London: Charles Harper, 1676.
Folio: 31 x 20.5 cm. [π]2 (engraved and printed titles), A4, (a)-(d)4, (e)2, B-Z4; Aa-Zz4; Aaa4. With five added maps and plates.
Bound in contemporary sprinkled calf, re-backed in the 20th c., boards ruled in compartments with decorative tools at each corner of the central panel. Slight loss at corners, extremities with signs of wear. The contents are in good condition, with all the maps and plates present. One map with mended tears, soiling to upper margin, and browning along one fold. Small marginal tears to engraved and printed title pages, light marginal soiling.
Illustrated with the famous engraved title page showing Archidamos, Perikles and the author with vignette views of Sparta, Athens and a small map of Greece; and five engraved maps and views by Thomas Cecill entitled: "The Mappe of Ancient Greece", "Plataea", "Sphoicteria", "Antient Sicele According to the Description of Philip Chiuerius", and "Syracvse Beseeged by the Athenians".
Second edition of Hobbes’ important English-language translation of Thucydides’ history of the Peloponnesian War. The war was fought from 431–404 BC “between the two leading city-states in ancient Greece, Athens and Sparta. Each stood at the head of alliances that, between them, included nearly every Greek city-state. The fighting engulfed virtually the entire Greek world and it was properly regarded by Thucydides as the most momentous war up to that time. With Athens’ defeat . . . the most culturally advanced Greek state was brought into final eclipse.” (Britannica)
Hobbes published his translation of Thucydides’ masterpiece in 1629, when he was in his early forties. Yet he tells us in the introduction that the translation, once completed “lay long by” him, indicating that it had been completed much earlier.
“Hobbes was interested in Thucydides less for his style than his subject matter. Nor did he take up the study and translation of the Greek historian simply with a scholar’s antiquarian interest, but with the humanist desire to learn and pass on the lessons of history to his contemporaries. He is not shy of speaking of the utility of history. He talks of Thucydides’ writings ‘as having in them profitable instruction for Noblemen, and such as may come to have the managing of great and weighty actions.’ It is in the history of Thucydides that the purposes of history are most finely embodied: ‘For the principall and proper worke of History, being to instruct, and enable men, by the knowledge of Actions past, to beare themselves prudently in the present, and providently towards the Future, there is not extant any other (merely humane) that doth more fully, and naturally performe it, then this of my Author.’…
“Hobbes had very definite ideas about the conclusions to be drawn from Thucydides. In the long introductory essay, ‘Of the Life and History of Thucydides’, he derives from the history an account of the political opinions of its author:
‘For his opinion touching the government of the State, it is manifest that he least of all liked the Democracy. And upon divers occasions, hee noteth the emulation and contention of the Demagogues, for reputation, and glory of wit; with their crossing of each others counsels to the damage of the Publique; the inconstancy of Resolutions, caused by the diversity of ends, and power of Rhetorique in the Orators; and the desperated actions undertaken upon the flattering advice of such as desired to attaine, or to hold what they had attained of authority and sway amongst the common people. Nor doth it appeare, that he magnifieth anywhere the authority of the Few; amongst whom he saith every one desireth to be chiefe; and they that are undervalued, beare it with lesse patience than in a Democracy; whereupon sedition followeth, and dissultion of the government. Hee prayseth the government of Athens, when it was mixed of the Few and the Many; but more he commendeth it, both when Pisistratus raigned (saving that it was an usurped power) and when in the beginning of this Warre, it was Democraticall in name, but in effect Monarchicall under Pericles.’
“Thucydides here is represented as a closet royalist. The passage to which Hobbes is directly referring, which must have been written after the final defeat of Athens in 404, is Thucydides summary account of the causes of her downfall in Book II. This is a long but crucial passage in Hobbes’ translation, a shortcut to the lessons to be learnt from the larger narrative. While there are many factors that contributed to the political philosophy later developed by Hobbes (not least his experience of civil disorder in Britain), it might be argued that the political analysis here of the weakness of the Athenian democracy was influential in defining a problem to which the doctrine of Leviathan was the solution.”(Robin Sowerby, “Thomas Hobbes’ Translation of Thucydides”)
"The historical methods of Thucydides, who lived in the fifth century B.C., have never been bettered. His severe standard of historical truth, coupled with his passionate belief in the general significance of particular events, have given his history of the tragic war between Athens and Sparta a universal value to statesmen and historians alike." (Printing and the Mind of Man, 219)
“Thucydides kept rigidly to his theme: the history of a war—that is, a story of battles and sieges, of alliances hastily made and soon broken, and, most important, of the behaviour of peoples as the war dragged on and on, of the inevitable “corrosion of the human spirit.” He vividly narrates exciting episodes and carefully describes tactics on land and sea. He gives a picture, direct in speeches, indirect in the narrative, of the ambitious imperialism of Athens—controlled ambition in Pericles, reckless in Alcibiades, debased in Cleon—ever confident that nothing was impossible for them, resilient after the worst disaster. He shows also the opposing picture of the slow steadiness of Sparta, sometimes so successful, at other times so accommodating to the enemy.
“His record of Pericles’ speech on those killed in the first year of the war is the most glowing account of Athens and Athenian democracy that any leading citizen could hope to hear. It is followed (in, of course, due chronological order) by a minutely accurate account of the symptoms of the pestilence (“so that it may be recognized by medical men if it recurs”) and a moving description of the demoralizing despair that overtook men after so much suffering and such heavy losses—probably more than a quarter of the population, most of it crowded within the walls of the city, died.
“Equally moving is the account of the last battles in the great harbour of Syracuse and of the Athenian retreat. In one of his best-known passages he analyzes by a most careful choice of words, almost creating the language as he writes, the moral and political effects of civil strife within a state in time of war. By a different method, in speeches, he portrays the hard fate of the town of Plataea due to the long-embittered envy and cruelty of Thebes and the faithlessness of Sparta, and the harsh brutality of Cleon when he proposed to execute all the men of the Aegean island city of Mytilene. Occasionally, he is forced into personal comment, as on the pathetic fate of the virtuous and much-liked Athenian Nicias.
“He had strong feelings, both as a man and as a citizen of Athens. He was filled with a passion for the truth as he saw it, which not only kept him free from vulgar partiality against the enemy but served him as a historian in the accurate narrative of events—accurate in their detail and order and also in their relative importance. He does not, for example, exaggerate the significance of the campaign he himself commanded, nor does he offer a self-defense for his failure. Characteristically, he mentions his exile not as an event of the war but in his “second preface”—after the peace of 421—to explain his opportunities for wider contacts.
By the end of the 4th c. BC “the philosopher Theophrastus coupled Thucydides with Herodotus as a founder of the writing of history. Little is known of what the scholars of Alexandria and Pergamum did for his book; but copies of it were being made in considerable numbers in Egypt and so, doubtless, elsewhere, from the 1st to the 5th century AD. By the 1st century BC, as is clear from the writings of Cicero and Dionysius (who vainly disputed his preeminence), Thucydides was established as the great historian, and since that time his fame has been secure.” (Britannica).