At exactly 10:05am on 5 December 2019, Dr John Curran stepped up the microphone to welcome all those present and passing through the now-expanded coffee lounge of Hope Café and the McClay Library in Queen’s University Belfast to CANI’s fifth public reading of an ancient text. In a slight change from our previous outings, rather than follow a single, poetic text, we read a selection of passages from Herodotus, Thucydides and Xenophon, telling the story of the pivotal events of fifth century BC Greece.
Barry Trainor got us underway with Herodotus’ preamble to the Battle of Marathon. From there the Herodotean ‘Greek vs Persian’ battles came thick and fast, with Marathon followed up by the epic Spartan-led resistance at Thermopylae, the naval engagement at Salamis and the climactic showdown between the united Greeks and the Persians at Plataea.
We then switched to Thucydides to hear of the disintegration of that united Greece into the Spartan-led Peloponnesian League and the Athenian Empire and the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War between the two. Through Thucydides, we heard a combination of debates, speeches, controversy, betrayal and military catastrophe. As Thucydides’ text ends before the war does, it was left to Xenophon to bring the Peloponnesian War to its crescendo through his record of the final naval engagement and the surrender of Athens in 404BC… or more accurately at 15:07, when the public reading was brought to a close by our 16th different reader in the 29th reading slot.
It was not only these events which had a profound impact on history. The works of Herodotus, Thucydides and Xenophon marked the instituting of what we recognise as the recording of history. Without the scientific approach of these men, the genre of ‘history’ might be quite different from what we recognise today. At the very least, our understanding of the Persian and Peloponnesian Wars would be much reduced.
CANI would like thank all of those who took part in the reading, sat and listened along, and donated so generously, with all proceeds to be donated to the Simon Community NI. Thanks also go to the Queen’s University McClay Library for again allowing us to commandeer a corner of the coffee lounge and the screens.
The CANI board would also like to thank Peter Crawford, John Curran, Katerina Kolotourou, Helen McVeigh and Barry Trainor for their help in preparing the reading and on the day.
See you all again next year! But what should we read then…