Femmes Fatales in Ancient Rome: Messalina and Agrippina

By Martijn Icks Women don’t have it easy in politics. They are held to high, often conflicting, standards by men, but perhaps by other women too. If they happen to be attractive, they run the risk of being shelved in the “bimbo” or “dumb blonde” category: all beauty, no brains. Others may be criticized 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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Why Character Assassination Is A Misleading Term (But we continue to use it anyway)

By Martijn Icks Character assassination is an eye-catching word. It triggers associations with murder and violence, with slashed throats and dripping poison. It’s a word that lends itself well to being spoken with righteous indignation: “My character has been assassinated!” Immediately, we’re prompted to sympathize with the victim and despise the dastardly perpetrator who committed …

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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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Fiddler on the Roof: Nero and the Great Fire of Rome

By Martijn Icks “Politicians fiddling while the NHS burns,” wrote an editor in the Belfast Telegraph last week. “Tweeting while the world burns,” an angry blogger denounced Donald Trump’s stance on climate change. Wherever we turn, it seems, powerful men and women have an irrepressible itch to hit the strings as soon as something or …

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