Thursday, 20 September 2018

Iannis Xenakis on Rome and Seneca’s Medea

Following my post last week on Greece under the barbarian rule of Rome and the influence of Greek culture on the Romans, I’ll take the opportunity to post something related to the subject using the composer Iannis Xenakis who, in his work, captures better than anybody the madness, terror and ‘ecstatic dream world’ that Nietzsche defines as characterising Greek tragedy.

In 1967, Xenakis was commissioned by the Theatre de France to write the music for a production of Seneca’s Medea. Xenakis scholar Nouritza Matossian (an Armenian from Cyprus) says:

‘Xenakis had often wondered how the music of ancient Greek theatre might have sounded, how the actors, chorus and musicians might have chanted the text and played the aulos and in [Medea] he provided his solution. He treated the instruments as voices and the voices as instruments to create an implacable work, extending the language phonetically with whispers and hisses, repeated phrases and even banging stones. The atmosphere is archaic, with a setting which is both raucous and primitive.’

Regarding the work, Xenakis says that when he was approached to write it:

‘I hesitated because I knew Seneca as a pseudo-philosopher, an imperial courtier, and above all a Roman who sought, like all Romans of that period, to emulate the ancient Greek masterpieces.

‘But in reading the Latin text written in the first century AD I was seduced by its violent sonority, its barbarity, so I agreed.’

Above is Xenakis’ Medea in full, while below is a clip from Matossian’s 1990 BBC documentary on Xenakis, Something Rich and Strange.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Greeks under the rule of barbarian Rome

Above is the final episode in Michael Scott’s BBC series Ancient Greece: the Greatest Show on Earth. (Watch part one here and part two here). Episode three looks at how Greek theatre fared as Rome emerged as a dominant military and political power and Greece and Greek cities and kingdoms lost their independence. It’s not a bad programme, but I find the Romans to be insufferable barbarians, on about the same level as the Seljuks and Ottomans.

Regarding what happened to Greek literature under the Romans, I was reading an essay by Peter Bien from The Greek World: Classic, Byzantine and Modern, in which Bien says the following:
‘It would be a mistake to think that Greek literature died with Greek liberty. Menander’s marvellous comedies of manners, the plays that, by way of Plautus and Terence, set the first theatrical example for the Renaissance, for Shakespeare and for Moliere, were… the growth of an age politically hopeless. Polybius, through whose history we know that Scipio wept over Carthage destroyed, was a Greek hostage. The historical analysis of Tacitus and of Livy depend on history written by losers, by generations of sarcastic Greeks. Machiavelli rediscovered and transfigured their style, mostly through Tacitus and Livy, and Marx read Machiavelli. Clarendon in his History of the Great Rebellion goes back for this style to the same ancient historians. Shakespeare transcribes Plutuarch’s Lives at times almost word for word.’
I’m curious as to which ‘sarcastic Greeks’ Bien is referring to.

Regarding Plutarch, Bien adds:
‘Plutarch’s drawing of Romans is much more effective than his gallery of Greeks. The Greeks lived longer ago, and he knows less about them. The death of Cicero, the suicide of Cato, and the story of Antony and Cleopatra are written in brilliant dryness. It was Plutarch’s sense of tragedy, not that of the tragic poets, that Shakespeare drank in.’
Bien also has this to say:
‘The greatest hero of late Greek literature is Jesus Christ. The gospels are in Greek because the entire eastern Mediterranean world in their time had been Hellenized since before Christ, and one of the thrills and shocks of the gospels is that mixture of cultures. In spite of their linguistic awkwardness, or because of it, they are powerful pieces of simple writing such as Greek had never encompassed before.’

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Britain in the Mediterranean: On Robert Holland’s Blue Water Empire

A quick review of Robert Holland’s Blue-Water Empire: The British in the Mediterranean since 1800.

The narrative is compelling and heavily features the fortunes of Greece and Greeks – whether it’s Britain seeking to limit the Greek Revolution of 1821; occupying the Ionian islands and Cyprus; protecting the Ottoman empire in decline; promoting Greece as the rising power in the Eastern Mediterranean after World War One; affecting to shape Greek politics after World War Two; or contributing, wittingly and unwittingly, to the re-emergence of Turkey as a regional force and the diminution of Hellenism in Constantinople and Cyprus.

