I think I have previously mentioned on here the more or less constant fear that I suffered during my PhD studies, that I’d suddenly discover someone else working on exactly the same topic, or that they’d publish a book or article that pre-empted everything I had to say, and so I’d have to start all over again. (Even worse, of course, would be to discover that they’d done this only when I was in the viva, so that not only would my work be pointless but I’d have even failed to demonstrate adequate knowledge of relevant scholarship…). I worry much less about such things these days, but it’s not a completely unreasonable fear, given the tendency of academic topics to move unpredictably in and out of fashion; I remember how the ancient novel suddenly and mysteriously came into vogue in the early 1990s, which must have been a nasty shock to any number of people who’d thought, quite separately, that they’d come up with a brilliantly obscure topic with which to make their name. (more…)
Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category
It is at times like this that I really find myself missing Uwe Walter’s Antike und Abendland blog, for its insights into the world of post-war German Altertumswissenschaft. I’ve been watching a lot of German news lately, following the progress of the floods, and so heard about the death of Walter Jens at the age of 90. Not, I have to admit, a name that meant anything to me, but it became increasingly clear what an important figure he had been in the intellectual life of post-war Germany: professor of rhetoric at Tuebingen, member of the Gruppe 47 of writers, leading figure in the peace movement in the 1980s, guardian of democracy and the spirit of open debate (hence the nickname, ‘the little Voltaire of the Bundesrepublik’) – and classicist, as all the obituaries emphasised. His doctorate at Freiburg was on Sophocles’ tragedy, his Habilitation (at the age of 26!) was on Tacitus and Freedom; neither was ever published.
As with most figures of this generation – and this is where one really misses Uwe’s commentary – there are questions about his activities in the Nazi era (interestingly, emphasised more in the English than the German Wikipedia entry): he was registered as a party member from 1942 (but claimed, apparently, that he had never applied for membership, and that it must have followed automatically from his membership of the Hitler Youth; extended discussion of the issue in Die Zeit). He was excused military service as a result of severe asthma, and so continued with his studies with inevitably complex feelings:
What was to be done with an academic who had to spend quarter of his schooldays in sanatoria (and did this gladly: Kindersanatorium Schwester-Frieda-Klimsch-Stiftung, in Königsfeld in the Black Forest – a refuge, where I felt safe)? How would someone have been able to endure, who was excluded from heroism because he needed Bronchovydrin and Alludrin in high doses simply to be able to live – and who at the same time was grateful to his illness, because it saved him from marching and he never in his whole life had to take up a weapon?
It’s difficult to see the choice of Tacitus, let alone of the theme of Tacitus and freedom, as anything other than political, especially given the turn that his fictional writings took – but, not having read what Jens made of the topic, I can’t say any more. I cannot at the moment think of any reasonable excuse for spending time on further research, in the light of the number of different papers I’m supposed to be writing; what I really want is for someone to have already written a brief account of the topic…
There is a significant risk that being so focused on a single author and his modern influence, as I am with Thucydides, one starts to see him everywhere. I’m pretty well resigned to the fact that I now have a Pavlovian reaction to more or less any mention of Thucydides in the media, either rushing off to write a blog post or planning an article (or sometimes both), but I now seem to be imagining his influence even when there is no explicit reference or even subtle hint to be found that Thucydides has anything to do with it. It’s a little bit like the portrayal of the mentality of conspiracy theory in Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum: if you assume that there must be a connection between apparently disparate things, then you can always find one with a bit of thought; if you assume that “the Templars have something to do with everything” (or in this case, that Thucydides is a pervasive influence on the whole of modern culture), then you tend to find evidence to support the theory. From the outside, and even in one’s own reflective moments, this starts to look like paranoid delusion – but then another hint of evidence turns up to suggest that there really is a vast conspiracy…
