Category Archives: higher education

Ancient Greece : Themistocles

(Original of August 26, 2009, revised November 16 by ‘The Other Pericles’)

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.

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The fleet of triremes

Themistocles was an Athenian general and politician, who had fought at the Battle of Marathon in 490 (unless otherwise stated or implied by the context, all dates are b.c.). Unlike most leaders of his day, he was not of noble birth but drew his support from the lower classes. Realizing that, if the Persians attacked Athens again by land, they would be practically insuperable, he resolved to defeat them by sea and persuaded the Athenians to build a fleet of triremes.

Designed for close combat and constructed from soft woods — mainly pine and fir (the latter being preferred for its lightness) with larch and plane used for interior parts — the trireme had the advantages (over the Persian ships from the Levant) of speed and manoeuvrability.

A common tactic was for the trireme to brush along the side of a bigger ship, snapping off that vessel’s oars and rendering her immobile. A trireme could ram an enemy ship like a guided missile but was expensive to build. In 484, however, a vast amount of silver was discovered in the mines at Laurium. This would normally have been divided equally amongst all Athenian citizens, as indeed advocated by Aristides, but Themistocles wanted the money to build his navy.

To tell the Athenians bluntly that this fleet was needed to repel the Persians would have caused undue disquiet ; Themistocles therefore dissembled : he played a complex bluff -– saying that the ships should be built to defend against their local rival, the small island of Aegina, rather than the Persians. It was a mark of his skill as a politician that he persuaded the Athenians to build the greatest naval force in Greece.

Xerxes plans revenge

King Darius of Persia had died ; his son Xerxes, who had vowed to avenge the Persian defeat at Marathon, assembled a mighty army, rumoured to number two million men (Herodotus reported 1.7-million ; recent scholars suggest a figure closer to 200,000 ; an overwhelming force none the less). In 480 news reached Athens that the Persian army was marching on Athens. Terrified Athenians turned for advice to the Oracle at Delphi.

The message from Apollo was not encouraging : the battle “would bring death to women’s sons” ; only “the wooden wall” would save the Athenians.

Amid increasing desperation in Athens, as the Persians rampaged across Thessaly, burning, looting and generally laying waste, Themistocles alone stayed calm, arguing that the “wooden wall” signified the wooden sides of his fleet of triremes ; the population should leave Attica and leave defeat of the Persians to the navy.

This seemed a perilous course ; it certainly demanded courage and a good deal of trust from every citizen : aware of the superiority of the Persian land forces, they were to abandon their homes with the object of drawing the enemy in to a naval encounter.

The Persian army duly advanced in to Attica and overran Athens, destroying the temples on the acropolis and killing any remaining defenders.

Themistocles’s plan

Meanwhile the fleet of the Persian king, Xerxes — at perhaps 1,200 vessels almost thrice that of Athens — was stationed in the Bay of Phaleron (sc. off the Piraeus, the port of Athens).

It might be mere fable, perhaps even of Themistocles’s own devising, or one conjured up by Herodotus but a story grew up that Themistocles had sent a servant to the Persian commanders to feed them false intelligence ; they were taken in and immediately sent their warships into the strait of Salamis, the perfect place for an ambush.

There the Athenian navy lay in wait : when the ungainly Persian warships entered the channel, the Greek triremes inflicted a memorable defeat upon them, some 200 enemy ships being destroyed. The Persian navy broken, Xerxes, who had been watching proceedings from a throne overlooking the sea, fled. The Greeks had won a stunning victory against the odds.

Themistocles is rejected

In ca. 471 the people turned on Themistocles. Despite all he had done for Athens, he was now unpopular, perceived as arrogant and even suspected of taking bribes. His response — reminding his fellow citizens of all they owed him — served only to aggravate them and he was ostracized.

Potsherd - Themistocles smaller
An ostrakon
bearing the name of Themistocles

He went first to Argos but, when he learnt of the Spartans’ wanting to pursue him over a matter of their own, he fled to Asia Minor, eventually entering the service of the Persian King Artaxerxes and being made governor of three satrapies. He lived there much honoured by the King, dying in ca. 459. (His death is ascribed by Plutarch, writing in the late-first century a.d. — so, nearly six-hundred years later — to suicide but by Thucydides, a meticulous historiographer writing in the same century, to natural causes.)

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Exam Grade Inflation

great exam resultsCalling all conservatives! Attention please, all you reactionaries and nostalgia-merchants, and anyone who thinks the past knocks spots off the present. This is the season of exam results, when the papers are full of happy backlit pictures of girls in summer dresses receiving the news of their Stakhanovite performances at A-level and GCSE.

This is the week when dyspeptic Right-wing columnists and politicians traditionally denounce these scenes as a sham, when lovely hard-working teenagers run crying from the room because some miserable old git has told them that an A-grade these days isn’t worth a pitcher of warm spit.

The question before us is whether or not humans are capable of stunning improvements in individual and collective performance.

When Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile in 1954, he was thought to be a prodigy. Now, more than a thousand men have pulled off the same feat.

If our physical faculties are capable of such rapid improvement, surely the same applies to our brains. Faster, higher, stronger. Why not cleverer?

Continue reading Exam Grade Inflation

Ancient Greece: Phidippides

See an illustrative video clip here

PhidippidesBoris Johnson has spoken of the value of the classics in understanding modern politics. For example, in the popular press, as well as in the classics, the same theme is played out again and again:  political leaders who let power go to their heads and then pay the price. There are many other parallels, but Greek history is also full of inspirational stories. Over the next few weeks, we will be posting some incidents from Greek history that still have lessons for us today.    

