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Posts Tagged ‘Arnold J. Toynbee’

The great thing about Google NGram – which, if you haven’t previously encountered it, is a rather neat online tool for counting the frequency of different words and phrases in books published since 1800 and displaying the results in graphical form – is that it feels a bit like a game, where you get to play with lots of different parameters and see what happens*, but can still be chalked up as a research activity; just the thing if you’re feeling slightly under the weather but not ill enough to take the day off.** I remain a little sceptical about some of the results (especially as books mentioning classical examples are always such a small part of the total corpus of publications, and I don’t currently feel well enough to calculate whether a shift in references to Thucydides from 0.0001958557% of the total corpus in 1940 to 0.0002307328% in 1945 is statistically significant or not), but if you keep in mind that it’s all about relative prominence then you’re less likely to place undue weight on the results, and can just have fun.* (more…)

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There is a persistent habit among readers of Thucydides of focusing on the character and biography of the historian – despite the shortage of evidence on that subject. This resort to the personal is often employed as a means of giving Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian War, and/or the more general theories that he supposedly derived from the events, greater authority: Thucydides was a general whose views on military matters therefore need to be taken seriously, a politician who therefore understood democracy from the inside, and he was unjustly exiled from Athens and yet shows no vengefulness in his account of the Athenians which shows his astonishing objectivity and impartiality, and so forth. Often, Thucydides’ character is established through a reading of his work – all the familiar adjectives like austere, realistic, rationalistic etc. – and that is then offered as a key to interpretation.

Certain readers also seek to explain the genesis of the work through biography. By far the most interesting and provocative example of this was Arnold J. Toynbee, and his conception of the ‘broken life’. (more…)

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