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Thucydidean techniques

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Techniques from week 3 (pp. 1-164) Edit

Thucydides and HistoryEdit

A Rational ThinkerEdit

  • In order to understand why events occurred in ancient times, Thucydides uses rational thinking and, unlike Herodotus, does not jump to the conclusion that religion, or fate, was the cause of an event. When Thucydides talks about the plague and how it arrived in Athens, instead of saying that it was sent by the gods, Thucydides says that it either came from Ethiopia or the Peloponnesians poisoned the Athenians’ water supply. “Originally, it is said, it came from Ethiopia…It struck the city of Athens suddenly…so that it was claimed by them that the Peloponnesians had put poison in the wells.” (Thucydides 2.48) Not using punishment from the gods as an explanation shows us that he asked around and searched for the answer; he’s not taking the “easy way out” by using religion as the primary reason for a specific event. Even though Thucydides mentions a prophecy about a plague in book 2 chapter 54, he does not give much credence to it because he believes it was misremembered (the prophecy was about a famine and not a plague). Blaming religion as a cause for the plague is somewhat of a “cop-out” because it does not encourage further investigation. Herodotus’ first explanation for events would be religion; Thucydides, on the other hand, tries to explain why things happen without using religion. If Thucydides were to have witnessed the tragic events that happened in Japan, instead of saying that it was “fate” or “ordered by the gods,” I believe he would use scientific research to determine the true cause. It would seem that because Thucydides did not use religion as his primary explanation for the plague, that he is more inclined to base his reasoning on facts and evidence rather than using a religious text or prophecy. Pearlmanspencer 13:59, April 13, 2011 (UTC)

Historical InvestigatorEdit

  • In order to write a history in a Thucydidean way, it is crucial to obtain as much first-hand evidence as possible and to regard each piece of evidence in an almost scientific manner. This evidence can be in the form of first-hand accounts of eye-witnesses who saw events as they happened, but Thucydides is careful never to mention where he got his information from. Where information is lacking, Thucydides acknowledges that story-telling and embellishment should be avoided when writing history, since poets and prose chroniclers have "composed more for attractive listening than for truthfulness" (1.21). He is quick to criticize other people's attempts of chronicling history before actually providing any detail himself as if to encourage the reader that his method is correct. In order to further state his claim to historical accuracy, Thucydides writes his belief outright, stating, "[other poets/historians] for the most part have forfeited credibility over time by winning victories as patriotic fiction, but regarding my discoveries from the clearest possible evidence as adequate for what for what concerns antiquity" (1.22) He does however acknowledge that its impossible to recall the exact words of the people he gathered information from, but expresses that he will convey the overall sense with "closest possible fidelity" (1.22). Such a historian today would have to inform the reader where the sources were gathered, as plagiarism could occur and work must be cited, and methods of writing history are still debated today, where some claim to do it in the manner which Thucydides presents (with politically scientific interpretation), or historians such as Herodotus do (with morals and story-telling techniques). Zaidi2013 20:12, April 9, 2011 (UTC)

Human NatureEdit

  • In order to understand history in a Thucydidean way, one must acknowledge the importance of human nature. One must not only acknowledge the importance of human nature, but also assume that humans are naturally greedy and aggressive in times of conflict. Numerous times when Thucydides analyzes conflicts that have taken place and the actions of individuals, Thucydides brings human nature to the reader’s attention. When Thucydides does so, he usually has two reasons for doing so. First, to explain the actions of those involved in the conflict and secondly, to help explain why future events will happen. During Thucydides’ account of the Corcyrean civil war, he accounts much of the cruelty that takes place to the nature of human beings. Thucydides reasons that “…during the civil wars the cities suffered many cruelties that occur and will always occur as long as men have the same nature…” (Thucydides, 3.82). This shows that Thucydides is blaming many actions that have taken place and will take place on the nature of humans. During another account of the Corcyrean civil war, Thucydides again resorts to human nature as a cause of such cruelties. “With public life confused to the critical point, human nature, always ready to act unjustly even in violation of laws…” (Thucydides, 3.84) These show that Thucydides believes that during conflict, humans are naturally dangerous and greedy creatures. Stuarts 19:36, April 18, 2011 (UTC)


