Peter Jones

Aristotle’s advice for Coutts

The American firm B Corp offers businesses the chance to win a ‘kitemark’ by a box-ticking process showing that they are committed to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace, and Coutts decided to go for it. Given how that turned out, one wonders how they reached that decision. Had they followed Aristotle’s advice

How to holiday like a Roman

For most people in the ancient world, holidays meant local public festivals – in Rome there were 135 a year – when politicians staged extravagant games and theatrical shows. But the elite mostly spent summers in their own or their friends’ villas, well away from the stench, heat and mosquitoes of Rome. We tend to

Roman politicians were the ultimate gossips

The ancients were as fascinated by rumour as, to judge by recent events in Russia and the BBC, we are. Homer called rumour ‘the messenger of Zeus’, with a fondness for racing through crowds. Virgil described it as a winged monster, with an unsleeping eye under every feather, a mouth and tongue never silent and

Ancient lessons in oracy

It is encouraging to see Sir Keir Starmer taking a leaf out of the ancients’ book by putting oracy (from Latin orator) on the curriculum. Indeed, on the ancient curriculum, there was little else of such importance. State education did not exist. It was an entirely private operation, designed to supply the elite with the

What would the Athenians have made of Daisy Goodwin?

Daisy Goodwin, a 61-year-old married novelist and TV producer, has alleged that ten years ago she was molested by Daniel Korski, and said she felt ‘entirely justified’ in describing the alleged incident a decade later. She claimed that other women had come forward with ‘very interesting stories’ on the topic. What would the Athenians have

Why Putin should watch his back

How secure is Vladimir Putin? His Presidential Security Service consists of 2,500 personnel, his Federal Protective Service of 50,000 troops and the National Guard, essentially his personal army, of 350,000. What could possibly go wrong? Roman emperors might have had a view. It was Augustus who invented the Praetorian Guard (27 bc), a personal, prestigious

Lady Hallett and a Socratic enquiry

SOCRATES: I was walking through the agora after having had a discussion with an impetuous young man who argued that a good orator could win a debate on any subject, even though he knew nothing about it. This left me rather baffled, so it was a pleasure to fall in with the lawyer Lady Hallett,

How should King Charles handle Prince Harry?

What does a king do when his privileged but dysfunctional son turns against him, flees to America and spends his time there attacking the monarch and his family? King Charles’s reaction has been to let him get on with it. But given what he might have done, the Stoic philosopher Seneca (d. ad 65), and

The Ancient Greeks would have been horrified by Just Stop Oil

What would ancient Greeks have made of the current protests relating to the oil industry and identity reassignment? Very little indeed. The Greek invention of democracy (‘people power’) emerged in the late 6th century bc after strong popular demand for more political control over tyrants and oligarchs. The result was a system in which all

Jeremy Clarke would have felt at home in Pompeii

Classical literature has the reputation of being pretty serious stuff, far removed from the world that Jeremy Clarke inhabited. But he would have felt perfectly at home in Pompeii. Take the conversation decorating the grave monument of the bar-owners Lucius Calidius Eroticus and Fannia Voluptas (beat that, Frankie Howerd!): ‘Innkeeper! The bill!’ ‘You’ve had a

The lessons of ancient Rome’s dangerous doctors

Last week’s column ended with a Roman funerary inscription: ‘I died of a surfeit of doctors.’ But where did this surfeit come from? Let Pliny the Elder (d. ad 79) explain. Pliny devoted book 29 of his Natural History (a vast encyclopedia of Roman life) to the history of medicine. Claiming that no discipline ‘undergoes

How the ancients handled old age

Research in the USA has shown that it is possible to do something about grey hair. But ‘grey hair’ stands for ‘old age’, and there is nothing we can do about that, except make it easier to live with. Modern medicine certainly helps. There was no such luck in the ancient world, where the playwright Sophocles

King Charles and the implications of oaths

After much debate it was decided that the people would not be ordered to reciprocate the King’s oath of allegiance. This was wise. As ancient Greeks knew, oaths have serious implications. For them, to take an oath was in effect ‘to invoke powers greater than oneself to uphold the truth of a declaration, by putting

Why Baroness Benjamin deserves her coronation role

Baroness Benjamin has suggested that King Charles’s choice of her to join the coronation procession demonstrates that he is in favour of ‘diversity and inclusion’. What would the ancients have made of that, let alone of ‘equality’ and ‘identity’? ‘Equality’ had little purchase. Politically, male citizens had a vote in democratic Athens and (of sorts)

Twitter, Starmer and the madness of the mob

Elon Musk’s Twitter motto is Vox populi, vox Dei (‘The voice of the people, the voice of God’). This obviously appeals to the lawyer in Sir Keir Starmer since Twitter (being the voice of God) cannot be sued and therefore gives him scope to sail close to the wind. There is much he can learn

The Scottish solution to the refugee crisis

Refugees and asylum seekers are always with us. In the ancient world too, exiles, criminals, refugees, sometimes whole communities were on the move. There were three main conventions in place to help them. For an individual there was the act of supplication. If you knelt before someone – no Greek would willingly wish to appear

Would Aristotle approve of the Guardian’s reparations? 

The Guardian is worshipping at the shrine to its own piety with even more self-satisfaction than usual because it is paying millions in reparations to African-Americans based in Georgia and Jamaica, whose slave labour 200 years ago underpinned the wealth of the newspaper’s founders. But where is the justice in that? Aristotle argued that justice,

The contrasting worlds of Aesop and Charlie Mackesy 

Charlie Mackesy’s bestselling and Oscar-winning stories about a boy, a mole, a fox and a horse deal in aperçus such as ‘Nothing beats kindness. It sits quietly behind all things’; ‘always remember, you’re enough, just as you are’. The ancient Greek Aesop – whoever and whenever he was (6th century bc?) – is the West’s inventor

How the ancient Greeks defined citizenship

In the ancient world, where life was insecure and refugees and asylum seekers not uncommon, there were no border posts, and free people could mostly come and go at will. But a concept of citizenship, technically differentiating ‘citizen’ from ‘non-citizen’, then emerged among the autonomous communities (‘city-states’: there were hundreds) of the ancient Greeks. Take