Thucydides Thursday

Could this not have been written yesterday?

(emphasis mine)

Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them. Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question, inaptness to act on any. Frantic violence became the attribute of manliness; cautious plotting, a justifiable means of self-defence. The advocate of extreme measures was always trustworthy; his opponent a man to be suspected. To succeed in a plot was to have a shrewd head, to divine a plot a still shrewder; but to try to provide against having to do either was to break up your party and to be afraid of your adversaries. In fine, to forestall an intending criminal, or to suggest the idea of a crime where it was wanting, was equally commended until even blood became a weaker tie than party, from the superior readiness of those united by the latter to dare everything without reserve; for such associations had not in view the blessings derivable from established institutions but were formed by ambition for their overthrow; and the confidence of their members in each other rested less on any religious sanction than upon complicity in crime. The fair proposals of an adversary were met with jealous precautions by the stronger of the two, and not with a generous confidence. Revenge also was held of more account than self-preservation. Oaths of reconciliation, being only proffered on either side to meet an immediate difficulty, only held good so long as no other weapon was at hand; but when opportunity offered, he who first ventured to seize it and to take his enemy off his guard, thought this perfidious vengeance sweeter than an open one, since, considerations of safety apart, success by treachery won him the palm of superior intelligence. Indeed it is generally the case that men are readier to call rogues clever than simpletons honest, and are as ashamed of being the second as they are proud of being the first. The cause of all these evils was the lust for power arising from greed and ambition; and from these passions proceeded the violence of parties once engaged in contention.

Book 3, The Peloponnesian War, (trans. Richard Crawley)

We’re living in a time where those in power are awash in scandal and so untouchable that nothing can be done to stop them.  Their ability to conduct scandal and get away unscathed is praised and hailed as brilliant.  They destroy their opponents with base accusations and twisting of words.  They have no regard for the old institutions: how’s that ‘fundamental transformation’ working out for us?  No reasonably proposed solutions are considered because solving problems are the last thing on the minds of those in power.

“Why bother reading history?”

“Because it gives us important insights into the constancy of human nature.”

“But if human nature doesn’t change, what’s the point of reading about it?”

“…I dunno… Maybe you’re right?

Also, yay, Cirsova has over 10,000 views and over 100 followers!  Thanks!

Sumerian Shakespeare

So, how awesome is this? A guy in Tennessee taught himself to read Ancient Sumerian Cuneiform writing because his girlfriend bought him an ancient artifact with Sumerian writing on it so he could read what it said. Then, that same guy taught himself to write Ancient Sumerian Cuneiform to write a thankyou/love letter to the aforementioned girlfriend IN ANCIENT SUMERIAN ON A CLAY TABLET. Having learned to both read and write in ancient Sumerian, the guy happens upon a mysterious 4000+ year old clay tablet in the Library of Congress which had been declared ‘undecipherable’ and HE TRANSLATES IT.

Jerald Starr may have inadvertently stumbled on one of the most important and awesome historical finds that you’ve never heard of. Not only was Tablet #36 decipherable, it contained one of the earliest and most complex pieces of human literature ever written.

The story of the Great Fatted Bull contained on Tablet #36 is a tale of greed, corruption, usurpation, intrigue, political upheaval, and murder. Tablet #36 is also the very earliest political satire and the earliest recorded use of metaphoric caricature (the idea that someone could be both a man and a bull at the same time was an absolutely mindblowing concept to the ancients, so much so that it posed a major linguistic hurdle to anyone, even at the time of its writing, trying to understand the piece).

Astoundingly, this find, significant as it surely is, is a mere blip on the radar.  Hopefully someday it will receive the attention it most assuredly deserves.

Jerald has a website, Sumerian Shakespeare, devoted to this find, as well as an extensive amount of information on other text, artifacts and the culture of Sumeria, which can be found here. Additionally, an excellent interview with Mr. Starr has been published here.

Thanks to Dither from Rumors of War for pointing this out to me.

