A brief history of harlots

I write this as a follow-up to last week’s essay on muzzling after making whoopee. I’m on my way to Patmos, an island so difficult to get to, it has kept the great unwashed away. From now it is the only island I will grace with my presence, until the next time, that is. It was Kipling who quipped about journalists having ‘power without responsibility’. He then added the phrase ‘the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages’, which was repeated by Stanley Baldwin, not Stanley Johnson. Comparing hacks to harlots is, of course, unfair to the girls. Some of them have risen to the highest offices in the past

Boris Johnson needs to face down his own people

To beat the virus, the government is asking us to keep to simple hands-face-space guidelines. When these are not followed, the virus spreads, but it is still (apparently) the government’s fault, i.e. the people can do no wrong. That was the case too in Athens’s direct democracy, where anyone whose proposal was ratified by the people’s assembly, but then turned out badly, could still be prosecuted for ‘misleading the people’. Even Pericles. In 431 bc war broke out between Athens, a sea-based power, and Sparta, a land-based one. Since Athens’s walls embraced its harbour Piraeus, Pericles proposed withdrawing the whole population inside the walls, and using their marine dominance to

Boris’s hero Pericles didn’t need a spokeswoman

A spokeswoman has been appointed ‘to communicate with the nation on behalf of the Prime Minister’. He apparently needs ‘a protective ring of steel’ and Tories feel that she will be the answer. So getting someone else to say what the PM thinks solves all problems? Really? It is inconceivable that Boris Johnson’s hero Pericles would have sent someone else to speak and answer questions on his behalf before Athens’s democratic citizen assembly. (The spokesman would have been given the world’s shortest shrift — ‘a confession before execution’ — anyway.) The reason why Pericles would never have dreamed of such idiocy was that his success as a statesman depended entirely

How to fight a good war

Serifos There’s no high life here, only family life, so I’ve been hitting the books about great Greeks of the past, and they sure make today’s bunch look puny. Philosophers, playwrights, statesmen, artists, poets, orators, sculptors; the ancients had them all. After 2,500 years, they’ve never been equalled. I was once walking around the Greek wing at the New York Met and I ran into Henry Kissinger, whom I knew slightly. He asked me what the population of ancient Athens was. ‘About 20 to 30,000 citizens,’ I answered. He shook his head in amazement. ‘And they produced all this,’ he said. When I first began learning about the Greeks —

Pericles would have approved of the PM’s response to the pandemic

It must be infuriating for those who see the Prime Minister as a prisoner of a rigid elitist mindset that he is reacting to the pandemic not by crushing the workers but by doing what needed to be done, however radical. Pericles, his hero, was equally pragmatic, as the historian Thucydides said — and reaped the reward. Consider Pericles’s reaction in 431 bc to Sparta’s effective declaration of war. Athens at that time had walls that ran the five miles from the harbour up round the city, and back down to the harbour again. This made Athens impregnable by land, and since its triremes controlled the seas and could import