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Archive for the ‘Research in Progress’ Category

So, is it 1919 or 1938? Which lessons from history should the European Union be keeping in mind in its negotiations with the UK, the dangers of imposing a humiliating settlement on a defeated enemy which leads to the rise of resentment, dangerous populism and violence, or the dangers of abandoning one’s ideals and giving in to aggressive and unjustifiable demands in the hope of keeping the peace, which fuels ever greater demands and does nothing to stop the rise of resentment, populism and violence? Or maybe it’s all about the Holy Roman Empire instead. Thank you, Timothy Garton Ash, your valiant efforts in trying to drum up support for the Chequers compromise when everybody else hates it will not be forgotten. (more…)

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The strong do what they can; the weak suffer what they must…

A familiar line, but context and performance are everything. How do you picture the speaker? A calm, rational, ruthless dictator? A super-villain with a death ray? This is the sort of thing such figures tend to claim – which doesn’t mean that we necessarily accept it at face value. What about a fallen tyrant, a Lear or a Nero, still asserting such arrogance as their world falls apart around them? What if a super-hero was the speaker? (Echoes of Miller’s Batman or Alex Ross’s far superior Kingdom Come). What if it was a woman – whether downtrodden or triumphant? The line becomes less of a statement about the world, and more of a statement about the person speaking… (more…)

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Another new pseudo-Thucydides quote – an increasingly rare event, not because the level of misattribution is dropping to any measurable degree but because it’s the same couple of familiar misattributions every time – as French Minister of Economy Bruno le Maire commented* in a private meeting for French businessmen about Trump’s imposition of sanctions on Iran and the funding of international terrorism: “money is the nerve of war”, attributing this to Thucydides. (more…)

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Hope is an expensive commodity. It makes better sense to be prepared. Thucydides

A new addition to the taxonomy of Thucydides misquotations! This popped up on the Twitter for the first time this morning, though I see from Google that it already features on a couple of the dodgier quotes websites and – rather unexpectedly, at first glance – in a couple of books on topics like Biosecurity and ‘making Chemistry relevant’. (more…)

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If ever there was a good week to smuggle out an announcement of a conference with a few diversity issues, it’s this week; unless you have Jordan Peterson and Steve Bannon as keynotes and put on a minstrel show as part of the evening entertainment, there’s no way you could look worse than the Stanford Sausage Fest.

But having more female speakers than none is hardly cause for self-congratulation; 25%, as we have for our forthcoming workshop in Berlin at the beginning of next month on Thomas Piketty and Capital in Classical Antiquity, really isn’t great. I’m writing this partly to acknowledge the problem and accept responsibility for it, and partly – more importantly – to emphasise the lesson: having a diverse range of speakers as one of your goals in putting together a conference programme, and taking various steps to try to ensure it, may still not be nearly enough. (more…)

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Reading David Andress’ thought-provoking new book Cultural Dementia*, on the ways that the anger and resentment of much contemporary politics in the UK, France and USA are founded in confused, self-serving and largely imaginary ideas of national pasts, I’m inevitably reminded of Thucydides, and his denunciation of the Athenians’ unwillingness to make any effort to enquire into the truth of the past but simply to accept the first story the hear – especially, we may surmise, if it flatters their sense of themselves and their place in the world, like the story of the tyrannicides that served as a foundation myth of democracy. The duty of the historian – the theme that I’m lecturing on in Toronto this week, as it happens – is to struggle to uncover the truth of things, to treat everything critically, to make no compromises for the sake of personal loyalties or entertainment, to acknowledge ambiguity and complexity, and try to help others to come to terms with it. (more…)

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For all that I spend quite a lot of my time critically analysing the deficiencies of modern claims to ‘learn’ from Thucydides, or simply throwing rocks at them, I do firmly believe that his work has enormous potential as a source of insight into the way the world works, not only in the past but today. There are continuities as well as dramatic changes in human behaviour across time; we can draw from Thucydides’ account understanding of the ‘human thing’, the way that people think and behave. Yes, I tend to think of this in terms of tendencies and persistent mental habits rather than ‘laws’ of ‘human nature’, but it’s part of the same general project to read the work as Thucydides’ intended it, a ‘possession for ever’ from which readers can learn valuable things for the present. (more…)

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