Shifting Characterizations of the ‘Common People’ in Modern English Retranslations of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War: A corpus-based analysis

Henry Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Little research has yet explored the impact of (re)translation on narrative characterization, that is, on the process through which the various actors depicted in a narrative are attributed particular traits and qualities. Moreover, the few studies that have been published on this topic are either rather more anecdotal than systematic, or their focus is primarily on the losses in character information that inevitably occur when a narrative is retold for a new audience in a new linguistic context. They do not explore how the translator’s own background knowledge and ideological beliefs might affect the characterization process for readers of their target-language text. Consequently, this paper seeks to make two contributions to the field: first, it presents a corpus-based methodology developed as part of the Genealogies of Knowledge project for the comparative analysis of characterization patterns in multiple retranslations of a single source text. Such an approach is valuable, it is argued, because it can enhance our ability to engage in a more systematic manner with the accumulation of characterization cues spread throughout a narrative. Second, the paper seeks to move discussions of the effects of translation on narrative characterization away from a paradigm of loss, deficiency and failure, promoting instead a perspective which embraces the productive role translators often play in reconfiguring the countless narratives through which we come to know, imagine and make sense of the past, our present and futures. The potential of this methodology and theoretical standpoint is illustrated through a case study exploring changes in the characterization of ‘the common people’ in two English-language versions of classical Greek historian Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, the first produced by Samuel Bloomfield in 1829 and the second by Steven Lattimore in 1998. Particular attention is paid to the referring expressions used by each translator—such as the multitude vs. the common people—as well as the specific attributes assigned to this narrative actor. In this way, the study attempts to gain deeper insight into the ways in which these translations reflect important shifts in attitudes within key political debates concerning the benefits and dangers of democracy.
Original languageEnglish
Article number135
JournalPalgrave Communications
Publication statusPublished - 29 Oct 2019

Bibliographical note

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit This research was supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, UK (Grant number: AH/M010007/1).


  • Thucydides
  • Retranslation
  • Narrative


Dive into the research topics of 'Shifting Characterizations of the ‘Common People’ in Modern English Retranslations of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War: A corpus-based analysis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this