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Posts Tagged ‘quotations’

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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Since it more or less coincided with his decision to read the whole of that old warhorse, Tennyson’s Ulysses, at a meeting of the Bruges Group, hard-line Brexity Spart Mark François’s quotation of Pericles – “Freedom is the sole possession of those who have the courage to defend it” – at a Brexit rally on Official Leaving Day has gone relatively unnoticed, except of course by me. It did seem significant that this is the A.S. Way version of the Funeral Oration, as featured on various war memorials but not in any published translation of Thucydides (see Liz Sawyer‘s account); rather as the most obvious source of the poem is Judi Dench from Skyfall, so it seems more likely that the MP has been visiting the Bomber Command memorial rather than leafing through the Peloponnesian War.

Two minor additions this morning. The first is to note that it’s actually a mis-quote, and perhaps a significant one: Way’s original has “freedom is the sure possession…”, whereas François makes the more exclusive claim that only those who fight for freedom are entitled to it. He’s not the only person to do this on social media, and one might suggest that in the military and veteran circles where this line is often quoted, it’s a readily comprehensible mental step. The second is that, as I discovered in checking this, François has used the line several times in Parliament, in his erstwhile role as Armed Forces Minister. This was too late to appear in Liz’s survey of Thucydides quotes in British and US politics; I’m not sure if she’s done an update that I’ve missed, but given that her main conclusion was the marginal status of Thucydides in the UK compared with the US, it is interesting that at least in this context things are changing slightly. I am not saying that it’s a good thing…

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Every so often, the tireless labour of the Thucydides Bot – someone recently referred to it as Sisyphean, and in the midst of the current spate of misattributions being tweeted out by accounts with apparently Islamic and/or Indian sub-continental identities, that doesn’t feel too far off – throws up something valuable. Generally this means a new misattribution with an interesting back story, but very occasionally there’s something even more useful. I’m still waiting to find time to investigate Cornelius Castoriadis’ book on Thucydides, force and law (or might and right), partly because it looks like the source of a misattribution that’s recently become quite prominent – “either war or equanimity, you have to choose”, or variants thereof – but also because I wasn’t aware of its existence until I started tracking down the misquote. This morning brought a reference that will be very useful if I ever get round to writing a half-planned piece on Thucydides read through the lens of exile literature:

To those who no longer have a homeland, writing becomes home.

(more…)

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Last week I was at a fantastic conference in Newcastle on Authority and Contemporary Narratives about the Classics (details here), discussing different aspects of the image and appropriation of the ancient world in the public sphere; Rebecca Futo Kennedy gave the full version of the discussion of the history and problematic politics of ‘Western Civilization’ that she’s been trailing on the Twitter (@kataplexis if you don’t already follow her), and there were fascinating papers on topics like postgraduate blogging, the intersection of ideas on Roman imperialism and Realist international relations theory, concepts of myth in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, and whether Livy was a good Wikpedian. As ever, the main problem was that we needed much more time for discussion – well, that, and the fact that I could carry only so many bottles of local craft beer home with me. (more…)

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Jocks and Greeks

Just to prove that I don’t only care about misquotations of Thucydides – though admittedly I came across this one in the course of correcting yet another occurrence of the familiar “the society that separates its scholars from its warriors…” line. In this case, it was being cited in response to this tweet:

This looked somewhat dubious at first glance, and attempts at googling key phrases just produced lots of people quoting the same thing (or the same thing with “too effeminate”), mostly in support of their sporting philosophies. However, as Sententiae Antiquae (@sentantiq) has identified, it is not completely ungenuine: it’s a paraphrase of Jowett’s translation of the Republic, 410b-412a, simply substituting ‘scholar’ for the original ‘musician’. According to Socrates, the man who can best blend music with gymnastics and apply them both to the soul is not merely the ideal citizen but the prototype of the city’s future rulers. You could even argue that it’s not unreasonable to see music as standing in for the whole range of liberal arts, requiring the admixture of physical training and prowess to make them fulling effective just as athletes need to indulge their inner geek to avoid complete savagery. And actually this seems to be paraphrasing so much text that it seems likely it was never originally intended to be read as a quote – but someone then reproduced it as such… (more…)

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Considering how far the Twitter is full of bots or sock puppets pretending to be people, so that’s become the automatic accusation against someone you don’t know spouting stuff that you don’t like, it’s interesting how far proclaiming oneself to be a bot is taken completely at face value. Especially when winding up angry, ill-informed neo-Nazis. (more…)

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I do it to myself, I do – but WHY can’t people provide references to their sources? I’ve just spent over half an hour tracking down a couple of Thucydides quotes which, as is often the case, weren’t immediately familiar but looked plausible. Now, if someone is citing the Melian Dialogue, it’s understandable why they might not bother to give the precise reference, since everybody already knows it – but when clearly the whole point is that this isn’t a well-known line but a newly-extracted bit of wisdom and enlightenment that others won’t have heard before..? (more…)

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Read ‘Em And Weep

Apparently, pointing out to Trump fans or rabid Brexiteers that they’re being taken for a ride by corrupt, loathsome bastards may make them double down on their commitment to said bastards. Clearly this precautionary principle has been adopted wholesale by Goodreads, to judge from their policy on correcting fake Thucydides quotes; anything that has lots of ‘likes’ from users of the site is not to be deleted, regardless of its proven falsehood. Yes, my occasional mission to give F.B. Jevons and William F. Butler their proper due for ‘Of all manifestations of power…’ and ‘The nation that divides its soldiers from its warriors…’ respectively has a new target. Those two have been sorted out – Jevons gets credit now rather than Thucydides, while somehow the Butler has been deleted as insufficiently worthy, but apparently nothing can be done about ‘peace is an armistice in an endless war’, ‘justice will not come to Athens’ and even, dear gods, ‘a collision at sea can ruin your whole day’.

”We are,” Goodreads tell me, “book review and recommendations site.” Well, yes. So what’s with the quotes?

While we do have quotes on the site, we consider them to be community-owned content and therefore we have strict rules regarding removing.

So, the people of Goodreads have had enough of experts, and resent being talked down to by people who think they know better and want to delete their favourite quotes. I find myself thinking so much more positively of Wikipedia and its editors than I did a few months ago…

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Another new pseudo-Thucydides quote – an increasingly rare event, not because the level of misattribution is dropping to any measurable degree but because it’s the same couple of familiar misattributions every time – as French Minister of Economy Bruno le Maire commented* in a private meeting for French businessmen about Trump’s imposition of sanctions on Iran and the funding of international terrorism: “money is the nerve of war”, attributing this to Thucydides. (more…)

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