Holland’s book is, however, marred by the absence of a critical paradigm or depth and Holland’s somewhat patronising tone, manifesting itself in a lack of empathy and even a belittling of those enthral to the British empire, the impact of which Holland portrays as being mostly benign, if not beneficial. Thus, he attributes, for example, the rapid socio-economic advancement Cyprus experienced post-independence not to the Cypriots themselves but to the British legacy and its supposed predisposition to the rule of law and good governance. (In fact, the legacy of British rule in Cyprus was poverty, under-development, mass emigration and, ultimately, devastating partition).

Another striking point that emerges from Holland’s book relates to the abject failure of the British imperial project and colonial culture to win over Greeks in the Ionian islands (which endured British rule from 1815-1864) and Cyprus, where Britain governed from 1878-1960. By contrast, the Maltese and Gibraltarians were much more receptive to British colonialism and, indeed, Malta and Gibraltar provide ominous examples of what Cyprus and the Ionian islands could have become if the Greeks there hadn’t steadfastly and from the outset resisted British rule and attempts to de-Hellenise or Anglicise them.

Finally, Holland’s book allows us to note how – especially in comparison to, say, the Byzantine or Ottoman imperiums – Britain’s empire spectacularly and precipitately declined, disintegrating by the early 1960s, barely 40 years after having reached its apogee.

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Socrates on how to reverse the decline of Athens

I mentioned in a previous post how, for classical Greeks, identity, self-perception and psychology were significantly configured by a mix of history and myth.

In fact, I came across a good illustration of this when reading Xenophon’s account of a conversation between Socrates and Pericles the Younger, on the subject of how to revive a declining Athens.

The dialogue would have taken place towards the end of the Peloponnesian war, when Athens was staring defeat in the face, and, obviously, before 406 BC when the aforementioned Pericles the Younger (son of Aspasia and the outstanding statesman of Athens’ Golden Age, Pericles) was tried and executed, along with five other generals in charge of Athenian forces at the naval Battle of Arginusae (406 BC).

The battle was brilliantly and surprisingly won by Athens, but the commanders, after they had allegedly neglected to rescue shipwrecked Athenian sailors and retrieve the Athenian dead from the sea, were charged with dereliction of duty. The kangaroo court and subsequent execution of the six amounted to another in a long line of shameful and self-destructive decisions by the Athenian citizenry during the Peloponnesian war, (a decision which, again, in true Athenian style, the Athenians were to repent… at leisure. Indeed, both men in Xenophon’s dialogue – Socrates and Pericles the Younger – were unjustly executed, via hemlock, victims of the degenerative tendency of Athenian democracy).

Anyway, as I said, what interested me in the exchange is that Socrates’ remedy for reversing Athenian decline – which is, essentially, a conservative, nationalist remedy (let’s assume it’s not the ultra-conservative Xenophon putting words into the philosopher’s mouth) – is based on an appeal to Athenians’ historical and mythical past. Socrates not only stresses the lessons to be learned from Athenian heroism in the Persian wars, fought only two to three generations previously; but also recommends for mimesis the great deeds of legendary figures such as Erechtheus and Theseus. The conversation, an extract of which is below, gives us a strong sense of the discourses at work in formulating Greek identity.

SOCRATES: Since we wish them [the Athenians] to strive to be the first in virtue, we must then show them that it is their special inheritance from olden days, and that by striving for this they may become superior to all men.

PERICLES: How can we teach them this?

SOCRATES: By reminding them, I think, that their earliest ancestors of whom tradition tells, were really as great as they have heard.

PERICLES: Do you refer to the judgment of the gods which Cecrops and his men pronounced because of their virtue?

SOCRATES: I mean also the birth and childhood of Erecthheus, and the war he waged against the men from all the adjacent lands, and the war of the sons of Heracles against the inhabitants of the Peloponnese. I refer, also, to all the wars waged in Theseus’ time, in all of which our ancestors proved clearly that they were better than their enemies. If you wish, I mean what their descendants did later, a little before our time: by themselves, they fought against the masters of all Asia and Europe as far as Macedonia, against men who possessed the greatest power and wealth the world had ever seen and who had performed the most daring deeds…

For more discussion emanating from JE Lendon’s Song of Wrath: the Peloponnesian war begins, go here.

Monday, 20 August 2018

Insult, wrath and retribution in the Peloponnesian war: yet more thoughts on JE Lendon’s Song of Wrath

As I’ve said in my last two posts on Song of Wrath: the Peloponnesian war begins, JE Lendon is keen to stress the role that revenge plays in that conflict and, indeed, in all conflicts.

