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Posts Tagged ‘Thucydides’

So it turns out that the best way to revive the blog viewing statistics and get some discussion going, at least temporarily, is a post on the decline of blogging and the absence of discussion… Thanks to everyone who read and commented; yes, the numbers are sliding back to their old level already, but it’s good to know that there are people out there still committed to this genre (and I still maintain that it’s a distinctive genre, certainly from the perspective of a writer, whatever @rogueclassicist thinks…). In the meantime…

In the meantime, I try to work out why WordPress won’t let me embed an embeddable player… In the interim, this will have to do:

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This week is especially heavy on travelling, which is terrible for doing all the writing I imagined I’d get done once marking was out of the way, pretty terrible for my waistline as I resort too often to coffee and cake to keep going, moderately good for starting to work through the long list of overdue book reviews, and very good for blog posts. I’m currently, in theory, on my way to Zagreb for a doctoral workshop on pre-modern economics [update, three hours later: finally on the move…] On Tuesday I was in Manchester, and on Wednesday in London, for teacher-training sessions for the ‘Understanding Power’ project – aka ‘Thinking Through Thucydides’, but that name isn’t going to pull in the punters – that Lynette Mitchell and I have been developing with the Politics Project.

This was tiring, a little stressful – and finally a joy. (more…)

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Nouvelle Vague

“Knowledge without understanding is useless.” Duh. It’s exactly the sort of banal truism that excites my paranoia; the idea isn’t important, but rather what someone making such a statement then wants to do about it. You could deploy it in opposition to rote learning, and the idea that there’s a list of Essential Facts and Dates that every child ought to know by heart, to argue for a focus on analysis and interpretation. But you could also – and this comes to mind with the publication this week of a new report on post-18 education in the UK, with implications for the health of the whole university system – deploy it in an attack on high-falutin’ book learning in general, or on studies that aren’t directly engaged with the Real World – it depends on whether you imagine that understanding comes through the acquisition of knowledge, or derives from a separate source (practical experience, ideology, religion…) which is independent of actually knowing things. (more…)

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Obviously my ongoing survey of modern literary receptions can’t just stick to works I like and admire. The recent death of novelist Herman Wouk, none of whose books I’ve ever read (but I have seen most of The Caine Mutiny), has naturally prompted a burst of quotations, including the revelation that Thucydides is referenced several times in his late novels about the Second World War, Winds of War (1971) and War and Remembrance (1978) – which were unironically compared by the Christian Science Monitor to Thucydides at the time (link). (more…)

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It’s always going to be the case, I reassure myself, that when exploring the reception of a particular classical author or theme across the whole range of scholarship and other writing in a given period, you’re bound to miss loads of examples – at least until everything gets digitised and is easily searchable. All you can do is hope that new things coming to light don’t radically undermine what you’ve claimed, or, if they do, at least do it in an interesting way – and that it’s not utterly embarrassing that you didn’t find the reference in the first place. Beyond that, well, it’s one of the great advantages of having a blog that I can simply post an update to a previously published article (it would of course be even better if I could post a link on that article to the update), so I don’t have to feel too regretful that I wasn’t able to discuss this at the time… (more…)

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What’s the key lesson of the Melian Dialogue? The dominant tradition has been some sort of variant on Crude Realism, from the perspective of the would-be superior power: justice only between equals, we the strong have the right to dictate and you the weak must comply, and forget all this nonsense about hope. The usual response, from those who reject such a worldview and/or, perhaps more significantly, aren’t in any position to pursue it, is to question and reject the Athenian logic, by detaching it from the authority of Thucydides and pointing to the consequences of their attitude. But of course it is also possible to be one of the Weak and nevertheless accept the logic of the Strong; like the prisoner in Life of Brian who praises the Romans for their strict approach to crime and punishment, or the cow at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, there are those who fully accept the right of others to dictate terms and exact obedience. (more…)

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Constant Craving

Change. War. Violence. Unpredictability. Competition. Malevolence. Food. Music. The Rangers in the universe of Babylon 5. Inter-ethnic slaughter. Death. And that no one cares a whit about the Armenians.

This is a precis of the search results for “the one constant in human history”. Add ‘Thucydides’ to the mix, and the themes narrow down to war, violence, and human nature – which doesn’t, however, get me any further in tracking down the source of the specific quote I’m looking for: “Human nature is the one constant through human history. It is always there.” Google that, and you get a large number of low-rent quote sites, a number of annoying motivational posters, and regular blogs from one Earl Heal for the Daily Republic, a local news site in California, who trots out the same set of quotes about the glories of classical political institutions on almost every occasion. (more…)

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