  • In order to tell a History in a particularly Thucydidean way, one must remain almost completely unbiased, disregarding their roots. In contrast to many younger classicists, I believe that Thucydides is very good at writing his literature, especially the "speeches" as unbiased as possible. The speeches that stick out to me in regards to this argument are those of the Athenians trying to make other territories submit to them. As an Athenian, one might think that his prose and vocabulary would make the reader favor the Athenian side, but that is not the case. My point is made clear at the end of book 5 when the Athenians attempt to obtain the Melians. The Athenians make their typical arguments that they are not trying to be tyrants over the weaker state, but to rule them as they rule their own. No matter what is said against them, and how logical and even correct the opposition is, Thucydides portrays the Athenians as Stubborn bullies that won't take no for an answer. At one point in the discussion, after the Athenians say that the Melians will benefit from being ruled by them, the Melians ask, "Just how might becoming subjects bring us as much benefit as ruling would to you?" (Thuc. 5.92). The Athenians reply, "Because it would involve your submitting before suffering the worst fate, and we would profit from not destroying you." (5.93). To me, at least, this seems like a strong, cocky kid making a little weak kid give up his lunch money, something that most people would not like to be portrayed as. Thucydides goes on to write that the Athenian people see friendship as a sign of weakness and hatred as a sign of strength. Personally, I do not believe that Thucydides is a biased historian at all. Diestelt 22:30, April 18, 2011 (UTC)

Thucydides and WarfareEdit

Just the FactsEdit

  • If you want to approach events of the Peloponnesian War in a distinctively Thucydidean way, one must understand that everything written is strongly believed to be true by Thucydides. Herodotus, on the other hand, wrote down everything he heard whether he believed in it or not to show different sides of every story. Thucydides wrote scientifically without the use of gods or myths to explain how events came about and stuck to the facts as he had believed. For example, following the death of Pericles and the eventual end of the plague, Thucydides writes "And what was in name a democracy became in actuality rule by the first man."(2.65) This shows that even such a strong, powerful nation when affected by something beyond human control, crumbles back into tyranny where one man is believed to be the leader of the country in order to make them victorious once again. This can be shown in World War II with the rise of dictatorships in Europe. Many countries become ridden with madness, famine, and violence and they look for one man to solve all their problems.Cpao03 19:12, April 25, 2011 (UTC)

Context IncludedEdit

  • In order to recount a battle in a Thucydidean way, It is crucial to know the preface of the battle, the story and the outcome of said battle. Thucydides introduces the reader to the conflicts between the Corcyreans and the Corinthians, by setting the scene with the dispute over Epidamnos. "And the Corinthians promised the requested help, partly as a duty, since they thought the colony was as much theirs as the Corcyreans',but partly also out of their hatred for the Corcyreans because they were colonists of theirs who slighted them.... With all these grievances, then, the Corinthians gladly sent help to Epidamnos." (1.34) The details that follow this lead to both sides applying to Athens for support and, even though the reasoning of the Corinthians as told by Thycydidies seems more convincing than that of the, in the end the Athenian’s decide upon a defensive pact with the Corcyreans'. "And the Athenians, after hearing both speeches and meeting in assembly, even for a second time, inclined in the first assembly toward accepting the arguments of the Corinthians but in the later one reconsidered and made and alliance with the Corcyreans." (1.44) Thucydides is also very clear in his description of the battle, noting how many ships each Corinthian ally supplied and the specific locations of each major force in the battle to ensue. "After they saw each other, they formed their battle lines, the Attic Ships on the right wing of the Corcyreans, who occupied the rest of the line in three divisions, each under one of the commanders. This was the Corcyrean formation, and on the Corinthian side...." (1.52) This is just the beginning of Thucydides methodical way of explaining the battle, he explains the critical points in the battle and provides a good narrative of the events. In this way Thucydides handles the war between the Corinthians and the Corcyreans. Farrellh 03:19, April 12, 2011 (UTC)

Change for a War?Edit

  • In order to understand the decision to go to war in a truly Thucydidean way, one must not overlook the economic implications of carrying out a war. As a logical and perceptive thinker, Thucydides always makes a point to back up his more political- or honor-based explanations for a certain group of people to declare war with real-life reasoning in terms of how much it will actually cost. Although he certainly emphasizes the role of a city's pride or their obligations to an alliance as strong catalysts for starting a war, Thucydides never forgets to examine the economic side of this decision in judging whether or not it is a good idea. For example, one of Archidamos' strongest arguments in opposition of going to war with the Athenians is the fact that they simply cannot match the wealth of the Athenian empire, despite having the best-trained soldiers in Greece: "In our funds? We are at a still greater disadvantage there and have neither money in a treasury nor readiness to pay it out of private sources" (Thucydides 1.80). No matter how courageous or skilled enough in battle the Spartans are, they can't win an entire war by repeated invasions alone - "they have much more territory in their empire, and they import what they need by sea" (Thucydides 1.81). Thucydides again brings up this issue in Pericles' pre-war speech to the Athenians; although it is for the most part ridden with emotionally-charged rallying and political reasoning for war, Pericles makes mention of their monetary advantage early on in his speech with a fairly cynical but nonetheless relevant statement: "It is surplus wealth rather than forced contributions that supports wars; farmers are the type of men who are readier to go to war with their persons than their funds, with the confidence that the former will survive the dangers but with no certainty that they will not expend the latter too soon" (Thucydides 1:141) - in this case, the farmers being the Spartans. In this way, Thucyides makes certain not to diminish the strong psychological drives for going to war, but simply to incorporate the pure logistics behind it in terms of the necessary funds for such an undertaking. Aglids 16:17, April 13, 2011 (UTC)

