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Archive for the ‘Events’ Category

There is a persistent tendency among readers of Thucydides to complain about other people’s readings of Thucydides. Sometimes these are ridiculously wishy-washy and overly complex, severing the text from any connection to reality and any hope of it making a useful contribution to the world, sometimes these are absurdly simple and reductionist, denying the complexity of Thucydides’ thought and the complexity of the world in equal measure; what they have in common is that they’re all dramatically inferior to my reading. A key question for the study of Thukydidismus is the capacity of Thucydides’ text to be interpreted in such dramatically different and contradictory ways, and the malleability of Thucydides himself, able to recruited as a supporter by any number of different ideological projects. The final group of papers from the conference all engaged in different ways with this question. (more…)

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Two brilliant papers on the second day of the conferences, by Gerry Mara (Georgetown) and Christine Lee (Bristol), engaged with the idea of Thucydides as a democratic theorist, or at any rate as a theorist of democracy. This is an unfamiliar role for him, for a number of different reasons. For the historiographical tradition, the idea of Thucydides as a ‘theorist’ of any kind, as opposed to a historian of a more or less familiar sort (whether an ideal, objective-scientific historian or a cunning mythographer), is pretty well anathema. Those who do want to see him in a tradition of political thought, meanwhile, tend to focus on reading him in terms of international relations and world order; insofar as he is seen to comment on civic society, or as his narrative of events is seen to encode political ideas, his views are interpreted as thoroughly anti-democratic, with his praise of Pericles and his portrait of Cleon and post-Periclean Athens serving equally to undermine any optimism about a democratic system. It is striking that George Grote and John Stuart Mill, who both saw Athens as a positive model for present-day society, were forced to rework or ignore Thucydides when it came to this theme, despite the fact that his account was so central to the rest of their reconstruction of ancient Greece. In brief, if Thucydides appears to offer any sort of political theory, it seems to be a pessimistic and elitist one. (more…)

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Can’t quite believe that it’s been a month since the Thucydides Our Contemporary? conference in Bristol – though it has been one of those sorts of months. This does create a certain problem for the enterprise of blogging on all the different papers. As time has passed, so what particular persons said in their papers has become hard for me to remember exactly; I shall therefore discuss the remaining papers in terms of the themes that happen to interest me most – which is what’s ended up in my notes –  while at the same time trying, as far as possible, to give the general purport of what was actually said. Which is really a bit unfair to all those speakers whom I haven’t got round to discussing until now, but the good news is that they’re all contributors to the forthcoming Handbook to the Reception of Thucydides – so if you just hang on until 2014 or thereabouts, you can read what they actually said… (more…)

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Honouring Mary Beard

Mary Beard has been a supporter of Classics & Ancient History in Bristol for years (she’s a Vice-President of the Institute for Greece, Rome and the Classical Tradition), and so we were delighted to grab the opportunity – before everyone else starts doing it – of honouring her work as a scholar and public intellectual through the award of an honourary DLitt yesterday. You can read her own account of the experience here; the two things I’d add are that, as the Vice Chancellor himself noted, no graduand of any kind has ever tried to kiss the VC before (I think we can expect that anecdote to appear in future iterations of his traditional Graduation speech), and that I’ve never seen an honourary graduand look so positively joyful (normally they’re much too busy being solemn).

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Clifford Orwin (Toronto) opened his plenary lecture at the Thucydides our Contemporary? conference with the question of what it might mean to consider Thucydides as a contemporary, or at least as a writer with contemporary relevance.  To make him familiar is to make him irrelevant, simply a means of legitimating present approaches through a spurious appeal to classical authority. He is not a sympathiser but an antagonist, someone whose ideas are always useful because he always stands outside his and every other era (a reading that of course echoes Nietzsche’s idea of “untimely knowledge”, a means of standing outside the present in one’s imagination in order to examine and criticise it). (more…)

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It would be absurd to imply that a field as embryonic as the study of Thucydidean reception has anything resembling ‘usual suspects’, but one of the key aims of the conference was to bring together not only established scholars who’ve previously written important things on Thucydides but also up-and-coming scholars whose work has yet to become widely known (or, in some cases, to be published or even finished yet). One of the great things about having a project website that features the words ‘Thucydides’ and ‘reception’ in metaphorically large and friendly letters has been to hear from people scattered around the world who’d stumbled across it and who’d previously been working more or less in isolation, and this conference gave an opportunity to bring them over to Bristol – while some others came under their own steam. The heart of the first day was four papers from such people, all linked by the themes of history and how knowledge of Thucydides has been disseminated. (more…)

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By far the most frustrating aspect of our recent two-day conference Thucydides our Comtemporary? (I’ll come back to that question mark at some point…) was the fact that I was chairing every session. Often, of course, such duties entail desperately thinking up more-or-less intelligible questions and comments on topics one knows little about in the hope that the speaker won’t actually notice that no one has anything much to say and would far rather call it a day and head down to the pub. Not this time; I spent my whole time arbitrating on split-second finishes between three different people raising their hands at once, juggling the wish to keep the thread of debate going with the need to avoid neglecting people who had other things to say, and trying to keep vaguely to the scheduled programme. Despite the fact that every speaker stuck pretty well to time, and we’d scheduled lots of space for discussion, I had to cut things short time and again. Bringing people back at the end of refreshment breaks was even worse, as clearly these were taken as opportunities to engage in more depth, free from the interfering headmaster type threatening to withhold everyone’s dinner if they didn’t stop talking. And the problem was that actually I could happily have taken up the whole discussion time with my own questions and comments, if I hadn’t had to be all selfless and disciplined. Still, at least I have this blog to play with, and over the next few weeks (probably) I aim to give a sketch of the different papers, for everyone who couldn’t or didn’t make it to the conference, and to give me a chance to develop my own thoughts. Obviously the authors of the different papers bear no responsibility for what I’ve made of them… (more…)

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