No One Uses Thucydides As A Model

Cicero, Orat. 9.30-32

“Thucydides, however, tells of history, wars and battles, in a noble and strong way, but nothing he writes can be transferred to forensic or political use. Those well-known speeches have so many unclear and odd phrases that they barely make sense, something which is probably the worst offense in public address.

Do humans possess so much perversity that we will eat acorns after grains have been discovered? Is it possible that the human diet could be changed thanks to Athenian invention but not oratory? Who of the Greek orators, moreover, ever used Thucydides’ work as a model? Surely, he’s praised by everyone. I concede this. But he is praised as a wise explainer of events, a no-nonsense, serious man of the kind who did not pursue cases in court but described battles in history. For this reason, he has never been counted as an orator and would not, indeed, have gained any fame if he had not written history, even though he was noble and elected to office.

Still, no one can really imitate the weight of his words and ideas—but when some people articulate a few broken and unrelated statements, which they could have done even without a teacher, they imagine themselves to be a new-born Thucydides.”

Thucydides autem res gestas et bella narrat et proelia, graviter sane et probe, sed nihil ab eo transferri potest ad forensem usum et publicum. Ipsae illae contiones ita multas habent obscuras abditasque sententias vix ut intellegantur; quod est in oratione civili vitium vel maximum. Quae est autem in hominibus tanta perversitas, ut inventis frugibus glande vescantur? An victus hominum Atheniensium beneficio excoli potuit, oratio non potuit? Quis porro unquam Graecorum rhetorum a Thucydide quicquam duxit? At laudatus est ab omnibus. Fateor; sed ita ut rerum explicator prudens, severus, gravis, non ut in iudiciis versaret causas, sed ut in historiis bella narraret. Itaque nunquam est numeratus orator, nec vero, si historiam non scripsisset, nomen eius exstaret, cum praesertim fuisset honoratus et nobilis. Huius tamen nemo neque verborum neque sententiarum gravitatem imitatur, sed cum mutila quaedam et hiantia locuti sunt, quae vel sine magistro facere potuerunt, germanos se putant esse Thucydidas.

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The Strong and the Weak: Reading Some Thucydides

“These well-known speeches have so many unclear and odd phrases that they barely make sense….”

Ipsae illae contiones ita multas habent obscuras abditasque sententias vix ut intellegantur– Cicero, Orator 9.31

“One could easily count the number of people who are able to understand all of Thucydides, and even these people need to rely on a commentary from time to time.”

εὐαρίθμητοι γάρ τινές εἰσιν οἷοι πάντα τὰ Θουκυδίδου συμβαλεῖν, καὶ οὐδ’ οὗτοι χωρὶς ἐξηγήσεως γραμματικῆς ἔνια –Dionysius of Halicarnassus, On Thucydides 51:

Recently, my friend Mimi Kramer (@nhmeems) was asking about a pretty famous line from the Melian Dialogue. I looked it up and then my brain started hurting. I went to sleep, and looked again. Here are the Athenians speaking to the Melians:

Thucydides, 5.89

“Now, we ourselves will not provide a discreditable length of arguments with noble words that we rule justly because we threw off the Persians or that we are attacking now because we were done wrong by you; nor do we think that you should think you are able to persuade us by claiming either that you did not campaign with the Lakedaimonians when you are their allies or that you did us no harm. No, we each should say what we think is possible to accomplish in truth, because we know that what is just is judged in human reasoning from equal compulsion: those who are in power do what they can and those who are weak allow it.”

ἡμεῖς τοίνυν οὔτε αὐτοὶ μετ᾽ ὀνομάτων καλῶν, ὡς ἢ δικαίως τὸν Μῆδον καταλύσαντες ἄρχομεν ἢ ἀδικούμενοι νῦν ἐπεξερχόμεθα, λόγων μῆκος ἄπιστον παρέξομεν, οὔθ᾽ ὑμᾶς ἀξιοῦμεν ἢ ὅτι Λακεδαιμονίων ἄποικοι ὄντες οὐ ξυνεστρατεύσατε ἢ ὡς ἡμᾶς οὐδὲν ἠδικήκατε λέγοντας οἴεσθαι πείσειν, τὰ δυνατὰ δ᾽ ἐξ ὧν ἑκάτεροι ἀληθῶς φρονοῦμεν διαπράσσεσθαι, ἐπισταμένους πρὸς εἰδότας ὅτι δίκαια μὲν ἐν τῷ ἀνθρωπείῳ λόγῳ ἀπὸ τῆς ἴσης ἀνάγκης κρίνεται, δυνατὰ δὲ οἱ προύχοντες πράσσουσι καὶ οἱ ἀσθενεῖς ξυγχωροῦσιν.

