Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

MR BLAIR'S 'Cool Britannia', grovelling in slack-jawed adulation before the stupendously important achievements of a job lot of fashion designers, hairstylists and film directors, is being rather awkwardly disavowed. 'Not before time,' the ancient Greek man of letters Plutarch (c. AD 50-120) would have said.

In his essay 'Why were the Athenians famous?', Plutarch looks back on the astonishing achievements that made 5th-century Athens `the mother and kindly nurse of the arts, some of which she was the first to discover and realise, while others she developed and advanced'. Great artists and historians vied with each other `to make a vivid representation of emotions and characters', the one in paints, the other with words, e.g. the historian Thucydides, who wrote `to make the reader a spectator' and to produce in his mind the same feelings that were experienced by those who actually witnessed the events.

Then there were the poets. Plutarch talks warmly of the `blossoming forth' of tragedy and the `great acclaim it won, becoming a wonderful entertainment for the ears and eyes of that age through the mythological character of its plots and the vicissitudes of fortune of its characters'. …

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