History in Ruins

Anthony Grafton

Piranesi’s ‘Plan of Rome’ (1756)

Thelife of a Renaissance antiquarian was far from simple. In April 1436, when Cyriac of Ancona arrived in Athens, he was thrilled by his first sight of the Parthenon, the ‘marvellous marble temple of the goddess Pallas, the divine work of Phidias’. He counted its columns, admired its friezes and commented on the artistry...

 

Why use a Novichok?

Tom Stevenson

History​ is full of mysterious deaths in which lethal substances are alleged to have been responsible, but the accusation is often misplaced: the tenth-century Byzantine empress Theophano wasn’t responsible for the sudden death of her husband, Romanos II, or the historian Rashid al-Din for the death of the Ilkhanid ruler Öljeitü. Some poisoning stories are no more than...

 

Nella Larsen

Amber Medland

In Passing, Nella Larsen’s dialogue is so tight, and the emotional undertow so forceful, that the prose becomes almost dissociative. Trapped within earshot, we hear the way racists talk when they don’t know there’s a Black person in the room.

Diary

Along the Water

Rosa Lyster

The Nile as it arrives in Egypt has two main tributaries, which converge near Khartoum: the White Nile, rising in Lake Victoria, and the Blue Nile, rising in Lake Tana in Ethiopia. Exact figures are disputed, but almost everyone agrees that at least 80 per cent of the river’s water originates in the Ethiopian highlands. An academic who spent his career studying the hydropolitics of the Nile Basin until he was forced to leave Egypt told me I had to understand the psychological dimension to the country’s water issue. What I had to understand about Egypt and water was that Egypt didn’t have any. It all came from somewhere else, which meant that the upstream countries could, in theory, turn off the tap. People who grow up in the desert tend to think of rain as a big deal. Even in the cities, they celebrate a downpour when it happens. Farmers elsewhere look to the sky and ask for water, he said, but in Egypt they look to Ethiopia. While I was there I heard over and over again that Egyptians think of the Nile as their water, stored in other people’s countries.

 

Palestinianism

Adam Shatz

Edward Said wrote of Palestinians as witnesses to a century defined by ethnic cleansing, wars of national liberation, and migration, in restless, nomadic pursuit of freedom: ‘a counterpoint (if not a cacophony) of multiple, almost desperate dramas’. Said’s Palestinianism exemplified the qualities he admired: open-ended and exploratory, resistant to the doctrinal and racial fixity – the dark historical fatalism and exclusionary fear of the other – that Zionism embodied. If Zionism was the song of a single people, Palestinianism held out the hope of a non-sectarian future for both peoples. Palestinian freedom, whether in the form of a sovereign state neighbouring Israel or – the position he defended after Oslo – a binational state, represented ‘a beginning’, a dynamic intervention in history, rather than a return to origin. And yet his vision also looked to the past, betraying a wistful attachment to his childhood memories of colonial Cairo, where Arabs and Jews, Muslims and Christians had lived beside one another.

Travels for the Mind

Travels for the Mind

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Becoming O’Brian

Christopher Tayler

C.S.Forester, the writer of the Hornblower books, died in California in 1966. His second wife inherited the bulk of his estate. His elder son from his first marriage, who inherited $5000, began to reappraise his relationship with his father. Years later, in a self-published biography, the son would depict Forester as a manipulative fabulist, a distant, self-centred parent, a cold-hearted...

 

At Satoshi’s Tea Garden

Ben Walker

Buzz Lightyear​ is naked, save for his standard-issue purple balaclava and a banana taped to his hairy stomach. He stands in front of the white wall of an art gallery; a label to his left reads ‘The Impossible Dream of a Pubic Fruit’ and an audience looks up at his giant grey legs. The image is one of five thousand that make up the digital artist Beeple’s collage Everydays:...

 

Libertinage

Caroline Weber

‘The revolution,’ Baudelaire wrote in his notes on Les Liaisons dangereuses, ‘was made by voluptuaries.’ He was drawing attention to two paradoxes. One was the role that France’s free-thinking, pleasure-loving aristocrats – the real-life versions of Laclos’s characters – played in instigating this upheaval, undermining the system that upheld...

Talking Politics: History of Ideas PLUS

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