Finished TTC course Age of Pericles by Jeremy McInerney. 24 lectures. Good course that takes a broad tour around the history, culture, society, economy, philosophy, literature and religion of the period. I think in some ways it's a bit of a deceptive period to read about. You can read translations of their texts and concepts look familiar, but are really very different to what we think. McInerney's very good on pointing out things like that: for instance that their concept of freedom is very different to our own. To them, freedom was a status: a privilege held by certain classes: they had no concept of freedom as a universal right.
McInerney's also good on explaining the underside of Athenian society: highlighting minor parts of the records to show what slavery was like, the position of women was like, how the Delian League became a fairly oppressive Athenian Empire.
He does balance that carefully against their positive achievements. The Athenian Democracy here seems like a very new and fragile thing: hastily created as a response to crisis, repeatedly being overturned and returned to. It doesn't seem realistic to think that it could have been wider.
He also gives a more objective account of the execution of Socrates than philosophers tend to. Athens was undergoing something of a fundamentalist religious revival, in the context of which Socrates religious ideas, once tolerated, now seemed threatening; and also that the Thirty Tyrants were linked to Socrates, as was the despised Alcibiades.
Overall, worth a listen. Though it doesn't have time to go into great depth, it's a good course to put things in context.
Next up is the same lecturer on Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Age.
What I'm Browsing Through
Been dabbling a bit. Listened to a single TTC lecture on the Socratic dialogue the Symposium. Turns out most of the dialogues are intentionally crap, being supposed to be ironic reflections of the moral failings of the speakers. Also Socrates is making snarky backhanded insults at everyone that they don't notice.
Also had a quick look through Xenophon's Memorable Thoughts of Socrates. First thought is that Xenophon's Socrates isn't as different from Plato's as I'd expected. He's definitely using the same Socratic method: asking questions and casting doubt on assumptions.
The Xenophonic Socrates seems like a very much more down-to-earth character though. He seems to be more like a Hellenic agony aunt, dishing out practical career advice and health and dating tips. I like the way he gently persuades Glaucon not to try to run the state until he knows a bit about it and can handle his own business. Xenophonic Socrates seems less snide, less arrogant and more likeable that Platonic Socrates. However:
Know that a beautiful person is a more dangerous animal than scorpions, because these cannot wound unless they touch us; but beauty strikes at a distance: from what place soever we can but behold her, she darts her venom upon us, and overthrows our judgment.Quite like his design tips too.
"And do you think," replied Socrates, "that the good and the beautiful are different? Know you not that the things that are beautiful are good likewise in the same sense? It would be false to say of virtue that in certain occasions it is beautiful, and in others good. When we speak of men of honour we join the two qualities, and call them excellent and good. In our bodies beauty and goodness relate always to the same end. In a word, all things that are of any use in the world are esteemed beautiful and good, with regard to the subject for which they are proper."What I'm Reading 2
"At this rate you might find beauty in a basket to carry dung," said Aristippus.
"Yes, if it be well made for that use," answered Socrates; "and, on the contrary, I would say that a buckler of gold was ugly if it was ill-made."
Two-thirds through Geoff Ryman's The King's Last Song. It tells several intertwined stories in Cambodia. Legendary king Jayavarman's autobiography is discovered, and his life story is mixed in with current events and recollections of the civil war.
Pretty disappointed by it. Have had it on the go for ages without feeling much incentive to pick it up. The Cambodian characters seem patronizing and ill-drawn, especially the way they seem to idolize Western archeologist Luc. All the interactions between them are full of varieties of smiles and what they indicate: Ryman doesn't seem to have got much beyond Cambodians as cute-smiley-people.
I read Haing Ngor's autobiography Surviving the Killing Fields a while back and it didn't seem to have much smiling at all. That seems to be a much better book for understanding Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge.
I wonder if it shows that Ryman is still an SF writer at heart. It does seem to be a characteristic of SF writers to write "what I did on my holidays" fiction where a holiday becomes a backdrop. I think that works better in SF where things don't have to be strictly accurate though.
Going to Iceland for a few days, leaving Thursday. It's an organized tour, going with a mate of mine. Kind of dreading it really. Yeah, it seemed like a really great idea back in July, but now I'm just thinking it's going to be Too Damn Cold.
Economics: Good news on the gender gap.
H2G2 goes through all Ian Dury's reasons to be cheerful.
How programmers stopped one woman's quest to live without a surname.
|< My waiter was not Peruvian. | BBC White season: 'Rivers of Blood' >|