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Archive for the ‘Research in Progress’ Category

On 2nd November 1860, the political scientist Francis Lieber, then professor of history and political science at Columbia College in New York, wrote a letter to his eldest son Oscar. War between the states loomed on the horizon; Lieber was firmly against secession, and during the conflict was in charge of the Loyal Publication Society as well as assisting in drafting military laws, while his two other sons would both serve in the Union army, but Oscar would die in 1862 fighting for the Confederacy. One can imagine the family tensions. Lieber wrote:

It sometimes has occurred to me that what Thucydides said of the Greeks at the time of the Peloponnesian War applies to us. The Greeks, he said, did not understand each other any longer, though they spoke Greek. Words received a different meaning in different parts.

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Ah, the research-teaching nexus, how I’ve missed you! As I’ve remarked here before, in different ways I do find that my teaching inspires and supports my research as much as vice versa, and this morning was a reminder – admittedly a fairly minimal one. About three years ago, I ran into a dead end trying to establish the origins of another alleged ‘Thucydides’ quotation: “You should punish in the same manner those who commit crimes with those who accuse falsely”. Weird phrasing which actually seems to be the wrong way round, googling the exact line just produces a set of mutually-dependent ‘Great Quotes’ websites with no references, and googling similar phrases gets nowhere because the words are just too common. The best anyone could manage was Jon Dresner’s suggestion that various Near Eastern lawcodes include vaguely similar provisions. (more…)

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A key issue in much work on ‘classical reception’ is the tendency to over-value and over-interpret classical allusions and references. We pounce on every faint echo, because it’s what we’re trained to do and because it’s what we value – without necessarily considering whether it actually matters, or matters very much, or is any more than background cultural noise. And even if the allusion is definitely present, which isn’t always the case, how much can we assume about its meaning for the audience, or its significance in the wider culture? If you regularly search for references to Thucydides on Twitter and other social media, you do get a clear sense that he is a more significant figure than, say, Polybius. But does that make him an all-pervasive influence on modern thinking about war and politics? Not so much. (more…)

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This is something of a negative and/or holding post, but it seems worthwhile putting it down as a marker to myself if no one else… As I’ve mentioned before, one of my resolutions for lockdown was that I would finally make some progress on my Thucydides musical project. This hasn’t got anywhere, partly because of the ongoing brain fog issue (in the light of recent scary newspaper reports, I’m trying to take the optimistic view that once again I’ve got off lightly compared to others and so this will pass if I just take it easy, rather than contemplating the thought that this might be permanent), but partly as a result of the jazz composition course I’ve been doing online. As I’ve noted, this has been enormously valuable as an exercise in seeing things from the student perspective (and I really feel for the tutor, as he’s falling into exactly the traps that I would fall into, trying to engage with students in a normal manner although this takes much more time than usual, and trying unsuccessfully to get people to make use of the chat facility between classes). But I have also learnt a lot about jazz composition, especially when it comes to modal approaches. (more…)

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Attendance is free, but numbers are limited, so please register HERE. (more…)

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Subject Heading: Why you are not getting that article/chapter any time soon

(1) It’s been a horribly busy term and I simply haven’t had any time to focus on research or writing. I have a couple of commitments in June and early July, plus taking a short holiday (at last!), but I’ll then be able to get down to this properly. (more…)

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A minor update, ‘cos I’m sitting on a train with nothing to read but student essays, on the ongoing development of Thucydides-related games, this time the card-based rock/paper/scissors variant that’s become known as the Peg Game because players accumulate (or lose) clothes pegs and display them as a sign of their power (or lack of it). I ran a version of this at a student Classics Society games evening tonight – it was supposed to be a debate, but not enough people signed up – and because I didn’t have any pegs to hand I tried using the cards themselves as the tokens of power.

This is quite entertainingly fiendish, (more…)

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A country divided; politics becoming ever more partisan and extreme; increasingly violent rhetoric, with knee-jerk defence of your own side and a refusal to accept the slightest possibility that your opponents – now branded as ‘enemies’ or ‘traitors’ – might be speaking or acting in good faith. Not (only) Britain in 2019, or 1930s Germany, but ancient Greece. (more…)

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I have sometimes reflected that my epitaph should probably be ‘It seemed like a good idea at the time’ – especially when, as seems all too likely, I perish from a surfeit of missed deadlines. What I’ve always thought of as a boundless intellectual curiosity, able to get excited by and imagine my own contribution to any number of different projects, could equally well be described as a butterfly mind or a puppy-like lack of discrimination, randomly chasing cars and shiny things. The net result is the same, an excessive ‘to do’ list and regular bursts of apology-writing when the time and energy just run out.

Which isn’t to say that the original ideas weren’t good (more…)

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I for one welcome our new Thucydides-quoting overlords… Well, no, not really. Back in 2013, when Dominic Cummings publicly expressed his love for Thucydides and his belief that there is no better book to study for understanding politics, I expressed concern that this was one more data point for the proposition that studying Thucydides can be a Really Bad Thing that leads people to Terrible Conclusions. I decided then not to spend any time developing a detailed analysis of the role played by Thucydides (and Pericles) in his essay ‘On education and and political priorities’, aka the ‘Odyssean Education’ piece, as on first reading it seemed that Cummings was mainly taking Thucydides as a model for critical thinking, something with which I wasn’t inclined to disagree too much, even if this idea clearly then led us in very different directions. A few years later, when Cummings resurfaced in the Vote Leave campaign, there seemed more important things to do than re-read the essay – though in retrospect, as discussed below, I now suspect that there were a few clues in there about his approach to politics that could have been worth discussing.

And now? (more…)

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