|About the Book|
Thucydides book is now entitled History of the Peloponnesian War. His entire contribution to history & historiography is contained in this dense history of the 27-year war between Athens & allies against Sparta & its allies. It breaksMoreThucydides book is now entitled History of the Peloponnesian War. His entire contribution to history & historiography is contained in this dense history of the 27-year war between Athens & allies against Sparta & its allies. It breaks off near the end of the 21st year. Thucydides believed the war represented an event of unparalleled magnitude. He intended his account to serve as a possession for all time.Thucydides is regarded as one of the 1st true historians. Like his predecessor Herodotus, he places a high value on autopsy & eyewitness testimony, & writes about many episodes in which he probably took part. He also consulted written documents & interviewed participants. Unlike Herodotus, he didnt recognize divine interventions. He may have held unconscious biases—he underestimates the importance of Persian intervention—but he was the 1st who attempted anything like modern objectivity.One difference between Thucydides history & modern writing is that his includes lengthy speeches that were as best as could be remembered—or, perhaps, what he thought ought have been said. Nevertheless, unless a historian were to write them down, these speeches wouldnt have been archived at all, which isnt the case today, when records abound. Therefore he didnt merely go to the source, as a historian proper nowadays does, but actually rescued his mostly oral sources from oblivion. These speeches are composed in a literary manner. Pericles funeral oration, including an impassioned moral defence of democracy, honors the dead: “The whole earth is the sepulchre of famous men- they are honored not only by columns & inscriptions in their own land, but in foreign nations on memorials graven not on stone but in the hearts & minds of men.” Altho attributed to Pericles, this passage appears to have been written by Thucydides for deliberate contrast with the account of the plague in Athens immediately following: “Tho many lay unburied, birds & beasts would not touch them, or died after tasting them...bodies of dying men lay one upon another, & half-dead creatures reeled about the streets & gathered round all the fountains in their longing for water. The sacred places also in which they had quartered themselves were full of corpses of persons who had died there, just as they were- for, as the disaster passed all bounds, men, not knowing what was to become of them, became equally contemptuous of the gods property & the gods dues. All the burial rites before in use were entirely upset, & they buried the bodies as best they could. Many from want of the proper appliances, thru so many of their friends having died already, had recourse to the most shameless sepultures: sometimes getting the start of those who had raised a pile, they threw their own dead body upon the strangers pyre & ignited it- sometimes they tossed the corpse which they were carrying on the top of another that was burning, & so went off.”Jacqueline de Romilly 1st showed that one of Thucydides themes was the ethic of Athenian imperialism. Her analysis put his history in the context of Greek thought on international politics. Since her fundamental study, many scholars have begun studying realpolitik in his history.Richard Ned Lebow rejects the common perception of Thucydides as a historian of realpolitik. He argues that actors on the world stage whod read his work would all have been put on notice that someone would be scrutinising their actions with a reporters dispassion, rather than the mythmaking poets compassion & were thus consciously or unconsciously participating in the writing of it. The Melian dialog is a lesson to reporters & to those who believe that ones leaders always act with integrity. It can also be interpreted as evidence of the moral decay of Athens from the shining city of Pericles Funeral Oration to a tyrant over others.Thucydides doesnt take time to discuss the arts, literature or society in which the book is set & in which he grew up. He was writing about an event, not a period, & took lengths not to discuss anything unrelated.Leo Strauss The City & Man argued Thucydides had an ambivalent understanding of Athenian democracy. On one hand, his wisdom was made possible by the Periclean democracy, on account of its liberation of individual daring & enterprise & questioning. But this same liberation spurred the immoderation of limitless political ambition, thus imperialism, & eventually civic strife. This is the essence of the tragedy of Athens or of democracy. This is the tragic wisdom that Thucydides conveys, which he learned in a sense from Athenian democracy. More conventional scholars view him as teaching that democracies need leadership, but leadership can be dangerous to democracy.