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Posts Tagged ‘Amazon’

How do people acquire their knowledge of Thucydides? It’s now well-established, I think, that academic readings (in whichever discipline) are far from the whole story; there are many different ways in which someone might encounter his name and (purported) ideas, from computer games to quotations on Twitter to Bob Dylan’s unreliable memoirs to newspaper articles and even to references in BBC radio comedy programmes, which is one reason why this blog collects and discusses examples of such Thucydideana at every opportunity (and I really must get round to recording a music podcast with songs that quote or reference Thucydides…).

One crucial influence on his reception – and this is true of many academic readings as much as of popular ones – is translation: assuming that most anglophone readers are relying on translation, which translation is it, how does this shape their understanding, and why is it so often Richard Bloody Crawley? (As Mary Beard has observed of his translation, the more readable and memorable it is – and Crawley does coin some memorable phrases – the less likely it is to be accurate or authentic). After all, there are plenty of other translations out there of much higher quality, offering different advantages and disadvantages: Hammond, Warner, Lattimore, Mynott, to say nothing of the older ones (Hobbes, Smith, Jowett) and the various new ones rumoured to be in preparation.

Part of the answer is The Landmark Thucydides, offering a modified version of Crawley, which has the enormous advantages of a nice friendly cover and lots of really excellent supporting material, maps etc., plus widespread availability. It feels as if you’re getting a lot more for your money than ‘just’ the text; purely subjective opinion, but if this had been available when I first had to read Thucydides as a teenager (learning Greek but also interested in wargaming, history etc.), it’s the one I’d have gone for, and I can easily imagine the appeal to a wide range of potential readers – if they have the money.

That may be an important point, and I’m slightly embarrassed that it took me a while to think of it (about six months ago, but I haven’t had time to work on this until now); because it’s not just a matter of £15-20 for the Landmark rather than £5 for Hammond, but also the potential competition from much cheaper electronic versions. After all, if you’re the sort of person who has a Kindle or other eBook reader, how likely are you to spend substantial amounts of money on one of these editions if you’re just a casual browser who’s heard something about Thucydides and wants to dip your toe in the water, when Amazon offers a load of much cheaper options?

A quick search on the Amazon website threw up ten cheap electronic versions of Thucydides in the first couple of pages; since these are the ones, I imagine, that a standard normal punter will encounter first, this analysis is focused on them. Top of the list: Richard Crawley, completely free, currently at #4,028 in the list of Free Books on Kindle. Second up is the Color Illustrated edition (ca. #60,000 in Paid-For Kindle list), clearly a contender for most staggeringly inappropriate cover picture ever (see below), which purports to offer the Rex Warner Penguin Classics translation – but is actually Crawley.* Of the next eight, I wasn’t able to check one as my Kindle isn’t working properly here in Berlin (and I’m also reluctant to spend actual money on any of these), one had the Jowett translation (and wants £1.40 for it, despite the fact that the Perseus online version is free and much easier to search; ca. #110,000), and the other six were Crawley. It’s obvious that these editions are not selling huge quantities – the majority hang out in the #1,200,000-#1,500,000 places, but have jumped up and down quite substantially in the course of the three hours I’ve spent working on this on and off, suggesting that in this neck of the woods a single purchase can make a huge difference to the placing. But evidently people are buying them…

Thucydides explosion

Basic conclusion: Crawley rules, followed by the Henry Lord Havell paraphrase version, Stories from Thucydides (free, around #23,500 in the Free Kindle list), which also gets incorporated into a couple of the editions of Crawley. The positive view of this is that Crawley is indeed accessible, in language and in price, so this helps broaden the reach of Thucydides beyond the academy. The bad news? Well, partly that depends on one’s view of Crawley’s translation and how far it is actively misleading – but at any rate, no one is going to learn how to spell ‘Peloponnesian’ correctly…

*I assume the Warner translation is still in copyright, so Penguin would come down on them like a ton of bricks if they actually copied it – one major reason why Crawley is so popular for this sort of reprint, of course – but this looks like actionable mis-selling…

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