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Lawful Neutral?

If what you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If what you have is a copy of Thucydides, everything looks like the Melian Dialogue.

Sometimes, this is a great advantage: Thucydides offers a way – definitely not the only way – of seeing new connections between things, and asking new questions through a process of comparison and contrast. This was the way things turned out at Queen Elizabeth School, Crediton, yesterday, where Lynette Mitchell and I were running our first pilot session with Hattie Andrews from The Politics Project; the students had great fun playing what’s become known as the Peg Game – basically, the Peloponnesian War considered as Rock, Paper, Scissors – which then led perfectly into consideration of different examples of unequal power relationships, setting things up for next week’s exploration of the Melian Dilemma choose-your-own-adventure game. The only thing we could have asked for was an extra twenty minutes for discussion. Continue Reading »

No Direction Home

Every so often, the tireless labour of the Thucydides Bot – someone recently referred to it as Sisyphean, and in the midst of the current spate of misattributions being tweeted out by accounts with apparently Islamic and/or Indian sub-continental identities, that doesn’t feel too far off – throws up something valuable. Generally this means a new misattribution with an interesting back story, but very occasionally there’s something even more useful. I’m still waiting to find time to investigate Cornelius Castoriadis’ book on Thucydides, force and law (or might and right), partly because it looks like the source of a misattribution that’s recently become quite prominent – “either war or equanimity, you have to choose”, or variants thereof – but also because I wasn’t aware of its existence until I started tracking down the misquote. This morning brought a reference that will be very useful if I ever get round to writing a half-planned piece on Thucydides read through the lens of exile literature:

To those who no longer have a homeland, writing becomes home.

Continue Reading »

O Frabjous Day!

I’ve just highlighted 8th March 2020 in my calendar, to make sure that I prepare properly for next year’s Thucydides Day. I must admit that I had not previously spent any time wondering why, despite his undeniable continuing influence in many areas of modern life, Thucydides fails to gain the level of attention and respect offered to Books, Martin Luther King, Women etc. Yes, one can imagine the ways in which one might celebrate it – very bitter chocolate brownies (probably with chilli), neat gin, Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s The Dead Flag Blues on repeat – but it’s not something one would choose to event. However, it turns out that someone has already invented it.

Yes, the great French thinker Auguste Comte proposed, in 1849, a Positivist Calendar, with 13 months of 28 days each, plus an extra day each year to commemorate the dead (Periclean epitaphios influence? I’ll have to look into that), with an additional Festival day every leap year to celebrate great women. Naturally Year Zero is 1789. Months and days are named after great figures in history (almost entirely male, inevitably) – and the 11th day of the month of Aristotle is Thucydides (since all months have 28 days, the 11th Aristotle is equivalent to our 11th March). Next year I will be fully prepared to break out the brownie mix…

Flat Earth Studies

It’s the annual meeting of the International Society for Dinosaur Research. Concerned by a fall-off in student recruitment, as young people increasingly look to more relevant, future-orientated degree programmes that offer a better chance of a job at the end, and shaken by its image as a hotbed of sexism and dodgy relationships with students (as seen on Friends), the Society has organised an open discussion of the future of the discipline. One delegate takes the microphone. “Our discipline was founded on the exploration of God’s miraculous creation, but we’ve increasingly abandoned those sacred values, and put off many students, through an emphasis on autonomous natural processes and time-spans of millions of years in a way that directly contradicts Scripture!” As members of the panel interject, and someone tries to take the microphone away: “You are betraying our heritage! We are the dinosaurs!” Continue Reading »

More Than A Feeling

Last week I was at a fantastic conference in Newcastle on Authority and Contemporary Narratives about the Classics (details here), discussing different aspects of the image and appropriation of the ancient world in the public sphere; Rebecca Futo Kennedy gave the full version of the discussion of the history and problematic politics of ‘Western Civilization’ that she’s been trailing on the Twitter (@kataplexis if you don’t already follow her), and there were fascinating papers on topics like postgraduate blogging, the intersection of ideas on Roman imperialism and Realist international relations theory, concepts of myth in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, and whether Livy was a good Wikpedian. As ever, the main problem was that we needed much more time for discussion – well, that, and the fact that I could carry only so many bottles of local craft beer home with me. Continue Reading »

Shot By Both Sides

Obviously the current febrile atmosphere in British politics lends itself to quotations from Thucydides’ account of the stasis at Corcyra (though I must remember to look up his narrative of the coup of the 400 as well) – but, been there, done that, still deeply depressed by the state of things. Instead, let’s quote mid-C20 Hungarian political and novelist Miklós Bánffy, who in his Transylvanian Trilogy (which I’ve never read, but clearly need to; this reference comes via the Twitter courtesy of @simonahac, as apparently his wife is reading it) looks remarkably as if he’s referencing Corcyra:

Yes, it’s the ‘Centrists piss EVERYBODY off’ bit – those who presented themselves as reasonable moderates were the first to perish. It’s not an original reading, but it is the first example I’ve stumbled across from this period. Continue Reading »

I’ve just published a piece in Epoiesen, the fantastic online journal for creative engagements with history and archaeology, on the Melian Dilemma game and some of the thinking behind it. I’ve been meaning to get round to this for ages – and I’ve been given extra reason to regret not getting my act together sooner, as my fate now is to be completely overshadowed by Assemblage Theory, the brilliant contribution by Andrew Reinhard, published a few days earlier, on his latest musical experiments: exploring different conceptions of the idea of ‘assemblage’ by producing new songs using ‘found sounds’. Go read, go listen. If this piece doesn’t single-handedly exemplify why a journal of wacky historical creativity is an absolute necessity, you are beyond saving. Continue Reading »