JOEL ROSENTHAL: From Carnegie Council in New York City, welcome. I'm Joel Rosenthal, president of the Council, and I'm here with Johanna Hanink, who is associate professor of classics at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Johanna is here to talk about a new book she has edited, How to Think about War: An Ancient Guide to Foreign Policy, published by Princeton University Press.
In this book Johanna has selected, translated, and introduced key speeches from Thucydides's History of the Peloponnesian War. The book is of special interest to us here at Carnegie for its focus on ethics, democracy, and world affairs, all of which seem to be under stress these days. So we could use some of that little ancient wisdom.
Johanna, I see on the cover of the book a picture of Pericles depicted in his battle helmet as he appears on a 1970s-era Greek drachma coin, and the description reads, "Pericles, maker of war and speeches." That's a great cover and a great invitation to open the book.
JOHANNA HANINK: I owe both the selection of that image and that little caption with it to my editor at Princeton University Press, Rob Tempio, who did a lot to help shape the look and feel of the book.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: A well-deserved shout-out to Rob. That's good, and we have to thank him for making this book happen along with you.
Maybe we could start by having you tell us a little bit about the series that it appears in. It's called "Ancient Wisdom for Modern Readers."
JOHANNA HANINK: The series actually began accidentally because the first book in the series was Philip Freeman's book, How to Win an Election: An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians, which is based on Quintus's electioneering letter advising his brother Marcus on how to run. That was pitched to Rob, and I think that Rob saw—if I understand correctly the story of it—the potential for more books along these lines that took ancient texts that seemed to be able to speak to modern audiences and help disseminate them and curate them in a way that was accessible.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: Right. So the idea being that there is this ancient wisdom for various parts of life. I see that there's a book about friendship, death, and other big issues.
JOHANNA HANINK: Running a country, I think. Yes, there are several, and they're doing very well, which is interesting that people seem to really feel that these books speak to them. Especially before the holidays I saw a lot of them out in the bookstores. There's How to be a Friend: An Ancient Guide to True Friendship.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: You're an associate professor of classics.
JOHANNA HANINK: That's right.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: This is an opportunity for me to ask: What does "classics" mean to you? Is it about these big humanistic questions?
JOHANNA HANINK: I think that's a part of it because I think that the field of classics, which is undergoing a lot of changes and challenges today, has been very much shaped by those questions and by the intellectual history behind the posing and reposing of those questions. But I think that some positive growing pains are happening in the field right now as people across literature, archaeology, and history start thinking more about a Global Mediterranean and what that means and how we can think about multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism in antiquity and think through some of the challenges of today with those ideas in mind.
I think on the one hand there is this kind of "Great Books" tradition to classics that we need to think about how we're branding and approaching today as values are shifting and perspectives are opening up, and people are trying, I think quite rightly, to incorporate other literature into curricula.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: I'm going to ask you a provocative question about that. I saw in The New York Times about a month ago there was a story about the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and they are slowly deleting many of their humanities-based courses in favor of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) courses and vocational-type courses. This is a four-year college and university.
How do you think about that from your faculty position? Can you be a college or a university, granting degrees of Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts without humanities?
JOHANNA HANINK: It's very interesting that you pose that question because at Brown I actually teach a class called Revolutionary Classics, so the classical origins of your Brown education, and it's a class that looks at classics and humanities in American tertiary institutions or higher education from even before the founding up until today. We spent nearly an entire class debating exactly the question and exactly the case study that you just mentioned, which is, is this still a university education?
People came down on both sides. But one thing that I would say is, although it pains me personally to hear that these kinds of classes are being cut from the books more and more, I do think that students today do have a lot of different options in terms of the kinds of higher education that they want to pursue. That's not always the case because economic factors and geographical factors affect things.
I guess what I'm trying to say is I don't think it's the end of the world, and I do think that if those students want to pursue humanities, hopefully the Wisconsin system would—
JOEL ROSENTHAL: Just a question to think about. In my ideal world you would be able to somehow blend—and maybe you're doing this in your classes in some way—some of this ancient wisdom and some of what you derive from the classics to a STEM curriculum or to a vocationally oriented curriculum, that they're not necessarily exclusive.
