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Posts Tagged ‘quotations’

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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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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Sprechen Sie Thukydideisch? I don’t know why it hasn’t occurred to me before to check for Thucydides references in other languages on the Twitter – I did it back when I was playing around with Google ngrams – but it took an error this morning to push me in this direction, leaving off the ‘s’ at the end and suddenly finding a lot of French tweets. Nowhere near as many per day as you get in English, unsurprisingly, but a lot of references to la piège de Thucydide, a certain number of references to the Castoriadis book that I still need to get round to reading, and evidence that someone has gone to the trouble of translating “the society that separates its scholars from its warriors…” so that it can be misattributed in French as well. (more…)

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One assumes that it’s something to do with the imminence of Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Remortgage Wednesday and the rest of the run-up to Christmas, but in the last week or so a couple of very strange accounts have appeared on the Twitter. One (“Towoti Group”) has a profile picture of Ryan Gosling, the other (which has now disappeared completely ) had picture of Jake Gyllenhaal, and they tweet punctiliously every fifteen minutes, on a regular cycle of advert, advert, Thucydides quote, advert, advert, Thucydides quote. The quote is always “The secret of happiness is freedom… the secret of freedom is courage”; the adverts are mostly for women’s clothing, with the occasional LED illuminated bracelet, Christmas elf costume for your dog or cat, 90% human hair hairdressing training mannequin head, and so forth. I have questions… (more…)

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Outnumbered

You know, I think the following tells us something vaguely interesting about the impact of the Internet. In 1998, the critic Harold Bloom edited a collection called The Best of the Best American Poetry 1988-1997, which he had selected from a regular publication called The Best American Poetry, with an introductory essay, also published as part of a forum in The Boston Review (April/May 1998), entitled ‘They have the numbers; we, the heights’. It opens like this: (more…)

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The problem with developing an interest in classical references in modern political discourse is that the evidence never stops piling up. It’s the advantage of blogging, of course, that it’s easy to update whenever something interesting comes along. When it comes to proper academic analysis, however – since blogs are still not taken seriously for that purpose – there’s a constant fear that a new development will suddenly put things into a different light, locked in endless struggle with the wish/need to get the thing finished.

I cannot decide whether it’s a good or bad thing that my chapter on depictions of Trump as Roman emperor was submitted months ago so can’t include references to the analogies being drawn between his 4th July authoritarian military spectacle and the vast, expensive shows put on for Caligula (more…)

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So it turns out that the best way to revive the blog viewing statistics and get some discussion going, at least temporarily, is a post on the decline of blogging and the absence of discussion… Thanks to everyone who read and commented; yes, the numbers are sliding back to their old level already, but it’s good to know that there are people out there still committed to this genre (and I still maintain that it’s a distinctive genre, certainly from the perspective of a writer, whatever @rogueclassicist thinks…). In the meantime…

In the meantime, I try to work out why WordPress won’t let me embed an embeddable player… In the interim, this will have to do:

(more…)

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Nouvelle Vague

“Knowledge without understanding is useless.” Duh. It’s exactly the sort of banal truism that excites my paranoia; the idea isn’t important, but rather what someone making such a statement then wants to do about it. You could deploy it in opposition to rote learning, and the idea that there’s a list of Essential Facts and Dates that every child ought to know by heart, to argue for a focus on analysis and interpretation. But you could also – and this comes to mind with the publication this week of a new report on post-18 education in the UK, with implications for the health of the whole university system – deploy it in an attack on high-falutin’ book learning in general, or on studies that aren’t directly engaged with the Real World – it depends on whether you imagine that understanding comes through the acquisition of knowledge, or derives from a separate source (practical experience, ideology, religion…) which is independent of actually knowing things. (more…)

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Constant Craving

Change. War. Violence. Unpredictability. Competition. Malevolence. Food. Music. The Rangers in the universe of Babylon 5. Inter-ethnic slaughter. Death. And that no one cares a whit about the Armenians.

This is a precis of the search results for “the one constant in human history”. Add ‘Thucydides’ to the mix, and the themes narrow down to war, violence, and human nature – which doesn’t, however, get me any further in tracking down the source of the specific quote I’m looking for: “Human nature is the one constant through human history. It is always there.” Google that, and you get a large number of low-rent quote sites, a number of annoying motivational posters, and regular blogs from one Earl Heal for the Daily Republic, a local news site in California, who trots out the same set of quotes about the glories of classical political institutions on almost every occasion. (more…)

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