Thucydides: Wikis


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Bust of Thucydides residing in the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto

Thucydides (c. 460 BCc. 395 BC) (Greek Θουκυδίδης, Thoukydídēs) was a Greek historian and author of the History of the Peloponnesian War, which recounts the 5th century BC war between Sparta and Athens to the year 411 BC. Thucydides has been dubbed the father of "scientific history" because of his strict standards of evidence-gathering and analysis in terms of cause and effect without reference to intervention by the gods, as outlined in his introduction to his work.[1]

He has also been called the father of the school of political realism, which views the relations between nations as based on might rather than right.[2] His classical text is still studied at advanced military colleges worldwide, and the Melian dialogue remains a seminal work of international relations theory.

More generally, Thucydides showed an interest in developing an understanding of human nature to explain behaviour in such crises as plague, massacres, as in that of the Melians, and civil war.



In spite of his stature as a historian, modern historians know relatively little about Thucydides' life. The most reliable information comes from his own History of the Peloponnesian War, which expounds his nationality, paternity and native locality. Thucydides informs us that he fought in the war, contracted the plague and was exiled by the democracy.He may have also been involved in quelling the Samian Revolt [Thuc. 1.117].


Evidence from the Classical Period

Thucydides identifies himself as an Athenian, telling us that his father's name was Olorus and that he was from the Athenian deme of Halimous.[3] He survived the Plague of Athens[4] that killed Pericles and many other Athenians. He also records that he owned gold mines at Scapte Hyle (literally: "Dug Woodland"), a coastal area in Thrace, opposite the island of Thasos.[5]

The ruins of Amphipolis as envisaged by E. Cousinéry in 1831: the bridge over the Strymon, the city fortifications, and the acropolis

Because of his influence in the Thracian region, Thucydides wrote, he was sent as a strategos (general) to Thasos in 424 BC During the winter of 424-423 BC, the Spartan general Brasidas attacked Amphipolis, a half-day's sail west from Thasos on the Thracian coast. Eucles, the Athenian commander at Amphipolis, sent to Thucydides for help.[6] Brasidas, aware of Thucydides's presence on Thasos and his influence with the people of Amphipolis, and afraid of help arriving by sea, acted quickly to offer moderate terms to the Amphipolitans for their surrender, which they accepted. Thus, when Thucydides arrived, Amphipolis was already under Spartan control.[7] (See Battle of Amphipolis.)

Amphipolis was of considerable strategic importance, and news of its fall caused great consternation in Athens.[8] It was blamed on Thucydides, although he claimed that it was not his fault and that he had simply been unable to reach it in time. Because of his failure to save Amphipolis, he was sent into exile:[9]

It was also my fate to be an exile from my country for twenty years after my command at Amphipolis; and being present with both parties, and more especially with the Peloponnesians by reason of my exile, I had leisure to observe affairs somewhat particularly.

Using his status as an exile from Athens to travel freely among the Peloponnesian allies, he was able to view the war from the perspective of both sides. During this time, he conducted important research for his history, having claimed that he pursued the project as he thought it would be one of the greatest wars waged among the Greeks in terms of scale.

Bust of Herodotus

This is all that Thucydides wrote about his own life, but a few other facts are available from reliable contemporary sources. Herodotus wrote that Thucydides' father's name, Όloros, was connected with Thrace and Thracian royalty.[10] Thucydides was probably connected through family to the Athenian statesman and general Miltiades, and his son Cimon, leaders of the old aristocracy supplanted by the Radical Democrats. Cimon's maternal grandfather's name was also Olorus, making the connection exceedingly likely. Another Thucydides lived before the historian and was also linked with Thrace, making a family connection between them very likely as well. Finally, Herodotus confirms the connection of Thucydides' family with the mines at Scapté Hýlē.[11]

Combining all the fragmentary evidence available, it seems that his family had owned a large estate in Thrace, one that even contained gold mines, and which allowed the family considerable and lasting affluence. The security and continued prosperity of the wealthy estate must have necessitated formal ties with local kings or chieftains, which explains the adoption of the distinctly Thracian royal name "Όloros" into the family. Once exiled, Thucydides took permanent residence in the estate and, given his ample income from the gold mines, he was able to dedicate himself to full-time history writing and research, including many fact-finding trips. In essence he was by then a retired, well-connected gentleman of considerable resources who, by then retired from the political and military spheres, decided to fund his own scientific project.

Later sources

The remaining evidence for Thucydides' life comes from rather less reliable later ancient sources. According to Pausanias, someone named Oenobius was able to get a law passed allowing Thucydides to return to Athens, presumably sometime shortly after the city's surrender and the end of the war in 404 BC[12] Pausanias goes on to say that Thucydides was murdered on his way back to Athens. Many doubt this account, seeing evidence to suggest he lived as late as 397 BC Plutarch claims that his remains were returned to Athens and placed in Cimon's family vault.[13]

The abrupt end to Thucydides' narrative, which breaks off in the middle of the year 411 BC, has traditionally been interpreted as indicating that he died while writing the book, although other explanations have been put forward.


Inferences about Thucydides' character can only be drawn (with due caution) from his book. His sardonic sense of humor is evident throughout, as when, during his description of the Athenian plague, he remarks that old Athenians seemed to remember a rhyme which said that with the Dorian War would come a "great death". Some claimed that the rhyme was actually about a "great dearth" (limos), and was only remembered as "death" (loimos) due to the current plague. Thucydides then remarks that, should another Dorian War come, this time attended with a great dearth, the rhyme will be remembered as "dearth," and any mention of "death" forgotten.[14]

Thucydides admired Pericles, approving of his power over the people and shows a marked distaste for the demagogues who followed him. He did not approve of the democratic mob nor the radical democracy that Pericles ushered in but considered democracy acceptable when guided by a good leader.[15] Thucydides's presentation of events is generally evenhanded, for example, he does not minimize the negative effect of his own failure at Amphipolis. Occasionally, however, strong passions break through, as in his scathing appraisals of the demagogues Cleon[16] and Hyperbolus.[17] Cleon has sometimes been connected with Thucydides' exile.[18]

That Thucydides was clearly moved by the suffering inherent in war and concerned about the excesses to which human nature is prone in such circumstances is evident in his analysis of the atrocities committed during civil conflict on Corcyra,[19] which includes the phrase "War is a violent teacher".

The History of the Peloponnesian War

The Acropolis in Athens
Ruins at Sparta

After his death Thucydides's history was subdivided into eight books: its modern title is the History of the Peloponnesian War. His great contribution to history and historiography is contained in this one dense history of the 27-year war between Athens and Sparta and their respective allies. The history breaks off near the end of the 21st year, the last sketchy book suggests that his death was unexpected and may possibly have been sudden or violent. Thucydides believed that the Peloponnesian War represented an event of unmatched magnitude.[20] He intended account of the events of the late fifth century to serve as "a possession for all time."[21]

Thucydides is generally regarded as one of the first true historians. Like his predecessor Herodotus, known as "the father of history", Thucydides places a high value on autopsy and eyewitness testimony and writes about events in which he himself probably took part. He also assiduously consulted written documents and interviewed participants about the events that he recorded. Unlike Herodotus, whose stories often teach that a foolish arrogance hubris invites the wrath of the gods, Thucydides does not acknowledge divine intervention in human affairs.

