“Don’t confuse meaning with truth: Thucydides.” I think I speak for everyone when I say: huh? It’s not just that it’s fake, it’s the fact that it seems, insofar as I have any idea what it’s on about, utterly un-Thucydidean. His basic assumption – even if you interpret this as a neurotic response to trauma, as I’ve suggested in the paper I finished writing on Tuesday – is that establishing the truth about past events is the only road to understanding them, and to understanding the present. I suppose that, if you squint hard enough, you could fit this line to his sense that the significance of e.g. Athenian stories about the Tyrannicides for their sense of identity has no necessary connection to the veracity of such stories, i.e. the fact something is meaningful doesn’t make it true, but that’s definitely a stretch.
What’s interesting about this quote is its rarity: yesterday morning was the first time I’ve ever seen it on the Twitter, and a web search for the exact phrase – with or without Thucydides’ name attached, which is normally a good way to get a sense of where else it might have come from – reveals just two sites, an astonishingly low number:
One is an all-purpose quotes site where this is first in a list of lots of other fake and dubious Thucydides quotations (but with a report button, so we’ll see if they now take them down…); I haven’t worked out any way of telling when the quote was added to their site. The second is a personal blog active between December 2011 and September 2015, including a page of favourite quotes (“and other literary crap”) from 28/2/2015. It would be interesting to ask where the author got this quote, given that it doesn’t seem to be from the Internet – there isn’t a contact email, but I’ve left a comment, in the hope that the author still picks up notifications when someone writes something.
If, as seems possible given that it has scarcely made it onto Twitter, the quote was only recently added to the quotes site, it will be interesting to see how quickly it spreads, whereas most of these fake lines were already too widely distributed by the time I started studying them. We have our Patient Zero; now to trace the infection. Of course, if the site now takes it down, there won’t be an immediate epidemic, but I can chalk that up as a different sort of impact, given my total failure to halt the proliferation of that bloody ‘Scholars and Warriors’ quote.
A significant proportion of the accounts tweeting this (and many other quotations) present themselves as marketing or business advice agencies; they’re clearly bots or ‘social jukebox’ things (which appears to be another sort of bot), attempting to gather likes and followers through the incessant dissemination of inane words of wisdom, and I suspect most of them are being run by the same one or two social media marketing agencies. I wonder whether the firms in question know that they’re paying good money for total crap – maybe I should write to one or two…
But maybe they’re happy just garnering clicks – in which case, I may be making things worse. A tweet of a fake Thucydides quotation does at least guarantee a response from the Thucydiocy Bot to correct it – which, if engagement is the driver of all this, may make it more likely that the quotation will be tweeted again, to be corrected again, and so forth. Certainly it means that they’re not going to stop doing it.
This suggests that I need to change strategy: to study the tweeting habits of repeat offenders, to see if any patterns are evident (e.g, does this quote start to recur more frequently?). Or, I need to keep a record of all these bloody accounts, so that I correct them once and then ignore them.
Yes, this all looks like a ridiculous waste of time, but I think of it as an exercise in training my senses and getting to know my environment, as a sudden change in the behaviour of birds or a shift in the wind can alert an animal to an approaching predator…