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RVF Book Club September: Thucydides - The History of the Peloponnesian War
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Paracelsus Offline
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Post: #51
RE: RVF Book Club September: Thucydides - The History of the Peloponnesian War
I must admit, I'm only into the first 200 pages or so (just finished up with the plague and Pericles' defence of his management of the war) and it's less the dry descriptions of troop movements that are interesting me as the speeches and observations that Thucydides makes or puts in the mouths of his speakers.

It's really interesting in particular to read the speeches in a cynical context as audience manipulation and to try and pick apart how the speaker was trying to influence his audience with the devices he used. Pericles' funeral oration is lucid, certainly, the sort of appeal to values that could not fail to stir the heart, but I have no doubt it was designed to charge up and keep the citizenry hot for war. Thucydides' observation that Pericles was tremendously respected and therefore able to both chide and praise his people seems a vote in favour of him being an exceptional politician. Flattering a populace is easy; telling them when they're wrong is truly a lost art.
09-09-2015 12:08 AM
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RE: RVF Book Club September: Thucydides - The History of the Peloponnesian War
Double post: although I have to register my sadness, about twenty pages later, as I learn that the hard men of Sparta decided to ally up with lesbians. Big Grin
(This post was last modified: 09-09-2015 07:02 AM by Paracelsus.)
09-09-2015 07:01 AM
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RE: RVF Book Club September: Thucydides - The History of the Peloponnesian War
Some interesting quotes that hit me on the head today when I was reading the speech of the Athenians and the speech of Archidamus on whether Sparta should go to war.

Excerpt from the speech of the Athenians
Quote:Our abatement of our rights in the contract trials with our allies, and our causing them to be decided by impartial laws at Athens, have gained us the reputation of being litigious. And none care to inquire why the reproach is not brought against other imperial powers, who treat their subjects with less moderation than we do; the secret being that where force can be used, law is not needed. But our subjects are so habituated to associate with us as equals, that any defeat whatsever that clashes with their notions of justice, whether it proceeds from a legal judgement or from the power which our empire gives us, makes them forget to be grateful for being allowed to retain most of their possessions and more vexed at a part being taken, than if we had from the first cast law aside and openly gratified our covetousness. If we had done so, they would not have disputed that the weaker give to the stronger. Men's indignation it seems, is more excited by legal wrong than by violent law; the first looks like being cheated by an equal, the second like being compelled by a superior.

This is the Athenians arguing that they treat their colonist pretty well. That they are well treated by the fact that things are handled by laws than rules of force. They do not heavily tax their colonist.

They also there is always a problem with colonist making complaints on the account of being colonists and resent being subject to foreign rule.


Excerpt from the speech of Archidamus
Quote:I have not lived so long, spartans, without having had the experience of many wars, and I see those among you of the same age as myself, who will not fall into the common misfortune of longing for war from inexperience or from a belief in its advantage and its safety
Those experienced in war are likely to deter from engaging it and aren't going to be easily allured to any reasons to engage in war.

Excerpt from the speech of Archidamus
Quote:And the slowness and procrastination, the parts of our character that are most assailed by their criticism, need not make you blush.

...

The quality they condemn is really nothing but wise moderation.

...

We are both warlike and wise, and it is our sense of order that makes us so. We are warlike, because self-control contains honor as a chief constituent, and honor bravery. And we are wise, because we are educated too little learning to despise the laws, and with too severe a self-control to disobey them, and are brought up not to be knowing in useless matters--such as the knowledge which can give a specious criticism of an enemy's plans in theory, but fails to assail with equal success in practice--but are taught to consider that the schemes of our enemies are not dissimilar to our own, and the freaks of chance are not determinable by calculation.

...

Nor ought we believe that there is much difference between man and man, but to think that the superiority lies with him who is reared in the harshest school.

They study things which are useful and applied in battle and places emphasis on preparation for battle than strategies for battle.

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09-09-2015 11:25 PM
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RE: RVF Book Club September: Thucydides - The History of the Peloponnesian War
(09-07-2015 11:06 AM)NilNisiOptimum Wrote:  One challenge I'm having with the book is a lack of maps in my version. Does anyone know of a good resource for the maps online?

