The many Jesus-like figures of the ancient world

What people tend to forget about Jesus Christ is that he killed children. As a five-year-old, Jesus was toddling through a village when a small boy ran past, knocking his shoulder. Taking it like any five-year-old would, Jesus shouted after him ‘you shall not go further on your way’, at which point the boy fell down dead. Later, when the boy’s parents admonished Joseph and Mary for failing to raise their son properly, Jesus blinded them. Something to bear in mind next time you ask yourself: ‘What would Jesus do?’ Jesus smites teachers, sells a ‘twin’ into slavery, and has someone crucified in his stead If this story is unfamiliar,

All work and no play is dulling our senses

Free Time is an academic journey through two-and-half millennia of leisure options. The central question put by the historian Gary Cross, is: why do we not have more free time, and when we do, why do we waste it, like Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night, on ‘fencing, dancing and bear-baiting’ or their modern equivalents? We start with ancient Greek philosophers, including Socrates and Aristotle, who reckoned that life was all about free time. We should work to fulfil our basic needs and then use our leisure for scholé (self-improvement): for culture and reflection. The vita contemplativa was superior to the vita activa (though Socrates was also fond of a

Can the ancient Greeks really offer us ‘life lessons’ today?

Adam Nicolson’s seductive new book –a voyage around early Greek thought – opens with a lovely passage. Moored with his wife off the island of Samos, Nicolson rises at first light, with ‘only the cats awake’, to find that other boats have come in during the night and laid their anchor lines over his. Our action-man author dives in and swims down ‘the 12 feet or so to the sandy sea floor, hand over hand and link by link down the chain, looking for the tangle that needed to be undone’. It’s a metaphor for the task he sets himself in How To Be, which aims to separate out the

Joyously liberating: Tony! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera] reviewed

Harry Hill’s latest musical traces Tony Blair’s bizarre career from student pacifist to war-mongering plaything of the United States. With co-writer Steve Brown, Hill has created a ramshackle, hasty-looking production that deliberately conceals the slickness and concentrated energy of its witty lyrics, superb visuals and terrific music. The last thing it wants to seem is sophisticated and it starts off with a parade of New Labour grandees, all grotesquely overblown. John Prescott is a violent northern drunkard who wants to punch everyone in the face – including the Scots because ‘they’re too far north to be proper north’. Robin Cook is a cerebral sex maniac. David Blunkett gets pulled around

The Socratic approach to Covid

Organs of the press are filled with opinion pages. The sublime confidence about Covid with which commentators advance these opinions, day after day after boring day, brings to mind the way in which Socrates dealt with such people. Plato, our major source for Socrates’s life and teaching, tells us that, on trial for his life, Socrates described how his friend Chairephon had asked the Delphic oracle whether anyone was wiser than Socrates, and the answer came back ‘No’. Baffled, since he was conscious of his own ignorance about almost everything, Socrates decided to put the oracle to the test and find someone wiser than himself. But his efforts were in

The internet is taking the joy out of quotations

‘Quotation (n.) — The act of repeating erroneously the words of another.’ Ambrose Bierce said that, or at least wrote it in the Devil’s Dictionary. That was in 1906, and those are words for the ages. In his Rhetoric, centuries before the birth of Christ, Aristotle identified one of the most common and effective ways of making an argument seem stronger. In his section on ‘proofs’ he talked about what he called ‘ancient witnesses’. By this he meant not only the testimony of witnesses such as you might call in court — but the witness borne by proverbs and quotations. Any speaker or writer can get an extra fillip of