Item of the Day: Hobbes’s Thucydides (1634)

Full Title:

Eight Bookes of the PELOPONNESIAN WARRE Written by THVCYDIDES the sonne of OLORVS. Interpreted with Faith and Diligence Immediately out of the Greeke By Thomas Hobbes Secretary to ye late Earle of Deuonshire.

Written by Thucydides, translated by Thomas Hobbes. With maps, illustrations, and errata from the first edition. Imprinted in London for Richard Mynne in Little Brittaine at the signe of :S: Paul, 1634.

From “To the Readers”:

THough this Translation haue already past the Censure of some, whose Iudgements I very much esteeme; yet, because there is something, I know not what, in the censure of a Multitude, more terrible then any single Iudgement, how seuere or exact soeuer, I haue thought it discretion in all men, that haue to doe with so many, and to me, in my want of perfection, necessary, to bespeake your Candor. Which that I may vpon the better reason hope for, I am willing to acquaint you briefly, upon what grounds I undertooke this Worke at first; and haue since, by publishing it, put my selfe upon the hazard of your censure, with so small hope of glory, as from a thing of this nature can be expected. For I know, there meere Translations, haue in them this property, that they may much disgrace, if not well done; but if well, not much commend the doer.

It hath beene noted by diuers, that Homer in Poesie, Aristotle in Philosophy, Demosthenes in Eloquence, and others of the Ancients, in other knowledge, do still maintaine their Primacy, none of them exceeded, some not approached, by any, in these later Ages. And in the number of these, is iustly ranked also our Thucydides; a Workeman no lesse perfect in his worke, then any of the former; and in whom (I beleeue with many others) the Faculty of writing History is at the highest. For the principall and proper worke of History, being to instruct, and enable men, by the knowledge of Actions past, to beare themselues prudently in the present, and prouidently towards the Future, there is not extant any other (merely humane) that doth more fully, and naturally performe it, then this of my Author. It is true, that there be many excellent and profitable Histories written since; and in some of them, there be inserted very wise discourses, both of Manners and Policie. But being discourses inserted, and not of the contexture of the Narration, they indeed commend the knowledge of the Writer, but not the History it selfe; the nature whereof, is meerely narratiue. In others, there bee subtile coniectures, at the secret aymes, and inward cogitations of such as fall vnder their Penne; which is also none of the least vertues in a History, where the coniecture is throughly grounded, not forced to serve the purpose of the Writer, in adorning his stile, or manifesting his subtilty in coniecturing. But these coniectures cannot often be certaine, unlesse withall so euident, that the narration it selfe may bve sufficient to suggest the same to the Reader. But Thucydides is one, who, though he neuer digresse to reade a Lecture, Morall or Politicall, upon his owne Text, nor enter into mens hearts, further then the actions themselues euidently guide him, is yet accounted the most Politique Historiographer that euer writ. The reason whereof I take to bee this: He filleth his Narrations with that choice of matter, and ordereth them with that Iudgment, and with such perspicuity and efficacy expresseth himselfe, that, as Plutarch saith, he maketh his Auditor a Spectator. For he settteh his Reader in the Assemblies of the People, and in the Senates, at their debating; in the Streets, at their Sedition; and in the Field, at their Battels. So that looke how much a man of understanding, might haue added to his experience, if he had then liued, a beholder of their proceedings, and familiar with the men, and businesse of the time; so much almost may be profit now, by attentiue reading of the same here written. He may from the narrations draw out lessons to himselfe, and of himselfe be able, to trace the drifts and counsailes of the Actors to their seate.

These Vertues of my Author did so take my affection, that they begat in me a desire to communicate him further; which was the first occasion that moued mee to translate him. For it is an errour we easily fall into, to beleeue, that what soeuer pleaseth vs, will be, in like manner and degree, acceptable to all; and to esteeme of one anothers Iudgment, as we agree in the liking, or dislike of the same things. And in this errour peraduenture was I, when I thought, that as many of the more iudicious, as I should communicate him to, would affect him as much as I my selfe did. I considered also, that he was exceedingly esteemed of the Italians and French in their owne Tongues; notwithstanding that he bee not uery much beholding for it to his Interpreters. Of whom (to speake no more then becomes a Candidate of your good opinion in the same kinde) I may say this, That whereas the Author himselfe, so carrieth with him his owne light throughout, that the Reader may continually see his way before him, and by that which goeth before, expect what is to follow, I found it not so in them. The cause whereof, and their excuse may bee this: They followed the Latine of Laurentius Valla, which was not without some errours, and he a Greeke Copie, not so correct as now is extant. Out of French hee was done into English, (for I neede not dissemble to haue seene him in English) in the time of King Edward the sixth; but so, as by multiplication of errour, hee became at length traduced, rather then translated into our Language. Hereupon I resolued to take him immediately from the Greeke, according to the Edition of Æmilius Porta; not refuting, or neglecting any uersion, Comment, or other helpe I could come by. Knowing that when with Diligence and Leasure I should haue done it, though some error might remaine, yet they would be errors but of one decent; of which neuerthelesse I can discouer none, and hope they bee not many. After I had finished it, it lay long by mee, and other reasons taking place, my desire to communicate it ceased.

