Archive for the 'Greece' Category

Oc, si, oïl

March 16 2010

… and the origin of oui

Nam alii oc, alii si, alii vero dicunt oil” (“some say oc, others si, others oïl”): Dante in De vulgari eloquentia.

He thus classified the Romance languages into oc (southern France), si (Italy and Iberia) and oïl groups (northern France, southern Belgium).

The Latin hoc, this, led to oc.

Sic, thus, became si.

Hoc ille, from, for example, hoc ille fecit, this he did, was also a form of assent. Thus o il or oïl, thence oui.

Dante’s decision to compose the Divina Commedia [c 1309–20] in stanzas of rhyming lines of Tuscan [si] verse instead of in Latin hexameters has been momentous for the subsequent inspiration of poetry in all the vernacular languages of the Western World. Dante was conscious that, in using the vernacular, he was following a lead given by earlier Transalpine [ie French, for example troubadour] poets; but, for a Tuscan, it was a greater feat to liberate himself from the spell of the Latin language and literature than it had been for poets whose mother-tongues were the Langue d’Oc and the Langue d’Oil – not to speak of poets whose mother-tongues were, not Romance, but Teutonic. The medieval Italians might have remained prisoners of their ancestral Latin language. They might have compromised by writing serious Latin poetry in the metres and style of the contemporary popular poetry in the vernacular. Some exquisite Latin poetry of this genre was, in fact, written in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. In liberating themselves from a linguistic servitude to the Graeco-Roman past, the medieval Italians were more successful than their Greek contemporaries […].

The French si is used in the same way as the Latinism sic in English.

Another name for the Langue d’Oc is Occitan. It used to be called Lemosin or Provençal. Nowadays, Lemosin and Provençal mean specific varieties, whereas Occitan is used for the language as a whole. Many non-specialists continue to refer to the language as Provençal.

Catalan is related to it.

Occitania, as the whole area in which Occitan was spoken, is thus a larger area than the individual modern regions of (for example) Languedoc-Roussillon, Limousin or Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.

Modern Italian is in part a literary derivative from Tuscan, forged by Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Machiavelli, Ariosto and Guicciardini; but Tuscan was one of many Romance dialects in Italy.

Mankind and Mother Earth, OUP, 1976, posthumous


March 11 2010

The motif [of Withdrawal-and-Return] presents itself conspicuously in the case of one minority of a natural order which always exists of necessity in every society: the minority consisting of those male members of any given society who, at any given moment, are in course of passing out of boyhood into manhood through the metamorphosis of puberty. The withdrawal of the boys from the common life of Society on the eve of puberty in order that they may return as men when they are ripe for marriage is a social movement which is not only common in the life of primitive societies, but is also traceable in the lives of societies that are in process of civilization – sometimes as a theme of Mythology and sometimes as a custom that lingers on in practice in some by-way of practical life. The temporary segregation of the boys of a primitive society during their years of puberty is a commonplace of Anthropology [Footnote: For a survey of the prevalence of this institution in the lives of extant primitive societies, see Schurz, H.: Altersklassen und Männerbünde (Berlin 1902, Reimer).] The reflexion of this custom in Mythology is illustrated by the Hellenic myth of the Centaur Cheiron’s school of heroes in the wilderness of Mount Pelion. Its survival as a “going concern”, into the history of a civilization is illustrated by the Spartan institution of the so-called “Lycurgean Agôgê” and by the English institution of the so-called “Public Schools”. [Footnote: […] It is to be noted that while the English boy who is segregated from his family on the eve of puberty by being sent to a “public school” does return to ordinary life upon reaching manhood, the Spartiate never returns, after his entry into the Agôgê at the age of seven, until he is superannuated from military service at the age of sixty.]

Degas’ Young Spartans Exercising (1860) at the National Gallery reminds us that there was not always total segregation of adolescent boys. Plutarch writes in his life of Lycurgus that girls were encouraged to exercise, dance and sing naked in front of the young men in order to encourage them to marry, and to humiliate them and criticise those who were weak.

A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1934

Sir Kenneth Dover

March 10 2010

Greek scholar.



The Horses of Achilles

March 4 2010

“When they saw Patroklos dead
–  so brave and strong, so young –
the horses of Achilles began to weep;
their immortal nature was upset deeply
by this work of death they had to look at.
They reared their heads, tossed their long manes,
beat the ground with their hooves, and mourned
Patroklos, seeing him lifeless, destroyed,
now mere flesh only, his spirit gone,
defenceless, without breath,
turned back from life to the great Nothingness.

Zeus saw the tears of those immortal horses and felt sorry.]
‘At the wedding of Peleus,’ he said,
‘I should not have acted so thoughtlessly.
Better if we hadn’t given you as a gift,
my unhappy horses. What business did you have down there,]
among pathetic human beings, the toys of fate.
You are free of death, you will not get old,
yet ephemeral disasters torment you.
Men have caught you up in their misery.’
But it was for the eternal disaster of death
that those two gallant horses shed their tears.”


Achilles binding the arm of Patroclus after he was wounded by an arrow, kylix from the Etruscan city of Vulci, c 500 BC, Pergamon Museum, Berlin; the incident is not in the Iliad

Peleus married the sea-nymph Thetis and fathered Achilles by her. As a wedding present, Zeus’s brother Poseidon gave Peleus two immortal horses, Balius and Xanthus, whose father, according to one tradition, was Zeus.

The wedding feast was the beginning of the quarrel that led to the Judgment of Paris and to the Trojan War.

The Horses of Achilles, from Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, translators; George Savidis, editor, CP Cavafy, Collected Poems, revised edition, Princeton University Press, 1992, at I have anglicised the spelling of defenseless.

Victorian Hellenism 2

March 1 2010

Victorian Hellenism

Victorians and post-Victorians were always talking about vital, stimulating, diverse Europe and static Asia. In the previous post I quoted an opinion that the Victorian view of Hellenistic culture was sometimes coloured by racism.

There was generalised prejudice against Asian Hellenes, no doubt, but what specific culturally-Greek philosophers, artists or institutions in the Hellenistic era were denigrated or not given their due?

The simple passage below is not especially condescending.

Greek culture before this contact with the Middle East had covered a period of about eight centuries. It had developed maritime city states around and in the Aegean. It had spread round the Mediterranean and had begun the process of penetration which Alexander was to carry to its farthest limits. This penetration had been going on for two or three centuries before the critical contact with the Persian Empire. At Marathon and at Salamis the Hellenic world had repulsed this attempt at unity by the Middle East acting westward. Their success on this occasion was the greatest event in the building-up of their national self-consciousness. Then came the failure of their own internal efforts at unity, the Athenian Empire baulked by Sparta in the Peloponnesian war. The catastrophe of 431 B.C. was followed by a century of woe. The internecine struggles of the city states left the way open for the Macedonian conquerors, Philip and Alexander, who put themselves at the head of the Hellenic world. The conquering house then led the Greek advance on its crusade to the Middle East.

What do we know of the Middle East before its contact with Alexander’s advance? and in what state was it prepared to meet it? Our knowledge here, though less intimate, is far more extensive; it reaches from the fourth millennium to the fourth century B.C., i.e. for more than four times as long as our knowledge of the Greek world. And the civilization itself was of much longer date than the Greek. These eastern civilizations had conquered and occupied the great river-basins in the earlier part of their long evolution. This had been accomplished by the beginning of the second millennium B.C. In this phase the Egyptian and the Mesopotamian basins were separate unities. In the second millennium, and for a period of more than a thousand years after, these two unities had come into contact with disastrous shocks. The Assyrian wars were the culmination. The Greeks could look on, tertii gaudentes. In the interval that passed before Alexander’s advance the Persians had succeeded easily in uniting the Middle East, but the Greeks, as yet unable to permeate Asia Minor themselves, resisted the Persian fusion. The Middle East lay torpid, awaiting the Greek expansion as Persia decayed.

Let it be noted that at the time of the Greek expansion under Alexander both the attacking and the attacked were past their zenith. But the Greeks, though they had just experienced their first grave catastrophe in the Peloponnesian war, were still full of energy and initiative. The war had not destroyed the national vigour which produced a Thucydides and a Plato. The training in warfare prepared Philip and Alexander for their work. On the other hand the civilization of the Middle East was passive and inert. It seemed bound to run out to the end of the course set by an earlier initiative, unless deflected by an outside force. It had been rising for two millennia and had then passed through more than one thousand years of catastrophe and conflict. It now lay ready for attack and absorption by the more vigorous Greeks; and Greek civilization was to recover itself by assimilating this fresh material, and to move forward again with renewed strength.

There were many factors in the situation, for and against successful fusion. It was a favourable factor that the oriental had an older religious experience than the Greek. In the East was wisdom born of sorrow. Hebrew prophets had been expressing in the eighth and seventh centuries what Greeks began to feel in the fifth and fourth. This is the source and explanation of that long religious penetration proceeding from the East to Greece, the cults of Cybele and Isis, and the later religion of Mithra and of Hermes. Christianity itself shows abundant traces of the communion of the Greek mind with the East. Another favourable factor was the superiority and vigour of the city state contrasted with the mass society and centralized organization of the Oriental powers. Antioch and the cities founded by Seleucus and his house bear witness to the vitality of this development. They contain the agora, the theatre of the old Greek world, they nourished schools of rhetoric and philosophy which had continued life down to the advent of Islam.

But there were other feelings and forces which made against fusion.

There is a certain natural antipathy between Greek and Oriental, a different outlook, a different rhythm of life. How the Persians felt about one aspect of Greek life was pointedly expressed by Cyrus to the Spartan herald who brought him the warning and defiance from their city. Never yet, he said, did he fear men such as these, who had a place appointed in the midst of their city where they gathered together and deceived one another by false oaths. “These words Cyrus threw out scornfully with reference to the Hellenes in general, because they got for themselves markets and practised buying and selling there; for the Persians themselves are not wont to use markets, nor have they any market place at all” (Herodotus i. 153). The absence of the “agora”, the talking-shop, the Parliament of the West, is a significant mark of the old theocratic order. These free-speaking, free-thinking Greeks had lost most of that old religious prejudice which led the Egyptians (Herodotus ii. 39) to cast into the river the head of their sacrificial beast like a scapegoat with its imprecations. If, we are told, they found a Hellene at hand they would sell it to him and despised him into the bargain. And was not the “Abomination of Desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not”, only an altar of Zeus Ouranios?

But the Greeks also had feelings which made against fusion. They were intensely attached to their ancient homes, and this home-sickness showed itself even in the lives of the most distinguished and successful members of the Seleucid house. Seleucus himself was on his way back from Asia to his old Macedonian home when he met his death by the hand of Ptolemy Ceraunus. Antiochus Epiphanes preferred to build temples at Athens rather than at his own city of Antioch. All through, in fact, Hellenistic politics continued to cluster round the homeland of Greece.

With FS Marvin, Alexander and Hellenism, in The Evolution of World-Peace, Essays Arranged and Edited by F. S. Marvin, OUP, 1921

Alexandrian autonomy

February 24 2010

There is some evidence to show that, as a result of her annexation to the Roman Empire after the Battle of Actium, Alexandria lost, not only her perhaps rather nebulous primacy among the cities of the Hellenic World, but also some of the solid substance of her municipal self-government (see Jones, A. H. M.: The Cities of the Eastern Roman Provinces (Oxford 1937, Clarendon Press), pp. 311-12). It must be added that, according to the same authority (pp. 304 and 471), the Romans were only carrying farther a process of Gleichschaltung which the Ptolemies had already begun. A civic council of Alexandria seems to have existed under the earlier Ptolemies, but to have been abolished by the later Ptolemies before the Roman conquest. No doubt the “totalitarian” structure of the Ptolemaic state and the “servile” character of native Egyptian social life under the Ptolemaic régime […] made an unpropitious environment for Hellenic political institutions.

A Study of History, Vol VI, OUP, 1939 (footnote)

Victorian Hellenism

February 23 2010

Stephen Marsh emails me on a Victorian view of the Hellenistic period, referring to a recent post, which links back to some earlier ones.

“Herewith a well-known piece of evidence clearly against AT’s somewhat blithe acceptance of the standard textbook view of Hellenistic philosophy as a retreat into the self, caused by the decline/suppression of the polis. I give it in both Latin and English. The Latin may be slightly adapted, as I have reproduced it from a school textbook: the English is my own.

“Cicero, De finibus bonorum et malorum, Bk III.

Mundum autem censent regi numine deorum, eumque esse quasi communem urbem et civitatem hominum et deorum, et unumquemque nostrum eius mundi esse partem; ex quo illud natura consequi, ut communem utilitatem nostrae anteponamus. Ut enim leges omnium salutem singulorum salutem anteponunt, sic vir bonus et sapiens et legibus parens et civilis officii non ignarus utilitati omnium plus quam suae consulit. Nec magis culpant Stoici proditorem patriae quam eum qui communem utilitatem propter suam deserit. Ex quo fit ut eum laudemus qui mortem obeat pro re publica, quod decet cariorem nobis esse patriam quam nos ipsos.

Praeterea quod nemo in summa solitudine vitam agere vult ne cum singulari quidem voluptatum abundantia, facile intelligitur nos ad naturalem communitatem esse natos.

“‘They (the Stoics) think that the world is governed by the power of the gods, and that it is, as it were, a city and community shared by gods and men, and that each and every one of us is a part of this world; from this, it follows naturally that we should promote the common good in preference to our own. For, just as the law places the welfare of all above the welfare of individuals, so a man who is good, ethically aware, respectful of the law, and conscious of his duty as a citizen, is more mindful of the common good than of his own. In just the same way, the Stoics hold a man who betrays his country equally guilty with someone who abandons the common good to pursue his own advantage. It is for this reason that we praise the man who gives up his life for his country, because our country should be dearer to us than we are to ourselves.

‘Moreover, no-one wants to spend his life in complete isolation from his fellows, even if he could experience all possible pleasures by doing so: thus, it is easy to realise that we have been destined by Nature for the communal form of life she has prepared for us.’

“Why did AT allow himself to be seduced by what I call the ‘standard textbook view’ when there exists substantial evidence against it? I can only speculate as follows.

1) The writing of the so-called ‘history of ideas’ is often corrupted by the notion that one must be able to trace a discernible pattern in the ideas whose history one claims to be writing, and this pattern must match in some way the development of the states/societies in which those ideas were produced.

2) In Victorian Hellenism there was an idée reçue, or better an idée fixe, that Greek civilisation reached its apogee in the 5th century BC, in the polis of Athens. The values and ideals of this culture are to be found described in lapidary form by Thucydides in the ‘Funeral Speech’ he attributes to Pericles in Bk II of his History.

3) It follows that the relationship between Classical and Hellenistic Greek culture is one of ‘perfection’ and ‘decadence’. (As far as I know, AT did not embrace the racism and homophobia often associated with this view.)”


Racism and homophobia? I could understand the first in this context, not the second.

“The racism implicit in Victorian Hellenism derives from the idea that large numbers of people were Greek by culture but not by race in the Hellenistic world (‘of course these people didn’t really understand true Hellenism’).

“The homophobia derives from the Victorian view that homosexuality was on the increase in the transition from Classical to Hellenistic Greece (or, in its more refined version, Greek bisexual culture was moving from Aphrodite Urania to Aphrodite Pandemos), so the virility and martial spirit of even the ethnically-Greek peoples was weakened (‘no wonder the Romans had no difficulty in conquering these degenerates’).”

See pre-Victorian Gibbon on effeminate Asians. A retreat into the self could, I suppose, have co-existed with what Cicero is saying here. A tendency is one direction doesn’t preclude a tendency in another. I don’t know about 1) in this case, but I’m sure Toynbee inherited part of that historical view. He certainly had the idée fixe about the fifth century as a turning-point.

On the other hand, he contributes to a book intended to form an historical background to the foundation of the League of Nations (The Evolution of World-Peace, Essays Arranged and Edited by F. S. Marvin, OUP, 1921) in which his essay, Alexander and Hellenism, written with Marvin, looks at “the greatest definite effort at world-incorporation made by the Greeks” and how it broke down. It shows some of the old Victorian view, but also a post-1918 hankering for “world-unity”. Alexander’s work is a warning to “would-be conquerors of the world in a superior spirit”. The other contributors are Paul Vinogradoff, HWC Davis, GN Clark, GP Gooch, CR Beazley, Frederick Whelen, HG Wells and Eileen Power.

The essays were based on lectures given at the Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, founded by George Cadbury in Birmingham. It’s not clear whether Toynbee or Marvin gave the one on Alexander. It reads like Toynbee. One, by Gilbert Murray, “on the mandatory system under the Peace Treaty”, is not printed.