The mechanism of revenge, Lendon says, starts with an insult (ὕβρις/hybris) – amounting to a calculated attempt to demean and cause an affront to honour (τιμή, timē) – which induces an ‘overpowering wrath’ and necessitates vengeance.

Only when revenge is accomplished is wrath ameliorated and honour restored. But, as Lendon points out, and demonstrates with examples from Homer and tragedy, this pattern – from humiliating insult to wrath to revenge to restoration of honour – is not a redemptive process. Rather, it is a process (directed by the Furies) involving chaos, frenzy and self-destruction. Such a process – of chaos, frenzy and self-destruction – is what ultimately characterises the Peloponnesian war.

Revenge not only defines the conduct of the Peloponnesian war but also goes to the heart of the dispute between Athens and Sparta, which is a dispute, according to Lendon (stressing the importance of Homeric ethics in classical Greece) about rank – about Sparta’s determination to retain its ascendant position in Hellas and Athens’ attempt to compel Sparta to accept its burgeoning status.

Shaming is the weapon of choice to undermine, reinforce or elevate rank in the classical Greek world and, as such, the Peloponnesian war begins with punitive Spartan raids into Attica, looting, ravaging and wasting of land, which are reciprocated not by full-scale hostilities but by similarly pernicious Athenian raids into Laconia and against Sparta’s Peloponnesian allies.

Attacking your enemy’s allies is a crucial tactic in this war of reputation, retribution and shaming because it aims to prove that you are incapable of defending your subordinate confederates and are unworthy of your hegemonic position.

Thus, in the first years of the war, Athens moves on from raids against Elis and Messinea in the Peloponnese and expands its theatre of operations to Halkidiki in northeastern Greece where, in an attempt to prove the limitations of Sparta’s reach and power, Athens attacks and seizes pro-Spartan Potidaea.

Sparta responds to this humiliation by attacking an Athenian protectorate, Plataea, in Boeotia; but when Plataea holds out, Sparta seeks to undermine Athenian prestige and restore its own by encouraging the Mytelineans to break free from the Athenian sphere of influence (and fulfill Myteline’s long-term ambition to exert authority over the whole of Lesvos). Athens crushes the Mytelinean revolt, prompting the Peloponnesians to try a similar shaming maneuver in Corcyra. Here, they sponsor a pro-Spartan oligarchic coup, triggering years of strife and carnage on the island, which comes to epitomise the loathing and vindictiveness of this Greek civil war.

For all posts discussing issues emanating from JE Lendon’s Song of Wrath: the Peloponnesian begins, see here.

Friday, 17 August 2018

History, myth and self-destruction among the Greeks: more thoughts on JE Lendon’s Song of Wrath

More reflections emerging from reading Song of Wrath: the Peloponnesian war begins, in which JE Lendon stresses the role of status and prestige in that particular conflict and, indeed, in all conflicts.

Lendon makes clear that for the classical Greeks, imbued with Homeric culture, identity and rank were shaped not only by the historical but also the mythical past. Thus, we note that at the conclusion of the Peloponnesian war and the defeat of Athens (404 BC) – and despite the urgings of its allies – Sparta declined to destroy Athens because of the city’s role decades earlier in the service of Hellas during the Persian wars.

For the same reasons, Alexander the Great was lenient towards Athens despite its overt hostility towards Macedonia – its part in the Battle of Chaeronea (338 BC) and the revolt of Thebes (335 BC) – although the Macedonians had no such compunction when it came to Thebes itself, which was razed and its population sold into slavery, and not just because in resisting Macedonia, the Thebans had lobbied for assistance from the Persian king, but because this treachery was part of an inherited pattern of betrayal, in Alexander’s eyes, in which Thebes had also sided with the Persian invaders more than a century before.

More illustrative, perhaps, of the way the past informed Greek self-perception, we note that Sparta’s perennial Peloponnesian rival Argos, after being defeated in the Battle of Champions (546 BC) and the Battle of Sepeia (494 BC), never reconciled itself to its diminished status and Sparta's hegemony in the peninsular and in Hellas; the Argives justifying their obsessive enmity towards Sparta on the grounds that in the legendary war that, essentially, established the Greeks as a nation, i.e. the Trojan war (1250 BC), it was Argos (under King Agamemnon) that led the pan-Hellenic expedition in Asia, while Sparta (and its cuckolded king, Menelaus) was a bit-part player.

