Wisdom’s Policy of Folly: Thucydides, Paul, and Tolkien

In the Melian dialogue from his History of the Peloponnesian War, the Greek Historian Thucydides has the Athenian embassy (infamously) declare that the “strong do what they can while the weak suffer what they must.”

Several hundred years later, the Apostle Paul characterized the gospel of Jesus Christ’s victory over death through his resurrection in very different terms: “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1.25).

The central conflict of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings might be fairly described as a conflict between just these two philosophies. As Elrond summarizes the task and hope of the Fellowship, “This quest may be attempted by the weak with as much hope as the strong. Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.”

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