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Once again, I’ve remembered to keep track of the blogs I’ve especially enjoyed over the last year (with the curious exception of April – I don’t know, at this remove, whether I was too busy to read anything, or not much was published, or I was feeling hyper-sniffy at the time so didn’t think there was anything worth recommending. Very happy to get suggestions in the comments of great things that I’ve missed). This doesn’t claim to be a definitive list, just the stuff I came across – often via the Twitter, which continues to be a great way of keeping up with what’s going on in different regions and fields, despite all the management’s efforts to ruin it and drive everyone away – that deserves a more than ephemeral readership… Continue Reading »

Thucydiocy 2017

It’s been a bumper year for Thucydiocy: an assortment of new sightings (‘Don’t confuse meaning with truth’, ‘You shouldn’t feel sorry for the lifestyle you haven’t tasted, but for the one you are about to lose’, ‘Democracies are always at their best when things seem at their worst’, and ‘You should punish in the same manner those who commit crimes with those who accuse falsely’), and the results of my study of who exactly is responsible for the ‘Scholars and Warriors’ quote with the stupid graduation photo (answer: a deeply annoying Social Jukebox), which means I feel justified in responding to it with emojis rather than a properly considered response.

But this year’s William F. Butler Award for Egregious Misquotation of Thucydides can have only one winner: Continue Reading »

Funny Games

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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. Continue Reading »

Party Over Principle

Listen, I don’t spend my time concocting spurious parallels between ancient history and contemporary events so that I can indoctrinate my students and subvert society under the guise of teaching. I open up my copy of Thucydides to prepare for this week’s seminar, the topic of which was set three months ago, and there parallels are…

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Some years ago, when my grasp of German was at a level of competent-but-not-idiomatic, I used the word Selektion – I can’t remember the exact context, but it may have had something to do with the British system of university admissions compared with the German – and was taken aback by the reaction of the people I was talking to. “You can’t used that word! Yes, it means ‘selection’, but that’s not what it means…” Because the Selektion of people into different categories is what happened on arrival at concentration camps; if you’re going to talk about dividing people into different categories, for example with admissions to university courses with restricted numbers of places, you definitely need to find a different word for it. Continue Reading »

Anticipating Disaster

To be absolutely honest, I’m struggling to focus this morning. Partly, it is simply that there are Too Many Things even for a normal week, let along for the penultimate week of term, and my ability to choose between different priorities other than those which actually have to be done more or less immediately has evaporated – they’re all important, none of them is so important that it’ll be a catastrophe if I don’t do it until tomorrow, and my head hurts. No, I know this isn’t a sensible strategy and will end in tears, but that doesn’t help.

I imagine, in my more sympathetic and understanding moments, that this is probably how David Davis feels. Mostly I am lacking in either sympathy or understanding Continue Reading »

China Crisis

Who owns the classical tradition, and who has the right to develop new interpretations of its significance for the present? As you might expect from someone who spent twenty years in Bristol, chanting “Meaning is realised at the point of reception!” and holding aloft my copy of the Little Red-and-Black Book*, my habitual answers are everyone and anyone. Yes, we can and should argue furiously about individual interpretations and appropriations, on political or moral or aesthetic or historical grounds, but what we can’t do is argue that certain people(s) have a special right or privilege, to the exclusion of others.

I’m thinking about this at the moment because the Tacitus Trap, China’s great contribution to the storehouse of snappy classical memes, is back in the news Continue Reading »