Sunday, June 29, 2008


I'm reading Thucydides at a bar where an old man stares at the bay with a far away consternated expression as if he has glimpsed the joke at the origin of time and then dunks a piece of bread into his beer, and I've lost count of the number of cities the Athenian armies pass through and leave as a heap of broken stone out of which a victory marker pokes. All because of Cleon. Thucydides really doesn't go for Cleon, Cleon with his big booming voice what had Pericles done on corruption charges in 430 BC. Cleon who wanted to slaughter all the men of Mytilene for resisting Athenian power. Cleon who said "It is a better for a state to enforce bad laws that are always obeyed than to have good one that go unenforced." Cleon who said "Ignorance combined with prudence has advantages over cleverness combined with intemperance." At the Athenian agora, these days full of tourists picking through ghost stones, Cleon pushed for an attack on the Spartans, an attack the Athenians then invited him to lead. Not expecting to be pulled up on his winged words and his rhetoric that derives its energy from saying what's worst, Cleon nevertheless led a successful expedition to Sphacteria, sold the women and children of Toronaea into slavery, carried out a few massacres, and got hacked to death at Amphipolis. Cleon, exulting in his negatives. But can you imagine Gordon Brown or Nicolas Sarkozy leading an expedition, now, on Iran, for instance? No, but you can imagine them walking around the Greek theatre of Taormina, wearing shorts.

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