Rebuilding Rhodes

February 12 2010

The Marshall Plan was perhaps not quite unprecedented. There was a classical precedent in a post-Alexandrine chapter of Hellenic history that had seen the states of the Hellenic World of the day vie with one another in the generosity of their gifts to the city-state of Rhodes after Rhodes had been smitten by an earthquake in 227 B.C. [Footnote: See Polybius: Oecumenical History, Book V, chaps. 88-90 […].] This, however, had been a case of many countries contributing towards the relief of one country, whereas the Marshall Plan was a case of one country offering help to all the rest, and making this offer at a time when the donor was already the strongest single Power in the World of the day.

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

Union and uniates

January 15 2010

At the Council of Florence (A.D. 1438-9), which had been convened with the objects of negotiating a union between the Eastern Orthodox churches and the Roman See, a statesmanlike distinction was boldly drawn by the Western ecclesiastical negotiators. They required, as the conditions for union, an agreement in doctrine with the Western Church and an acceptance of the Roman See’s ecclesiastical supremacy; and they insisted on these two conditions being complied with. But at the same time they showed themselves ready to allow to Eastern Orthodox churches that did agree with these conditions wide liberty in the field of rites. They were to be free, for instance, to retain their own traditional liturgies in their own liturgical languages, and their own traditional customs and practices as, for example, the custom that parish priests should be married men. This discriminatory policy did not attain its immediate purpose. At the time, the Eastern Orthodox peoples repudiated the signatures of their representatives, and the Greek people opted for political subjection to the Ottoman Empire as, in their eyes, a lesser evil than ecclesiastical submission to the Roman See. But this immediate rebuff did not move the Vatican to revoke the terms for union that it had offered in A.D. 1438-9; and, in the course of the five centuries that have passed since that date, the result of this enlightened liberality has been the reconciliation with Rome of a number of uniate churches recruited not only from Eastern Orthodox Christendom but from the Monothelete and Monophysite and Nestorian communions too.

An Historian’s Approach to Religion, OUP, 1956

The city and the pillar

January 14 2010

… or The descent of Daniel

The harmony which Frazer denies [harmony between the service of God and the service of Man] is exemplified in practice in the lives of the Christian anchorites – a Saint Antony in his desert in Egypt or a Saint Symeon on his pillar in Syria – in an age when the Roman Empire, and the Hellenic Society embodied in it, were approaching their final dissolution. It is manifest that, in insulating themselves physically from their fellow men, these saints were entering into a far more active relation with a far wider circle than any that would have centred round them if they had remained “in the World” and had spent their lives in some secular occupation. They swayed the world from their retreats to greater effect than the Emperor in the city or than the master of the soldiers in the cantonment, because their personal pursuit of holiness through seeking communion with God was a form of social action that moved their fellow men more powerfully than any secular social service on the military or the political plane. The anchorites were recognized by their contemporaries to be pursuing the highest social aim on behalf of all Mankind with complete single-mindedness and disinterestedness; and this spectacle of their self-realization through self-surrender struck their contemporaries’ imaginations and touched their hearts and thereby played its part in the forging of a social bond of a spiritual order which held firm when Society dissolved on the political and economic levels.

Until recently it was considered to be beneficial to society for certain people to sit alone in rooms studying Latin and Greek texts.

Stylite comes from the ecclesiastical Greek stulitēs, from stulos, pillar. Stylites would sit for years on the tops of pillars in contemplation and prayer. St Simeon Stylites (c 390-459) lived near Aleppo, St Daniel (c 409-93) at Anaplus on the west side of the Bosphorus, St Simeon the Younger (521-97) near Antioch, St Alypius (522-640, dying apparently at the age of 118) in Paphlagonia. There are later examples in the Orthodox world, including in Russia.

“It has sometimes been said that the ascetic ideal of the East Roman was a barren withdrawal from the world of his day; the biography of John the Almsgiver [footnote (I presume Toynbee): John the Almsgiver [not a stylite] was Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria from A.D. 611 to A.D. 619. During these years Syria was under Persian military occupation while Egypt was still in Roman hands, and the Patriarch had to cope with an influx of Syrian refugees.] may suggest why it was that the Byzantine in his hour of need turned instinctively for aid and comfort to the ascete in the full assurance of his sympathy and succour. … One of the outstanding features of early Byzantine asceticism is its passion for social justice and its championship of the poor and oppressed.” [Footnote: Dawes, E., and Baynes, N. H.: Three Byzantine Saints (Oxford 1948, Blackwell), pp. 198 and 197.]

The anchorites’ concern and travail for the welfare of their fellow men would still have been recognized without question by their contemporaries if the anchorites themselves had never departed from their chosen and approved way of performing the opus Dei. But there were occasions on which the anchorites showed their love for Man and their humility towards God by breaking the regime of insulation that they had imposed on themselves and returning to the World to intervene in a secular crisis.

Thus [footnote: An English translation of the original Greek text narrating the following story will be found in Dawes and Baynes, op. cit., pp. 49-59. The anonymous author was one of the Saint’s personal attendants.] in A.D. 475-6 Saint Daniel the Stylite, at the instance of the emissaries of the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, consented to descend from his pillar at Anaplus, up the Bosphorus, in order to save Orthodoxy from the Monophysite proclivities of the usurping Emperor Basiliscus. [Footnote: Monophysitism versus Orthodoxy was a secular as well as a religious issue at this date, since Monophysitism was becoming the theological expression of the resurgent national consciousness of the non-Hellenic peoples of the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire – particularly the Copts, Syrians, and Armenians – as against the [Chalcedonian] Orthodoxy of the “Melchite” Greek-speaking supporters of the Roman Imperial régime […].] The mere news of the holy man’s epiphany in the cathedral church of the Apostles in the Imperial City frightened the Emperor into evacuating his own capital and retreating to the imperial palace at the seventh milestone. It was indeed a crushing indictment of his conduct of public affairs that the report of his people’s affliction should have moved the saint to re-emerge from a physical isolation in which, by that time, he had been living already for twenty-four years [footnote: For the first nine years of these twenty-four, Saint Daniel had immured himself in an ex-pagan temple; for the last fifteen he had marooned himself on the top of a pillar.] and which was to have lasted unbroken till his death. Working spiritual acts of psychical and physical healing on his way, Saint Daniel led the clergy and people of Constantinople to beard the truant prince in his suburban asylum; and, when the guards refused the crowd admission to the imperial presence, the saint directed the people to follow him in the scriptural symbolic act of shaking the dust of the palace precincts off their garments [there are references in both Testaments to the gesture of shaking dust off garments or feet] – which they did with such a thunderous reverberation that most of the guards on duty were moved to desert their imperial master and follow in the stylite’s train. In vain the Emperor sent messages after the departing saint to beg him to return to the Hebdomon [the suburb to which he had retreated]; in vain he returned to Constantinople himself and besought Daniel to visit him in his palace there. In the end the Emperor was constrained to present himself before the Saint in the Cathedral and prostrate himself at his feet; and a public profession of Orthodoxy was the price that he eventually had to pay in order to save his throne by setting Daniel at liberty to resume his station on his pillar-top.

This was the sole occasion on which Saint Daniel issued from his physical seclusion during a period of forty-two years (A.D. 451-93) which saw the Roman Empire founder in the West while in the East it escaped shipwreck under the spiritual pilotage of the stylite’s “distant control”.

“For three and thirty years [in total] (A.D. 460-93) he stood for varying periods on the three columns. … During these he was deemed worthy to receive ‘the prize of his high calling’; [footnote (Toynbee or Dawes and Baynes?): Phil. iii. 14.] he blessed all men, he prayed on behalf of all, he counselled all not to be covetous, he instructed all in the things necessary to salvation, he showed hospitality to all [on the top of the column?], yet he possessed nothing on Earth beyond the confines of the spot on which the enclosure and religious houses had been built.” [Footnote: Dawes and Baynes, op. cit., pp. 70-71.]

On the face of it, Saint Daniel’s return to the World in order to rescue his fellow men from political oppression is the same story as the return of Purun Baghat [footnote: Kipling, Rudyard: “The Miracle of Purun Baghat” in The Second Jungle Book […].] to give warning, to the village below this Hindu hermit’s cave, of an impending landslide that would otherwise have engulfed the villagers unawares. The point is, indeed, the same in the legend of the Christian saint and in the Western storyteller’s version of a Hindu theme. The historic Christian and the imaginary Hindu hermit each rises to his highest spiritual flight by breaking away, for the love of God and Man, from a settled course of physical withdrawal from the World along which he had been seeking spiritual perfection. Yet, though both responded in the same way to the same illumination, there is a difference between their spiritual histories in the crucial point of the relation of the new light that had dawned on them to their previous spiritual outlook. The Christian saint had been led into his physical retreat from the World by the same love of God and Man that eventually moved him to descend from his pillar, whereas the Hindu sage, when he yielded to the impulse of love and pity that sent his feet hastening down the mountainside from the cave to the village, was not fulfilling his philosophy but was flying in its face – and who can say whether he would have brought himself to make this sacrifice “in real life”, if he had been an historical character authentically brought up in a philosophical tradition inherited by Hinduism from a Primitive Buddhist School, instead of having been created, as he was, by the imagination of a Western man of letters brought up in the religious tradition of Christianity?

The truth is that Frazer’s strictures, which miss their mark when he directs them against the saints, find a legitimate target in the philosophers, be they of the Indic or of the Hellenic school, who cultivate a detachment in which the withdrawal leads to no return. The Hinayanian, Stoic, and Epicurean ideal of the sage goes astray through casting Man for a superhuman role of godlike self-sufficiency and thereby condemning the adept to seek a way out of an impossible position by restricting himself to a sub-human performance. This philosophy attempts to make of Man, not a saint inspired by God’s grace, but a very god in himself; and, since this is too heavy a burden for a human soul to bear, the philosopher cannot make even a pretence of carrying it off unless he lightens his self-imposed load by casting out his God-given feelings of love and pity for the rest of God’s creatures.

Stephen Marsh, I suspect, would disagree with what seems to be the thrust of the last section as it concerns the detachment of the Greeks, having written in response to something here, and believing Toynbee to be anyway out of his depth in matters of philosophy: “Stoicism contains a great deal of ethical concern about the world outside the self including the claim that the world is the polis of good men” and “the ideal of euergetism [helping a community through patronage] makes even Epicureans like Diogenes of Oenanda concerned with promoting a good, ie happy, life for their fellow citizens”.

For similarly brilliant references to Kipling, see Mowgli’s finger and Gallicus Tumultus.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954


January 3 2010

John Mark Ainsley on Hans Werner Henze’s opera Phaedra, which gets its first English performance at the Barbican in London on January 17. Ainsley will sing Hippolytus.

Ainsley has fallen under Henze’s spell. So has Ian Bostridge. So have I. The illness that interrupted the composition of Phaedra in late 2005 and sent Henze into a quasi-coma was mysterious. I suppose it was a response to the ordeal of composing an opera at that age, and a rite of passage to a few final creative years. Henze referred to a heart attack which he suffered in the ’70s as an “industrial accident”.

Andrew Clark began this article in the FT on December 7 2005 with the words “As Hans Werner Henze lies dying at his home near Rome”.

Here is a Guardian piece about the forthcoming Henze weekend at the Barbican, which ends with Phaedra. Service says that Schoenberg is “Henze’s great composing hero”. Where does he get that from?

I won’t be here for Phaedra, but hope to see Elegy for Young Lovers at the Young Vic in April.

The failure of Heraclius

December 30 2009

Heraclius spent twenty-four years out of a reign of thirty-one on the desperate enterprise of trying by force of arms to prevent the Syriac provinces of the Hellenic universal state from shaking off at last an incubus of Hellenic domination which had been weighing upon them ever since the overthrow of the Achaemenian Empire by the arms of Alexander the Great. The sword of Heraclius could not avail to stem a tide of Syriac resurgence which had been flowing for at least eight centuries in the Transeuphratean [Parthian and Sassanian], and for at least four centuries in the Ciseuphratean, territories of the Syriac World by the time when Heraclius was called in to Hellenism’s rescue. The Syriac counter-attack was by then already victorious on the deeper planes of life in religion, in language, in architecture, in art and, even on the superficial planes of politics and war, the liberation, by Syriac arms, of the homeland of the Syriac culture had already been momentarily anticipated during the recurrence of the Hellenic “Time of Troubles” in the third century of the Christian Era, when Zenobia of Palmyra had brought the whole of Syria under her rule and had even pushed her outposts across the Taurus and the Nile. It is evident that Heraclius in the seventh century was courting disaster by venturing to repeat Aurelian’s barely successful counterstroke. Heraclius did succeed, at the end of eighteen years of strenuous and audacious campaigning, in pushing the Persian invader back from Chalcedon to Tabriz and imposing on the Sasanian [Toynbee’s preferred spelling in the Study] Empire a peace-settlement which restored the territorial status quo ante bellum. Yet the Persian champion of Syriac liberty had no sooner laid down his arms than an Arab champion stepped into his place in the arena and pitted his fresh vigour against a war-worn Roman Army; and this immediate return, from an unexpected quarter, of a tide which Heraclius had thought himself to have stemmed for good, was a challenge to which the weary emperor’s spirit was not equal. In his fight to save Syria from the Arabs Heraclius abandoned after six years a struggle which he had kept up for eighteen years against the Persians, and withdrew from Antioch to Constantinople to die there broken-hearted.

The Syriac society

Jewish and Christian Hellenophobia

A Study of History, Vol VI, OUP, 1939

Myris: Alexandria, A.D. 340

December 19 2009

“When I heard the terrible news, that Myris was dead,
I went to his house, although I avoid
going to the houses of Christians,
especially during times of mourning or festivity.

I stood in the corridor. I didn’t want
to go further inside because I noticed
that the relatives of the deceased looked at me
with obvious surprise and displeasure.

They had him in a large room,
and from the corner where I stood
I could catch a glimpse of it: all precious carpets,
and vessels in silver and gold.

I stood and wept in a corner of the corridor.
And I thought how our parties and excursions
would no longer be worthwhile without Myris;
and I thought how I’d no longer see him
at our wonderfully indecent night-long sessions
enjoying himself, laughing, and reciting verses
with his perfect feel for Greek rhythm;
and I thought how I’d lost forever
his beauty, lost forever
the young man I’d worshipped so passionately.

Some old women close to me were talking with lowered voices
about the last day he lived:
the name of Christ constantly on his lips,
his hand holding a cross.
Then four Christian priests
came into the room, and said prayers
fervently, and orisons to Jesus,
or to Mary (I’m not very familiar with their religion).

We’d known, of course, that Myris was a Christian,
known it from the very start,
when he first joined our group the year before last.
But he lived exactly as we did.
More devoted to pleasure than all of us,
he scattered his money lavishly on amusements.
Not caring what anyone thought of him,
he threw himself eagerly into night-time scuffles
when our group happened to clash
with some rival group in the street.
He never spoke about his religion.
And once we even told him
that we’d take him with us to the Serapeion.
But – I remember now –
he didn’t seem to like this joke of ours.
And yes, now I recall two other incidents.
When we made libations to Poseidon,
he drew himself back from our circle and looked elsewhere.
And when one of us in his fervor said:
‘May all of us be favoured and protected
by the great, the sublime Apollo’ –
Myris, unheard by the others, whispered: ‘not counting me.’

The Christian priests were praying loudly
for the young man’s soul.
I noticed with how much diligence,
how much intense concern
for the forms of their religion, they were preparing
everything for the Christian funeral.
And suddenly an odd sensation
took hold of me. Indefinably I felt
as if Myris were going from me;
I felt that he, a Christian, was united
with his own people and that I was becoming
a stranger, a total stranger. I even felt
a doubt come over me: that I’d also been deceived by my passion
and had always been a stranger to him.
I rushed out of their horrible house,
rushed away before my memory of Myris
could be captured, could be perverted by their Christianity.”


Myris: Alexandria, A.D. 340, from Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, translators; George Savidis, editor, CP Cavafy, Collected Poems, revised edition, Princeton University Press, 1992, at Spelling anglicised.

Compare Myris with his contemporary, the Syrian student in Dangerous Thoughts. also gives the version from Stratis Haviaras, translator, C.P. Cavafy, The Canon, Hermes Publishing, 2004. It is slightly wordier, making the lines too long to fit well here, but here is the link. The word “dreadful” sits too ambiguously for me between correct and vulgar use to make for smooth reading, but in general this is as or even more involving.

Keith Taylor (Boston Review, November/December 2009) mentions this poem when discussing Daniel Mendelsohn’s new Cavafy translations. “In this particular case, I do not think Mendelsohn’s version (‘I flew out of their horrible house, / and quickly left before their Christianity / could get hold of, could alter, the memory of Myres’) adds much to Keeley and Sherrard’s […].”

