All posts filed under: History

Bald Men Fighting Over a Comb: Arguments About the Classical Tradition

Part II: A review of The Lesbian Lyre: Reclaiming Sappho for the 21st Century by Jeffrey Duban. Clairview Books (30th June 2016). The classical tradition in literature is essentially dead. The English poet Alice Oswald may be the only prominent contemporary writer who has read deeply in Latin and Greek poetry. A few other poets (Ruth Padel, Anne Carson, Alice Stallings) have made names for themselves as classicist-poets; though their contributions to literature and scholarship have been uninspiring; their work is more often praised than read. Most of the praise comes only from Classics teachers, or others easily impressed by a thin veneer of learning. It is impossible to name a novelist, short-story writer or playwright active today who engages seriously with classical history, myth or literary form. Jeffrey Duban tries valiantly to revive the tradition in his ambitious, pugnacious, eccentric, sprawling new book The Lesbian Lyre: Reclaiming Sappho for the Twenty-First Century. This is not all Duban tries to do: he also provides a learned introduction to ancient Greek lyric poetry, offers translations of …

Bald Men Fighting Over a Comb: Arguments About the Classical Tradition

Part I: A review of Classics, The Culture Wars and Beyond by Eric Adler. University of Michigan Press (1st November 2016). Classics, the study of Greek and Latin literature, involves philosophical and historical texts as well as literary works. Classicists may also be interested in the systematic study of language and expression, and (to a lesser extent) art history and archaeology. In fact, Classics encompasses virtually every aspect of ancient Greek and Roman culture between the first Olympic Games in 776 BC and the fall of the Roman Empire in AD 476. Still, classicists have traditionally focussed their attention on Athens between 508 and 323 BC, and Rome between the mid-first century BC and the late second century AD: most of the important classical texts, monuments and works of art were created in those places during those periods. Classics requires a long training: there are two ancient languages which take years to master, and a large body of impressive but often difficult literature in Greek and Latin that cannot be avoided. If you have not …

A Hundred Years of Communism

We must give the Bolsheviks their due. Their success in gaining power was astonishing. A ragtag gang of activists and intellectuals, they seized control of Russia in October, 1917, and defended their rule in a vicious, bloody civil war. No one can deny the force of their conviction, or the scale of their courage, or the keenness of their talents. But wielding power was a different matter. Revolutionaries dream that crops will grow out of their fire but in most cases it leaves scarred and arid earth instead. Collectivisation, with its monstrous violence and inefficiency, left millions dead in Russia, Ukraine and the Caucasus. Paranoia and persecution, all too evident in Lenin’s “cleansing” of “harmful insects” — landowners, dissidents and priests the Bolsheviks interned, starved, tortured and killed — reached its absurd apotheosis in Stalin’s purges. Stalin killed so many people in the Great Purge that it is remarkable that anyone was left to do the killing. Former comrades, artists and intellectuals, military officers, clergymen, dissidents, outcasts and normal Russian men and women were slaughtered in a …

The Troubles and The Terror

It is rather ironic that a day after the death of Martin McGuinness, terrorism was inflicted on Londoners. Once it was the Irishman’s Republican movement that was the leading cause of terrorism in Britain. From the 1970s to the 1990s dozens of bombs exploded in London alone. Outside the House of Commons, for example, in 1979, where five innocents would be killed thirty-two years later, Airey Neave MP died when an explosion blew his legs off. In the Docklands bombing, twenty-one years ago, the IRA killed two men and did a hundred and fifty million pounds worth of damage. That bombing was in revenge for Sinn Féin, the political wing of the Republicans, being excluded from peace talks. The British government accepted their demands and the IRA slowly began its decommissioning. Years on, Martin McGuinness shook hands with the Queen and was considered a statesman and not a terrorist. It is difficult to imagine the time when Republicans and loyalists were slaughtering each other. It is painful to remember. It is also impolitic. So, as …

How Will History Remember Obama?

Ta-Nehisi Coates started the revisionism over the most divisive and controversial President in post Cold war history, as Ta-Nehisi Coates is wont to do. Which is unfortunate, because Obama, for good or for bad, deserves a fair, objective, non-linear analysis of his record, and a certainly more nuanced look than the partisan hagiographies that are currently emerging. President Obama, the first biracial leader of the free world, and one of the most gifted extemporaneous speakers of our time, is a textbook example of a young, professorially cynical, cautious, but overall idealistic young leader who was eventually chastened by time. Coates’ essay is a start in what will be the repeated partisan glossing of the legacy of an interesting character, but one who was eventually defeated by personal naiveté and the structural forces that resided outside of his control. He deserves a more thorough scrutiny than terribly worded think pieces focusing on nothing other than one single defining factor, his race. I remember when Obama stood as a smooth-talking Senator against Hillary Clinton in 2008. My rookie journalism …

The Real Problem with Renaming Buildings on Campus: Logistics

This year, students at several universities have erupted in protests — not about war. Not about human rights violations. But about building names. At Yale, students demanded that residential college John C. Calhoun, named for a 19th-century U.S. vice president, senator and slaveholder, be renamed. The university recently announced that it had created a committee to consider the name-change. Earlier this year, outcry ensued when Yale president Peter Salovey announced that one of the school’s two new residences would be named for Benjamin Franklin, a founding father, prodigious inventor and slaveholder-turned-abolitionist. (For reference, the other new residential college was named for Anna Pauline Murray, an African American civil and women’s rights activist.) Additionally, this year Yale, Harvard and Princeton decided to drop the term “master,” as in housemaster — even though this term is based on a centuries-old European tradition that has no roots in slavery. Meanwhile, at Stanford, students are demanding the renaming of streets, buildings and malls named after the 18th-century missionary Junipero Serra. By today’s standards, he was a racist who might have been …

The Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Making of the Modern Middle East

The Sykes-Picot Agreement created the modern Middle East. It represents one of the first instalments in a long line of modern European – and subsequent American – meddling in the region. And, in providing a set of unrealistic and impossible promises to the Arabs, it led directly to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Asia Minor Agreement, the official name of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, dates to 1916. It was the result of secret deliberations between the British civil servant Mark Sykes and French diplomat François Georges-Picot. It was made official by the Allied Powers of the first world war with the San Remo Conference in 1920. The agreement provided a general understanding of British and French spheres of influence in the Middle East. The goal was to divide between them the Ottoman Empire’s Arab provinces (not including the Arabian Peninsula). The line across a map of the Middle East it drew created colonial spheres of influence that cut directly and artificially across a region that had previously been divided along ethnic, linguistic and religious lines. Area “A” …