I just Googled them

[Image: peloponnesianwar.jpg]

[Image: 500px-Pelop_war_en.png]

[Image: 300px-Peloponnesian_war_alliances_431_BC.png]

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09-10-2015 09:04 PM
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Paracelsus Offline
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RE: RVF Book Club September: Thucydides - The History of the Peloponnesian War
Came across one of the smaller stories in the histories which bears expanding out. It's almost a blink-and-you'll-miss-it thing.

In the third year of the war, thus, Chapter VIII, Book 2 of the Gutenberg version, the king of Thrace, Sitalces, decided to invade Macedonia to the southwest.

Quote:at the beginning of this winter, Sitalces, son of Teres, the Odrysian king of Thrace, made an expedition against Perdiccas, son of Alexander, king of Macedonia, and the Chalcidians in the neighbourhood of Thrace; his object being to enforce one promise and fulfil another. On the one hand Perdiccas had made him a promise, when hard pressed at the commencement of the war, upon condition that Sitalces should reconcile the Athenians to him and not attempt to restore his brother and enemy, the pretender Philip, but had not offered to fulfil his engagement; on the other he, Sitalces, on entering into alliance with the Athenians, had agreed to put an end to the Chalcidian war in Thrace. These were the two objects of his invasion. With him he brought Amyntas, the son of Philip, whom he destined for the throne of Macedonia, and some Athenian envoys then at his court on this business, and Hagnon as general; for the Athenians were to join him against the Chalcidians with a fleet and as many soldiers as they could get together.

Perdiccas we've already seen some mention of as involved in political machinations prior to the war breaking out, but on first impression he might (by refusing to honour his agreement with Sitalces) have pissed off the wrong guy. Thrace, of which Sitacles was king, was part of the Odrysian empire, which had a strong economy, and a wide variety of people allied to it. Sitalces proceeded to call up just about every one of those allies for a romp through Macedonia. He was enthusiastically responded to.

Quote:It was thus a very powerful kingdom; in revenue and general prosperity surpassing all in Europe between the Ionian Gulf and the Euxine, and in numbers and military resources coming decidedly next to the Scythians, with whom indeed no people in Europe can bear comparison, there not being even in Asia any nation singly a match for them if unanimous, though of course they are not on a level with other races in general intelligence and the arts of civilized life.

It was the master of this empire that now prepared to take the field. When everything was ready, he set out on his march for Macedonia, first through his own dominions, next over the desolate range of Cercine that divides the Sintians and Paeonians, crossing by a road which he had made by felling the timber on a former campaign against the latter people. Passing over these mountains, with the Paeonians on his right and the Sintians and Maedians on the left, he finally arrived at Doberus, in Paeonia, losing none of his army on the march, except perhaps by sickness, but receiving some augmentations, many of the independent Thracians volunteering to join him in the hope of plunder; so that the whole is said to have formed a grand total of a hundred and fifty thousand. Most of this was infantry, though there was about a third cavalry, furnished principally by the Odrysians themselves and next to them by the Getae. The most warlike of the infantry were the independent swordsmen who came down from Rhodope; the rest of the mixed multitude that followed him being chiefly formidable by their numbers.

Let's do a comparison here. About a centry earlier, the Persians under Xerxes had invaded Greece, this being the war in which the famous battle of Thermopylae was fought, featuring Leonidas and his legendary 300 Spartans. The Persian army is estimated by scholars to have been about 300-500 thousand in total, and that took most of the Aegean's tribes and kingdoms massed together to hold them back. Sitacles' army was about half the size, but it was facing one or two nations. The Athenians at their height invaded Syracuse with 5,000 hoplites a few years later. This was a rampaging horde to make kings tremble.

So. Why was Macedonia not a smoking crater in the ground by the next spring?

Not for reasons of strength of arms. The Macedonians and Chalcidians, not being foolhardy, refused to engage the Thracian army in the field. Thucydides records them as allowing several cities to fall, holing up in their castles and fortresses, and at best harassing the horde with light cavalry raids (although the Macedonians eventually had to give this up, too.) And a couple of cities also went over to the Thracians because Sitacles had a pretender to the Macedonian throne with him.

For a start, Sitacles didn't get the Athenian fleet he thought he would. Athens didn't believe he'd actually make it, so he was confined to land -- and it was already clear to this point in the war that naval power would play a large part in the conflict.

