Thucydides – quick over view.


Thucydides was born in Athens around the year 460 BCE to an aristocratic family. Later in his life he was exiled from Athens as a consequence of his actions as an Athenian general during the Peloponnesian war which had broken out in 431 BCE. During his exile Thucydides devoted himself to writing a history of the events of the Peloponnesian War. Thucydides, in comparison to Herodotus, is named the “scientific historian”. While Herodotus claims to have written in order to preserve “great and marvelous deeds” (Herodotus 1.1), Thucydides does this in his own way but gains his title by focusing more on the structures of human society and power.[1] Although he is also working with a traditionally oral society at the time, Thucydides appears to be less inquisitive and more analytical than Herodotus. This can be seen as Thucydides hardly comments on where, and who, he got his information from. As a result of this his narrative is more straightforward. This makes it easier on the reader than Herodotus’ approach but presents its own set of problems. Thucydides only allows his reader to see one version of the story and often times leaves out critical information that he did not deem important enough to include. For example, after relating the Greek victory at Eurymedon, Thucydides plainly states that 200 ships were destroyed without elaborating on what exactly happened to those onboard the ships (Thucydides 1.100.1). [2] The lack of empathy concerning other views, and Thucydides’ tendency to leave out information he deemed unimportant, becomes especially unsatisfying when attempting to gain an idea of Persian perspective during this time period. Rarely is Persia mentioned in his narrative, and when it is it is mostly in the form of speeches pertaining to Greek-on-Greek conflict.[3] The lack of Persian attention is mainly due to the fact that Thucydides was focused on writing about the Peloponnesian wars to such an extent that he only includes Persia as it pertains to Greek affairs and even then leaves out certain information.[4] For example after the Persians have left Greece Thucydides does mention Athens helping Egypt revolt from Persian rule in a six year campaign, but besides stating that the expedition failed does not give any indication of how Athens anti-Persian operations came to an end (1.104-109).[5] Thucydides is, however, a first witness account to many of the events that take place during his narrative making him an imperative source. This can be seen with his experience with the plague that ravaged Athens during the 430’s and his experience as an Athenian general during the capture of Amphipolis (2.47-55 & 4.102-106).

[1] Ober 2005, 1.

[2] Miller 1997, 12.

[3] Munson 2012, 242.

[4] Luce 1997, 69 & Munson 2012, 248

[5] Munson 2012, 248


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