Posts Tagged ‘slavery’

Have A Cigar

You’re going to go far? Well, no. I have long since resigned myself to the fact that I am not suddenly going to embark on the sort of media career that allows one to produce a calendar of swimsuit shots in exotic filming locations or be interviewed for a weekend supplement about my favourite recipes or (sob) get invited onto Strictly Come Dancing or Desert Island Discs. Am an attendant lord, fit to sneak onto the occasional In Our Time when everyone else is busy. (more…)

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SCENE: the reception area, morning. Sybil is doing accounts. Basil is painstakingly recolouring a map of the world. One of the members of the visiting cultural delegation from Ghana approaches the desk cautiously. He is ignored.

Stephen: Excuse me?

Basil continues to ignore him.

Stephen: Sir? Mr Fawlty?

Basil: Not. Now.

Sybil: Attend to Mr Assamoah, Basil.

Basil: Oh! Right! Stop whatever you’re doing, Basil, it can’t possibly be important!

Sybil: It isn’t.

Basil: But the colours are all wrong! They should be pink! And what’s happened to Rhodesia? (more…)

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In recent years, it’s become clear that the traditional model of work, in which one is paid a regular wage for specified hours and tasks, generally carried out at a designated workplace, applies to ever fewer people, at any rate in the West. The division between work and non-work is blurred, as increased connectivity and/or zero hours contracts both, in different ways, create and support the expectation of permanent availability, and – especially but not only in the creative industries, including academia – the mantra of “do what you love, love what you do” turns enthusiasm and dedication into a system of self-exploitation. One of the revelations of the recent (ongoing) industrial action in British universities has been the revelation – for me, as I suspect for many, not so much a hitherto unknown bit of information, but something previously not fully registered or felt – of how far the whole system depends on us all working way beyond contracted hours (insofar as those can be defined at all), so that working to contract is tantamount to failing to fulfill the terms of the contract. Goodwill, self-sacrifice and willingness to go the extra couple of miles are now treated as the norm, or even the minimum. (more…)

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Aristotle dreamed of the robot revolution. A slave is a living tool that serves multiple purposes; likewise a craftsman’s assistant (Politics 1253b). This is demonstrated by the fact that, if every tool could perform its own work when ordered, or by seeing what to do in advance, like the statues of Daedalus or the self-moving tripods of Hephaestus, craftsmen would have no need of assistants or masters of slaves. Tools are an essential component of the state; workers, maybe not so much. (more…)

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The seminar text for my Roman History course over the last fortnight has been the opening of the third book of Varro’s Rerum Rusticarum, the convoluted argument about the nature of the ‘true’ villa and the disputed legitimacy of pastio villatica. It’s a great passage for opening up questions about the nature of the work – the unexpected use of dialogue in a supposedly practical handbook of agriculture, as a means of raising problematic ethical and political questions (ancient sock puppets!) without necessarily trying to resolve them – and about how Roman aristocrats thought about the world at the end of the first century BCE; in particular, how one negotiates tensions between inherited values (the ‘farmers are the best citizens and soldiers’ ideology offered by e.g. Cato, harking back to exemplary early Romans like Cincinnatus) and the realities of a globalised economy in which money pervades every area of society and politics. Pastio villatica – the raising of bees, birds, snails, dormice, game etc. in the vicinity of the villa – is good insofar as it’s productive (rather than the purely consumptive villas where the wealthy relax and show off their wealth), but it’s bad insofar as it’s intimately bound to the development of luxurious tastes in the city, founded on the corrupting influx of wealth from the acquisition of empire – and hence involves precisely the sort of risky pursuit of profit that Cato had condemned in merchants and money-lenders. (more…)

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RIP Ellen Meiksins Wood (and see also here)

A week and a half into term, and I am already being forcibly reminded of why I didn’t manage to post more than once or twice a month for much of 2015. It’s not as if I don’t have a load of stuff I’d like to write about – not least because Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australian, has just produced a load more Thucydides references in a recent speech, on the (not unreasonable) assumption that this is how to communicate with US foreign policy types these days (cf. Xi Jinping) – it’s just the quantity of other stuff that has to take precedence. But some things do deserve recognition and comment, above all – despite the fact that this blog has started to look like an obituary column – the passing of yet another significant figure in my intellectual pantheon. I have got to find some younger, healthier people to get influenced by… (more…)

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Who works in the text? According to Tom Geue, in an excellent paper in the Bristol Classics Research Seminar last week, this question is at least as important for our understanding of Roman culture as the more familiar “Who speaks in the text?”. He took as his case study Georgics IV, a poem ostensibly devoted to old-fashioned Italian small-holding in which remarkably little real work gets done. Slavery is of course more or less invisible throughout the Georgics, with the slave treated as a mere prosthesis so that his labour is credited to the owner, but the fourth book takes things still further. Half of it is devoted to bee-keeping: a gift of heaven, a slight field of toil bringing great reward, in which the owner’s labour is limited to tearing off the wings of the ‘kings’ so that the bees are not inclined to give in to their tendencies to idleness… (more…)

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