Bizarro World Thucydides

by Henry on September 27, 2006

Sandy Levinson quotes from Thucydides.

“To fit in with the change of events, words, too, had to change their usual meanings. What used to be described as a thoughtless act of aggression was now regarded as the courage one would expect to find in a party member; to think of the future and wait was merely another way of saying one was a coward; any idea of moderation was just an attempt to disguise one’s unmanly character; ability to understand a question from all sides meant that one was totally unfitted for action. Fanatical enthusiasm was the mark of a real man, and to plot against an enemy behind his back was perfectly legitimate self-defence . . . and indeed most people are more ready to call villainy cleverness than simple-mindedness honesty. They are proud of the first quality and ashamed of the second.” Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War III, 82, trans. Rex Warner, The Penguin Classics, pp. 209-210.

One of the most deeply weird features of modern political discourse is how some conservative supporters of the Iraq war and associated numbskulls such as Dan Simmons cite Thucydides in support of their claims that we’re engaged in an epochal clash of civilizations where moderation amounts to appeasement of an enemy that will enslave us all if we don’t decimate em. I imagine that the appalling Victor Davis Hanson is to blame for most of this. I simply don’t see how one can read Thucydides without coming away with some quite emphatic lessons about the long term costs of imperial arrogance towards one’s political allies, how unnecessary military adventures turn into disasters, und so weiter. Not to mention Thucydides’ depiction of the dangers of cheap jingoism and pro-war demagoguery at home (it would be unfair to describe Glenn Reynolds and company as tinpot Kleons, if only because Kleon actually went out to fight the war that he had touted for).

{ 3 trackbacks }

Were the Greeks in black and white, too? « Analemma
09.28.06 at 3:08 pm
Eunomia · Syracuse, Anyone?
09.30.06 at 10:50 pm
Eunomia · A Political Hack Like No Other
09.30.06 at 10:53 pm

{ 57 comments }

1

Joel Turnipseed 09.27.06 at 4:01 pm

A-fucking-men.

2

kid bitzer 09.27.06 at 4:06 pm

“To fit in with the change of events, classical texts, too, had to change their usual meanings. What used to be described as an emphatic lesson about the dangers of imperial over-reach was now regarded as a pretext for gung-ho war-mongering….”

3

Stephen 09.27.06 at 4:17 pm

I read Thucydides on holiday this year. Cracking stuff. I agree with Henry. How the hell can you read it and not get the message: “Military adventurism is a bad thing and dangerous for a democracy”.

Incidentally, many years ago I remember reading some science-fiction magazines from the sixties: John Campbell’s ‘Amazing Stories’ if memory serves. That was full of reactionary crap about how the US just needed to take a tougher line against the communists in ‘Nam (plus a load of other stuff, generally not supportive of women’s lib. or the civil rights movement). Clearly Simmons belongs to the movement in Sci-Fi which Michael Moorcock dubbed ‘Starship Stormtroopers’.

4

bi 09.27.06 at 4:18 pm

Henry, obviously you’re biased. Your ideology has caused you to interpret things into Thucydides beyond its Plain Meaning(tm).

5

Rob St. Amant 09.27.06 at 4:20 pm

Thank God we didn’t hold back from nuclear war with the communists; imagine what the present would have looked like then.

This is the first I’ve seen of the Simmons story. That is seriously a nutcase point of view.

6

Nicholas Mycroft 09.27.06 at 4:23 pm

I remember remembering this one in the fall of ’02:

We ask you to consider the vast influence of accident in war before you are engaged in it. As war continues, it generally becomes an affair of chances, chances from which neither of us is exempt, and whose outcome we must risk in the dark. It is a common mistake in going to war to begin at the wrong end—to act first, and to open discussions only after disaster strikes. But we are not yet by any means so misguided, nor, so far as we can see, are you; accordingly, while it is still possible for us both to make good decisions, we bid you not to dissolve the treaty, or to break your oaths, but to have our differences settled by arbitration according to our agreement.

