I have sometimes wondered why, when the back end of this blog records the search terms that have lead them here, the phrase “daughters of sphinx” often appears. Well, I’ve finally got round to googling it myself, and I am now enlightened (but not in any gnostic sense). The Ancient Arabic Order of the Daughters of the Sphinx: a female branch of a fun-loving red-fez-wearing adjunct fraternity of freemasonry; I can only imagine how aspiring members feel when they wind up here instead. Sorry, guys, the knowledge here may be esoteric, but puzzling it out doesn’t get you any further towards acceptance and initiation – though of course I’d say that if I were trying to test your commitment and perseverance.

The fact that many readers of Thucydides actΒ like a secret order of initiates, priding themselves in their possession of secret knowledge and swapping obscure code phrases with one another, is a different matter…


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A User’s Guide to Thucydides Part 3

Is Thucydides more like a swimming pool – best to dive right in – or a mountain, where the key is careful preparation and planning, construction of base camp etc.? In both cases it can be a daunting prospect; the question, prompted by a discussion on the Twitter last night where someone planning a Thucydides reading group asked for suggestions on preparatory reading, is how best to get started.

Personally, I’d go for the swimming-pool approach Continue Reading »

One of the (probably innumerable) ways in which I irritate my wife is by going round claiming to have a classics degree, despite having studied no Greek or Latin at university. Actually I feel this characterisation is slightly unfair, as I do have a bona fide classics degree, 100% legitimate according to the rules of the university at the time, despite the lack of any language, and it’s not as if I have ever actually attempted to pass myself off as a ‘proper classicist’ with a permanent fear that someone might ask me to translate Vergil, revealing my deception and leading to summary dismissal in disgrace. On the contrary, I’m more likely to go to the other extreme of describing myself as not a classicist but a historian who happens to do ancient stuff; some of my best friends are classicists etc., but that’s not generally what I do. Still, I occasionally wonder how many of the colleagues who wearily tolerate this ideological pose do so in the belief that I actually have the grounding in ancient languages that would entitle me to the status of ‘proper classicist’ if I only chose to claim it, and might therefore look at me differently (or break out the pitchforks) if they knew the truth. Continue Reading »

Further evidence of the ‘Thucydidean Moment’ of 2017 – and, yes, I’m aware that J.G.A. Pocock’s ‘Machiavellian Moment’ lasted rather longer than a fortnight – comes in this morning’s Financial Times Alphaville blog, with a post from Matthew C. Klein responding to last week’s Politico article and drawing on his own experiences of reading Thucydides in a class led by Donald Kagan. I rather liked this piece, for its cautions against simplistic readings – and not just because it included links to a couple of my recent posts.

However, it does offer as matters of fact a couple of arguable interpretations. Continue Reading »

European Echoes

OldenburgWhere is Europe? It’s perhaps not the most obvious answer, but one possibility is: sitting in the elegant Kulturzentrum PFL in Oldenburg the week before last with a mixture of academics, activists, trade unionists, students and regular citizens, listening to an elderly trio playing 1950s British trad jazz a la Chris Barber and Ken Colyer as the introduction to a podium discussion on the theme Wo ist Europa? And, yes, I should have got a photo of the band, rather than this rather off-putting one of the panel. Continue Reading »

When I first began putting together a research project on the modern reception and influence of Thucydides, and writing funding applications, the big ‘hook’ – the thing that was going to persuade reviewers of the contemporary relevance of the theme – was Thucydides’ infiltration of the G.W. Bush White House. Irving Kristol’s claim that he was the favourite author of the Neocons, the relationship between Donald Kagan and the Project for a New American Century, and – from a less bellicose perspective, Colin Powell’s love of the (fake) Thucydides quote about manifestations of power and restraint, were not intended to be the central focus of the project, but they showed the importance of understanding the context of such readings, the traditions of reception and reinterpretation that made powerful people think, or at least claim, that Thucydides speaks to the present.

Here we are again, with a new article on ‘Why everyone in the White House is reading Thucydides’ suggesting the Obama adminstration’s relative restraint in such matters (occasional references from Martin Dempsey when Chair of the Joint Chiefs) was just a blip.* Continue Reading »