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June 20, 2005

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"I would have you day by day fix your eyes upon the greatness of Athens, until you become filled with the love of her; and when you are impressed by the spectacle of her glory, reflect that this empire has been acquired by men who knew their duty and had the courage to do it, who in the hour of conflict had the fear of dishonor always present to them."

(von, wymm?)

(von, wymm?)

I'm sorry, Hilzoy, I'm a bit dense at the moment. I don't get it.

Something I picked up when people said it to me (fools!), apparently meaning: will you marry me?, and said even if you know the other person is already married, to indicate how very, very much you liked their post. Or so I'm told. I gather it was a usenet thing.

Gotcha. And many thanks.

I love the funeral oration because it's such an excellent example of self congratulatory self deception. It's the perfect example of the Straussian noble lie. The Athens that Thucydides has Pericles describe is a grotesque distortion of the arrogant, greedy, selfish city that brought about its own destruction through high-handedness towards its allies, overconfidence, and just plain stupidity. The ideal of the funeral oration never existed, but the idea that it was real provided cover for the expansion of what was an empire in all but name. When a sufficient number of 'allies' got sick of the Athenian yoke it all came tumbling down.

Self deception is crucial to creating an imperialist democracy. Unfortunately too few people today are familiar with what happened to Athens. Liberals who criticize US actions are doing exactly what is necessary to avoid the fate of Athens. Self deception leads to self destruction.

"The Athens that Thucydides has Pericles describe is a grotesque distortion of the arrogant, greedy, selfish city that brought about its own destruction through high-handedness towards its allies, overconfidence, and just plain stupidity."

Think you sell T. and Athens short here. And underestimate the importance of bad luck and strong enemies.

I love the funeral oration because it's such an excellent example of self congratulatory self deception

Frankly, Andrew C., I love it for that reason as well. But I mostly love it for the lie -- because lies are the building blocks of dreams (and ideals).

As with everything, the trick is to take the wizard as the wizard -- and what a wonderful wizard he is (he is) -- without narrowing your gaze so all you see is the man behind the curtin. (I frequently fail at that, by the bye.)

At least, that's my two cents.

I'm with von, and I'd add: if your inheritance is a noble set of ideals that have not been lived by, the right thing to do, I think, is to take them and try to make them real. Good ideals should not be wasted.

HUZZAH OPEN THREAD! Now I have an excuse to talk about Global Frequency!

For those who don't know: Global Frequency is a very cool 12-issue sci-fi comic book miniseries written by Warren Ellis, about a network of secret agents, academics, and thrillseekers who basically save the world on a regular basis.

In the last year, a bunch of Hollywood geeks - basically the entire writing staff from Angel plus a few others - got together and put together a series pitch to the WB, and made a pilot. (The biggest name in the show is Michelle Forbes - who was Roh on ST:TNG and was also on "Homicide", and who is very cool - as Miranda Zero.) The WB, because they are idiots, passed on this pilot.

I mention this because you can see the pilot episode (with the producers' blessing) via the magic of Bittorrent, here:

http://torrentspy.com/search.asp?mode=torrentdetails&id=330381&query=global

Trust me. It's worth the download. Given that this is only supposed to be the "rough draft" version of the show, all the more impressive.

Dammit, as a dedicated Angel fan I'll now have to figure out how to field a bittorrent.

KING HENRY. I dare say you love him not so ill to wish him here alone, howsoever you speak this, to feel other men's minds; methinks I could not die anywhere so contented as in the King's company, his cause being just and his quarrel honourable.

MICHAEL WILLIAMS. That's more than we know.

JOHN BATES. Ay, or more than we should seek after; for we know enough if we know we are the King's subjects. If his cause be wrong, our obedience to the King wipes the crime of it out of us.

MICHAEL WILLIAMS. But if the cause be not good, the King himself hath a heavy reckoning to make when all those legs and arms and heads, chopp'd off in a battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place'- some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of anything when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the King that led them to it; who to disobey were against all proportion of subjection.