(From the Debate at Sparta)

we are out of good decisions by now….

I’ll add that I think the description of the revolt at Corcyra is on the short list of things everyone should read and I salute anyone who brings it to public attention.

7

MDK 09.27.06 at 4:41 pm

On the topic of Thucydides, this also seemed appropriate (not sure what part of the Peloponnesian War it is from):

“…good deeds can be shortly stated, but where wrong is done a wealth of language is needed to veil its deformity.”

Sort of sad how a war fought thousands of years ago is still relevant today (much saddeer for some than others).

8

Martin James 09.27.06 at 4:41 pm

But Henry, isn’t the Melian dialogue sad because its true and that even if the strong eventually get what’s coming its still the case that the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.

Isn’t the weirdness of modern political discourse mainly weird because we thought the weirdness was behind us?

9

Glenn 09.27.06 at 6:23 pm

Dan Simmons especially pisses me off–Hyperion Cantos was very very decent.

I think these people “read” thucydides the same way bloom “read” plato–as a way of designating oneself as A Serious Thinker Who Reads The Classics. Actual content is irrelevent, what they want is to arrogate the mantle of gravitas.

(This is probably unfair to Bloom, but it is such a pervasive phenomenon in conservative intellectual circles that I’m gonna blame him anyway.)

10

Henry 09.27.06 at 6:32 pm

Martin, the Melian Dialogue is ambiguous imo, and can be read either as a bald statement of how power politics works, or as the quintessential statement of the Athenian hubris that eventually gets clobbered by Nemesis. Glenn, I don’t think that I could ever enjoy reading anything by Simmons again after this piece – in large part because it highlights some rather unpleasant aspects of his writing – like one of those trompe l’oeil pictures where you can’t go back to viewing the picture in its naive way once you’ve seen the trick. “Song of Kali,” the xenophobic undertones of which I’d put down to first novel inexperience, seems in retrospect to sum up a certain attitude to brown skinned human-sacrificing others who Just Aren’t Like Us. It’s more muted in the Hyperion books, but there too, there’s some retrospectively creepy stuff about how Muslims want to get on with their fanaticism without outside interference.

11

otto 09.27.06 at 6:48 pm

Well, for my part, I think all of Thucydides is extremely ambiguous, since he mixes up inevitability and free choice again and again, in such a way that he both tells a very particular story and provides powerful examples for many subsequent perspectives on international relations: realism in general, those IR arguments that emphasise domestic regime type, the difficulties that great powers have with their small, risk-taking allies, the likelihood of war between rising and declining great powers, the dangers of war to constitutionalism and (Athenian-style) democracy, and so forth. But all that said, the “Pelopennesian War” is certainly a tragedy and not in any way pro-war tract.

BTW, IIRC it’s the intervention of the Persians that lost it for the Athenians, even after the plague, the Sicilian expedition, internal strife etc etc.

12

Glenn 09.27.06 at 6:57 pm

Well, it becomes explicit in Illium/Olympos , where the Muslim empire floods the future with robots who want to kill Jews and attempted to fire rockets containing black-hole warheads.(This is especially peculiar because there is no advantage to firing the black hole in a rocket. It kills the earth wherever you use it.)

My armchair psychology reads Simmmons as valuing World-Historical Conflict as a virtue *in of itself.* Two decades ago, he would have been a cold warrior, but the most convenient available threat now is Islam. Two decades from now I expect the future Simmons’ will be ranting about the expansionist yellow peril of china. Because in this worldview(a surprisingly pervasive one, e.g. Hitchens), the enemy is merely a part to be played, and one that can be cast at will. Afterall, it is necessary to have a villain if you want to have a grand battle.

13

kid bitzer 09.27.06 at 7:18 pm

“This is probably unfair to Bloom”

nope. It’s an accurate characterization of the depth of his knowledge of Plato, and of the seriousness of his scholarship.

