Monday, July 10, 2006

Early Recordings

Three recordings from the The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides. It was a revelation, not having recorded anything much before, except for two chapters, also for Librivox, of Mary Shelly's Frankenstein. Even an hour of recording left me feeling like I had run five miles. but I was full of enthusiasm, and recorded some thoughts about reading material that might otherwise have been left in the dusty corners where I keep memories of highschool Ancient History.

Book Eight Chapter 24
Dec. 25 2005
Reading this chapter, the Peloponnesian War did indeed seem interminable. It is a chapter of military and political maneuvering, but there are too many people and places to make the situation easily comprehensible. All the same, there are still some splendid passages which bring out Thucydides' ambivalence as he watches the Athenian democracy that he loved and which had treated him so ill, gradually fall apart. A short quote, when he is describing how Athens prepares for a blow that she believes may well destroy her:

Nevertheless, with such means as they had, it was determined to resist to the last, and to provide timber and money, and to equip a fleet as they best could, to take steps to secure their confederates and above all Euboea, to reform things in the city upon a more economical footing, and to elect a board of elders to advise upon the state of affairs as occasion should arise. In short, as is the way of a democracy, in the panic of the moment they were ready to be as prudent as possible.

Taken in short passages, one is easily drawn into the complex emotions of the author, but unfortunately, such sentiments often get overwhelmed by the wealth of topic observation as to the movements of the battle.

Book Eight Chapter 25
Jan. 12 2006
Compared to Chapter 24, the pace picks up considerably, and the telling of the gradually and bloody dissolution of Athenian democracy is certainly worth a read, or a listen.

The description of the suspicion and distrust that arose among the people due to lack of information and the perversion of a few individuals is really great stuff, and with such tremendous contemporary relevance. Just to quote a short passage:

An exaggerated belief in the numbers of the conspirators also demoralized the people, rendered helpless by the magnitude of the city, and by their want of intelligence with each other, and being without means of finding out what those numbers really were.
For the same reason it was impossible for any one to open his grief to a neighbor and to concert measures to defend himself, as he would have had to speak either to one whom he did not know, or whom he knew but did not trust.
Indeed all the popular party approached each other with suspicion, each thinking his neighbor concerned in what was going on, the conspirators having in their ranks persons whom no one could ever have believed capable of joining an oligarchy; and these it was who made the many so suspicious, and so helped to procure impunity for the few, by confirming the commons in their mistrust of one another.
The sense of confusion and isolation is brilliantly evoked, and in the rest of the chapter, one begins to see how self-interest and fear begin to undermine the dream of the Greek polis-based political process and the fragility of democracy.

Then there was Book 8 Chapter 26, the final push to finish the interminable narration, ending so tantilizingly, totally unresolved, ... especially knowing from other sources the terrible consequences of all this intregue. Part of the problem was the style in which the translation was written. Now engaged on some readings of Macauly's History of England, things couldn't be more different.

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