King Henry V
Act IV, Scene I

God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine -
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies;
The captains and the kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet.
Lest we forget - lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law -
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And, guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word -
The Mercy on Thy People, Lord!

The notes to this online copy of the poem are also worth reading - by two Indians discussing Kargil, in 1999.

Have I mentioned that I really appreciate Obsidian Wings? Thank you, commenters and hosts alike.

Them Greeks were spooky amart. And I could make a case for Thucydides having written the most important and influential (tho sometimes in subtle and indirect ways)book in history.

The Funeral Oration is one of the few pretty moments in a nightmare of a story.

"Them Greeks were spooky smart."

The Athenians were people living up to their potential, a thought that makes me optimistic for what we may achieve and despairing for what we haven't.

Pretentiousness? I got yer pretentiousness right here.

Given all of the virtual ink spilled over the AI and Durbin controversies I have come to the conclusion that all of those would-be conservative professors being frozen out of academia are venting their professional frustrations on the internet. How else can we explain the sudden, gripping concern with which these individuals worry about what is, in the long run, literary criticism, rhetoric, and poetics. Deep in their breasts lie the hearts of spurned, right wing, humanities professors.

That said, I would like to point out that there may be a reason why these individuals never made it in academia. After all, when AI uses the term 'gulag' and Durbin, 'nazis', 'soviets', etc., they are making poetic (or rhetorical) decisions. T.S. Eliot would call the particular terms they use 'objective correlatives' and talk about the way in which they are used to add affect. But even T.S. Eliot would only conclude from this that Durbin and AI were bad poets/rhetoricians, and not that they were morally bankrupt due to what is, in the long run, merely a compositional failure.

The analysis is sound, but the conclusions are not supported by the readings these critics offer. Language isn't politics. It sometimes constitutes politics. It sometimes inspires or provokes politics. But only an undergrad who has read, but not understood post-structural/modern/colonial-ism or a partisan pundit with an axe to grind would ever construe a rhetorical failure for a moral one.

As a palate cleanser for all this linguistic hand-wringing, I recommend to my good colleagues an example of some much more insightful and incisive literary criticism.

The first time I read that speech, one of the things that struck me was how its themes and rhythms reminded me of Lincoln's Gettysburg speech. It wouldn't surprise me if Lincoln had Pericles' funeral oration in mind when he wrote the Gettysburg Address.

I agree with ral. This is my favorite blog. I love the overall civility and the usual depth of the posts and comments. You guys are great!

It wouldn't surprise me if Lincoln had Pericles' funeral oration in mind when he wrote the Gettysburg Address.

hmmm...

Wills is at his best when detailing the intellectual origins of the address. He profitably compares the address to a Greek funeral oration and claims that Lincoln sensed "the demands that bring forth classic art - compression, grasp of the essential, balance, ideality, and an awareness of the deepest polarities" (52).

Let me second (third?) ral's comment, a great blog.

Unfortunately I only have a bitter quote to offer, Morgan Freeman at the end of Se7en, quoting someone (I forget who), someone once said,

"'The world is a good place, and worth fighting for.' I agree with the second part."

Speaking of civility: I would like to note that over the past 24 hours we have had something like 4,000 visitors from dKos, without a single untoward episode. Fwiw.

was there a link on dkos?

Yep. (I checked sometime early this morning, when I noticed that the number of visitors was way high.) There was also one on Friday, iirc.

Allow me to also compliment the complement of writers who give us good words to think about, even in open threads.

I love the ideals that are stated in this oration and I love that the United States has ideals that we often compare to these ideals that Thucydides wrote about here, but Andrew C has well warned us of the danger. We must alway take care that we not conflate our ideals which we must always strive to reach with our own success. We must never let the idea that we are good because we pay lip service to these ideals triumph. We are not the ideals. We are not the shining city. We are not good enough to celebrate ourselves for ourselves. We are only people who have the duty to protect these ideals, to the best of our abilities.