 As Lendon puts it:
‘On the basis of Argos’ standing in myth, Argos could claim the highest rank of any Greek state. And the Argives were anxious to vindicate their rank in every succeeding generation.’
This vicious irreconcilable rivalry meant that from the fifth century onwards, Argos’ main foreign policy objective was to undermine Sparta and this it did by allying itself with whichever state happened to be fighting the Lacedaemonians – with Athens during the Peloponnesian war; with Thebes, Athens and Corinth in the Corinthian war; with Thebes, under Epaminondas, who took on and dealt a shattering blow to Spartan leadership and power, most notably at the Battle of Leuctra (371 BC); with Macedonia, as it sought to establish and maintain hegemony in Greece; and, finally, with Greece’s Roman overlords.

Indeed, Argos’ interminable feud with Sparta is typical of inter-Greek state relations – in fact, such abiding antipathies could be found as much within Greek states as between them – in which destroying yourself seemed a price worth paying so long as you took your rival down with you. No surprise, therefore, that Greeks inspired the concepts of the Cadmean as well as the Pyrrhic victory.

For more discussion emanating from Song of Wrath, go here.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Homer against realpolitik. On JE Lendon’s Song of Wrath: the Peloponnesian war begins

JE Lendon’s Song of Wrath: the Peloponnesian war begins is an excellent account, elegantly written, of the first 10 years of the Peloponnesian war (431-421 BC), which questions Thucydides’ renowned assertion that the ‘truest cause of the war between Athens and Sparta was the growing greatness of the Athenians and the fear that this inspired, which compelled the Lacedaemonians to go to war’.

Thucydides’ ‘realpolitik’ Lendon points out, has informed analyses of conflict for centuries and has held particular sway over modern American strategists and international relations gurus.

However, Lendon believes that in order to understand the causes and conduct of the Peloponnesian war it is necessary to go beyond ‘realist’ doctrines and insist on the centrality of Homeric values to the motivations of fifth century Greeks – with the emphasis on rank, honour, prestige, competitiveness, vengeance and shaming.

Reasserting Homer not only presents us with a more compelling portrait of classical Greek culture, self-perception and psychology, but also provides us with a valuable paradigm for appreciating the motivations behind all wars and conflict.

Wars are often fought, if we follow Lendon (and Homer), not for pragmatic reasons, in struggles over power, resources or conflicting interests, but for the sake of reputation, national self-esteem, pride and out of wrath and revenge, the latter for perceived injustices that may have been inflicted decades or even centuries ago.

Furthermore, by rescuing the Peloponnesian war from ‘realist’American scholars, who regard the conflict as a ‘power struggle’ between democratic Athens and totalitarian Sparta – and want, in the process, to identify dynamic, open American society with Athens and depict its enemies as embodying grim and stolid Sparta – Lendon asks us to reconsider the modern tendency to extol the virtues of Athens and denigrate or caricature the Lacedaemonian way of life.

For Lendon, the Peloponnesian war was a conflict the Spartans were reluctant to fight and sought to resolve at every opportunity, while charges of war-mongering, brutality, hubris and arrogance stick more to Athens. The noblest and most sympathetic character of the period was not the paradigmatically democratic Athenian leader Pericles but the moderate king of Sparta, Archidamus.

Above is a podcast of JE Lendon in conversation with Bill Buschel ( regarding Song of Wrath. The show was first broadcast on Hellenic Public Radio in New York in 2011.

And for more discussion emanating from Song of Wrath, go here.

Friday, 3 August 2018

Chaos and goodness: from Hesiod and Plato to Christianity and Nietzsche

What does Nietzsche mean when he says: ‘Christianity is Platonism for the masses’? An interesting essay, Chaos corrected: Hesiod in Plato’s creation myth, by E.E. Pender, gives us an idea.

The subject of the essay is Plato’s attempt, particularly in the Timaeus but also in the Republic, to establish a new creation myth for the Greeks that would supplant Hesiod’s Theogony, which Plato objected to on the grounds that it wasn’t sufficiently edifying and, indeed, that Hesiod’s depiction of the gods and their role in creating the universe was fundamentally wrong.

In particular, according to Pender, what Plato wants to correct in Hesiod is the ‘moral chaos’ of the Theogony, in which the gods are often portrayed as jealous and spiteful, engaged in plotting, deception and violence. For Plato, god is incapable of malevolence. He is by nature good and his motive in creating the universe is to advance goodness.
‘Unlike Hesiod’s Ouranos, Kronos, and Zeus, Plato’s supreme god is not seeking to create a world order that will allow him simply to gain and then hold on to power. This god and those he creates are themselves good and their aim is to create further goodness.’
Furthermore, Pender says, into Hesiod’s universe, in which chaos is the primal force and strife and power politics define the relationship between the gods, Plato wants to interject a benign and rational being – a demiurge or craftsman-father – able to impose harmony and rationality. Whereas Hesiod identifies a universe permeated by disorder, out of which an ordered cosmos can never fully emerge, Plato sees a world infused with goodness, always striving to achieve perfectibility.

