Posts Tagged ‘quotations’

Time Out

‘The society that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting by fools.’ I spend so much time thinking of ways to correct this misattributed Thucydides quote politely and constructively, and occasionally noting the context (a lot of “We need a President who lifts!” this year…), that I rarely take the time to think about it in its own right, or why it has such a powerful appeal to some people. (more…)

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It’s been a quiet fortnight on Thucydides Twitter – if you discount the 2000-odd P.G. Wodehouse bots continuing to pump out incomprehensible adverts for something that may or may not be linked to World Cup betting. The Social Jukebox bots that used to offer dodgy quotations have vanished, either because they’ve been closed down or because they decided that Space Karen’s far-right takeover was bad for their image; one weight-lifting account announced that ‘We need a President who lifts’, with the inevitable result of a couple of people bringing out the ‘Scholars and Warriors’ quote, and a couple of far-right and/or bot provocateur accounts with Thucydides handles have been churning out ghastliness, but that’s about it – with one minor but interesting exception.

“Man is the most important thing, and everything else is the fruit of man’s labor.” (more…)

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Okay, this is a first for me; I’ve just produced a new episode of the Thucydiocy podcast (Podbean link here; iTunes always takes longer to process), without it being based on a previous blog post. As I tend to use the blog as a repository in case I need to check up on misattributions and misquotations, this is potentially slightly tricky, and so I thought I should simply add a rough transcript (or rather, an expanded version of my script notes) for future reference… (more…)

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This weekend, there’s a fabulous-looking conference at Cornell on Thucydides and Aristophanes in honour of the great and wonderful Jeff Rusten. The advertising on the Twitter is slightly less wonderful…

Now, if this were my colleagues organising a conference in my honour, this would be deliberate trolling; (more…)

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Power to the People?

Over the last couple of months, one Thucydides quote has been quite widely circulated on the Twitter: “In a democracy, someone who fails to get elected to office can always console himself with the thought that there was something not quite fair about it.” As I discussed a few years ago, it’s a genuine quote (from 8.89) albeit a pretty loose translation (by Rex Warner) – and since that discussion was in October 2016, I’m guessing that this appears on various websites listing Quotes on Democracy, which the sorts of people who like tweeting quotations refer to every four years. While many of the tweets are completely without context, however, enough of them appear in discussion threads that you can make a pretty good guess at their intended meaning, and what’s interesting is that there are two diametrically opposed uses: on the one hand, there those who (as was the case in 2016) offer this as evidence that sore losers are always going to claim they were cheated, but on the other hand this time around there are significant numbers – probably a majority – who put this line forward in support of the claim that there is going to be something unfair about a vote in a democracy, that ‘they’ are always going to cheat and manipulate the system. (more…)

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On 2nd November 1860, the political scientist Francis Lieber, then professor of history and political science at Columbia College in New York, wrote a letter to his eldest son Oscar. War between the states loomed on the horizon; Lieber was firmly against secession, and during the conflict was in charge of the Loyal Publication Society as well as assisting in drafting military laws, while his two other sons would both serve in the Union army, but Oscar would die in 1862 fighting for the Confederacy. One can imagine the family tensions. Lieber wrote:

It sometimes has occurred to me that what Thucydides said of the Greeks at the time of the Peloponnesian War applies to us. The Greeks, he said, did not understand each other any longer, though they spoke Greek. Words received a different meaning in different parts.