For I saw, that, for the greatest part, men came to the reading of History, with an affection much like that of the People, in Rome, who came to the spectacle of the Gladiators, with more dlight to behold their bloud, then their Skill in Fencing. For they be farre more in number, that loue to read of great Armies, bloudy Battels, and many thousands slaine at once, then that minde the Art, by which, the Affaires, both of Armies, and Cities, be conducted to their ends. I obserued likewise that there were not many, whose eares were well accustomed to the names of the places they shall meet with in this Histroy; without the knowledge whereof, it can neither patiently be read ouer, perfectly vnderstood, nor easily remembred.

From “The Oration of the Ambassadours of CORCYRA”:

MEN of Athens, It is but Iustice, that such as come to implore the ayde of their neighbours, (as now doe wee) and cannot pretend by any great benefit or League, some precedent merit, should before they goe any futher, make it appeare, principally, that what they seeke conferreth profit, or if not so, yet it is not prejudiciall at least, to those that are to grant it: and next, that they will bee constantly thankfull for the same. And if they cannot doe this, then not to take it ill, though their suite bee rejected. And the Corcyræans being fully perswaded that they can make all this appeare on their owne parts, haue therefore sent us hither, desiring you to ascribe them to the number of your Confederates. Now so it is, that we haue had a Coustome, both vnreasonable in respect of our Suite to you, and also for the present vnprofitable to our owne estate. For, hauing euer till now, beene vnwilling to admit others into League with vs, we are now not onely suiters for League to others, but also left destitute by that meanes, of friends in this our Warre with the Corinthians. And that which before wee thought wisdome, namely, not to enter with others into League, because wee would not at the discretion of others enter into danger, wee now finde to haue beene our weaknesse, and imprudence. Wherefore, though alone wee repulsed the Corinthians, in the late Battell by Sea, yet since they are set to inuade us with greater preparation, out of Peloponnesus, and the rest of Greece; and seeing with our owne single power we are not able to goe through; and since also the danger, in case they subdue vs, would bee very great to all Greece; it is both necessary that wee seeke the succours, both of you, and of whomsoeuer else wee can; and we are also to be pardoned, though we make bold to crosse our former custome of not hauing to doe with other men, proceeding not from malice, but error of iudgement. Now if you yeeld vnto vs, in what wee request, this coincidence (on our part) of need, will on your part bee honourable, for many reasons. First, in this respect, that you lend your helpe to such as haue suffered, and not to such as haue committed the iniustice. And next, considering that you receiue into League, such as haue a testimony of it, if euer any can be so indeleble. Besides this, the greatest Nauie but your owne, is ours: Consider then, what rarer hap, and of greater griefe to your enemies, can befall you, then that that power, which you would haue prized aboue any money, or other requitall, should come uoluntarily, and without all danger or cost, present it selfe to your hands; bringing with it reputation amongst most men; a gratefull minde from those you defend; and strength to your selues. All which haue not happened at once to many. And few there bee of those that sue for League, that come not rather to receiue strength, and reputation, then to conferre it: If any heere thinke, that the Warre wherein wee may doe you seruice, will not at all bee, hee is in an errour, and seeth not, how the Lacedæmonians, through feare of you, are already in labour of the Warre; and that the Corinthians, gracious with them, and enemies to you, making way for their Enterprize, assault us now, in the way to the invasion of you heereafter, that wee may not stand amongst the rest of their common Enemies, but that they may be sure before-hand, either to weaken vs, or to strengthen their owne estate.


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Filed under 1630's, History, Posted by Carrie Shanafelt

One response to “Item of the Day: Hobbes’s Thucydides (1634)

  1. Pingback: links for 2007-05-09 « Talkabout

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