I’ve just finished writing my lecture for this evening on Thucydides and modern political theory; as ever, it was only at about halfway through that I worked out what I wanted to say, so the text switches from nicely polished and word-processed sentences to scribbled notes that may or may not turn into coherent sentences on the night. One of my starting-points builds on the work of Eddie Keene at Oxford (in his chapter for the forthcoming Handbook to the Reception of Thucydides), noting that the conventional genealogy of ‘realism’ in International Relations theory, looking back to Hans Morgenthau and E.H.Carr, really doesn’t account for the importance of Thucydides in this tradition, as neither of them really discuss him (Carr, I think, ignores him completely; Morgenthau has at the most a couple of passing comments). Of course it is, as copious empirical evidence demonstrates, all too easy to interpret Thucydides’ account as a forerunner of neorealism, if you squint at it the right way and assume that e.g. the Mytilene Debate and Melian Dialogue are simply expressions of the historian’s analytical conclusions, but that doesn’t explain why it should be felt to be necessary to bring in Thucydides at all. (more…)
Donald Kagan, one of the big names in the study of Thucydides over the past few decades and certainly the key Thucydidean scholar as far as the general English-speaking public is concerned, has finally retired at the age of 80, and marked this with a characteristically trenchant lecture and interview in the Wall Street Journal (my laptop is currently refusing to do cut’n'paste for no very good reason, so can’t simply post the link, but it was posted online on April 26 and on p. A11 of the April 27 edition). I have never met him, as he politely declined an invitation to come across to Bristol to speak on the grounds of health, and was away from Yale when I gave a lecture on Thucydides and the idea of history there (or, as I prefer to imagine, decided to boycott such subversive post-modern European nonsense). However, I owe him a great deal; quite simply, I suspect that I would not have got funding for my Thucydides research project if I had not been able to emphasise in the proposal the fact that a leading Thucydides scholar was also writing militaristic polemics like While America Sleeps, invoking Thucydidean tropes to legitimise a turn to a more aggressive, if not downright imperialistic, US foreign policy; behold, I was able to say, the contemporary relevance of Thucydides and hence the importance of understanding how this text has been co-opted for political ends! (At any rate in the US; if I’d been running this project on the other side of the Atlantic, I imagine that by now I’d have negotiated a few deals with foreign policy think-tanks and military education establishments and would have the whole Impact thing sewn up by now, rather than desperately trying to persuade one or two schools that it would be really good for their teaching of Citizenship to take account of some Thucydides, hitherto with little success. But that’s a side issue). (more…)
I’m at the start of a six-week stay in Bielefeld as a Gast-Professur, and I suspect that I’m going to spend much of this time being struck by the differences between German and UK academic life; of course I’ve given papers and attended conferences over here, and had long conversations with German colleagues about the state of higher education in our respective countries, but (i) on reflection, I’ve probably spent too much of that time trying to persuade them that my account of the REF really isn’t a joke, rather than listening to substantive accounts of their experiences, and (ii) in any case it’s in the day-to-day things rather than the big structural matters that the differences become manifest. Yesterday being a case in point: Where’s the photocopier so I can sort out some course materials? Just ask the Studentenhilfkraft in their room down the corridor. Yup, there’s a room full of students just waiting to do my bidding at any hour of the working day.
Interesting to note that the Father of the House Sir Peter Tapsell is declining to speak in this afternoon’s Margaret Thatcher Respectful Tribute Slam in Parliament. “It is not a university and I am not the public orator. I don’t want it to be thought that I have to get up and make a Periclean speech every time there is a tragedy.”
My initial response was to wonder whether a Cleonic oration might be more appropriate for the occasion; my second was to start thinking about Sir Peter’s use of the term ‘Periclean’. Of course the Funeral Oration is meant, as the standard go-to for commemoration of the glorious dead in speeches and epitaphs – see Jennifer Roberts’ chapter in Thucydides and the Modern World on the tradition from Gettysburg to the aftermath of 9/11, and a piece I wrote for Aeon on the use of quotes on war memorials. But that was a speech to commemorate the deaths of a fair number of people in war, and that’s how, more or less, it’s been used since – not least as a means of co-opting those deaths into the national cause, reducing the individuals involved and their grieving families into faceless components of the collective endeavour. It’s not an obvious choice for memorialising a single individual, which might be a good reason for eschewing Periclean orations in this instance – but my reading of his comment is that Sir Peter doesn’t think that they are inappropriate per se, just that he doesn’t see why he has to be the one to give them every time.
