Fear, Honor, and Ophelia

“Fear, honor, and interest” is common shorthand for the political realism blamed on Thucydides. It appears twice in Book I, first at 1.75.3 (first Attic, second Crawley’s English)…

ἐξ αὐτοῦ δὲ τοῦ ἔργου κατηναγκάσθημεν τὸ πρῶτον προαγαγεῖν αὐτὴν ἐς τόδε, μάλιστα μὲν ὑπὸ δέους, ἔπειτα καὶ τιμῆς, ὕστερον καὶ ὠφελίας.

And the nature of the case first compelled us to advance our empire to its present height; fear being our principal motive, though honor and interest afterwards came in.

…and second at 1.76.2

οὕτως οὐδ᾽ ἡμεῖς θαυμαστὸν οὐδὲν πεποιήκαμεν οὐδ᾽ ἀπὸ τοῦ ἀνθρωπείου τρόπου, εἰ ἀρχήν τε διδομένην ἐδεξάμεθα καὶ ταύτην μὴ ἀνεῖμεν ὑπὸ τριῶν τῶν μεγίστων νικηθέντες, τιμῆς καὶ δέους καὶ ὠφελίας, οὐδ᾽ αὖ πρῶτοι τοῦ τοιούτου ὑπάρξαντες, ἀλλ᾽ αἰεὶ καθεστῶτος τὸν ἥσσω ὑπὸ τοῦ δυνατωτέρου κατείργεσθαι, ἄξιοί τε ἅμα νομίζοντες εἶναι καὶ ὑμῖν δοκοῦντες μέχρι οὗ τὰ ξυμφέροντα λογιζόμενοι τῷ δικαίῳ λόγῳ νῦν χρῆσθε, ὃν οὐδείς πω παρατυχὸν ἰσχύι τι κτήσασθαι προθεὶς τοῦ μὴ πλέον ἔχειν ἀπετράπετο.

It follows that it was not a very wonderful action, or contrary to the common practice of mankind, if we did accept an empire that was offered to us, and refused to give it up under the pressure of three of the strongest motives, fear, honor, and interest. And it was not we who set the example, for it has always been the law that the weaker should be subject to the stronger. Besides, we believed ourselves to be worthy of our position, and so you thought us till now, when calculations of interest have made you take up the cry of justice—a consideration which no one ever yet brought forward to hinder his ambition when he had a chance of gaining anything by might.

There’s a trick in the distance between 1.75.3 and 1.76.2. E. C. Marchant’s note on 1.75.3 hints at its identity:

28. ὑπὸ δέους—fear of the Persians. τιμῆς—the honor enjoyed by Athens when she had once accepted the ἡγεμονία. ὠφέλεια —interest.

In 1.75.3, the catchphrase “fear, honor, and interest” is not a trinity of human neuroses, standing steadfast and immovable outside time, but a very historically grounded sequence of:

  1. δέους: fear of the Persian threat triggered by Athens renouncing its 508 BC submission to Persia, heightened by Athenian participation in the sack of Sardis in 498 BC, frustrated in 490 BC at Marathon, and realized in Xerxes481 BC sack of Athens.
  2. τιμῆς: honor, from abandoning Attica to Xerxes in 480 BC for the common defense, their role in winning at Salamis, re-abandoning Attica in 479 BC just before Plataea, their victory at Mycale that same year, and their later leadership (ἡγεμονίαof resistance to Persia after Sparta went home, a role formalized in the Delian League.
  3. ὄφελος: interest, won by the gradual shift of the Delian League from a voluntary league of military contingents led by Athens to a prison of disarmed and discontented cash flows owned by Athens

In 1.76.2, the catchphrase is closer in spirit to the use proposed by some users (and even readers) of History of the Peloponnesian War and used as a designated stand in for Thucydides: a fearsome threesome, forever ducking behind every good intent of the heart.

Internet sleuthing of the most amateur kind finds other English variations of the catchphrase. Google translates the “fear, honor, and interest” as “awe then and price hysteria and benefit” in 1.75.3 and “honor and awe and benefit” in 1.76.2.

Thomas Hobbes, himself often accused of political realism, translates 1.75.3 as

So that at first we were forced to advance our dominion to what it is, out of the nature of the thing itself; as chiefly for fear, next for honor, and lastly for profit.

…and 1.76.2 as…

So that, though overcome by three the greatest things, honor, fear, and profit, we have both accepted the dominion delivered us and refuse again to surrender it, we have therein done nothing to be wondered at nor beside the manner of men. Nor have we been the first in this kind, but it hath been ever a thing fixed, for the weaker to be kept under by the stronger. Besides, we took the government upon us as esteeming ourselves worthy of the same; and of you also so esteemed, till having computed the commodity, you now fall to allegation of equity; a thing which no man that had the occasion to achieve anything by strength, ever so far preferred as to divert him from his profit

The Attic translated as “interest” by Crawley and “profit” by Hobbes, ὄφελος, can be read in interesting and profitable ways. Perseus translates ὄφελος as “help, aid, succor”. Perseus’ online Greek-English Lexicon (first published in 1940) lists these possible meanings for ὄφελος:

A. help, aid, succour, esp[ecially]. in war

II. profit, advantage

2. source of gain or profit, service

3. esp. gain made in war, spoil, booty

Paul’s koine uses ὠφέλεια in Romans 3:1:

1 1 Τί οὖν τὸ περισσὸν τοῦ Ἰουδαίου, ἢ τίς ἡ ὠφέλεια τῆς περιτομῆς;

Thirty-one years before Hobbes, the King James Version (1611) translated Paul as this:

What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision

NASB translates Romans 3:1 as:

Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision?

Jerome translated Paul into Latin as:

quid ergo amplius est Iudaeo aut quae utilitas circumcisionis

ὄφελος is also used in Jude 1:16:

οὗτοί εἰσιν γογγυσταί, μεμψίμοιροι, κατὰ τὰς ἐπιθυμίας ἑαυτῶν πορευόμενοι, καὶ τὸ στόμα αὐτῶν λαλεῖ ὑπέρογκα, θαυμάζοντες πρόσωπα ὠφελείας χάριν.

Jude 1:16 in the KJV:

These are murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts; and their mouth speaketh great swelling words, having men’s persons in admiration because of advantage.

Jude 1:16 in the NASB:

These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage.

Jude 1:16 in the Latin of the Vulgate:

hii sunt murmuratores querellosi secundum desideria sua ambulantes et os illorum loquitur superba mirantes personas quaestus causa

ὠφέλεια originates in the Attic Greek ὄφελος (ophelos). It dates back to Proto-Indo European:

From Proto-Indo-European *ob?elos, from *h?b?el- (whence also ὀφείλω (opheíl?)). Cognates include Old Armenian աւելի (aweli, “more”), յաւելում (yawelum, “I add”).

Some reconstructions of the diffusion of Indo-European languages link proto-Greek to the shadowy proto-Armenian.

In modern Greek, ὄφελος becomes:

όφελος (ófelos) n, plural οφέλη

  1. (finance) profit
  2. benefit

ὄφελος Anglicizes as ópheleia. Its descendent ὄφελος may be the root of the name Ophelia, famously held by a character caught in an unprofitable relationship with William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

 

The fear, honor, and profit of heroic cherrypicking.