BMCR 2007.08.14

Noble Classics

, , , The history of the Peloponnesian war. Barnes & Noble classics. New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2006. xlvi, 605 pages : maps ; 21 cm.. ISBN 1593080913. $9.95 (pb).

Richard Crawley’s translation of Thucydides, first published in 1874, and conveniently out of copyright, has been popular with publishers in recent years. Donald Lateiner’s new edition in the Barnes & Nobles Classics series joins a number of other recent cheap editions,1 but it easily surpasses its rivals in the quantity of its notes. The big questions potential buyers may want to ask are how it compares with the lavish attention bestowed on Crawley’s translation in the 1996 Landmark Thucydides edited by Robert B. Strassler — and whether they should be reading Thucydides in Crawley’s translation at all.

I may as well start with the key feature that makes the Barnes & Noble edition (and all others) inferior to the Landmark Thucydides : maps. The Barnes & Noble edition does have 12 maps scattered through the text, all re-printed from books published in the 1960s. This is a decent number, but in quality and number of maps this edition still falls far behind the Landmark Thucydides. It is also confusing that the maps sometimes have a different system of transliteration from that used in the main text (see e.g. Pylus vs. Pylos on p. 220).

What of the translation? Like Strassler, Lateiner has attempted to revise Crawley’s classic version; and, like Strassler, he has wisely made his revisions very light. A few translations are consistently changed: L. notes in his introduction that he has changed old-fashioned ‘galley’ for ‘trireme’ (Strassler did the same) and British ‘corn’ for American ‘grain’ (Strassler kept ‘corn’). One or two consistent changes are mentioned in the notes: for peltastes, L. changes Crawley’s ‘targeteer’ to ‘light-armed troop’ or ‘light infantry’ (p. 295 n.). L. also signals in his notes one or two one-off changes (e.g. skaiotes at 4.80 is translated as ‘shiftiness’ rather than ‘obstinacy’). A few changes are unannounced: at 4.123.2, Crawley’s ‘as I have already intimated’ (which picks up the implied back-reference in tote) is quite reasonably omitted — a change that implies that L. has gone through the translation closely against the Greek. I have only checked a few sample passages against Crawley’s original, however, so I cannot generalize. I do note, however, that L. did not pick up the fact that Crawley missed out the final sentence at 6.37.2 (but then neither did Strassler).

L.’s slight changes make more puzzling the fact that this edition consistently sticks to Crawley’s now outdated orthography: his use of the ligature “ae” in words such as ‘Plataea’ and ‘Corycyraean’, for instance, or the spelling ‘Mitylene’ rather than ‘Mytilene’. And there are other odd editorial decisions. Sometimes the notes distance themselves from the translation: at 3.49, for instance, ‘”monstrous” might now better translate the Greek than “horrid”‘ (p. 182 n.); while at 5.2 L. writes ‘”Towns [the Greek actually reads “territories”] in the direction of Thrace” … ” (p. 293 n.). But these are fairly minor points.

What is more puzzling is L.s treatment of two of the most important sentences in the work. In his introduction, L. discusses Crawley’s translation (‘of course adhering as closely as possible to the general sense of what they really said’) of Thucydides’ statement on how he wrote his speeches: ‘That reassuring “of course” does not surface in the Greek’ (p. xxvi). But it is kept in the translation of 1.22.1. And in his note on 6.6.1, L. writes: ‘The same peculiar phrase [“in real truth”, i.e. alethestate prophasis in the Greek] appears to explain the cause (Spartan fear) of the entire war (1.23)’ (p. 351). But the reader who turns to 1.23 will not find that phrase there in the English.

What the reader does find at that vital passage (1.23.6) is rather confusing: “The truest cause, but the one least spoken about openly, I consider to be the Athenians’ growing power and the fear they caused [by this growth] to the Lacedaemonians. [This situation] pressured them into fighting the war.”

