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Posts Tagged ‘classical reception’

I’ve just discovered this blog post lurking in my ‘Drafts’ file, having apparently been created in mid-March; I can’t remember why I never got round to finishing it – unlike another post I started back in the autumn, which perhaps needs to wait for an appropriate moment – but that’s probably revealing in itself. Anyway, in a number of ways this unfinished discussion connects to what I was planning to write this morning, so I’ll post it here and then add current thoughts underneath…

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. (more…)

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What are they good for?

This thought was prompted in the short term by a friend’s remark in a Facebook discussion that “I remember blogs” – followed up, when I enquired, by “#obsoletetechnology” – but I’ve been wondering about it for a while in the face of a steady decline in the viewing and visitor statistics for this one. (more…)

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I’ve just had a review published on War On The Rocks (a reliably interesting website for analysis of foreign policy and strategy, from a viewpoint that is predominantly US-focused and frequently Realist), on the new book by Hal Brands and Charles Edel, The Lessons of Tragedy: statecraft and world order (Yale UP, 2019). As you can probably gather from the review, I found this rather an odd experience; indeed, half-way through the book I became increasingly convinced that I was a completely unsuitable reviewer, as after the first couple of chapters the ‘tragedy’ element largely disappeared, and B & E’s conclusion is not that US strategy people all need to start reading tragedy (that might be fun…), but that they need to review more recent history in the alleged spirit of tragic sensibility, which largely boils down to an assumption that bad things will continue to happen. (more…)

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Obviously my ongoing survey of modern literary receptions can’t just stick to works I like and admire. The recent death of novelist Herman Wouk, none of whose books I’ve ever read (but I have seen most of The Caine Mutiny), has naturally prompted a burst of quotations, including the revelation that Thucydides is referenced several times in his late novels about the Second World War, Winds of War (1971) and War and Remembrance (1978) – which were unironically compared by the Christian Science Monitor to Thucydides at the time (link). (more…)

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What’s the key lesson of the Melian Dialogue? The dominant tradition has been some sort of variant on Crude Realism, from the perspective of the would-be superior power: justice only between equals, we the strong have the right to dictate and you the weak must comply, and forget all this nonsense about hope. The usual response, from those who reject such a worldview and/or, perhaps more significantly, aren’t in any position to pursue it, is to question and reject the Athenian logic, by detaching it from the authority of Thucydides and pointing to the consequences of their attitude. But of course it is also possible to be one of the Weak and nevertheless accept the logic of the Strong; like the prisoner in Life of Brian who praises the Romans for their strict approach to crime and punishment, or the cow at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, there are those who fully accept the right of others to dictate terms and exact obedience. (more…)

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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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