Folks, the tone for 2022 has already been set, and I think it’s a pretty clear indication that we should simply go back to bed for the next 362 days: two British newspapers, which still to the best of my knowledge claim a degree of seriousness of purpose, have published articles claiming that the University of Reading has cancelled Semonides. You can imagine the furore: an author whose work has defined and shaped Western Civilization for millennia, beloved by every British schoolchild who first encountered his enchanting imaginative world in primary school, essential for a true understanding of philosophy, politics and cosmology – and they DARE not to assess students on every single line? They’ll be coming for Anacreon next, mark my words. Continue Reading »

2021 on The Sphinx

It’s been…interesting. Even more than usual, doing this annual review has reminded me of all sorts of things that I’d forgotten I’d written, which does reflect both my general mental state this year, and a degree of detachment from the blog that is probably healthy – I’ve managed, partly deliberately, to break the habit of obsessively checking the viewing statistics several times a week. Which is good, because otherwise I would regularly be getting upset as they continue their inexorable decline – worst performance since 2014! Where has everybody gone..? Continue Reading »

Blogs of the Year 2021

Are blogs still dying? Doing my best to separate this question from my feelings about this blog, which is definitely somewhat sickly – further discussion of this when I do my own review of the year – I tend to conclude: answer hazy, try again later. There have been some really excellent posts this year, and sone exciting new voices and ideas, and I honestly haven’t a clue whether they are getting the readership they deserve. It was a little disconcerting, for example, when someone I know on Facebook mentioned that yesterday their blog – albeit a time-limited project where the last post appeared in the first half of the year – got no visitors at all (suddenly my statistics look better than I thought…). I had a vague idea that in current circumstances we would all be looking more to this sort of short-form, informal, immediate commentary, both as readers and writers. But then I did think that, even if I couldn’t manage sustained writing at the moment, I would at least be able to keep up the blog posts, and look where that ended up. Indeed, looking back through this list, I’m struck by how much my reading clearly fell off at various points, and how much I fall back on certain writers time and again…

Anyway, the point of this post is not to moan, but to celebrate, and to remind myself – and whatever readers I have left – of some brilliant stuff they may have forgotten or missed. Continue Reading »

Everything Changes

If I had the artistic talent, I would actually have a go at drawing the H.M. Bateman-style cartoon: a gathering of sleek, well-fed people in sharp business suits, enjoying lavish corporate hospitality in a shiny modern building, variously shocked, horrified, apoplectic and overcome with laughter at one of their number who is blushing awkwardly in the centre. The title? ‘The Vice Chancellor Who Admitted He Was Not Currently Planning A Gratuitous Institutional Restructuring Strategy In Pursuance aof A Transformative Ten-Year Strategy’.

(Obviously this thought is prompted solely by the University of Sydney’s proposal to abolish arts and social sciences departments, and the various UK universities seizing the opportunities presented by the plague to invest in redundancy payments and consultancy fees, and not at all by any vague rumours about what my own institution may be planning). Continue Reading »

Only Human

This blog remains, if not in full hibernation, then certainly in a deep torpor; reducing all but essential functions until the warm weather returns, or the rains come and the valley is green again, or whatever other metaphor one chooses for the idea that, some day, I will once again have the sort of levels of energy and mental agility that will allow me to complete all my teaching, teaching prep and essential emails in less than the full working week, thus making space for research, writing and even blogging. Could be worse; there are lots of people having a much harder time of it, and this has actually freed me of the addiction to checking my viewing stats daily and getting depressed about them. Now I can get depressed about the decline of this blog without needing to look at the stats! Continue Reading »

Head Hunters

I have been head-hunted! Not, alas, for a lucratively-endowed chair in Thucydides Studies at the new University of Austin, despite all my best efforts to promote this icon of neocon power politics and the innate cultural superiority of paunchy middle-aged white men. No, it’s for an academic leadership position – which would involve dealing with a lovely group of colleagues (just in case whoever put my name forward reads this and makes the deductive leap), but would also involve trying to manage modern historians and archaeologists as well. You know that simile about herding cats? Okay, you know what simile cats use for the same phenomenon..? Continue Reading »

I’ve been having flashbacks to that time in my previous outfit when I was sent to have a word (with extreme prejudice) with a Faculty Education Director who’d stopped answering emails. Professor Kurtz was a fine academic manager, combining military efficiency with a broad background in the Humanities, the Arts and Sciences. He viewed his career as the dedication of his talents to bringing our values and way of life to those darker, less fortunate people – students. He’d been sent out to survey student ideas about feedback and assessment, after rumours of NSS discontent had reached senior management. Continue Reading »

Rough Trade

I have another piece in my very small collection of Thucydideana! Like the last one (discussed here) it’s a collectible card, but it’s a good deal less impressive all round – monochrome printing on a thin brown card, with an abstract design on one side and a drawing of a distinctly bad-tempered bust of Thucydides on the other.

Continue Reading »

Gone Fishing

Sometimes, however much you need to take the weekend to rest and recuperate, just do a bit of reading or music and spend time with loved ones, there is a task that simply can’t wait. Actually it should have been done last weekend but you were then too tired to do more than a bit of preparatory work, and of course there was no time during the week with all the regular demands of teaching and meetings and seeing students; so, regardless of the consequences for Monday, it’s bye-bye Saturday and much of Sunday…

I’m referring, of course, to the pressing need to press this year’s apple harvest into juice, for cider-making and pasteurising, before it all rots. Continue Reading »

Doubling Down

If Thucydides was so bloody clever and full of real insight into human nature, the opening of Book 8 – set in the immediate aftermath of the failure of the Sicilian Expedition, ignominious retreat and surrender of the expeditionary force, execution of its commanders etc. – would have read more like this:

When the news reached Athens, for a long time they refused to believe that their forces had been so utterly destroyed, and would not accept even the unambiguous reports brought back by those who had actually witnessed the events. When these become too numerous to ignore, they declared that these were signs of a period of transition that would lay the foundations for a still more glorious victory in due course, while others insisted that the expedition had now been completed and so it was time to discuss other things. They did not blame their leaders or the others who had persuaded them to the original course of action, because the provocative behaviour of the Syracusans in defeating their army simply reinforced the case for having attacked them in the first place. And when they could not see an adequate number of ships in the docks, adequate funds job the treasury or an adequate supply of grain in the markets, they denounced as the consequence of Spartan overreach when Athens’ hands had been tied by the treaty it had been compelled to sign of its own volition…