Self-sufficiency can pertain to anything that is able to manage and survive on its own without needing help from others. From this, many ancient historians have used this theme to show the reader that no human is self-sufficient regardless of time period, current events, etc. Likewise, because no human is self-sufficient, this makes no country self-sufficient as well; due to the fact that a country has and will never be able to give every citizen what they want. Every country, large or small, needs a lower class and a higher class to balance each other out. In Herodotus’s On The War For Greek Freedom, he states in the introduction that he “will be no less concerned with unimportant cities than with the great. For those that were formerly great are now diminished, while those which are now great were once small. Being well aware that human prosperity never long endures, I shall deal with both alike.(Herodotus 1.5)”. This emphasizes that Herodotus believed it was just as important talking about an individual’s struggles as the destruction of a great power such as Persia. Herodotus being the first known historian set the stone for later historians in Thucydides and Livy with this quote which most likely influenced the way they wrote their histories as well. However, self-sufficiency is used differently among these historians.
Herodotus was more interested in the individual when it came to self-sufficiency as opposed to Thucydides who incorporated inter-state relations. Herodotus focused on what constitutes one to live a happy life and how one should be remembered. In Solon’s speech to Croesus (1.32) regarding this focus, he asserts:
“No human being can possess all blessings, just as no single country can produce all that it needs; it will possess one thing and lack another. Similarly, no man is entirely self-sufficient; he will surely lack something. But whoever possesses the greatest number of blessings and retains them until he reaches the end, and then dies happily, he is the one, in my opinion, who should be awarded...”
Solon, like Herodotus focused on the instability of human fortune as means to show how no man is self-sufficient. In the previous chapter, Solon told Croesus of the two men of Argos, Cleobis and Biton, two men who performed an intense religious task for their city which afterwards led to their demise as they both passed away silently. Instead of the city mourning over their deaths, the people praised them for their courageous deed and erected memorials in their absence. The moral of the story is that the people of Argos supported self-sacrifice if others had benefited from it and also denied total self-sufficiency although Herodotus recognized that one must have some level of self-sufficiency to be praised once dead and to lead a happy life.
As we can see from Herodotus, he was more focused on an individual’s fortune, riches, and self-sufficiency in describing a man and would rather see a man of less wealth but greater fortune than a rich man with bad luck. Thucydides, on the other hand, expressed the need for wealth to attain power and never associated it with happiness. However, like Herodotus, Thucydides did praise self-sacrifice if it was for the greater good such as with the plague. “What was most terrible in the whole affliction was the despair when someone realized he was sick (for immediately forming the judgment that there was no hope, they tended much more to give themselves up instead of holding out. (Thuc. 2.51)”. This self-sacrifice was done out of honor but it showed again that “No constitution, as to strength or weakness, showed suffiency..(2.51)”. This statement is important because it is previously contradicted in Pericles’ Funeral Oration. He said “that s single man would represent an individual self-sufficient for the most varied forms of conduct, and with the most attractive qualities. (2.41)”. Even when a country with as much power and wealth as Athens became affected by something beyond their control, the country itself fell to its knees and could not overcome. However, one may care to note that those who had wealth and considered their lives as “ephemeral”(2.53) but were sick acted with no self-control and committed crimes that they would have normally been punished for. The reason for this was “Whatever was pleasant immediately and whatever was conducive to that were deemed both noble and useful” and “it was reasonable to get some satisfaction from life before that descended.” This description of the wealthy supported Herodotus because those with wealth but were struck with less fortune are worse off than the poor with great fortune for the poor attended the sick while the rich went insane.
Thucydides, unlike Herodotus, explained self-sufficiency to describe events regarding inter-state relations as well as individuals. For example, in the case of the Corinthian speech about the Corcyreans (1.37), the Corinthians blamed the Corcyreans of being in a self-sufficient position by not allying with anyone or encountering other countries not “out of prudence…, but they have followed this policy with evil intentions, not out of virtue, and did not want to have an ally as witness to their crimes nor to face disgrace by calling one in.” Thus, in Thucydides, those countries who attempted to be self-sufficient were seen to be evil and wrong-doers. A state that shows itself as self-sufficient is perceived by its neighbors to be “shady”. Another example of self-sufficiency goes back to Athens and Pericles’ Funeral Oration where he wrote “Those of us here now who are still somewhere in the prime of life have expanded most areas of it and in all respects provided the city with the fullest resources for both war and peace(Thuc. 1.36)”. This depicted that the citizens of Athens have forever been preparing their city for any situation self-sufficiently. Consequentially, the arrogance portrayed in his Oration eventually led to the overconfidence of the empire and the ultimate defeat versus Syracuse.
In conclusion, self-sufficiency is expressed throughout history beginning with the first historian Herodotus and will continue in the future. We continuously see how no man or state can be entirely self-sufficient because no one can achieve everything they want without the help of others or others attempting to disrupt one’s individuality. This may be due to the instinctive greed in humans or just the drive for conformity. Every state, every man influences each other whether they like it or not and those who attempt to isolate themselves from their neighbors tend to the result in conflict as we saw with the Corcyreans and Corinthians in Thucydides. Herodotus focused more on the self-sufficient individual claiming that wealth does not bring happiness; bravery, courage, and heart are the things that constitute a happy life and afterlife. Thucydides, alternatively, expressed self-sufficiency as means to gain power and wealth among individuals and states although the relations with neighboring states become tense. The Funeral Oration by Pericles and the destruction of the plague on Athens in Thucydides and Solon’s speech in Herodotus are in my opinion the best examples in Thucydides of self-sufficient description and activity. Another event describing self-sufficiency not mentioned is Diodotus’s argument in the Mytilean debate (Thuc. 3.41-42) where he attacks Cleon’s claim to spare the Mytlieans with one to kill all of them as fast as possible in order to “consider deliberations to be more about the future than the present (3.44)”. This also gives an idea that whatever benefits their city the most, they will do to maintain peace without having to deal with others; instead by just getting rid of those who have wronged them. Cpao03 12:41, May 16, 2011 (UTC)