Citanda: Eleven Reasons Plutarch and Herodotus Still Matter

This is really good and I’m sure many Classicists will miss it because of its source. The incipit:

Is the study of classical history pointless? What useful knowledge will I glean from reading about some dead Roman governor of Britain? How will studying what the Delphic oracle had to say about the Persian advance into Greece help me in my future job at the State Department?

I hear such questions often in my seminar on Thucydides and other classical writers, which I teach at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. My students — future policymakers, pundits, and managers — approach the class with a good dose of skepticism about the value (aside from mere amusement) of reading about ancient times. Thucydides’s history of the Peloponnesian War — in particular the Melian Dialogue, a quintessential tale of the small, neutral Melians defending themselves against the strong Athenians — is relatively common reading among budding wonks. But Tacitus, Herodotus, Julius Caesar, Plutarch? Most students favor the latest tome on the rise of China over the insights of these long-dead writers.
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My students’ predilections reflect a wider skepticism about the present-day relevance of old texts. For modern academics and policy analysts, ancient authors are guilty of adopting an unscientific approach, relying on anecdotes, and showing a primitive fear of natural events. What good does it do the reader to know that before battle the Romans often consulted a pullarius, a chicken-feeding augur? Such texts say nothing about modern life, critics say, and certainly will not help one get a job at Goldman Sachs or the Pentagon. The ancients were not worried about the movement of the IS and LS curves.

But that’s precisely the point. Reading Thucydides’s description of the revolution in Corcyra, Tacitus’s praise of Agricola, or Julius Caesar’s tale of Vercingetorix’s uprising is refreshing because these works do not simplify human affairs to logical models. These books are full of contrasts and contradictions, showing above all that not everything can be understood. Human affairs cannot be fully understood through a single lens, whether politics or economics; we are often at the mercy of incomprehensible and uncontrollable forces. Events can sometimes only be appreciated when taken as they are.

With that understanding, let me relate 11 ancient lessons relevant to today’s world.


… and you really just have to watch the news for half an hour or so to know these lessons are bang on …

Eleven Reasons Plutarch and Herodotus Still Matter — By Jakub Grygiel | Foreign Policy.

Citanda: My Sweetest Lesbia by Thomas Campion

As I wade deeper into the catchup file, I note this one from a while ago (I think I should give Terrence Lockyer a tip o’ the pileus on this one … not sure if I saw it on my own or whether he brought it to my attention):

Poem of the week: My Sweetest Lesbia by Thomas Campion | Guardian.

… and we note that Ralph Hancock pointed the Classics list to a very Elizabethan-sounding performance of the poem

Citanda: Pergamon Altar as Gateway to Hell?

This is actually interesting, if somewhat nutty … here’s a relevant excerpt to get you to ‘make the jump’:

The Altar’s notoriety in Christian circles stems from the aforementioned poss­ible reference in the Book of Revelation 2:12–13:

And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges;
I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.

Dr Volker Kästner is a leading archæo­logist specialising in the city of Pergamon. He has worked at the Pergamon Museum since 1982 and has been heavily involved in its continuing restoration. For him, the idea that Pergamon is “where Satan’s seat is” can be explained: “Pergamon was seen by Byzantine sources as a particularly pagan place where unchristian cults thrived, and with some imagination the Altar could resemble a throne. Secondly, the Altar’s frieze encompasses many sculpted snakes, which since Antiquity have been viewed as a symbol connected to the underworld, representing something inhuman – but it’s all speculation.”

The article goes on to mention the altar as backdrop to his DNC acceptance speech as well, which is interesting insofar as that is what it reminded ME (innocently … no Satanic overtones) of when we mentioned it, although I might be confusing events. I hadn’t found the CBS item mentioned in the Fortean Times footnotes which also made the connection …

Also Seen: Galba in the Times

Galba rarely gets any press from anyone, much less the mainstream press, so when he is mentioned, we better note it. Inter alia from an item in the Times:

Martha Lane Fox is to establish a special unit in the Cabinet Office as she steps up her part in Gordon Brown’s plan to get ten million adults who have never used the internet online. As this was announced her father, the classicist Robin Lane Fox, was comparing Brown’s rule to that of Galba, one of the less successful Roman emperors.

via There are ways of stopping you laughing | Times Online.

… and I note that I saved the Daily Mail coverage:

Robin Lane Fox, Fellow of New College, Oxford, and father of internet whizz kid Martha, gave his verdict on Gordon Brown at a dinner for Oxford classicists.

He quoted Roman historian Tacitus on the Emperor Galba: ‘Capax imperii nisi imperasset’ – capable of being in charge if only he had never been in charge.

I think something was lost in the translation.

… and the Daily Mail reveals, well, you know, what the Daily Mail often reveals …