Politics or books?

The British author Robert Harris has written three novels about Cicero, told by his slave and secretary Tiro (who invented the ‘&’ sign). Before reading Dictator, which has just come out, I have been rereading Imperium and Lustrum. Harris’ style is flat, which maybe suits the story he is telling; the story is absorbing in the way of Gore Vidal’s American history novels.

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(Nürtingen, Baden-Würtemberg, autumn 2012)


Tiro: It seemed to me at the time – and still does now, only even more so – an act of madness for a man to pursue power when he could be sitting in the sunshine and reading a book. But then, even if I had been born into freedom, I know I would not have possessed that overweening force of ambition without which no city is created, no city destroyed.


Cicero on #history

“To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child” – Cicero (according to Robert Harris).

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Last week we learned that Charlotte Bronte listened to music at this bandstand in the Parc de Bruxelles. Learning about the history of a place is like having another dimension revealed

Mary Beard on #complexity

What is the role of an academic, no matter what they’re teaching, within political debate? It has to be that they make issues more complicated. The role of the academic is to make everything less simple… Whatever you say about popular culture, people like people who know things, who are experts, and it doesn’t particularly matter what they look like. – The Guardian, 23.4.16

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I don’t know whether Professor Lippmaa added complexity to political debate – the times were difficult, and Wikipedia has little to say – but he looks intolerant of dumbing down; and the Botanical Gardens in Tartu, with which he had to do and where his statue is to be found, are complex and extensive, much more so than they look from the street.

#Edwina Hayes: #Knausgaard’s younger sister?

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Last weekend Edwina Hayes, born in Lancashire, living in Yorkshire, played at the Brussels Folk Club at La Porte Noire. She sings and plays guitar in a straightforward way which I like very much. Most of her songs and covers are 3/4 time. There is a bit more vibrato in her voice live than on record, where there is none, but still nothing compared to Duffy, for example.

She talks a lot between songs. The next song is called What happens now. It’s about whether to make a move. My advice is No … I was single for 14 years. When I went on my first date with the man I’m now with I didn’t have any going out shoes, only trainers and gig shoes. I stood in the pub car park for 10 minutes putting my cardigan on and off. It left white fluff on my dress… (Much better expressed in reality than as I’m remembering it.) You feel there’s nothing she’s not willing to tell us, like she was Karl Ove Knausgaard’s younger sister. Pour me a drink, about her father, is the song I’m listening to most. But her father sounds like a nicer man than his.

Apollonius Moron on public speaking

‘Pitch your delivery in the middle range,’, instructed Molon [“a lawyer… who had… retired to Rhodes and opened his rhetorical school]. ‘That is where the power is. Nothing too high or low.’ In the afternoons, for speech projection, Molon took him down to the shingle beach, paced out eighty yards (the maximum range of the human voice) and made him declaim against the boom and hiss of the sea – the nearest thing, he said to the murmur of three thousand people in the open air, or the background mutter of several hundred men in conversation in the senate. These were distractions Cicero would have to get used to.

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‘But what about the content of what I say?’, Cicero asked. ‘Surely I will compel attention chiefly by the force of my arguments?’

Molon shrugged. ‘Content does not concern me. Remember Demosthenes: “Only three things count in oratory. Delivery, delivery, and again: delivery.”’

(Robert Harris, Imperium, 2006)