French Revolution Reading

So, I’ve been reading John S.C. Abbott’s “The French Revolution of 1789: As Viewed in the Light of Republican Institutions”.

It’s a very old work, published in 1887, written in 1858(ish, that’s when the copyright is; it’s not easy to find out much about this particular work), and while not one of the oldest scholarly or semi-scholarly accounts of the French Revolution, it is absolutely ripe with citations and quotes from these earliest accounts, many of which were written by those who were actually there and living the nightmare of Revolutionary France.  After having read this, I’d love to read Madame Campan’s memoires of her life with the Royal Family.

Now, there are a few things that are particularly interesting about the author’s views on the French Revolution.

-His heart was strongly with the people who wanted to throw off the chains of feudal despotism

-He simultaneously has great sympathy for the Royal Family, and a great respect for Marie Antoinette as a woman, wife and mother, if not a leader, and much like La Fayette, wishes that they had acquiesced to the Constitution, giving legitimacy to a constitutional monarchy rather than coordinate for its overthrow by external forces of foreign despots and emigrant aristocrats, ultimately leaving the carcass of France to be torn apart by Jacobins.

-He strongly believes that the three significant differences between the French and American Revolutions, which affected the former’s outcome for the worse were: 1) the French Population was by and large illiterate and uneducated, where the American was significantly more likely to be well read, 2) The great pre-revolutionary thinkers of France had, while espousing liberty, also embraced libertinism and sought to destroy the foundations of Christian faith, attacking the faith itself rather than the corrupt institution of the Church.  America, largely protestant, did not face the oppression by the Catholic that the average Frenchman did.  The American Revolutionary thinking was largely rooted in protestant Christian ideals upon which the founding documents relied heavily for inspiration. The First Amendment largely reflects the ideas of thinkers who wished to avoid such humanitarian tragedies as the exile and wholesale slaughter of Protestants that had occurred in France, Edict of Nantes and such.  3) The American Colonies were not surrounded by Bourbons and Despots ready to crush anyone who would challenge the privileges of nobility and espouse popular liberty.  The American Colonies, having been ruled by merchants and entrepreneurs, rather than feudal lords, did not have a well-connected wealthy class with easy access to foreign troops ready at the borders to crush the shoots of liberty.

-He totally thinks Napoleon was an awesome dude.

The disconnect between National Assembly at Versailles and Municipal government of Paris effectively established two parallel revolutionary governments vying for power.  The former was a more conservative body, who favored rule of law and establishment of a constitutional monarchy, largely hoping to avoid the sort of chaos which ensued in 1790s.  The latter, however, tended to lean more towards the demagogic.  The distance between these two bodies prevented effective meditation between the reformers and those who had been suffering under feudal abuses and wanted bloody justice rather than effective governance.  By the time that the government was consolidated in Paris, it was too late.  Those who wanted law and order were seen as traitors to the people, and the court refused to support the constitutionalists, who they believed were the primemover of the chaos that threatened their lives.  Had Louis XVI not been a vacillating and doddering fool, easily swayed by the whims and whispers of those around him, the Constitution may have been upheld and the bloody Jacobin movement silenced by rule of law and good governance.  Had the King been allowed to flee France, the Republicans and Constitutional Monarchists could have declared the king abdicated and the throne vacant, and the debate of the day would be to either enthrone the Duke of Orleans as a new and legitimate executive head of a constitutional monarchy or to establish a Republic of France; both of these options would have avoided Regicide and left the administration in Paris better equipped to prepare against the threats of allied despots of Europe.  Instead, Louis was kept as a captive, acting within his constitutional authority to thwart any attempts to prevent his rescue by foreign invaders (at the price of a great many border provinces).

All in all, it has been a fascinating read, and I can’t wait to start volume 2 tonight (1792-1799).  I highly recommend this book, and, despite its antiquity and burdensome size, it is very affordable, with the edition I have going for around $30 on the web.  Or you can get a scan off  I’d recommend the real thing or a facsimile edition, because it is filled with period prints.