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 »

I’ve written on a number of occasions about Graham Allison’s ‘Thucydides Trap’ idea and why I disagree with it – indeed, I imagine that this is why the viewing stats for this blog have risen appreciably in recent weeks – but there’s nothing like reading someone else’s critical but largely wrong-headed review to prompt a bit of reflection. Arthur Waldron’s review in the Straits Times (which I first encountered via SupChina – and is that the worst name for a site ever?) has been widely circulated on the Twitter (at any rate by the normal standards of Thucydides-related references) with a measurable atmosphere of glee and Schadenfreude. It seems that a fair number of people want Allison to be not just wrong but catastrophically wrong – Ian Buruma’s New Yorker review is just as critical of Allison but much more measured, and hasn’t been nearly so widely cited as a result – and Waldron gives them what they want.

Waldron’s opening sentences are brutal – and frankly bizarre: Continue Reading »

It is a bizarre but entirely undiscussed paradox that the alleged technological underdevelopment and primitivist mindset of the ancient world – see M.I. Finley and his followers – was often illustrated by the story (Pliny NH 36.195, Petronius Satyricon 51) of the man who brought to the Emperor Tiberius a goblet made of unbreakable glass, that did not shatter when dropped and could be made perfectly whole again if damaged – and was put to death for his pains. “Hostility to innovation!” they cry. “And isn’t it significant that an inventor went to the emperor for a reward, not to a hi-tech start-up for capital investment?” Well, maybe. But the most important questions are: what was this material, and where did it come from? Continue Reading »

[guest post from the official #CthulhuUK campaign]

If you are exposed to a vacuum, the tears that moisten and protect the outside of your eyeballs will evaporate within seconds. I therefore urge you: DO NOT attempt to read the Conservative Party’s 12-point Plan For Brexit! I, mighty Cthulhu, guarantee the continuing flow of tears over moist, succulent eyeballs. My 13-point Plan for Brexit is truly of the abyss, not merely abysmal.

1. Certainty and clarity that the land *will* be laid waste and your children and grandchildren will curse your name as they cower in makeshift shelters from the Fungi from Yuggoth.

2. End feeble attempts of EU institutions to ban noble British tradition of human sacrifice.

3. Unite all parts of the Union in suffering.

4. Restore historical tradition of wrecking Ireland as well.

5. Cut off all contact with so-called civilisation.

6. Foreigners will be treated in just the same way as natives [evil chuckle]

7. Worker’s rights. Ha ha ha ha ha ha.

8. Free cake.

9. Exciting new trading opportunities with Ulthar, Kadath in the Cold Waste and the Plateau of Leng.

10. A new technological revolution, as we return you to the Stone Age.

11. Full cooperation with global terror.

12. A smooth, orderly detachment of Britain from mundane reality.

13. Brexit means Brexit means Bragnarök!

A vote for any other party risks handing over management of the forthcoming apocalypse to weak, indecisive humans who are simply dying to backslide on the self-destructive instincts of the British people. Take back control from so-called experts and their rational calculations! #CthulhuUK

A new, and particularly useless, Thucydides misattribution; last night, a Twitter account largely dedicated to retweeting hard-line anti-Islamic and anti-climate change remarks from people like Richard Spencer and Paul Joseph Watson offered its own wannabe meme on the OneLove concert in Manchester: “THUCYDIDES said “while your houses are on fire, you sing.” Well, no, of course he didn’t, and there is precisely zero indication on the internet that anyone has ever suggested that he did – it’s actually taken from Aesop (no.54 in Perry’s index) – so this seems a clear-cut case of fake Thucydideana actually being created; Aesop much too fuzzy and associated with childhood to legitimise such a denunciation of modern liberalism, so let’s turn to the authoritative, hard-nosed Realist Thucydides. Thankfully the account has only 74 followers, and this tweet has been liked and retweeted only once each, so with a bit of luck it’s the last as well as the first we’ll be seeing of it…

Update: yes, I think we’ve nipped this in the bud. The account in question initially came back with an “indeed the quote is from Aesop but said to be quoted by Thucydides for the stupidity of the Athenians but nevertheless fits the British well”; on being asked for a reference, he blocked the Thucydiocy Bot (and described it as a “Jihadi-loving cuck”) – but corrected the quote. Victory!

IMG_0168No, I haven’t seen the new Wonder Woman film – the reviews I’ve seen so far seem inclined to a position of “crashing disappointment” [ahem. see update below] – but I think I’ve managed to establish the identity of the alleged Thucydides reference without actually having to watch it. I’ve no idea how it plays out in the film, as the screenplay doesn’t seem to be online yet, but as far as the novelisation is concerned, Diana is busy getting smoochy with General Ludendorff, whom she suspects of being the god Ares in disguise… Continue Reading »

In this morning’s Grauniad, George Monbiot argues that the fundamental political decision of our age – not solely in Britain or Europe or the West, but across the globe – lies between “public luxury available to all, or private luxury available to some.” My immediate thought was of the famous lines in Cicero’s Pro Murena (76):

The Roman people hates private luxury, it esteems public munificence; it does not love lavish banquets, still less sordid behaviour and brutality; it recognises differences in services and circumstances, the interchange of work and pleasure.

I’ve no idea if this is a deliberate reference (Monbiot hasn’t responded to a query on the Twitter); rather like the “many not the few” line, it’s such a boilerplate contrast that the resemblances don’t necessarily mean anything. Continue Reading »