Forgery, part one

The soon to retire US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, has a quotation from the Greek philosopher, Thucydides (471-400 BC), sealed into the glass covering of his desk. It reads: ‘Of all manifestations of power, restraint impresses men most’. It’s a telling phrase, emphasising Powell’s philosophical distance from the rest of the warmongering administration to which he belongs. If you google it, you’ll find numerous references to the quotation. Evidently Powell first used it in a 1993 speech to mark his retirement as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But where did Thucydides say it? According to a recent issue of the Times Literary Supplement, he didn’t. Shifra Sharlin, an American academic, has spent years trying to track the quotation down. She’s failed. Powell has never responded to her queries. The quotation is now all over the web, in numerous books, articles and, doubtless, dictionaries of quotations. It’s Thucydides’ most famous sentence. Every time he sits at his desk, Powell is faced with a dictum that sums up his own philosophy. Only the quotation is a lie, a deliberate forgery of Powell’s own making. What does that say about Powell? And what would Thucydides have had to say about that?

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