The things you stumble across with a poorly-calibrated Google search… The Courthouse News Service, which reports and comments on civil litigation in the USA, reported on 30th April that “A former customs officer convicted for employing an illegal immigrant as a maid can get a new trial, a federal judge ruled, saying it was ‘overkill’ for the government to pursue felony prosecution instead of administrative sanctions.” (
). Why is this worth mentioning on a Classics blog, whose terms of reference may be nebulous and highly subjective but are not entirely non-existent? Because U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock joins the long list of people who think that quoting bits of Thucydides (or alleged Thucydides) makes their argument better:
“I am satisfied there is no question that those instructions were erroneous because they were too open textured and did not require the jury to find substantiality to any encouragement or inducement,” Woodlock said Wednesday, relying on 3rd Circuit precedent.
“With proper instruction, the jury could readily have found that Bitencourt or an illegal alien in her position would have resided in the United States irrespective of Henderson’s employment and advice, and that Henderson’s employment or advice did not make it more likely that she would continue to reside in the United States,” he added.
Quoting ancient Greek historian Thucydides, Woodlock said, “Of all manifestations of power, restraint impresses men most.”
Prosecutors must re-examine their motives, he added.
“The lessons of proportionate restraint while pursuing measured judgment, in the face of unreasoning outrage, require careful calibration of the level of culpability for modest misconduct,” the decision states. “These are lessons often difficult to accept, master, and deliver. Their application begins in the criminal context with the prosecutor’s charging decision and, if necessary, end with such judgment as the courts are permitted to exercise. In the absence of some greater exercise of restraint by the prosecution in this case, it is necessary to conduct a new trial to assure proper judgment by the court.”
I am putting the final touches to an article on the quotation and misquotation of Thucydides, including this classic line – depending on whether any journals take the bait, I hope this will appear in the next year or so – but I’m not going to be discussing this particular example at any length. It is worth stressing that in his written judgement, Woodlock states expressly that the line is ‘attributed’ to Thucydides and almost certainly apocryphal – but he uses it anyway. Clearly, as with many dubious quotations, the idea is too useful and powerful to be discarded simply because its origins are somewhat obscure, and it is scarcely going to hurt its persuasive power if it’s attached to an authoritative figure like Thucydides. I’ve come across a few examples of Thucydides being quoted by lawyers in the US, and find myself wondering whether there’s a special handbook of useful lines, or one influential figure in legal tradition who quoted Thucydides a lot, or whether they just imitate one another the whole time…
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The new book by Tom Holland on the origins and rise of Islam and the collapse of the Roman and Persian empires, In the Shadow of the Sword, has been gathering mixed reviews in the general press. Barnaby Rogerson in the Independent dismissed a few of Holland’s ideas on the birth and nature of Islam as fanciful or speculative, but saw these as only “slight flaws” in an otherwise compelling narrative of the period; Michael Scott in the Telegraph produced a masterpiece of evasion, describing it as a handsome volume tackling an important question from a novel perspective with a fluid style that was “also bound to encounter the full spectrum of critical reaction”; Ziauddin Sardar in the New Statesman objected, more in sorrow than anger, to Holland’s dismissal of the entire Muslim scholarly tradition on the development of Islam and the Qur’an and his reliance instead on the controversial theories of Patricia Crone and her associates. Finally, there was the magisterial academic demolition job offered by Glen Bowersock in the Guardian: “Holland came to his work on Islam unencumbered by any prior acquaintance with its fundamental texts or the scholarly literature… Holland seems to have confined himself largely to interpreters, learned or otherwise, writing in English, but his efforts to inform himself, arduous as they may have been, were manifestly insufficient… Holland’s cavalier treatment of his sources, ignorance of current research and lack of linguistic and historical acumen serve to undermine his provocative narrative.” Holland has now offered a response to the last of these. (more…)
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One of the obvious disadvantages in having as a research interest the place of antiquity in the modern world is the regular flow of new material – and, still more, the expectation of a regular flow of new material, so that I now scour every op-ed article on Iran for traces of Thucydidean power-politics that I can then anatomise. Since I’m a great admirer of Peter Handke as a writer I’d be reading interviews with him anyway – but I now find myself leaping on every passing reference to something classical, even if it’s nothing to do with Thucydides, and worrying away at it. I can’t claim that this is legitimate research activity, e.g. for a piece on his broader reception of ancient texts like Homer or tragedy, as I don’t remotely have time for that at the moment. Instead it feels like a peculiar sort of cyber-stalking… (more…)
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I was struck by the casual reference made in an article in Die Zeit by Peer Steinbrueck, SPD politician and former finance minister, to the former ‘satrapies’ of the Soviet Union. It’s not an analogy I recall seeing before in discussions of the nature(s) of modern imperialism, let alone the controversial issue of whether the Warsaw Pact should be described as any kind of empire, but it’s actually rather useful: emphasis on the relatively loose and informal nature of the relationship and the degree of autonomy afforded to the inferior party while leaving no doubt about where power really lies. It’s certainly rather more useful as an analogy for the position of the DDR or Poland or Hungary than ‘colony’ or ‘dependency’, the usual terms used in general discussions of imperialism, and a useful reminder that Rome isn’t the only possible ancient comparitor. I have no idea whether this is a common term in German discourse on the topic – perhaps their well-known interest in Near Eastern as well as Classical cultures in the nineteenth century (see Susanne Marchand’s Down From Olympus) has made Persia more familiar to them than it is to the English-speaking world.
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