Secondly, eagle-eyed readers will have noticed the problem with Sitalces' campaign from the outset of my first quote: he started out at the beginning of winter, which armies of the time really were not equipped to deal with - you'll note armies and navies alike pulling back as winter sets in across the conflict. As with a couple of massive hordes trying to rampage across a certain country far to the north of Greece a couple thousand years later, Sitalces started with the Macedonians and Chalcidians as his opponents but ended up fighting the weather as well. Not to mention the sheer size of his force was difficult to provision.

But thirdly, Sitacles had taken on a Spartan who knew more than one way to fight.

Quote: [Sitalces] held Chalcidice and Bottice and Macedonia, and was ravaging them all; but finding that he was not succeeding in any of the objects of his invasion, and that his army was without provisions and was suffering from the severity of the season, he listened to the advice of Seuthes, son of Spardacus, his nephew and highest officer, and decided to retreat without delay. This Seuthes had been secretly gained by Perdiccas by the promise of his sister in marriage with a rich dowry. In accordance with this advice, and after a stay of thirty days in all, eight of which were spent in Chalcidice, he retired home as quickly as he could; and Perdiccas afterwards gave his sister Stratonice to Seuthes as he had promised. Such was the history of the expedition of Sitalces.

Perdiccas thereby managed to defeat one of the largest military invasions of the time without once meeting it in open battle.

Archimedes said that given the right lever, he could move the world. Perdiccas was out proving that principle two hundred years before the mathematician was born.
(This post was last modified: 09-10-2015 11:01 PM by Paracelsus.)
09-10-2015 10:51 PM
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Libertas Offline
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RE: RVF Book Club September: Thucydides - The History of the Peloponnesian War
That 150,000 number is very doubtful. Even when Alexander invaded the Persian Empire he only had about 47,000 at most, from all of Greece.

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09-11-2015 08:30 AM
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RE: RVF Book Club September: Thucydides - The History of the Peloponnesian War
(09-11-2015 08:30 AM)Libertas Wrote:  That 150,000 number is very doubtful. Even when Alexander invaded the Persian Empire he only had about 47,000 at most, from all of Greece.

I don't doubt the number is inflated - even Thucydides says the number is "said" to have been 150,000 strong. Still, it's the first invasion I've seen referred to in the book thus far which speaks of a big bunch of enthusiastic volunteers jumping onboard with Sitalces for a bit of plunder, Viking-style. And it seems to have been a force that the Macedonians decided they simply couldn't meet head-to-head -- so large that they even eventually gave up even trying to harass it with cavalry skirmishers.

I can certainly accept the number's probably overestimated, but I don't see much reason for Thucydides to have made up the Macedonian response to it, which would be rational when faced with overwhelming numbers. And then there's the fact Sitalces knocks over about four or five cities in less than one month -- Thucydides says the whole invasion by Sitalces lasts thirty days, of which eight were actually spent in Chalcidice. Yes, a good bunch of them probably went over in support of Amyntas, but devastating that many cities in that short a period of time seems more likely with a very large force than a quick campaign by a small but capable one.

My point was more about how Perdiccas turned that invasion around without meeting the Thracians in open battle.

In other news, I've just finished up the debate between Cleon and Diodotus over the revolt at Mytilene. There's some good shit in those two speeches, I mean to do an informal exegesis of that section some time soon.
(This post was last modified: 09-11-2015 08:48 AM by Paracelsus.)
09-11-2015 08:46 AM
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RE: RVF Book Club September: Thucydides - The History of the Peloponnesian War
So as promised, some thoughts on the Mytilene debate.

This happens in the fourth and fifth year of the war. In the Gutenberg Thucydides you can find it contained a few pages in, at Book III, Chapter IX. Mytilene, a Greek colony, had taken the opportunity of Athens being at war to revolt from Athenian control and ally with Sparta. Unfortunately they timed the revolt wrongly and Athens turned up with a decent navy and crushed the rebellion, bringing the ringleaders back to Athens for judgment.

Initially the Athenians had resolved to put all of them to death, but curiously Thucydides does not record this debate. Instead, he records what happened during a second debate when the Athenians were reconsidering whether to kill all of the rebels.

