SENTENTIA TERTIA: Moods and Mindsets


We all experience moods and we are familiar with the concept of a 'mindset', an outlook that can frame all our judgements and actions. A recent trend in educational theory is the emphasis on the importance of a 'Growth Mindset' and how this can be encouraged to bolster students' confidence. Different emotions and ways of thinking, which impact our actions, are experienced at the individual level, and even a group or club level, a sports team for example, a religious group, or any mutual interest group where there is a strong common bond. I suspect the various teams in the current Euro 2020 contest could identify with what I am saying.

Can moods and mindsets, however, be experienced by a country or state? Ancient historians certainly thought it was possible. Polybius offers this evening's sententia cotidiana.

"The Boiotians", he writes, "had long been in a deeply sickened state." He goes on tor describe the decline of the military power and their loss of confidence following a defeat at the hands of the Aetolians, literally describing them as 'fallen in soul/spirit'. The word he uses in the above quotation for 'deeply sickened' is usually used of serious physical illness, thereby illustrating the unhealthy and depressed mindset into which the Thebans had fallen. I remember once hearing someone say of this passage, 'is that the best he could come up with to explain Boiotia's decline?' But I do not think we should dismiss it so easily, It would be very easy to read this against the frequently recurring 'moral decline' theme that seems to be favoured by ancient historians, especially the Roman. It is also a theme that Polybius explores elsewhere. Nevertheless, I do not think the message in the passage on Boiotia should be simply dismissed as a literary or historiographical topos or trope. What Polybius really seems to be saying is that a mood of dejection spread through the Boiotians following their defeats and loss of power and influence, which had consequences for the functioning of Boiotian society as a whole, even neglecting the implementation of justice.

One could perhaps suggest that Brexit and COVID have engendered a similar country-wide mood, mindset, or even social malaise.

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