Thucydides believed that the Peloponnesian War represented an event of unmatched importance. This facet of the work suggests that Thucydides died whilst writing his history and more so, that his death was unexpected. 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 year war between Athens and Sparta , each alongside their respective allies. This subdivision was most likely made by librarians and archivists, themselves being historians and scholars, most likely working in the Library of Alexandria.
The History of the Peloponnesian War continued to be modified well beyond the end of the war in , as exemplified by a reference at Book I. 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 eyewitness testimony and writes about events in which he 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 hubris invites the wrath of the deities, Thucydides does not acknowledge divine intervention in human affairs.
Thucydides exerted wide historiographical influence on subsequent Hellenistic and Roman historians, although the exact description of his style in relation to many successive historians remains unclear. Such readings often described Xenophon's treatises as attempts to "finish" Thucydides's History. Many of these interpretations, however, have garnered significant scepticism among modern scholars, such as Dillery, who spurn the view of interpreting Xenophon qua Thucydides, arguing that the latter's "modern" history defined as constructed based on literary and historical themes is antithetical to the former's account in the Hellenica , which diverges from the Hellenic historiographical tradition in its absence of a preface or introduction to the text and the associated lack of an "overarching concept" unifying the history.
A noteworthy difference between Thucydides's method of writing history and that of modern historians is Thucydides's inclusion of lengthy formal speeches that, as he states, were literary reconstructions rather than 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.
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Therefore, Thucydides's method served to rescue his mostly oral sources from oblivion. We do not know how these historical figures spoke. Thucydides's recreation uses a heroic stylistic register. A celebrated example is Pericles' funeral oration , which heaps honour on the dead and includes a defence of democracy:. The whole earth is the sepulchre of famous men; they are honoured 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 property of and the dues to the deities.
The Greatness of the Peloponnesian War
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 grew up. He saw himself as recording an event, not a period, and went to considerable lengths to exclude what he deemed frivolous or extraneous. Paul Shorey calls Thucydides "a cynic devoid of moral sensibility". Thucydides' work indicates an influence from the teachings of the Sophists that contributes substantially to the thinking and character of his History. There is also evidence of his knowledge concerning some of the corpus of Hippocratic medical writings.
Thucydides was especially interested in the relationship between human intelligence and judgment,  Fortune and Necessity,  and the idea that history is too irrational and incalculable to predict. 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's 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.
For Canadian historian Charles Norris Cochrane — , Thucydides's 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.
After World War II, classical scholar Jacqueline de Romilly pointed out that the problem of Athenian imperialism was one of Thucydides's central preoccupations and situated his history in the context of Greek thinking about international politics.
Since the appearance of her study, other scholars further examined Thucydides's treatment of realpolitik. More recently, scholars have questioned the perception of Thucydides as simply "the father of realpolitik".
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Instead they have brought to the fore the literary qualities of the History , which they see as belonging to the 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. Thus his History could serve as a warning to future leaders to 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.
The historian J. Bury writes that the work of Thucydides "marks the longest and most decisive step that has ever been taken by a single man towards making history what it is today". Historian H. Kitto feels that Thucydides wrote about the Peloponnesian War, not because it was the most significant war in antiquity, but because it caused the most suffering. Indeed, several passages of Thucydides's book are written "with an intensity of feeling hardly exceeded by Sappho herself".
Thucydides's work, however, Popper goes on to say, represents "an interpretation, a point of view; and in this we need not agree with him". In the war between Athenian democracy and the "arrested oligarchic tribalism of Sparta", we must never forget Thucydides's "involuntary bias", and that "his heart was not with Athens, his native city":. Although he apparently did not belong to the extreme wing of the Athenian oligarchic clubs who conspired throughout the war with the enemy, he was certainly a member of the oligarchic party, and a friend neither of the Athenian people, the demos, who had exiled him, nor of its imperialist policy.
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:  . 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. 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.
Thucydides views life exclusively as political life, and history in terms of political history. Conventional moral considerations play 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's writings as a model of truthful history.
Greek historians of the fourth century BC accepted that history was political and that contemporary history was the proper domain of a historian. 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 that were even more surprising than 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 and , and the first Greek edition was published by Aldo Manuzio in During the Renaissance , however, Thucydides attracted less interest among Western European historians as a political philosopher than his successor, Polybius ,  although Poggio Bracciolini claimed to have been influenced by him.
Later historians, such as J. 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 To maintain a state, said the Florentine thinker, "a statesman is often compelled to act against faith, humanity and religion". 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. In the seventeenth century, the English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes , whose Leviathan advocated absolute monarchy, admired Thucydides and in 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's 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. 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 novel 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.
These historians also admired Herodotus, however, as social and ethnographic history increasingly came to be recognized as complementary to political history.
The Annales School , which exemplifies this direction, has been viewed as extending the tradition of Herodotus. At the same time, Thucydides's influence was increasingly important in the area of international relations during the Cold War, through the work of Hans Morgenthau , Leo Strauss ,  and Edward Carr.
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";  and Thucydides is a required text at the Naval War College , an American institution located in Rhode Island. 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:.
Thucydides and the Philosophical Origins of History
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.
Another author, Thomas Geoghegan , whose speciality is labour rights , comes down on the side of Herodotus when it comes to drawing lessons relevant to Americans, who, 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. Another contemporary historian believes that,  while it is true that critical history "began with Thucydides, one may also argue that Herodotus' looking at the past as a reason why the present is the way it is, and to search for causality for events beyond the realms of Tyche and the Gods, was a much larger step.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For other uses, see Thucydides disambiguation. Halimous, Athens modern Alimos. The teacher and the class were very helpful. The module aims to introduce to the ancient roots of the modern IR theories. Starting form Thucydides and his "History of Peloponnesian War" the lecture teaches to the student's further intellectual development of the realist paradigm of international relations: Machiavelli, Hobbes and creation of the Treaty of Westphalia, which in many respects became a foundation of the modern international politics.
Thucydides and the Philosophical Origins of History - Darien Shanske - Google Books
Understanding International Relations Theory. Enroll for Free. From the lesson. Birth of the science and classical tradition.