JOHANNA HANINK: That is something that I completely agree with. At Brown we don't have majors, so the students in this class really came from across the university. So a lot of students who were more focusing in STEM fields talked about how much they felt that their humanities training had helped them in terms of—
I think one of the great things that classics still has to offer is what I think of as slow reading. It's a way of looking at texts and looking at discourse and looking at the world that is precisely that; it is slow. There's such a demand for speed and acceleration now. It's picking text and discourse apart on this fine molecular level of syntax and vocabulary and particles and things like that. This is one of the things that students repeatedly say, that studying Latin and Greek—even at early levels, even if they don't get to full proficiency—trains them to be able to look in a more fine-grained way at even their STEM material.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: That's great. That's countercultural, for sure, in the best possible way.
The other part that is intriguing to me is thinking about—and this book is an example of it—somehow that classics can be applied, that it's not just about ancient texts that should be studied for the sake of keeping the tradition alive. I'm sure there's some value just in that, that they're intrinsically important, but that they actually apply in serious ways to the human condition in the 21st century in some way and that it's worth study and a conversation about the application of these texts.
JOHANNA HANINK: You said the word "conversation" there. It's especially important because we happen to have surviving from Greek and Roman antiquity a very large, relatively speaking, body of text that for historical reasons set certain agendas that we have today and therefore seem to pose some of the same questions that we have today because there is a little bit of a feedback loop.
But I think one of the great values still of looking at these texts beyond the intrinsic aspect that you mentioned is this entering into what people call "the great conversation," that people have looked at these texts for so long, and so it allows you to enter into a conversation, not just with, say, Thucydides, but then with Machiavelli and Hobbes and so on. So I think there is that element that doesn't just keep the study of classics as something in the distant and dusty past.
But on the other hand, I do think that some of these texts do have this use in thinking if you want to apply them specifically to contemporary politics or ethical debates that they do provide a kind of vocabulary and framework for thinking about—
JOEL ROSENTHAL: For structured—
JOHANNA HANINK: Exactly. So when the Athenians claim that there are three reasons that a nation goes to war, it's at least naming a framework. You might not agree with it, and there are other frameworks out there, but I think that at least giving the name provides some sort of structure to then how you deconstruct that proposition or compare it or contrast it with others.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: What was it about the classics that drew you in?
JOHANNA HANINK: I had an experience that a lot of people have, which is to say I had really, really great teachers. At the University of Michigan my professor of great books was named H .D. Cameron—I actually dedicated this book to him—and he was, I have to say, one of those Hollywood sort of humanities teachers with a lecture hall of 250 people who would give these lectures that moved you tears about Homer, Thucydides, or tragedy.
Actually, when I started college as an undergraduate I remember speaking to him because I'd had some Greek preparation beforehand, which was unusual. He was also my Greek teacher my first year, and I remember I told him that I was thinking of majoring in economics. Without casting any aspersions on economists, he said that classics departments are very small whereas the Michigan economics department is very big, and he said, "If you do classics, you'll always have a home." Which I think was for me in some ways compelling on both this affective social/personal level that the professors really were accepting of me and accessible, but on the other hand that there was that sense of an intellectual home that goes back to those points about the great conversation.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: That you could enter.
JOHANNA HANINK: Yes, that you can always at the end of the day, no matter what's going on—and a lot of people in the business do it—pick up some Homer and feel you're reset.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: Well, you're keeping good company in the work that you're doing. That's great.
Let's move now and talk a little bit about Classical Greece. One of the things that struck me in the way you set up the book is you said that a lot of modern readers have an idealized picture of Classical Athens, and I am probably in that camp.
Can you talk a little bit about—I'll situate it here: An American in the 21st century as we think about Classical Athens, we do tend to have a romanticized view. How would you respond to that?
JOHANNA HANINK: The way I imagine our imagination of Classical Athens, I think for me the best scene is the scene from early on in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, when Bill and Ted go back to Athens in the fifth century and pick up Socrates. The scene when their telephone booth time machine lands in Classical Athens I think really captures what a lot of people think of. It's a sunny day. There's a lot of people sitting around in white bedsheet-looking garments philosophizing, peacefully walking around, and there's Socrates just holding forth among some pupils.
I think there is that kind of image that we have of Classical Athens that is mediated by a lot of things but largely by the way that Roman culture presented itself in a kind of contrast with Greece.
There's a famous part of the Aeneid where Aeneas is in the underworld, and he is talking to his dead father, who is making these predictions about the future. And Anchises, his father, says to Aeneas, explains to him that other peoples are going to be better at casting statues from bronze or evoking these figures, bringing them out of the marble, or charting the stars, these kinds of artistic and scientific qualities, but you Romans, your purpose is going to be to subdue the crowd, rule the conquered peoples in peace with your imperium.