Plato also wants to correct Hesiod when it comes to defining the attributes of the Muses, the goddesses that inspire in the creation of art and the pursuit of knowledge. In Hesiod, the Muses exist to soothe grief and help men forget their troubles; but in Plato they lose their psychogogic qualities and acquire a more transcendental and metaphysical role, which is to guide the human soul (through philosophy and philosophical exercises) towards divine harmony and reason.

In Plato’s creation tale, then, Pender concludes, ‘the principle of goodness is eternally present, the triumph of order and reason is assured by design, human beings have the means to become like gods’.

In which case, to return to Nietzsche and his ‘Christianity is Platonism for the masses’ – a statement, it’s worth stressing, intended to insult Christianity, Platonism and the masses; we can now see that it is not a long road to travel to get from Plato’s ‘eternally present principle of goodness’ to Christianity’s depiction of God as the epitome of goodness; from Plato’s ‘triumph of order and reason assured by design’ to Christianity’s God the Creator and Jesus the embodiment of divine logos; or from ‘human beings [that] have the means to become like gods’, to Christianity’s belief in transfiguration, in which man, innately good (i.e. even if not born good, then always capable of it), aspires, via communion with God or redemption through Jesus, to become suffused by the divine.

* Chaos corrected: Hesiod in Plato’s creation myth is contained in the book Plato and Hesiod, which you can download as a PDF from here.

Saturday, 28 July 2018

‘For the sake of a single Lacedaemonian girl’… or the insults that caused the Greco-Persian wars

In a previous post, I mentioned that the mechanism of revenge is a key concept helping us understand the causes and conduct of the Peloponnesian war and Greek culture generally. Conflicts and enmities often began as a result of perceived insults, affronts to honour, which could only be redeemed or expiated through vengeance.

In fact, if we read Herodotus, we can see how, for the Greek mind, this mechanism of revenge didn’t just apply to recent events, but could stretch far back into history, and even into myth.

Thus, Herodotus begins his Histories by stating his intention to reveal the aetiology of the wars between Greece and Persia in the fifth century BC and suggesting that they were the culmination of a series of insults and reprisals between Europeans and Asiatics going back centuries and, indeed, into the mists of time.

Herodotus says that the ‘feud’ between Greece and Persia, or Europe and Asia, was initiated by the Phoenicians. These quintessential Mediterranean traders had come on their ships to Argos, hawking goods from Egypt and Assyria, and at the end of their mission, having sold most of their wares, they kidnapped a number of Greek women, including Io (daughter of the Argive king, Inachus) who had come to the beach to make purchases.

Responding to this outrage, Greeks (Minoans) sailed to Phoenician Tyre and abducted King Agenor’s daughter, Europa, taking her to Crete with them. Now, whereas Herodotus asserts that this kidnapping of Europa could be regarded as legitimate retaliation for Io’s abduction, the next offense in this cycle – the kidnapping by Greeks of Medea, the daughter of the king of Colchis – amounted to an unjustified and disproportionate escalation of this Greek-Asian vendetta, particularly when Colchian pleas to return Medea or at least compensate the king for his humiliation were rejected by the Greeks (on the grounds that Io had not been returned and no compensation paid for her abduction).

Thus, in the next generation, Paris, the Trojan prince, as revenge for Greek outrages against Tyre and Colchis, seized Helen, queen of Sparta, and carried her off to Asia. When the Greeks demanded her return and the payment of reparations for the insult Paris had committed, the Trojans said that since Medea had not been returned to her native land and no reparations offered for her kidnap, then the Greeks would receive none for the abduction of Helen.

The events that followed Helen’s kidnap and the refusal of the Trojans to give her up, i.e. the Greek invasion and sacking of Troy, informed, according to Herodotus, abiding Persian hostility towards the Greeks. Not only, for the Persians, did Greek ire at the abduction of Helen amount to a gross over-reaction – more often than not, according to the Persians, these ‘abducted’ women willingly went with their ‘kidnappers’ – but by crossing with an army from Europe into Asia, the Greeks had turned a ridiculous dispute over a woman into an unforgivable violation of the symbolic boundary separating the Greek (and European) from the Persian (and Asian) worlds; the Persians regarding Asia as inherently their domain.

