Ideas matter. Perceptions, expectations and beliefs, however detached they may be from reality, matter. This is clear enough from the events of the last year, with the votes in the UK and the USA; and, for all that the ‘Thucydides Trap’ (currently enjoying another burst of publicity) presents global events as the predictable outcome of impersonal dynamics in the relationship between objectively-defined established and rising powers, it’s clear from Thucydides’ account. The events of the Peloponnesian War were shaped above all by the desires, fears, assumptions and misconceptions of individuals – with disastrous consequences. Continue Reading »

Resistance is useless! The zombies are coming! About eighteen months ago, I suggested that the impact of my research into the modern reception of Thucydides might be measured by how far discussions of world affairs in the British media remained uncontaminated by the ‘Thucydides Trap’ meme that crops up whenever someone in the US talks about China. Well, so much for that. Earlier this month, the phrase turned up at the end of a letter in the London Review of Books – without any explanation, suggesting that not only the author but the Letters Editor were treating it as a sufficiently familiar idea not to need any context – and now Gideon Rachman (who really deserves a lot of the blame for publicising the idea on this side of the Atlantic) has opened a review essay in the Financial Times on US-China relations books with Graham Allison’s new book-length version of his theory, prompting the sub-editor to include it in the headline. Rachman raises some questions about Allison’s argument, in particular the familiar issue of whether nuclear weapons have changed the whole dynamic of such (alleged) great power relationships – but he takes Allison’s reading of Thucydides as read. Sigh. Continue Reading »

To echo the immortal BtVS: Peter Jones has written another column in the Spectator. There are words on the page referencing Thucydides. This is never good. Continue Reading »

I have made my first, incredibly tentative, step into the world of “Gaming the Past”*: using simulation games, in this case interactive text, to explore historical issues. It is, with crashing inevitability, based on Thucydides’ Melian Dialogue, considered from the Athenian perspective, and you can test the first version at http://www.philome.la/NevilleMorley/might-and-right-the-athenian-version. Part II, allowing you to play the Melian side, will follow in due course – and, once I’ve got these both up and running, I will then be developing some contextual material to tie the two together. All feedback and comments gratefully received. Yes, I know the links are going funny colours on an apparently random basis; working on this… Continue Reading »

Return to Sender

Partly because I am a basically shy, socially insecure and rather unspontaneous person, I remember having tremendous problems as a young postgraduate student in navigating the transition from regarding academics with awe and addressing them with reverence to, well, still regarding them with awe and reverence but being treated by them in a more informal, egalitarian manner. In particular, I recall the very gradual development of letters between me and my supervisor, with his signature moving from “Peter G” to “Peter” to “P”, and me trying to come up with ways to avoid having to address him as anything for fear of arousing divine wrath through my presumption. Continue Reading »

Will the people of the future still be reading classical literature and thinking about ancient exempla – and, if so, in what ways? This isn’t a topic that gets a great deal of attention in science fiction; I’m not thinking of the sorts of books that imagine a new Roman Empire with spaceships (see this list – the Trigan Empire lives!) or which deploy classical motifs as a key plot element (hello BSG) but rather those that try to imagine the world of the future in its own terms, but take the time to mention whether anyone still references Thucydides. Continue Reading »

Chimes at Midnight

We must be old. We cannot choose but be old. We have heard the chimes at midnight at the the end of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer theme music – twenty years ago? It was a simpler time, when one girl (albeit with supernatural strength) and her friends could avert the apocalypse, time and again, because the apocalypse was a bunch of demons trying to open a gateway to hell, or the mayor of a small town trying to turn himself into a demon, not an entire global system of doom. Even as the threats became more powerful and apparently unstoppable – deranged hellgods, a rogue military experiment, sexually frustrated adolescent boys – they remained identifiable, nameable, and ultimately susceptible to the judicious application of violence. If only… Continue Reading »