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I assume there must be a body of literary theory out there about titles, especially of short, ambiguous pieces and poems; the way they promise to be a key to interpretation, and certainly shape the reader’s expectations and influence her reading – but as a result clearly also have the potential to manipulate, deceive, draw her into position above the trap-door and so forth. This is certainly an issue when it comes to the (admittedly very small) number of extant literary pieces that mention Thucydides in their title and then deal with something that appears to be completely unrelated. Peter Handke’s ‘Noch einmal für Thukydides’ (1997), for example, which I’ve written about elsewhere, describes a series of trivial events on a March morning: a yellow leaf on the wall suddenly reveals itself as a butterfly and flies off, the snow begins to melt, and a crocus flowers; on the basis of the title, and Handke’s known interests, I’ve argued that this piece is engaging with different ideas of ‘realism’ as a style, closely associated with Thucydides – but maybe the whole point is that this is the absolute opposite of the things that Thucydides thought were important, battles and speeches rather than butterflies and the everyday. Maybe the title is simply intended as a provocation, or a joke. And one of these days I must have another go at working out what on earth The Mountain Goats‘ ‘Thucydides II.58’ has to do with anything, let alone Thucydides 2.58 (“Bed face at noon/ Strip naked, we can’t get free/ And doubling over in the street/ dozens just like me/ Spreading like a rumor/ spreading like a rumor.”)*

This edition of Poetry Corner offers another example: Sherod Santos’ ‘A Woman Named Thucydides’ (2010), which I found on the internet through a simple search for “Thucydides + poem”. (more…)

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The Internet is a wonderful thing, and one can discover all sorts of strange treasures in its wilder reaches – probably guarded by flying snakes and gold-digging ants… I can now add another item to the (admittedly very short) list of poetic engagement with Thucydides, which hitherto amounted to the poem by G.P. Grundy in the introduction to the second volume of his Thucydides and the History of his Age (1948), which I discuss in the preface to Thucydides and the Idea of History, and of course the second stanza of Auden’s September 1 1939. Gershon Hepner’s ‘Be the Rider, Not the Horse’ lacks the deep scholarly knowledge of the former and the contemporary immediacy of the latter (it was, Hepner notes, written in response not to any dramatic global events but to a review of Donald Kagan’s Thucydides: the reinvention of history), but I’m not going to turn down the chance to expand this section of my database of sources by 50%: (more…)

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