A noteworthy difference between Thucydides' method of writing history and that of modern historians is Thucydides' inclusion of lengthy formal speeches that, as he himself states, were literary reconstructions rather than actual quotations of what was said — or, perhaps, what he believed ought to have been said. Arguably, had he not done this, the gist of what was said would not otherwise be known at all — whereas today there is a plethora of documentation — written records, archives, and recording technology for historians to consult. Therefore Thucydides method served to rescue his mostly oral sources from oblivion. We do not know how these historical figures actually spoke. Thucydides' recreation uses a heroic stylistic register. A celebrated example is Pericles' funeral oration, which heaps honor on the dead and includes a defense of democracy:

The whole earth is the sepulcher of famous men; they are honored not only by columns and inscriptions in their own land, but in foreign nations on memorials graven not on stone but in the hearts and minds of men.

Stylistically, the placement of this passage also serves to heighten the contrast with the description of the plague in Athens immediately following it, which graphically emphasizes the horror of human mortality thereby conveying a powerful sense of verisimilitude:

Though many lay unburied, birds and beasts would not touch them, or died after tasting them [...]. The bodies of dying men lay one upon another, and half-dead creatures reeled about the streets and 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 and the gods' dues. All the burial rites before in use were entirely upset, and they buried the bodies as best they could. Many from want of the proper appliances, through 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 stranger's pyre and ignited it; sometimes they tossed the corpse which they were carrying on the top of another that was burning, and so went off.

Thucydides omits discussion of the arts, literature, or the social milieu in which the events in his book take place and in which he himself grew up. He saw himself as recording an event, not a period, and went to considerable lengths to exclude what he deemed frivolous and / or extraneous. Some consider this framing in itself as constituting a form of value judgment. Historian and classical scholar Peter Green remarks that:

The cleverest intellectual move Thucydides made was the severe limiting of what he deemed permissible as elements of historiography, on the grounds that everything else outside this canon was not only irrelevant but unserious. Out went personal anecdotes, most foreign ethnography, and domestic or private motivation: out, above all, went anything to do with women. Religion was women's business, and mostly nonsense anyway, so that could be discarded too. The essence of history was war and politics, as conducted by men in authority. His exclusive privileging of the male political association, in its most public form, became accepted, and historians (being political males themselves) were not inclined to argue. His revisionism not only won out at the time, but established the basic principles of historiography for over two millennia[22]


Critical interpretation

Scholars traditionally view Thucydides as recognizing and teaching the lesson that democracies need leadership, but that leadership can be dangerous to democracy. Leo Strauss (in The City and Man) locates the problem in the nature of Athenian democracy itself, about which, he argued, Thucydides had a deeply ambivalent view: on one hand, Thucydides' own "wisdom was made possible" by the Periclean democracy, which had the effect of liberating individual daring, enterprise, and questioning spirit, but this same liberation, by permitting the growth of limitless political ambition, led to imperialism and, eventually, civic strife.[23]

For Canadian historian Charles Norris Cochrane (1889–1945), Thucydides' fastidious devotion to observable phenomena, focus on cause and effect, and strict exclusion of other factors anticipates twentieth century scientific positivism. Cochrane, the son of a physician, speculated that Thucydides' generally (and especially in describing the plague in Athens) was influenced by the methods and thinking of early medical writers such as Hippocrates of Kos.[24]

After World War II Classical scholar Jacqueline de Romilly pointed out that the problem of Athenian imperialism was one of Thucydides' central preoccupations and situated his history in the context of Greek thinking about international politics. Since the appearance of her study, other scholars subsequently further examined Thucydides treatment of realpolitik.

More recently, scholars have questioned the perception of Thucydides as simply "the father of realpolitik". Instead foreground the literary qualities of the History, which they see as belonging to narrative tradition of Homer and Hesiod and as concerned with the concepts of justice and suffering found in Plato and Aristotle and problematized in Aeschylus and Sophocles [25] Richard Ned Lebow believes that the modern habit of erecting a firewall of separation between the social sciences and the ethical preoccupations of the humanities is a mistake, since no such separation was ever obtained in the ancient world. He and other recent scholars affirm that Thucydides was indeed concerned with ethical issues such as prudence and the need for peace: and that even though he did not explicitly engage in moralizing within his text, his work conveys a profound horror of war and violence. Lebow terms Thucydides: "the last of the tragedians:

Viewed as a tragedy, his portrayal of the Peloponnesian War leads us to a very different set of questions, understandings of politics and of knowledge itself. . . Greek tragedy was rooted in the empirical observation that there is no relationship between justice and suffering. Tragedy confronts us with our frailties and limits and the disastrous consequences of trying to exceed them. It advances a counter-intuitive thesis: that efforts to limit suffering through the accumulation of knowledge or power might invite more suffering. . . Thucydides drew heavily on epic poetry and tragedy to construct his history, which not surprisingly is also constructed as a narrative.[26]

In this view, the blind and immoderate behavior of the Athenians (and indeed of all the other actors), though perhaps intrinsic to human nature, ultimately leads to their downfall. Thus his History could serve as a warning to future leaders be be more prudent, by putting them on notice that someone would be scrutinizing their actions with a historian's objectivity rather than a chronicler's flattery.[27]

Thucydides versus Herodotus

Herodotus and Thucydides

Thucydides and his immediate predecessor Herodotus both exerted a significant influence on Western historiography. Thucydides does not mention his counterpart by name, but his famous introductory statement is thought to refer to him.[28][29]

To hear this history rehearsed, for that there be inserted in it no fables, shall be perhaps not delightful. But he that desires to look into the truth of things done, and which (according to the condition of humanity) may be done again, or at least their like, shall find enough herein to make him think it profitable. And it is compiled rather for an everlasting possession than to be rehearsed for a prize.

Herodotus records in his Histories not only the events of the Persian Wars but also geographical and ethnographical information, as well as the fables related to him during his extensive travels. Typically, he passes no definitive judgment on what he has heard, In the case of conflicting or unlikely accounts, he presents both sides, says what he believes and then invites readers to decide for themselves.[30] The work of Herodotus is reported [31] to have been recited at festivals, where prizes were awarded, as for example, during the games at Olympia.

Herodotus views history as a source of moral lessons, with conflicts and wars as misfortunes flowing from initial acts of injustice perpetuated through cycles of revenge.[32] In contrast, Thucydides claims to confine himself to factual reports of contemporary political and military events, based on unambiguous, first-hand, eye-witness accounts,[33] although – unlike Herodotus – he does not reveal his sources. Thucydides views life exclusively as political life, and history in terms of political history. Conventional moral considerations plays no role in his analysis of political events while geographic and ethnographic aspects are omitted or, at best, of secondary importance. Subsequent Greek historians — such as Ctesias, Diodorus, Strabo, Polybius and Plutarch — held up Thucydides' writings as a model of truthful history. Lucian[34] refers to Thucydides as having given Greek historians their law, requiring them to say what had been done (ὡς ἐπράχθη). Greek historians of the fourth century BC accepted that history was political and that contemporary history was the proper domain of a historian..[35] Cicero calls Herodotus the "father of history;"[36] yet the Greek writer Plutarch, in his Moralia (Ethics) denigrated Herodotus, as the "father of lies".[37] Unlike Thucydides, however, these historians all continued to view history as a source of moral lessons.

Due to the loss of the ability to read Greek, Thucydides and Herodotus were largely forgotten during the Middle Ages in Western Europe, although their influence continued in the Byzantine world. In Europe, Herodotus become known and highly respected only in the late-sixteenth and early- seventeenth century as an ethnographer, in part due to the discovery of America, where customs and animals were encountered even more surprising what he had related. During the Reformation, moreover, information about Middle Eastern countries in the Histories provided a basis for establishing Biblical chronology as advocated by Isaac Newton.

