Ancient Greece : Pericles (Part I)

Boris Johnson has often spoken of his love of Greek history and of Pericles in particular. When asked who his historical pin-up was and why, he replied: “Pericles. Look at his Funeral Speech: democracy; freedom — champion stuff.” See here for the full interview. A few years ago he went to the British Museum and bought a bust of Pericles and here is his story.

The Age of Pericles

The words `fifth-century Athens' conjure up many things : fine art ; the birth of the western world's theatre ; war (rarely was there not conflict in the ancient world, particularly in Greece) ; literature. In the field of politics, however, Pericles is the name that comes to mind : he dominated political life for three decades and his influence continued to be felt for a quarter-century after his death ; his legacy to politics survives to this day.  He is the third of our contenders for the title `Father of Democracy'. Pericles — whose name may be loosely translated as 'all glorious' — was born around 495 in the Attic deme of Cholargos (about 4 miles NW of the Athenian acropolis), the son of gentle folk :  Xanthippus (who had distinguished himself at Mycale, one of the battles that in 479 brought Persian domination of the eastern Mediterranean to and end) and Agariste of the ever controversial Alcmaeonid line.
*  *  *

Sparta and the helot uprising

Even a brief description of the life of Pericles cannot begin without reference to his political rival Cimon — aristocratic son of the victor at Marathon, Miltiades — whose successful military ventures in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and across the northern Aegean between 478 and 463 B.C. laid the foundations of the Athenian naval empire that would later help to fund the democratic reforms introduced by Ephialtes and Pericles, not to mention the latter’s building programme.
The great rival of Athens was the polis (city-state) of Sparta, which led the Peloponnese League ; Sparta — whose political system, in contrast to the new democracy in Athens, was an oligarchy — had a particular problem with the major part of her population, the helots. (Helots were akin mediaeval serfs.)Unlike the slaves of Athens (and later of Rome), who had been brought from all parts of the world and had no common language, Sparta’s helots were largely from the conquered neighbouring land of Messenia : they were Greeks, with much — including language — in common ; there was ever present the threat of rebellion.   Treehelm
Sparta’s peculiar form of government — which puzzled many even in ancient times — set her apart from most of Greece, including many of the poleis within the League : the adoption by many cities, including Athens, of forms of democracy and even tyranny left conflict simmering just below the surface.In around 464, Sparta’s helots, encouraged by the chaos resulting from a severe earthquake, rebelled and within months she called upon her allies for assistance. Cimon, prominent in Athenian politics but sympathetic to the Spartan cause, led an Athenian hoplite force to her aid. The Athenian soldiers, however, cannot have failed to remark that the rebel helots were fellow Greeks under oppression : the Spartans, realizing that here was a potential ally of their own rebels, sent Cimon back to Athens.The Athenians responded to this Spartan insult by forming alliances with Sparta’s enemies and allies alike. Athens and Corinth had hitherto had in common animosity toward Megara, which lay between them ; Athens’ forming an alliance with Megara now propelled Corinth in to the Spartan camp. By 460 the situation had turned to war.
Click on map to enlarge
Click on map to enlarge
Continue reading Ancient Greece : Pericles (Part I)

Our Rich Literary History

When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.
"Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford." — Samuel Johnson Boswell and Johnson were discussing whether or not Boswell's affection for London would wear thin should he choose to live there, as opposed to the zest he felt on his occasional visits. (Boswell lived in Scotland, and visited only periodically. Some people are surprised to learn that Boswell and Johnson were far from inseparable over the last twenty years of Johnson's life, the period Boswell knew him.) This discussion happened on September 20, 1777, and Johnson, someone who hated to spend time alone, was always going out and enjoying what London had to offer. Now Boris Johnson as Mayor has been promoting historical events in the capital such as: Trafalgar Square a brief history   History Brought to Life weekend Black History Season  
Not to be outdone, Gotham Girl takes a cross-disciplinary approach with both fiction and non-fiction highlighting some interesting historical and cultural comparisons between London and New York 
   I've recently been re-reading "Here Is New York" an essay by E.B. White (which I cannot recommend highly enough). It's a 55-page– well, love letter of sorts - written during the summer of 1949 and is considered by many (including me) to be one of the ten best books ever written about the city. I'm not sure what the London equivalent would be... Peter Ackroyd's London: A Biography maybe? Much bigger than White's piece and not so much a love letter as it is a collection of love letters. What do you all think? I'm not suggesting that a single book could do justice to the sweeping scope that is London. Nor do I suggest that White's piece is, by any means, a complete portrait of New York. You'd need a large bookcase of books to embody a subject as multi-layered and robust as London or New York. More likely, you'd need a whole library. Luckily, I have plenty of shelf space because I "travel" to London and through New York via books quite a lot and it is travel almost without limits. You can get to know either city by getting to know about the people who left their mark centuries ago or who are leaving their mark now. You can examine the buildings and monuments that dot the city landscapes as well as those that have disappeared. You can read about the industries and social movements that drive the cities through cycles of growth and ruin. Books are, in this way, a handy-sized sort of TARDIS. Do not think, however, that you must limit yourself to non-fiction when going on these page-turning adventures. Not at all. I read my share of non-fiction and I have a special fondness for biography but fiction can also provide views and (often unexpected) insights into the current and historical worlds of London and New York. Continue reading Our Rich Literary History