So the Romans were doing a little bit of a trick there, on the one hand casting their project as one of imperium and what would be the Pax Romana and these kinds of things, but putting it in opposition to the Greeks, who they just dismissed as being artists and dreamers. That was tendentious in itself, but the Roman tradition was then so influential that we inherited their stereotypes about what Greece was as well.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: That's really helpful.
Let's talk a little bit about Thucydides. You also mention in the introduction that Thucydides is having a moment. It has become maybe a little fashionable to talk about Thucydides. Can you share with us your thoughts about what might be behind that?
JOHANNA HANINK: As Thucydides himself might say, there is a proximate and an ultimate cause, and I think that the proximate cause is probably Graham Allison's introduction of his theory of the Thucydides's Trap, which we might talk about in a moment, because then that led to the story of the famous Politico article about how Allison was invited to the White House to brief some very high-ups there about his notion of the trap. Though I think that ultimately that trap or that framework doesn't have that much to do with Thucydides, it really brought Thucydides back into a kind of national consciousness. So that's the proximate cause. [For more on Allison and Thucydides's Trap, check out this Asia Dialogues interview and Public Affairs talk, both from 2017.]
But I think the ultimate cause is something that we were discussing a little bit before the podcast and has to do with a little bit of a shift—I'm not an international relations (IR) expert—as I perceive it in what the national anxieties are right now. Graham Allison's book came out in 2017. I think that with the new presidential administration there has been a shift from worries about terrorism to worries again being ones that more have to do with interstate relations, with the United States' relationship with other state actors as opposed to unpredictable individual actors or renegade group actors.
So I think Thucydides has a lot more to offer and has been historically understood as having much to offer on the topic of interstate relations whereas from the early 1990s to just a couple of years ago the dominant fear in the American mentality, I think, was not so much what was going to happen with Russia.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: Right. It was non-state actors as opposed to state actors.
JOHANNA HANINK: Right. Exactly.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: That's a good transition into the Thucydides's Trap itself. Can you summarize briefly Allison's argument and what it has so much salience today?
JOHANNA HANINK: Allison's argument essentially in the way that he frames it with reference to Thucydides is that when you have an emerging power on the rise that then looks like it's going to be challenging a dominant power, that in the vast majority of historical circumstances where that has been the case those two powers wind up conflicting in a war.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: Almost inevitably.
JOHANNA HANINK: Inevitably. Actually, that's a word that I want to talk about, because his citation of Thucydides is this line where the translation that he used says that the—again, this is the ultimate cause of the war—that the Athenians had risen to this great prominence, and this had inspired fear in Sparta, and that this made war inevitable. And that's the translation that he uses.
Whereas, of course, there have been a lot of people who have reacted to that by saying, "Well, actually the verb in Greek"—
JOEL ROSENTHAL: So what is your translation?
JOHANNA HANINK: The verb in Greek is anangkasai. The Athenians became great, megáli, and this inspired this fóvos, this fear, and that that then compelled or urged on—and the verb then, anangkasai, the war.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: That's important. Your point being it's more of a feeling of to compel or need or necessity as opposed to inevitable.
JOHANNA HANINK: Exactly.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: That's interesting.
JOHANNA HANINK: That's a point that a lot of people have made.
It comes back to the way that we read these texts because on the one hand I agree that "inevitable" is not quite the right translation. It's not the one that I would have used.
But on the other hand, I don't know if Thucydides would ever have imagined the amount of time that people spend wondering what he meant by the use of this specific—
JOEL ROSENTHAL: So it's the context.
JOHANNA HANINK: —word. What happens then is that you get a text like Thucydides, which is this sort of venerable tome, which is long being put under the microscope in this way that it's almost like a Biblical exegesis that's going on where you have these different textual interpretations and people sort of—
JOEL ROSENTHAL: And cherry-picking, too, right?
JOHANNA HANINK: Exactly, and feuding about the very fine points of the grammar and "actually"-ing each other a lot of the translation issues.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: This puts you in a position of great power, by the way.
JOHANNA HANINK: Some might say vulnerability because people do like to get riled up about when Thucydides isn't translated as they would like. And I will say critics are often a lot better at saying why a translation is bad than in offering their own.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: What is your interpretation, though, just quickly of the Allison argument? Do you think it's overdetermined and that that's not really what Thucydides meant? He's obviously dealing with interstate relations, and he's dealing with the idea of you've got a hegemon and how it's going to deal with rising powers and threats. Do you think that his intent was to share a message that Allison is sharing with us, meaning that there is a certain, if not inevitability, likelihood of this idea of conflict coming?