14

Matt Weiner 09.27.06 at 7:30 pm

Glenn, isn’t that of a piece with the kind of conservatism that valorizes the Donner party? (Oft-cited Holbonic link there.)

15

Glenn 09.27.06 at 7:47 pm

I actually had that in the back of my mind as a wrote the comment, Matt; it’s a great post. Also, this one by Gene Healy:
http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/2006/07/19/war-without-end/

16

Henry 09.27.06 at 7:55 pm

Ah, I didn’t read Olympos, b/c it came out in paperback after I had read his unpleasant little rant.

17

Gene O'Grady 09.27.06 at 8:05 pm

This may get me kicked off Crooked Timber, and I have to confess that Victor Hansen was once sort of a friend of mine, but Hansen has done serious classical scholarship, usually not in the analysis of texts, and unless I missed something Bloom never did. I also have some sympathy for the personal motivation that embittered Hansen at much of the academic world (having been there at the time), and very little for Bloom’s hysteria about 1968.

18

otto 09.27.06 at 8:18 pm

Someone should produce a collected volume of this sort of writing: Simmons, Mark Steyn, Melanie Philips, Fallaci, etc market it as “The Eurabian Ragnarok Reader”, with an introductory essay by Laurence and Vaisse.

19

Gracchi 09.27.06 at 8:43 pm

Great post. It strikes me as well that they mistake what Thucydides is doing- the extract seems to deal with the detail of what happens during a war but doesn’t endorse doing it. Thucydides is much more nuanced than that and has a fear throughout say the Corcyra episode of the effects of political irrationalism and stasis. In a sense the Melian dialogue has to be read in the context of an Athens slipping into chaos- not an endorsement of that slippage. I know that many others on this thread know more than I about Thucydides but I hadn’t seen this point before and think that the conservative commentator here has actually read Thucydides in a very misguided way.

20

bob mcmanus 09.27.06 at 8:56 pm

Athens was what it was because of its exceptionalism, ambition, intellectual rigour, amorality. You give up the imperialism, you give up Sophocles, Aristophanes, Socrates, Plato, the Parthenon…and Thucydides. Sparta had nothing to compare. Maybe this is a good deal.

Nietzsche said something about admiring the productions of certain cultures while despising the conditions that made those glories possible. Late Medieval/Renaissance Italy being another example.

Thucydides wrote a tragedy, not a melodrama.

21

bob mcmanus 09.27.06 at 9:18 pm

Sparta 286, Athens 254 …Stirling Newberry on the 2004 election

“This social structure – paralleling the ancien regime of France is based on two alliances. The oligarchic rich place their faith in Church and State, they ally with the landowning peasants that stock the army, against the tradesman and the very bottom day laborers. The hieararchical society tries to tax by forced savings the tradesmen, and keep the “rabble” in line with force. The hierarchy is not a mere marriage of convenience – each knows that it needs the other. The reactionary side of the ledger is not cleavable between “economic and social conservatives” – because the wealthy knows it needs a military, and the miltiary knows it needs someone to batter the rising professional classes into line.”

“In her work Athens on Trial, a minor classic of social history, Jennifer Tolbert Roberts traces the ebb and flow of Athenian models of democratic organization. The rise of the “Spartan” in the US is not an accident, and the attack on social libertinism and secularism is not abstract from the economic value of having a particular channel of money flowing from the top of society down. Those who are not military acceptable are economically disadvantaged. This converts direct exchange of social arrangements – being a right wing Republican – into abstract exchange of money.”

I take Thucydides deadly freaking seriously. Islam…whatever. Not even interesting. But I will be damned if I am going to live in Sparta.

22

anonymous 09.27.06 at 9:24 pm

Dan Simmons is awful. Regardless of his politics,
his books are close to being unreadable. I only
pushed through Hyperion because it was one of my
book club selections.