Revenge on Germany

December 7 2009

Germany to 1813

From Stein to Bismarck


Prussianism 2

German Africa

German Africa 2

German Oceania

German China

German Oceania and China

Toynbee was never more prescient than when warning of the dangers of humiliating Germany in a peace settlement after the First World War. I posted a clip a while back from The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, where Michael Maloney portrays Toynbee in Versailles in 1919. Toynbee is made to say:

“My fear is that we do not have statesmen with enough courage to resist the public demand for revenge. [Woodrow Wilson] is a ‘fine man’ obsessed with forming his absurd League of Nations and meanwhile he’s giving way to every bloodthirsty demand. He’s completely outwitted. Clemenceau [is] a dinosaur baying for blood, Lloyd George a politician with no vision or morality at all. You can’t just wipe your enemy out. Years ago Rome could just wipe Carthage out, but now the world has changed. These men are trying to force Germany down, but it cannot be done without terrible tragedy. Push Germany down and you’ll pay a price. And one day it will once more rise to the top. But this lot are behaving like men with no memories. Those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it.”

What lessons exactly? His final words are an echo of George Santayana’s aphorism in his The Life of Reason (5 volumes, 1905-6): “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (I have no evidence that Toynbee had read Santayana.)

The speech sounds too good to be true as prophecy, but his first book, Nationality and the War, from which I have been quoting, does bear out those views, even more remarkably in that it was written at the start of the war, in late 1914 and early 1915. I’ll quote the passages again at the end of this post.

The spirit of Nationality and the War had been, in McNeill’s words, “that of liberal, upper class Edwardian England, combining a concern for principle with a sublime confidence that enlightened English opinion, and the benevolent interests of the British Empire, would (or at least ought to) prevail.” But the outbreak of that war had already changed his view of history.

One of the failures of McNeill’s book is that he does not track Toynbee’s responses at Versailles to the emerging idea of the League. Perhaps the data does not exist.

In Nationality and the War, Toynbee had written that any future international machinery

cannot encroach upon individual sovereignty in any way that affects, or is deemed to affect, the sovereign right of self-preservation: in particular, it cannot aspire to the regulation of War, and it is waste of ingenuity to propound any international machinery for this purpose. The best-conceived arbitration or conciliation is bound to break down, when once a sovereign state has made up its mind that the surrender of its will on a particular issue is equivalent to annihilation. No international authority could ever prevent parleys like those of last July from resolving themselves into a conflict of arms.

Of Woodrow Wilson he says only:

President Wilson has offered Europe the good offices of the United States for mediation at the close of this war and for devising arrangements that shall prevent war for the future. Europe would do well to take President Wilson at his word, and ask the United States to give her permanent assistance of a very practical kind […]. The proposition would doubtless come to American public opinion as a shock, for it has been a constant maxim of their foreign policy to incur no political obligations across the Atlantic, and they will be more eager than ever to maintain this principle, now that they have seen what volcanoes underlie Europe’s smiling surface.

Clemenceau and Lloyd George are not mentioned. What sources, other than that book, could the Indiana Jones programme-makers have used when putting those words into his mouth? They will hardly have gone to archives. McNeill’s biography is more helpful here than Toynbee’s autobiographical Experiences and Acquaintances. They may have used other published memoirs, or histories of the conference. Toynbee’s contribution, The Non-Arab Territories of the Ottoman Empire since the Armistice of the 30th October, 1918, in HWV Temperley, editor, A History of the Peace Conference of Paris, Vol 6, OUP, Issued under the auspices of the British Institute of International Affairs, 1924, might shed light on his feelings in early 1919.

The autobiographical volumes say nothing important about his attitude to Clemenceau and nothing that shows a particularly hostile attitude to Lloyd George (but see this post). In Acquaintances he calls Wilson’s “psychic radar” “inadequate”. In Experiences he says that Wilson,

concentrating on saving as many Yugoslavs as he could from Italy’s clutches, threw German-speaking South Tyrol to the Italian wolves. […] This was one of the most inexcusable of the violations of the principle of self-determination in the 1919 peace settlement.

The Study is critical of Wilson. He regards him as not up to the peace-making job. McNeill quotes a letter from Toynbee to his mother dated November 12 1916:

I hope and sometimes dare believe, Wilson will be mediating between us this time next year.

But this is the only reference to Wilson in the book. He makes his antagonism against Lloyd George clearer. The gist, according to McNeill, is that in April 1919 Lloyd George had disregarded his and Harold Nicolson’s (Nicholson according to McNeill) advice in a memorandum to “cleave” Europe from Asia, give Greece Constantinople and the European shores of the Straits and the Sea of Marmara, but give Turkey the whole of Anatolia and its shores. They were opposing the then-prevailing British and American views, which involved giving new-fangled League of Nations mandates to the US for an “independent” Armenia and also for Constantinople and its “adjacent region”, which presumably included a large part of Anatolia. Here we do have a sign of feeling against the League. You might have thought that he would favour any device that would protect the Armenians, after his championing of their cause in 1915.

This rejection is part of a narrative of failure which McNeill is keen to establish as one of the themes of his biography. Of course, Toynbee’s ideas later became even more pro-Turkish, and when Lloyd George got into trouble over the enforcement of the Treaty of Sèvres, he could not help gloating at his discomfiture. His views got him into trouble when he took a sabbatical from his Greek-funded professorship at London University to become a war correspondent in Turkey, and in 1924 they led to his retreat to Chatham House. They were partly a reaction against his early anti-Turkish writings.

In Nationality and the War he had felt that Smyrna was “marked out to be the capital of a diminished Turkey”. The book was, of course, premature. Many people felt that the war would end soon. That makes it interesting: we can look at each of Toynbee’s ideas and compare them with what actually happened, as I’ve been doing in recent posts in a few areas.

Lloyd George’s rejection of his advice, McNeill suggests, “spelled failure” for his effort to justify his personal role in the war. He had evaded the draft on what seem to have been spurious medical grounds and a feeling of guilt seems to have stayed with him. His whole life’s work was a kind of expiation. He comes close to saying as much, while maintaining that he had been spared from service by a medical accident.

McNeill’s suggestion is believable in emotional terms, but really needs more than the rejection of a single memorandum to support it. He has, however, described previous clashes and tensions with old Foreign Office hands and military intelligence officers in the Foreign Office in London.

McNeill writes of his “growing radicalism [in 1918] and dismay at a social system that could provoke and sustain such a war”. He joined the Labour Party. We are not told in what month. Letter to his mother, no date, probably July 1918 from Castle Howard (aka Brideshead):

I find myself inclining steadily towards the social revolution. The middle class have had their fling for a century and produced this [war]; now let the working class have their try. I am for nationality at one end and internationalism at the other, as essential parts of reconstruction, and if existing states and their traditions cannot square with them, let them go to the devil, the United Kingdom and the Dual Monarchy and all of them.

Post-Second World War communists in western Europe would echo the second sentence more esoterically and substitute “bourgeoisie” for “middle class”.

Virginia Woolf, patronising as usual in her diary, January 1918, quoted by McNeill: “Arnold outdid me in anti-nationalism, anti-patriotism, and anti-militarism. … I like her [Rosalind] better than Arnold, who improves though, and is evidently harmless, and much in his element when discussing Oxford. He hasn’t much good to say of it and will never go back. … He knew the aristocratic heroes who are now all killed and celebrated, and loathed them; for one reason they must have thought him a pale blooded little animal. But he described their row and their violence and their quick snapping brains, always winning scholarships and bullying and … admitting no one to their set.” He never did return to academic tenure at Oxford. Who were those aristocratic heroes?

McNeill: “Having failed to ‘do his part’ in the war by enlisting in the army, he justified his personal behavior by condemning the criminal folly of war more violently than he might otherwise have done.”

The severity of the burden which reparations imposed is disputed, but Hitler consciously played on resentment of the Treaty as he rose to power. In Acquaintances, Toynbee writes of Smuts that

he has […] been charged with being the main inventor of the ingenious devices by which the terms of the reparations chapter of the Treaty of Versailles were kept within the letter of the “no indemnities” stipulation in President Wilson’s Fourteen Points (to which the governments of the Western allies had committed themselves in the armistice agreement), while the spirit of the President’s stipulation was being flagrantly violated. […] The morally unwarrantable inflation of the reparations bill was a breach of faith; and, for a statesman of Smuts’s standing, to advise that the fraudulent act was legally allowable was tantamount to recommending it and incurring responsibility for it.

Presumably the “no indemnities” stipulation was the third Point, which asked for “The removal, so far as possible, of all economic barriers and the establishment of equality of trade conditions among all the nations consenting to the peace and associating themselves for its maintenance”. There was, in effect, no equality of trade conditions for Germany and serious economic barriers were erected against her.

Paul Johnson called Toynbee “early League of Nations man” with some justification (The Times, July 15 1976). The tone of the first two volumes of the Survey of International Affairs is pro-League. The man behind the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Lionel Curtis, wanted to jettison the British Empire in its old form and substitute a free British Imperial Federation, or Commonwealth, of dominions, in alliance with the US, as the driving force in a new world order. What was his attitude to the League? The US, despite having formulated the concept and signed the Covenant, never joined the League of Nations. Toynbee seems to have embraced an idea of “world government”, all the vaguer for being free of Curtis’s ideas about the Commonwealth, after 1945, as the only alternative to mass-suicide in the Atomic Age, having, like almost everybody, become disillusioned with the League in the ’30s.

Curtis chaired a meeting for a group of British and American delegates at Versailles on May 30 1919 at the Hotel Majestic, the headquarters of the British and Dominions delegation, at which he proposed the idea of an Anglo-American institute of foreign affairs to study international problems with a view to preventing future wars. In the event, the British Institute of International Affairs was founded in London in July 1920, with Curtis as its joint Honorary Secretary, with GM Gathorne-Hardy, and received its Royal Charter in 1926. The Council on Foreign Relations, which had its own partially separate antecedents, was founded in 1922 in New York.

What influence did Curtis’s views have on Toynbee when they were in Versailles? If Toynbee found the idea of the League “absurd” for a time, did that reflect a phase of Curtis’s thinking? McNeill does not tell us exactly when Toynbee left Paris, but it seems to have been in April. This is confirmed by Toynbee in The Western Question in Greece and Turkey. Yet Chatham House’s book, Chatham House, Its History and Inhabitants, CE Carrington, revised and updated by Mary Bone, Chatham House, 2004, having given the May 30 date, publishes part of a letter from Toynbee to a Miss Cleeve, presumably of Chatham House, dated October 15 1958, in which he recollects an evening at the Majestic, with “L.C.” holding the floor, at which “the Institute was launched”. He tells a similar story, again with no date for the meeting, in Experiences, though not in Acquaintances, which has a whole chapter on Curtis. Neither account mentions the presence of Americans. McNeill certainly has Toynbee in England, and in a state of mental collapse, on May 30.

He recognised, in Experiences, that the League

did effectively intervene to prevent the inter-war Polish Government from evicting German agricultural colonists in Posnan (Posen) who had been planted, before the First World War, on lands in this Polish territory that had been expropriated by the Prussian Government, while Posen was still Prussian territory, as part of a policy of Germanization. This policy had been indefensible; yet, in the inter-war period, the League of Nations rightly held that the indefensible circumstances in which the German settlers had acquired their farms in Posnan did not justify their now being evicted from these, however unjustifiable their installation in them might have been. Eviction on political grounds was rightly held to be inadmissible, even in unusually provocative circumstances.

The first big lapse from the observance of this principle was the compulsory exchange of minority populations and their property as between […] Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria after the débâcle of the Greek army in Anatolia in the Graeco-Turkish war after the end of the First World War.

No such humanity as the League insisted upon in inter-war Poland was shown by the Russians towards Germans in East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union after the Second World War, whose numbers, received in West Germany, were

approximately equal to the number of European Jews murdered, during that war, by the Nazis.

In 1931 Japan invaded China in violation of the Covenant of the League, and of the Washington Treaty and the Kellogg Pact. The League did nothing. Hardly surprisingly, without America.

In 1935-6 Britain and France refused to support the League when Italy attacked Ethiopia.

The whole thing is so infantile, as well as so evil, that it makes me sick to think about it. [Letter to Veronica Boulter, April 17 1936, quoted by McNeill.]

But he continued, at least until Munich, to believe that some kind of accommodation with Germany was possible, and some of his views during this period, and a visit to Hitler in early 1936, just before the reoccupation of the Rhineland, caused some to think of him as an appeaser.

His disillusionment confirmed his belief that

the principal cause of war in our world today is the idolatrous worship which is paid by human beings to nations and communities or States. […] People will sacrifice themselves for the ‘Third Reich’ or whatever the Ersatz-Götzen [“substitute Gods”; Götz is a diminutive] may be, till they learn again to sacrifice themselves for the Kingdom of God.” [Letter to the Manchester Guardian published on April 9 1935, quoted by McNeill.]

The posts listed at the top take us through the beginning of the second chapter of Nationality and the War. The chapter is called Prussianism, or Germany’s Ambitions. A sketch of German history led into a description of Prussianism and of the German overseas Empire. He recommended that, in accordance with a generally fair treatment of Germany after the war and respect for her commercial and industrial interests, Germany should be given back her African colonies. But the German colonies were a peripheral matter. After a concluding passage to the first section, which I will quote in a moment, he goes on to discuss how Germany should be treated in Europe. The first section is called The German Empire. The four subsequent sections of the chapter are called The French Frontier, The Danish Frontier, The Polish Frontier and Prussian State and German Nation.

McNeill summarises his recommendations: “Treating Germany well meant partitioning the Hapsburg monarchy and allowing Austria and Bohemia to unite with Germany, while also shearing off portions of Alsace and Lorraine in the west and some Polish lands in the east, all in accordance with local opinion as indicated by plebiscites. Such a peace settlement would make Germany supreme on the continent of Europe, but that did not bother Toynbee since a generous settlement in accord with the principle of nationality might be expected to convert the Germans and other Europeans from ‘national competition’ to ‘national cooperation,’ particularly in view of the threat from China that he anticipated.” I will post the arguments in full in due course.

Great Britain’s true policy, then, is to allow Germany to retain all openings for peaceable, as opposed to forcible, expansion afforded her by her oversea dominions as they existed before this war broke out, and we shall have a particularly free hand in the decision of this question, because the command of the sea, and the world-wide naval operations it makes possible, fall almost entirely within our province, and not within that of our European allies. We must furthermore give just as great facilities as before to German immigration through all the vast portions of our empire that are still only in process of being opened up and settled, and we must urge our allies to adopt the same principle with regard to the territories in a similar phase of development which acknowledge their sovereignty. We must also respect the concessions which German enterprise has secured for its capital, with such fine initiative and perseverance, in neutral countries of backward growth. We shall find instances, similar to the coaling stations in the Pacific, where professedly economic concerns have an essentially political intention – certain sections of the projected Bagdad (sic) railway occur at once to our minds – and here we may be compelled to require Germany to abandon her title; but we must confine such demands to a minimum. Both we and our allies must take care that neither political panic nor economic greed induces us to carry them to excess, and in every case where we decide to make them, we must give Germany the opportunity of acquiring, in compensation, more than their equivalent in economic value.

If we meet Germany in this spirit, she will at least emerge from the war no more cramped and constricted than she entered it. This will not, of course, satisfy her ambitions, for they were evil ambitions, and could not be satisfied without the world’s ruin; but it will surely allay her fears. She will have seen that we had it in our power to mutilate her all round and cripple her utterly, and that we held our hand. Once her fear is banished, we can proceed to conjure away her envy: for to leave her what she has already would prepare the ground for an invitation to join us in organising some standing international authority that should continuously adjust the claims of all growing nations, Germany among the rest, by reasonable methods of compromise, and so provide openings for the respective expansion of their wealth and population.

Such an international organ would replace the struggle for existence between nations, in which each tries to snatch his neighbour’s last crust, by a co-operation in which all would work together for a common end; but many tangled problems strew the ground in front of us, before we can clear it for such a construction. The national foundations of Europe must first be relaid; and just as in the question of territories over sea the decisive word will lie with ourselves, so in the case of European frontiers it will lie with our allies, because the war on land is their province and because the national problems at issue affect them even more directly than us.

This does not absolve us from the duty of probing these problems to their bottom: rather it makes it the more imperative that we should do so, inasmuch as our influence upon their solution will depend principally on the impartiality of our point of view and the reasonableness of our suggestions, and very little on any power of making our will prevail by mere intransigeance (sic), or by the plea of paramount interests. Great Britain ought to come to the conference with very definite opinions about the details of these problems, even at the risk of annoying her allies by the appearance of meddling with what is less her business than theirs. The Allies have proclaimed to the world that they will wage this war to its conclusion in concert, and that declaration will not be difficult for them to observe: but they have also implied that they will negotiate in concert the terms of peace, and it is here that the separateness of their positive interests, beyond the negative bond of self-preservation, will be in danger of manifesting itself. They have morally pledged themselves to a settlement that shall subordinate their several, and even their collective, interests to the general interests of the civilised world, and it is on this ground that they have claimed the sympathy of neutrals in the struggle with their opponents. To fulfil their promise, they will need all the wisdom, patience and disinterestedness that they can command; and the supreme value of Great Britain’s voice will lie in the proposal of formulas calculated to reconcile the views of the Allies with each other and also with the relatively impartial standpoint of the non-nationalistic element that happily obtains some footing in all countries and in all strata of society.