 

THE FIRST MARATHON RUNNER  

In 490 BC, Athens was under attack by the Persians, led by King Darius.  The world’s first democracy was under threat of extinction.  The vastly outnumbered Athenians desperately needed the help of Sparta’s military base to help fend off the attack. With danger imminent, the Athenian generals sent Phidippides, a professional runner, on a two-day 140 mile run over mountainous terrain to Sparta to ask for help.

Phidippides’s brave effort was in vain – the Spartans would not come until the Moon was full, due to their religious laws.  Phidippides had to run back to Athens with the terrible news that the Athenians would have to fight alone.

The small Athenian army, vastly outnumbered, with Phidippides, marched to the Plains of Marathon.  They launched an amazing surprise offensive thrust, and by the end of the  day, 6,400 Persians lay dead on the field while only 192 Athenian soldiers had been killed.  The surviving Persians fled, hoping to launch an attack by sea, and Phidippides had to run another 26 miles to carry news of the victory to Athens and warn them of the impending naval threat.  He had already fought all day in the battle.

Phidippides pushing himself to the limits of human endurance, reached Athens, delivered his message and died of exhaustion. Sparta came to the aid of Athens and the Persian threat was overthrown.  Centuries later, the modern Olympic Games introduced a “marathon” race in memory of the brave Athenian runner who gave his life to deliver his message.

Female Ascendancy

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the biggest social revolution of our lifetime

women continue their astonishing dominance of university admissions…[they] now make up 57 per cent of university entrants, and they outnumber men in every subject — including maths and engineering

 

I’ll tell you why women are running out of men to marry

I was half asleep in the front seat the other day, coming back from some exhausting tour of an educational establishment, and in the back seat were two twentysomething female graduates. They were talking about men, so I tried to focus, while keeping my eyes cunningly half closed. Everyone has a sexual trigger. But just as everyone has something that turns them on, they also have triggers that turn them off. That fine line between turn-on and turn-off is where taboo subjects reside. What do you consider taboo? What turns you on and makes you uncomfortable at the same time? The answer to that question will be different for every person. Then act out the fantasy scenario with lots of dirty talk! The words paint the images in your head, and your body will respond. It’s the perfect way to taste the tempting taboos – but without actually getting in over your head. That’s another great thing about dirty talk – it’s a license to try out any fantasy you want, and reap the benefits without suffering the consequences! You can dig this site for the REAL SEX STORIES. Once you decide what you consider taboo, think about it in terms of talking dirty. You already know that talking dirty to your partner is a turn-on… but what about broaching those taboo subjects, and talking about those sexual things you would never really do? The fantasy might be a bit too far-fetched for you to consider making a reality, but there’s nothing stopping you from going all the way with your naughty talk about the subject! A friend of mine gets turned on by the thought of her boyfriend with other women. She has a fantasy of watching him, tied up and helpless, while one woman after another enters the room and proceeds to do all kinds of wicked things to him. In her fantasy, she’s sitting in a chair beside the bed, watching. She would never do it in real life, however. She and her boyfriend are completely faithful. So where does the fantasy come from, and why does it turn her on so much? That’s where the word “taboo” comes in. Her fantasy rides that line between a real-life turn-off and the fantasy turn-on. She fulfills that fantasy often, however, by whispering her thoughts into her lover’s ear as they are in bed together. Her naughty talk about seeing him with other women gets him aroused, too… and it’s a safe way to explore the fantasy without the risk of anyone getting hurt. What fantasies do you have that need to be fulfilled? Share them with your partner. Make it clear you don’t want to do these things in real life, but also make it clear that the thought of them turns you on.

One of them made the eternal feminine complaint. “All men are useless these days,” she said. “Yeah,” said the other. “The trouble is that they haven’t risen to the challenge of feminism. They don’t understand that we need them to be more masculine, and instead they have just copped out.” Everyone wants to know what the best sex toys for women are and really it’s always going to come down to personal choice. But if you have never tried one before and are feeling a little timid about purchasing your first toy, then bboutique guide to female sex toys for beginners is for you. Thinking about purchasing your very first vibrator can be exciting but also intimidating. Do you go in to a shop, do you order online, do you get it delivered to your home, and what if somebody finds out! And even when you get passed all these hurdles, how do you possibly know which are the best sex toys for women? When it comes to girls and toys it is normal to feel apprehensive about all these points. But if you’re feeling too timid to take the plunge with a female masturbation vibrator, then think again. Every woman with a sex toy has had to overcome these feelings and more often than not, end up becoming quite the collector! Firstly, think about how you are going to get one. Ordering online is usually a very reliable process and it’s easy to know what the top selling sex toys are from other user’s reviews. But if you don’t feel comfortable having it sent to your home address, you can always have it delivered to a friend’s home or collect it from the post office. If you don’t have the ability to order online, then there is no shame in walking in to a sex shop. There are many stores which now specifically gear their stores to the lucrative female market, so if you’re not ready for endless rows of black leather, chains and impossibly sized dildo’s, then immerse yourself in a shop that is specifically for women with happy pink rows endlessly filled with beautifully coloured female sex toys. why not try these out for best sex toy.

Continue reading Female Ascendancy