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Posts Tagged ‘Thucydides’

It’s been one of those years… As far as the blog is concerned, I’ve managed to keep up a reasonably steady routine of posts – it does help that the WiFi on South Western trains is pretty reliable, so I can get things written on the commute down to Exeter – and the viewing figures have been pretty steady (no weird public controversies, and I managed to resist the temptation to launch unprovoked attacks on any prominent media figures during the slow weeks). I have at various points wondered whether it’s worth it; on the one hand, this remains a great opportunity to write about things that would never make for a proper academic article (or which perhaps might count as groundwork for something more substantial in due course – I am committed to giving a paper about Thucydides on Twitter in February), but on the other hand it is a time commitment, and in a year when it feels like I’ve lacked both time and energy even for the regular work stuff, sometimes it’s felt like that ‘one more bloody thing’ which could turn out to be that one thing too much. (more…)

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One of the ways in which the Athens of Pericles is a terrible model for how to manage a just society is the ultra-restrictive citizenship law he introduced in 451, reserving full legal and political status only for those whose parents were both Athenians. At least in part because of a shortage of sources, the context and purpose of this law is much disputed; Aristotle’s suggestion (Politics 1278a) seems as plausible as any, that this is a means of restricting the numbers of citizens in a polis that is expanding, presumably in order not to spread the benefits of citizenship (and, in Athens, of empire) too widely. In other circumstances, the benefits of immigrants are widely recognised; we can see this in Xenophon’s proposals in the Poroi for revitalising the Athenian economy by attracting more foreign traders and other entrepreneurs – though without actually opening up citizenship – and still more in Thucydides’ account of the way early Athens grew through offering a safe haven to refugees from other parts of Greece: “by becoming citizens from the very earliest times they so increased the city’s population that Attica could not contain them and the Athenians later sent out colonies to occupy Ionia as well” (1.2.6). Immigrants as an asset – but sometimes a state decides that it wants all the benefits of their contributions without offering anything much in return, however long they’ve lived there and however much they’ve done for their adopted home…

#EUCitizensChampion

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Jocks and Greeks

Just to prove that I don’t only care about misquotations of Thucydides – though admittedly I came across this one in the course of correcting yet another occurrence of the familiar “the society that separates its scholars from its warriors…” line. In this case, it was being cited in response to this tweet:

This looked somewhat dubious at first glance, and attempts at googling key phrases just produced lots of people quoting the same thing (or the same thing with “too effeminate”), mostly in support of their sporting philosophies. However, as Sententiae Antiquae (@sentantiq) has identified, it is not completely ungenuine: it’s a paraphrase of Jowett’s translation of the Republic, 410b-412a, simply substituting ‘scholar’ for the original ‘musician’. According to Socrates, the man who can best blend music with gymnastics and apply them both to the soul is not merely the ideal citizen but the prototype of the city’s future rulers. You could even argue that it’s not unreasonable to see music as standing in for the whole range of liberal arts, requiring the admixture of physical training and prowess to make them fulling effective just as athletes need to indulge their inner geek to avoid complete savagery. And actually this seems to be paraphrasing so much text that it seems likely it was never originally intended to be read as a quote – but someone then reproduced it as such… (more…)

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One of the many ways in which we can read Thucydides’ Melian Dialogue’ is as a study of trade-offs, and how people calculate and evaluate them. The Athenians explicitly use such language; for example, off-setting the loss of respect and trust among Greek neutrals if they destroy Melos against the increase in fear among their subjects, with the view that the result is a net gain in their security – and their claims about Spartan reluctance to help their allies unless it suits them takes for granted a similar way of thinking. It is of course a paradox of their position, insisting on an unsentimental evaluation of present circumstances rather than speculating hopefully about what might happen in future, that their calculation rests so heavily on assumptions about how people will behave and hence how events will turn out – and Thucydides effectively critiques their assumptions, both by showing the Melians refusing to follow the same logic and by narrating the subsequent events that show how poorly the Athenians actually anticipate future developments. (more…)

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Just Disillusion

The idea of Thucydides as a man without illusions, who sees the world as it really is rather than as he or anyone else might like it to be, is a dominant strand in his modern reception. It lies at the heart of the historiographical representation of him as someone not merely impartial but genuinely objective; it underpins Nietzsche’s rhetorical contrast between Thucydides and Plato, and Arnold Toynbee’s portrait of a man “broken” by the events of his time who then puts himself back together; and of course it’s the foundation of the whole Realist tradition in International Relations.

No illusions, no arguments, no hope; take all that away, and what’s left? Me. (more…)

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Considering how far the Twitter is full of bots or sock puppets pretending to be people, so that’s become the automatic accusation against someone you don’t know spouting stuff that you don’t like, it’s interesting how far proclaiming oneself to be a bot is taken completely at face value. Especially when winding up angry, ill-informed neo-Nazis. (more…)

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I do it to myself, I do – but WHY can’t people provide references to their sources? I’ve just spent over half an hour tracking down a couple of Thucydides quotes which, as is often the case, weren’t immediately familiar but looked plausible. Now, if someone is citing the Melian Dialogue, it’s understandable why they might not bother to give the precise reference, since everybody already knows it – but when clearly the whole point is that this isn’t a well-known line but a newly-extracted bit of wisdom and enlightenment that others won’t have heard before..? (more…)

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