Rat Trap

No, UK universities have not been taken over and corrupted by Chinese money and persuaded to orientate their research programmes; otherwise, surely there would be more evidence of serious investigation of the Tacitus Trap, one of the three critical traps that Xi Jinping warned China against back in 2014 (together with the Thucydides Trap and the depressingly mundane Middle Income Trap – was there no Aristotelian remark about the importance of the mesoi that could have been repurposed? Okay, no alliteration…). Critical voices in China have objected that the Tacitus Trap is not actually a Western concept (the relevant Wikipedia entry cites only Chinese sources); surely this would be a great opportunity to improve the authority of the idea by making it a valid debate in Western political theory? Especially as current events seem so relevant… Continue Reading »

There’s a long-standing tradition of setting up a contrast between Thucydides and other classical historians, usually to make a point about the ‘true’ nature of historiography. Most commonly, the foil is Herodotus, in a zero-sum game where only one can be the real Founder of History: T as critical, objective, sober, realistic etc. versus some bloke who just wrote down a load of tall tales he picked up in bars down by the Halicarnassus docks, or H as the broad-minded anthropologist of cultural difference versus a narrow, reductivist and chauvinist view of human beings (shout-out to the late great Marshall Sahlins). But there are other possibilities; in the sixteenth century, for example, T might be set against Tacitus on political grounds, for his praise of the enlightened rule of Pericles as opposed to the dangerous hostility to monarchy evident in the Roman, while nineteenth-century critical historians frequently bolstered T’s reputation as one of them by giving Livy a good kicking as the epitome of aimless chronicling of events. Continue Reading »

What are conferences actually for? There were plenty of reasons for asking this question even before the pandemic, above all because of concern about the environmental impact of lots of academics merrily jetting round the world, and various people have been getting quite excited that, if nothing else, the plague might have broken us of the habit, or at least made us familiar with alternative approaches. I remain in the ‘undecided’ camp, at least as far as real-existing online conferences are concerned (I’ve participated in three in the last month). Continue Reading »

My secret is out: someone in the jazz composition group happens to have an interest in Greek tragedy, came across one of my old appearances on In Our Time and mentioned this on the group chat. By an unfortunate coincidence we were doing modal composition this week, and suddenly I was threatened with explaining the origins of Dorian, Mixolydian etc., and that could lead into further discussion of Plato’s ideas about different harmoniai and their effects on the soul, and the relation between ancient Greek musical theory and what we now understand as modes… Derailment threatened – however conscious I am of the risks of taking over the conversation, could I really formulate a short answer to such a question? Thankfully someone else asked a question that derailed the class in a completely different direction, rather more music-related if somewhat esoteric, and I was off the hook. Continue Reading »

Obviously one always hopes one’s work will be read by people working on relevant topics in other disciplines – not just because of wanting to have as big an audience as possible, but with a quiet sense that perhaps extra-disciplinary readings will be somehow purer and more objective, rather than conditioned by prior knowledge and expectations. (And, for some of us, a vaguely optimistic “a prophet is not without honour…” hope that surely sooner or later someone will get what we’re trying to do). It’s fair to say, I think, that we do anticipate particular secondary audiences, and so there is always the possibility of being taken completely by surprise that someone else has actually come across our work, and apparently liked it. Continue Reading »

Now’s The Time

Yes, it’s been quiet on here recently; a combination of trying to get a chapter written and the recurrence of the bloody virus, and I suspect these things are feeding off one another. In addition, I’ve decided to be the last pompous middle-aged classicist left standing without having written a ‘state of the discipline, burn down classics, don’t burn down classics’ piece, and obviously any blog post is a temptation to do just that. So, this isn’t a proper post – that has to wait until this chapter is finished – but just an update on an interesting bit of Thucydideana. This time, well out of my price range. Continue Reading »

A year ago, I was in London, coming to the end of an intensive week of workshops and rehearsals with the amazing group of actors and creative people with whom I was exploring the dramatic potential of Thucydides’ Melian Dialogue. Yes, long days with a bunch of people from different households in a room with the windows shut because the weather was so awful; lots of warm-up exercises with us all in a tight circle breathing at one another; breakfast and lunch in crowded cafes; evenings in restaurants, either solo or meeting friends. All leading up to a gathering on the final day of seventy or so people in a small theatre for the 45-minute performance and subsequent panel discussion. Another time, another country… Continue Reading »

Have A Cigar

You’re going to go far? Well, no. I have long since resigned myself to the fact that I am not suddenly going to embark on the sort of media career that allows one to produce a calendar of swimsuit shots in exotic filming locations or be interviewed for a weekend supplement about my favourite recipes or (sob) get invited onto Strictly Come Dancing or Desert Island Discs. Am an attendant lord, fit to sneak onto the occasional In Our Time when everyone else is busy. Continue Reading »

Western Death Cult

The discipline of Classics considered as an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The Institute of Ancient Wisdom, one of the oldest and most prestigious organisations in Sunnydale, comes to the school to deliver some curriculum enhancement activities and recruit new members. Willow is entranced by their erudition and sophistication, and the promise of, well, ancient wisdom. Cordelia is attracted by the aura of power and social status. Xander is suspicious and hostile at first, but then they explain that he too is an inheritor of their great traditions, simply by virtue of being himself, and so he should help defend them. Continue Reading »

I suspect that for a lot of people the joy of the Handforth Parish Council Planning & Environment Committee Zoom meeting (video here, if somehow you haven’t already seen it), besides the entertaining spectacle of chaos and surrealism, is the discovery of a bizarre, alien world where the question of whether someone is a Proper Officer or who actually has The Authority In This Meeting is a matter of high political drama. For me, it was a nostalgia trip. I should stress that Castle Cary Town Council was never anything like this bad, even at its worst moments, but it’s easy to see the potential that existed for such a breakdown, and there are other councils in this area whose Zoom meetings would probably be equally comedy gold. And, given that the video leaves out a significant amount of context, it was great fun to revive my once intensive knowledge of local government procedures and standing orders, to work out what must be going on and who actually did have the Authority, if not Jackie Weaver… Continue Reading »