Change in InterestsEdit

  • Thucydides’ account of Pylos shows a change in his style compared to the previous books. Thucydides begins to focus more closely on the battles themselves during book four. In his previous books, Thucydides was more interested in discussing the individual decisions being made throughout the war. Previously, he tended to dissect the reasoning and causes of each decision, whether it was a moral decision or a decision of expedience. In book four, it appears that Thucydides believes that the subsequent battles that took place were particularly important. This is rather unusual for Thucydides. It also seems as though during the Battle of Pylos, Thucydides is emphasizing the importance of paradoxes. At one point, he mentions how the Athenians, who had the strongest Greek navy at the time, lost its entire fleet while the Spartans, who were primarily a land power, acquired a strong navy. Thucydides focuses on the presence of paradoxes for a reason. He does this to emphasize the fact that the Battle of Pylos is a major turning point of the Peloponnesian war. Barkerk 17:32, April 20, 2011 (UTC)

New PerspectiveEdit

  • Thucydides' account of the Thracian attack on the city of Mykalessos shows a completely different outlook from attacks upon cities in the rest of his writing to serve as an example of the atrocities of warfare and provide his own personal beliefs, though his account is meant to be unbiased. Thucydides does this by using rather colorful word choice and describing the denizens of the city. He writes, "[The Thracians] captured it by falling upon people who were off guard and without suspicion that anyone would come far in from the sea to attack them...with their wall negligible and gates open in addition because of their absence of fear" (7.29). By portraying such an innocent view of the residents of Mykalessos, the actions of the Thracians, i.e. "butchering the people, sparing neither the eldest nor the youngest" and not even sparing the pack animals, are all the more heinous. Thucydides also comments on the Thracians themselves, calling them "most murderous in times of confidence" (7.29) and considering the atrocity "a fate as pitiable as any in the war" (7.30). This account shows a different side of Thucydides' style, perhaps to the extent of pity on account of so many innocent deaths. Zaidi2013 00:12, April 22, 2011 (UTC)

The Third SinEdit

  • Through Thucydides’ eyes, the motivation to engage in interpersonal disputes, either domestic or international, stems entirely from avaritia or, in English, the deadly sin of greed. In short, greed is the drive to want a natural need in excess; even the desire to attain abstract valuables, (i.e.: money or contractual agreements which, needless to say, can be neither eaten nor used as weapons) can be directly connected to one’s ability to acquire resources. As Thucydides is known for having paraphrased the thoughts and speeches of historical figures, there is an inherent presence of bias. Even though such conjecture is unavoidable when interpreting the words or implications of others, Thucydides’ attention to empirical data gives a full understanding of the quantitative demands to each civilization. Although Thucydides’ frequently comments on morality and systems of government, he always includes information about resources (even if all he can provide is that party ‘A’ has more than party ‘B’ but still wants all it can get from party ‘B’). For example, “Give over to us, the Lacedaemonians, your city and houses, and indicate the boundaries of your land and the number of your trees and whatever else can be numbered” [Thucydides 2.72]. Archidamos’ speech leads the Plataians to believe that wishes to borrow their assets only to prevent their use against the Lacedaemonians’ cause. Unfortunately, Archidamus failed to follow through on similar agreements several times and, in many cases, had the defenseless patsies killed. The desire to have resources for, rather than the security of knowing that they will not be used against him is driven purely by greed. Such a statement about the vast influence of sin is far from a revelation. Today we are currently involved in a military campaign over seas. Regardless of the actual incentives for this pursuit, a vast number of U.S. citizens had no hesitation in believing the government sought natural resources. Such quickness to disbelieve the leaders of one’s own country (who claimed they had other intentions), may be inspired by the acceptance, or perhaps even compassion for the natural desire to collect.

Macminnd 16:00, April 20, 2011 (UTC)

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