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Ah, the research-teaching nexus, how I’ve missed you! As I’ve remarked here before, in different ways I do find that my teaching inspires and supports my research as much as vice versa, and this morning was a reminder – admittedly a fairly minimal one. About three years ago, I ran into a dead end trying to establish the origins of another alleged ‘Thucydides’ quotation: “You should punish in the same manner those who commit crimes with those who accuse falsely”. Weird phrasing which actually seems to be the wrong way round, googling the exact line just produces a set of mutually-dependent ‘Great Quotes’ websites with no references, and googling similar phrases gets nowhere because the words are just too common. The best anyone could manage was Jon Dresner’s suggestion that various Near Eastern lawcodes include vaguely similar provisions. (more…)

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Doubling Down

As the old proverb (sometimes attributed to Solon) has it, gods, give me the confidence of a mediocre white man on the Internet. Am I being hasty and unfair, leaping to judgement on the basis of fleeting interactions with ‘The Mystic’ (brooding headshot with goatee, quote about chaos and perfection, cover image of some heavily tattooed wrestlers) or AwesomeDude (avatar of a dog, cover image of a Dilbert cartoon)?* Yes, quite possibly. But if they not only ascribe that wretched ‘The society that separates its scholars from its warriors…” quote to Thucydides, but firmly reject gentle correction from the Thucydides Bot, they’re gonna get judged… (more…)

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Taking Sides

There’s been an uptick in misattributed ‘Thucydides’ quotes on the USAnian Twitter in the last couple of days, for obvious reasons: “the tyranny the Athenian leadership imposed on others it finally imposed on itself” (journalist Chris Hedges drawing an explicit analogy with Iraq War blowback, which certainly can include the militarisation of the police; interesting, Incidentally, how he tries to focus on “Athenian leadership” not the demos…), and “justice will not come to Athens until those who are not injured are as indignant as those who are” (actually Solon, in Plutarch’s Life). There’s also been an interesting interpretation of the Melian Dialogue line “there is justice only between equals” as a plea for equality rather than as an utterly immoral conception of justice.

Do pedantic corrections have any role to play at this time? Well, much more than usual I am very conscious that people are tweeting these lines in good faith because they are powerful and/or useful ideas, and acknowledge this in replying to them (which does take substantially longer than just tweeting derisive emojis), but I’ve decided to carry on doing it; truth still matters, even in such circumstances.

It did bring to mind another of Solon’s ideas, that we ended up discussing quite a lot in my Greek Political Thought class this year: that in times of stasis, those who “out of indifference preferred to let events take their course” should be stripped of their citizen rights (as quoted in e.g. the Ath Pol, 8.5). It’s a line that has been much debated by scholars, given the sense – as seen for example in Thucydides’ powerful depiction of stasis at Corcyra – that a political community collapsing into starkly polarised factions is surely the worst possible scenario, and yet Solon seems to be reinforcing such decisions, calling on everyone to take up arms with one or other side.

One interpretation is that, whatever later centuries thought Solon was saying, the original intent was not to divide the whole polis into two hostile camps but to get everyone to take a stand in resolving the conflict. The true threat is indifference – which we can also understand as selfishness: if the wealthy few are oppressing the poor (and we can update that to recognise other conflicts in modern society: black and white, men and women etc), sitting back to see who wins is an utterly antisocial act, which entirely merits the loss of honour and citizen rights. It echoes Solon’s line about those who are not directly affected by injustice needing to become equally angry; T’s echoed in Pericles’ funeral oration, with the claim that in Athens those who decline to play their part in public business have no place in the political community.

Of course it’s absurdly optimistic; it’s very easy to imagine all the reasons people will keep their heads down (with the risk that, as Thucydides noted for Corcyra, that all the reasonable moderate people, confident in their powers of common sense and prediction, will end up being equally despised and destroyed by both sides). But if your community is riven by injustice, how can you not take a stand?

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Fear Itself

The Thucydides Bot (@Thucydiocy) is not monolingual, but I remember only occasionally to check variant spellings like Thukydides and Thucydide, and to be honest I very rarely remember Tucidide. It’s therefore taken me a while to realise that there is a new iffy quotation in town, that is circulating almost exclusively in Italian media and social media (with one slightly surprising reference from an Albanian language school in Kosovo), so that even the couple of citations of the line in English use Tucidide rather than Thucydides. (more…)

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