Ancient and modernrss

The Magna Carta was hopelessly behind the times

7 February 2015

Important as the Magna Carta (ad 1215) has been as a founding myth for everything we hold dear about law and liberty, it was already hopelessly behind the times. Greeks… Read more

Natasha Parry and Gary Raymond, in costume for the controversial play 'Lysistrata', at the Duke of York Theatre, London, March 5th 1958 (Photo: Edward Miller/Keystone/Getty)

Syriza could have learned from Aristophanes. Instead it's headed for Greek tragedy

31 January 2015

The German chancellor Angela Merkel has expressed her desire for Greece to remain part of the European ‘story’. Since Greeks — together with the Romans and Jews — actually created that story… Read more

Socrates, Aristophanes and Charlie Hebdo

24 January 2015

What would the ancients have made of Charlie Hebdo? The First Amendment tolerates the expression of opinions, however offensive, but not behaviour that can be construed as an outright threat.… Read more

Ched Evans: law vs people power

17 January 2015

‘This was the rule for men that Zeus established: whereas fish, beasts and birds eat each other, since there is no law among them, to men he gave law, which… Read more

What MPs need is an oath with consequences

10 January 2015

Before taking their seats in Parliament, all MPs must swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen. Mark Durkan, MP for Foyle in Northern Ireland, recently suggested that they should… Read more

An ancient Olympic tradition that Fifa would love

3 January 2015

Those nice people at Fifa seem to be having a terrible time from the British press, which never stops accusing them of bribery and corruption. What on earth is our… Read more


How the Romans taught Latin (N.M. Gwynne would not approve)

13 December 2014

Barely a week passes without someone complaining about the teaching of English or foreign languages, usually because it involves too much, or too little, grammar. The ancients also had to… Read more

Aristotle had David Mellor’s number (Andrew Mitchell’s, too)

6 December 2014

Andrew Mitchell and his ‘effing pleb’ of a policeman, David Mellor and his ‘stupid sweaty little shit of a taxi driver’ — Aristotle would have been delighted at how precisely… Read more

Nicky Morgan vs Socrates

29 November 2014

After the Philae space-lab’s triumph, one can see why Education Secretary Nicky Morgan should have hymned the ‘Stem’ subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths). At the heart of our service industries, they… Read more

Aristophanes on Mazher Mahmood

22 November 2014

Undercover journalist Mazher Mahmood, otherwise known as the Fake Sheikh, has been accused of dodgy dealing in luring the innocent to commit ‘crimes’ which he has then exposed to the… Read more

The lesson of Athens: to make people care about politics, give them real power

15 November 2014

Voters explain their apathy about politics on the grounds that the politicians do not understand them. No surprise there, an ancient Greek would say, since the electorate does not actually… Read more

Image: Getty

No, Richard Branson, our greatest achievements don’t come from our greatest pain

8 November 2014

Explaining the death of a pilot testing a Virgin Galactic rocket-ship, Sir Richard Branson intoned: ‘I truly believe that humanity’s greatest achievements come out of the greatest pain.’ The ancients… Read more

(Photo: Getty)

Forget Ukip – what we need is some ostracisms

1 November 2014

For all Nigel Farage’s appealing bluster, he is never going to be in a position to get us out of Europe or, indeed, achieve anything at all. He is, in… Read more

Why the Ancient Greeks thought adultery was worse than rape

25 October 2014

A footballer serves his sentence for rape, insisting on his innocence. Debate rages whether he should play again. To us, rape is taken to be the most serious of sexual… Read more

Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps, by J.M.W Turner (Picture: Tate Britain)

Hannibal (and Alexander the Great) vs the Islamic State

18 October 2014

Whatever the Islamic State hopes ultimately to achieve by its current onslaught on all and sundry in the Middle East, Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, would… Read more

No Paisley patterned pyjamas this time. The Sun on Sunday's cover has Brooks Newmark in his birthday suit - as seen, it says, by a second woman

What Aristotle would have made of Brooks Newmark's selfies

11 October 2014

News that the soon-to-be-ex-Tory MP Brooks Newmark has sent pictures of his genitals to a second (presumed female) contact has centred yawningly around ‘rights’, ‘exploitation’, ‘power’ and so on. Aristotle can… Read more


The ancient roots of Alex’s Salmond’s demagoguery

27 September 2014

Alex Salmond spent two years campaigning for independence for Scotland on the grounds of ‘social justice’. Now, claiming that the vote was lost because of the ‘old’ (subtext: the rich), he… Read more

What Romans would have made of Obama's Syria strategy

20 September 2014

President Obama was assailed for saying that the USA had no strategy on combating Isis. Vegetius (late 4th century AD), the author of the only surviving Roman treatise on military science,… Read more

The Boris Island of ancient Athens

13 September 2014

During his lecture on Athens at the Legatum Institute (see p. 22), Boris Johnson placed great emphasis on Athens’ development of Piraeus harbour in the 5th century BC. Did he… Read more


Would Alex Salmond give up his job to a heckler? It happened in Athens

6 September 2014

Alex Salmond claims to be thrilled that so many people in Scotland are suddenly gripped by politics. The importance of the question before the Scots — the future of their… Read more

Horace still understands happiness better than the LSE

30 August 2014

So here comes another book about how to be happy, written by Professor Dolan, an ‘internationally renowned expert’ at the LSE. The key evidently lies in ‘pleasure and purpose’, derived… Read more

Why the Ancient Greeks didn’t have middle-aged spread

23 August 2014

A drug has been invented to halt what is known as middle-aged spread. But it would be so much better if there was no such thing as middle age in… Read more

Demosthenes’ lessons in ambition for Boris Johnson

16 August 2014

The ancient Greek word for ‘ambition’ was philotimia: ‘love of high esteem in others’ eyes’. Both Boris and Alex Salmond are consumed by this desire for what Greeks saw as… Read more

A Palestinian child (Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty)

Roman emperors understood more about democracy than Hamas

9 August 2014

There must be some reason why Hamas seems to remain quite unfazed by Israel’s merciless slaughter of its people. Perhaps it is all part of a grand strategy. The point… Read more

Emperor Hadrian

Hadrian’s advice for a new Defence Secretary

2 August 2014

Michael Fallon, the new Defence Secretary, is a classicist by training. What lessons, if any, might he take from his study of the ancient world, especially in relation to military… Read more