School Discipline

The real victims in all this are not just the teachers. They are the other kids whose education is being wrecked by a minority of badly behaved children All we need is the politicians to have the guts to take on the bullying parents, the supine education authorities, and the crazed culture of health and safety
  Teachers need the law on their side We need a politician with the guts to stand up for reasonable discipline in our schools, argues Boris Johnson  Let's be clear. I am not calling for the return of the cane. I do not want to bring back the great British thrashing. It seems amazing that in our lifetimes otherwise humane teachers would roll up their sleeves, flex the Malacca and – with or without a pervy Terry-Thomas glint in the eye – administer violent corporal punishment to the children they were supposed to be instructing. My memory of an otherwise idyllic 1970s English prep school is that masters used virtually any weapon of discipline they could lay their hands on. There was the blackboard rubber, a heavy chalky object that teachers would hurl with great force if they saw you staring vacantly during maths. There was the ruler, which could be brought down so hard on the back of the hand that a friend of mine had a contusion that lasted for years. There was the jokari bat, for those who forgot their construe. There was the cricket bat for seriously argumentative types and also, I kid you not, the handle of a nine iron golf club. And then there was the cane. I remember being so enraged at being whacked for talking at the wrong moment that it has probably given me a lifelong distrust of authority.

Mayor of Rio de Janeiro welcomed by our Mayor in London

Mayor welcomes Olympic winning Mayor of Rio to London BJ and Rio MayorOlympic winning city Rio received some top tips on staging the Games from London's Mayor Boris Johnson, during a visit to City Hall by Mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Eduardo Paes. Boris Johnson congratulated Mayor Paes on Rio's historic victory in winning the race to host the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games and offered to share London's experiences so far on the road to 2012. Mayor Paes was keen to discuss potential collaborations and developing strong ties as Rio de Janeiro begins the work on hosting the Games. Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: “It's great to experience the excitement of a city that is at the beginning of the journey that London and the UK set out on four years ago. I can assure the Mayor and his team that it will often be nerve racking, but it is a fantastic experience full of opportunities for the host city and its people. Today gave us the chance, as Mayors of two great world cities, to commit to building a strong and mutually beneficial relationship, which goes beyond the shared interests of the London and Rio Games.” Following their meeting, Mayor Paes and his team participated in an Olympic workshop hosted by City Hall’s Olympics Team and led by the Mayor’s Olympics Advisor, Neale Coleman. The Rio delegation used the opportunity to discuss with the Mayor of London’s staff how they managed the next stages of planning after winning the Olympic bid in 2005. See the City Hall website for more info

Bankers’ Fortunes

 the decision of these banks to hand out bonuses as though nothing has changed is unbelievable. The only reason these bankers are still in jobs is because the taxpayer bailed out the system
If you pressed a rifle into the hand of the man in the street and asked him to choose between two targets – an MP or a banker – who do you think would get the bullet? Tricky, eh? It is hard to know which of these two formerly respectable professions has fallen further in public esteem. Some people might hesitate, like Buridan's ass, the rifle barrel weaving indecisively between two such luscious hate-objects. Most people would simply call for two bullets. But then let me ask you a slightly different question. Which of the two species has managed to steer itself most effectively through the crisis? Which type of cockroach has scuttled through the nuclear blast of public disapproval? On the face of it, there is an obvious answer, and it is getting more blatant by the day. Most of the MPs I know seem to be in a state of nervous collapse. Some of them are on suicide watch. Some of them face the task of sacking their wives and selling the house, or possibly the other way round. Some face penury. Never has Parliament been subjected to such protracted humiliation at the hands of the people. Then look at the bankers, the bankers whose high-rolling risk-taking triggered the recession that has so exacerbated public rage at MPs. The bankers seem to be waltzing off with a song on their lips and their hands in their pockets – at least, their hands would be in their pockets if they were not stuffed with money. And when I say stuffed, I mean bulging, bursting, ballooning with the biggest bonuses you ever saw. Continue reading Bankers’ Fortunes

