As Crazy As Caligula? [Part 2]

By Henri van Nispen Caligula is clearly a case of imperial madness and hardly suitable for serious reflection upon today’s problems. I care to differ. It is a set phrase to say that every historian reflects his own interests as well as those of the Zeitgeist. Pondering the ruler of his day, the German medievalist …

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Theodora’s Secrets

By Martijn Icks Ravenna is among Italy’s hidden gems. Boasting no less than eight UNESCO World Heritage sites, its rich history as a residence of late antique Roman emperors, Ostrogothic kings and Byzantine governors is everywhere to be seen. Yet where the streets of Venice, Rome and Florence are crowded with tourists as soon as …

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The Ancient Roots of Character Assassination

By Martijn Icks When did character assassination originate? The question is impossible to answer. We can safely bet that the art of defamation is as old as human civilization itself, if not actually older. Even in prehistoric times, it’s all too easy to imagine some ambitious caveman spreading nasty tales about a rival for a …

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Shame on You: Public Humiliation as Punishment

By Martijn Icks Social media have made public shaming all too easy. With great frequency, cries of moral indignation resound on the Internet, aimed at persons who have allegedly misbehaved or uttered disgraceful statements. These people suddenly find themselves beleaguered by digital torch-and-pitchfork mobs, ready to slaughter their good name. They are lambasted in furious …

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CARP 2019 Conference “Character Assassination and Populism”

Fairfax, VA – George Mason University’s Character Assassination and Reputation Politics (CARP) Research Lab hosts its second international conference “Character Assassination and Populism: Challenges and Responses” on March 15-17, 2019. One primary characteristic of today’s global society is the growing public distrust in traditional authorities. In the context of institutional legitimacy crisis, there is a great demand for …

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Head in the Clouds: The Ridicule of Socrates in Classical Athens

By Martijn Icks The line between good-hearted humour and debasing ridicule is notoriously hard to draw. A few weeks ago, Sergei Samoilenko blogged about the growing influence of TV comedians in shaping public perceptions of politicians and celebrities. While some of their jokes and sketches may just be gently poking fun at public figures, comedians …

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The Ungodly Ideas of Spinoza

By Martijn Icks and Rudmer Bijlsma At first glance, the Jewish-Dutch philosopher Baruch de Spinoza (1632-1677) seems an unlikely target for character assassination. The man, characterized as “the noblest and most lovable of the great philosophers” by Bertrand Russell, shunned the spotlight and lived in relative obscurity in the seventeenth-century Dutch Republic. He moved from …

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