Posts Tagged ‘war’

‘Doom-scrolling’ is, I imagine, a familiar thing, that many of us have been doing far too much of lately. You may not, however, have come across ‘professional doom-scrolling’, which unfortunately does not mean you get paid for it, but rather involves justification of the activity through some sort of “but I have to do this for work”, addressed to frustrated loved ones and even to ourselves, to explain how this is not simply a deeply unhealthy bit of obsessive behaviour. It’s relevant to this piece I’m working on; I need to cover related issues in class next week; there’s a developing methodological debate that connects to my area. This practice is quite distinct from what we might call ‘catastrophe dissemination’, the uncontrollable urge to link current events to one’s own research in order to write topical social media posts and would-be popular comment pieces, although the professional doom-scroller may indeed end up writing such pieces as a doubling-down on their original justification for spending a deeply problematic amount of time on the Twitter. (more…)

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Further to my piece on the decline of the blogosphere: WordPress has listened, and modified its presentation of viewing statistics so that I can see exactly how much they’ve declined! Result! Why they believe that depressing their regular users is a good idea is another question…

So, I shall defiantly continue to use this blog for things that it’s definitely good for: above all, keeping a record of random thoughts in case I ever want to refer to them (Twitter is great for many things, but finding old tweets is not one of them; “micro-blogging” my arse, unless “micro” refers to duration as well as length). And since at some point in the future I may well want to write about Thucydidean influences on Catch-22, it seems worthwhile recording my immediate reactions to the new TV adaptation.?? (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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Another new pseudo-Thucydides quote – an increasingly rare event, not because the level of misattribution is dropping to any measurable degree but because it’s the same couple of familiar misattributions every time – as French Minister of Economy Bruno le Maire commented* in a private meeting for French businessmen about Trump’s imposition of sanctions on Iran and the funding of international terrorism: “money is the nerve of war”, attributing this to Thucydides. (more…)

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The ‘Thucydides Trap’, having infiltrated both Australasia and China from its incubation in the USA, now appears to have turned up in the UK, with a piece in the Independent (not sure if it’s just on the webpage, or… Actually, is there anything else?) entitled ‘The Next World War Will Be In The South China Sea. Ask Thucydides’. It’s our old friend, Graham Allison’s analysis of the confrontation of the hegemonic power and the rising power, with added apocalyptic noises about the imminence of nuclear war (whereas the role of the nuclear deterrent in reducing the impact of the supposed dynamic of Great Power rivalry is something many critics have put forward as an objection to Allison’s transhistorical claims) and some especially amusing asides. “And as has happened in international summitry since the time of Pericles, sweet talk, fraternal visitations and hearty dinners proceeded in tandem with steely military build-ups  on both sides.” Yes, Thucydides is full of that sort of thing.

I live in hope that someone will ask me, or someone else from the classical side, to write a piece on why this is a dubious reading of Thucydides; I do have a draft that I’ve been meaning to finish at some point… In the meantime, I thought it might be helpful to post links to the various things I’ve written on this in the last couple of years, in one easy-to-access post…

The Thucydides Trap (October 2012)

The Tao of Thucydides (April 2014)

The Real Thucydides Trap (May 2014)

Who Laid the Thucydides Trap? (August 2015)

Stuck in the Middle (September 2015)

Absence of Evidence (October 2015)


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Here we go again? As plenty of people have already observed, the debate around whether or not the United Kingdom should join the bombing campaign in Syria feel terribly familiar. For most, this suggests 2003 all over again; in today’s Grauniad, for example, Martin Kettle notes the resemblances but claims that MPs have clearly learnt important lessons from last time, while Ewen MacAskill‘s analysis of Cameron’s case offers clear evidence that the government, at least, hasn’t (or doesn’t care). For ancient historians, and international relations theorists who have fallen under the spell of Thucydides, it is tempting to identify a much longer and more inexorable cycle of repetition, one that is inherent in human affairs.

Thucydides’ work could be characterised in part as a series of arguments for war, or at least for military intervention and the exercise of violence: multiple variations on a single theme. (more…)

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The great thing about Google NGram – which, if you haven’t previously encountered it, is a rather neat online tool for counting the frequency of different words and phrases in books published since 1800 and displaying the results in graphical form – is that it feels a bit like a game, where you get to play with lots of different parameters and see what happens*, but can still be chalked up as a research activity; just the thing if you’re feeling slightly under the weather but not ill enough to take the day off.** I remain a little sceptical about some of the results (especially as books mentioning classical examples are always such a small part of the total corpus of publications, and I don’t currently feel well enough to calculate whether a shift in references to Thucydides from 0.0001958557% of the total corpus in 1940 to 0.0002307328% in 1945 is statistically significant or not), but if you keep in mind that it’s all about relative prominence then you’re less likely to place undue weight on the results, and can just have fun.* (more…)

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Saturday night was Berlin’s Lange Nacht der Wissenschaften (‘Long Night of the Sciences’), where all the different institutions of research and higher education open their doors to the public for exhibitions, workshops, seminars and lectures – apparently over 25,000 people took part this year, so clearly this is a pretty spectacular bit of public engagement. I was actually busy having dinner (and a very nice Chateau Latour) with a colleague that evening, but did make a small contribution to the exhibition being staged by the TOPOI research cluster (where I’m currently a research fellow for two months) on ‘War and Peace in the Ancient World’, supplementing their display of ancient quotations on the theme of peace with yet another choice example of Pseudo-Thucydideana.

Krieg und Frieden


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Is there any topic that a Thucydides quote cannot illuminate? In this morning’s Observer, Vic Marks turns to the Melian Dialogue (what else…) to comment upon the current state of world cricket:

I suppose that if the notion of “might is right” was good enough for the Athenian Empire, it will do for the ICC. As dear old Thucydides pointed out in the pre-Boycott era, “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” Let’s not dress up the machinations at the ICC in any other way.

It’s tempting to think of other Thucydides quotes that might be of assistance in this matter (of course, the best line on Kevin Pieterson clearly comes from the same war but a different author; Aristophanes on Alcibiades, “Best not to rear the lion’s whelp within your gates; but if you do, it’s best to learn to tolerate its little ways”). And at the same time, the analogy with cricket can work in the other direction, shedding light on Thucydides’ narrative technique. Both war and cricket, as his account shows, proceed within an apparently clear and straightforward framework (the alternation of summer and winter echoing the change of the bowler’s end every over), the combat is the accumulation of countless individual events, which are rarely in themselves absolutely decisive – even the catastrophe of Sicily did not prevent the Athenians, as we see in Thucydides’ eighth book, from mounting a successful rearguard action and comeback, so we should see it not as the fall of the final wicket but as the unexpected (well…) collapse when both batsmen had seemed to be well in, leaving the question of whether the brilliant but thoroughly unreliable Alcibiades can forge a successful long-term partnership with the number eight, or will simply throw his wicket away and start sending chummy text messages to the opposition…

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