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Posts Tagged ‘World War I’

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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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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There was a surprising amount of laughter at an otherwise fascinating conference at Leeds this week on Classics and Classicists in WWI. Nervousness at the subject matter, perhaps, or at the idea that we’ve decided to make sense of the appalling slaughter by spotting classical allusions in modernist poetry? Or just historical distance, as the events are far enough in the past that we don’t feel we have to empathise with these people or understand their intellectual positions properly but can observe their (by our standards) naivety and idealism with scholarly detachment? Gauging the quality and intent of laughter is of course a wholly subjective matter; it’s probably just my own prejudices that led me to hear the response to Rupert Brooke’s description, say, of travelling to the eastern Mediterranean on a troop ship as an all-expenses-paid cruise to view classical sites, as indulgent and nostalgic laughter, ‘oh those silly but heroic doomed youths’, while the claims of German classicists in 1914 that they were fighting to defend the heritage of Hellenic civilisation were laughed at scornfully. (more…)

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There is a persistent habit among readers of Thucydides of focusing on the character and biography of the historian – despite the shortage of evidence on that subject. This resort to the personal is often employed as a means of giving Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian War, and/or the more general theories that he supposedly derived from the events, greater authority: Thucydides was a general whose views on military matters therefore need to be taken seriously, a politician who therefore understood democracy from the inside, and he was unjustly exiled from Athens and yet shows no vengefulness in his account of the Athenians which shows his astonishing objectivity and impartiality, and so forth. Often, Thucydides’ character is established through a reading of his work – all the familiar adjectives like austere, realistic, rationalistic etc. – and that is then offered as a key to interpretation.

Certain readers also seek to explain the genesis of the work through biography. By far the most interesting and provocative example of this was Arnold J. Toynbee, and his conception of the ‘broken life’. (more…)

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