“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…)
Posts Tagged ‘Thucydides’
“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…)
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…)
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…)
See Part One here.
July A month of very conflicted emotions. On the one hand, back in Berlin; on the other hand, Brexit. On the one hand, the remarkable pleasure to be gained from the Ablehnung of a Ruf, and an opportunity to reflect on the sheer weirdness of German academic appointment processes; on the other hand, Brexit, and the thought that a job in Germany might be no bad thing. On the one hand, some actual research into cheap translations of Thucydides (though not in a REF-able publication, unless the rules change dramatically in the near future); on the other hand, my most-read post of the year on, you guessed it, Brexit… (more…)
Death. Death. Crisis. Death. Crisis. Death. Death. That was 2016, that was. Good riddance, apart from the uneasy feeling that it may have been just the overture, and next year we won’t have the all-too-brief comic relief of England v. Iceland to cheer us up.
It’s all been very serious German novel. One of the themes on the blog this year has been the avoidance, if not fervent denunciation, of crass historical analogies, so I’ll save my next discussion of Volker Kutscher’s excellent Krimi series set in 1920s and 1930s Berlin [pervasive atmosphere of impending doom and dramatic irony] until the Tom Tykwer adaptation starts next year, by which time I may have caught up with the latest volume. Rather, I’ve been reminded all too often of Jenny Erpenbeck’s brilliant Aller Tage Abend (and I still dislike the English title End of Days without having a good alternative suggestion), in which the central character dies again and again – as a baby, as a teenager, at various stages of adulthood – with a constant dialectic between the hopeful counterfactual (if only this, then she would have lived…) and the inevitability of death, against a backdrop of twentieth-century horrors. That was 2016, that was… (more…)
It’s podcast time! Welcome to another occasional episode of Radio Abahachi, in which I attempt to find some music inspired by Thucydides that I can actually bear to listen to!
[Update 15:35 21/12/16: just realised that there’s a minute or so of dead air towards the end; have hastily re-edited, and new version has been uploaded, but many apologies to anyone whose listening pleasure was spoiled by this.]
[As opposed to some of the actual ‘music’.]
[For further discussion of Bob Dylan’s reading (sic?) of Thucydides, see John Byron Kuhner’s ‘Tangled Up In Thucydides’ from Eidolon last year; more generally on T’s reception in modern culture, my chapter ‘The idea of Thucydides in the Western tradition’ in Lee & Morley, eds., A Handbook to the Reception of Thucydides.]