The first European translation of Thucydides (into Latin) was made by the humanist Lorenzo Valla between 1448 and 1452, and the first Greek edition was published by Aldo Manunzio in 1502. During the Renaissance, however, Thucydides attracted less interest among Western European historians as a political philosopher than his successor, Polybius,[38] although Poggio Bracciolini claimed to have been influenced by him. There is not much trace of Thucydides' influence in Niccolò Machiavelli's The Prince (1513), which held that the chief aim of a new prince must be to "maintain his state" [i.e., his power] and that in so doing he is often compelled to act against faith, humanity and religion. Later historians, such as J. B. Bury, however, have noted parallels between them:

If, instead of a history, Thucydides had written an analytical treatise on politics, with particular reference to the Athenian empire, it is probable that . . . he could have forestalled Machiavelli. . . .[since] the whole innuendo of the Thucydidean treatment of history agrees with the fundamental postulate of Machiavelli, the supremacy of reason of state. To maintain a state said the Florentine thinker, "a statesman is often compelled to act against faith, humanity, and religion." . . . But . . . the true Machiavelli, not the Machiavelli of fable. . . entertained an ideal: Italy for the Italians, Italy freed from the stranger: and in the service of this ideal he desired to see his speculative science of politics applied. Thucydides has no political aim in view: he was purely a historian. But it was part of the method of both alike to eliminate conventional sentiment and morality.[39]

In the seventeenth century, the English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes, whose Leviathan advocated absolute monarchy, admired Thucydides and in 1628 was the first to translate his writings into English directly from Greek. Thucydides, Hobbes, and Machiavelli are together considered the founding fathers of political realism, according to which state policy must primarily or solely focus on the need to maintain military and economic power rather than on ideals or ethics. Nineteenth-century positivist historians stressed what they saw as Thucydides' seriousness, his scientific objectivity, and his advanced handling of evidence. A virtual cult following developed among such German philosophers as Friedrich Schelling, Friedrich Schlegel, and Friedrich Nietzsche, who claimed that, "[in Thucydides], the portrayer of man, that culture of the most impartial knowledge of the world finds its last glorious flower." For Eduard Meyer, Macaulay, and Leopold von Ranke, who initiated modern source-based history writing [40] Thucydides was again the model historian.[41][42].

Generals and statesmen loved him: the world he drew was theirs, an exclusive power-brokers' club. It is no accident that even today Thucydides turns up as a guiding spirit in military academies, neocon think tanks, and the writings of men like Henry Kissinger; whereas Herodotus has been the choice of imaginative novelists (Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient, and the film based on it, boosted the sale of the Histories to a wholly unforeseen degree) and — as food for a starved soul — of an equally imaginative foreign correspondent from Iron Curtain Poland, Ryszard Kapuscinski .[43]

These historians also admired Herodotus, however, as social and ethnographic history increasingly came to be recognized as complementary to political history.[44] In the twentieth century, this trend gave rise to the works of Johan Huizinga, Marc Bloch, and Braudel, who pioneered a the study of long-term cultural and economic developments, and the patterns of everyday life. The Annales School, which exemplifies this direction, has been viewed as extending the tradition of Herodotus.[45]

At the same time, Thucydides' influence was increasingly important in the area of international relations during the Cold War, through the work of Hans Morgenthau, Leo Strauss,[46] and Edward Carr.[47]

The tension between the Thucydidean and Herodotean traditions extends beyond historical research. According to Irving Kristol, self-described founder of American Neoconservatism, Thucydides wrote "the favorite neoconservative text on foreign affairs,"[48] and Thucydides is a required text at the Naval War College. On the other hand, Daniel Mendelsohn, in a review of a recent edition of Herodotus, suggests that at least in his graduate school days during the Cold War, professing admiration of Thucydides served as a form of self-presentation:

To be an admirer of Thucydides' History, with its deep cynicism about political, rhetorical, and ideological hypocrisy, with its all too recognizable protagonists — a liberal yet imperialistic democracy and an authoritarian oligarchy, engaged in a war of attrition fought by proxy at the remote fringes of empire — was to advertise yourself as a hardheaded connoisseur of global Realpolitik.[49]

Another author, Thomas Geoghegan, whose specialty is labor rights, comes down on the side of Herodotus when it comes to drawing lessons relevant to Americans, whom, he notes, tend to be rather isolationist in their habits (if not in their political theorizing): "We should also spend more funds to get our young people out of the library where they're reading Thucydides and get them to start living like Herodotus — going out and seeing the world."[50]

Thucydides in popular culture

In 1991, the BBC broadcast a new version of John Barton's 'The War that Never Ends', which had first been performed on stage in the 1960s. This adapts Thucydides' text, together with short sections from Plato's dialogues. More information about it can be found on the Internet Movie Database.


  • "But, the bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it."[51]
  • "Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must."[52]
  • "It is a general rule of human nature that people despise those who treat them well, and look up to those who make no concessions."[53]
  • "War takes away the easy supply of daily wants, and so proves a rough master, that brings most men's characters to a level with their fortunes."[54]
  • "The cause of all these evils was the lust for power arising from greed and ambition; and from these passions proceeded the violence of parties once engaged in contention."[55]
  • "So that, though overcome by three of the greatest things, honour, 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. "[56]

Quotations about Thucydides

  • Thomas Hobbes, in the preface to his translation of Thucydides, calls him "the most politic historiographer that ever writ."
  • ... the first page of Thucydides is, in my opinion, the commencement of real history. All preceding narrations are so intermixed with fable, that philosophers ought to abandon them to the embellishments of poets and orators. (David Hume, "Of the Populousness of Ancient Nations")
  • Exiled Thucydides knew/ All that a speech can say/ About Democracy,/ And what dictators do,/ The elderly rubbish they talk/ To an apathetic grave;/ Analysed all in his book,/ The enlightenment driven away,/ The habit-forming pain,/ Mismanagement and grief:/ We must suffer them all again. (W.H. Auden, "September 1, 1939")

