Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

I’ve just published a piece in Epoiesen, the fantastic online journal for creative engagements with history and archaeology, on the Melian Dilemma game and some of the thinking behind it. I’ve been meaning to get round to this for ages – and I’ve been given extra reason to regret not getting my act together sooner, as my fate now is to be completely overshadowed by Assemblage Theory, the brilliant contribution by Andrew Reinhard, published a few days earlier, on his latest musical experiments: exploring different conceptions of the idea of ‘assemblage’ by producing new songs using ‘found sounds’. Go read, go listen. If this piece doesn’t single-handedly exemplify why a journal of wacky historical creativity is an absolute necessity, you are beyond saving. (more…)

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…restraint impresses men most. Not Thucydides but attributed to him e.g. by former Secretary of State Colin Powell, but it does, as Tim Rood has pointed out, bear a certain resemblance to Nicias’ claim, in the Sicilian Debate, that it’s better to be feared from a distance for what you might do than to put it into action and be found wanting. This directly contradicts the claim of the Athenians in the Melian Dialogue that if they don’t crush the Melians they will be thought weak by enemies and potentially rebellious subjects, and it’s in that context that I’m thinking about this, as – inevitably – no sooner have I developed a full version of The Melian Dilemma game then I start tinkering with it. (more…)

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We Belong?

Everybody so often, a student will come up with something that is simply perfect – they may not do it perfectly, but the idea is just so right. This week, it was the student in my Greek Political Thought class who organised their short presentation for a seminar on citizenship around the UK citizenship test; yes, they could have put more emphasis on the analytical side, comparing and contrasting the assumptions inherent in the questions with the assumptions we see in ancient sources rather than just working through the whole of a practice quiz, but it still raised so many important issues in interesting and accessible ways – as well as, for me, offering an insight into how young people think about such things. The complete incredulity among the students that anyone should need to know about Boudicca to qualify for citizen rights – let alone their reaction when I sketched out the old Tebbit Cricket Test – suggests a radically different conception of Britishness from that which continues to dominate public debates. (more…)

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Snow News Day

If you follow me on the Twitter, you might have noticed the little icon that appears when I post a link to this blog, showing a pile of Greek helmets; the same image appears on the cover of Harloe & Morley, eds., Thucydides and the Modern World (2012). It’s part of the Greek section of the Inter-Allied WWI Memorial at Liège, which also features a long quote from Pericles’ Funeral Oration, which is of course why I first came across it; with its explicit echo of ancient commemorative practices, the pile of empty helmets also evoking a macabre heap of skulls, it’s rather stunning. I’ve not seen it in the snow, so I’m very grateful to Bernard Wilkin, a historian at the Belgian State Archives, who spotted my image and sent over this recent picture…


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A brief survey of recent British history as reflected in the changing title of my putative next Thucydides book…

2015: Thucydides and Modern Political Thought

2016: The Human Thing: Thucydides on Politics and its Failings

2017: Faction, Populism and the Politics of Truth; Hope, Danger’s Comforter

2018: It’s the Melian Dialogue, Stupid (And You’re the Melians)

2019: History Repeating: the Self-Inflicted Death of Democracy; The Human Thing: Why People Make Idiotic Decisions; A Possession for All Time (If Anyone Bothered to Pay Attention)

2020: Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You

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As I have noted before, the key to understanding the Brexit debate remains the paradoxes of the Greek philosopher Zeno of Elea (see previous discussions here and here), which were, it is implied in Plato’s Parmenides, originally composed to support his friend Parmenides’ contention that any perception of change or progress is an illusion designed to distract us from horror of a senseless universe. The relevant passage reads as follows: (more…)

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Would it be better if Thucydides had never written, or if his work had been lost altogether? (Not an entirely impossible scenario, given that nothing of his work was available in Western Europe before the 14th century, and any number of Greek works may have been lost when Constantinople fell). I’ve mused on this before, in the context of the stupid Thucydides Trap idea (which, insofar as it’s a well-intentioned policy intervention, seems just as likely to prompt aggressive war preparations as the de-escalation that its author urges), and one might have asked the same question about the US Neocons and their apparent belief that Thucydides licensed a new US world order, in which the Sicilian Expedition would have the right outcome. (more…)

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