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The History of the Peloponnesian War (Classics) Paperback – 31 Dec 2000
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About the Author
THUCYDIDES was born probably about 460BC. He took a small part in the Peloponnesian War when it broke out in 431BC. 'The Peoloponnesian War' is the only surviving source for much of the period that he describes. Some of the chronological inconsistencies have been the cause of controversy among scholars for centuries.
Rex Warner 1905-1986 was a classical scholar of Wadham College, Oxford. M. I. Finley was a lecturer in Classics and then Professor of Ancient History at Cambridge. He died in 1986
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Top customer reviews
The first book explains the treaty system that preceded the outbreak of hostilities, describing a diplomatic process between Corinth, Athens, Lacedaemon and other city states within the Greece of its day, henceforth referred to as Hellas.
Early on Thucydides posits the cause of the war as the growth of the power of Athens, and from the ensuing pages, it becomes clear that many states joined the anit-Athenian alliance more out of fear of subjugation, rather than pursuit of particular grievances. Corinth had a particular grievance against Athens, namely that they fought against them with the Corcyraeans at the time of the original treaty. As Thucydides states, "the love of gain would reconcile the weaker to the dominion of the stronger, and the possession of capital enabled the more powerful to reduce the smaller towns to subjection."
Much detail is given to the deliberations and consideration of war, such as manpower, naval power, and logistical control of sea and land. One can evince from this 2,400 year old text that rational considerations of real politik played just as an important part in war and peace back then as they do today.
The Peloponnesian war, we learn, was often beset with a variety of natural disasters, such as a wide outbreak of disease, earthquakes, and the eruption of Mount Etna.
All through out books II to IV alliances shift, as the various Hellenic peoples shift their alliances, wagering on the strength of their adversaries, and the feasibility of their alliances. A diplomatic process is in play throughout, with various city-states exchanging embassies, and establishing a diplomatic dialogue.
Various truces follow, including a truce which established naval rights, and sharing of holy places, in many ways a good example for the parties of today's Middle East Peace Process. However, truces soon collapse, and wanton devastation is routinely dished out, including attacks upon retreating armies, and event the destruction of temples.
The most startlingly relevant feature of Thucydides work is that it reads in many ways like a modern day conflict with the formation of alliances, the break down of relations, the proclamation of truces, their subsequent abrogation.
An interesting part of the book features a campaign in Sicily, which features a decent insight into Sicily's ancient history, revealing how it has from time immemorial been a land of different masters.
Considering that the world of 4th Century BC Greece was certainly not as small as the world of the present day, the logistical difficulties of such a war, coupled with the incursions into Sicily, and limited involvement of the Persians, this was pretty much as close to a world war as one is likely to read from classical history.
Despite this works unfinished status, it is a timeless classic and relevant to many modern day studies, whether it is classics, philosophy, or most importantly, international relations.
Rex Warner's translation from the Greek is both enlightening and readable. The headings at the top of every other page allow the reader to 'skim' easily to particular topics. I shall note only two passages, which speed by despite their length, as examples: the Plague of 430 BC (Thuc. II. 47-55), and the Corcyrean Revolt of 427 BC (Thuc. III. 69-95; esp. 82-83). The first demonstrates Thucydides' brilliance as what we today would call a journalist. His account of the plague is based on keen observation of the disease, which he both caught and survived. Originating at Athens' harbour, it swept through the confines of the city, partly as a result of Pericles' disastrous policy of moving the population into an already-crowded city (Thucydides does not know about rats and lice, but he does note that all domestic animals and birds of prey, which came into contact with the stricken, died). The historian, whose narrative is considered the first epidemiology, describes the disease from its symptoms, through its crisis, to its devastating end, sometimes in recovery, most often in death. As riveting as his narrative is, Thucydides transcends straight reportage as he describes the psychological toll on the populace, who not only became demoralised, but also sank into committing normally unthinkable acts, such as sneaking out at night and dumping their dead relatives onto someone else's funeral pyre, or allowing the sick to die of neglect.
The other not-to-be-missed passage is Thucydides' narration of the Corcyrean Revolt, which is far more than an account of a mere rebellion. It is an account of propaganda, and how the very language undergoes transmogrifications of meanings during times of stress. For example, what in peacetime might be considered "a thoughtless act of agression," in wartime becomes "courage"; what in peacetime is a consider-all-sides-of-an-issue policy, in wartime, becomes cowardice; Thucydides writes: "Fanatical enthusiasm was the mark of a real man, and to plot against an enemy behind his back was a perfectly legitimate self-defence" [Thuc. III. 82]. The passage seems especially relevant in this commercial age of mass media, when language becomes so easily distorted and misinterpreted.
Thucydides' history breaks off in 411 and thus does not cover the end of the war in 404. Even so, its themes are so universal that they convey an immediate ring of truth that bridges the gap of the millennia.