See also


  1. ^ Cochrane, p. 179; Meyer, p. 67; de Sainte Croix.
  2. ^ Strauss, p. 139.
  3. ^ Thucydides, 4.104.4; 1.1.1.
  4. ^ Thucydides, 2.48.1–3.
  5. ^ Thucydides, 4.105.1.
  6. ^ Thucydides, 4.104.1.
  7. ^ Thucydides, 4.105.1 – 106.3.
  8. ^ Thucydides, 4.108.1 – 7.
  9. ^ Thucydides, 5.26.5.
  10. ^ Herodotus, 6.39.1.
  11. ^ Herodotus, 6.46.1.
  12. ^ Pausanias, 1.23.9.
  13. ^ Plutarch, Cimon 4.1.
  14. ^ Thucydides, 2.54.3.
  15. ^ Thucydides, 2.65.
  16. ^ Thucydides, 3.36.6; 4.27; 5.16.1.
  17. ^ Thucydides, 8.73.3.
  18. ^ Marcellinus, Life of Thucydides 46
  19. ^ Thucydides, 3.82 – 83.
  20. ^ Thucydides, 1.1.1 ff..
  21. ^ Thucydides, 1.22.4.
  22. ^ Peter Green, "The Great Marathon Man", New York Review of Books, May 15, 2008
  23. ^ Russett, p. 45.
  24. ^ Charles Norris Cochrane, Thucydides and the Science of Medicine (1929).
  25. ^ Clifford Orwin, The Humanity of Thucydides, Princeton, 1994.
  26. ^ Richard Ned Lebow, The Tragic vision of Politics (Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 20.
  27. ^ See also Walter Robert Connor, Thucydides (Princeton University Press, 1987).
  28. ^ Lucian, How to write history, p. 42
  29. ^ Thucydides I,22
  30. ^ Momigliano, pp. 39, 40.
  31. ^ Lucian: Herodotus, pp. 1-2.
  32. ^ Ryszard Kapuscinski: Travels with Herodotus, p. 78.
  33. ^ Thucydides I, 23
  34. ^ Lucian, p. 25, 41.
  35. ^ Momigliano, Ch. 2, IV.
  36. ^ Cicero, Laws 1.5.
  37. ^ Plutarch, On the Malignity of Herodotus, Moralia XI (Loeb Classical Library 426).
  38. ^ Momigliano Chapter 2, V.
  39. ^ J. B. Bury, The Ancient Greek Historians (London, MacMillan, 1909), pp. 140-143.
  40. ^ See Anthony Grafton, The Footnote, a Curious History (Cambridge Mass: Harvard University Press, 1999)
  41. ^ Momigliano, p. 50.
  42. ^ For his part, Peter Green notes of these historians, the fact "That [Thucydides] was exiled for military incompetence, did a hatchet job on the man responsible, and praised as virtually unbeatable the Spartan general to whom he had lost the key city of Amphipolis bothered them not at all." Peter Green (2008) cit.
  43. ^ (Green 2008, op cit)
  44. ^ Momigliano, pg.52.
  45. ^ Stuart Clark (ed.): The Annales school: critical assessments, Vol. II, 1999.
  46. ^ See essay on Thucydides in The Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism: An Introduction to the Thought of Leo Strauss – Essays and Lectures by Leo Strauss, edited by Thomas L. Pangle (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989).
  47. ^ See, for example, E.H. Carr's The Twenty Years' Crisis.
  48. ^ "The Neoconservative Persuasion"
  49. ^ "Arms and the Man: What was Herodotus trying to tell us?" (New Yorker, April 28, 2008)
  50. ^ The American Prospect
  51. ^ Thucydides, 2.40.3.
  52. ^ Thucydides, 5.89.
  53. ^ Thucydides, 3.39.5.
  54. ^ Thucydides, 3.82.2.
  55. ^ Thucydides, 3.82.8.
  56. ^ Thucydides, [1].

References and further reading

Primary sources

  • Herodotus, Histories, A. D. Godley (translator), Cambridge: Harvard University Press (1920). ISBN 0-674-99133-8  .
  • Pausanias, Description of Greece, Books I-II, (Loeb Classical Library) translated by W. H. S. Jones; Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. (1918). ISBN 0-674-99104-4. .
  • Plutarch, Lives, Bernadotte Perrin (translator), Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press. London. William Heinemann Ltd. (1914). ISBN 0674990536  .
  • Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War. London, J. M. Dent; New York, E. P. Dutton (1910). . The classic translation by Richard Crawley.

Secondary sources

  • Cochrane, Charles Norris, Thucydides and the Science of History, Oxford University Press (1929).
  • Connor, W. Robert, Thucydides. Princeton: Princeton University Press (1984). ISBN 0691035695
  • Dewald, Carolyn. Thucydides' War Narrative: A Structural Study. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2006 (hardcover, ISBN 0520241274).
  • Finley, John Huston, Jr., Thucydides, Cambridge, Massachusetts : Harvard University Press, 1947.
  • Forde, Steven, The ambition to rule : Alcibiades and the politics of imperialism in Thucydides. Ithaca : Cornell University Press (1989). ISBN 0-8014-2138-1.
  • Hanson, Victor Davis, A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War. New York: Random House (2005). ISBN 1-4000-6095-8.
  • Hornblower, Simon, A Commentary on Thucydides. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon (1991-1996). ISBN 0-19-815099-7 (vol. 1), ISBN 0-19-927625-0 (vol. 2).
  • Hornblower, Simon, Thucydides. London: Duckworth (1987). ISBN 0-7156-2156-4.
  • Kagan, Donald. (2003). The Peloponnesian War. New York: Viking Press. ISBN 0-670-03211-5.
  • Luce, T.J., The Greek Historians. London: Routledge (1997). ISBN 0-415-10593-5.
  • Luginbill, R.D., Thucydides on War and National Character. Boulder: Westview (1999). ISBN 0-8133-3644-9.
  • Momigliano, Arnaldo, The Classical Foundations of Modern Historiography. Sather Classical Lectures, 54 Berkeley: University of California Press (1990).
  • Meyer, Eduard, Kleine Schriften (1910), (Zur Theorie und Methodik der Geschichte).
  • Orwin, Clifford, The Humanity of Thucydides. Princeton: Princeton University Press (1994). ISBN 0-691-03449-4.
  • Podoksik, Efraim. "Justice, Power, and Athenian Imperialism: An Ideological Moment in Thucydides’ History", History of Political Thought. 26(1): 21-42, 2005.
  • Romilly, Jacqueline de, Thucydides and Athenian Imperialism. Oxford: Basil Blackwell (1963). ISBN 0-88143-072-2.
  • Rood, Tim, Thucydides: Narrative and Explanation. Oxford: Oxford University Press (1998). ISBN 0-19-927585-8.
  • Russett, Bruce (1993). Grasping the Democratic Peace. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-03346-3. 
  • de Sainte Croix. The origins of the Peloponesian War (1972). London: Duckworth. 1972. Pp. xii, 444.
  • Strassler, Robert B, ed. The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War. New York: Free Press (1996). ISBN 0-684-82815-4.
  • Strauss, Leo, The City and Man Chicago: Rand McNally, 1964.

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Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

I have written my work, not as an essay which is to win the applause of the moment, but as a possession for all time.

Thucydides (or Thoukydides) (c. 460 BC – c. 400 BC) was an ancient Greek historian, author of the History of the Peloponnesian War, which recounts the 5th century BC war between Sparta and Athens. This work is widely regarded a classic and represents the first work of its kind.