The solutions we offer, then, for the national problems of Europe must not be conceived as demands which it is in Great Britain’s vital interest to propound and in her absolute power to enforce, but rather as suggestions compatible with British interests, and capable of acceptance by our allies. The satisfaction of all parties on whom their translation into fact will depend, is, however, only a negative condition: they must further be governed by the positive aim of dealing impartial justice to ourselves, our friends and our enemies alike. We must follow the principle that a “disinterested” policy ultimately serves the truest interest of its authors.

The first problem that confronts us is that of the alien nationalities included against their will within the present frontiers of the German Empire. The settlement after this war must bring justice to these populations by affording them an opportunity for choosing freely whether they will maintain their connection with Germany or no, and if not, what destiny they prefer. When we have estimated the probable results of their choice, we may proceed to consider what the effect is likely to be on German public opinion, and look for some means of cancelling the bitterness which cannot fail to be aroused in some degree. But this is essentially a secondary consideration. We have accepted the principle that the recognition of nationality is the necessary foundation for European peace; and peace is endangered far more by the unjust violation of the national idea than by the resentment due to the just reversal of the injustice, even if the wrongdoer be the most potent factor in Europe and his victim the most insignificant. We will proceed, therefore, to consider in turn the national problems within the German Empire on their own merits.

That concludes the first section of the second chapter of Nationality and the War. Here is a passage from the first chapter, which is called The Future.

[War] rouses the instinct of revenge. “If Germany has hurt us, we will hurt her more – to teach her not to do it again.” The wish is the savage’s automatic reaction, the reason his perfunctory justification of it; but the civilised man knows that the impulse is hopelessly unreasonable. The “hurt” is being at war, and the evil we wish to bann (sic) is the possibility of being at war again, because war prevents us working out our own lives as we choose. If we beat Germany and then humiliate her, she will never rest till she has “redeemed her honour,” by humiliating us more cruelly in turn. Instead of being free to return to our own pressing business, we shall have to be constantly on the watch against her. Two great nations will sit idle, weapon in hand, like two Afghans in their loopholed towers when the blood feud is between them; and we shall have sacrificed deliberately and to an ever-increasing extent, for the blood feud grows by geometrical progression, the very freedom for which we are now giving our lives.

Another war instinct is plunder. War is often the savage’s profession: “‘With my sword, spear and shield I plough, I sow, I reap, I gather in the vintage.’ [Footnote: The song of Hybrias the Kretan.] If we beat Germany our own mills and factories will have been at a standstill, our horses requisitioned and our crops unharvested, our merchant steamers stranded in dock if not sunk on the high seas, and our ‘blood and treasure’ lavished on the war: but in the end Germany’s wealth will be in our grasp, her colonies, her markets, and such floating riches as we can distrain upon by means of an indemnity. If we have had to beat our ploughshares into swords, we can at least draw some profit from the new tool, and recoup ourselves partially for the inconvenience. It is no longer a question of irrational, impulsive revenge, perhaps not even of sweetening our sorrow by a little gain. To draw on the life-blood of German wealth may be the only way to replenish the veins of our exhausted Industry and Commerce.” So the plunder instinct might be clothed in civilised garb: “War,” we might express it, “is an investment that must bring in its return.”

The first argument against this point of view is that it has clearly been the inspiring idea of Germany’s policy, and history already shows that armaments are as unbusinesslike a speculation for civilised countries as war is an abnormal occupation for civilised men. We saw the effect of the Morocco tension upon German finance in 1911, and the first phase of the present war has been enough to show how much Germany’s commerce will inevitably suffer, whether she wins or loses.

It is only when all the armaments are on one side and all the wealth is on the other, that war pays; when, in fact, an armed savage attacks a civilised man possessed of no arms for the protection of his wealth. Our Afghans in their towers are sharp enough not to steal each other’s cows (supposing they possess any of their own) for cows do not multiply by being exchanged, and both Afghans would starve in the end after wasting all their bullets in the skirmish. They save their bullets to steal cows from the plainsman who cannot make reprisals.

If Germany were really nothing but a “nation in arms,” successful war might be as lucrative for her as an Afghan’s raid on the plain, but she is normally a great industrial community like ourselves. In the last generation she has achieved a national growth of which she is justly proud. Like our own, it has been entirely social and economic. Her goods have been peacefully conquering the world’s markets. Now her workers have been diverted en masse from their prospering industry to conquer the same markets by military force, and the whole work of forty years is jeopardised by the change of method.

Fighting for trade and industry is not like fighting for cattle. Cattle are driven from one fastness to another, and if no better, are at least no worse for the transit. Civilised wealth perishes on the way. Our economic organisation owes its power and range to the marvellous forethought and co-operation that has built it up; but the most delicate organisms are the most easily dislocated, and the conqueror, whether England or Germany, will have to realise that, though he may seem to have got the wealth of the conquered into his grip, the total wealth of both parties will have been vastly diminished by the process of the struggle.

The characteristic feature of modern wealth is that it is international. Economic gain and loss is shared by the whole world, and the shifting of the economic balance does not correspond to the moves in the game of diplomatists and armies. Germany’s economic growth has been a phenomenon quite independent of her political ambitions, and Germany’s economic ruin would compromise something far greater than Germany’s political future – the whole world’s prosperity. British wealth, among the rest, would be dealt a deadly wound by Germany’s economic death, and it would be idle to pump Germany’s last life-blood into our veins, if we were automatically draining them of our own blood in the process.

But issues greater than the economic are involved. The modern “Nation” is for good or ill an organism one and indivisible, and all the diverse branches of national activity flourish or wither with the whole national well-being. You cannot destroy German wealth without paralysing German intellect and art, and European civilisation, if it is to go on growing, cannot do without them. Every doctor and musician, every scientist, engineer, political economist and historian, knows well his debt to the spiritual energy of the German nation. In the moments when one realises the full horror of what is happening, the worst thought is the aimless hurling to destruction of the world’s only true wealth, the skill and nobility and genius of human beings, and it is probably in the German casualties that the intellectual world is suffering its most irreparable human losses.

With these facts in our minds, we can look into the future more clearly, and choose our policy (supposing that we win the war, and, thereby, the power to choose) with greater confidence. We have accepted the fact that war itself is the evil, and will in any event bring pure loss to both parties: that no good can come from the war itself, but only from our policy when the war is over: and that the one good our policy can achieve, without which every gain is delusive, is the banishing of this evil from the realities of the future. This is our one supreme “British interest,” and it is a German interest just as much, and an interest of the whole world.

This war, and the cloud of war that has weighed upon us so many years before the bursting of the storm, has brought to bankruptcy the “National State”.

Here again are the passages in the second chapter in which he asks for lenient treatment of Germany in a post-war settlement.

Our ultimate object is to prevent war for the future, and the essential means to this end is to convince Germany that war is not to her interest. We and the French disbelieve in war already, but a minority of one can make a quarrel, in spite of the proverb. The only way to convince Germany is first to beat her badly and then to treat her well.

If we humiliate her, we shall strengthen the obsolete ideas in her consciousness more than ever – perhaps no longer the idea of “Plunder,” but certainly that of “Revenge,” which is much worse: if we deal “disinterestedly” with her (though it will be in our own truest interest) we may produce such a reaction of public opinion in Germany, that the curse of aggressive militarism will be exorcised from her as effectively in 1914, as the curse of political paralysis was exorcised in 1870.

“First to beat her badly and then to treat her well.” This was the approach of the Western allies, in relation to Japan as well as to Germany, after 1945.

One thing is clear: whether Germany’s feeling of constriction has good grounds or not, we must avoid deliberately furnishing it with further justification than it has already. It would be possible to maintain that the colonies and concessions Germany has already acquired give her room for expansion ample enough to deprive her of excuse for her envy, not to speak of the conduct by which she has attempted to satisfy it; but even this view would be rash in face of Germany’s vehement conviction to the contrary. Germany is likely to judge her own plight more truly than we can, and even if she has judged wrongly, her opinion is more important for our purpose than the objective truth. To give the lie to this national belief by taking from her even that which she hath, would be the surest means of deepening and perpetuating her national bitterness.

Nationality and the War, Dent, 1915

Experiences, OUP, 1969

William H McNeill, Arnold J. Toynbee, A Life, New York, OUP, 1989

Acquaintances, OUP, 1967

Historical sentiment

November 4 2009

Above all we must be on our guard against “historical sentiment,” that is, against arguments taken from conditions which once existed or were supposed to exist, but which are no longer real at the present moment. They are most easily illustrated by extreme examples. Italian newspapers have described the annexation of Tripoli as “recovering the soil of the Fatherland” because it was once a province of the Roman Empire; and the entire region of Macedonia is claimed by Greek chauvinists on the one hand, because it contains the site of Pella, the cradle of Alexander the Great in the fourth century B.C., and by Bulgarians on the other, because Ohhrida, in the opposite corner, was the capital of the Bulgarian Tzardom in the tenth century A.D., though the drift of time has buried the tradition of the latter almost as deep as the achievements of the “Emathian Conqueror,” on which the modern Greek nationalist insists so strongly.

And see Zionism. Emathia was the Homeric name of lower Macedonia.

Nationality and the War, Dent, 1915

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

October 25 2009

This was a Depression, not Crash, song, but it will do to mark the anniversary.

The market slid on Thursday October 24 1929, but the catastrophic collapse occurred on Monday and Tuesday, October 28 and 29.

The song was written in 1931. The lyrics were by Yip Harburg, the music by Jay Gorney.

Here sung by the little-known Charlie Palloy, with guitar and his orchestra, recorded in 1932. He gets the song’s grim tread better than its better-known exponent, Bing Crosby.

Bing Crosby. I’m not sure of the date.

Plotinus and Ali Hujwiri

October 22 2009

The Nirvāna that is the normal and permanent goal of the Hinayanian [obsolescent term for the Theravāda or southern Buddhist school] Buddhist arhat was […] perhaps apprehended as a rare and fleeting experience by Plotinus, whose Neoplatonism was the last of the schools of Hellenic philosophy.

“The ecstatic trance, in which the distinction between the mind and its ideas, the self and self-knowledge, passes away, is not, so Plotinus would have us believe, a mere swooning and eclipse of the Soul while the World goes booming on, but a flight of the Alone to the Alone. Sense and spiritual contemplation and mystic union are psychological states corresponding to cosmic climes, and growth in self-knowledge may be described also as a journey of the Soul through the Universe to its far-off home. Only this should be noted, that the actual attainment of the noetic state, when once the Soul has been released from the bondage of rebirth, brings a cessation of what we regard as personal existence. The heaven of the Nous has no place for memory of the Soul’s past lives, and Being there is not an immortality that denotes conscious continuity; it is rather a blissful forgetfulness. And the last stage of identification with the One is a complete loss of identity” (More, P. E.: Hellenistic Philosophies = The Greek Tradition from the Death of Socrates to the Council of Chalcedon: 399 B.C.-A.D. 451, vol. ii (Princeton 1923, University Press), pp. 197-8).

On this showing, Plotinus’s Visio Beatifica might be described as an entry into Nirvāna that is momentary instead of being permanent, but which is genuine for so long as it lasts. On the other hand the common essence of the Neoplatonic and the Hinayanian Buddhist experience is apparently not to be found in the experience of either the Christian or the Islamic school of mysticism.

He quotes from the Encyclopaedia of Islam.

Fanā, an important technical term of Sūfism, meaning ‘annihilation, dissolution’. The Sūfī who attains perfection must be in a kind of state of annihilation. … The origin of the Muslim conception of fanā has … to be sought in Christianity, from which it seems to be borrowed. This conception simply means the annihilation of the individual human will before the will of God – an idea which forms the centre of all Christian mysticism. The conception thus belongs to the domain of ethics and not in the slightest degree to that of metaphysics, like the nirvāna of the Hindu. … The author of the Kashf al-Mahjub expressly states that fanādoes not mean loss of essence and destruction of personality, as some ignorant Sūfīs think” (Encyclopaedia of Islam, vol. ii (London 1927, Luzac), p. 52).

The author of the Kashf al-Mahjub was Ali Hujwiri, who lived in the Ghaznavid Empire from c 990 to 1077. He was born in Ghazni, in present-day Afghanistan, wrote in Persian and died in Lahore. The Ghaznavids, who were of mamluk origin, ruled much of Persia, Transoxiana and the Indus valley from 963 to 1187 and were not even nominally subject to the Abbasid caliphate.

A Study of History, Vol VI, OUP, 1939 (footnote)

Olympic cities 1

October 11 2009

What has determined the choice of modern Olympic cities?

The first revived Games in 1896 were clearly going to be in Athens, though they were from the beginning intended to be itinerant. Political philhellenism was anyway enjoying a recrudescence in Europe, though devoid of romance this time.

The ancient Games had begun in 776 BC and were suppressed either by Theodosius I in AD 393 or by his grandson Theodosius II in AD 435. The site of Olympia remained until an earthquake destroyed it in the sixth century CE.

The founder of the International Olympic Committee, Pierre de Frédy, Baron de Coubertin, or Pierre de Coubertin, was French. The first meeting, in 1894, took place in Paris. Coubertin moved its headquarters to Lausanne in 1915, where they still are. The ancient Games had never taken place in Athens, but they were international.

“Hellas” seems originally to have been the name of the region round the head of the Maliac Gulf, on the border between Central and Northern Greece, which contained the shrine of Earth and Apollo at Delphi and the shrine of Artemis at Anthela near Thermopylae (the narrow passage between sea and mountain that has been the highway from Central Greece to Northern Greece and thence to the great Eurasian Continent into which Northern Greece merges). “Hellenes”, signifying “inhabitants of Hellas”, presumably acquired its broader meaning, signifying “members of the Hellenic society”, through being used as a corporate name for the association of local peoples, the Amphictyones (“neighbours”) which administered the shrines at Delphi and Thermopylae and organized the Pythian Festival that was connected with them. This was was one of four festivals [meaning sports festivals] in the Hellenic World that came to be recognized as “Panhellenic” (“international”), and not merely parochial, events.

The Amphictyones, called Hellenes, organised the Pythian Festival. When other Greeks became involved, they were called Hellenes in turn. Does “panhellenic” correspond to any ancient Greek word?

The other three were the Isthmian Festival held in the territory of Corinth; the Nemean, held in the territory of Phlius, in the Peloponnese (Morea) slightly south-west of the Isthmus of Corinth; and the Olympian, held in the territory of Elis in the west of the Peloponnese, to the north of Pylos. At a festival that had acquired Panhellenic status, the prizes awarded to winners of the artistic and athletic competitions were tokens that had no economic value. Parochial festivals had to attract competitors by offering valuable prizes; but the honour of being a victor at one of the Panhellenic festivals was so great that a material gratuity was unnecessary.

Though it was the Pythian Panhellenic Festival that gave the Hellenes their common name, the Olympian was the earliest of the four to acquire Panhellenic status. Public events were dated by Hellenic historians as having occurred in such and such an Olympiad (the Olympian Festival was held at intervals of four years); and admission to compete at Olympia came to be the test of recognition as being a Hellene. For instance, King Alexander I of Macedon, an unwilling subject of the Persian Emperor Xerxes who had given useful intelligence to the high command of the Hellenic coalition during the Persian invasion of Continental European Greece in 480-479 B.C., was rewarded by being admitted to compete at Olympia, not in virtue of the Macedonians speaking Greek as their mother-tongue, but on the strength of a legendary genealogy which derived the Macedonian royal family from Argos, a city in the north-east of the Peloponnese which was one of the most venerable of all the cities of Hellas. The Romans were admitted to compete at the Isthmian Festival as a token of gratitude for the service which they had rendered to the Hellenic World in 229 B.C. in suppressing the Illyrian pirates who had been ravaging the west coast of Continental European Greece.


Photograph at, taken allegedly in 1901, of what seems to be a modern version (perhaps associated with the Paris Olympics of 1900?) of the Discobolus of Myron.

Hellenism, The History of a Civilization, OUP, Home University Library, 1959

Hugh Lloyd-Jones

October 9 2009

Telegraph obituary. “As part of his wartime work, Lloyd-Jones had learned Japanese, and noticed how it was impossible, or at least difficult, to express certain Western concepts in that language. When he returned to Oxford, he set out in an essay for his tutor to refute St Anselm’s ontological argument for the existence of God by showing the difficulties of expressing it in Japanese. It was this, perhaps, that convinced him of the dangers of imposing anachronistic thought structures on the work of ancient writers.”

