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One of my main aims, in monitoring references to Thucydides on the Twitter, is to keep a sense of proportion. Partly this is about relative scale: fifteen fake quotations in a day is a lot, relative to normal traffic in this area – but given that over 6,000 tweets get fired off every second, it’s thoroughly negligible in the greater scheme of things. Similarly, it’s about remembering that my view of this is very odd; for me, a tweet may be the sixth tedious repetition of the misattributed ‘Scholars and Warriors’ quote that afternoon, but for the person tweeting it this is generally the first time they’ve done it, having found a really neat quote that sums up the point they want to make perfectly. Even with that annoying Social Jukebox system I aim to stay civil unless it’s from a user whom I’ve attempted to correct many times and so I know they won’t pay any attention anyway, and if there’s the faintest possibility that I’m dealing with a real person tweeting in good faith, I do my best to interact in the spirit of truth, not snark. (more…)

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Fake News?

There are ‘Thucydides’ quotes that immediately raise suspicions, and generally they are easiest to eliminate as being fake – “A collision at sea can ruin your whole day” is so obviously a modern fiction that it’s scarcely worth worrying about, even before you notice that it was originally attributed to Book 9. Most, however, are at least plausible – and, given that Thucydides’ difficult Greek can almost always be translated in multiple ways, it can be extremely difficult to establish that a quote really isn’t genuine if you can’t track down the phrase in another source that is manifestly not Thucydides. I suppose one could argue that the burden of proof should be on those who propagate dubious quotations to justify the claim that they’re from Thucydides (more…)

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Democracies are always at their best when things seem at their worst. (Thucydides)

Alongside all the obviously false and/or completely unverifiable ‘Thucydides’ quotations to be encountered on the Twitter, there is a minor strand of what could be called ‘misleading paraphrases’, where someone quotes someone else’s summary of what Thucydides said as if it were Thucydides’ own words. I’ve previously discussed the Henry Kissinger version of 1.22.4 – “The present, while never repeating the past exactly, must inevitably resemble it. Hence, so must the future” – which Niall Ferguson and Graham Allison seem to have successfully launched as a genuine quotation. Yesterday I came across the quote above for the first time, a line which likewise looks not completely implausible but nevertheless wrong. And so it proved… (more…)

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As regular readers may faintly recall, one of my minor projects for March was to monitor all the occasions when that stupid William F. Butler quote about “A society that separates its scholars from its warriors…” was attributed on the Twitter to Thucydides, if only to work out precisely how much of a waste of time it is for the Thucydiocy Bot (@Thucydiocy) to keep correcting it. The results are now in, and the conclusion is: lots. (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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I have a piece up on Eidolon this week: Why Thucydides? As tends to happen, the moment it’s posted I immediately think of other things I might have said, and ways I might have said them better (and I don’t just mean the fact that every other sentence seems to begin with “But…”). I stand by the three main suggestions as to why Thucydides should be the go-to ancient authority for commenting on current politics and international affairs – his work invites such identification and comparison, there are long traditions of citing him as an authority, and we really want to believe that someone understands what the hell’s going on – but I can’t help feeling that there’s more going on. Herewith some further thoughts… (more…)

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Clickbait?

Even now, with just ten days to go, I’m still hoping that my viewing stats for this blog in 2015 will match or exceed those of previous years. After all, I feel that I’ve been writing some decent material in the last year, even if the number of posts (and possibly the quality) has fallen off over the last couple of months under the pressure of the regular job (the suggestion in my recent staff review that I should consider becoming a ‘public intellectual’ – which I’m not sure is achievable simply by blogging and spending time on Twitter in any case – rather ignores the fact that this all has to be done in my spare time, which is in ever shorter supply). At last count, the number of views had just topped the figure from 2013, but the number of visitors is still substantially lower.

Clearly I need to write something that will quickly catch a whole new audience, even if they look at only one post. (more…)

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