History of the Peloponnesian War

  • On the whole, however, the conclusions I have drawn from the proofs quoted may, I believe, safely be relied on. Assuredly they will not be disturbed either by the lays of a poet displaying the exaggeration of his craft, or by the compositions of the chroniclers that are attractive at truth's expense; the subjects they treat of being out of the reach of evidence, and time having robbed most of them of historical value by enthroning them in the region of legend.
    • Book I, 21
  • I have written my work, not as an essay which is to win the applause of the moment, but as a possession for all time.
    • Book I, 22
  • Abstinence from all injustice to other first-rate powers is a greater tower of strength than anything that can be gained by the sacrifice of permanent tranquillity for an apparent temporary advantage.
    • Book I, 42
  • When one is deprived of ones liberty, one is right in blaming not so much the man who puts the shackles on as the one who had the power to prevent him, but did not use it.
    • Book I, 69
  • In practice we always base our preparations against an enemy on the assumption that his plans are good; indeed, it is right to rest our hopes not on a belief in his blunders, but on the soundness of our provisions. Nor ought we to believe that there is much difference between man and man, but to think that the superiority lies with him who is reared in the severest school.
    • Book I, 84
  • The country on the sea coast, now called Macedonia, was first acquired by Alexander, the father of Perdiccas, and his ancestors, originally Temenids from Argos...The whole is now called Macedonia, and at the time of the invasion of Sitalces, Perdiccas, Alexander's son, was the reigning king.
    • Book I, 99
  • There is, however, no advantage in reflections on the past further than may be of service to the present. For the future we must provide by maintaining what the present gives us and redoubling our efforts; it is hereditary to us to win virtue as the fruit of labour, and you must not change the habit, even though you should have a slight advantage in wealth and resources; for it is not right that what was won in want should be lost in plenty.
    • Book I, 123
  • If you give way, you will instantly have to meet some greater demand, as having been frightened into obedience in the first instance; while a firm refusal will make them clearly understand that they must treat you more as equals.
    • Book I, 140
  • It is from the greatest dangers that the greatest glory is to be won.
    • Book I, 144
  • I could have wished that the reputations of many brave men were not to be imperilled in the mouth of a single individual, to stand or fall according as he spoke well or ill. For it is hard to speak properly upon a subject where it is even difficult to convince your hearers that you are speaking the truth. On the one hand, the friend who is familiar with every fact of the story may think that some point has not been set forth with that fullness which he wishes and knows it to deserve; on the other, he who is a stranger to the matter may be led by envy to suspect exaggeration if he hears anything above his own nature. For men can endure to hear others praised only so long as they can severally persuade themselves of their own ability to equal the actions recounted: when this point is passed, envy comes in and with it incredulity.
    • Book II, 35
  • In our enterprises we present the singular spectacle of daring and deliberation, each carried to its highest point, and both united in the same persons; although usually decision is the fruit of ignorance, hesitation of reflection. But the palm of courage will surely be adjudged most justly to those, who best know the difference between hardship and pleasure and yet are never tempted to shrink from danger. In generosity we are equally singular, acquiring our friends by conferring, not by receiving, favours.
    • Book II, 39
  • The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.
    • Variant translations:

      But the palm of courage will surely be adjudged most justly to those, who best know the difference between hardship and pleasure and yet are never tempted to shrink from danger.[1]

      And they are most rightly reputed valiant, who though they perfectly apprehend both what is dangerous and what is easy, are never the more thereby diverted from adventuring. (translation by Thomas Hobbes [2])

    • Book II, 40 (3)
  • Disdain is the privilege of those who, like us, have been assured by reflection of their superiority to their adversary. And where the chances are the same, knowledge fortifies courage by the contempt which is its consequence, its trust being placed, not in hope, which is the prop of the desperate, but in a judgment grounded upon existing resources, whose anticipations are more to be depended upon.
    • Book II, 62
  • That which makes the splendour of the present and the glory of the future remains for ever unforgotten.
    • Book II, 64
  • Hope leads men to venture, and no one ever yet put himself in peril without the inward conviction that he would succeed in his design.
    • Book III, 35
  • The fate of those of their neighbours who had already rebelled and had been subdued was no lesson to them; their own prosperity could not dissuade them from affronting danger; but blindly confident in the future, and full of hopes beyond their power though not beyond their ambition, they declared war and made their decision to prefer might to right, their attack being determined not by provocation but by the moment which seemed propitious. The truth is that great good fortune coming suddenly and unexpectedly tends to make a people insolent; in most cases it is safer for mankind to have success in reason than out of reason; and it is easier for them, one may say, to stave off adversity than to preserve prosperity.
    • Book III, 39
  • You can now, if you choose, employ your present success to advantage, so as to keep what you have got and gain honour and reputation besides, and you can avoid the mistake of those who meet with an extraordinary piece of good fortune, and are led on by hope to grasp continually at something further, through having already succeeded without expecting it.
    • Book IV, 17
  • Many before now have tried to chastise a wrongdoer, and failing to punish their enemy have not even saved themselves; while many who have trusted in force to gain an advantage, instead of gaining anything more, have been doomed to lose what they had. Vengeance is not necessarily successful because wrong has been done, or strength sure because it is confident; but the incalculable element in the future exercises the widest influence, and is the most treacherous, and yet in fact the most useful of all things, as it frightens us all equally, and thus makes us consider before attacking each other.
    • Book IV, 62
  • We must march against the enemy, and teach him that he must go and get what he wants by attacking someone who will not resist him, but that men whose glory it is to be always ready to give battle for the liberty of their own country, and never unjustly to enslave that of others, will not let him go without a struggle.
    • Book IV, 92
  • Their judgment was based more upon blind wishing than upon any sound prevision; for it is a habit of mankind to entrust to careless hope what they long for, and to use sovereign reason to thrust aside what they do not fancy.
    • Book IV, 108
  • Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.
    • Book V, 89
  • Hope, that comforter in danger!
    • Book V, 103
  • We bless your simplicity but do not envy your folly.
    • Book V, 105
  • It is certain that those who do not yield to their equals, who keep terms with their superiors, and are moderate towards their inferiors, on the whole succeed best.
    • Book V, 111
  • Contempt for an assailant is best shown by bravery in action.
    • Book VI, 34
  • The rarest dangers are those in which failure brings little loss and success the greatest advantage.
    • Book VII, 68

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

THUCYDIDES (00vrcv60ns), Athenian historian. Materials for his biography are scanty, and the facts are of interest chiefly as aids to the appreciation of his life's labour, the History of the Peloponnesian War. The older view that he was probably born in or about 471 B.C., is based on a passage of Aulus Gellius, who says that in 431 Hellanicus " seems to have been" sixty-five years of age, Herodotus fifty-three and Thucydides forty (Noct. att. xv. 23). The authority for this statement was Pamphila, a woman of Greek extraction, who compiled biographical and historical notices in the reign of Nero. The value of her testimony is, however, negligible, and modern criticism inclines to a later date, about 460 1 (see Busolt, Gr. Gesch. iii., pt. 2, p. 621). Thucydides' father Olorus, a citizen of Athens, belonged to a family which derived wealth and influence from the possession of gold-mines at Scapte Hyle, on the Thracian coast opposite Thasos, and was a relative of his elder namesake, the Thracian prince, whose daughter Hegesipyle married the great Miltiades, so that Cimon, son of Miltiades, was possibly a connexion of Thucydides (see Busolt, ibid., p. 618). It was in the vault of the Cimonian family at Athens, and near the remains of Cimon's sister Elpinice, that Plutarch saw the grave of Thucydides. Thus the fortune of birth secured three signal advantages to the future historian: he was rich; he had two homes - one at Athens, the other in Thrace - no small aid to a comprehensive study of the conditions under which the Peloponnesian War was waged; and his family connexions were likely to bring him from his early years into personal intercourse with the men who were shaping the history of his time.

The development of Athens during the middle of the 5th century was, in itself, the best education which such a mind as that of Thucydides could have received. The expansion and consolidation of Athenian power was completed, and the inner resources of the city were being applied to the embellishment and ennoblement of Athenian life (see Cimon; Pericles). Yet the History tells us nothing of the literature, the art or the social life under whose influences its author had grown up. The " Funeral Oration " contains, indeed, his general testimony to the value and the charm of those influences. But he leaves us to supply all examples and details for ourselves. Beyond a passing reference to public " festivals," and to " beautiful surroundings in private life," he makes no attempt to define those " recreations for the spirit" which the Athenian genius had provided in such abundance. He alludes to the newlybuilt Parthenon only as containing the treasury; to the statue of Athena Parthenos which it enshrined, only on account of the gold which, at extreme need, could be detached from the image; to the Propylaea and other buildings with which Athens had been adorned under Pericles, only as works which had reduced the surplus of funds available for the war. He makes no reference to Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes; the architect Ictinus; the sculptor Pheidias; the physician Hippocrates; the philosophers Anaxagoras and Socrates. Herodotus, if he had dealt with this period, would have found countless occasions for invaluable digressions on men and manners, on letters and art; and we might almost be tempted to ask whether his more genial, if laxer, method does not indeed correspond better with a liberal conception of the historian's office. No one can do full justice to Thucyd ides, or appreciate the true completeness of his work, who has not faced this question, and found the answer to it.

