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Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

Yes, it’s been quiet on here recently; a combination of trying to get a chapter written and the recurrence of the bloody virus, and I suspect these things are feeding off one another. In addition, I’ve decided to be the last pompous middle-aged classicist left standing without having written a ‘state of the discipline, burn down classics, don’t burn down classics’ piece, and obviously any blog post is a temptation to do just that. So, this isn’t a proper post – that has to wait until this chapter is finished – but just an update on an interesting bit of Thucydideana. This time, well out of my price range. (more…)

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A year ago, I was in London, coming to the end of an intensive week of workshops and rehearsals with the amazing group of actors and creative people with whom I was exploring the dramatic potential of Thucydides’ Melian Dialogue. Yes, long days with a bunch of people from different households in a room with the windows shut because the weather was so awful; lots of warm-up exercises with us all in a tight circle breathing at one another; breakfast and lunch in crowded cafes; evenings in restaurants, either solo or meeting friends. All leading up to a gathering on the final day of seventy or so people in a small theatre for the 45-minute performance and subsequent panel discussion. Another time, another country… (more…)

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Have A Cigar

You’re going to go far? Well, no. I have long since resigned myself to the fact that I am not suddenly going to embark on the sort of media career that allows one to produce a calendar of swimsuit shots in exotic filming locations or be interviewed for a weekend supplement about my favourite recipes or (sob) get invited onto Strictly Come Dancing or Desert Island Discs. Am an attendant lord, fit to sneak onto the occasional In Our Time when everyone else is busy. (more…)

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The discipline of Classics considered as an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The Institute of Ancient Wisdom, one of the oldest and most prestigious organisations in Sunnydale, comes to the school to deliver some curriculum enhancement activities and recruit new members. Willow is entranced by their erudition and sophistication, and the promise of, well, ancient wisdom. Cordelia is attracted by the aura of power and social status. Xander is suspicious and hostile at first, but then they explain that he too is an inheritor of their great traditions, simply by virtue of being himself, and so he should help defend them. (more…)

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I suspect that for a lot of people the joy of the Handforth Parish Council Planning & Environment Committee Zoom meeting (video here, if somehow you haven’t already seen it), besides the entertaining spectacle of chaos and surrealism, is the discovery of a bizarre, alien world where the question of whether someone is a Proper Officer or who actually has The Authority In This Meeting is a matter of high political drama. For me, it was a nostalgia trip. I should stress that Castle Cary Town Council was never anything like this bad, even at its worst moments, but it’s easy to see the potential that existed for such a breakdown, and there are other councils in this area whose Zoom meetings would probably be equally comedy gold. And, given that the video leaves out a significant amount of context, it was great fun to revive my once intensive knowledge of local government procedures and standing orders, to work out what must be going on and who actually did have the Authority, if not Jackie Weaver… (more…)

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Near The End

Thinking that we’re getting older and wiser, when we’re just getting old…

There’s a painful scene towards the end of season 1 of Shtisel (and if you don’t already know this series, I recommend it highly: engrossing low-key family drama with a side order of comparative religion and anthropology). Shulem, the Shtisel patriarch, has been puzzled that his monthly pay as a teacher in the local cheder is substantially lower than normal. Initially the principal tells him that there’s a general cash-flow issue, but when he realises that he’s the only one affected the truth comes out: this is actually his pension; he was officially retired at the age of sixty, and since then the money to make up the difference to his old salary has been coming from his mother, as his wife was so worried that stopping work would kill him within a few months. (more…)

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Power to the People?

Over the last couple of months, one Thucydides quote has been quite widely circulated on the Twitter: “In a democracy, someone who fails to get elected to office can always console himself with the thought that there was something not quite fair about it.” As I discussed a few years ago, it’s a genuine quote (from 8.89) albeit a pretty loose translation (by Rex Warner) – and since that discussion was in October 2016, I’m guessing that this appears on various websites listing Quotes on Democracy, which the sorts of people who like tweeting quotations refer to every four years. While many of the tweets are completely without context, however, enough of them appear in discussion threads that you can make a pretty good guess at their intended meaning, and what’s interesting is that there are two diametrically opposed uses: on the one hand, there those who (as was the case in 2016) offer this as evidence that sore losers are always going to claim they were cheated, but on the other hand this time around there are significant numbers – probably a majority – who put this line forward in support of the claim that there is going to be something unfair about a vote in a democracy, that ‘they’ are always going to cheat and manipulate the system. (more…)

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Here we go again… The return of lockdown brings some very familiar feelings: relief that what seemed like pessimism in early December (stocking up on cat food and soya milk in anticipation of possible Brexit disruption, deciding to stick with entirely electronic reading lists although students were asking about hard copies of stuff in the library) has left me in a better position than I might have been, frustration and uncertainty about how to modify teaching plans again. This term should have been easier (and maybe still will be) as we’ve all got better at the different elements of online learning, not least by working out which ones aren’t worth bothering with. However, someone somewhere was obviously feeling optimistic at a critical moment, and so we’re currently scheduled to have less recorded and asynchronous stuff and more face-to-face time in any given module – although the latter will now be online for most if not all the term. A more precautionary approach would have been to assume that we’d be lucky if we could just carry on in the way we have been, but no… (more…)

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As I remarked in the run-down of my favourite posts of 2020 by other people, it’s now traditional at this time of year to bemoan the continuing, apparently inexorable decline of blogging, and to wonder whether it’s worth the trouble. Page views are down another 20% or so on last year – though the optimistic perspective here is that this represents a slowing of the decline in absolute terms, and the number of visitors is more or less the same (and might even be slightly higher, if this end-of-year review gets some traction…). Writing posts has at times felt almost impossible, as I struggled with the joys of Long COVID – but less impossible than any proper academic writing, so the result has been a reasonable level of production here, while my ‘to do’ list for the professional stuff gets ever longer. And this year, more than ever before, the pleasure of reading old posts is the rediscovery of things I genuinely have no recollection of writing… (more…)

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The Masterplan

I think it’s only appropriate to round off my blogging year – apart from the usual annual review, and unless something else strikes me in the meantime – with a final reflection on teaching inspired by my jazz composition course, which has been the one unquestionably positive experience in this basically rubbish year. This time it’s not about online learning and teaching, but a more general thought about managing seminars; and it’s inspired not by the tutor, but by conversation with other students on the discussion thread where we posted our homework exercises for comment (stifles deep sigh at total failure to get any sort of online discussion going in any of my modules this past term…). (more…)

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