Hugh Lloyd-Jones was Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford from 1960 to 1989. Hugh Trevor-Roper was Regius Professor of Modern History there from 1957 to 1980. Lloyd-Jones was a Student of Christ Church. I often saw him when I was a student there with a small s, but I was not a classicist, so I was not taught by him.

Did this Hugh share the other Hugh’s opinion of Toynbee? He would have been a more natural opponent, since his field was Toynbee’s specialisation. Morton’s bibliography of Toynbee (1980) lists only one piece by Lloyd-Jones: a 1959 review in The Spectator of Hellenism.

A quick view of the web turns up a review (Prodigious Powers, London Review of Books, January 21-February 3 1982) by Lloyd-Jones of a posthumous work by Toynbee, The Greeks and Their Heritages (1981). It was reprinted in Lloyd-Jones’s Greek in a Cold Climate (1991).

It begins with a guarded sentence. “This posthumous work provides yet more evidence of the phenomenal energy and wide range of information of the late Arnold Toynbee.”

“Wide range of information.” There were many ways in which Toynbee was uncongenial to the Oxford academic establishment. I needn’t summarise them. A historian who wrote about God as if he existed was anyway not “one of us”, ontology or no. Lloyd-Jones has qualified respect for this late book (which McNeill, Toynbee’s biographer, fails even to mention). He begins by summarising, in more or less neutral tones, Toynbee’s life and intellectual evolution, with the help of McNeill’s obituary notice in the 1977 Proceedings of the British Academy. Somervell’s abridgement of A Study of History made Toynbee, he says, “the Tolkein of historical studies”. I made that parallel myself in an early post. The date of publication of the final volumes of the Study was 1954, not 1953.

“Toynbee had studied all the latest speculations about Bronze Age Greece, and knew all about it that could be known – and indeed rather more than all: he does not hesitate to accept the somewhat sanguine speculations of the late TBL Webster, a scholar with whom he had several things in common.”

He finds Toynbee’s resumé of the Hellenistic period “unexciting”. Toynbee, “for all his learning, remained rooted in an attitude fashionable when he was young”: that it was all over by the end of the fifth century BC. This attitude, the dating of the beginning of the decline of Greek civilisation to the start of the Peloponnesian War, was hardly modified during the course of Toynbee’s career. It gave him (I am not paraphrasing Lloyd-Jones here) the shape of the history of Greco-Roman, or as he called it, the Hellenic, civilisation, a plot which he proceeded to superimpose on the histories of other civilisations.

“He notes that the movement to reproduce the style and language of Classical Attic prose started during the first century BC. That was also the moment when the Academy went over from scepticism to dogmatism, and the whole trend of philosophy followed suit: it was then, rather than three centuries earlier, that the real decline began. Toynbee is again old-fashioned in his refusal to see that the archaising revival of Greek culture in the second century AD had some things to be said for it: the writers of the Second Sophistic are lively compared with the Byzantine imitators of the Classics.”

Lloyd-Jones finds things to admire in Toynbee’s handling of the Byzantine period. But “he shows no awareness of the immense cultural superiority of the Byzantines to the Crusaders which Sir Steven Runciman has so clearly described [surely he does elsewhere], nor does he seem conscious that the last age of Byzantium, between the reconquest of Constantinople from the Franks in 1261 and its capture by the Turks in 1453 [the Palaeologian age], was in many respects an age of great cultural vitality. What condemns the Byzantines is the fact that they were defeated by the Turks: Toynbee displays the same servility towards success as E.H. Carr. He has an interesting appendix on Gemistos Plethon, but exaggerates his inclination to paganism and underestimates the influence of his philosophy. A few pages of Edgar Wind’s Pagan Mysteries in the Renaissance supply a corrective in both matters.”

When we come to 1921, Toynbee “castigates the Greeks for having clung to ‘the Great Idea’: the hope of the re-establishment of something like the Eastern Empire with its capital in Constantinople. In 1921 it did not seem so foolish: the Turks had paid the penalty for their alliance with the Germans, and the Versailles Conference seriously considered the possibility of handing back the Imperial city to the Greeks. Lloyd George was captivated by the charismatic leader of a race living near to sea and mountains with whom he had much in common, Eleftherios Venizelos, and only Edward Montagu’s [he means Edwin Montagu’s] exaggerated fears of a ‘Khilafat’ agitation in India seem to have led him to give up the plan. If the universal weariness of war had not led the Allies to disperse their armies, they might have imposed a settlement in the Middle East which would have saved much trouble later, just as they might have dealt with Lenin.

“Toynbee goes on to discuss the language question in Greece, berating those Greeks who cling, at least for certain purposes, to the use of the katharevousa, the allegedly ‘pure’ form of Greek that is essentially an artificial revival of the Classical language. In its naïvest form, the cult of the katharevousa is undoubtedly ridiculous, and the attempt of the Colonels to enforce its use in schools can hardly be defended. Yet it has in its time served certain purposes. After the Greeks had been deprived of education and cut off from the Western world for four centuries, it was necessary to create a language suitable for various kinds of technical and abstract writing. Of those kinds of literature which are in some degree affected by it, not every one is to be condemned, and the nostalgia which created and preserved it can easily be understood. Modern Greek writers write in a variety of styles and a variety of linguistic forms, and in spite of the confusion caused by the language question, they have been able to make use of the possibilities which their situation offered them to create a literature which compares well with those produced by many richer and more favoured countries during the same period. Neither the English in general, nor Toynbee in particular, with his clear but not very distinguished style, are in a position to patronise them.”

The criticism of Toynbee’s style – he is at his least readable in this book – that it is “undistinguished” misses the mark, it seems to me. The Economist said the same thing in a review of McNeill’s biography in 1989. It is too individual to be called undistinguished, and it was heavily influenced by his classical education. Occasionally it is poetic.

“Just as an Irishman when he thinks historically places emphasis on certain events not stressed by English people, so does a Greek think much of happenings often forgotten by Western Europeans. He cannot forget that after the western half of the Roman Empire had collapsed, its eastern half carried on for a millennium; that after the western half had sufficiently civilised the barbarians who swamped it to achieve a partial recovery, it set out to defend the holy places of the common religion of the Empire against the infidel; that the Westerners took advantage of this situation to make a treacherous attack on the Easterners and rob them of their Imperial city; that after the Eastern Empire had most remarkably revived itself, the Westerners, even when appeased by a promise to adopt their own uncongenial form of Christianity, allowed it to be conquered and occupied by a barbarian enemy, preferring Muslims to Orthodox fellow Christians. In the war of liberation that began in 1821, the West did something to atone for this, but the Greeks can hardly be expected to forget that, in the years immediately following the Great War, the West encouraged hopes which it later disappointed. Toynbee says nothing about the conduct of his admired Turks in Cyprus since 1974.”

He could hardly have done so. They invaded less than a fortnight before he suffered a stroke which ended his career.

“Professor McNeill justly credits Toynbee with ‘prodigious powers of concentration, phenomenal memory and sheer physical endurance of a regime at which most men would have quailed’: this is fully borne out by the book before me. He also ascribes to him the possession of ‘a very powerful intellect’: this seems a good deal more open to dispute.”

Rome, Constantinople and the sea 2

October 2 2009

After the Roman Empire’s economic collapse in the third century, it had been a rash act, on Constantine the Great’s part, to saddle the Empire, which Diocletian had just nursed into convalescence, with a duplicate capital city. This was all the more rash because, if the New Rome was to be a counterpart of the Old Rome, it, too, had to be endowed with “bread and shows” for its populace as a charge upon the whole Empire’s productive capacity – a capacity that was already being over-taxed by a steep increase in the size and cost of the Army. The provisioning of the new duplicate capital also doubled the strain on the Mediterranean merchant-marine, which now had to carry cereals from the southern shores of the Mediterranean to feed, gratis, the inhabitants of a pair of parasitic capitals.

It is true that Constantine had shown genius in his choice of the site for his new capital for the Roman Empire – though Constantine was not the first statesman to notice the felicity of Byzantium’s location. This had been recognized already, before the close of the sixth century B.C., by a sharp-sighted Persian statesman, according to a fifth-century-B.C. Greek historian. [Footnote: See Herodotus, Book IV, chap. 144, for the remark, attributed to Megabazos, that the founders of Chalcedon had been blind in overlooking the site on which Byzantium had been founded seventeen years later.] Constantinople was, indeed, far better placed than Rome for serving as the capital of a circum-Mediterranean empire in the Roman Age of the Mediterranean basin’s history.

Megabazos was one of Darius’s generals. Chalcedon was a Megaran colony. The site was obviously inferior to the one within view on the opposite shore. It was in the territory called Bithynia, which was an independent kingdom before it fell to Rome in 74 BC. Now it is the suburb of Kadıköy, south of Üsküdar, on the Asian side of Istanbul. Byzantium was founded a few years after Chalcedon, also from Megara.

Rome had been well placed for winning the hegemony over Peninsular Italy by military operations on land. But Rome’s site had become inadequate for serving Rome’s needs when Rome had taken to the sea in the First Romano-Carthaginian War, when she had gone on to win the naval command of the Mediterranean, and when she had finally brought under her rule, direct or indirect, the whole perimeter of the Mediterranean, with as much of its hinterland as could be conquered and held by Roman infantry based on the shores of the Mediterranean itself and of its backwaters. Rome had dominated Peninsular Italy thanks to her command of the lowest-down bridge over the Tiber, which was the Peninsula’s principal river, but this lowest-down bridge was too far up the river to be accessible for sea-going vessels, whether merchant-ships or warships, in the post-Alexandrine Age, when the size of ships had increased, while the lowest reach of the Tiber had been silting up. Cargoes destined for Rome had now to be transshipped into lighters that could be towed up the river, and this had to be done in the open sea till eventually – at a cost that could be met only by drawing on the public revenue of the whole Mediterranean World – an artificial port for sea-going vessels, where trans-shipment could be carried out in all weathers, had been excavated and had been linked up with the river.

This local inconvenience of Rome’s site for access by water was a serious handicap for Rome so long as communication was quicker and cheaper by water than by land, as it continued to be till the invention of railways; but Rome’s geographical position in the Mediterranean basin was a still more serious drawback for a city that had become the political capital of the Mediterranean World. Rome’s access to the sea, such as it was, opened on to the western basin of the Mediterranean, and, in the Roman Age of Mediterranean history, the western half of the Mediterranean World, including Peninsular Italy itself, was under-developed and under-populated by comparison with the contemporary development of the Levant. In that age the Levant was the Mediterranean World’s economic and demographic centre of gravity. Egypt, Syria, and western Asia Minor were the Mediterranean World’s industrial and commercial power-houses. The economic capital of the Roman Empire was not Rome-on-Tiber; it was Alexandria-on-Nile.

Constantinople was nearer than Rome to these three key Levantine regions and was also more accessible than Rome was from each of them. Julius Caesar and Augustus were believed by their contemporaries to have played with the idea of transferring the capital of their empire from Rome to Alexandria Troas or to Troy itself. These two [Asian] sites commanded the approaches from the Aegean to the Dardanelles, as well as the ferries, across the Dardanelles, between Asia and Europe. Since Augustus’s day, the main crossing between the two continents had shifted northward, by Constantine the Great’s time, from the Dardanelles to the Bosphorus, and accordingly, if the Mediterranean World was to be given a new capital on one of the two straits linking the Aegean with the Black Sea, Byzantium was now the inevitable site. Byzantium was singled out not only by its geographical location but by the local topography. Troy, like Rome, was not on the coast; Alexandria Troas had no natural harbour; Byzantium had a uniquely serviceable natural harbour in the Golden Horn, a deep-water inlet into which a ship coming from the Black Sea was wafted by the current of the Bosphorus unless its steersman deliberately set its course for the Sea of Marmara. The Golden Horn was the topographical treasure which the founders of Chalcedon had been thought by Megabazos to have overlooked.

Byzantium could be reached by sea-going ships from anywhere in the Mediterranean basin and its backwaters, and, conversely, a government seated in Byzantium could send soldiers or administrators by sea to any point on the Mediterranean coasts of the Roman Empire. Byzantium also commanded the ferries across the Bosphorus on the shortest route between the lower course of the River Danube and the middle course of the River Euphrates; and, in Constantine’s day, these were the two sections of the Roman Empire’s frontier that were under the heaviest pressure from external enemies.

This Danube-Euphrates portage is not mentioned in the passage on portages which I quoted here.

Thus by Constantine the Great’s day the site of Byzantium had become still more important strategically than it had been in Megabazos’s day, rather more than eight centuries earlier. On the other hand, the economic importance of the waterway on which Byzantium stood had diminished by the time when Constantine decided to plant his New Rome there.

In the pre-Alexandrine Age of Hellenic history, the water-route between the Aegean and the Black Sea had been one of the two main thoroughfares of the Hellenic World. It had, indeed, surpassed in economic importance the route from the head of the Gulf of Corinth across the Straits of Otranto to south-eastern Italy and Sicily. The narrow seas between the Black Sea and Aegean had been the route by which, from the seventh century B.C. onwards, the industrial and commercial Greek city-states in the Aegean basin had imported cereals from the Black Earth zone of the Ukraine in exchange for exports of Greek manufactures. The rapid increase, in and after the seventh century B.C., of the population and wealth of Corinth and the other circum-Isthmian city-states of Continental European Greece, and the corresponding contemporary development of Meletos and other city-states on the west coast of Asia Minor and on the adjoining islands, would have been impossible if their food-supply had continued to be limited to the meagre produce of their own territories. In that case they could not have made their economic revolution from the agrarian economy of the ordinary Greek city-state to an industrial and commercial economy with distant markets and sources of supply. The development of these Greek city-states was made possible by their access to sea-borne imports of grain from the Black Earth zone of the Ukraine.

The import of cereals into the Roman Empire from the north shore of the Black Sea through the Thracian Bosphorus past Byzantium had come to an end nearly a hundred years before Constantine the Great selected Byzantium as the site for his new Levantine capital of the Roman Empire. [Ended by Gothic incursions into what we call the Ukraine.] So long as this trade had survived, Byzantium had had the first refusal of the grain that had been the cargo carried by the ships on their southward voyage. “First come, first served.” If cargoes of grain had still been entering the Bosphorus from the Black Sea in Constantine the Great’s time, the creator of the New Rome would have found a food-supply for his new city ready to hand without needing to poach on the sources of supply previously drawn upon by the Old Rome. However, this deterioration of Byzantium’s once unusually favourable economic circumstances did not deter Constantine the Great from enlarging this small colonial Greek city-state into a duplicate capital for the Mediterranean World.

Even after the temporary collapse from which it was recovering in Constantine the Great’s day, the Roman Empire still had vast sources of food-production. Constantine the Great provided the bread-dole for Constantinople by diverting to the new capital the cereals exported from Egypt, leaving to the Old Rome the export from North-West Africa and Sicily. After Justinian I had reconquered the Roman Empire’s Vandal successor-state, these sources, too, of cereals were at the Constantinopolitan Roman Government’s disposal, if required, for the provisioning of Constantinople.

After Justinian I’s death in 565, his successors held, for a few years, about two-thirds of the area over which the Roman Empire had extended in 395, the date of the death of the Emperor Theodosius I. But the strain that had been put on the economy of the Empire’s previously prosperous Levantine dominions by Justinian I’s wars brought its nemesis in 602, when the Constantinopolitan Roman Empire collapsed [or when the troops, asked by Maurice to stay for winter beyond the Danube, mutinied, Phocas killed Maurice and declared himself emperor, and the last round of wars with Persia began]. The Persian occupation of Egypt in 616 suddenly cut off Constantinople’s source of food-supply, and the bread-dole was discontinued, provisionally in 618 and definitively in 626.

In this crisis, the populace of Constantinople would have welcomed even a trickle of grain from the northern hinterland of the Black Sea, but the export of grain from that quarter was not resumed, on any appreciable scale, for another twelve hundred years. In the tenth century, when Constantine Porphyrogenitus was compiling his De Administrando Imperio, Cherson (i.e. the Megarian colony Chersonesus), which by that date had been for many centuries the only surviving Greek city-state on the north shore of the Black Sea, was importing food-supplies, not from the Ukraine nor even from the Kuban basin [the Kuban flows into the Sea of Azov from the Caucasus], but from northern Asia Minor. The Chersonese were paying for this food by serving as middlemen for handling goods exported by the Pechenegs, who, in the tenth century, were the pastoral nomad occupants of the Black Sea Steppe, but the Pechenegs, unlike their long since vanished Skyth predecessors, did not export grain from the Ukraine; their exports were hides – presumably those of animals bred by the Pechenegs themselves on the Steppe – and wax, which they must have obtained, by raiding or trading, from the northern forests, but which was an unprofitable substitute for the grain that the Skyths had once drawn from the Black Earth.


Flickr credit: beside_the_seaside

Constantine Porphyrogenitus and His World, OUP, 1973

Rome, Constantinople and the sea 1

October 1 2009

The Toynbee convector is three years old today.