Here are some translations of the last few phrases:

Rex Warner: “the strong do what they have the power to do and the weak accept what they have to accept”.

Benjamin Jowett: “the powerful exact what they can, and the weak grant what they must”.

Thomas Hobbes “They that have odds of power exact as much as they can, and the weak yield to such conditions as they can get”

The recent translation below, to my taste, does a much better job of not forcing a parallelism into the objects of the last two phrases

Johanna Hanink (How to Think about War, 2019: 169): “We need to accomplish what we can on the basis of what we really think, each side fully aware that justice is only a factor in human decisions when the parties are on equal footing. Those in positions of power do what their power permits, while the weak have no choice but to accept it.”

The last phrases cause some fits because there is no clear object for the verb ξυγχωροῦσιν. Warner, Jowett, and Hobbes seem to have taken δυνατὰ with both πράσσουσι and ξυγχωροῦσιν. While Greek (and Thucydides) is certainly capable of implying this, I think Hanink’s translation is much better for this.

When I try to teach Greek prose analysis to students, I do what I learned from Hardy Hansen (yes, the Hardy Hansen): Kola kai kommata! Break the sentences into levels of subordination and try to find the rhythm and parallels. This speech is actually kind of simple on a structural level (for Thucydides). What makes it bedeviling are some of the individual phrases. I have moved a few phrases to show how the sense works:

ἡμεῖς τοίνυν οὔτε αὐτοὶ μετ᾽ ὀνομάτων καλῶν [λόγων μῆκος ἄπιστον παρέξομεν]

ὡς ἢ δικαίως τὸν Μῆδον καταλύσαντες ἄρχομεν

ἀδικούμενοι νῦν ἐπεξερχόμεθα,

οὔθ᾽ ὑμᾶς ἀξιοῦμεν [λέγοντας οἴεσθαι πείσειν]

ἢ ὅτι Λακεδαιμονίων ἄποικοι ὄντες οὐ ξυνεστρατεύσατε

ἢ ὡς ἡμᾶς οὐδὲν ἠδικήκατε

τὰ δυνατὰ δ᾽ ἐξ ὧν ἑκάτεροι ἀληθῶς φρονοῦμεν διαπράσσεσθαι,

ἐπισταμένους πρὸς εἰδότας [=acc. Subj of infinitive διαπράσσεσθαι in indirect discourse]

ὅτι δίκαια μὲν ἐν τῷ ἀνθρωπείῳ λόγῳ ἀπὸ τῆς ἴσης ἀνάγκης κρίνεται,

δυνατὰ δὲ οἱ προύχοντες πράσσουσι καὶ οἱ ἀσθενεῖς ξυγχωροῦσιν.

I am really unsure if it is possible to convey the [forced?] antithesis between δίκαια μὲν and δυνατὰ δὲ in English! (Or what about the repetition τὰ δυνατὰ…δυνατὰ δὲ ?). But, you know, Thucydides is trying to give an idea of the kinds of things people were likely to say….

Thucydides, 1.22

“In respect to however many speeches individuals made, either when they were about to start the war or were already in it, it is hard for me to replicate with precision what was said—and this applies both to the things I heard myself and those from people reported them to me from elsewhere. So the speeches are presented as each speaker would seem to speak most appropriately about the material at hand, and when I am able to, as close as possible to the total sense of what was actually said.”

Καὶ ὅσα μὲν λόγῳ εἶπον ἕκαστοι ἢ μέλλοντες πολεμήσειν ἢ ἐν αὐτῷ ἤδη ὄντες, χαλεπὸν τὴν ἀκρίβειαν αὐτὴν τῶν λεχθέντων διαμνημονεῦσαι ἦν ἐμοί τε ὧν αὐτὸς ἤκουσα καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοθέν ποθεν ἐμοὶ ἀπαγγέλλουσιν· ὡς δ᾿ ἂν ἐδόκουν μοι ἕκαστοι περὶ τῶν αἰεὶ παρόντων τὰ δέοντα μάλιστ᾿ εἰπεῖν, ἐχομένῳ ὅτι ἐγγύτατα τῆς ξυμπάσης γνώμης τῶν ἀληθῶς λεχθέντων, οὕτως εἴρηται·

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The Illegal, Murderous Rapist: Herodotus Subtweets a Tyrant

I covered a class for a colleague today and read this bit from Herodotus for the first time in many years. It was, well, just a little eerie.

