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2019 on The Sphinx

As I now seem to remark at the end of every December, and yet persist in the belief that things will now be different: it’s been one of those years… I suppose the basic motive for persisting in that belief is that the alternative is uncomfortable; both that I will continue to feel tired all the time and uninspired – but on the edge of inspiration, if only I could get a couple of decent nights’ sleep – most of the time, and that I would then need to take some difficult but necessary decisions about whether I can really spare the time and energy to persist with this blog and all the other random stuff that tends to seem more attractive than solid, sober scholarship… Continue Reading »

Leadership for Dummies

Suddenly the idea that political power should be allocated on the basis of legitimate descent from generations of ruthless thugs, or even on the whim of a strange woman in a lake handing out swords, doesn’t seem so bad, because apparently the alternative – the unanswerable reason why Labour politicians are unfit for government – is the ability to recite a large chunk of material in a foreign language, learnt by heart back at school.

Not just any material, of course. Continue Reading »

Blogs of the Year 2019

Several times this year I’ve found myself musing about the future of blogs, partly because of the apparently inexorable decline of the viewing stats for this one, which raises questions about if/when I’ll hit a tipping point as the cost in time, money, anxiety and the fact I should probably be writing other, more academically worthy stuff outweighs the pleasure I get from writing this stuff. I’m not sure if it’s reassuring or not that this seems to be a wider issue. Certainly, in compiling this annual list of the things I’ve most enjoyed or appreciated reading this year, it gets harder to decide whether some things are ‘proper’ blog posts or rather conventional articles that just happen to be online, let alone to decide I should operate a stricter policy on what I include here, beyond ‘I liked this!’. Continue Reading »

The Wicker Man

There’s a persistent belief that simply describing contemporary political figures in classical terms automatically furthers understanding; Trump is depicted as a Roman emperor, Johnson as Pericles, Cleon or Alcibades, as if this offers us vital clues to their personality or to the situation we’re in. I’m not referring to the passing comments or allusions – the endless evocation of Caligula supposedly making his horse a senator, whenever one or other of these modern autocrats makes an especially egregious appointment, for example – but to the longer-form discussions, the essays and op ed pieces, where the classical frame is clearly intended to illuminate (or at the least to indicate the illumination of the author; the audience may simply be expected to nod admiringly at their erudition). Continue Reading »

This Is What We Do

Even before Friday morning, I was feeling despondent; partly premonitions of doom (local political doom, apocalyptical climate and environmental doom), partly the after-effects of a heavy teaching load this term and of a year in which I seem to have been ill and/or insomniac quite a lot of the time, hence massively behind with research and writing commitments. And now? We’re definitely leaving the EU, and still at risk of a disastrous version of that departure; the culture war will continue and probably accelerate, with Johnson’s ‘bring the country back together’ a form of ‘you lost, time to get with the programme’ coercion rather than a genuine concern about engaging with other views; nothing will be done about climate change, or poverty. Continue Reading »

Parlez-vous Thucydide?

Sprechen Sie Thukydideisch? I don’t know why it hasn’t occurred to me before to check for Thucydides references in other languages on the Twitter – I did it back when I was playing around with Google ngrams – but it took an error this morning to push me in this direction, leaving off the ‘s’ at the end and suddenly finding a lot of French tweets. Nowhere near as many per day as you get in English, unsurprisingly, but a lot of references to la piège de Thucydide, a certain number of references to the Castoriadis book that I still need to get round to reading, and evidence that someone has gone to the trouble of translating “the society that separates its scholars from its warriors…” so that it can be misattributed in French as well. Continue Reading »

Beware The Locusts

One of my favourite passages in classical literature comes from the sixth-century CE historian and poet Agathias Scholasticus; it’s a poem preserved in the Greek Anthology (11.365), in which the farmer Calligenes goes to the house of Aristophanes the Astrologer and begs him to say whether he’ll get a good harvest. Continue Reading »