What follows is a profound debate on law and order and on mercy when at war ... but also has some profound insights on the nature of politics and the inherent problems of a democracy. These are particularly significant because the Greek form of democracy is often held up as an ideal for modern democracy to follow. If, then, the Greeks themselves had identified some fatal flaws to their model, it behooves us to pay close attention to them.

Speaking in favour of the motion to execute the rebels was Cleon, who Thucydides describes as a violent man but also with a great deal of popular support at his back. Some scholars believe Thucydides was biased against Cleon and that other accounts indicate it was Cleon rather than Pericles who had a leading role in the defence of Athens during the first years of the war. And we have no real way of being sure that Cleon actually spoke the words attributed to him by Thucydides.

To me this is somewhat missing the point. Cleon's speech, whether his thoughts or those of Thucydides putting words in his mouth, makes observations that ring true two and a half thousand years down the line when it comes to human nature and are directly applicable to our own time.

Cleon certainly opens his speech with a zinger:

Quote:I have often before now been convinced that a democracy is incapable of empire, and never more so than by your present change of mind in the matter of Mitylene.

This is intriguing given Thucydides' observation earlier in the History that tyrannies and dictatorships could not achieve anything notable, and that it took oligarchies or democracies to do this. One imagines this is Thucydides either badmouthing Cleon as an enemy of Athenian democracy or reporting the man's words accurately.

Quote:Fears or plots being unknown to you in your daily relations with each other, you feel just the same with regard to your allies, and never reflect that the mistakes into which you may be led by listening to their appeals, or by giving way to your own compassion, are full of danger to yourselves, and bring you no thanks for your weakness from your allies; entirely forgetting that your empire is a despotism and your subjects disaffected conspirators, whose obedience is ensured not by your suicidal concessions, but by the superiority given you by your own strength and not their loyalty.

In other words, "You people are assuming that because you don't plot and connive against one another, your 'allies' and 'friends' in other parts of the world think the same way as you. They don't feel great loyalty to you; they only fear the consequences if they cross you and you bring your military to bear against them."

Does this sound familiar? It's a very similar mistake that the US has been making in the Middle East for the past twenty years: the idea that any of the Arabic nations over there -- Sunni or Shia -- can be a friend to the United States, that any of them can be bosom allies of the US, that any of them want or need democracy. The US assumes that because it is democratic, that other nations want the same thing. It is an understandable blind spot in human psychology, but it's still a deadly one to have.

Quote:The most alarming feature in the case is the constant change of measures with which we appear to be threatened, and our seeming ignorance of the fact that bad laws which are never changed are better for a city than good ones that have no authority; that unlearned loyalty is more serviceable than quick-witted insubordination; and that ordinary men usually manage public affairs better than their more gifted fellows. The latter are always wanting to appear wiser than the laws, and to overrule every proposition brought forward, thinking that they cannot show their wit in more important matters, and by such behaviour too often ruin their country; while those who mistrust their own cleverness are content to be less learned than the laws, and less able to pick holes in the speech of a good speaker; and being fair judges rather than rival athletes, generally conduct affairs successfully. These we ought to imitate, instead of being led on by cleverness and intellectual rivalry to advise your people against our real opinions.

In political terms, Cleon is saying "If it ain't broke, don't fuck with it." But that's only part of the argument. As Cleon rightly points out, it's always people who think they're smarter than they are who are determined to fuck around with laws without realising that laws generally are in place for good reason and have evolved over a period of time to that state. There is also a good deal of economic sense to what he says, too: legal uncertainty is the death of business investment in a country, and laws changing back and forth are the very definition of uncertainty.

Quote:The persons to blame are you who are so foolish as to institute these contests; who go to see an oration as you would to see a sight, take your facts on hearsay, judge of the practicability of a project by the wit of its advocates, and trust for the truth as to past events not to the fact which you saw more than to the clever strictures which you heard; the easy victims of new-fangled arguments, unwilling to follow received conclusions; slaves to every new paradox, despisers of the commonplace; the first wish of every man being that he could speak himself, the next to rival those who can speak by seeming to be quite up with their ideas by applauding every hit almost before it is made, and by being as quick in catching an argument as you are slow in foreseeing its consequences; asking, if I may so say, for something different from the conditions under which we live, and yet comprehending inadequately those very conditions; very slaves to the pleasure of the ear, and more like the audience of a rhetorician than the council of a city.