Herodotus 3.80

“Otanês was first urging the Persians to entrust governing to the people, saying these things: “it seems right to me that we no longer have a monarchy. For it is neither pleasing nor good. For you all know about the arrogance of Kambyses and you were a party to the insanity of the Magus. How could monarchy be a fitting thing when it permits an unaccountable person to do whatever he pleases? Even if you put the best of all men into this position he might go outside of customary thoughts. For hubris is nurtured by the fine things present around him, and envy is native to a person from the beginning.

The one who has these two qualities possesses every kind of malice. For one who is overfilled does many reckless things, some because of arrogance and some because of envy. Certainly, it would be right for a man who is a tyrant at least to have no envy at all, since he has all the good things. Yet he becomes the opposite of this towards his citizens: for he envies those who are best around him and live, and he takes pleasure in the worst of the citizens—he is the best at welcoming slanders.

He becomes the most disharmonious of all people—for if you admire him only moderately, then he is upset because you do not support him ardently. But if someone supports him excessively, he is angry at him for being a toady. The worst things are still to be said: he overturns traditional laws, he rapes women, and kills people without reason.”

᾿Οτάνης μὲν ἐκέλευε ἐς μέσον Πέρσῃσι καταθεῖναι τὰ πρήγματα, λέγων τάδε· «᾿Εμοὶ δοκέει ἕνα μὲν ἡμέων μούναρχον μηκέτι γενέσθαι· οὔτε γὰρ ἡδὺ οὔτε ἀγαθόν. Εἴδετε μὲν γὰρ τὴν Καμβύσεω ὕβριν ἐπ’ ὅσον ἐπεξῆλθε, μετεσχήκατε δὲ καὶ τῆς τοῦ μάγου ὕβριος. Κῶς δ’ ἂν εἴη χρῆμα κατηρτημένον μουναρχίη, τῇ ἔξεστι ἀνευθύνῳ ποιέειν τὰ βούλεται; Καὶ γὰρ ἂν τὸν ἄριστον ἀνδρῶν πάντων στάντα ἐς ταύτην τὴν ἀρχὴν ἐκτὸς τῶν ἐωθότων νοημάτων στήσειε. ᾿Εγγίνεται μὲν γάρ οἱ ὕβρις ὑπὸ τῶν παρεόντων ἀγαθῶν, φθόνος δὲ ἀρχῆθεν ἐμφύεται ἀνθρώπῳ. Δύο δ’ ἔχων ταῦτα ἔχει πᾶσαν κακότητα· τὰ μὲν γὰρ ὕβρι κεκορημένος ἔρδει πολλὰ καὶ ἀτάσθαλα, τὰ δὲ φθόνῳ. Καίτοι ἄνδρα γε τύραννον ἄφθονον ἔδει εἶναι, ἔχοντά γε πάντα τὰ ἀγαθά· τὸ δὲ ὑπεναντίον τούτου ἐς τοὺς πολιήτας πέφυκε· φθονέει γὰρ τοῖσι ἀρίστοισι περιεοῦσί τε καὶ ζώουσι, χαίρει δὲ τοῖσι κακίστοισι τῶν ἀστῶν, διαβολὰς δὲ ἄριστος ἐνδέκεσθαι.

᾿Αναρμοστότατον δὲ πάντων· ἤν τε γὰρ αὐτὸν μετρίως θωμάζῃς, ἄχθεται ὅτι οὐ κάρτα θεραπεύεται, ἤν τε θεραπεύῃ τις κάρτα, ἄχθεται ἅτε θωπί. Τὰ δὲ δὴ μέγιστα ἔρχομαι ἐρέων· νόμαιά τε κινέει πάτρια καὶ βιᾶται γυναῖκας κτείνει τε ἀκρίτους.

 

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Royal Domestic Violence

Earlier, Cambyses marries one sister (3.31) and murders another. This one is unnamed.