No explanation is offered of why, here alone, two phrases in the translation appear in square brackets. The answer seems to be that L. has here chosen a more radical break with ‘Crawley’2 — as is implicitly revealed by the accompanying note: ‘Nowhere does he [i.e. Thucydides] assert that the war was “inevitable”, a dangerous word for cool heads.’ The ‘Crawley’ translation of the sentence runs: ‘The growth of the power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Lacedaemon, made war inevitable’ (as often, Warner in the Penguin offers a bland paraphrase of Crawley: ‘What made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear which this caused in Sparta’). I agree with L.’s critique of ‘Crawley’ here — though I think that making ‘this situation’ the subject of the verb ‘pressured’ does not do justice to Thucydides either.

L.’s minor changes do not detract from the general virtues that L. himself rightly sees in Crawley: ‘Thucydides’ concern never was popularity or easy comprehension, so Crawley’s version better serves the contemporary intelligent reader who first approaches this giant of Western historiography and political analysis’ (p. xlv). I sympathise with this. But L. does not mention the competition offered by the recent version by Steven Lattimore. Lattimore retains Thucydides’ complexity in the speeches to a far greater extent than Crawley, daring to reproduce difficult Greek with difficult English; at the same time, Lattimore uses a general idiom that some readers may naturally enough find more approachable.3

What of the Introduction and Notes? As one would expect, these sections are especially strong on cultural and historiographical matters. The Introduction deals with topics such as organization and research; techniques of presentation; evaluations and interpretation; and morality and religion. Among the Notes there is a helpful allusion to Odyssey 7 in a note on Themistocles’ supplication of Admetus (p. 83), and a good brief remark on the fate of those Thucydidean characters who appeal to the gods (p. 137). Many other notes reveal L.’s feeling for narrative, as he points up for the first-time reader the future significance of a character or details (e.g. the note on 2.25 on Brasidas; or the penetrating remark on 3.3: ‘The time required for this journey will later determine the Lesbians’ life or death’). The notes, moreover, are not without wit (‘Cleon pops up, something like a Punch and Judy figure, whenever the Athenians vote to do something monstrous’, p. 182); and for those who like present-day references, L. supplies plenty — to Vietnam (p. 346), Iraq (p. 139), even to the 2004 Olympics (p. 105). All this is fine. For my taste, however, L.’s style is sometimes a bit wordy and clumsy,4 and the notes themselves can become rather too chatty and intrusive. Does L.’s implied (‘intelligent’) reader need to be told in a note that ‘Our manuscripts indicate a new book’ (p. 293) when they can see ‘Book 5’ for themselves at the top of the page? Or that ‘the year 412 yields to 411’ (p. 492)? It would be better to provide dates in the margins or headers (as the Landmark Thucydides does).

Many of L.’s notes seem simply to repeat what is in the text. On 5.60 (‘Indeed, this was by far the finest Hellenic army ever yet brought together’), L. comments: ‘Thucydides points out two things: the superlative nature of this Hellenic land force and the fact that later armies surpassed even this one’ (the latter a possible, but not certain, inference). On 6.1 (‘most of [the Athenians] being ignorant of [Sicily’s] size and of the number of its inhabitants, Hellenic and barbarian, and of the fact that they were undertaking a war not much inferior to that against the Peloponnesians’), L. comments: ‘Thucydides stresses the magnitude of the task (Sicily’s circumference is approximately 500 miles) and the ignorance of those Athenians voting in early 415 to invade and conquer a distant territory.’ Here it is good to be told the circumference of Sicily, but this would better explain the following clause (‘the voyage round Sicily in a merchantman is not far short of eight days’); the rest of the note seems to be spelling out the obvious. A final example: on 3.7 (‘the Acarnanians insisting that the commander sent should be some son or relative of Phormio’), L. writes: ‘The Acarnanians of the northwest knew the talents of the successful general Phormio and demanded a relative as their commander.’ There is of course a place for a brief paraphrase, but the format of the Landmark Thucydides, with its running paraphrase in the margins of its more generous pages, seems to me preferable.

