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Posts Tagged ‘classical reception’

There’s an interesting contrast of different dynamics of classical influence in two articles that I happened to read this morning. The first is George Monbiot‘s denunciation of capitalism in the Grauniad, in which he mentions an alternative principle of socio-economic organisation he’s been promoting for a couple of years: private sufficiency and public luxury. The more times I see this phrase – I was more sceptical when it first appeared – the more it looks like something derived from classical thought, and in particular the line from Cicero’s Pro Murena that the Roman people hates private luxury but loves public munificence; it’s not just the neat rhetorical antithesis, but also the recourse to value terms like sufficiency and luxury, and the idea that wealth is not good or bad per se, but it depends on whether it’s being deployed for public benefit. (more…)

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In a second-hand bookshop in Salisbury, in the year 1965 in the Fourth Age of Middle Earth, there was once a Book.* There were of course many other books there, but only this one merited the capital letter: The Fifth Book of Thucydides, edited with a short introduction and notes by C.E. Graves, MA, Fellow and late Classics Lecturer of St John’s College, Cambridge, and published by Macmillan & Co. of London in 1891 (reprinted 1899, 1908).** History does not record why Zillah Shelling chose to leaf through this particular book, but she did so, and was struck by a series of curious annotations in an unknown script that a former owner had added to the pages, including one long one at the very back, as well as by one of the names written on the flyleaf: J.R.R. Tolkien. (more…)

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The great advantage of classicists getting involved in the analysis of contemporary political rhetoric, given that it seems to be full of classical references at the moment (Johnson going on about Punic terms, the die-hard fanatics of the E”R”G – yes, the lunatic fringe’s lunatic fringe – going under the name of the Spartans, a Tory MP called David Jones citing chunks of Tacitus, including Latin, in a meeting of the influential 1922 Committee) is that they’re highly sensitive to nuance, allusion, and the history of reception of different figures, ideas and phrases. The disadvantage of classicists getting involved is that they’re highly sensitive to nuance, allusion etc etc. In other words: it’s not that these references are imaginary, but perhaps they aren’t as important as we tend to think they are. Or at least not as important to others, including those who made them in the first place, as they are to us, seeing classical antiquity yet again being besmirched by its appropriation by people with distasteful and dangerous politics. (more…)

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If what you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If what you have is a copy of Thucydides, everything looks like the Melian Dialogue.

Sometimes, this is a great advantage: Thucydides offers a way – definitely not the only way – of seeing new connections between things, and asking new questions through a process of comparison and contrast. This was the way things turned out at Queen Elizabeth School, Crediton, yesterday, where Lynette Mitchell and I were running our first pilot session with Hattie Andrews from The Politics Project; the students had great fun playing what’s become known as the Peg Game – basically, the Peloponnesian War considered as Rock, Paper, Scissors – which then led perfectly into consideration of different examples of unequal power relationships, setting things up for next week’s exploration of the Melian Dilemma choose-your-own-adventure game. The only thing we could have asked for was an extra twenty minutes for discussion. (more…)

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It is perfectly possible that I spend too much time on the Internet, and on social media. But there is so much amazing stuff out there – insightful, informative, passionate, provocative, brilliantly written stuff, produced not for profit but for the sake of the ideas and the wish to communicate with others – and if it wasn’t for the Twitter I wouldn’t know a thing about most of it. My ‘best of’ list seems to get longer every year, perhaps because I’ve got into the habit of making notes as soon as I’ve read something, rather than relying on my ever more erratic memory to recall things from earlier in the year – and this is as much about reminding myself and revisiting things as it as about recommending that you should read them too… (more…)

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This year of all years, one might hope that Remembrance Day would encompass all the dead of the First World War – not just in the carefully orchestrated public ceremonies at national level, where diplomatic protocols will play a role, but across Britain. Judging by the flags around the town where I live, that’s a bit of hopeless liberal idealism. I’m not actually objecting to the waves of union jacks, with a sprinkling of the flags of the home nations; of course this will be primarily a commemoration of ‘our’ dead – and it still always strikes me how many of the surnames on the war memorial are familiar from the locality today.

No, it’s the other flags. (more…)

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The past is political is personal is political. It offers a wide range of resources for different political purposes: slogans, battle-cries, values and ideals, costumes, exemplary figures and actions, a stand-point from which the present can be viewed and held to account. Of course all such analogies and appropriations drastically simplify the complexity of the actual past, and even of later understanding of it – that’s how they’re able to operate, by emphasising resemblances and erasing differences. But this process is never wholly under the control of the one making a connection between past and present; the awkward bits of the past that get smoothed over or whitewashed for the purposes of making the comparison plausible have an awkward habit of re-emerging regardless…

FB9F8AEF-8D73-4CEE-8A9F-987A5E864340 (more…)

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