It would be a hasty judgment which inferred from the omis 1 Christ (Gesch. der griech. Litt.) gives the date of birth as " about 455." sions of the History that its author's interests were exclusively political. Thucydides was not writing the history of a period. His subject was an event - the Peloponnesian War - a war, as he believed, of unequalled importance, alike in its direct results and in its political significance for all time. To his task, thus defined, he brought an intense concentration of all his faculties. He worked with a constant desire to make each successive incident of the war as clear as possible. To take only two instances: there is nothing in literature more graphic than his description of the plague at Athens, or than the whole narrative of the Sicilian expedition. But the same temper made him resolute in excluding irrelevant topics. The social life of the time, the literature and the art did not belong to his subject.

The biography which bears the name of Marcellinus states that Thucydides was the disciple of Anaxagoras in philosophy and of Antiphon in rhetoric. There is no evidence to confirm this tradition. But Thucydides and Antiphon at least belong to the same rhetorical school and represent the same early stage of Attic prose. Both writers used words of an antique or decidedly poetical cast; both point verbal contrasts by insisting on the precise difference between terms of similar import; and both use metaphors somewhat bolder than were congenial to Greek prose in its riper age. The differences, on the other hand, between the style of Thucydides and that of Antiphon arise chiefly from two general causes. First, Antiphon wrote for hearers, Thucydides for readers; the latter, consequently, can use a degree of condensation and a freedom in the arrangement of words which would have been hardly possible for the former. Again, the thought of Thucydides is often more complex than any which Antiphon undertook to interpret; and the greater intricacy of the historian's style exhibits the endeavour to express each thought. 2 Few things in the history of literary prose are more interesting than to watch that vigorous mind in its struggle to mould a language of magnificent but immature capabilities. The obscurity with which Thucydides has sometimes been reproached often arises from the very clearness with which a complex idea is present to his mind, and his strenuous effort to present it in its entirety. He never sacrifices thought to language, but he will sometimes sacrifice language to thought. A student may always be consoled by the reflection that he is not engaged in unravelling a mere rhetorical tangle. Every light on the sense will be a light on the words; and when, as is not seldom the case, Thucydides comes victoriously out of this struggle of thought and language, having achieved perfect expression of his meaning in a sufficiently lucid form, then his style rises into an intellectual brilliancy - thoroughly manly, and also penetrated with intense feeling - which nothing in Greek prose literature surpasses.

The uncertainty as to the date of Thucydides' birth renders futile any discussion of the fact that before 431 he took no prominent part in Athenian politics. If he was born in 455, the fact needs no explanation; if in 471, it is possible that his opportunities were modified by the necessity of frequent visits to Thrace, where the management of such an important property as the gold-mines must have claimed his presence. The manner in which he refers to his personal influence in that region is such as to suggest that he had sometimes resided there (iv. 105, I). He was at Athens in the spring of 430, when the plague broke out. If his account of the symptoms has net enabled physicians to agree on a diagnosis of the malady, it is at least singularly full and vivid. He had himself been attacked by the plague; and, as he briefly adds, " he had seen others suffer." The tenor of his narrative would warrant the inference that he had been one of a few who were active in ministering to the sufferers.

The turning-point in the life of Thucydides came in the winter of 424. He was then forty seven (or, according to Busolt, about thirty-six), and for the first time he is found holding an official position. He was one of two generals entrusted with the command of the regions towards Thrace (Ta E7ri Opcbcns), a phrase which denotes the whole Thracian seaboard from Macedonia z See Jebb's Attic Orators, i. 35.

eastward to the vicinity of the Thracian Chersenese, though often used with more special reference to the Chalcidic peninsula. His colleague in the command was Eucles. About the end of November 424 Eucles was in Amphipolis, the stronghold of Athenian power in the north-west. To guard it with all possible vigilance was a matter of peculiar urgency at that moment. The ablest of Spartan leaders, Brasidas, was in the Chalcidic peninsula, where he had already gained rapid success; and part of the population between that peninsula and Amphipolis was known to be disaffected to Athens. Under such circumstances we might have expected that Thucydides, who had seven ships of war with him, would have been ready to co-operate with Eucles. It appears, however, that, with his ships, he was at the island of Thasos when Brasidas suddenly appeared before Amphipolis. Eucles sent in all haste for Thucydides, who arrived with his ships from Thasos just in time to beat off the enemy from Eion at the mouth of the Strymon, but not in time to save Amphipolis. The profound vexation and dismay felt at Athens found expression in the punishment of Thucydides, who was exiled. Cleon is said to have been the prime mover in his condemnation; and this is likely enough.

From 423 to 404 Thucydides lived on his property in Thrace, but much of his time appears to have been spent in travel. He visited the countries of the Peloponnesian allies - recommended to them by his quality as an exile from Athens; and he thus enjoyed the rare advantage of contemplating the war from various points of view. He speaks of the increased leisure which his banishment secured to his study of events. He refers partly, doubtless, to detachment from Athenian politics, partly also, we may suppose, to the opportunity of visiting places signalized by recent events and of examining their topography. The local knowledge which is often apparent in his Sicilian books may have been acquired at this period. The mind of Thucydides was naturally judicial, and his impartiality - which seems almost superhuman by contrast with Xenophon's Hellenica- was in some degree a result of temperament. But it cannot be doubted that the evenness with which he holds the scales was greatly assisted by his experience during these years of exile.

His own words make it clear that he returned to Athens, at least for a time, in 404, though the precise date is uncertain. The older view (cf. Classen) was that he returned some six months after Athens surrendered to Lysander. More probably he was recalled by the special resolution carried by Oenobius prior to the acceptance of Lysander's terms (Busolt, ibid., p. 628). He remained at Athens only a short time, and retired to his property in Thrace, where he lived till his death, working at his History. The preponderance of testimony certainly goes to show that he died in Thrace, and by violence. It would seem that, when he wrote chapter 116 of his third book, he was ignorant of an eruption of Etna which took place in 396. There is, indeed, strong reason for thinking that he did not live later than 399. His remains were brought to Athens and laid in the vault of Cimon's family, where Plutarch (Cimon, 4) saw their resting-place. The abruptness with which the History breaks off agrees with the story of a sudden death. The historian's daughter is said to have saved the unfinished work and to have placed it in the hands of an editor. This editor, according to one account, was Xenophon, to whom Diogenes Laertius (ii. 6, 13) assigns the credit of having " brought the work into reputation, when he might have suppressed it." The tradition is, however, very doubtful; it may have been suggested by a feeling that no one then living could more appropriately have discharged the office of literary executor than the writer who, in his Hellenica, continued the narrative.