Herodotus, Histories 3.32

“There are two stories regarding her death just as in the case of Smerdis. The Greeks report that Cambyses made a puppy fight with a lion cub and that this woman was watching. When the puppy was being defeated, another puppy—its sibling—broke its leash and was helping him. Together, the two puppies overpowered the lion cub.

Cambyses was pleased when he saw this, but she was crying as she sat alongside him. When Cambyses saw that she was crying and asked why she was, she responded that she cried upon seeing the puppy try to avenge his brother because she was thinking of Smerdis and realizing that there was no one who would avenge him.

The Greeks claim that she was executed for Cambyses for this response. The Egyptians, however, say that when the two of them were sitting at a table the woman took up some lettuce, plucked off the leaves, and then asked her husband if the lettuce seemed better plucked or with its leaves still. When he said he liked it more intact, she said that “but you must recall that you have stripped the house of Cyrus just like this lettuce.” In rage over this, he leaped on her even though she was pregnant. She died after miscarrying.”

Ἀμφὶ δὲ τῷ θανάτῳ αὐτῆς διξὸς ὥσπερ περὶ Σμέρδιος λέγεται λόγος. Ἕλληνες μὲν λέγουσι Καμβύσεα συμβαλεῖν σκύμνον λέοντος σκύλακι κυνός, θεωρέειν δὲ καὶ τὴν γυναῖκα ταύτην, νικωμένου δὲ τοῦ σκύλακος ἀδελφεὸν αὐτοῦ ἄλλον σκύλακα ἀπορρήξαντα τὸν δεσμὸν παραγενέσθαι οἱ, δύο δὲ γενομένους οὕτω δὴ τοὺς σκύλακας ἐπικρατῆσαι τοῦ σκύμνου. καὶ τὸν μὲν Καμβύσεα ἥδεσθαι θεώμενον, τὴν δὲ παρημένην δακρύειν. Καμβύσεα δὲ μαθόντα τοῦτο ἐπειρέσθαι δι᾿ ὅ τι δακρύει, τὴν δὲ εἰπεῖν ὡς ἰδοῦσα τὸν σκύλακα τῷ ἀδελφεῷ τιμωρήσαντα δακρύσειε, μνησθεῖσά τε Σμέρδιος καὶ μαθοῦσα ὡς ἐκείνῳ οὐκ εἴη ὁ τιμωρήσων. Ἕλληνες μὲν δὴ διὰ τοῦτο τὸ ἔπος φασὶ αὐτὴν ἀπολέσθαι ὑπὸ Καμβύσεω, Αἰγύπτιοι δὲ ὡς τραπέζῃ παρακατημένων λαβοῦσαν θρίδακα τὴν γυναῖκα περιτῖλαι καὶ ἐπανειρέσθαι τὸν ἄνδρα κότερον περιτετιλμένη ἡ θρίδαξ ἢ δασέα εἴη καλλίων, καὶ τὸν φάναι δασέαν, τὴν δ᾿ εἰπεῖν “Ταύτην μέντοι κοτὲ σὺ τὴν θρίδακα ἐμιμήσαο τὸν Κύρου οἶκον ἀποψιλώσας.” τὸν δὲ θυμωθέντα ἐμπηδῆσαι αὐτῇ ἐχούσῃ ἐν γαστρί, καί μιν ἐκτρώσασαν ἀποθανεῖν.

Possible seal image of Cambyses II

Tacitus on Germanic Standards for Women and Child-Rearing

Some of the rhetoric here seems a bit familiar…

Tacitus, Germania 19-20

In that country, no one finds vice amusing; nor is seducing or being seduced celebrated as a sign of the times. Even better are those communities where only virgins marry and a promise is made with the hope and vow of a wife. And so, they have only one husband just as each has one body and one life so that there may be no additional thought of it, no lingering desire, that they may not love the man so much as they love the marriage. It is considered a sin to limit the number of children or to eliminate the later born. There good customs are stronger than good laws.

There are children there naked and dirty in every house growing into the size of limbs and body at which we wonder. Each mother nourishes each child with her own breasts; they are not passed around to maids and nurses.”

nemo enim illic vitia ridet, nec corrumpere et corrumpi saeculum vocatur. melius quidem adhuc eae civitates, in quibus tantum virgines nubunt et cum spe votoque uxoris semel transigitur. sic unum accipiunt maritum quo modo unum corpus unamque vitam, ne ulla cogitatio ultra, ne longior cupiditas, ne tamquam maritum, sed tamquam matrimonium ament. numerum liberorum finire aut quemquam ex agnatis necare flagitium habetur, plusque ibi boni mores valent quam alibi bonae leges.In omni domo nudi ac sordidi in hos artus, in haec corpora, quae miramur, excrescunt. sua quemque mater uberibus alit, nec ancillis aut nutricibus delegantur.

