Click on the footnote number and you will jump down to that note. Once there and enlightened, then click on that number and you will return to where you were in the text.


From An Introduction to the History of History, by James T. Shotwell; Columbia University Press; New York; 1922; pp. 162-178.




ALONGSIDE the history of Herodotus stands a work which begins as follows:

“Thucydides, an Athenian, wrote the history of the war in which the Peloponnesians and the Athenians fought against one another. He began to write when they first took up arms, believing that it would be great and memorable above any previous war.”

In such sober terms does the greatest historian of antiquity begin the story of those eventful years which determined the fate of Athens, and with it, of the civilized world. This soberness is typical of the whole work; a consciousness of the high theme even more. For the author was a different type of man from the sophisticated but garrulous Herodotus. He, too, had travelled before his work was done, being also an exile. But he did not become a citizen of the world, catching with easy familiarity the changeful notes of different countries. He remained throughout a high-born Athenian, a magistrate in history, severe and impartial even when his dearest interests were at stake, proud, isolated, self-contained.1 There could not well be a greater contrast 163 than that between Herodotus and Thucydides. Thucydides himself knew this. He has a poor opinion of Herodotus, and as much as says so — though without deigning to mention him. There is no mistaking a remark like this, however: “Men do not discriminate, and are too ready to receive ancient traditions about their own as well as about other countries.”2 He classes with the poets those “tales of chroniclers who seek to please the ear rather than to speak the truth.”3 His own ideal is different — it is accuracy and relevancy — a straight story and a true one. And he reached his ideal.

Thucydides, too, was a modern historian, more so than Herodotus. He wrote the history of his own time. As we have just seen, he states that he began collecting material for it when the Peloponnesian war began; so that it has not even the genial fallacies of memoirs written late in life and blurred over by failing memory or sources. He enjoyed unrivalled opportunities. High in affairs of state, he was familiar with the inner history of politics and knew personally the leading men. Even his exile enabled him to become acquainted with the Spartans4 and probably to visit Sicily, where the naval power of Athens met its fate.5 And he brought to his task a brain that matched the best that Greece produced — which is the highest tribute that can be paid.

His genius shows itself at the very start. In a few bold pages he cuts his way through the mass of tangled myths and legends about the early history of Hellas, and presents a clear and rational outline. Then, pausing a moment to criticise his predecessors, the poets and logographers — who had never quite done this thing before — with a proud note on his own enterprise, he plunges into the theme of his history.

Here we have not the time to follow him, and even if we had, we may as well confess, with Thucydidean candor, that few of us would care to do so. For all the art of the great historian of antiquity cannot quite reconcile the modern reader — unless he 164 is a Hellenist beforehand — to a prolonged study of the details of the Peloponnesian war. For Thucydides it was the greatest event in history. The Trojan war had found a Homer; the Persian a Herodotus; but these two great epochs of the Hellenic past were, in his eyes, of far less importance than that of the great civil war which involved all of Greece and even disturbed the otherwise negligible barbarian world. The more he studied the past and compared it with the present, the more he was convinced that the greatest theme in history was offered to him by the war of his own lifetime. So he preserved its detailed story with scrupulous care, and it is its very excellence as a history against which the modern reader rebels. For the war was long and had many turnings; and Thucydides is no garrulous guide or entertainer. He marches sternly ahead through a world of facts; it is too serious business for one to turn aside and view the scenery; even when the campaign is over for the year and we return home to the city, we must attend the council where plans for next year are on foot. There is only one purpose in life and that is to see the war through. The result is that we are led through years of desultory fighting, raids, skirmishes, expeditions by land and sea, debates in council, strategy in battle, until our memories are fairly benumbed by the variety of incident and the changes in policies, leadership and fortune.