At least Hanson is readable. His “War Like No
Other” seemed to be a jumbled collection of short
pieces. So while his opinions were in no way
merciful, at least the length of his essays were.

BTW, Thucydides reads much better in the original
Klingon ^h^h^h^h^h^h^h Greek :-}

23

C. L. Ball 09.27.06 at 10:43 pm

But isn’t Bush Pericles, but without the brutal honesty and eloquence:

“[Y]ou cannot decline the burdens of empire and still expect to share its honors. You should remeber also that what you are fighting against is not merely slavery as an exchange for indepedence, but also loss of empire and danger from the animostities incurred in its exercise. Besides, to recede is no longer possible, if indeed any of you in the alarm of the moment has become enamored of the honesty of such an unambitious part. For what you hold, is to speak somewhat plainly, a tyranny; to take it perhaps was wrong, but to let it go is unsafe.” (2.64, Crawley translation)

The tricky question is: Is Pericles wrong about the consequences of surrender? Or is he right — the Athenians will reap the whirlwind if the concede to Sparta — but that is what they ought to do?

24

floopmeister 09.28.06 at 1:14 am

Funny, this somehow reminds me of the spoof ‘Star Wars’ film poster that did the rounds of the net after 911 – with Bush cast as Luke and a looming bin Laden in the background, where Vader was originally placed.

Al Qaeda as the all powerful Empire and the lone hyperpower as the plucky underdog Rebellion? It was the most ludicrous attempted ‘satire’ I have ever seen, and no doubt produced by a Cheetos-guzzling fan of Starship Stormtrooper Sci Fi.

Still, the point is that, as someone mentioned above, the narrative exists in and of itself – all we do with our duelling historical analogies is fight over the pre-determined roles.

25

Sam Dodsworth 09.28.06 at 3:29 am

Athens was what it was because of its exceptionalism, ambition, intellectual rigour, amorality.

Athens was a hive-mind, apparently. Or are you taking a Roman view and describing the genius of the city?

(And there was me thinking it was the silver mines and the reliance on trade.)

26

rea 09.28.06 at 4:59 am

I read the Dan Simmons link above, and then leafed through my copy of Thucydides again. Darned if I can see an occasion in which greater ruthlessness by the Athenians could plausibly have changed the outcome of the Sicilian expedition. After all, the Athenians never had an opportunity to massacre the Syracusans, and probably wouldn’t have passed on the opportunity if they’d had it. Simmons says that insufficient ruthlessness is why the Athenians lost, though, so I guess it msut be true . . .

27

belle waring 09.28.06 at 5:16 am

simmons is such an incredible tool; I had read excerpts from that…thing, but it was even more infuratingly stupid in full. I second o’grady’s comment above that VDH has done worthwhile scholarship in the past, but that doesn’t stop him from being a uniquely moronic commenter on current events. recently he said something to the effect that the west’s survivial now rested on the shoulders of mark steyn and christopher hitchens, to which the only possible response is: we are so fucked.

28

Rich Puchalsky 09.28.06 at 8:59 am

“This may get me kicked off Crooked Timber [...]“

Oh, please.

29

tps12 09.28.06 at 9:02 am

Thucydides nuts.

30

bob mcmanus 09.28.06 at 9:21 am

“(And there was me thinking it was the silver mines and the reliance on trade.)”

There were a lot of reasons Athens became great. What I dislike are the counterfactual Turtledove attitudes that can imagine a great Athens without the imperialism.

It really doesn’t matter.

31

Martin James 09.28.06 at 10:01 am

Bob Mcmanus,

What’s wrong with Sparta?

Richard Rorty talks about “we liberals” as those people who think cruelty is the worst thing people do.

My parallel definition of conservatives is that they are the people who think being afraid of pain is the worst thing we people can do.

Living in Sparta doesn’t seem like fun but they seem to me to have been a very wholesome lot.