A capital city could neither become nor remain a capital if it could not import large supplies from distant sources by water. Rome was able to satisfy this condition without difficulty so long as she was the capital of a commonwealth whose area was limited to Peninsular Italy. Standing, as she did, on the bank of the Tiber, which is the biggest and longest river in the Peninsula – a river that was navigable for barges far up its course – Rome, in this first phase of her history as a capital, was able to supply herself with grain from higher up the Tiber valley, as well as with timber from the Appennine forests overhanging the Tiber’s source. When, however, in the course of half a century ending in the year 168 B.C., the Romans expanded the area under their political control from Peninsular Italy to the whole perimeter of the Mediterranean basin, the population of the City of Rome consequently grew to a size at which it could no longer live solely on the river-borne supplies that it could draw from Central Italy. The City now had to draw the major part of its food-supplies from overseas; the military and political ascendency (sic) that Rome had established by this date over Sicily enabled her to requisition food-supplies from there; the granaries of Sicily were subsequently supplemented by those of North-West Africa and Egypt, and the export of grain from Sicily and from Egypt presented no problems, since no cornfield in Sicily was far from the coast, while every cornfield in Egypt was close to the waterway of the River Nile or one of its arms. The City of Rome’s problem at this stage of its history was the conveyance of these sea-borne supplies on the last stage of their journey.

The costly work of excavating an artificial maritime harbour, Portus, connected by a water-link with the Tiber above the river’s mouth, could not eliminate the clumsy and still costly operation of trans-shipping the sea-borne cargoes into river-barges that could reach the City’s riverside quays. This handicap, under which imperial Rome laboured, did not afflict Constantinople, the New Rome by which the Old Rome was eventually superseded in the role of serving as the capital of the Roman Empire. Constantinople possesses a first-rate natural maritime harbour in the Golden Horn, a sheltered deep-water inlet of the Bosphorus that runs inland for the whole length of Constantinople’s northern waterfront, and an obliging current automatically diverts into the Golden Horn a ship drifting down the Bosphorus laden with a cargo of grain grown in the Ukraine and carried from there, down any one of half-a-dozen navigable rivers, to sea-ports on the shores of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. Rome’s inferiority to Constantinople in point of accessibility for the delivery of sea-borne supplies was one consideration, though not the only one, that led to the eventual transfer of the capital to Constantinople from Rome in spite of the enormous prestige that had enabled Rome to hold her position as the capital of the Mediterranean World for the five centuries that had elapsed between the Roman state’s crowning victory at Pydna in 168 B.C. and the laying-out out of Constantinople in A.D. 324.

Portus superseded Ostia. It was built by Claudius and extended by Trajan.

Ostia and Portus



Wikimedia Commons

Cities on the Move, OUP, 1970


August 1 2009

“A procession of priests and laymen –
each walk of life represented –
moves through streets, squares, and gates
of the famous city, Antioch.
At the head of this imposing procession
a handsome white-clad boy
carries the Cross, his arms raised –
our strength and hope, the holy Cross.
The pagans, lately so full of arrogance,
now reticent and cowardly,
quickly slink away from the procession.
Let them keep their distance, always keep their distance from us
(as long as they do not renounce their errors).
The holy Cross goes forward; it brings joy and consolation
to every quarter where Christians live;
and these God-fearing people, elated,
stand in their doorways and greet it reverently,
the strength, the salvation of the universe, the Cross.

This is an annual Christian festival.
But today, you see, it is more conspicuous.
The empire is delivered at last.
The vile, the appalling Julian
reigns no longer.

For most pious Jovian let us give our prayers.”


Jovian was the Apostate’s successor.

A Great Procession of Priests and Laymen, from Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, translators; George Savidis, editor, CP Cavafy, Collected Poems, revised edition, Princeton University Press, 1992, at

A Syrian student

July 30 2009

“Said Myrtias (a Syrian student
in Alexandria during the reign
of the Emperor Konstans and the Emperor Konstantios;
in part a heathen, in part christianised):
‘Strengthened by study and reflection.
I won’t fear my passions like a coward;
I’ll give my body to sensual pleasures,
to enjoyments I’ve dreamed of,
to the most audacious erotic desires,
to the lascivious impulses of my blood,
with no fear at all, because when I wish –
and I’ll have the will-power, strengthened
as I shall be by study and reflection –
when I wish, at critical moments I will recover
my spirit, ascetic as it was before.’”


Dangerous Thoughts, from Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, translators; George Savidis, editor, CP Cavafy, Collected Poems, revised edition, Princeton University Press, 1992, at Spelling anglicised.

Under the Persians

July 30 2009

“Too bad that, cut out as you are
for grand and noble acts,
this unfair fate of yours
never offers encouragement, always denies you success;
that cheap habits get in your way,
pettiness, or indifference.
And how terrible the day you give in
(the day you let go and give in)
and take the road for Susa
and go to King Artaxerxes,
who, well-disposed, gives you a place at his court
and offers you satrapies and things like that –
things you don’t want at all,
though, in despair, you accept them just the same.
You long for something else, ache for other things:
praise from the Demos and the Sophists,
that hard-won, that priceless acclaim –
the Agora, the Theatre, the Crowns of Laurel.
You can’t get any of these from Artaxerxes,
you’ll never find any of these in the satrapy,
and without them, what kind of life will you live?”


The Satrapy, from Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, translators; George Savidis, editor, CP Cavafy, Collected Poems, revised edition, Princeton University Press, 1992, at

Islam in India and the Balkans

July 28 2009

While a vast majority of the Hindu ra‘īyeh of the Timurid Mughal Muslim emperors of India and their Afghan and Turkish Muslim forerunners emulated the Orthodox Christian ra‘īyeh of the ‘Osmanlis in zealously resisting the temptation presented by potent social and political inducements to apostasize, there were local mass-conversions to Islam – particularly among the socially-depressed ci-devant pagan converts to Hinduism in Eastern Bengal – that would appear to have been on a greater scale, not only absolutely, but also relatively to the total head of population in question in either case, than the corresponding local mass-conversions to Islam among the Albanian, the Epirot [ie Epirot Greek] and Cretan Greek, and the Pomak Bulgar Orthodox Christians and among the Bosniak Bogomils. Moreover, the Brahmans showed the same alacrity as the Phanariots in entering a Muslim Power’s public service as unconverted freemen, and the same facility in adopting their Muslim masters’ language and dress.

Was the word Pomak applied to any Orthodox Christians in Bulgaria? Isn’t it only applied after they had been converted to Islam?

A Study of History, Vol VIII, OUP, 1954

From synoikismos to dissolution 2

July 27 2009

I’ve corrected the first post. It looks at a sketch of Greco-Roman history which Toynbee published in 1921, and refers forward to ideas which he developed in the Study.

In the Study he seems to regard Rome as nothing more than an extension and continuation of Greece. Its historical function was to give a reprieve to a Greek civilisation which had broken down.

That view was criticised as according too little cultural value to Rome. Toynbee restated his position in the twelfth volume of the Study, Reconsiderations, in a passage of just under twenty pages called Rome’s Place in History. This sounds like the title of a Victorian school essay, but is a good place to start if you want a succinct summary of Toynbee’s view of Roman history. I’ll quote from it later.

Gibbon’s error

July 26 2009

This post is really a footnote to the last.

I think Gibbon [errs] in supposing that the ancient civilization of the Graeco-Roman world began to decline in the second century after Christ and that the age of the Antonines was that civilization’s highest point. I think it really began to decline in the fifth century before Christ. It died not by murder, but by suicide; and that act of suicide was committed before the fifth century B.C. was out.

Gibbon wrote of “the triumph of barbarism and religion”, but Christianity was the chrysalis of a new civilisation rather than the destroyer of an old.

It was not even the philosophies which preceded Christianity that were responsible for the death of the ancient Graeco-Roman civilization. The philosophies arose because the civic life of that civilization had already destroyed itself by turning itself into an idol to which men paid an exorbitant worship. And the rise of the philosophies, and the subsequent rise of the religions out of which Christianity emerged as the final successor of them all, was something that happened after the Graeco-Roman civilization had already put itself to death. The rise of the philosophies, and a fortiori that of the religions, was not a cause; it was a consequence.

Civilization on Trial, OUP, 1948

From synoikismos to dissolution

July 25 2009

The three-act tragedy of the Greco-Roman world.


A passage, published in 1921, which helps us to understand Toynbee’s view of the Greco-Roman world and, by extension, of other societies.

The genesis of Ancient Greek civilization is certainly later than the twelfth century B.C., when Minoan civilization, its predecessor, was still in process of dissolution; and the termination of Ancient Greek civilization must certainly be placed before the eighth century A.D., when modern Western civilization, its successor, had already come into being. Between these extreme points we cannot exactly date its beginning and end, but we can see that it covers a period of seventeen or eighteen centuries.

The curtain rises with the Dorian invasion. Presumably Toynbee, in whose work such classifications mattered, saw Mycenaean Greece, up to about 1400 BC, as a cultural province of the Minoan civilisation.

He regards the “Hellenic Society”, “Ancient Greek civilization” as he terms it here, as having included Rome: it is obvious to him that Rome was not a new civilisation.

It is easier to divide the tragedy into acts [than to look at eighteen centuries at once]. We can at once discern two dramatic crises – the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War and the foundation of the Roman Empire. We can for convenience take precise dates – 431 B.C. and 31 B.C. – and group the action into three acts or phases, one before, one between, and one after these critical moments.

It is best to give the analysis in tabular form:

Act I (11th cent.–431 B.C.).

1. Synoikismos (formation of the city-state, the cell of Greek society), 11th cent.-750 B.C.

2. Colonization (propagation of the city-state round the Mediterranean), 750-600 B.C.

3. Economic revolution (change from extensive to intensive growth), 600-500 B.C.

4. Confederation (repulse of Oriental universal empire and creation of an inter-state federation, the Delian League), 500-431 B.C.

Act II (431 B.C.-31 B.C.).

1. The Greek wars [Peloponnesian and after] (failure of inter-state federation), 431-355 B.C.

2. The Oriental wars (the superman, conquest of the East, struggle for the spoils, barbarian invasion [Gauls]), 355-272 B.C.

3. The first rally (change of scale and fresh experiments in federation – Seleucid Asia, Roman Italy, Aetolian and Achaean “United States”), 272-218 B.C.

4. The Roman wars (destruction of four great powers by one; devastation of the Mediterranean world), 218-146 B.C.

5. The class wars (capitalism, bolshevism, Napoleonism), 146-31 B.C.

Act III (31 B.C.-7th cent. A.D.).

1. The second rally (final experiment in federation – compromise between city-state autonomy and capitalistic centralization), 31 B.C.-A.D. 180.

2. The first dissolution (external front broken by tribesmen, internal by Christianity), A.D. 180-284.

3. The final rally (Constantine τὸν δῆμον προσεταιρίζει – tribesmen on to the land, bishops into the bureaucracy), A.D. 284-378.

4. The final dissolution (break of tradition), A.D. 378-7th cent.

This scenario, with its conscious anachronisms, might have been scribbled on the back of an envelope. Some of it is questionable on the surface.

In the language of the Study, which postdates this article (the first three volumes appeared in 1934), the Roman Empire provided Greek civilisation with its “Universal State” and saved it, at a price. Greek civilisation had begun to decline before the end of the fifth century BC. The Peloponnesian War was the first in its “Time of Troubles”, which lasted for four hundred years.

The agents of the transformation of the Hellenic Universal State, so that Greek-Roman civilisation became “apparented” to an entirely new civilisation – or rather to two civilisations, the “Western Society” and the “Orthodox Christian Society” – were an “internal proletariat” (Christians) and an “external proletariat” (barbarians).

Toynbee had made only a “first essay” in planning the Study by the time he wrote the 1921 essay, but the essay begins to point towards ideas in the Study (and it mentions the idea of “rallies” during a decline). The shape, the plot, of Hellenic civilisation was already clear to him.

It is difficult for a non-classicist, who looks at events rather than culture, to think of the Hellenic Society as a unity in the way that Toynbee did. If he/she did he would probably speak of a breakdown in the early centuries CE, not in the fifth century BC. Wasn’t Toynbee’s view also something to do with an inherited Victorian tendency to denigrate post-Alexandrine Greek things? With the “saddened Whig” school? Toynbee was a student of Byzantium too, but that was an “affiliated” civilisation.

The impress on Toynbee’s mind made by his idea of the shape or plot of Hellenic civilisation was so deep that it led him to develop ideas about how other civilisations rose and fell that were perhaps indefensible.

We’ll return to his argument in a moment.


The leagues. Delian: fifth century BC against Persia, led by Athens. Aetolian: fourth to second centuries BC, central Greek cities. Achaean: before the fifth century BC to the fourth century BC, and again from 280 BC to 146 BC, cities on the Gulf of Corinth.

“Destruction of four great powers by one”: the Carthaginian, Seleucid (Battle of Magnesia) and Antigonid by the Roman. What was the fourth? Surely the Ptolemies survived intact in 146 BC. But, of course, he does mean the Ptolemies. From the ninth volume of the Study:

By 168 B.C. this one new Power [Rome] was also the only survivor among the five Powers that had been in the arena in 266 B.C. Of the four Powers that had enjoyed the advantage of standing on old foundations, Carthage, the Seleucid Monarchy, and Macedon had been felled to the ground by Roman blows in the years 201, 190, and 168, while Ptolemaic Egypt had been reduced to the status of a Roman protectorate when Roman diplomatic intervention had saved her in 170 B.C. from being annexed by Rome’s defeated Seleucid adversary.

On some of which see Hannibal’s Legacy, The Hannibalic War’s Effects on Roman Life, Vol I: Rome and Her Neighbours before Hannibal’s Entry and Vol II: Rome and Her Neighbours after Hannibal’s Exit, OUP, 1965.

Carthage, in Toynbee’s classification, was part of the Syriac Society. Why do we always speak of Seleucids, but only sometimes of Antigonids, and still less often of Lagids?

τὸυ δῆμου προσεταιρίζει means something like “bringing the people over to his side”. He is thinking of compromises with Germanic tribesmen and with Christians. I don’t know where the phrase comes from, but “people”, demos, is presumably intended here to mean something similar to “proletariat” in the sense in which he uses that term in the Study.


Returning to the main passage, he has given us his three-act synopsis and goes on:

This analysis is and must be subjective. Every one has to make his own, just as every one has to apprehend for himself the form of a work of art. But however the historian may analyse the plot and group it into acts, it must be borne in mind that the action is continuous, and that the first emergence of the Greek city-state in the Aegean and the last traces of municipal self-government in the Roman Empire are phases in the history of a single civilization. It may seem a paradox to call this civilization a unity. But the study of Greek and Latin literature leaves no doubt in one’s mind that the difference of language there is less significant than the unity of form, and that one is really dealing with a single literature, the Hellenic, which in many of its branches was imitated and propagated in the Latin language, just as it was to a lesser extent in Hebrew, or later on in Syriac and Arabic. The unity is even more apparent when, instead of confining our attention to literature, we regard the whole field of civilization. It is not really possible to draw a distinction between Greek history and Roman history. At most one can say that at some point Greek history enters on a phase which it may be convenient to distinguish verbally by connecting it with the name of Rome. To take the case of the Roman Empire – the reader may possibly have been surprised to find the Roman Empire treated as the third act in the tragedy of Greece; yet when one studies the Empire one finds that it was essentially a Greek institution. Institutionally it was at bottom a federation of city-states, a solution of the political problem with which Greek society had been wrestling since the fifth century B.C. And even the non-municipal element, the centralized bureaucratic organization which Augustus spread like a fine, almost impalpable net to hold his federation of municipalities together, was largely a fruit of Greek administrative experience. As papyrology reveals the administrative system of the Ptolemaic Dynasty – the Greek successors of Alexander who preceded the Caesars in the government of Egypt – we are learning that even those institutions of the Empire which have been regarded as most un-Greek may have been borrowed through a Greek intermediary.

Imperial jurisprudence, again, interpreted Roman municipal law into the law of a civilization by reading into it the principles of Greek moral philosophy. And Greek, not Latin, was still the language in which most of the greatest literature of the Imperial period was written. One need only mention works which are still widely read and which have influenced our own civilization – Plutarch’s Lives, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, and the New Testament. They are all written in Greek, and who will venture to assert that the age in which they were written falls outside Greek history, or that the social experience which produced them was not an act in the tragedy of Hellenic civilization? Even statistically the Empire was more Greek than anything else. Probably a considerable majority of its inhabitants spoke Greek as a lingua franca, if not as their mother-tongue. Nearly all the great industrial and commercial centres were in the Greek or Hellenized provinces. Possibly, during the first two centuries of the Empire, more Greek was spoken than Latin by the proletariat of Rome itself. The Greek core of the Roman Empire played the part of Western Europe in the modern world. The Latinized provinces were thinly populated, backward, and only superficially initiated into the fraternity of civilization. Latinized Spain and Africa were the South America, Latinized Gaul and Britain the Russia of the Ancient Greek world. The pulse of the Empire was driven by a Greek heart, and it beat comparatively feebly in the non-Greek extremities.