I read Global Frequency, or part of it, at least. My brother collects comic books, so I got to read it for free, too. It was pretty dang cool, though I liked Planetary and Queen and Country better.

And I'd like to join in the chorus of praise for ObWi. Bare-knuckled political discourse is fun and all, but I really like reasoned discussion, and this is one of the best places to get it. Thanks, y'all.

From the same period, I recommend instead the Melian Dialogue.

http://gainsford.tripod.com/melian.htm

The short form:

"We can kick your ass, so you will do what we say, or you will die. You're likely to just die, anyway."

That's where we're at now. It actually didn't work out all that well for the Athenians.

Cheers -

test

is anyone else getting their posts flagged as comment spam?

I think there is real value in AndrewC's point, even if he states it with a little too much edge. Athens was not some wonderful place despite its many wonders.

And what ultimately matters is walking the walk. Words are great for reminding us of how we should aspire to behave and think, but they are certainly not reality.

Remember that the ancient world was often founded on slave economies and the wars necessary to acquire fresh ones. Athens was no different.

And thank you kenB for the link re the Gettysberg Address.

Seems to me that, esp. given the standards of the times, Athens was in fact a wonderful place (if you were a citizen).

Got some juicy pretentiousness right here:


Les Coquelicots (pour Paul Weber)

Chaque printemps tu attends les coquelicots,
Taches rouges estimées par Monet,
Poussant dans les champs de blé,
Leur nom rappellant le cocorico
Du coq a la crête rouge. Les pavots
Blancs apportent le sommeil,
Le songe sans retour, l'oubli,
La chaleur de lassitude, le bonheur faux.
Mais comme l'éclatant cri,
Dans le gris matin, du coq te réveille,
Les coquelicots, quand tu les vois,
Te rappellent à la chaleur de l'été,
À la vraie joie.

I think there is real value in AndrewC's point, even if he states it with a little too much edge. Athens was not some wonderful place despite its many wonders.

Yeah, they had some issues with the whole expelling successful leaders thing. My favorite part (I think from Plutarch) was when the two leaders from opposing factions got together and ostracized some no-name instead of one or the other. Everyone said that it was a disgrace to the honor of being ostracized.

rilkefan - I did overstate the case, mostly because I didn't want to write a dissertation. Thucydides spins things in a somewhat anti-Athenian way (I suspect in part because he was a personal participant in the war and got ostracized for his troubles). You're right that there was some just plain bad luck (the plague, for one thing), but there was also a significant amount of arrogance on the part of the Athenians. It's not clear that some kind of war was avoidable, even if the Athenians had behaved more charitably towards their allies. The nature of Greece at the time simply made it inevitable that there would be little wars here and there.

The Peloponesian War is one of my all time favorite books. I'll have to pick it up again after I'm done with my current book.

Since this is an open thread I'd like to draw your attention to Nicholas Kristof's column today: he makes what is to my mind a truly masterful argument linking the shame Pakistanis feel with respect to the case of Mukhtaran Bibi and similar stories, to the shame Americans feel at the reporting of Abu Ghraib/Gitmo/etc.

he makes what is to my mind a truly masterful argument linking the shame Pakistanis feel with respect to the case of Mukhtaran Bibi and similar stories, to the shame Americans feel at the reporting of Abu Ghraib/Gitmo/etc.

Why, that sounds like some kinda nihilistic postmodern relativism!!!

"argument" is the wrong word in my post above. It is more like "a truly masterful stroke", or something.

"...a War in Iraq that neither we nor our government seems prepared to win..."

What behavior would indicate that we were prepared to win? What consitutes winning?

"... Michelle Forbes - who was Roh...."

Focusing on the most important and high literarcy note, it's actually "Ro," not "Roh"; she's Bajoran, not Korean. That's "Ro Laren," "Ro" being her last name, in standard Bajoran styling. Clearly it's a higher priority to keep an eye on the future than on some musty old Greeks, after all.

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