Do you not want to live in Sparta because it is no fun or because it is immoral?

32

Ralph Hitchens 09.28.06 at 10:23 am

If Thucydides proves too hard for some readers, I heartily recommend Steven Pressfield’s _Tides of War_. Pressfield’s account of the Sicilian Expedition is particularly moving, a worthy modern echo of Thucydides.

33

bob mcmanus 09.28.06 at 10:52 am

“Do you not want to live in Sparta because it is no fun or because it is immoral?”

With my luck I’d be born a helot. And I can’t dance worth a damn.

Mostly no fun, I suppose. But even excluding the obvious, like the abuse of children, the repression of innovation, individualism, and initiative for the sake of stability has a moral weight. I find Huxley’s dystopia much more interesting than Orwell’s; even the deltas are happy.

I personally find Greece/Thucydides fascinating and important because of the tragic questions the story poses:how many lives for “Oedipus at Colonus”?

And I consider that same kind of question relevant today. The US is an empire, has been at least since Yalta; and as an empire we have given much and taken much. If we pull back or decline, if we have a choice in the matter, I am not going to pretend there isn’t a cost or exchange. As someone born soon after WWII, I already see consequences, rising inequality and a leveling of culture, and the nation seems already much diminished from the 50s and 60s.

More Marcus Aurelius than Niall Ferguson; and if present trends inmplicate the future, could be the world would be better off without us.

34

Tim McG 09.28.06 at 11:05 am

We like to think we’re Athens, but even Athens wasn’t the Athens that they thought they were. Thucydides’ main weakness as a historian was his failure to recognize until way too late that Persia was in fact the relevant superpower, and while the Athenians and Spartans thought they were the be-all and end-all of human struggle, they were in fact engaged in a battle of the red and the black ants.

The loss of perspective is (or should be) a huge theme for the modern reader of Thucydides. The condemnation of those who say that terrorism can be reduced to a deadly nuisance, by thosw who say that “the terrorists must be defeated,” is to make a Thucydidean error, blowing the current struggle out of proportion.

35

Peggy 09.28.06 at 12:20 pm

Mary Renault, based on Thucydides, argues The Last of the Wine that the invasion of Syracuse was doomed. It was always a overstretch and when the Athenian democracy cashiered Alcibiades, the best general of the age, the risky expedition could not succeed. His replacement, a superstitious old man, compounded failure, by refusing to order a retreat due to the bad omen of a lunar eclipse. Bad generalship, not tenderheartedness, let them down.

36

Demosthenes 09.28.06 at 12:52 pm

“Thucydides nuts.”

Great, now I want another impossibly nerdy T-Shirt.

Anyway, maybe this is one of those weird Straussian esoteric messages?

37

Jared 09.28.06 at 1:13 pm

Can anyone tell me if Donald Kagan is any better than VDH? His survey is on my bookshelf waiting to be read, and I’m not sure what to expect.

38

a 09.28.06 at 1:18 pm

The U.S. is certainly not Athens. Rome maybe, but not Athens.

39

James 09.28.06 at 1:39 pm

The best fictional take I’ve ever read on Syracuse is Tom Holt’s THE WALLED GARDEN, which is an exceptionally good tragicomic novel. Since Tom Holt normally writes fairly mediocre comic fantasies, his two great Greek books – that one and ALEXANDER AT THE WORLD’S END – came as a bit of a shock to me.

40

mpowell 09.28.06 at 1:41 pm

I have read Thucydides and I have to say at no point in the last five years did it occur to me to compare the Syracusan expedition to the Iraqi invasion. And now that I have… wow. There are a lot of things about the Dan Simmons viewpoint that although I think are dead wrong, at least I am aware of the reasoning or psychological needs that led them to that conclusion. But to read Thucydide’s description of the Syracusan invasion as an indictment of war critics and not as a lesson about arrogant, demagoguery promoted, jingoist, imperialist military adventures- that’s just amazing. I can’t imagine how it would be possible to so badly misread the text.