The History

At the outset of the History Thucydides indicates his general conception of his work, and states the principles which governed its composition. His purpose had been formed at the very beginning of the war, in the conviction that it would prove more important than any event of which Greeks had record. The leading belligerents, Athens and Sparta, were both in the highest condition of effective equipment. The whole Hellenic world - including Greek settlements outside of Greece proper - was divided into two parties, either actively helping one of the two combatants or meditating such action. Nor was the movement confined within even the widest limits of Hellas; the " barbarian " world also was affected by it - the non-Hellenic populations of Thrace, Macedonia, Epirus, Sicily and, finally, the Persian kingdom itself. The aim of Thucydides was to preserve an accurate record of this war, not only in view of the intrinsic interest and importance of the facts, but also in order that these facts might be permanent sources of political teaching to posterity. His hope was, as he says, that his History would be found profitable by " those who desire an exact knowledge of the past as a key to the future, which in all probability will repeat or resemble the past. The work is meant to be a possession for ever, not the rhetorical triumph of an hour." As this context shows, the oft-quoted phrase, " a possession for ever," had, in its author's meaning, a more definite import than any mere anticipation of abiding fame for his History. It referred to the permanent value of the lessons which his History contained.

Thucydides stands alone among the men of his own days, and has no superior of any age, in the width of mental grasp which could seize the general significance of particular events. The political education of mankind began in Greece, and in the time of Thucydides their political life was still young. Thucydides knew only the small city-commonwealth on the one hand, and on the other the vast barbaric kingdom; and yet, as has been well said of him, " there is hardly a problem in the science of government which the statesman will not find, if not solved, at any rate handled, in the pages of this universal master." 1 Such being the spirit in which he approached his task, it is interesting to inquire what were the points which he himself considered to be distinctive in his method of executing it. N s PredeHis Greek predecessors in the recording of events had been, he conceived, of two classes. First, there were cessors. the epic poets, with Homer at their head, whose characteristic tendency, in the eyes of Thucydides, is to exaggerate the greatness or splendour of things past. Secondly, there were the Ionian prose writers whom he calls " chroniclers " (see Logographi), whose general object was to diffuse a knowledge of legends preserved by oral tradition and of written documents - usually lists of officials or genealogies - preserved in public archives; and they published their materials as they found them, without criticism. Thucydides describes their work by the word vvrt®i-vaa, but his own by EvyypacpEcv - the difference between the terms answering to that between compilation of a somewhat mechanical kind and historical composition in a higher sense. The vice of the " chroniclers," in his view, is that they cared only for popularity, and took no pains to make their narratives trustworthy. Herodotus was presumably regarded by him as in the same general category.

In contrast with these predecessors Thucydides has subjected his materials to the most searching scrutiny. The ruling principle of his work has been strict adherence to carefully Distinctive verified facts. As to the deeds done in the war, A i m of I have not thought myself at liberty to record them on Thucydides. hearsay from the first informant or on arbitrary con jecture. My account rests either on personal knowledge or on the closest possible scrutiny of each statement made by others. The process of research was laborious, because conflicting accounts were given by those who had witnessed the several events, as partiality swayed or memory served them." It might be supposed that the speeches which Thucydides has introduced into his History conflict with this standard of scientific accuracy; it is, therefore, well to consider their nature The and purpose rather closely. The speeches constitute T between a fourth and a fifth part of the History. If Speeches. they were eliminated, an admirable narrative would indeed remain, with a few comments, usually brief, on the more striking characters and events. But we should lose all the most vivid light on the inner workings of the Greek political mind, on the motives of the actors and the arguments which they used - in a word, on the whole play of contemporary feeling and opinion. To the speeches is due in no small measure the imperishable intellectual interest of the History, since it is chiefly by the speeches that the facts of the Peloponnesian War are so lit up with keen thought as to become illustrations of general laws, and to acquire a permanent suggestiveness for the student of politics. When Herodotus made his persons hold conversations or deliver speeches, he was following the precedent of epic poetry; his tone is usually colloquial rather than rhetorical; he is merely making thought and motive vivid in the way natural to a simple age. Thucydides is the real founder of the tradition by which historians were so long held to be warranted in introducing set speeches of their own composition. His own account of his practice is given in the following words: " As to the speeches made on the eve of the war, or in its course, I have found it difficult to retain a memory of the precise words which I had heard spoken; and so it was with those who brought me reports 1 Freeman, Historical Essays, znd series, vol. iii.; on the general questions of the structure of the work and the view of the war which it represents see Peloponnesian War; and Greece: Ancient History, § Authorities.

But I have made the persons say what it seemed to me most opportune for them to say in view of each situation; at the same time I have adhered as closely as possible to the general sense of what was actually said." So far as the language of the speeches is concerned, then, Thucydides plainly avows that it is mainly or wholly his own. As a general rule, there is little attempt to mark different styles. The case of Pericles, whom Thucydides must have repeatedly heard, is probably an exception; the Thucydidean speeches of Pericles offer several examples of that bold imagery which Aristotle and Plutarch agree in ascribing to him, while the " Funeral Oration," especially, has a certain majesty of rhythm, a certain union of impetuous movement with lofty grandeur, which the historian has given to no other speaker. Such strongly marked characteristics as the curt bluntness of the Spartan ephor Sthenelaidas, or the insolent vehemence of Alcibiades, are also indicated. But the dramatic truth of the speeches generally resides in the matter, not in the form. In regard to those speeches which were delivered at Athens before his banishment in 424 - and seven such speeches are contained in the History - Thucydides could rely either on his own recollection or on the sources accessible to a resident citizen. In these cases there is good reason to believe that he has reproduced the substance of what was actually said. In other cases he had to trust to more or less imperfect reports of the " general sense "; and in some instances, no doubt, the speech represents simply his own conception of what it would have been " most opportune " to say. The most evident of such instances occur in the addresses of leaders to their troops. The historian's aim in these military harangues - which are usually short - is to bring out the points of a strategical situation; a modern writer would have attained the object by comments prefixed or subjoined to his account of the battle. The comparative indifference of Thucydides to dramatic verisimilitude in these military orations is curiously shown by the fact that the speech of the general on the one side is sometimes as distinctly a reply to the speech of the general on the other as if they had been delivered in debate. We may be sure, however, that, wherever Thucydides had any authentic clue to the actual tenor of a speech, he preferred to follow that clue rather than to draw on his own invention.

Why, however, did he not content himself with simply stating, in his own person, the arguments and opinions which he conceived Greek to have been prevalent? The question must be viewed The . from the standpoint of a Greek in the 5th century B.C. View. Epic poetry had then for many generations exercised a powerful influence over the Greek mind. Homer had accustomed Greeks to look for two elements in any complete expression of human energy - first, an account of a man's deeds, then an image of his mind in the report of his words. The Homeric heroes are exhibited both in action and in speech. Further, the contemporary readers of Thucydides were men habituated to a civic life in which public speech played an all-important part. Every adult citizen of a Greek democracy was a member of the assembly which debated and decided great issues. The law courts, the festivals, the drama, the market-place itself, ministered to the Greek love of animated description. To a Greek of that age a written history of political events would have seemed strangely insipid if speech " in the first person " had been absent from it, especially if it did not offer some mirror of those debates which were inseparably associated with the central interests and the decisive moments of political life. In making historical persons say what they might have said, Thucydides confined that oratorical licence to the purpose which is its best justification: with him it is strictly dramatic, an aid to the complete presentment of action, by the vivid expression of ideas and arguments which were really current at the time. Among later historians who continued the practice, Polybius, Sallust and Tacitus most resemble Thucydides in this particular; while in the Byzantine historians, as in some moderns who followed classical precedent, the speeches were usually mere occasions for rhetorical display. Botta's History of Italy from 1780 to 1814 affords one of the latest examples of the practice, which was peculiarly suited to the Italian genius.

