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Posts Tagged ‘Thucydides’

Further evidence of the ‘Thucydidean Moment’ of 2017 – and, yes, I’m aware that J.G.A. Pocock’s ‘Machiavellian Moment’ lasted rather longer than a fortnight – comes in this morning’s Financial Times Alphaville blog, with a post from Matthew C. Klein responding to last week’s Politico article and drawing on his own experiences of reading Thucydides in a class led by Donald Kagan. I rather liked this piece, for its cautions against simplistic readings – and not just because it included links to a couple of my recent posts.

However, it does offer as matters of fact a couple of arguable interpretations. (more…)

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When I first began putting together a research project on the modern reception and influence of Thucydides, and writing funding applications, the big ‘hook’ – the thing that was going to persuade reviewers of the contemporary relevance of the theme – was Thucydides’ infiltration of the G.W. Bush White House. Irving Kristol’s claim that he was the favourite author of the Neocons, the relationship between Donald Kagan and the Project for a New American Century, and – from a less bellicose perspective, Colin Powell’s love of the (fake) Thucydides quote about manifestations of power and restraint, were not intended to be the central focus of the project, but they showed the importance of understanding the context of such readings, the traditions of reception and reinterpretation that made powerful people think, or at least claim, that Thucydides speaks to the present.

Here we are again, with a new article on ‘Why everyone in the White House is reading Thucydides’ suggesting the Obama adminstration’s relative restraint in such matters (occasional references from Martin Dempsey when Chair of the Joint Chiefs) was just a blip.* (more…)

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I’ve written on a number of occasions about Graham Allison’s ‘Thucydides Trap’ idea and why I disagree with it – indeed, I imagine that this is why the viewing stats for this blog have risen appreciably in recent weeks – but there’s nothing like reading someone else’s critical but largely wrong-headed review to prompt a bit of reflection. Arthur Waldron’s review in the Straits Times (which I first encountered via SupChina – and is that the worst name for a site ever?) has been widely circulated on the Twitter (at any rate by the normal standards of Thucydides-related references) with a measurable atmosphere of glee and Schadenfreude. It seems that a fair number of people want Allison to be not just wrong but catastrophically wrong – Ian Buruma’s New Yorker review is just as critical of Allison but much more measured, and hasn’t been nearly so widely cited as a result – and Waldron gives them what they want.

Waldron’s opening sentences are brutal – and frankly bizarre: (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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Whom would you rather have make a speech about the death of one of your loved ones, Donald Trump or Pericles? For Simon Schama over on the Twitter yesterday, there’s no contest: “Grief obliges eloquence or silence. Pericles. Lincoln. Then ‘evil losers'”. It’s certainly true that there’s no contest when it comes to eloquence and rhetorical skill, or even basic grammar – but the differences aren’t so stark when it comes to the ends of such speeches. For Trump, the deaths of children, teenagers and their older relatives in Manchester are fuel for his confused, ill-directed crusade against ‘radical Islwmic terrorism’, fuelling suspicion of Muslims in general. For Pericles, the deaths of Athenian soldiers were weaponised to urge the survivors to sacrifice themselves for the city as well, with the grief of their families waved away. The issue with Schama’s contrast isn’t that Pericles lost the war or was responsible for starting it, as various people responded to him; it’s that the contrast isn’t as stark as he implies. As for his “Thucydides would block you and so will I”, nice line, but would the man willing to face up to the full ghastliness of human weakness and violence really filter reality like that?

Meanwhile, if you’ll excuse the sub-tweet, I feel ever more disturbed by the sorts of people who choose to incorporate Thucydides into their Twitter identity, and the violent right-wing views many of them seem to hold – and what this says about the modern image of Thucydides, if not necessarily the work itself…

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A Serious Man?

Thucydides was not a happy bunny. Strictly speaking, we don’t know this – even if we trust the ancient biographical accounts, it’s not the sort of thing they talk about – but that has never stopped later readers imagining the personality of the author. In the tradition of ‘realism’, most explicitly in Friedrich Nietzsche’s account in Götzendämmerung but pervading many 20th-century political readings, Thucydides is presented as the sort of illusionless man who has the courage to face unvarnished reality; this reading is based on his stripping away of claims about justice and virtue to reveal the power struggles underneath, and then in turn this conception of his ruthless critical spirit is taken as a guarantee of the veracity of his account of the world. Arnold Toynbee in contrast detects an anguished, traumatised figure between the lines of his tightly controlled analytical prose, someone who was broken by his experience of failure, exile and defeat but put himself back together through sheer will and intellectual rigour. In either case, this is not a man who made balloon animals. (more…)

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