I can only imagine this comes from not reading the text but having heard descriptions of the text (and its lessons) passed from one jingoist to another like hoary campfire stories until the meaning is distorted beyond all recognition.

41

Shelby 09.28.06 at 2:04 pm

I’ve always thought one of the things that made Thucydides great was the multiplicity of ideas and meanings that different readers (or readings) could draw from the text, so that no one reading is definitive. But maybe that’s just me, and I should stick to the Shakespeare.

42

mpowell 09.28.06 at 3:09 pm

Shelby- I don’t know if that’s what makes Thucydides great, but have you read the text? Sure multiple ideas and meanings are possible but not just any idea or meaning. I would regard it as a substantial weakness if you could justify any possible meaning in a text.

43

Martin James 09.28.06 at 3:13 pm

Isn’t the real problem that we have no historical examples of lon-standing large population cultures that weren’t jingoistic, arrogant and imperialistic?

The oppressor culture vanishes, the culture of the oppressed vanishes. So far, at least the genes live on.

What are the anti-imperialists hoping for, to turn the whole world forever more into a collection of 21st century Switzerlands?

How dull is that?

44

MikeS 09.28.06 at 4:13 pm

If you wanted the true wartime experience with an ancient gloss, surely Xenophon would have been more appropriate?

45

gmoke 09.28.06 at 4:40 pm

The purveyors of the “clash of civilizations” idea are engaging in grandiosity. They build up an enemy in order to make themselves feel more heroic.

In actuality, we have entered a period in time when readily available technology enables small groups of individuals to create the same kind of havoc and damage that previously were only available to states and armies. We may be going into a period of real chaos especially if climate change effects start hitting home and peak oil is a reality. I’d study walordism and the Period of Warring States in ancient Chinese history for parallels.

Armchair warriors are always a nuisance. Armchair warriors directing operations are a disaster.

As for VD Hanson, when I heard him on his “In Depth” interview on CSPAN II explain to a caller that the US fought WWII to end the Holocaust, I realized that this man knows nothing about modern history. He has turned himself into a lugubrious buffoon.

46

judd 09.28.06 at 11:37 pm

Martin James wrote:

What are the anti-imperialists hoping for, to turn the whole world forever more into a collection of 21st century Switzerlands?

How dull is that?

It might seem dull to a child. To me, it seems the hight of adulthood to end the endless wars.

47

Harald Korneliussen 09.29.06 at 2:24 am

Glenn wrote: “I think these people “read” thucydides the same way bloom “read” plato”

Is that like the way Chris Muir reads Kant?

48

butwhatif 09.29.06 at 6:20 am

I found Donald Kagan’s analysis sharp. I particularly liked his rejection of any materialistic perspective, where he stresses the need to bring back an understanding of the heroic, aristocratic elements into historical and social-scientific analysis. Where he centres in on pride and honour in exploring the roots of conflict.

But just like other neocons, though (indeed this is where they all part company with conservatives), he’s deeply ambivalent about what to do with these passions. Whether to endorse them, or tame them. The doses of romantic endorsement that one finds in Bloom, for instance, can also be discerned at times in Kagan. Which means, I guess, that neocon romanticism may well have sources other than Leo Strauss. (It’s hard to call Kagan Snr a Straussian. He’d never try, for instance, defending Strauss/Bloom’s Plato.) His son, Robert, on the other hand, more of a ‘manly man’ perhaps, is far more explicit in endorsing the romanticism, seeking to reinfuse politics with these impulses Greek. Just to make sure that modernity never turns us all into unmanly last men.

49

Urinated State of America 09.29.06 at 9:27 am

For God’s sake, why didn’t you warn us about how awful that piece by Simmons was?