That final note on Phormio points to a more important shortcoming: the neglect of a number of historical problems. At 3.7, one might expect instead a note on why Phormio himself was not available. Other historical problems that are ignored include the name ‘Andocides’ at 1.51; the claim at 2.34 that burial at Marathon was an exception (here L. alluded to excavations of the Marathon mound and offers a paraphrase: ‘Thucydides marks the exception that proves that rule’); and the figure ‘2,000’ at 4.54 (‘an unusually large number’, L. writes; many editors have emended or obelized the figure). Besides this shortcoming, there are a number of inconsistencies or misleading and mistaken statements that could be changed or corrected in a future edition.5 And more generally L.’s edition, though it has valuable notes on warfare, does not provide as unified a treatment of the historical background or the Greek way of war as Landmark Thucydides, with its multiple appendices by a number of different scholars (the Landmark Thucydides, I should add, is itself much stronger on general features of Greek warfare than on specific historical problems).

The Barnes & Noble edition of Crawley, then, despite some shortcomings, has much that is very good; but, while L.’s introduction and notes are much richer in historiographical coverage, Strassler’s more expensive Landmark Thucydides remains in my view the most helpful edition of Crawley’s translation.


1. Crawley’s translation has been fairly consistently available in the Everyman series with a number of different introductions, most recently one by W. R. Connor (1993). It has also recently been published by Wordsworth Classics with an introduction by Lorna Hardwick (1997) and by Dover Publications (2004). An earlier revision was made by T. E. Wick (Modern Library, 1982).

2. I put ‘Crawley’ in quotation marks here because the translation of 1.23.6 in fact derives from a revision of Crawley made by Richard Feetham in 1903 — a fact neglected by most modern editions of Crawley; I hope to discuss Feetham’s revisions elsewhere.

3. S. Lattimore, Thucydides: The Peloponnesian War (Indianapolis, 1998).

4. Take the following, from the start of one sub-section in the Introduction: ‘Eschewing the already suspect word “historian” and others of similar ilk, the syngrapheus (“data-collecting composer”) — an unpretentious and misleading neologist misnomer for the author of what is shortly to come — has become an important thinker…’ (p. xxxvi).

5. The statement on p.257 that ‘Thucydides generously distributes superlatives … He is not prone to exaggerate, however’ is hard to reconcile with p. 334: ‘it is hard to believe that this was the greatest battle.’ In the Introduction, L. writes that Antiochus of Syracuse was ‘probably an eyewitness to the Athenian invasion’ (p. xix): not if he means the invasion of 415-413 BC. On p. 50, L. writes that ‘historians sometimes call the first ten years of the war (431-421) the Archidamian War since the Spartan king directed policy for its duration’: but Archidamus died c. 427 BC. On p. 186, L. states that the tripod dedicated for the Greek victory in the Persian Wars still survives in Istanbul — but it is only the Serpent Column that survives there (cf. Pausanias 10.13-19, cited by Meiggs/Lewis on ML29). Two more serious errors: 1. ‘The Athenian city festival of Dionysus occurred in late January or early February. Thucydides is precise in calling this a war of “ten years”‘ (p. 304): this seems to make a nonsense of Thucydides’ chronology; the festival occurred in March. 2. ‘Euphemus (whose name means “Good-Talker”, similar to an Aristophanic tell-tale name and otherwise unknown …’ Here L. might have profited from Lattimore’s note in his translation: ‘Scholars often refer to Euphemos (“Good Speaker”?…) … as otherwise unknown, but he almost certainly is the same Euphemos who served on the Athenian council in 420/419, added a rider to a treaty with Egesta in 418/17 (?), and served as archon in 417/416″ (p. 346); and also from the review of Lattimore’s translation by Simon Hornblower, who rightly proposes “auspicious” as a better translation of the name and also notes that Lattimore’s identification is perhaps overconfident in view of the popularity of the name ( AJPh 121 (2000), 647). At p. 170, ‘2.29’ seems to be a typographic error — for ‘2.93-4’? A typo that I have also noted in another book recently is ‘Kallett-Marx’ (pp. 102, 533).