Posts Tagged ‘Europe’

One major reason for the versatility of Thucydides’ account as a source of insight into the present, as noted before, is its lack of specificity. That is to say, we’re presented with a detailed, multi-faceted account of specific historical events, having been primed to expect that we’ll spot resemblances and analogies with later events and our own situation – but without any authorial direction as to what resemblances and analogies we should expect to see. As Hobbes observed,  Thucydides doesn’t teach a lesson but simply makes us spectators of events, free to draw our own conclusions (but encouraged to do so). His work is not so much a mirror as a Rorschach blot; you see universal principles of inter-state relations that speak to tensions between the USA and China, I see a complex meditation on uncertainty and anticipation that is (as Simon Schama has been astute enough to observe recently) perfectly suited to a well-paid consultancy with the insurance industry. (more…)

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Not a new discussion of citations of Thucydides with reference to the Eurozone economic crisis – I’ve been up for only a couple of hours, and only one new example has appeared in that time (see previous post), and in any case I need to finish writing a paper for Goettingen this afternoon on a completely different topic (though, come to think of it, much of this material probably could be worked into a discussion of ‘responses to change and uncertainty’…). However, given the level of traffic over the last couple of days – almost beating, I think, the time when I started poking the admirers of Richard III with a pointed stick – I thought it might be helpful to provide links to all my posts on this general theme, in chronological order:

The New Alcibiades (30th January) Is Alexis Tsipras the new Alcibiades, or the new Kleon? See additional material in comments, with first discussion of Yanis Varoufakis’ interest in Thucydides.

The Empire Strikes Back (20th February) Is the Greek situation more like Melos or Carthage? See additional material re Thucydides in comments.

The Melian Dilemma (27th March) More detailed analysis of Varoufakis’ reading of Thucydides and game theory.

Hesiod the Neoliberal (27th June) Not Thucydides, for a change, but similar themes

Democracy on Melos (28th June) On elites versus the demos, and #Greferendum (see also Thoukidideia below)

Here We Go Again (1st July) On Zaretsky’s NYT piece.

Greek Nightmares (5th July) Why is it always the Melian Dialogue? Why not Corcyra?

Peak Thucydides? (7th July) At this point I am getting very cross with the whole thing…

Thoukidideia (8th July) Now the Greeks are doing it as well.

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Sometimes you recognise immediately that you’re in the same situation as before, but can still do nothing about it; sometimes it starts differently, and you realise only gradually that events are playing out just as they have in previous nightmares, and that they will continue to play out in exactly the same way to the end, or until you can tear yourself away. Another week in the ongoing agony of Greece and Europe, another Thucydides reference. Why is it always the bloody Melian Dialogue? (more…)

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Here We Go Again

Just for the sake of completeness – I occasionally refer back to posts here on examples of Thucydideanisms in the media, and I imagine that others may do so – I note the piece in today’s New York Times by Robert Zaretsky, Professor of French History at the University of Houston, entitled What Would Thucydides Say About The Crisis In Greece?. Yes, of course it’s a summary of the Melian Dialogue, along the now-familiar lines. One might have hoped that the developing polarisation within Greek society, with demonstrations and counter-demonstrations about the forthcoming referendum, would mean that we could move on to the Corcyrean stasis for a bit, to be followed eventually by the Sicilian expedition (leaving aside the well-attested capacity of the EU to keep kicking that can down the road so nothing ever gets anywhere near an actual resolution), but no… (more…)

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Of course there’s a fine line between observing possible resemblances between classical antiquity and the modern world, and deploying arguable readings of classical antiquity in support of a specifically modern political agenda; on reflection, it is perhaps remarkable that Peter Jones’ Ancient and Modern column in the Spectator does the former so much more often than the latter. Today, however, is not one of those days. “Why do Greeks want to keep the euro, or remain in the European Union?” he asks rhetorically at the beginning. “The combative, creative, competitive, mercantile classical Greeks throve on independence.” The evidence for this is Hesiod’s Works and Days, and its praise of the good form of Eris, strife, which drives men to compete with one another in the race for riches. This then slides more or less imperceptibly into the depiction of democratic Athens as likewise ruled by competition, this time between politicians for the favour of the people, which is seen as the root of their confidence and of the Glory that Was Greece, until that was demolished by the arrival of Macedon and Rome. “No Greek should fear leaving the euro, or the EU.” (more…)

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The two most distinctive cries of the professional historian are “the simple answer is, we’re not sure” and “actually it’s rather more complicated than that”. This is how it should be: the past is complex, fragmentary and always in dispute, and it should go against all our instincts and training to pretend otherwise, however much this then annoys other people in dinner party conversations, let alone our colleagues in the social sciences. Of course, this does mean that our potential usefulness to others is strictly limited, unless we bite our tongues a lot; too much damned equivocating (I always think of the famous meeting of historians of Germany summoned by Margaret Thatcher to tell her whether reunification would be a Good Thing or a Bad Thing; well, of course it depends…). (more…)

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