He almost sees France and Britain in his own lifetime as, at some level,

barbarian successor-states of the Roman Empire in the Empire’s derelict western provinces.


The Oxford Legacy series were collections of essays published by Oxford between the ’20s and the ’60s in sub-octavo volumes with the binding of the Clarendon Press. There were volumes on China, Egypt, Greece, India, Islam, Israel, the Middle Ages, Persia and Rome. Some of them stayed in print for decades.


The Plot of Ancient Greek Civilization (the passage is given here in full), sub-section in chapter called History contributed by Toynbee to RW Livingstone, editor, The Legacy of Greece, Essays by Gilbert Murray, W. R. Inge, J. Burnet, Sir T. L. Heath, D’Arcy W. Thompson, Charles Singer, R. W. Livingstone, A. Toynbee, A. E. Zimmern, Percy Gardner, Sir Reginald Blomfield, OUP (Oxford at the Clarendon Press), 1921

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

Mankind and Mother Earth, A Narrative History of the World, OUP, 1976, posthumous (quotation about barbarian successor-states of the Roman Empire)


July 4 2009

[The] natural human horror at the ever imminent prospect of the annihilation of a Present which can never really be prolonged can no doubt be counteracted, and even overcome, either by a philosophical fortitude in facing hard facts without flinching or by a religious intuition of a “larger hope” lightening the darkness of death.

The philosophical response to the challenge of Mutability is to be heard in the concordant voices of an Epicurean poet and a Stoic emperor whose consensus on this crucial point reveals a fundamental unity of outlook at the heart of two classic expressions of the Hellenic philosophy which are superficially antagonistic to one another.

Lucretius strikes a note which is as true to the temper of his Master as it is remote from the spirit that is vulgarly attributed to the Epicurean school:

cedit enim rerum novitate extrusa vetustas
semper, et ex aliis aliud reparare necessest. …
materies opus est ut crescant postera saecla,
quae tamen omnia te vita perfuncta sequentur;
nec minus ergo ante haec quam tu cecidere, cadentque.
sic alid ex alio nunquam desistet oriri,
vitaque mancipio nulli datur, omnibus usu.

[Footnote: Lucretius: De Rerum Natura, Book III, ll. 964-5 and 967-71.]

“For the old always gives way, driven out by something new, and it is necessary that one thing be created from another […]. There is need of old matter so that future generations can grow; and yet they will all follow you when their life is done; others have perished before, just like you, and will perish hereafter. So one thing will never cease to come into being out of another, and life is given to none as a freehold, but to all on lease.” I am not sure who the translator here is; since I cannot find my Penguin translation, I took, and modified, it from an incomplete online version of Monica Gale, Virgil on the Nature of Things: The Georgics, Lucretius and the Didactic Tradition, Cambridge University Press, 2000.

This Epicurean poetry is echoed by Marcus Aurelius in Stoic prose:

“You are afraid of Change? But nothing can happen without Change; it is something that is of the essence of the nature of the Universe. You cannot even take a hot bath without the fuel undergoing one kind of change, or digest your dinner without the food undergoing another. In fact, without the possibility of Change there could be no satisfaction for any of our needs; and in this light it becomes evident that, when it is your own turn to change into something other than yourself, this is all in the day’s work – just another necessity of Nature. … In Nature’s hands the sum of things is like a lump of wax. At one moment she moulds it into a toy horse; then she kneads up the horse in order to mould the same stuff into a toy tree; then she makes it into a mannikin, and then into something else. The duration of each of these successive shapes is infinitesimally short, but where is the grievance? Does it do a packing-case any more harm to be broken up than it does it good to be knocked together?”

[Footnote: Marcus Aurelius Antoninus: Meditations, Book VII, chaps. 18 and 33.] [Translation probably by Toynbee.]

The religious response to the challenge which Philosophy meets in this way is to be found in the New Testament in two variants of one simile:

“That which thou sowest is not quickened except it die,” [footnote: 1 Cor. xv. 36.]


“Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die it abideth alone, but if it die it bringeth forth much fruit.” [Footnote: John xii. 24.]

In these flashes of religious light an apparently merciless sacrifice of a sensitive Present to a callous Future is seen as an illusion in which the growing-pains of a single immortal soul have been falsely construed into a war to the knife between two irreconcilable adversaries. On this view the underlying reality is not an inconsequent Mutability but a triumphant Withdrawal-and-Return – a reality which is as glorious as the illusion is repulsive.

A Study of History, Vol VI, OUP, 1939

Jason and Antiochus

July 2 2009

Jason – יסון

A deliberate breach with the present can be conducted on either archaistic or futuristic lines. Futuristic and perhaps also archaistic reforms are contagious and, unchecked, can advance from the “outworks” of dress and recreation to the “citadel of the soul”. The hellenising reforms of the Jewish High Priest Jason in the second century B.C. were futuristic.

In the Syriac World in the fourth [this should be third] decade of the second century B.C. the High Priest Joshua – who was the leader of a faction in Jewry which was eager at that time to repudiate at least the external trappings of the Jewish community’s native cultural heritage – was not content to advertise his programme by the verbal gesture of hellenizing his own name from Joshua into Jason. The “positive act” which provoked the demonic reaction of the Maccabees was the adoption by the younger priests of the Temple in Jerusalem, at Joshua’s instigation, of the broad-brimmed felt sun-hat which was the distinctive headgear of the pagan dominant minority in the Achaemenian Empire’s Hellenic “successor-states”. In the sight of the orthodox Palestinian Jews of the day this spectacle was as shocking as it would be to the eyes of our twentieth-century Palestinian Arab Muslims if the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem were to air himself in the Haram-ash-Sharīf with a sola topee on his head. And in the Jewish case in point the rapid progress of the futurist furore was soon to give the puritans reason; for the young priests of Yahweh did not confine their revolutionary cult of Hellenism to the wearing of the petasus. Their Hellenic headgear was not so shocking as the Hellenic nakedness with which they practised Hellenic sports in a Hellenic palaestra. Hellenic athletic competitions led on to Hellenic dramatic festivals; and, almost before the conservatively orthodox majority of the Palestinian Jewish community had realized what was happening, the “raging tearing campaign” [Joseph Chamberlain?] of Futurism had arrived at its sacrilegious culmination.

“They shall pollute the sanctuary of strength and shall take away the daily sacrifice, and they shall place the abomination that maketh desolate.” [Footnote: Dan. xi. 31. […]]

Jason’s futuristic campaign had started as a voluntary movement; and, for all its radicalism, it had not trespassed beyond the limits of a secular field of action in which it might give offence to Jewish taste without driving Jewish consciences to desperation. But the Jewish High Priest Jason had been working under the patronage of the Seleucid Emperor Antiochus Epiphanes; and the patron held in the hollow of his hand a client who was merely the prelate of one of those diminutive temple-states which were embedded here and there in the vast body politic of the Seleucid Empire. When it suited Antiochus’s convenience he sold Jason’s office over Jason’s head to a rival aspirant [footnote: We have no record of the Jewish name which was hellenized into Menelaus by Joshua-Jason’s supplanter (Bevan, Edwyn: Jerusalem under the High Priests (London 1904, Arnold), p. 80).] who was not only a higher bidder for the Jewish High Priesthood but was also a more violent futurist; and, when the evicted Jason descended upon Jerusalem from his asylum in Transjordan and expelled his supplanter by a coup de main, Antiochus promptly took advantage of the opening given him by this act of Jewish rebellion in order to intervene personally with a high hand. He marched on Jerusalem; crushed the revolt; installed a Macedonian garrison; confiscated the treasure of the Temple for the benefit of his own insatiable exchequer; and put (as he supposed) the finishing touch to the work of Hellenization, in which Jason had played his part as pioneer, by courteously identifying “the Heaven-God of Jerusalem” [Yahweh] with the Olympian Zeus and graciously providing the necessary statue of the god – portrayed in the Emperor’s own image – to fill the void in a hitherto bleakly vacant Holy of Holies. [Footnote: For the measures taken by Antiochus Epiphanes at Jerusalem see Bevan, op. cit., pp. 81-2.] “The Abomination of Desolation, spoken of by Daniel the Prophet, standing where it ought not,” [footnote: Mark xiii. 14; cf. Matt. xxiv. 15.] was the swift and fearful nemesis of Joshua-Jason’s futuristic escapade. [Footnote: The swiftness of the nemesis is impressive if it is true that Antiochus’s devastating act of introducing the Hellenic idol into the Jewish Holy of Holies followed within eight years of Jason’s apparently innocuous act of putting his young priests into Hellenic hats.]

The ultimate outcome of this Jewish essay in Futurism in the second century B.C. was not a triumph like Peter the Great’s but a fiasco like Amānallāh’s; for the Seleucid Power’s frontal attack upon the Jewish religion evoked a Jewish reaction of a violence with which Epiphanes and his successors found themselves unable to cope. Yet the fact that this particular essay in Futurism happens to have been abortive does not make it any the less instructive; and one of the points which it illustrates is the impossibility of indulging in Futurism within fore-appointed limits. The essence of Futurism is a breach with the present; and, when once there has been a lesion at any point in the fabric of social life, the rent will extend itself and the threads will continue to unravel – even if the original rift was minute and even if the point at which it was made lay on the outermost fringe of the web. The êthos of Futurism is intrinsically “totalitarian”; and the evidence which points to this conclusion is by no means confined to the single instance which has led us up to it. Just as the Jew who takes to wearing the petasus soon learns to frequent the palaestra and the amphitheatre, so the Muscovite who has been dragooned into wearing a Western wig goes on to dance the fashionable Western dances and play the fashionable Western card-games, while in a later generation the Turk in a Homburg hat and the Persian in a Pehlevī cap cannot be kept off the football field or out of the cinema hall. In these cases, as in that, the abandonment of a traditional style of dress leads on to a general revolution in manners; and this is not the end of the futurist rake’s progress. For, while in the Islamic World to-day the post-war fever of Futurism is still in the innocuous preliminary external stage of the Jewish movement under Jason’s brief régime, Japan, who anticipated Turkey by three-quarters of a century in discarding her traditional male costume, is already being haunted by the spectre of “dangerous thought” [socialism and communism], while in Russia where the change of costume occurred about a century and three-quarters earlier than in Japan the process has culminated in our day in a campaign against the ancestral religion of the land which is being conducted with a far more powerful “drive” than Antiochus was able to put into his casual assault upon the traditional worship of Yahweh.

On this showing, we may expect to see Futurism invade the sanctuary of Religion sooner or later in any society in which this contagious way of life has once asserted itself in the trivial and frivolous spheres of dress and recreation; but in its victorious advance from the outworks to the citadel of the Soul a futuristic movement has to traverse the intermediate zones of Politics and Secular Culture […].

A further long footnote in this passage suggests that in treating the Jews heavy-handedly Antiochus was compensating for humiliations which he was suffering at the hands of Rome:

[…] The Seleucid Empire was already labouring under the shock of its collision with Rome by the time when Antiochus Epiphanes (no doubt unwittingly) challenged Jewry to a fight to the death with the Emperor’s Hellenism. Within ten years of the conquest of Coele Syria [a region of southern Syria, essentially Beqaa Valley, which the Seleucids had disputed with the Ptolemies] by Antiochus the Great in 198 B.C. the Seleucid conqueror of the Ptolemy had been routed by Scipio Asiagenus at Magnesia and had been compelled, as part of a peace settlement which was dictated to him by the Roman Government, to consent to a drastic limitation of Seleucid armaments. And Antiochus Epiphanes himself had been publicly humiliated by a Roman Commissioner before the walls of Pelusium […] only a few months before he stormed the walls of Jerusalem and desecrated the Temple. The main lines of Epiphanes’ ill-starred policy can all be traced back to the effects of Roman pressure. His abortive campaign of forcible Hellenization was an ill-judged effort to reinvigorate his empire by consolidating it. His abortive invasion of Egypt was a hazardous attempt to take advantage of the Romans’ preoccupation with Perseus in order to secure a belated territorial compensation for the loss [to the Romans] of the former possessions of the Seleucid Monarchy north-west of Taurus. The financial straits which tempted Antiochus to resort to the fatal expedient of robbing his Jewish subjects of their temple-treasures were the price of his own costly military adventure in Egypt following upon the payment of the heavy war-indemnity which had been exacted by the Romans from his predecessor Antiochus the Great. Before the Seleucid Government was pushed or led into these fatal courses in consequence of its encounter with Rome, its yoke had weighed lightly, by comparison with the rival Ptolemaic Government’s yoke, upon its Oriental subjects’ necks […].

Another footnote:

The pace of Futurism in Russia has, of course, been much slower than the pace at which it moved in Palestine in the second century B.C.; for while, as we have seen, the installation of “the Abomination of Desolation” in the Holy of Holies may have followed within eight years of the adoption of the petasus by Joshua-Jason’s young men, there it an interval of no less than 228 years between the date of Peter the Great’s effective accession to power in A.D. 1689 and the date of the Bolshevik Revolution of A.D. 1917. This difference of pace is evidently due to one signal difference in the course of events. The hand which placed the statue of Zeus Olympius in the Temple of Yahweh at Jerusalem was the hand of an alien intruder; and the fact that Antiochus was not a Jew but a Greek accounts both for the swiftness with which the Palestinian drama reached its culmination and for the fierceness of the reaction which eventually rendered the whole movement abortive. If Joshua-Jason’s Seleucid patron and master had had the wisdom to refrain from intervening in person, and had left the Jewish futurist movement to work itself out at its own natural pace under exclusively Jewish auspices, it is conceivable that the first century of the Christian Era might have witnessed an eradication of the worship of Yahweh by Jewish hands instead of witnessing, as it did, the outburst of Jewish Zealotism [in the Maccabean Revolt] which culminated in the great Romano-Jewish War of A.D. 66-70 […].

Insistence on the hijab, burqa, chador and other garments by some Muslims today who live in predominantly non-Muslim countries is based, in part, on a fear that “one thing will lead to another” if they are abandoned. Conversely, if they are tolerated or encouraged the “citadels” of the dominant culture will be threatened. Are strict Moslems archaists?

A Study of History, Vol VI, OUP, 1939

Of the Jews (A.D. 50)

July 1 2009

Jason – יסון

“Painter and poet, runner and discus-thrower,
beautiful as Endymion: Ianthis, son of Antony.
From a family on friendly terms with the Synagogue.

‘My most valuable days are those
when I give up the pursuit of sensuous beauty,
when I desert the elegant and severe cult of Hellenism,
with its over-riding devotion
to perfectly shaped, corruptible white limbs,
and become the man I would want to remain forever:
son of the Jews, the holy Jews.’

A most fervent declaration on his part: ‘… to remain forever
a son of the Jews, the holy Jews.’

But he did not remain anything of the kind.
The Hedonism and Art of Alexandria
kept him as their dedicated son.”


Of the Jews (A.D. 50), Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, translators; George Savidis, editor, CP Cavafy, Collected Poems, revised edition, Princeton University Press, 1992, at

Jason – יסון

June 30 2009

Jason, a High Priest at the Jewish temple in the 170s BC, was especially pro-Greek. The Seleucids had tried to Hellenise the Jews. The Maccabean Revolt began a decade later and resulted in the establishment of an independent Jewish Hasmonean kingdom in 140 BC, the last Jewish state before 1948. The Hasmoneans survived Pompey’s capture of Jerusalem in 63 BC, but gave way to an Idumean Jewish Roman client kingdom in 37 BC, the Herodian Kingdom of Judea, which lasted until AD 92.

Second Book of Maccabees, I presume translated by Toynbee.

“After the passing of Seleucus [IV] [bracket in original] and the accession of Antiochus the God Manifest (so called), Jason the brother of Onias wormed his way into the High Priesthood. He achieved this by petitioning the King and promising him 360 talents of silver per annum, besides 80 talents from other sources of revenue. In addition he undertook to levy another 150 talents if he were also empowered by royal authority to establish a physical training centre (γυμνάσιον) and a youth club (ἐφήβεῖον) and to register the inhabitants of Jerusalem as citizens of Antioch. The King gave his assent; and the new High Priest had no sooner taken up the reins of office than he set himself to transform his countrymen into Hellenes. He brushed aside the royal charter that had been secured to the Jews by the efforts of John the father of Eupolemus, and he made havoc of their lawful institutions in order to make room for impious innovations. He took a peculiar pleasure in installing his physical training centre [why doesn’t he call it a gymnasium?] under the very shadow of the citadel, enrolling the pick of the youth, and putting them into slouch hats (ἀσμένωςτοὺς κρατίστους τῶν ἐφήβωνὑπὸ πέτασον ἦγαγεν). Indeed, the unparalleled profanity of Jason, who behaved more like an enemy of religion than like a High Priest, gave Hellenism such a vogue and Renegadism such an impetus that the priests lost interest in the Liturgy, looked down upon the Temple, neglected the sacrifices and cared for nothing but to enter themselves for competitions in discus-throwing and to take their part in all the impious performances in the ring. They despised what their forefathers had honoured, and regarded Hellenic notions as the best in the world. In retribution for this they were overtaken by serious misfortunes and received their punishment at the hands of the very nation whose ways they had admired and wanted to ape in every particular. The laws of Heaven cannot be defied with impunity, as the sequel will show” (2 Macc. iv. 7-17).

