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Wednesday: September 28, 2005

More On Leiter’s Thucydides

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:42 PM UTC

In five words: not fake but still inaccurate. Thanks to Stuart Buck in the fifth comment on the previous post, it appears that Leiter’s quotation is in fact from the funeral oration, specifically Thucydides 2.44.3, in Rex Warner’s Penguin translation. Specifying the translator and the precise passage would have saved us all a lot of trouble. Thucydides is (to put it mildly) a difficult author, and translations are quite varied, which is why I was unable to identify Leiter’s quotation with any passage of the two I checked (Crawley and Smith). Here are the four I have on my shelves, one of which is also on the web, with the part Leiter quoted in bold:

Thomas Hobbes (1629):

. . . yet such of you as are of the age to have children, may bear the loss of these in the hope of more. For the later children will both draw on with some the oblivion of those that are slain, and also doubly conduce to the good of the city, by population and strength. For it is not likely that they should equally give good counsel to the state, that have not children to be equally exposed to danger in it.

Richard Crawley (1874, on line here):

Yet you who are still of an age to beget children must bear up in the hope of having others in their stead; not only will they help you to forget those whom you have lost, but will be to the state at once a reinforcement and a security; for never can a fair or just policy be expected of the citizen who does not, like his fellows, bring to the decision the interests and apprehensions of a father.

C. F. Smith (Loeb, 19282):

But those of you who are still of an age to have offspring should bear up in the hope of other children; for not only to many of you individually will the children that are born hereafter be a cause of forgetfulness of those who are gone, but the state also will reap a double advantage — it will not be left desolate and it will be secure. For they cannot possibly offer fair and impartial counsel who, having no children to hazard, do not have an equal part in the risk.

Rex Warner (Penguin, 19722)

All the same, those of you who are of the right age must bear up and take comfort in the thought of having more children. In your own homes these new children will prevent you from brooding over those who are no more, and they will be a help to the city, too, both in filling the empty places, and in assuring her security. For it is impossible for a man to put forward fair and honest views about our affairs if he has not, like everyone else, children whose lives may be at stake.

Thucydides only says what Leiter wants him to say when his words are taken out of context. He is not contrasting men who send their sons to war with others who keep theirs at home,* he is contrasting men who have sons with those who have none. Warner’s translation is ambiguous and could be read either way, but the context shows that it must mean the latter: ‘having children whose lives may be at stake’ means having children at all, not voluntarily risking children one already has. Smith has a pertinent footnote: “No one could be a member of the Boule or Senate till he was thirty, when he was almost certain to be married; and, according to Deinarchus (§ 71), no man was allowed to speak in the Assembly until he had legitimate male issue”.

In short, Thucydides 2.44.3 tells us nothing useful about contemporary politics, unless Leiter thinks that not having sons is inherently unpatriotic. (The only military role envisaged for a man’s daughters in Pericles’ funeral oration is to marry and produce grandsons to fight in the next generation’s wars.) The idea that citizens have a duty to marry and produce male children to serve the state as soldiers is more typical of Augustus Caesar and his clownish acolyte Mussolini than of any politician in a modern democracy: it sounds downright unAmerican. I do not mean to imply that Leiter has knowingly endorsed such an idea: he’s just too busy quoting a great historian as an authority on contemporary politics to check what the quotation actually means.

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*Still less is he contrasting alleged warmongers and supposed (second-hand) ‘chickenhawks’ like Bush who ought to send their sons and daughters to war with peacelovers like himself who are perfectly entitled to keep their children at home while smugly despising the ‘warmongers’.