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A Silly Reason For Sacrificing a Horse

Polybius, 12.3 [Other Errors Made  by Timaeus]

“And then again in his details about Pyrrhus he says that the Romans still recall the memory of the destruction at Troy when they shoot a warhorse on a certain day in front of the city in the Campus Martius because the sacking of troy happened because of a wooden horse—a fact which is the most childish thing of all. For, he would need to say that all the barbarians are the descendants of Trojans, since almost all of them when they are about to start a war or are taking a risk toward great danger, sacrifice and slaughter a horse, interpreting what is going to happen from the fall of the animal.

Timaios does not only show is inexperience in this bit of stupidity about the horse, but also it seems to be a great bit of pedantry when he supposes so naively that they go through the practice of sacrificing a horse because Troy was taken by one!”

Καὶ μὴν ἐν τοῖς περὶ Πύρρου πάλιν φησὶ τοὺς Ῥωμαίους ἔτι νῦν ὑπόμνημα ποιουμένους τῆς κατὰ τὸ Ἴλιον ἀπωλείας ἐν ἡμέρᾳ τινὶ κατακοντίζειν ἵππον πολεμιστὴν πρὸ τῆς πόλεως ἐν τῷ Κάμπῳ καλουμένῳ διὰ τὸ τῆς Τροίας τὴν ἅλωσιν διὰ τὸν ἵππον γενέσθαι τὸν δούριον προσαγορευόμενον, πρᾶγμα πάντων παιδαριωδέστατον· ὕτω μὲν γὰρ δεήσει πάντας τοὺς βαρβάρους λέγειν Τρώων ἀπογόνους ὑπάρχειν· σχεδὸν γὰρ πάντες, εἰ δὲ μή γ᾿, οἱ πλείους, ὅταν ἢ πολεμεῖν μέλλωσιν ἐξ ἀρχῆς ἢ διακινδυνεύειν πρός τινας ὁλοσχερῶς, ἵππῳ προθύονται καὶ σφαγιάζονται, σημειούμενοι τὸ μέλλον ἐκ τῆς τοῦ ζῴου πτώσεως.

ὁ δὲ Τίμαιος περὶ τοῦτο τὸ μέρος τῆς ἀλογίας οὐ μόνον ἀπειρίαν, ἔτι δὲ μᾶλλον ὀψιμαθίαν δοκεῖ μοι πολλὴν ἐπιφαίνειν, ὅς γε, διότι θύουσιν ἵππον, εὐθέως ὑπέλαβε τοῦτο ποιεῖν αὐτοὺς διὰ τὸ τὴν Τροίαν ἀφ᾿ ἵππου δοκεῖν ἑαλωκέναι.

“The Procession of the Trojan Horse. “ Domenico Tiepolo

Tawdry Tuesday, Imperial Edition: Fun with Domitian

Suetonius, Life of Domitian 22

He was a man of extreme lust: he used to refer to his endless intercourse as “bed-wrestling”, as if it were a type of exercise. There was a rumor that he used to depilate his concubines himself and that he used to go swimming with street prostitutes. Even though he repeatedly refused a wedding to his brother’s daughter who was offered to him for marriage when she was still a virgin because he was overcome with the Domitia affair, he seduced her not long after she was married to someone else and while Titus was still alive. But, soon, he loved her openly and with the utmost passion once she was deprived of father and husband, to the point that he was the reason for her death when she was forced to abort a child conceived with him.”

XXII. Libidinis nimiae, assiduitatem concubitus velut exercitationis genus clinopalen vocabat; eratque fama, quasi concubinas ipse develleret nataretque inter vulgatissimas meretrices. Fratris filiam adhuc virginem oblatam in matrimonium sibi cum devinctus Domitiae nuptiis pertinacissime recusasset, non multo post alii conlocatam corrupit ultro et quidem vivo etiam tum Tito; mox patre ac viro orbatam ardentissime palamque dilexit, ut etiam causa mortis exstiterit coactae conceptum a se abigere.

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