W. Julian Korab-Karpowicz makes the intense claim that Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War demonstrates that Thucydides personally maintains a loose belief between realism and idealism. As Thucydides’ personal beliefs arise while paraphrasing the thoughts and ideas of debating leaders he appears to only provide anecdotal evidence surmising that more powerful entities have thinner moral beliefs. Julian Korab-Karpowicz however, critiques these excerpts as carefully thought out guidelines to avoiding inter-state skirmishes, rather than simple observations of past conflicts. He explains that Thucydides’ text indeed dictates that all national interests become readily attainable for one party when authority is unbalanced. From textual evidence she determines the connection between power and complete authority as synonymous. In short, stronger states can attain anything from the weaker thus resulting in inter-state conflicts. Korab-Karpowicz ultimately argues that since Thucydides uses fundamental human drives to articulate the causes of such conflicts, and because he subtly demonstrates a profound understanding of both realism and idealism, his text inherently offers substantial benefits to those working in the field of international politics today.
In accordance with her hypothesis, Korab-Karpowicz chooses to identify thematic consistencies throughout Thucydides’ text and places great emphasis on instances when he incorporates his own voice in the text. She begins by stating Thucydides’ personal goal (writing a piece for all time) and she is careful to pair this detail with Thucydides’ claim that his works are not designed to entertain people. For example, she cites Thucydides’ statement connecting human nature to war atrocities, “and will always happen as long as human nature remains the same” (3.82.2). By doing this Karpowicz derives that Thucydides maintains a relatively negative outlook on human behavior and that he believes this compels people to engage in war. Although she admits that this alone only explains that political strife must occur, she pairs this with another Athenian quote and in doing so, enhances the significance of the statement. “Nature always compels gods (we believe) and men (we are certain) to rule over anyone they can control” (5.105). When power struggle is defined as a natural compulsion, Karpowicz states that Thucydides’ writes from the perspective of a realist. Rather than concluding with this small evidence of Thucydides’ political views, Karpowicz goes on to discuss the Melian dialogue and its contrasting perspectives. Karpowicz points out that Thucydides uses the Melians to convey his own voice and opinions even though the Athenians realists overwhelm them. Interestingly, she maintains that Thucydides takes this side because the Melians claim their right to independence. Though their false sense of honor results their defeat, Thucydides personally stands for their right to independance. In the presence of the full details she can support her claim that Thucydides may value the loose and novel ideas maintaining moral values despite the presence of unbalanced powers (such as an idealist might believe), however the strength to support and defend such a peace is necessary (balancing the previous observation with a realistic perspective). In this sense, Korab-Karpowicz sustains that Thucydides provides a great understanding of the means for composing peaceful but stable world, wisdom that may benefit those working in international politics today.
As W. Julian Korab-Karpowicz sought multiple consistent arguments within one text, he relied not only on what he knew to be Thucydides’ words, but also on the characters he chose to voice his personal opinions to guide her to one deeper message in the text. Because all authors incorporate their own styles (and inherently their own voices) into their writing, this method can be applied to find overall messages in other texts or even the same text more than once. For example, by focusing on the presence of Sallust’s voice in The Conspiracy of Catiline, the history of the events and Sallust’s own message can be separated.
Sallust begins his historical account by describing, what he believes, was the beginning of the decline of Roman society. Those who have read the text are aware, where the Romans observed a rise in prosperity, due to the fruitful gains of plundering competing civilizations; Sallust saw the development of nationwide corruption. His positive outlook on the Trojans when they first founded Rome was due to an abundance of selflessness in each citizen. As they continue to prosper and conquer, what they considered unjust foes, the Trojans, as Sallust describes them in the preface, “…had not yet learnt to be covetous: each was content with what he had” (1.1.3). In his opinion the opportunities which came with prosperity began poison the minds of the people. As Sallust in no way hides this personal opinion from the reader by burying it within another character, he simply lays the groundwork for deeper meaning within the accompanying history.
Sallust’s true passion for this concept is strengthened when Catiline is introduced and Sallust’s contempt is molded within Catiline’s initial declaration of treason. During this speech Catiline explains their plight, stating that the conspirators are ill treated and even goes as far as to liken them to slaves. Sallust can be seen cringing in Cataline’s concluding paragraph, “Consider your situation and your opportunity, the peril and want that beset you, and the rich spoils that may be won in war: these plead more strongly than any words of mine” (2.20.12_). Despite the numerous accusations of oppression, as well as the proclamation that he and his men lack fundamental freedom, Cataline states outright that he values the opportunity to cease new wealth and, even more unsettling, holds this as the most persuasive argument for revolution. Sallust echo’s his own opinion regarding plunder in the summary of Cataline’s speech, and goes further to say that those who received the speech “…had nothing to enjoy or to hope for…” Such consistency demonstrates not only a rehashed contempt for reveling in the spoils of war, but also a general disdain for the sacrifice of stability for the chance of fortune.
No writer chooses his or her words arbitrarily. Sallust saw that the chance of attaining an abundance of wealth as the threat to civility that ultimately resulted in Rome’s collapse. Previous statements are can now be read with new perspective. “There can be no question the Fortune is supreme in all human affairs. It is a capricious power, which makes men’s actions famous or leaves them in obscurity without regard to their true worth” (1.7.4). Sallust not only foreshadowed the regretful fate of the civilization as well as the conspirators, but also generally stated that fortune’s unruly nature drives people to forget what they know of themselves for certain for the sake of the unknown.
More subtly Sallust continues to reference this concept of trading certainty for fortune throughout the entirety of the history (surprisingly with no reference to religion despite the ideas frequently coinciding at the time). Although the story has the ability to be read with sympathies regarding either the conspirators or the remaining populous, Sallust’s key theme may indicate that he did not favor the conspirators. While there is little reference to the senate attempting to cease rare and risky opportunities, the conspirators follow this course on numerous occasions. They frequently continue their plans despite rising suspicions and arrogantly attempt to hide in plain sight. Cateline personally becomes stressed over the situation and even expresses logical doubt. Despite this, Sallust maintains that Catiline and many of his followers are described using words with the most negative connotations of ceasing fortune. While the majority of the victorious side are described in a calm and reasonable manner (i.e.: their requests that Catiline’s men humbly cease and lay down their arms), Sallust uses words like ‘reckless’ and ‘daring’ to describe the personalities of the conspirators (particularly Catiline), as well as haphazard adjectives such as ‘frenzied’ or ‘panic stricken’ to describe their actions. These words frequently refer to ill-conceived attempts at ceasing an opportunity. Sallust chose his words carefully to inflect the situation; a reckless person is one who takes unnecessary risks.
Sallust’s The Conspiracy at Catiline, much like Thucydides’ The History of the Peloponnesian War, expresses more than historical data. Perhaps it is best suited that the period, which Sallust identifies as the decline of Rome’s pride, was not long before Horace wrote the words ‘carpe diem’ or, in English, ‘seize the day’. Sallust believed fortuned poisoned the minds of the people to make them forget what they were only to contemplate what they could be. In The Conspiracy at Catiline this idea is expressed through Sallust’s description of the characters and the words they spoke while maintaining the necessary historical details.
See W. Julian Korab-Karpowicz, On the History of Political Philosophy: Great Political Thinkers from Thucydides to Locke (Boston: Longman, 2012).