Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Thucydides’

Only Human

This blog remains, if not in full hibernation, then certainly in a deep torpor; reducing all but essential functions until the warm weather returns, or the rains come and the valley is green again, or whatever other metaphor one chooses for the idea that, some day, I will once again have the sort of levels of energy and mental agility that will allow me to complete all my teaching, teaching prep and essential emails in less than the full working week, thus making space for research, writing and even blogging. Could be worse; there are lots of people having a much harder time of it, and this has actually freed me of the addiction to checking my viewing stats daily and getting depressed about them. Now I can get depressed about the decline of this blog without needing to look at the stats! (more…)

Read Full Post »

Rough Trade

I have another piece in my very small collection of Thucydideana! Like the last one (discussed here) it’s a collectible card, but it’s a good deal less impressive all round – monochrome printing on a thin brown card, with an abstract design on one side and a drawing of a distinctly bad-tempered bust of Thucydides on the other.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Doubling Down

If Thucydides was so bloody clever and full of real insight into human nature, the opening of Book 8 – set in the immediate aftermath of the failure of the Sicilian Expedition, ignominious retreat and surrender of the expeditionary force, execution of its commanders etc. – would have read more like this:

When the news reached Athens, for a long time they refused to believe that their forces had been so utterly destroyed, and would not accept even the unambiguous reports brought back by those who had actually witnessed the events. When these become too numerous to ignore, they declared that these were signs of a period of transition that would lay the foundations for a still more glorious victory in due course, while others insisted that the expedition had now been completed and so it was time to discuss other things. They did not blame their leaders or the others who had persuaded them to the original course of action, because the provocative behaviour of the Syracusans in defeating their army simply reinforced the case for having attacked them in the first place. And when they could not see an adequate number of ships in the docks, adequate funds job the treasury or an adequate supply of grain in the markets, they denounced as the consequence of Spartan overreach when Athens’ hands had been tied by the treaty it had been compelled to sign of its own volition…

Read Full Post »

The abuse of so-called ‘history’ for political purposes is as old as Herodotus’ invention of it a couple of years ago. Recently we have seen concerted campaigns to rewrite the history of Athenian democracy so as to undermine communal solidarity, our sense of achievement and total superiority over all other Greek states, and even our basic legitimacy. The foundational story of Athenian autocthony that expresses the deep connection between the pure indigenous inhabitants and their land is rationalised and rewritten in order to promote a multicultural, pro-migrant agenda that threatens to undermine our collective identity. Figures central to our history like the heroic Tyrannicides are stigmatised as self-interested and incompetent, and our noble leaders in the present are mocked and caricatured. Athens’ civilising mission is cast in negative terms as a mere exercise in power and self-interest. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Scene: The Secret Headquarters. A group of heavy-set, anonymous-looking men in suits, wearing mirrored sunglasses indoors, are seated around a table. Editorial Board member 1: So what did we learn? Editorial Board member 2: I don’t know, sir. Editorial Board member 1: I don’t f***** know either. I guess we learned not to do it again. Editorial Board member 2: No, sir. Editorial Member 1: I’m f***** if I know what we did. Editorial Board member 2: Yes, sir, it’s, uh, hard to say.

Okay, that’s just gratuitous snark, and I like Burn Before Reading. The thing about the Peter Singer Does Apuleius affair is that there are many different things that different people ought to consider not doing again, of varying degrees of wider interest. (more…)

Read Full Post »

There’s a long-standing tradition of setting up a contrast between Thucydides and other classical historians, usually to make a point about the ‘true’ nature of historiography. Most commonly, the foil is Herodotus, in a zero-sum game where only one can be the real Founder of History: T as critical, objective, sober, realistic etc. versus some bloke who just wrote down a load of tall tales he picked up in bars down by the Halicarnassus docks, or H as the broad-minded anthropologist of cultural difference versus a narrow, reductivist and chauvinist view of human beings (shout-out to the late great Marshall Sahlins). But there are other possibilities; in the sixteenth century, for example, T might be set against Tacitus on political grounds, for his praise of the enlightened rule of Pericles as opposed to the dangerous hostility to monarchy evident in the Roman, while nineteenth-century critical historians frequently bolstered T’s reputation as one of them by giving Livy a good kicking as the epitome of aimless chronicling of events. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Yes, it’s been quiet on here recently; a combination of trying to get a chapter written and the recurrence of the bloody virus, and I suspect these things are feeding off one another. In addition, I’ve decided to be the last pompous middle-aged classicist left standing without having written a ‘state of the discipline, burn down classics, don’t burn down classics’ piece, and obviously any blog post is a temptation to do just that. So, this isn’t a proper post – that has to wait until this chapter is finished – but just an update on an interesting bit of Thucydideana. This time, well out of my price range. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Power to the People?

Over the last couple of months, one Thucydides quote has been quite widely circulated on the Twitter: “In a democracy, someone who fails to get elected to office can always console himself with the thought that there was something not quite fair about it.” As I discussed a few years ago, it’s a genuine quote (from 8.89) albeit a pretty loose translation (by Rex Warner) – and since that discussion was in October 2016, I’m guessing that this appears on various websites listing Quotes on Democracy, which the sorts of people who like tweeting quotations refer to every four years. While many of the tweets are completely without context, however, enough of them appear in discussion threads that you can make a pretty good guess at their intended meaning, and what’s interesting is that there are two diametrically opposed uses: on the one hand, there those who (as was the case in 2016) offer this as evidence that sore losers are always going to claim they were cheated, but on the other hand this time around there are significant numbers – probably a majority – who put this line forward in support of the claim that there is going to be something unfair about a vote in a democracy, that ‘they’ are always going to cheat and manipulate the system. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Mr X

Portrait of Thucydides, on a Stollwerck card

It’s the most chocolaty time of the year, so it seems like an appropriate time to get round to writing about the latest addition to my incredible small but interesting collection of Thucydideana: a chocolate card! (more…)

Read Full Post »

A crucial element of Thucydides’ depiction of the plague in Athens is that it appears as, so to speak, a heuristic crisis: it is an event that no one can make any sense of. It’s not that fifth-century Athenians were unfamiliar with epidemics, in myth, literature and reality, but all of those had an explanation in terms of their inherited concepts and assumptions. In this situation, however, every explanation falls short – belief in the fulfilment of oracular prophecy or other supernatural explanation, rumours of enemy action, even the more recently developed ideas of the doctors. Whatever the actual nature of the disease – and this point holds true even if we follow the idea that there wasn’t actually a single plague, but a multitude of more common diseases, perceived as a single baffling phenomenon – Thucydides shows how its unfathomable and irresistible nature then became the dominant influence on behaviour, sweeping away the traditional institutions of religion, law and social norms by revealing that everything was actually random and unpredictable. Why pray when it doesn’t help? Why deny yourself pleasure when you might die tomorrow? Why obey the law when you probably won’t get caught? Why strive for virtue when it doesn’t bring any reward? Why worry about what the neighbours think when they might be dead tomorrow? (more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »