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The problem with developing an interest in classical references in modern political discourse is that the evidence never stops piling up. It’s the advantage of blogging, of course, that it’s easy to update whenever something interesting comes along. When it comes to proper academic analysis, however – since blogs are still not taken seriously for that purpose – there’s a constant fear that a new development will suddenly put things into a different light, locked in endless struggle with the wish/need to get the thing finished.

I cannot decide whether it’s a good or bad thing that my chapter on depictions of Trump as Roman emperor was submitted months ago so can’t include references to the analogies being drawn between his 4th July authoritarian military spectacle and the vast, expensive shows put on for Caligula Continue Reading »

Altered Images

One of the interesting aspects of being in a country like Romania where my grasp of the language is limited to essentials like hello, excuse me, please, thank you, and may I have a beer/coffee please? – the bare minimum for survival and politeness’ sake – is finding myself much more reliant than usual on visual signs and clues, not just carefully-chosen symbols intended to communicate messages visually but the form in which different unintelligible texts are presented – the structure of a menu, the font choices of official instructions or regulations. It’s a reminder of the wide variety of forms of literacy that exists; in this case, being able to recognise writing, and even hazard a guess at the kind of message intended, without knowing what it means. Continue Reading »

Imagine…

Everyone in the world has forgotten Thucydides. Everyone except Jill…

Suppose that the text of Thucydides never made it out of Constantinople before it was sacked; no Latin translation by Lorenzo Valla, no French translation by Claude de Seyssel, no English version from Thomas Hobbes, just a few passing mentions in authors like Cicero that don’t really convey much about what the work must have been like. No elevation of him as the model critical historian by nineteenth-century Germans; no quotes from the Funeral Oration on war memorials or in speeches; no Henry Kissinger, no Neorealism, no Neocons. Continue Reading »

It’s holiday time, at last – many, many apologies to the people to whom I owe a draft chapter by last month, but I have a five-hour train journey tomorrow, in which it will get finished… In the meantime, we’ve been exploring Bucharest, which has the expected range of classical elements in its architecture, especially the deranged Ceaucescu elements; his immediate inspiration for a giant palace of government and enormous boulevards and parade grounds may have North Korea, but the design has hefty doses of Fascist futuro-classicism (though a lot fewer heroic figures than you might expect).

There were also plenty of neoclassical motifs in the collection of paintings from Romanian artists on the first floor of the palace. Continue Reading »

One of the slightly awkward aspects of reviewing Laura Jansen’s Borges’ Classics recently for Classics for All was that I couldn’t for the life of me find my copy of his Collected Fictions, so had to rely partly on memory and partly on Laura’s summaries of key pieces. Now that I’ve found it again and am re-reading some old favourites, it seems that this may have been a good thing, as otherwise the temptation to do nothing but quote choice extracts, head off on any number of tangents and then have even more problems getting the review down to a manageable size would have been too great – as it was, I had at least another couple of thousand words of notes and arguments that had to be omitted. It make me admire even more Laura’s success in keeping her book to a reasonable length, rather than trying to tackle every aspect that invites discussion. Continue Reading »

There are times when – if I was completely confident that he is human, rather than a papier-maché marionette enchanted with a spirit of pure ambition and entitlement – I could almost feel sorry for Boris Johnson. How to answer questions about one’s self, when either it doesn’t exist or it has been firmly suppressed in favour of an attention-seeking public persona? Brexit? Easy: optimism, boldness, do or die, codswallop, no surrender, blah blah. Domestic policy? Tax cuts and infrastructure investment for everyone! Private life? That should remain private, so there. Okay, which figure from history would you like to be…? Continue Reading »

Poetic Licence

One of the interesting dynamics of Twitter is the way that it encourages imitation and development: predictive text games, variations on memes, daft hashtags etc, not all of which are designed to get you to reveal personal information that can then be applied to hacking your bank account. It’s one of the more joyful aspects of a platform that can at times be very depressing.

I think this explains why I sometimes have a similar response to things on Twitter that aren’t actually posted to provoke imitation Continue Reading »