Another entry for the ‘Fake Thucydides Quotations’ file, passed on to me by the great Thucydides scholar W.R. Connor (who’s now posted something about it on his blog).
Προδότης δεν είναι μόνο αυτός που φανερώνει τα μυστικά της πατρίδας στους εχθρούς, αλλά είναι και εκείνος που ενώ κατέχει δημόσιο αξίωμα, εν γνώσει του δεν προβαίνει στις απαραίτητες ενέργειες για να βελτιώσει το βιοτικό επίπεδο των ανθρώπων πάνω στους οποίους άρχει.
A traitor is not only one who reveals state secrets to enemies, but it’s also that person who, while he holds public office, intentionally[?] does not take the necessary actions to improve the standard of living of the people over whom he governs. [translation by W. Gary Pence]
What’s interesting about this one is that it appears in modern Greek – and, so far as I can ascertain, virtually only in modern Greek; yes, there’s the usual problem of having to guess at possible translations, so I can’t guarantee the results, but so far the only English versions I’ve found appear embedded in Facebook pages and blogs (e.g. here) that are otherwise entirely in Greek, or on websites that are definitely based in Greece (e.g. here).
Researching the background of this fake is rather hampered by my very limited grasp of modern Greek, but the earliest example I’ve found on the internet appeared on 1st February 2001 as the tagline of a commentator called Kerberos in an online discussion of, erm, cesspool efficiency (it reappears in various posts he makes on heating systems as well). No fuss is made about the quote – it’s just there, as part of the commentator’s online self-presentation, in exactly the same way that other people have ‘Happiness depends on freedom…’ or ‘The strong do what they will…’ as their taglines – and so it’s a reasonable assumption that this is not Kerberos’ own invention; even if it is, he (I assume it’s a he) makes no mention of it whatsoever, and certainly doesn’t show any sign of trying to propagate a new Thucydides quote. My best guess is that it’s been taken from another source, but for the moment I’ve no idea what.
This is a quote that seems to hang out in faintly dubious, and certainly very odd, company. In 2007, for example, it appears on the front page of the website of the Beekeepers’ Association from Pella, in the Greek province of Macedonia; no obvious connection to bee-keeping (although, given that the Romans were happy to conceive of the hive as a political institution, one might develop some sort of interpretation along these lines of the role of the drones) – but then you could say the same of the video of Dorothy King talking about the tomb at Amphipolis and the fact that FYR Macedonia has absolutely no connection to the historical Macedonia, which features further down the page. Apiculture always has a political dimension…
In 2008 it starts appearing as part of the permanent architecture of different blogs, some of which clearly have a political agenda (e.g.this one); from 2009 it appears more frequently as a tagline; in 2010 it appears in a list of political quotes; in 2012 it’s posted on the Facebook page of ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΟ ΑΡΧΕΙΟ – where commentators immediately observed that it’s completely spurious, but without any success. I haven’t found any example where the line is not attributed to Thucydides – nor any example of a more precise reference to the text (which is of course understandable, given that there’s no trace of anything like this line anywhere in Thucydides that I can think of).
Bob Connor suggested that the quote might have been invented as a left-wing sneer against Tsipras; it’s clearly a lot older than that – and part of the tragedy of Greek politics in recent years is that it works just as well as a condemnation of Tsipras’ predecessors. It’s difficult to see anything specifically Thucydidean about it; indeed, one might argue that it’s clearly a sentiment appropriate to political rhetoric in peacetime, calling for political leaders to work for the people rather than enjoying power for its own sake (it might be more plausible if attributed to someone like Demosthenes, for example, rejecting accusations of corruption and treason and then turning them on his opponents through a neat trick of redefinition).
But of course the fact that Thucydides is an implausible source for such a quotation has never stopped anyone before. It’s in the same class as the well-worn attribution to him of the line that’s actually associated with Solon (e.g. in Plutarch): Justice will not come to Athens until those who are not injured are as indignant as those are. Presumably it’s the idea of Thucydides as illusionless, cynical critic of democracy and its failings: politicians are self-serving never to be trusted, politics doesn’t work very well, we can’t really hope for justice in this world.
I do wonder whether there may be a general trend in this direction – plenty of citation of more genuine lines from Cleon about the limitations of democratic deliberation – to match the general mood of anti-politics, in contrast to the idealistic tradition of citing Pericles’ Funeral Oration and its noble liberal values…