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Posts Tagged ‘Thucydides’

There’s a lovely passage in John Moore’s Brensham Village (second volume of the Brensham Trilogy, one of the great accounts of British rural life), in which Mr Chorlton, the retired prep-school classics teacher, talks about his affection for the absurdities and rituals of the Church of England, agnostic though he is:

The funny thing is that thousands of people who don’t believe in it have the same feeling. I suppose in Greece and Rome, when the old gods fell out of favour and people ceased to believe in their thunderbolts and their power, the crumbling ivy-grown altars were still regarded with a sort of half-amused, half-apologetic affection, and people made an occasional shame-faced sacrifice at them for old time’s sake. That is how I feel about the C. of E. and I still wonder why!

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Ideas matter. Perceptions, expectations and beliefs, however detached they may be from reality, matter. This is clear enough from the events of the last year, with the votes in the UK and the USA; and, for all that the ‘Thucydides Trap’ (currently enjoying another burst of publicity) presents global events as the predictable outcome of impersonal dynamics in the relationship between objectively-defined established and rising powers, it’s clear from Thucydides’ account. The events of the Peloponnesian War were shaped above all by the desires, fears, assumptions and misconceptions of individuals – with disastrous consequences. (more…)

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To echo the immortal BtVS: Peter Jones has written another column in the Spectator. There are words on the page referencing Thucydides. This is never good. (more…)

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“We are either kings among men, or the pawns of kings”: Thucydides. Or not. It’s the first time I’ve seen this one on the Twitter, and it’s easy to track down its immediate source: Smallville, season 5 episode 10, Lex Luthor speaking: “Thucydides said, ‘We are either kings among men… or the pawns of kings.'” January 2006, so it’s actually surprising this hasn’t surfaced before. More interesting is the origin of the quote, which certainly isn’t anything to do with Thucydides. Various internet sources attribute a variant to Napoleon Bonaparte: “In this life we are either kings or pawns, emperors or fools.” Doesn’t appear to be authentic – and quite a lot of the citations note that this actually comes from the 2002 film of The Count of Monte Cristo, except that there it recurs in several different, shortened versions – “In life, we’re all either kings or pawns”; “Kings and pawns, Marchand. Emperors and fools”; “We are kings or pawns, a man once said” – that someone has drawn together into a single line. No trace of this in the original Dumas novel, so it does indeed seem to have been invented for the film, and elevated to a sort of theme. Really not the sort of thing that either Napoleon or Thucydides would say… (more…)

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“Don’t confuse meaning with truth: Thucydides.” I think I speak for everyone when I say: huh? It’s not just that it’s fake, it’s the fact that it seems, insofar as I have any idea what it’s on about, utterly un-Thucydidean. His basic assumption – even if you interpret this as a neurotic response to trauma, as I’ve suggested in the paper I finished writing on Tuesday – is that establishing the truth about past events is the only road to understanding them, and to understanding the present. I suppose that, if you squint hard enough, you could fit this line to his sense that the significance of e.g. Athenian stories about the Tyrannicides for their sense of identity has no necessary connection to the veracity of such stories, i.e. the fact something is meaningful doesn’t make it true, but that’s definitely a stretch. (more…)

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The publication of Yanis Varoufakis’ And The Weak Suffer What They Must? in paperback has been heralded by a short video in which James Galbraith, Noam Chomsky, Slavoj Zizek and Jeffrey Sachs offer their praise; the latter presents him as “the Thucydides of our time”, and Vintage have taken that as a key line for their publicity. It’s an interesting indication of the contemporary standing of Thucydides – but also a little puzzling. (more…)

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I’ve just spent a fascinating morning at a workshop on Creative Pathways to Impact, splashing around well out of my depth and comfort zone, in search of further inspiration and possible creative collaborators for some of the ways I want to make use of Thucydides as a genuine ‘possession for all time’, a means of opening up questions about the complexity of the world, politics, power, rhetoric etc in the face of post-truth and post-democracy. One of the activities was the random drawing of cards, giving a research finding, a location and a form respectively, and then discussing as a group how one might enable the first of these of have an impact via the other two. So: Thucydides as a means of understanding the dynamics of power; phone box; street theatre. (more…)

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