The Reading Room

Hobbes Translation of Thucydides: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

This is the book that knocked my socks off the first time I visited Liberty Fund's rare book collection, more than twenty years ago. It is a 1648 edition of Hobbes's 1629 translation of Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War from the Hamburger collection. Beautifully bound, but roughly handled, the book was clearly highly valued and often read.
Written early in Hobbes's career when he was secretary to the Earl of Devonshire, the translation of Thucydides was meant to establish Hobbes as a serious scholar. It also sought to provide an updated, modernized, and more reliable translation of Thucydides than the translations that existed at the time. The elaborate title page to Liberty Fund's copy demonstrates the success of Hobbes's attempts to establish himself.

Gloriously ornate, with Greek headings to the illustrations, and the promise that the text has been "Interpreted with Faith and Diligence Immediately out of the Greek," the title page also identifies Hobbes as the author of De Cive. He has become an author with a well-regarded publishing record, and if you have read one of his books, you'll want to get the others! Even before his best known work, Leviathan, Hobbes was an author worth following.

I cannot help but think of Leviathan when reading the Letter to the Readers at the beginning of the Thucydides. Hobbes clearly already has concerns about the mob, Expressing his authorial jitters about seeing the work published publicly he writes, "there is something, I know not what, in the censure of a Multitude, more terrible than any single Judgement, how sever or exact soever."
It is also hard not to think of the tumult of civil unrest that England was about to face when we read Hobbes's explanation of the purpose of history. "The principall and proper worke of History, being to instruct, and enable men, by the knowledge of Actions past, to bear themselves prudently in the present, and providently towards the Future."