Or, as Herodotus’ puts it:
‘The Asiatics, when the Greeks ran off with their women, never troubled themselves about the matter; but the Greeks, for the sake of a single Lacedaemonian girl, collected a vast armament, invaded Asia, and destroyed the kingdom of Priam. Henceforth they [the Persians] ever looked upon the Greeks as their open enemies. For Asia, with all the various tribes of barbarians that inhabit it, is regarded by the Persians as their own; but Europe and the Greek race they look on as distinct and separate.’

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Once Again for Thucydides

Some Thucydides resources I’ve come across.

First, I’ve been having another look at Peter Handke’s Once Again for Thucydides, which consists of a series of ‘micro-epics’ in which the Austrian writer (following the technique of Thucydides) with painstaking precision, anchored to time and place, observes the minutiae of human and natural life and ascribes epic meaning to them. These are intense pieces, parts of a travel journal taking in the Balkans, Spain and Japan, which invite you to (literally) see the world differently, more vividly, with the eyes of a painter, a good painter dedicated to detail and the pursuit of essence. (Read some of the 17 pieces here).

The classical historian Neville Morley has written this essay on the influence of Thucydides on
Handke, which I haven’t been able to access fully, but the abstract reads:
Noch einmal für Thukydides, a collection of prose pieces by the Austrian writer Peter Handke, invites reflection on the history of his engagement with this classical author. In Kindergeschichte [Child Story], he draws on a reading of Thucydides as a war narrative in order to solve the problems he experienced in telling the story of the relationship between a father and daughter, interpreting the History of the Peloponnesian War as an account not of violence but of decisive moments and the developing characters of two peoples. In this book as elsewhere, Handke is commonly read as repudiating all history in favour of myth and mysticism, but in fact he draws upon Thucydides’ approach to history as a means of describing, understanding and exorcizing the past. This theme is pursued further in Noch einmal, where he also combines critique and homage in an exploration of Thucydides’ style and the theme of ‘realism’ (and its limits) in the depiction of events. His reading of Thucydides differs significantly from the prevailing modern traditions of reception; and, unlike those who revere the ancient author solely as an analyst and critic, Handke explores what it might mean to write as a modern Thucydides.’
On the unveiling of a monument in London to RAF Bomber Command, Morley also had this piece published on Thucydides. It pays particular attention to Pericles’ funeral speech (i.e. the speech the Athenian statesman gave on the internment of those Athenian soldiers who fell in the early part of the war against Sparta). Morley describes the funeral speech as a ‘masterpiece of rhetoric’ deployed down the years to justify the sacrifices demanded of a population at war. It is striking, Morley says ‘how far the oration subordinates individuals to the collective good’ and how Pericles’ sentiments ‘reflect a thoroughly un-modern conception of the relationship between the citizen and his community. One might suppose that, at least within the portion of the ideological spectrum that is suspicious of state power, they would raise doubts about Pericles’ political tendencies.’

Morley adds:
‘the oration is extremely (and deliberately) vague about the actual machinery of the Athenian state. Its grand statements about the power of the people, equality before the law, and emphasis on ability rather than class can be co-opted by any nation that chooses to call itself a democracy.’
Now, anyone who’s read my post on Robin Lane Fox’s analysis of Pericles’ funeral speech – which Lane Fox says projects a laudable balance between individual freedom and collective responsibility – and my presentation (and critique) of the even more penetrating interpretation of the oration put forward by Cornelius Castoriadis – in which the Greek philosopher portrays Pericles as describing an entwined city and citizenry that aims to create human beings living with beauty, living with wisdom and loving the common good – will realise that Morley’s depiction of the speech as patriotic tub-thumping or a rationale for totalitarianism is banal, superficial and inept, utterly failing to grasp the power of Pericles’ oration and what it reveals about Athens, its state, citizens and democracy.

In fact, I have to say, that if people are going to write about Thucydides and Pericles’ funeral speech, then they should at least take the trouble to research extensively and read widely. Castoriadis is obscure, but not unknown; while Hellenic Antidote – with its well-crafted and accessible posts on Pericles, Thucydides, Castoriadis and so on – is available to anyone who knows how to use Google.

Finally, the video above is a BBC production from 1991 of John Barton’s The War that Never Ends, an adaptation/dramatisation of Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian War, with some Plato thrown in. It is quite good.