It is possible, however, that our weariness is caused less by what is told than by what is left unsaid. Nothing so tires a traveller as to miss the aim of his journey. We can stand long miles of dusty tramping if we are reassured from time to time by glimpses of the delectable mountains. The same is true of mental journeys; fatigue is largely a matter of frustration. And so with Thucydides. The tale he tells is not what we wish most to hear. Its theme is not the greatest in history. Merely as a military event the war was relatively insignificant. Compared with the wars of Rome, of Hun and Teuton, of mediæval crusaders and modern nations, the struggle between two leagues of city-states has little in itself — merely as war — to attract attention. What makes the Peloponnesian war of lasting interest is not the actual fighting but the issues at stake — Greek civilization and Athenian greatness. Our minds wander from the story of slaughter to what remains untold, the achievements in the art of peace, which alone made the war significant, — 165 even for Thucydides.6 So, if the narrative compels us to follow, — and no one can dispute its power, — there are seasons when we shoulder the yearly cuirass with reluctance.

As a matter of fact the greatest theme in history lay right before his eyes, but it was not war; it was the Athens of Pericles’ and of his own time. Instead of describing that, a work for which his discriminating temper would have eminently fitted him, he chose rather to hand down as part of “an everlasting possession”7 to future ages, instructions for our Von Moltkes, Kuropatkins, Joffres and Ludendorffs, in the handling of spear-men on foraging campaigns! There is no glimpse of the Parthenon except as it looms up against the sky where the refugees from Attica watch the flames of Spartan pillagers in their homes, no allusion to the drama of Athens in spite of the fact that it had furnished at least the suggestions of the mould in which his manual of warfare was recast into the tragedy of Hellas. There is a proud consciousness all the time that the Acropolis is there and that the art and literature of Athens are a shining model to the world, but all references to them are severely suppressed as not being germane to the subject. Only once does Athens really come into the history, the Athens to which subsequent ages looked back with such wonder and despair, — and that is in the funeral oration of Pericles. This is enough, however, to show what we have lost in the refusal of Thucydides to write the history of a people instead of that of a war. No city ever received a prouder tribute, or one more eloquent. It does not describe the monuments, it adds another to them; for it stands like a solitary block of prose, set in the midst of the tragedy of war, — a Parthenon itself, hewn to enshrine not the myth-goddess of the city but the human spirit of its citizens.

An orthodoxy of appreciation surrounds the works of the old masters in any art; the heretics “fail to understand.” But heresy has a moral if not an artistic justification, and we must register the disappointment of the reader of Thucydides who comes to him in the hope that he will find in his pages a living picture of the 166 cities which waged the war. To be sure, he did not write for us; he wrote for Athenians, or at least for Greeks, and they took for granted what we wish most to know. But the fact remains that the work lacks for us its central theme. Much has been made recently of the influence of the tragedy of Æschylus upon the form into which Thucydides threw the materials of his history.8 It is claimed that this was as much a model to him — consciously or unconsciously — as the epic was to Herodotus. But for the modern audience the rules of the tragedy seem strangely violated. We are continually behind the wings where the killing is in progress. The principals, too, seem to move across the stage at times from insufficient motives, a single speech of rather obvious remarks determining the policy of a city. The real reasons for much of the intricacies of the drama remain undiscovered. We miss a good chorus, made up, if possible, of the business men from Peiræus, who might explain, if Thucydides did not disdain their foreign accent, the real causes of the war and of the policies of Athens — in terms of economics.

We should not be tempted to elaborate the shortcomings of Thucydides from the standpoint of the modern reader, if it were not for the fact that writers on Greek literature, and even historians who should know better, in their enthusiasm over the magisterial performance, where the scientific spirit dominates as nowhere else in antique history, give the impression to the student that if he does not find the History of the Peloponnesian War completely satisfying his heart’s desire, the fault is all his own. There is no fault; there are merely intervening centuries. A work of genius may be universal and for all time; but the form in which it is embodied bears the marks of the local and temporary. This is always true, more or less. In art, as in nature, immortality is of the spirit. That spirit, in Thucydides, was poised in Hellenic balance, between science and art, a model for all time; but the work which it produced shows the limitations of outlook and material which definitely stamp it as antique. To see in the author of the Peloponnesian War a “modern of moderns,”9 facing history as we do, equipped with the understanding of the forces of history such as the historian 167 of today possesses, is to indulge in an anachronism almost as naïve as the failure to appreciate Thucydides because he lacks it! There is a world of difference between the outlook of a citizen of Periclean Athens, — however keen and just his judgment, however free from superstition and credulity, — and that of a modern thinker supplied with the apparatus for scientific investigation. The whole history of Europe lies this side of Thucydides, and it would be strange indeed if the historian of today had learned nothing from its experience, especially from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, which have contributed at the same time the implements of historical research and the widened outlook of the social sciences. Yet such is the spell which the spirit of Thucydides still exerts that even Eduard Meyer, the historian who as perhaps done most to reconstruct antique history in the light of those forces which the Greek ignored, is led to assert that there is only one way to handle the problem of history, that which Thucydides first used and in which no one has ever surpassed him.10