Ancient Greece: The Archaic Age

Temple of Zeus at Nemea The Temple of Zeus at Nemea

Boris Johnson has spoken of the contribution a knowledge of the classics can make to understanding our own times. In the modern political world — as in the ancient — the same theme is played out again and again ... with the same characters : political leaders that let power go to their heads and then pay the price (although that price is oft paid in larger measure by those they lead). It’s not all bad news, however, for Greek history is also full of inspirational stories.

Over the next few weeks we shall post a series of small articles on the ancient Greek world, a phase of human history from which we can still learn.

For other posts in the series see the Index.


The Politics of Ancient Athens

We do not know what brought about the collapse of the Greek civilization known as the Mycenaean Palace culture in the late Bronze Age (ca. 1200 b.c.) The written record we have of that civilization consists almost entirely of accounting documents, baked clay tablets, in the Linear-B script. There follows a period (of which our knowledge is limited to myth) usually referred to as the Dark Age, lasting till the adoption by the Greeks of an alphabet at some time in the eighth century. From then to the start of the Classical period we know as the Archaic Period, when the social structure was an aristocratic monarchy.

* * *

From monarchy to tyranny

HopliteFollowing the fall of the last sovereign king of the Athenians (Codrus), the aristocrats (known as Eupatrids (of good birth) abolished the ruling status of basileus (king) and vested the equivalent power in, at first, three officials, known collectively as the archontes (archons) : a polemarch (pronounced 'Polla-mark' - war-lord), a king (whose duties now pertained mainly to religious matters, i.e. pacifying the gods) and the archon himself. This last was the civic leader, equivalent to an executive president of to-day. The noble families now exercised a measure of control over the archonship until in the early-seventh century a major change to the appointment meant that it became an annual office ; henceforth the Athenians named each year after its archon. Noble families vied with one another in what to-day we should describe as vulgar ostentation ; their differing views on matters social and political would lead to disorder, even brawling in the streets. This combination of faction and social competition eventually led to tyranny -- the Greek word tyrannos is derived from an Asian one referring to a usurper -- in which one nobleman, possibly a military leader, would persuade the now well armed hoplite population to support him as ruler. ‘In short, tyrants helped to stop spiralling ambition and faction by an ultimate act of ambitious faction : their own coup.’ (Further reading: The Classical World, Lane Fox) It should not be assumed that tyrannical rule was autocratic, at least not at first : a tyrant would take over to establish eunomia (good order), something achieved by laying down and enforcing laws that, for whatever reason, would be observed. Tyrants, however, saw their positions as heritable ; inevitably their heirs were not as good as they and the subject populace soon became even more disgruntled than under the previous, aristocratic, régime.

* * *

The law-givers

In a simplified way we might say that the period of the tyrants was followed by the period of the law-givers. Toward the end of the seventh century factional fighting in Athens, following an unsuccessful coup, led to the introduction by the nobleman Draco of written laws : they were harsh -- hence our word ‘draconian’ -- but fair and, because displayed for all to see, certain. (Those, the majority, that could not read would have been able to find others to read to them.) Early in the sixth century, after ‘consulting the people’, Solon -- the man now famous for having given Athens her first ‘constitution’ and one of the contenders for the title ‘Father of Democracy’ -- handed down a far more detailed set of regulations governing most of civic life. Under Solon wealth, rather than birth, decided eligibility for government office : a timocracy. He divided the Attic population in to four property classes, according to their income (actually to how much they might produce) : the pentacosiomedimni, hippeis, zeugitae and thetes. See this video clip on the great thinker Solon YouTube Preview Image Continue reading Ancient Greece: The Archaic Age

Ancient Greece :  Ostracism

 

null

An ostrakon with the name and patronymic (indicating his father) of the nominee, Cimon, son of Miltiades

*       *       *

To-day the term ‘ostracism’ is often used loosely to allude to exclusion from a social group :  what school-children might call ‘sending some-one to Coventry’ ;  it is, however, a specific procedure with origin in ancient Athens.