This same fault in democracy, if not public discourse -- the fact that rhetoric and oratory tricks are more appealing than careful argument -- is present and endemic in the West today. Indeed it is present in a distilled form when it comes to gender politics. We have been on the frontlines of this storm. Consider how women and the MSM at large have been so quick and fierce to get on the false rape bandwagon, notwithstanding how dodgy the research is. Consider how hard it is to stop that bandwagon rolling even with Rolling Stone publicly backing down on its bullshit and the authors of surveys publicly admitting their results have been misconstrued. When politics becomes entertainment -- as it has in the West -- democracy dies.

For all that, though, you get the sense reading the speeches that Diodotus, Cleon's opponent, was the better orator and argued smarter. I could identify any number of rhetorical tricks he uses -- first, he distinguishes the political assembly from a court of law, where a death sentence would be all but assured, for a start. Secondly, as every amateur psychologist from Robert Greene to Dale Carnegie advises us, he appeals to the Athenians' self-interest. "This debate has nothing to do with punishment of a crime, it has to do with what's in the best interests of the state."

And it is interesting to see his argument against the death penalty:

Quote:Now of course communities have enacted the penalty of death for many offences far lighter than this: still hope leads men to venture, and no one ever yet put himself in peril without the inward conviction that he would succeed in his design. Again, was there ever city rebelling that did not believe that it possessed either in itself or in its alliances resources adequate to the enterprise? All, states and individuals, are alike prone to err, and there is no law that will prevent them; or why should men have exhausted the list of punishments in search of enactments to protect them from evildoers? It is probable that in early times the penalties for the greatest offences were less severe, and that, as these were disregarded, the penalty of death has been by degrees in most cases arrived at, which is itself disregarded in like manner.

Without adopting the argument, this is a beautiful piece of oratory. As with individuals, so with states: no criminal starts a crime thinking he's going to get caught; a state would not rebel if it didn't think it could get away with it, irrespective of the consequences attaching to that act, therefore no punishment is a deterrent.

This is a gorgeous piece of intellectually dishonest sophistry, though Diodotus gets away with it because he's arguing it before a democratic body and not a court or a logician or philosopher. Taken to its logical endpoint, no punishment is ever a deterrent and the entire idea of punishing a crime, down to the smallest fine, is logically invalid.

Diodotus then piles on the logical fallacy of inappropriate generalisation:

Quote:We must not, therefore, commit ourselves to a false policy through a belief in the efficacy of the punishment of death, or exclude rebels from the hope of repentance and an early atonement of their error. Consider a moment. At present, if a city that has already revolted perceive that it cannot succeed, it will come to terms while it is still able to refund expenses, and pay tribute afterwards. In the other case, what city, think you, would not prepare better than is now done, and hold out to the last against its besiegers, if it is all one whether it surrender late or soon?

It's impossible to predict how one criminal will behave compared to another, so this at best is speculation. It's the threat of punishment that is meant to dissuade people from committing a crime to begin with.

Quote:We must not, therefore, sit as strict judges of the offenders to our own prejudice, but rather see how by moderate chastisements we may be enabled to benefit in future by the revenue-producing powers of our dependencies; and we must make up our minds to look for our protection not to legal terrors but to careful administration. At present we do exactly the opposite. When a free community, held in subjection by force, rises, as is only natural, and asserts its independence, it is no sooner reduced than we fancy ourselves obliged to punish it severely; although the right course with freemen is not to chastise them rigorously when they do rise, but rigorously to watch them before they rise, and to prevent their ever entertaining the idea, and, the insurrection suppressed, to make as few responsible for it as possible.

This argument is still echoing down the ages excusing every young criminal or "institutionalised" offender who comes before the courts: if only you spent X amount of money before he went to court, he wouldn't be here. It is a blatant attempt at removing the offender's moral agency: read Theodore Dalrymple's essay "The Knife Went In" for expansion on this idea.

