Atrocity Exhibition

Things happen out in the world, and someone, somewhere, then tweets a bit of Thucydides. (I’m aware that my perspective on this is skewed, because I actively monitor it, but it does happen). Over the last week, two different events have prompted such a response. The murders at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, brought this thoughtful post from the ever-interesting Sententiae Antiquae, quoting 7.29-30 on the massacre of schoolboys in Mycalessus by a gang of Thracian merceneries who’d been let go by the Athenians. As SA notes, when we think about this passage in relation to school shootings in the US, it is the differences between the situations that seem most productive and disturbing. Continue Reading »

The physicist Werner Heisenberg opens Der Teil und das Ganze (1969; published in English as Physics and Beyond in 1971), his personal account of the development of atomic physics in the first half of the twentieth century, with a citation from Thucydides; 1.22.1, to be precise Continue Reading »


If ever there was a figure to be taken seriously but not literally, it’s Oswald Spengler. The catty remark of A.L. Rowse, that “because the Germans were defeated, Western civilisation is to be regarded as coming to an end”, is unfair but not completely untrue. There’s a lot more to Spengler’s ideas than that characterisation (not least because much of his framework of thought predated WWI), but they are pervaded with the masochistic joys of apocalyptic expectation, and a sense of superiority over everyone else who hasn’t yet realised that they’re living in decadent and pathetic times. Spengler represents a fascinating offshoot of C19 critiques of modernity, throwing biological analogies and the second law of thermodynamics into the mix as explanations and justifications of feelings of Weltschmerz and cultural malaise. Continue Reading »

Should Know Better

One of my main aims, in monitoring references to Thucydides on the Twitter, is to keep a sense of proportion. Partly this is about relative scale: fifteen fake quotations in a day is a lot, relative to normal traffic in this area – but given that over 6,000 tweets get fired off every second, it’s thoroughly negligible in the greater scheme of things. Similarly, it’s about remembering that my view of this is very odd; for me, a tweet may be the sixth tedious repetition of the misattributed ‘Scholars and Warriors’ quote that afternoon, but for the person tweeting it this is generally the first time they’ve done it, having found a really neat quote that sums up the point they want to make perfectly. Even with that annoying Social Jukebox system I aim to stay civil unless it’s from a user whom I’ve attempted to correct many times and so I know they won’t pay any attention anyway, and if there’s the faintest possibility that I’m dealing with a real person tweeting in good faith, I do my best to interact in the spirit of truth, not snark. Continue Reading »

Who Dares Quotes

Increasingly, the most interesting aspect of investigating fake or dubious Thucydides quotes on the internet is not establishing their fakeness (Morley’s Law: the majority of quotations attributed to Thucydides on the internet fall into one of three categories: not quite what he said, not really what he meant, or not actually Thucydides at all) but exploring the processes by which anyone came to believe in them in the first place, and what this tells us about the cultural image of Thucydides. Continue Reading »

There’s a very peculiar article in today’s Observer, picking up on the predictably gormless comments earlier this week from Robert Halfon, chair of the Commons Select Committee on Education, about medieval history being fine for those who want to pay for such a luxury but undeserving of public support. To be precise, most of the article is great, as it’s based around eminently sensible comments from medieval historians like Miri Rubin and John Arnold, but the opening paragraphs are really odd.

Historians have been ridiculed since Herodotus, the “father of history”, was mocked by his Athenian contemporary, Thucydides, as a mere storyteller. So it was with some weariness that medieval historians took to their keyboards last week to respond to the latest slur against their discipline.

Robert Halfon, who chairs the Commons select committee on education, is no Thucydides, but he echoed complaints down the ages when he singled out medieval historians as undeserving of public funding.

Okay… Continue Reading »

Siezen Perdu

The ending of Ulrich Ritzel’s most recent novel, Nadjas Katze, is quietly lovely. I’m planning to blog on the book more extensively in the near future, so won’t go into the full details of the plot here; the key point is that Berndorf, the detective, has uncovered the possibility that Nadja his client may actually be his half-sister (this depends less on utterly improbable coincidence than it might at first appear). He’s back home in Berlin; the phone rings, and it’s Nadja, whom he last saw storming off in fury. “Well,” she says – or something like that; the book is also in Berlin, and I’m not. “I guess you’ve heard that the test results are in.”

Leaving us hanging? Not in German Continue Reading »