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Monday: September 26, 2005

Another Bogus Quotation?

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:56 PM UTC

A recent Brian Leiter post, in full:

Thus Spoke Thucydides

Pericles, in his Funeral Oration to the relatives of dead soldiers: “It is not possible for people to give fair and just advice to the state, if they are not exposing their own children to the same danger when they advance a risky policy.”

–Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War

(Thanks to Jim Klagge for the pointer.)

I can’t find anything resembling this quotation in Pericles’ funeral oration (Thuc. 2.35-46), which is on-line here and at numerous other sites in various translations. The words (as opposed to the thought) are hardly distinctive enough for a Greek-word search. Perhaps they are found elsewhere in Thucydides, but the fact that Google comes up dry when I try to find them in any larger context is disquieting. The pseudo-specific reference is also suspicious, since it gives the superfluous title of Thucydides’ only known work, but not the book and chapter numbers necessary to track down what he actually wrote. Should I assume that the quotation is bogus until proved otherwise? Leiter wouldn’t be the first, or the second, or the hundredth weblogger to fall for a conveniently appropriate fake quotation. I hope he does a better job of footnoting his legal scholarship.

Update: (9/28, 11:55pm)

See next post for much more.


  1. One also wonders what Leiter actually suggests, relevant to the quote. Does he want the President to use some unlawful power to force one or both of his daughters to join the military? And put military operations on hold until they’re done training? And also order that women be put in frontline combat positions, so they’ll “share the risks”?

    Well, my money’s on “cheap shot rhetoric with no thought to actual policy”.

    Comment by Sigivald — Tuesday: September 27, 2005 @ 12:43 PM UTC

  2. Anyway, it sounds too clumsy a piece of prose to come from such a careful thinker and writer, even in translation.

    Comment by Kip Watson — Wednesday: September 28, 2005 @ 1:15 AM UTC

  3. Fake Thucydides quote
    Maybe it’s already hit your in-box; in which case, you can point the sender towards Dr. Weevil….

    Trackback by Cronaca — Wednesday: September 28, 2005 @ 10:26 AM UTC

  4. FWIW, the entire text of the book is here.

    The word “risky” appears exactly once, and clearly not the quote suggested.

    Comment by Phil — Wednesday: September 28, 2005 @ 2:31 PM UTC

  5. The funeral oration is in my copy of Thucydides; it appears to be the same translation that you found on the web (that of Richard Crawley).

    The only passage that remotely resembles Leiter’s quotation is near the end:

    Comfort, therefore, not condolence, is what I have to offer to the parents of the dead who may be here. Numberless are the chances to which, as they know, the life of man is subject; but fortunate indeed are they who draw for their lot a death so glorious as that which has caused your mourning, and to whom life has been so exactly measured as to terminate in the happiness in which it has been passed. Still I know that this is a hard saying, especially when those are in question of whom you will constantly be reminded by seeing in the homes of others blessings of which once you also boasted: for grief is felt not so much for the want of what we have never known, as for the loss of that to which we have been long accustomed. 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.

    In context, of course, Pericles is glorifying those who died in war: “fortunate indeed are they who draw for their lot a death so glorious,” etc. He even tells people to beget more children so that they “will be to the state at once a reinforcement and a security.” It is unclear to me what Pericles meant by saying that good policy will spring from those citizens who “bring to the decision the interests and apprehensions of a father,” but in context, Pericles might almost be suggesting that fathers will be *more* likely to seek a “glorious death” for their children. In any event, while I’m not a classicist, it is difficult to imagine that the translation that Leiter quotes could be accurate, with its heavy anti-war connotation.

    Comment by Stuart Buck — Wednesday: September 28, 2005 @ 3:16 PM UTC

  6. I think Stuart Buck has nailed it; at least, if you wanted to paraphrase the last half of that last sentence in such a way as to make it support the argument that no one without children in the military has any business deciding foreign policy, that’s pretty much what you’d do to it. If you had a singularly leaden tongue, anyway.

    Comment by Michelle Dulak Thomson — Wednesday: September 28, 2005 @ 6:17 PM UTC

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