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Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

The Outrage Machine

Victor Davis Hanson is at it again… “It’s fun to celebrate Sparta, but let’s look deeper,” he declares in The National Review. “There are so many lessons we can learn from the Greco-Roman city-state, especially from those who ran it.” So far so boilerplate – I’m not sure whether he’s directly responding to recent articles by Myke Cole and Nick Burns in The New Republic. Then it gets weird: “The main ideology of Sparta was that all men should be educated as scholars… Homer wrote that the culture wars are never ended. However, so long as our educational system leaves millions of young men without the basic technical know-how to wage war, the cult of arms continues to roam the Earth…”

Okay, it’s not actually VDH (more…)

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Time, and Money. One of my most concrete achievements so far this summer – besides winning first prize for ‘a truss of cherry tomatoes’ at the local garden show – has been getting the front of the house painted. Does the money saved by doing it myself, and the sense of satisfaction, actually balance out the fact that a professional would have done it at a much lower hourly rate than one might calculate mine to be, so I could instead have devoted more time to working on all the chapters and articles I’m supposed to be writing / have written – with substantially less potential satisfaction? I do tend to revert to an autarkic ‘why pay someone if you can do it yourself?’ attitude, especially as I like doing practical things, rather than spending money to make everything but the research go away? (more…)

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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 (more…)

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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. (more…)

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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. (more…)

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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. (more…)

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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. (more…)

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