A very short post indeed, as I’m off to the European Social Science History Conference in Glasgow at the crack of dawn tomorrow, and haven’t finished writing my paper yet. But I couldn’t let this one pass; from an entertaining review of Tyler Cowen’s An Economist Gets Lunch (a book that, going by the review, I’m likely to be reading only for masochistic reasons) in the New York Times:
Mr. Cowen presents the wisdom of the ages as if it were a series of dispatches from the gastronomic front lines. To find good food and not get fleeced, he recommends, leave the city centers and seek marginal areas. Mr. Trillin has been saying this for at least 40 years. I suspect Thucydides preferred the little joint on a side street to the place with the fountains where the waiters peeled customers’ grapes.
Like, wow. I think the bit about grape-peeling has wandered in from the decadence of the later Roman Empire, creating a generic ‘ancient’ context – James Davidson’s arguments about opson would probably have been a distraction. But why Thucydides, not hitherto noted for his gastronomic preferences or restaurant reviews? My guess is that he’s once again being trotted out as the sort of authority figure whose views even (or especially) right-leaning economists might be expected to respect – and the earliest such authority figure, so the idea is perfectly sound but entirely unoriginal. Still, it does reinforce the impression that the list of classical Greeks besides Thucydides featuring in contemporary discourse gets ever smaller (and to think that once upon a time Plutarch was cited 176 times in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations to Thucydides’ zero…)