There’s an awful amount of bedwetting crap about the “Restoration of the Caliphate” knocking around on in wingerdom. The fact that it’s as only slightly more likely than us growing wings doesn’t seem to diminish the meme’s strength. It’s crap from wingnuts who’ve rarely used a passport. One fantasy of reactionaries feeding the fantasies of another set of reactionaries.

50

J. Slidestreet 09.29.06 at 11:26 am

Good old Thucy, a former army general, was writing about a war between nation-states, involving a comlex array of tribal groups. We don’t really know, do we, what he would think about suicidal members of various death cults trying to kill members of their own religion and each every member of the civilized world they can get their hands on, men women and children. At least we’ve killed, by their own report, over 4000 thousand of them so far. Jolly good show. Let’s try for 40,000 as soon as possible.

51

Martin James 09.29.06 at 11:27 am

Judd,

I agree.

I’m always just hoping that someone can show me the science in the social science that will explain why people are immature and keep on having wars.

What is the cause of people being immoral?

Gsmoke made the correct point that technology is increasing the ability of the few to create greater destruction.

Since we don’t really know what makes people immature and destructive, being mature won’t help us that much to prevent the destruction.

Why are the “adults” so impotent?

52

gmoke 09.29.06 at 3:44 pm

from Martin van Creveld’s _The Transformation of War_:

page 218:  The reason why other activities do not provide a substitute is precisely because they are “civilized”:  in other words, bound by artificial rules.  Compared to war, der Ernstfall as the Germans used to say, every one of the many other activities in which men play with their lives is merely a game, and a trivial one at that.  Though war too is in one sense an artificial activity, it differs from all the rest in that it offers complete freedom, including paradoxically freedom from death.  War alone presents man with the opportunity of employing all his faculties, putting everything at risk, and testing his ultimate worth against an opponent as strong as himself.  It is the stakes that can make a game serious, even noble.  While war’s usefulness as a servant of power, interest, and profit may be questioned, the inherent fascination it has held for men at all times and places is a matter of historical fact. When all is said and done, the only way to account for this fascination is to regard war as the game with the highest stakes of all.

page 221:  However unpalatable the fact, the real reason why we have wars is that men like fighting, and women like those men who are prepared to fight on their behalf.

My extensive notes from the book are available at
http://www.dailykos.com/story/2006/9/22/02622/8960

53

bi 09.29.06 at 4:27 pm

gmoke: I don’t know. There are warmongers, and then there are warriors. And of course, the chickenhawks.

54

brennen 09.30.06 at 12:48 am

Ok, so I haven’t read Thucydides, clearly should, all that.

But I have read Dan Simmons, and at least a couple of the Hyperion books (the first two, specifically, before he starting pulling a Geo. Lucas on his own mythos, albeit more competently) were really good space opera. A superhuman time-manipulating killing machine, giant inscrutable AIs, a crazy poet, a galaxy-spanning network of teleportation devices, all kinds of fun stuff.

This piece – for the love of the sweet baby Jesus, what dread ideological disease keeps striking SF authors I really liked in high school? I mean, didn’t anyone else used to admire Orson Scott Card?

55

wmr 09.30.06 at 6:59 pm

Thanks for the link to Dan Simmons. Now I don’t feel so bad about not being able to finish any of his books.

56

wmr 09.30.06 at 7:29 pm

Oh, those back stairs get you every time.

I really liked Hanson’s “The Other Greeks : The Family Farm And The Agrarian Roots Of Western Civilization” (1995), but I’m not a classical scholar so I can’t say whether it is good history.

I wish he’d stuck with that period, but apparently he had personal reasons for turning to modern times (see #17 above).

Nice preview feature, by the way.

57

Dave 09.30.06 at 9:56 pm

Re: #17 and #57, supra.

My impression of Hanson (after a couple of his books) is that his personal reasons were rooted in the basic fact that, unlike on his farm, in academia he was unable to order his colleagues off his property.

Have I judged him too harshly?

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