Thucydides goes on to record that the following vote was a near-run thing, but Diodotus's argument carried the day. Most of the rebels were spared. In its way, this decision was a small part of why Athens later failed at Syracuse: because it contributed to the watering-down of Athenian ruthlessness in dealing with its enemies. It contributed to the idea it could fight its wars without resolute commitment or with mercy.
(This post was last modified: 09-13-2015 10:26 PM by Paracelsus.)
09-13-2015 10:22 PM
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RE: RVF Book Club September: Thucydides - The History of the Peloponnesian War
(09-11-2015 08:30 AM)Libertas Wrote:  That 150,000 number is very doubtful. Even when Alexander invaded the Persian Empire he only had about 47,000 at most, from all of Greece.


Ancient historians (and even modern ones) have a habit of wildly exaggerating their numbers.

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09-14-2015 08:15 PM
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RE: RVF Book Club September: Thucydides - The History of the Peloponnesian War
One of the reasons I wanted to read this book to begin with was as a part of recognizing that great societies do fall, and seeing how what seems like an very stable and powerful position can be lost.

Athens still captures our imagination. I know in my college education, I read more works produced in Athens, and written about Athens than I did from say 1800s England. How is it that a culture and time so much closer to our own, written in our own language, which certainly did produce an incredible wealth of literature was less likely to be found in the backpack of my 19-year-old self than some books from 2,500 years ago?

We still marvel at Athens and in the book we see why it was such a marvel. They had a large empire and collected tribute from nearly all their members. Thucydides himself said that while Sparta was such a modest city that someone walking there would estimate them to be much weaker in actual military strength than they truly were, and that Athens was such a beautiful city that the uninitiated observer would consider them twice as powerful as they truly were. This largely due to the wealth Athens brought in via its empire and taxation.

Athens, much like the U.S., was a democracy which had the habit of conquering other places and "liberating" them from "tyranny" and making them into democracies. Yet Sparta and her allies clearly saw through this and united to prevent themselves from being Athen's next victim. Sparta collected no taxes from her allies and could not really compel them to do anything, yet they were able to convince them on sheer self-interest to attack the strongest naval power by far in Greece out of self-interest after seeing time and time again how Athens was able to conquer and subjugate different peoples. They seemed to have no illusions about "democracy" being anything wonderful the way we do currently. There are still people who think we've done Afghanistan and Iraq a favor since they are now "democracies".

You see towards the end of the first book, Sparta and Athens both are cognizant of this advantage that Athens has, that it runs its empire in a top-down way, that they truly can command their allies and are not fighting in a divided sense. On the other hand Sparta does not command her allies except by example, and they address them as equals and vote together on whether or not to declare war. Pericles is confident that the Spartans et. al will find that this decision making structure will lead to strife and a lack of clear decision making that will prove an advantage for the Athenians. Plus, how could the Spartans et. al ever hope to match Athen's naval strength?

Combined with the glowing image of Athens as the jewel of the Ancient world, and the obvious advantages in money and ships, it still seems surprising that they did lose. Yet lost they did. Great empires, great cultures, the wealthiest and with the most advanced military can indeed fall. In fact they all do, they all have...

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09-15-2015 07:58 AM
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RE: RVF Book Club September: Thucydides - The History of the Peloponnesian War
What book are we reading in October?
09-26-2015 12:35 PM
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RE: RVF Book Club September: Thucydides - The History of the Peloponnesian War
(09-26-2015 12:35 PM)Horus Wrote:  What book are we reading in October?

Keep that discussion here:
https://www.rooshvforum.com/thread-50118.html

This thread can hopefully continue past September on the topic of this book, as anyone who wants to talk about this book can add to it whenever they like.

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09-26-2015 02:36 PM
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RE: RVF Book Club September: Thucydides - The History of the Peloponnesian War
Ok, I just finished this book—The History of the Peloponnesian War. Thank you again Sonsowey for the recommendation. I have some initial thoughts, so I did not want to read the other comments on this thread (lest I lose my original response).

There was a great “Philosophy” before Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle - I, like many, have started Western thought with Socrates. But reading the book, I noticed many uses of rhetoric (primarily in a call to arms by various generals). It reminded me that before somebody can critique a society (like Socrates) somebody has to create it. And that this creation often comes by way of the sword. It’s no different than the modern call to patriotism: Freedom isn’t free, etc.

In short, the desire to fight, to defend yourself, is a form of logic. It has a belief system attached to it, a way of reasoning. It is a philosophy. And it’s one that predates the classic philosophers of Greece.
12-12-2015 09:41 PM
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