Thucydides: The New Living Translation?

Charles Halton over at Awilum just posted a segment of a discussion about Thucydides\’ History taken from here.  I\’ve read Kagan\’s new book (quite good, by the way.  And no, I\’ve received absolutely no compensation, money or otherwise to say so.  It was just a great read), and one of the points that Kagan makes is that modern readers are heavily influenced by previous readings of Thucydides.  Some of the most memorable quotes taken from Thucydides and taught around the world in geopolitics and economics courses are more the result of the translator rather than Thucydides himself. 

Working heavily in Thucydides\’ History for my Thesis, I can concur.  Thucydides is hard.  Reading from the Loeb Classical Edition of his work, I have occasionally attempted to translate him myself before throwing up my hands in despair and returning to the left page which kindly holds the English.  No wonder people have wanted to make this greatest of ancient historians make sense!  And no wonder they have had to interpret, rather than translate, him in order to make any sense of some of his statements.

Now, admittedly, I am not a classicist.  My classical Greek is bad and my Latin is worse.  But it gets me thinking — how often are the newer translators of Thucydides swayed by the pithy translations of their predecessors?  Not just his modern readers who happen to pick up the Penguin Classical Edition (Trans. Martin Finely, a well respected Thucydidean scholar who also agrees that Thucydides is the hardest Greek he\’s ever read), but the translators themselves?  Stanley Porter wrote in VTest (1990) questioning whether there was even a Thucydidean view of History taken from his quotation in 1.22.1 since no one is exactly sure what it says.  Kagan questions several of his other statement in his newest book. 

What can we know about Thucydides, and how much are we influenced by Thomas Hobbes\’ original translation in 1629?  Do we have parallels between the beautiful rendering of Thucydides and the rendering of the bible in the King James Version?  How much do you think that we\’re influenced by these attractive but flawed translations, and how do we return fully to the beginning?

Published by Jared Saltz

Biblical Studies Faculty (Florida College). PhD candidate at HUC-JIR. Husband, father, student.

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