Ostracism was aimed at curbing the ambitions of any-one that might aspire to the seizure of power in Athens.  Although traditionally described as one of the reforms of Cleisthenes, ca. 508 (unless otherwise stated or implied by the context, all dates are b.c.), it was not used till 487 and many scholars now doubt this ascription ;  it fell in to disuse around 417.

It was a process whereby, once a year, one Athenian — usually a politician or a general — might be banished from Attica for ten years (but without loss of property).

First, at a time we’d think of as late January, the Assembly would be asked whether it would hold an ostracism in that year.  If so, the vote itself would take place a month later, giving time for word to reach the demes — the rural communities around Attica — that an ostracism was to be held and for citizens to arrange to be there for the vote, a quorum being 6,000.

A citizen would write the name of him he would have ostracized on a sherd of pottery (ostrakon, plural ostraka) ;  although the average Athenian would have been illiterate, he would have been able either to have another inscribe for him or to collect one of many ostraka that had been inscribed in advance, each in the name of a particular ‘candidate’.  (Many surviving sherds are clearly crafted by few hands ;  this should not be taken as a sign of corruption :  literacy was rare and it was normal for people — likely hoping to promote a particular candidate’s ostracism — to prepare sherds for the use of any-one that might want — or be persuaded — to vote against him.)

When all the sherds had been collected and counted, he whose name had appeared on the most ostraka would be banished.

 

Potsherd - Themistocles smaller

An ostrakon nominating Themistocles (son of Neocles)

*       *       *


Arts and Culture in the Metropolis

Tower of London
Tower of London
The Mayor's Priorities for Culture 2009-12.  See the document here for his vision on maintaining London's position as a world centre of cultural excellence. For an another viewpoint let's turn to Gotham Girl's analysis of transatlantic museum visiting.
The British Museum wallops the Met in ancient civilizations The Elgin Marbles - that is a proper test of wills The Tate Modern is notably NOT just a storage space 
I love museums. I live only a short walk from Museum Mile here in Manhattan so museums figure prominently in my leisure schedule at home as well as abroad.
Few places in New York offer better "people watching" than the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met for short). Few places in New York offer more beautiful views than the roof of the Met.
I don't think the front of the British Museum offers quite the same experience.
great_hall Met
Metroplitan Museum of Art
At the Met, I can curl up with a book in Engelhard Court. I frequently head to the Temple of Dendur to visit with friends. We can – and do – even enjoy lunch or drinks now that they've reclaimed the first floor for the Greek and Roman galleries and the eateries have had to move downstairs. This move hasn't done much for the Greek and Roman collections but it has improved the "grab a bite of lunch" experience at the Met tenfold. Still, museums are, on many levels, the sum of the collections and much as I love the Met as a whole, certain galleries don't fare very well when compared to their British Museum counterparts. The British Museum wallops the Met in ancient civilizations. The Greek and Roman collection of the Met is a bit "meh" - well, a lot "meh." The Temple of Dendur, aside, their Egyptian collection isn't much better and is displayed abysmally. As for controversial artifacts - the Met pales in comparison. Sure, Turkey went after the Metropolitan about the Lydian Horde but the Met returned it so – in a mere six or so years - that was that. The Elgin Marbles – that is a proper test of wills. Impressive.  Oh and here's a handy tip – don't make remarks on how "liberated" the marbles look within earshot of guards. Goodness, how that man glared. Still, it wasn't as bad as the time at Westminster Abbey when I stomped on Thomas Hardy's name in Poet's Corner. Still, that's another story for another time (and in my defense I think MOST people would like to stomp on Thomas Hardy). Continue reading Arts and Culture in the Metropolis

Divorce of Zillionaires in London

As readers will know by now Boris Johnson does not normally do austere articles.   He says today: " We don't do sex scandals. We don't dabble our fingers in the stuff of people's souls. I would not normally dream of citing a divorce case now unfolding before the courts; and therefore I will keep the details to the minimum before we come to the point at interest. Let us say that there is a certain glamorous blonde in the throes of parting with her husband. She claims that he is worth £400 million and that under the laws of England she is entitled to half of his assets. He claims that this dosh has all but vanished. As soon as she lost that loving feeling, she found that his cash was gone, gone, gone and could not now be retrieved." Continue reading Divorce of Zillionaires in London