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Posts Tagged ‘biography’

A Serious Man?

Thucydides was not a happy bunny. Strictly speaking, we don’t know this – even if we trust the ancient biographical accounts, it’s not the sort of thing they talk about – but that has never stopped later readers imagining the personality of the author. In the tradition of ‘realism’, most explicitly in Friedrich Nietzsche’s account in Götzendämmerung but pervading many 20th-century political readings, Thucydides is presented as the sort of illusionless man who has the courage to face unvarnished reality; this reading is based on his stripping away of claims about justice and virtue to reveal the power struggles underneath, and then in turn this conception of his ruthless critical spirit is taken as a guarantee of the veracity of his account of the world. Arnold Toynbee in contrast detects an anguished, traumatised figure between the lines of his tightly controlled analytical prose, someone who was broken by his experience of failure, exile and defeat but put himself back together through sheer will and intellectual rigour. In either case, this is not a man who made balloon animals. (more…)

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What would Thucydides think of the current debate about the banning of the burkini in various French coastal resorts in the name of secularism? On the one hand, there is his notorious scepticism about religion and its manifestations, which, coupled with his equally notorious conservatism and indifference towards women, might have inclined him to side with those who see the costume as a symbol of intolerance and ignorance. On the other hand, there are the words he puts into the mouth of Pericles in praise of Athens as a liberal state where people’s private lives and behaviour are their own business so long as they obey the law, coupled with his keen ear for the hypocrisy of politicians and the lamentable tendency for society to fragment into factionalism and mutual intolerance.** (more…)

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