JOHANNA HANINK: It's hard to say because on the one hand Thucydides himself insists that he's writing this work because he thinks it'll be useful to future generations—again, there's another classic translation issue. He calls it the anthrópini, what some people translate as "human nature," some people say "the human condition"—this human thing we have going is not going to change, so these things will repeat themselves, and it's worth, "Let me leave this archive or this document of the way it unfolded in my day."
But on the other hand he undermines himself because he says that what happened in his own day was totally unprecedented, and I don't think that he quite frames it in terms of this—
JOEL ROSENTHAL: It's not prescriptive.
JOHANNA HANINK: No, that this is some kind of blueprint, that that is really the message that's supposed to be taken away from his account of the war.
One of the great ironies of Thucydides is that despite the fact that he's held in such esteem by historians of many different stripes, by IR theorists, and so on, people still often think that his account of why that war actually broke out is deeply, deeply flawed. Which is really interesting because it's pretty much the only extended narrative account that we have, and nevertheless people think that there is something wrong with it without having a huge amount of other basis of evidence for rejecting his account.
But one of the things that has been suggested is that Thucydides himself, the architecture of his work is very much like a tragedy, where Athens is this tragic—I tell students never to say "tragic hero," because that's complicated and is not exactly how it works—or Athens is the star of this, and we watch its downfall over the course of it. But because that's the narrative structure that Thucydides has in mind with his history, that causes him to adjust, expand some things, elide other things that have to do with the outbreak of war—
JOEL ROSENTHAL: For the narrative.
JOHANNA HANINK: —in the interests of constructing this tragic narrative. That's one way of looking at it.
So I think what has happened with the Allison material, that's not how I would have seen it. The notion of the Thucydides's Trap made me look back at that text again because I had never gotten that out of it, but what I think then happens, too, is you get a little bit of a situation where people are now going back and reading more of Thucydides with that kind of trap in mind, and so it becomes a little bit of a self-fulfilling reading.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: Right. So one way to think of it, because your book, How to Think about War, one way is that it's just meant to illustrate, to tell a story that may have some relevance in terms of what you're saying, that it's not necessarily human nature or the human condition but "this human thing we have going." I like that. I'm going to use that. So that, in and of itself, is of some value, just to see a story. It doesn't necessarily mean that it's destined to repeat or that it provides some kind of formula, but it's instructive to reflect on what happened.
JOHANNA HANINK: Exactly. What Thucydides does very successfully in that is that even though—Aristotle famously says in the Poetics that "History is about specifics, but tragedy is about universals," Thucydides casts his history in terms of universals.
One of the things that people find frustrating is that he'll say, "The Athenian said this, the Melian said this," and he'll leave out people's names. He'll leave out specifics. He does a little bit of ethnography and cultural specificity stuff, but he doesn't do that much. Because he has left these things pretty vague and abstract, it becomes very easy for subsequent readers to read themselves into it because there's not too much detail getting in the way about who specifically these people were.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: That's great. I'm going to just raise a couple more—and I'm pulling out my favorite nuggets from Thucydides as a way to push some of these points.
One of the most well-known phrases that's taken from Thucydides, particularly by IR scholars and people who are studying world politics, is this famous phrase, often paraphrased, that "the strong do what they will, and the weak suffer what they must." One question is, you translate it slightly differently. I'm just curious as to the actual translation since we have your authority here. But in addition to your thoughts about that, in the overall context of Thucydides, is that one of the more important points that he's trying to make, or is that one of those phrases that's mined and taken and used for other purposes? I'm just curious how it fits into the overall picture of Thucydides's work.
JOHANNA HANINK: I think it's very important to his construction of the Athenian character. I guess that I mean character on two levels. The first one is when we think about national character, and this is the way he is painting the Athenian national character.
But then I guess I also mean character in the way that I was mentioning before that this has been read as a tragedy, as a sort of dramatis personae. That's an important part of the characterization of this group of actors he often just calls "the Athenians."
The matter of the translation with this phrase as with all these other kinds of catchphrases from Thucydides has been much debated, and this is Crawley's translation from the 19th century. People get up in arms about feeling that this is more Crawley than Thucydides, but any translation—especially of Thucydides, where the Greek is so compressed and oftentimes opaque—is going to have something of the translator in it.
