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Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

Fake News?

There are ‘Thucydides’ quotes that immediately raise suspicions, and generally they are easiest to eliminate as being fake – “A collision at sea can ruin your whole day” is so obviously a modern fiction that it’s scarcely worth worrying about, even before you notice that it was originally attributed to Book 9. Most, however, are at least plausible – and, given that Thucydides’ difficult Greek can almost always be translated in multiple ways, it can be extremely difficult to establish that a quote really isn’t genuine if you can’t track down the phrase in another source that is manifestly not Thucydides. I suppose one could argue that the burden of proof should be on those who propagate dubious quotations to justify the claim that they’re from Thucydides (more…)

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Warm greetings to all new followers of this blog (even if usernames suggest that a surprisingly large number of you are heavily into the supply and fitting of high-quality flooring…). I don’t actually know why WordPress should have chosen this week to give me a boost, as it’s actually really terrible timing; the first couple of weeks of term are always a bit hectic, but on top of that I’ve been writing my inaugural lecture (last week) and pursuing a lengthy and increasingly tetchy correspondence about why I don’t seem to be allowed to share the recording outside the university (this week), plus finishing a short-but-nevertheless-quite-substantial-given-everything-else book that ought to have been finished last month (yesterday). (more…)

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All too many of the quotations attributed to Thucydides on the internet fall into one of three categories: not quite what he said, not really what he meant, or not actually Thucydides at all. Or, more succinctly, sad, bad, or mad. Okay, as a would-be ‘Morley’s Law of Thucydides Quotes’ that is pretty thin and equivocating, but anything more assertive would be too easily falsified with reference to the numerous bland but basically innocuous citations of “the secret of happiness is freedom, the secret of freedom is courage”. Yes, I do understand that the Royal Road to a world-straddling media profile, enormous book sales and the adoration of thousands of beautiful women is to pick an intellectual gimmick and defend it to the death, but I’m just too much of a British academic for that. (more…)

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How does our knowledge of classical antiquity relate to the present and its problems? How do we as classicists – to address at least a subset of my readers – engage with the world through our knowledge of the classical past, or is our chosen field of activity precisely a means of not engaging with the world?  (more…)

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As I’ve remarked on here before, I really wish I had some grasp of Mandarin, in order to be able to get a proper sense of how Thucydides is being discussed in China: do they simply follow the conventional US international relations reading, and especially Allison’s Thucydides’s Trap theory, on the basis that this will help them understand American foreign policy thinking, or are they engaging with this and other classical texts (including Chinese ones) more creatively? A recent report from the Asia News International website (original link from @rogueclassicist) suggests the latter may be more likely, as it reports on an article from the official news agency Xinhua that speaks not of Thucydides but of the hitherto-unremarked Tacitus Trap. (more…)

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A measure of the success of an idea, or at least its temporary trendiness, is when it crops up in completely irrelevant and inappropriate places. It can only be a matter of time before ‘Thucydides’s Trap’ starts getting referenced in sports reporting (Bayern versus Red Bull Leipzig?) or pop music (Taylor Swift versus someone we haven’t heard of yet?), but at the moment it does appear compulsory to mention it in any discussion whatsoever of inter-state relations in Asia. This morning’s example comes from a piece by John Blaxland of ANU in East Asia Forum asking ‘Do the lessons of Thucydides apply to Singapore?’

Tl;dr: nope. The real question: why did anyone imagine that they would? (more…)

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That radical “a plague on all your houses” centrist Thucydides is muttering “I told you so” to himself again…

Factionalism and polarisation became facts of political life, and places that were affected later rather than sooner, hearing what was happening elsewhere, went to ever greater extremes in identifying new grievances and new accusations against their opponents. The usual valuation of words and actions was changed. What was once seen as reckless aggression now appeared as the loyalty one owed to fellow campaigners, while forethought and hesitation became cowardly equivocation; calls for moderation meant you lacked decency, while seeing different sides of the question was a sign of secret sympathies with the enemy. (3.82.3-4)

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