Were Thucydides alive today, we venture to think that he would be the first to dissent from this judgment, or at least from the general implications involved as to the character of his work. The historian who passed such impatient strictures upon Herodotus would certainly not rest content now with his own performance. There are at least four major elements in his history which he would now recast. In the first place he would have to admit his inability to grapple with the past. He lacked both the implements for dealing with it and a sense of its bearing upon the present. In the second place he failed to give an adequate picture of Greek politics, keeping too close to the definite politics of the war to catch its working as a whole; and he missed altogether the economic forces which underlay so much of both war and politics. Finally, he put the political and diplomatic elements of his story into the form of speeches by the leading characters, — a device common to all antique historians, but which violates the primary laws of historical work today.

Let us take up these points, hurriedly, in turn. We have said that Thucydides was not at home in dealing with the past; yet his short introduction to the history of Greece before his day was a 168 unique performance. The paradox is not difficult to explain. His sketch of early Greek history is remarkable mainly for what it leaves out. It does not fall into the common fault of early historians, that of romancing. It does not exaggerate as poets and chroniclers did. A skeptical spirit and sound common sense kept Thucydides from yielding to that greatest of all temptations to the story-teller, making a point by stretching the tale. To the antique historian this was much more of a temptation than it can ever be again, for there was little chance that his audience would find him out. When the modern historian tells a great story he is at once asked for his sources, and before the book is fairly started on its career, a dozen other historians are on his track, busily verifying the account. In the days of Herodotus and Thucydides, the past was well-nigh unexplored, and the traveller who did not bring back from its dim horizons some trophy of what might have been, would miss the applause which he might otherwise so easily win. Thucydides cared nothing for such applause and proudly broke with those who did. He sought the truth because he wished it, not because his readers were clamoring for it; yet his imagination caught the reward of future centuries, when, as he foresaw, his history would be as imperishable as the truth which it contained.

But there is a world of difference between denying the fabulous in the past and appreciating the importance of the obscure. Because the past lacked greatness Thucydides thought it unworthy of his attention. He states his negative conclusions in no uncertain terms: “Judging from the evidence which I am able to trust after most careful enquiry, I should imagine that former ages were not great either in their wars or in anything else.”11 By “former ages” he includes everything down to his own day. Even Salamis had its touch of pettiness; the Greek ships were partly open-decked.12 Compared with the great age in which he lived, all that had gone before seemed poor and insignificant, and therefore once having convinced himself that this was so, he ignored the past as much as possible. His judgment may have been justified by the achievements of the Athens of his time; but the perspective is all the same a barren one so far as history is concerned, for his narrative 169 was limited to the events of his own day. The modern historian has no such outlook. Although he lives in an age incomparably more wonderful in many ways than that of Thucydides, he knows better than to despise the past. On the contrary, he turns all the more to the study of what is obscure in the detail of former civilizations. He does so not to supply lessons to statesmen, which was the main purpose of Thucydides, but from the conviction, forced home by science, that only through a knowledge of how things came about can we understand what they are. He has a vision of the eternal linking of past and present, of the progressive creation of evolving societies, which no antique man could possibly have seen. The insignificant gains significance when fitted into such a scheme, just as each stone is necessary in a temple wall. Science builds up its structures out of the neglected data of the commonplace and the science of history had learned from it never to despise a past however obscure it seems; for its fragmentary evidence may furnish the clue for the recovery of some vanished civilization or the explanation of otherwise inexplicable elements in a later one.

