt burden worsens, if it seeks aid the aid is yanked out of reach.

Continue Reading »

Ancient Athens continues to be used as a big stick with which to beat modern Greece. “Once upon a time there was a model kingdom,” begins Roman Pletter’s article in Die Zeit this week (not yet on the website as far as I can see); yes, they had slaves, but they were democratic, the many has the power rather than the few, the people were equal before the law, appointments to public office were based on ability rather than patronage, and it could be taken for granted that everyone was free. “That sounds like a country that would fit very well in the European Union,” and of course it’s classical Athens. The punchline is signalled from miles away: “Of this model kingdom there isn’t much left.” Hey, Greeks, you invented the idea of strong social and political institutions as a means of ensuring the well-being of all the citizens, but you know what? These days you’re rubbish. Continue Reading »

Not a new discussion of citations of Thucydides with reference to the Eurozone economic crisis – I’ve been up for only a couple of hours, and only one new example has appeared in that time (see previous post), and in any case I need to finish writing a paper for Goettingen this afternoon on a completely different topic (though, come to think of it, much of this material probably could be worked into a discussion of ‘responses to change and uncertainty’…). However, given the level of traffic over the last couple of days – almost beating, I think, the time when I started poking the admirers of Richard III with a pointed stick – I thought it might be helpful to provide links to all my posts on this general theme, in chronological order:

The New Alcibiades (30th January) Is Alexis Tsipras the new Alcibiades, or the new Kleon? See additional material in comments, with first discussion of Yanis Varoufakis’ interest in Thucydides.

The Empire Strikes Back (20th February) Is the Greek situation more like Melos or Carthage? See additional material re Thucydides in comments.

The Melian Dilemma (27th March) More detailed analysis of Varoufakis’ reading of Thucydides and game theory.

Hesiod the Neoliberal (27th June) Not Thucydides, for a change, but similar themes

Democracy on Melos (28th June) On elites versus the demos, and #Greferendum (see also Thoukidideia below)

Here We Go Again (1st July) On Zaretsky’s NYT piece.

Greek Nightmares (5th July) Why is it always the Melian Dialogue? Why not Corcyra?

Peak Thucydides? (7th July) At this point I am getting very cross with the whole thing…

Thoukidideia (8th July) Now the Greeks are doing it as well.


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