The present division of the History into eight books is one which might well have proceeded from the author himself, as being a The natural and convenient disposition of the contents. Eight Books. The first book, after a general introduction, sets forth the causes of the Peloponnesian War. The first nine years of the war are contained in the second, third and fourth books - three years in each. The fifth book contains the tenth year, followed by the interval of the " insecure peace." The Sicilian expedition fills the sixth and seventh books The eighth books opens that last chapter of the struggle which is known as the " Decelean " or " Ionian " War, and breaks off abruptly - in the middle of a sentence, indeed - in the year 411.

The principal reason against believing that the division into eight books was made by Thucydides himself is the fact that a Origin of different division, into thirteen books, was also current that i n antiquity, as appears from Marcellinus (§ 58). It is. very improbable - indeed hardly conceivable - that this Division should have been the case if the eight-book division had come down from the hand of the author. We may infer, then, that the division of the work into eight books was introduced at Alexandria - perhaps in the 3rd or 2nd century B.C. That division was already familiar to the grammarians of the Augustan age. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who recognizes it, has also another mode of indicating portions of the work, viz. b y stichometria, or the number of lines which they contained. Thus, in the MS. which he used, the first 87 chapters of book i. contained about lobo lines (equivalent to about 1700 lines in Bekker's stereotyped 8vo text). (On the order of composition, see Peloponnesian War, ad init.; and Greece: Ancient History, § Authorities).

The division of the war by summers and winters (KaTh Oipos Ka xec,eciava) - the end of the winter being considered as the end of the year - is perhaps the only one which Thucydides him- Mode of self used, for there is no indication that he made any division of the History into books. His " summer " Reckoning includes spring and autumn and extends, generally Time. speaking, from March or the beginning of April to the end of October. His " winter " - November to February inclusive - means practically the period during which military operations, by land and sea, are wholly or partly suspended. When he speaks of " summer " and " winter " as answering respectively to " half " the year (v. 20, 3), the phrase is not to be pressed: it means merely that he divides his year into these two parts. The mode of reckoning is essentially a rough one, and is not to be viewed as if the commencement of summer or of winter could be precisely fixed to constant dates. For chronology, besides the festivals, he uses the Athenian list of archons, the Spartan list of ephors and the Argive list of priestesses of Hera.

There is no reference to the History of Thucydides in the extant Greek writers of the 4th century B.C.; but Lucian has preserved a tradition of the enthusiasm with which it was studied by Demosthenes. The great orator is said to have copied it out eight times, or even to have learnt it by heart. The Alexandrian critics acknowledged Thucydides as a great master of Attic. Sallust, Cornelius Nepos, Cicero and Quintilian are among the Roman writers whose admiration for him can be traced in their work, or has been expressly recorded. The most elaborate ancient criticism on the diction and composition of Thucydides is contained in three essays by Dionysius of Halicarnassus.

Among the best MSS. of Thucydides, the Codex vaticanus 126 (11th century) represents a recension made in the Alexandrian or Roman age. In the first six books the number of MSS. &c. passages in which the Vaticanus alone has preserved ' a true reading is comparatively small; in book vii. it is somewhat larger; in book viii. it is so large that here the Vaticanus, as compared with the other MSS., acquires the character of a revised text. Other important MSS. are the Palatinus 252 (11th century); the Casselanus (A.D. 1252); the Augustanus monacensis 430 (A.D. 1301). A collation, in books i., ii., of two Cambridge MSS. of the 15th century (NN. 3, 18; KK. 5, 19) has been published by Shilleto. Several Parisian MSS. (H. C. A. F.), and a Venetian MSS. (V.) collated by Arnold, also deserve mention. The Aldine edition was published in 1502. It was formerly supposed that there had been two Juntine editions. Shilleto, in the " Notice " prefixed to book i., first pointed out that the only Juntine edition was that of 1526, and that the belief in an earlier Juntine, of 1506, arose merely from the accidental omission of the word vicesimo in the Latin version of the imprint. Some papyrus fragments were published in Grenfell and Hunt's Oxyrhynchus papyri (1908), vi., which also contains an anonymous commentary (pub. 1st century) on Thuc. ii.

The most generally useful edition is Classen's, in the Weidmann Series (1862-1878; new ed. by Steup, 1882-1892); each book can be obtained separately. Arnold's edition (1848-18511, contains much that is still valuable. For books i. and ii. Shilleto's edition (1872-1876) furnishes a commentary which, though not full, deals admirably with many difficult points. Among other important complete editions, it is enough to name those of Duker, Bekker, Goeller, Poppo and Kruger. For editions of separate books and selections (up to 1895) see J. B. Mayor's Guide to the Choice of Classical Books. Special mention may be made of those by E. C. Marchant. Later editions of the text are by H. Stuart Jones (1900-1901), in the Oxford Scriptorum classicorum bibliotheca, and C. Hude (" Teubner Series," 1901; ed. minor, 1903). Betant's lexicon to Thucydides (1843) is well executed. Jowett's translation (1883) is supplemented by a volume of notes. Dale's version (Bohn) also deserves mention for its fidelity, as Crawley's (1876) for its vigour. Hellenica (1880) contains an essay on " The Speeches of Thucydides," which has been translated into German (see Eduard Meyer, Forschungen zur alten Geschichte, Bd. ii. pp. 269-436). The best clue to Thucydidean bibliography is in Engelmann's Scriptores graeci (1880), supplemented by the articles by G. Meyer, in Bursian's Jahresbericht, (1895) lxxix., (1897) lxxxviii. Busolt, Griechische Geschichte, iii. 616-693, is invaluable. For the life of Thucydides, U. von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, " Die Thukydides-Legende," Hermes, (1878) xii., is all important. All works on ancient Greek History contain discussions of Thucydides, and an interesting criticism is that of J. B. Bury, Ancient Greek Historians (1909). F. M. Cornford, Thucydides mythistoricus (1907), sought to prove that the History is really only an historical tragedy, i.e. a dramatized version of the facts, but this view has not been adopted. (R. C. J.; J. M. M.)

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  • IPA: /θjuːˈsɪdɪdiːz/


From Ancient Greek Θουκυδίδης (Thoukididēs), from θεός (theos), god) + κῦδος (kudos), glory).

Proper noun




  1. (c. 460 BC – c. 395 BC) A great ancient Greek historian and author of the History of the Peloponnesian War, which recounts the 5th century BC war between Sparta and Athens to the year 411 BC.


Simple English

Thucydides (born around 460 BC – died around 395 BC) (Greek Θουκυδίδης, Thoukudídēs) was an ancient Greek historian. He was the son of Olorus.[1]


  1. Robinson Jr., C. A. (May 1964). "Introduction". Selections from Greek and Roman historians. Holt, Rinehart and Winston. pp. xiv. 

Further reading

  • Herodotus, Histories, A. D. Godley (translator), Cambridge: Harvard University Press (1920). ISBN 0-674-99133-8 .
  • Pausanias, Description of Greece, Books I-II, (Loeb Classical Library) translated by W. H. S. Jones; Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. (1918). ISBN 0-674-99104-4. .
  • Plutarch, Lives, Bernadotte Perrin (translator), Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press. London. William Heinemann Ltd. (1914). ISBN 0-674-99053-6 .
  • Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War. London, J. M. Dent; New York, E. P. Dutton (1910). .

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