The fact is that where science has thus determined the outlook of the modern historian, poetry determined that of Thucydides. He would have vigorously denied it, but the case is clear. The epic — or perhaps dramatic — ideal of a great story of great deeds was his ideal of history as well. The contrast between this and the scientific outlook escapes us, because historians have generally followed the same poetic tendencies down even to our own time, seizing great themes under a sense that they alone were worthy of great histories. Now, however, the men of scientific temper see things differently. They find their theme just where the great masters refused to look, — in such a past as that which Thucydides ignored because it was “not great either in wars or in anything else.” The result is that, for the first time, history is disclosing its hidden perspectives and the past is taking on some of the color of reality.

Thucydides failed to appreciate these things not from any personal limitations, but because he lived before scientific history was possible. He has the scientific temper, for he investigated everything for himself, even what he omitted. But science demands 170 more than individual genius; it rests upon the coöperative work of many minds, amassing data and preparing implements for others still to use. It is a social phenomenon, indeed the most highly socialized there is, for the economics of the search for truth encounters no such individualistic tendencies as the economics of the search for wealth. So the investigator of today has ready at his disposal a vast array of facts already established and duly classified. Thucydides had no such heritage. He had an archæologist’s eye for the use of monuments as historical sources, for he observed the broken fragments of pillars in the walls of Athens and quoted the fact as a vivid proof of his account of how those walls were rebuilt after the Persian war. He even used inscriptions when they came his way. But it is a long step from such antiquarian interest — promising as it is — to the systematic investigation of monuments. He could only speculate as to the wealth of Agamemnon, little suspecting that the treasure chambers of Mycenæ lay waiting for a spade. Minos was to him but a name from the borderland of legend and history; now the excavations of Cnossus have made it a term in scientific chronology. No prophecy of genius could foretell that, when the search was wide enough, and the implements for it sufficiently perfected, the merest trifles of antiquity would take on the significance of historical records; that bits of tombstones and scraps of papyri would enable us to reconstruct the history of vanished centuries, or help us to correct the narrative of great historians.

But the chief handicap of the antique historian, in dealing with the past, was an absence of exact chronology. It is hard for us to realize what a handicap this was. Yet the more we examine the history of History the more it becomes apparent that until time was measured it was not appreciated. We have already seen that it took many ages of Babylonian and later Egyptian history for the mathematics of the calendar to straighten out the tangles of days, months and years, until a systematic chronology became possible. In the Greece of Thucydides’ day, the problem had not yet been solved, and the perspective of the past was, as a result, blurred and uncertain. The only historian who had attempted to open it up, by a systematic chronology of Athens, was Hellanicus, and Thucydides soon discovered how unreliable his reckoning was. 171 But it is a remarkable fact that he did not try to correct or improve upon it. He frankly gave up the problem, and fell back upon the most primitive of all methods of reckoning time, that of the old farmer’s calendar of the seasons. Summer and winter are all he needs, the summer for fighting, the winter for politics. This is all he needs for the greatest war of antiquity.13 Beyond those passing years lay obscurity — and relative insignificance. He saw no long perspectives of the marshalled centuries, like the historian of today; instead, he looked but vaguely into “the abysm and gulf of Time,” and its darkness almost enveloped the events of his own day.

