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Posts Tagged ‘quotations’

Fake News?

There are ‘Thucydides’ quotes that immediately raise suspicions, and generally they are easiest to eliminate as being fake – “A collision at sea can ruin your whole day” is so obviously a modern fiction that it’s scarcely worth worrying about, even before you notice that it was originally attributed to Book 9. Most, however, are at least plausible – and, given that Thucydides’ difficult Greek can almost always be translated in multiple ways, it can be extremely difficult to establish that a quote really isn’t genuine if you can’t track down the phrase in another source that is manifestly not Thucydides. I suppose one could argue that the burden of proof should be on those who propagate dubious quotations to justify the claim that they’re from Thucydides (more…)

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All too many of the quotations attributed to Thucydides on the internet fall into one of three categories: not quite what he said, not really what he meant, or not actually Thucydides at all. Or, more succinctly, sad, bad, or mad. Okay, as a would-be ‘Morley’s Law of Thucydides Quotes’ that is pretty thin and equivocating, but anything more assertive would be too easily falsified with reference to the numerous bland but basically innocuous citations of “the secret of happiness is freedom, the secret of freedom is courage”. Yes, I do understand that the Royal Road to a world-straddling media profile, enormous book sales and the adoration of thousands of beautiful women is to pick an intellectual gimmick and defend it to the death, but I’m just too much of a British academic for that. (more…)

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Democracies are always at their best when things seem at their worst. (Thucydides)

Alongside all the obviously false and/or completely unverifiable ‘Thucydides’ quotations to be encountered on the Twitter, there is a minor strand of what could be called ‘misleading paraphrases’, where someone quotes someone else’s summary of what Thucydides said as if it were Thucydides’ own words. I’ve previously discussed the Henry Kissinger version of 1.22.4 – “The present, while never repeating the past exactly, must inevitably resemble it. Hence, so must the future” – which Niall Ferguson and Graham Allison seem to have successfully launched as a genuine quotation. Yesterday I came across the quote above for the first time, a line which likewise looks not completely implausible but nevertheless wrong. And so it proved… (more…)

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A new, and particularly useless, Thucydides misattribution; last night, a Twitter account largely dedicated to retweeting hard-line anti-Islamic and anti-climate change remarks from people like Richard Spencer and Paul Joseph Watson offered its own wannabe meme on the OneLove concert in Manchester: “THUCYDIDES said “while your houses are on fire, you sing.” Well, no, of course he didn’t, and there is precisely zero indication on the internet that anyone has ever suggested that he did – it’s actually taken from Aesop (no.54 in Perry’s index) – so this seems a clear-cut case of fake Thucydideana actually being created; Aesop much too fuzzy and associated with childhood to legitimise such a denunciation of modern liberalism, so let’s turn to the authoritative, hard-nosed Realist Thucydides. Thankfully the account has only 74 followers, and this tweet has been liked and retweeted only once each, so with a bit of luck it’s the last as well as the first we’ll be seeing of it…

Update: yes, I think we’ve nipped this in the bud. The account in question initially came back with an “indeed the quote is from Aesop but said to be quoted by Thucydides for the stupidity of the Athenians but nevertheless fits the British well”; on being asked for a reference, he blocked the Thucydiocy Bot (and described it as a “Jihadi-loving cuck”) – but corrected the quote. Victory!

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IMG_0168No, I haven’t seen the new Wonder Woman film – the reviews I’ve seen so far seem inclined to a position of “crashing disappointment” [ahem. see update below] – but I think I’ve managed to establish the identity of the alleged Thucydides reference without actually having to watch it. I’ve no idea how it plays out in the film, as the screenplay doesn’t seem to be online yet, but as far as the novelisation is concerned, Diana is busy getting smoochy with General Ludendorff, whom she suspects of being the god Ares in disguise… (more…)

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How minimal and commonplace can a quotation or allusion be, and still be traced back to its source with some degree of confidence? Labour’s adoption of “For the many not the few” as its election slogan provoked comments on the Twitter (e.g. from Jonathan Freedland of the Grauniad) about whether Jeremy Corbyn realised he was quoting Tony Blair’s revised version of the infamous Clause IV – doing away with references to the common ownership of the means of production etc. – followed by the argument from Phillip Collins of the Times that this was actually taken from Pericles’ Funeral Oration, the famous line (as included in the preamble to the draft European Constitution!) that “our constitution is called a democracy, because it is administered for the sake not of the few but of the many [or: of the whole people]” (2.37).

I don’t actually recall any discussion, back in 1994/5, of the possible sources of Blair’s new wording, and I haven’t found anything helpful on the internet – any suggestions or information gratefully received! (more…)

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As regular readers may faintly recall, one of my minor projects for March was to monitor all the occasions when that stupid William F. Butler quote about “A society that separates its scholars from its warriors…” was attributed on the Twitter to Thucydides, if only to work out precisely how much of a waste of time it is for the Thucydiocy Bot (@Thucydiocy) to keep correcting it. The results are now in, and the conclusion is: lots. (more…)

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