Jason’s tomb in Jerusalem


Saul, Jonathan and David

A Study of History, Vol VI, OUP, 1939 (footnote)

Off-duty Spartans

June 23 2009

“The paramount aim of any social system should be to frame military institutions, like all other institutions, with an eye to the circumstances of peace-time, when the soldier is off duty; and this proposition is borne out by the facts of experience. Militaristic states are apt to survive only so long as they remain at war, while they go to ruin as soon as they have finished making their conquests. Peace causes their metal to lose its temper; and the fault lies with a social system which does not teach its soldiers what to make of their lives when they are off duty.” [Footnote: Aristotle, Politics, Book VII, chap. 12 (13), §§ 14-15 (1333b-1334a).]

This verdict is applied by Aristotle to Sparta explicitly in another passage. [Footnote: Ibid, Book II, chap. 6 (9), § 22 (1271b).]

“The whole regime is directed towards securing a high standard in one department only, namely the military field. This is, of course, the key to victory; so the Spartans did well while they were at war, but came to grief when they had acquired an empire. This was because they did not know what to make of peace-time. They had made their training for war paramount over training for anything else.”

Some Problems of Greek History, OUP, 1969

Greek against Greek

June 15 2009

After the sack of Constantinople by the Crusaders in A.D. 1204, some of the previously well-to-do Greek refugees from the sacked city were ill-treated by the Greek rural population in the hinterland, who forcibly relieved them of the money that they had been able to bring away with them, and gloated over the spectacle of grandees reduced to an equality with themselves on a common level of destitution. The poorer Greek inhabitants of Constantinople, who did not take flight, enriched themselves by buying from the Latin conquerors, at derisory prices, valuable articles of property that the Latins had plundered from the Greek purchasers’ wealthy fellow-citizens (see the indignant comments on these proceedings in Nıkítas Khoniátis’ Khronikì Dhıíyisıs, Epilogue on the Aftermath of the Catastrophe, chap. 5, on pp. 784-5 of I. Bekker’s edition (Bonn 1835, Weber)).

Islamic forbearance

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954 (footnote)

The stuffy closet

June 10 2009

One of the virtues of of the old-fashioned “classical” education was that it taught one to put one’s treasure in something outside the immediate here and now. The objective of a post-classical non-scientific education in the West is to soak the student’s mind in the language, literature, history, and manners of his own country, on the assumption that this is a valuable training for citizenship in a democratic national state. At Oxford one day in the year 1910, when the end of my formal classical education was in sight, I picked up the current syllabus of the Oxford School of Modern History to consider whether, after taking my final classical examination at the University in literis humanioribus, I should spend the next year at Oxford reading modern history or spend it in Greece walking about the countryside. A brief glance at that syllabus was decisive. The quantity of English history that was prescribed in it as obligatory was enough to knock me over backwards – the more so when I found that what was not specifically English in the prescribed history course was still almost exclusively West European. Accustomed, as I had become by then, to roaming freely in the great open spaces of Hellenic history, with its vistas opening on to the still broader realms of the history of mankind and the history of the Universe, I felt as if I was being invited to put my head into a stuffy little closet that had not had an airing for years. I had been thrilled by English history at the age of four, when my mother had told the story to me in instalments, night by night, while she was putting me to bed. But my mother had made it thrilling by making it do for me what Hellenic history had been doing at a later stage. The prospect of studying English history in accordance with the specifications of the Oxford syllabus was unattractive to me; so I went to Greece, and have been thankful, ever since, that this was the alternative for which I had opted. Sir Ernest Barker is right in reporting [see Toynbee and History, Critical Essays and Reviews, Boston, Porter Sargent, 1956] that I do not know English history and do not love it.

The “back to British history” argument in modern discussions about education is utterly dispiriting.

It is meant partly for cultural “minorities” (make them understand where they are!), and partly for culturally “British” children (make them remember what they are!). Of course it should be taught, at all ages. Even for those reasons. It is the “back to”, the duality, that are dismal. It isn’t as if other histories are taught adequately to culturally “British” children.

The Oxford Modern History syllabus in 1972, when I began studying, was as parochial as it had been in 1910.

A Study of History, Vol XII: Reconsiderations, OUP, 1961

Envoys from Alexandria

May 15 2009

SM emailed some interesting comments on my last Cavafy post.


“For centuries they hadn’t seen gifts at Delphi
as wonderful as those sent by the two brothers,
the rival Ptolemaic kings. But now that they have them,
the priests are nervous about the oracle. They’ll need
all their experience to decide
how to express it tactfully, which of the two –
of two brothers like these – will have to be offended.
And so they meet secretly at night
to discuss the family affairs of the Lagids.

“But suddenly the envoys are back. They’re taking their [leave.
Returning to Alexandria, they say. And they don’t ask
for an oracle at all. The priests are delighted to hear it
(they’re to keep the marvellous gifts, that goes without [saying)
but they’re also completely bewildered,
having no idea what this sudden indifference means.
They do not know that yesterday the envoys heard [serious news:
the ‘oracle’ was pronounced in Rome; the partition was [decided there.”


Envoys from Alexandria, from Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, translators; George Savidis, editor, CP Cavafy, Collected Poems, revised edition, Princeton University Press, 1992, at Spelling anglicised.

Spoilt children and whipping-boys

May 14 2009

Toynbee remembered

the atmosphere of animosity against Islam and against the Turks in which I had grown up.

Gladstone on the Bulgarian atrocities:

“Let the Turks now carry away their abuses, in the only possible manner, namely, by carrying off themselves. Their Zaptiehs and their Mudirs, their Bimbashis and Yuzbashis, their Kaimakams and their Pashas, one and all, bag and baggage, shall, I hope, clear out from the province that they have desolated and profaned.”

Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East, John Murray, 1876. Bulgaria was re-established two years later.

Toynbee’s 1917 pamphlet “The Murderous Tyranny of the Turks” (too short to be shown in the bibliography here) was the descendant of Gladstone’s.

During the First World War Toynbee had written anti-Turkish propaganda for the Foreign Office. In 1921, while Koraes Professor of Modern Greek and Byzantine Language, Literature and History at King’s College, London, he had travelled to the Near East for the Manchester Guardian to report on the Greco-Turkish War. His new-found sympathy for the Turks cost him his professorship. See Richard Clogg, Politics and the Academy, Arnold Toynbee and the Koraes Chair, Routledge, 2004. We have seen that happen in our own time with wrongly-applied sympathy in Arab-Israeli matters.

The Western Question in Greece and Turkey (1922) rehearses certain ideas which are developed on a large scale in A Study of History. This book is, among other things, about Western foreign policy as a cultural distorting lens and about the effects of inconsistent policy on people who are affected by it. The ambiguous passage below, in a very complex book, seems to me to anticipate modern ideas about, inter alia, Orientalism and “objectification”. Toynbee’s “Western Question” is a deliberately ironic reversal of the “Eastern Question” of British foreign policy. The “Question” is dated to the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the Russo-Turkish War of 1768-74 and the beginning of Turkey’s status as the “sick man of Europe”. The phrase dates from the Greek War of Independence in the 1820s, when much Western sentiment attached itself to the Greeks. The phrase “sick man of Europe” is, rightly or wrongly, attributed to Nicholas I (reigned 1825-55).

A working-man often makes allowances for an acquaintance who is a gentleman, and a gentleman for a working-man, which they would not either of them make readily for individuals of their respective species, or even for a shopkeeper. This well-known psychological fact has not been without benefit to the Turk. When a Westerner meets a Turk (whether it be an unsophisticated peasant or a Western-educated doctor, official or officer), he finds himself in contact with an individual who has traditions, standards, manners, and a soul of his own. Social relations with him are straightforward and full of interest. They possess all the charm and vividness of intercourse with a live human being, with a minimum of those moral commitments which ordinarily follow. The western traveller takes the same aesthetic enjoyment in his live Turk as in the fictitious personalities of a novel or a play, or as in the ghosts of a dead civilisation. The author, and every reader after him, of Paradise Lost can idealise and sympathise with Satan in the imaginary world of that poem, without having to feel the disapproval obligatory when much less serious offences are committed in this world by sons of Adam. Scholars, too, can take delight in the poetry of Aeschylus, the heroism of Leonidas, and all the glories of Ancient Hellenic civilisation, without being unduly distressed by the paederasty and infanticide which co-existed with them. In the same way, a Westerner who has once made friends with a Turk will shake hands with him again, next time he visits Turkey, without embarrassment, however red the hands of other Turks may have been stained, since his last visit, by massacre. Without his being aware of it, the conventional picture of the “blood-stained Turk,” with which he has been familiarised since infancy, has made him proof against being shocked by the reality. This feature in the personal relationship between Westerners and Turks, on its present footing, is as undesirable as that noted above in the case of Westerners and Greeks; but it has the same psychological origins, and neither feature will disappear until the “complex” of prejudice in Western minds has been removed.

It is imperative to remove it, for unwarrantable prejudice and unwarrantable indulgence do not in this case counterbalance one another. When you have made a spoilt-child of the Greek, it is no good rounding on him as an impostor; and when you have used the Turk as a whipping-boy, you do not heal the stripes that you have inflicted by congratulating him on his fortitude. Unnatural treatment is made doubly harmful by inconsistency in its application […].

The shadow of the West

Acquaintances, OUP, 1967

“The Murderous Tyranny of the Turks”, with a Preface by Viscount Bryce, Hodder & Soughton, 1917

The Western Question in Greece and Turkey, A Study in the Contact of Civilizations, Constable, 1922

Hellenism and Islam

May 12 2009

Stony ground: Roman law and Sharia

Seepage into Arabia

Islam […] is not a totally alien and contradictory ideal of life, as Westerners vulgarly believe. Its relation to Western Christianity differs in degree rather than in kind from that of Monophysitism. In their theological disguise, both were monotheistic reactions against trinitarianism (of different form and intensity), and in their essence revolts of the Middle East against Hellenism. At the same time, both had in their veins the blood of the parent whom they repudiated. The influence of Ancient Greek originals upon early Islamic literature, of Roman upon Islamic law, and of Hellenistic upon Islamic ideas and institutions is more and more engaging the attention of modern Orientalists.

The Western Question in Greece and Turkey, A Study in the Contact of Civilizations, Constable, 1922

A section of the bibliography in this book is called Hellenistic Element in Islam.

Europe and Asia

May 11 2009

“Europe” and “Asia” are conventions which are only possible on a small-scale two-colour map. The scientific physical geographer knows of no barrier between the two continents. In the tundra-zone or the forest-zone or the steppe-zone, where is the division? Or at what point does one pass out of Europe into Asia along the Trans-Siberian or the Trans-Turkestan Railway? What are the political frontiers between Russia or Turkey “in Europe” and Russia or Turkey “in Asia”? The boundary between the continents, which bisects their city, does not disturb the inhabitants of Constantinople, many of whom sleep in Asiatic houses and earn their daily bread in European offices, with a penny-steamer to take them to and fro. Again, when one comes to the Aegean, one finds no boundary there. The European mountain ranges which dip under the sea at Athos and Sunium raise their crests above the waves in chains of islands, and reach over into Asia from the [Anatolian] peninsulas of Cheshmé and Mykáli and Knidos. The physiographical unity of the Aegean basin, without distinction of continents, is the strongest point in the claim advanced by Greece to Smyrna, and what is true of the Aegean holds on a larger scale for the entire Mediterranean. The traditional partition of Eurasia into two continents is unreal, and the Ancient Greek scientists who first introduced it as a parochial division in their miniature world, never succumbed to the illusion that there was some mysterious difference of soil or climate predisposing “Asiatics” to vice and “Europeans” to virtue. After giving full weight to the environmental factor, they concluded that the human differences which were so striking in their own day, were functions not of continents but of cultures, and they attributed most importance to the political dissimilarities between Hellenic and Ancient Middle Eastern society.

The Western Question in Greece and Turkey, A Study in the Contact of Civilizations, Constable, 1922

United Artists of Dionysus

May 10 2009

The aristocratic [sporting] amateurs whose victories are immortalized in Pindar’s odes were eventually replaced by the professional boxers of the amphitheatre and professional charioteers of the circus, while the shows that were purveyed, post Alexandrum, from Parthia to Spain by the Διόνυσον τεχνῖται (“United Artists, Ltd.”) were as different from the fifth-century celebrations in Dionysus’s own theatre, in its hallowed precinct under the shadow of the Acropolis at Athens, as a music-hall revue in Chicago or Shanghai or Buenos Aires is different from a medieval mystery play.

Associations of actors, musicians and others associated with the cult of Dionysus (οἱ περὶ τὸν Διόνυσον τεχνῖται) were powerful guilds in the diffused post-Alexandrine Greek world.

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939

Byzantium and Greece

May 9 2009

When the Byzantines conquered Greece from pagan Slav barbarian squatters there in the reign of the East Roman Emperor Basil I (imperabat A.D. 867-86), and again when they afterwards recaptured it from schismatic Western Christian usurpers, foot by foot, in the course of 168 years running from A.D. 1262 to A.D. 1430, the value of Greece in Byzantine eyes, which induced the Byzantines to make these strenuous military efforts for the sake of gaining possession of it, did not, as far as we can judge, reside in the historic role that Greece had once played as the birthplace of Hellenism. The motive that moved Basil I to conquer Greece seems to have been, not cultural piety, but a strategico-political calculation. He appears to have been seeking to forestall the danger that, if he did not occupy Greece himself, it might fall into the hands of a rival Bulgarian Power, which, during Basil’s reign, was rapidly appropriating the lion’s share of the hitherto independent Slavinias in the interior of the Balkan Peninsula; and, when the Palaiológhi persisted in squandering the rapidly dwindling resources of a precariously restored East Roman Empire on the luxury of reconquering the Morea from the Latins, instead of concentrating their military efforts on the defence of their last bridgeheads in Anatolia against Turkish assailants whose knife was then already at Byzantium’s throat, they would appear to have been moved by a short-sighted eagerness to turn to immediate account the military weakness of Frankish trespassers on East Roman ground who had become even more decrepit than the Byzantine lawful owners. In reconquering the Morea from the Latins, the Palaiológhi were improvidently securing the twofold immediate satisfaction of taking their revenge for grievous wrongs suffered in the past at the hands of hated schismatic Christian aggressors and at the same time momentarily compensating themselves for irreparable losses of strategically invaluable territory in Anatolia with ephemeral gains of strategically valueless territory in Rumelia. The Palaiológhi chose to act on this short view without reflecting that, in expelling the Franks from the Morea, they were working, not for themselves, but for their future Ottoman successors. Yet, unstatesmanlike though their preoccupation with the Morea may look in retrospect to an historian’s eye, there is no evidence that the warping of their political judgement was the effect of any sentimental attachment to a country that had once been the cradle of Hellenism.

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

Aelius Aristeides

May 7 2009

A Greek addresses Rome.

“The common saying that Earth is the all-mother and the universal home has been demonstrated by you Romans to perfection; for to-day Greek or barbarian, travelling heavy or travelling light, is at liberty to go where he pleases, at his ease; and, wherever he goes, he will never be leaving home behind him. The Cilician Gates [the pass across the Taurus Mountains connecting the Cilician plain in southern Turkey with the central Anatolian plateau] and the narrow sandy passage through the Arab country to Egypt [footnote: See Herodotus, Book III, chaps. 4-7 and 88. – A.J.T.] have both alike lost their terrors. The mountains are no longer trackless, the rivers no longer impassable, the tribesmen no longer ferocious; it is a sufficient passport to be a Roman citizen or indeed a Roman subject; and Homer’s saying that ‘the Earth is common to all men’ has been translated into fact by you, who have surveyed the whole Inhabited World and have thrown all manner of bridges over the rivers and have hewn cuttings through the mountains until you have made the Earth carrossable [passable] – with your post-houses planted in the wilderness and your system and order spreading civilisation far and wide.” [Footnote: Aristeides, P. Aelius: In Romam, §§ 100-1 in B. Keil’s edition (Aelii Aristidis Quae Supersunt Omnia, vol. ii (Berlin 1898, Weidmann), pp. 120-1).]

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954