I have to say that looking at that line in the Greek, which I don't have right in front of me, I see, "Those in positions of power do what their power permits, while the weak have no choice but to accept it." I remember thinking, Okay, I think that this is closer to what's going on in the Greek, but in terms of ideologic—it's six of one, half-dozen of the other. I don't see that big a difference.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: Right.
JOHANNA HANINK: But I think the point that's being made there is a really important part of what has been called the "Athenian thesis" basically is summed up in that line. But I noted down what comes right before it. This is the Athenians talking to the Melians and explaining why the Melians have no bargaining chips. As the Athenians explain it, they say, "Justice is only a factor in human decisions when the parties are on equal footing."
So justice is not even on the table at all in a situation where you don't have two actors that equally respect each other and feel that there's something equal to lose. It's a really sinister articulation of justice.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: Are we to accept that on face value, or is there something else going on in Thucydides? This is I guess a philosophical question, meaning, yes, he's saying that, and yes, he's demonstrating that, but look at the ultimate outcome. In other words, if you're just about power, the use of power, the maximization of power, without any consideration of ethics or justice, it may not be sustainable.
JOHANNA HANINK: I think that these kinds of quotations—as some people did in antiquity, too —even when it's put in the mouth of the unspecified Athenians at Melos in this conclave at Melos, because this is a famous part of the Melian Dialogue that it was a closed dialogue and so nobody knows how Thucydides got a hold of what actually was said in it, so this is one of those parts of the text, and it's the only part of the text that's laid out like a dramatic script. It's not set speeches. At the beginning they decide that they're going to do this as a dialogue, interrupting each other. So it's laid out as a set script, and it's a little bit different, and people have thought then that Thucydides basically made it all up.
But what people today often do—and this is what I say they often did in antiquity, too—is ascribe a sentiment uttered by a character to the author. So people will say, "Sophocles says," and then quote lines of Creon from Antigone, for example. They do this with Thucydides, so it's very hard to know what Thucydides himself thought.
I think this line itself, whether we imagine that the Athenians, who are this character in this part of the History, really meant it, one thing that Thucydides does is create these contrasts with the different parts of his narrative, which is why it's a dangerous endeavor to extract the speeches because the Athenians act like this toward the Melians and decide in the end to obliterate them.
But in the next book we have the beginning of the folly of their expedition to Sicily, which completely destroys that part of the army and is absolutely devastating.
Similarly, when we look at these contrasting pieces, you have on the one hand Pericles' Funeral Oration, which is this dazzling celebration, somewhat again sinister-seeming at some points, of this city, but in the very next passages are the descriptions of the anarchy that breaks out when the plague hits.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: I guess this was my overall question about Thucydides, and I'm interested in your interpretation of it.
In my own view, there is some sense—I don't know if "irony" is the right word here, but he is playing off these assertions which then beg some response in some way, which undermine those assertions so that the picture is more nuanced and complex than a straightforward power politics, virtue-centered, that Athens was this virtue-centered society which was exceptional in some way. It exercised its power, but if you actually look at the full story, as you're suggesting, and the outcomes it's a complex picture.
JOHANNA HANINK: And he does this with extraordinarily few narrative interventions. He would never just come out and say that the way the Athenians behaved at Melos was horrible, but what he does is you'll read one passage like the funeral oration and feel this evocation of Athens as a shining city on a hill, but then the next passages invite you to completely rethink what you just read. So you have this constant rewriting through the subsequent passages of what has come before when you see the Athenians in a new light.
It's interesting that Thucydides himself was critiqued in antiquity, in the first century in Augustan Rome, for not having made more interventions condemning the Athenians. The critic Dionysius of Halicarnassus writes in a letter to someone that it's basically shameful that Thucydides wrote The History of the Peloponnesian War at all because that was such a horrible chapter in Greek history and would have been better left relegated to oblivion; we shouldn't remember this.
That same critic censures Thucydides for not showing more emotion when he describes the fates of other Athenian "allies" that the Athenians punished. There was criticism even in antiquity for Thucydides himself.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: That was going to be one of my questions for you, and your surmise after having gone through this and done this translation.
I've always had the sense that part of the message here is that military power has its limits. Again, when you look at the story and the outcomes, the whole thing, it's implied in a way in the text that, yes, it's about power and it's about the exercise of power, but it's not a one-way street. If you're not using principle, if ethics aren't part of the story, then that exercise of power is going to be perhaps even counterproductive.