The Classicists email list is having one of its periodic flame wars; in classic horror movie style, a softly-spoken, genteel little email list, which normally spends its days politely relaying conference announcements and information about studentship opportunities, is provoked by a casual remark and transforms into a raging monster. Clearly some sort of mutant DNA was spliced into the discipline in its past, because this does keep happening in one way or another. “I’m getting pedantic. You wouldn’t like me when I’m pedantic…”
It is, I suppose, an example of the way that specialists come to take their topic entirely for granted, or at any rate develop certain blind spots: I realised this morning that I have never previously Googled ‘Thucydides’ without any qualifying terms. If I ever had, I’m pretty sure I would have clicked on the third result to show up in the list, which describes its contents as follows: “Thucydides is a tool that lets you use WebDriver-based unit or BDD tests to write more flexible and more reusable WebDriver-based tests, and also to generate …” I have no idea what that means, but was eager enough for an excuse to spend five minutes away from the book – okay, I know that playing on the internet on the PC doesn’t count as a proper break from the laptop – to ferret around in search of the rationale for the choice of name. I think it’s rather sweet…
Thucydides (Thoo-SID-a-dees) is a tool designed to make writing automated acceptance and regression tests easier. It provides features that make it easier to organize and structure your acceptance tests, associating them with the user stories or features that they test. As the tests are executed, Thucydides generates illustrated documentation describing how the application is used based on the stories described by the tests.
Thucydides provides strong support for automated web tests based on Selenium 2, though it can also be used effectively for non-web tests.
Thucydides was a Greek historian known for his astute analysis skills who rigorously recorded events that he witnessed and participated in himself. In the same way, the Thucydides framework observes and analyzes your acceptance tests, and records a detailed account of their execution.
Of course, the obsessive pedant in me now wants to start speculating about whether the Thucydides framework appears to provide a reliable record of the execution of acceptance tests, which can serve as a basis for future practices (kata to hupologistikon, so to speak), but is really manipulating the user according to its own hidden agenda…
Yes, I know it’s been very quiet on here lately, and I can only apologise for the lack of discussion, but I really do have to get my book on Thucydides and the Idea of History finished by the end of the month, and so have to keep my head down and limit internet time – even resisting the temptation to explore the interesting mixture of ‘vague but interesting’ and ‘trite and rather annoying’ analogies between the Byzantine economy and the current European crisis offered by Peter Frankopan over on the Grauniad a few days ago.
However, as I’ve just finished another chapter, I thought I could spare five minutes to post the image that I.B.Tauris’ design people are going to be using for the cover. I’m delighted; much better than yet another variation on one of the busts of Thucydides of dubious provenance that appear on most books about him. This is an engraving by the C17 Dutch artist Samuel van Hoogstraten, about whom I now know rather more than I do about most C17 Dutch artists. He wrote a work on painting, Inleyding tot de Hooge Schoole der Schilderkonst, which was published by his brother in 1678; it’s divided into nine books, each dealing with a different aspect of painting and named after a muse, with an engraving of the muse in question at the start of each book. The third deals with history painting, and is introduced by Clio, who – though you can’t see it in this tiny image – is carrying a copy of Thucydides. Entirely appropriate, as according to the Iconologia of Cesare Ripa, a sixteenth-century work that was much used by artists in search of suitable allegorical and symbolic images, this is how Clio should be represented, but I haven’t found any other versions where the fact that the book is by Thucydides is visible (for example, not in Vermeer’s The Art of Painting, unfortunately, though that’s where I found a lot of this background information: http://www.nga.gov/exhibitions/verm_2.shtm).
Any suggestions as to a source for a higher-res image would be greatly appreciated; currently hoping that the British Library, which has a copy of van Hoogstraten’s book, will be able to oblige…