JOHANNA HANINK: I think it's a very fine tightrope that you would have to theoretically walk between this Athenian thesis about everybody naturally wants more power, that this is just human nature or whatever you call it, and therefore you can't really blame them for scrambling to get it. So you have that on the one hand.
But then on the other hand you have this very deep-rooted sense of the folly of committing hubris, which is thinking somehow that you are in control of the situation, that you have a leg up on the gods even in confidence that a battle will go your way or that your fleet won't sink or whatever. It's a very fine balancing act between that constant effort at accumulating power. But then how do you do that and never let it go to your head?
I think that's what we really see happening in the Sicilian Expedition, particularly in the speeches of Alcibiades, where they get incredibly cocky. They don't know what they're heading into in Sicily, and Alcibiades' camp just says: "How could anybody ever defeat us? We're Athens." That's where it completely unravels.
The irony is—and this is a famous point that Nicias, the elder statesman and general, makes in this to Alcibiades that really the way that we would best demonstrate our power to the Sicilians is not to go there at all but just to stay home.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: We're getting near the end, but I want to ask a question about Athens and the United States in a way. You were talking about Pericles' Funeral Oration where he's talking about exceptionalism, and then there's also the obvious parallel of being the strongest nation and all of that.
Is there something distinct about the way Americans read Thucydides as opposed to the way it may be read around the rest of the world?
JOHANNA HANINK: I really think so. I really think that's the case, and I think it has a lot to do with the historical circumstances after World War II,when we had refugees come from Europe who were IR scholars and who brought Thucydides here at a time when the United States was starting to get used to this new Athens-like position in terms of not just having this military strength but considering itself as having moral hegemony and being primary in the world in moral terms, which is how the Athenians, too, painted themselves.
They listed regularly—not in Pericles' Funeral Oration, but in other examples of funeral orations, one of the traditional things they would do is list instances in which they had "intervened" on behalf of other Greeks as the moral police of the Greek world, not with great enthusiasm but out of this sense of duty.
When you have this influx of Thucydides through people who have this very strong European classical education at a time that NATO is being built, when you have the generals themselves saying if anything in modernity was like the Delian League, it's going to be NATO. This is a hegemony, and we're going to talk about our allies here, and this is all about keeping an Eastern power at bay, which is exactly what the Delian League was founded to do, to keep Persia in its place.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: And united around a set of values.
JOHANNA HANINK: And united around a set of values with a rhetoric of allies. Not empire, but this is allies. We've heard in the last couple of years about this question of what are the allies expected to contribute. There was this perfect set of ingredients.
Also, at the same time, right after World War II when the United States is intervening in the Greek Civil War, the rhetoric around democracy as something justifying U.S. intervention in the Greek Civil War—"We need to go and save democracy in the place where it was birthed"—you get this perfect storm for seeing, particularly in the Athenian texts at this time period as really anticipating something of the American spirit in a way that I don't think you get anywhere else.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: I think you have another book here about how Thucydides emigrated to the United States and his effect on world politics. It's really fascinating.
My last question: I've always thought that any book has two lives. The first life is the writing of it, which you've done, and now the second life, which is it makes its way into the world. What are your hopes for this book? Where do you see it going?
JOHANNA HANINK: I don't know if my hopes and where I see it going will turn out to be the same.
The reason I jumped at Rob's suggestion, even though I was very nervous about taking this on, about doing a translation of Thucydides, is because it's the site of such rancorous debates. Actually, no woman had even done selections in English before. It seemed like a manly, military thing to do, which is not really how I cast myself.
But what I wanted for this book was that if Thucydides is going to be in the air for people who cite him or are interested in that to have an easy way to access the actual texts and look at the actual texts. The entirety of The History of the Peloponnesian War is extremely intimidating. Even for a professional classicist there are parts that get dry, so I really wanted people to have a little volume that would give them these greatest hits in a way that they could see for themselves if they think that the Athenians really mean this when they say it or Thucydides really means it when he has the Athenians say this on Melos.
That's my hope for the book, in some ways—on the one hand make Thucydides more accessible but also to demystify him a little bit. That was also my hope with the translation, just to make it as transparent as the criteria of good translation will allow it to be, compared with Thucydides's extreme dense and difficult prose.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: Right. Well, I can tell you you have succeeded already in demystifying and making it more accessible.
JOHANNA HANINK: Well, thank you.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: For all of us at the Carnegie Council, thank you for contributing this basically to the country, to the world, but also to the work that we're doing, and thank you for coming.
JOHANNA HANINK: Thank you so much for having me.