If Thucydides lacked the prime qualification of a modern historian in his failure to handle time-perspectives, his choice of subject bears as well the marks and limitations of the antique. He had no doubt but that war was the one and proper subject of history. Had this been true, and the Peloponnesian war, as he believed, the greatest of wars, his work would rank without a rival among the achievements of historians. For the very sternness with which he kept to his theme instead of offering us picturesque details of Greek society, as Herodotus would have done, would be in his favor. Yet even here, a merit may easily develop into a fault. Thucydides did more than cut out the digressions of a story-teller;14 he concentrated upon the war so intently as not only to 172 exaggerate its importance, — the very fault he found with the poets and chroniclers before him,15 — but even to weld the interrupted struggles of the Athenian and Spartan leagues into one and to give the impression that the attention of Greece of his time centred as exclusively upon the war as did his own. It has been said that Thucydides himself was the inventor of the war he narrates, and undoubtedly he cherished a fixed idea concerning it; for, as he tells us in the opening sentence, he foresaw its significance from the first, a confession which shows the limitations of his outlook, — which is after all but another name for a biassed mind. So, although subsequent events to a large degree justified his foresight and approved his perspective, there was undoubtedly some manipulation of the data to make the continuity so clear and to ensure that the national tragedy develop as a tragedy should — impelled by the wilful passions of men under the hand of fate.16

Fortunately, even the story of a war extends beyond the field of battle; it includes as well the politics of the combatants. For one must listen to the speeches in council and watch the moving of the public mind to explain the formation of alliances and the plan of campaigns. So Thucydides interspersed his account of military operations with a history of politics. Indeed he seems to have spent upon it more elaborate care than upon the details of the fighting. This, in the eyes of most of his critics, serves at once to distinguish him from all his predecessors. He had left behind the tales of heroes which still evoked the story-telling qualities of Herodotus. Poets and chroniclers “who write to please the ear” are scornfully dismissed for a study of statecraft and generalship. But this is not a history of Greek politics; it is only a history of the politics of the war. The student of history finds in Thucydides almost as little light upon the general character of political constitutions of 173 Greek states as the student of culture does of their life and thought.17

We shall of course be reminded that Thucydides should not be held responsible for these omissions, for he was not writing constitutional or cultural history. But that is just the point we wish to make. The scope of Thucydides is limited by that of a war which few of us care to follow — in detail — were it not that the genius of the author holds us to the task, like some inexorable tutor with whom one reads for imaginary examinations. Discipline and profit accrue to the reader, and the text is one of the noblest products of antiquity; but it fails to answer the questions we have most at heart.

The chief weakness in this story of politics, however, is the failure to look beyond personal motives for causes. There is an almost complete blindness to economic forces. To Thucydides this was a world where men willed and wrought, of their own account, through the impulse of passion, and met success or frustration as Fortune (τύχν) meted it out. Fortune was the determining factor, the unknown quantity, the “x” in the problem; but it was conceived in terms of religion, not of business. It was the inexplicable Power, the Providence beyond the reckoning of history, the Luck which rules the primitive world, decked with the regalia of philosophic mysticism. Thucydides had no idea that Fortune, this substitute for the caprice of the gods, was interested in the price of commodities. Conceiving it in terms of mystery, he traced its action but did not try to explain, — for there was no explanation. With us Fortune still plays its major rôle, but it suggests economics and invites investigation, for it is mainly a synonym for wealth. The very element in history which meant mystery to Thucydides is therefore offering to us the first glimpses of natural law in a natural instead of a spiritual world — the laws of supply and demand and all their implications.

The shortcomings of Thucydides in this matter should not be overstated, for it would be absurd to the point of the grotesque to expect from him an economic interpretation of history. The economic interpretation of history is a very recent thing; it 174 has not yet eliminated all the mystery of individual will and is not likely soon to do so. But it is just as absurd to claim for Thucydides a perception of universal laws for man and nature, and to regard his narrative as one conceived in the enlightenment of modern science. This is the point of view advanced by the older literary critics, whose appreciation of Thucydides has become the standard by which most readers hasten to adjust their own impression. It is needless to point out further how such extravagant claims reveal rather the scientific limitations of their authors than the scientific triumphs of Thucydides.

The result of our survey is the conclusion that the greatest historian of antiquity was important in two of the major requirements of the modern historian: on the one hand the mastery of time-perspectives, the unravelling of the past; on the other hand the handling of the impersonal forces, material and social, which modify if they do not govern the course of human events. This does not detract from the greatness of his performance; it could not have been otherwise. He did not have the chance to measure economic forces or chronology; the implements for doing so did not then exist. “We must constantly remind ourselves,” says Mr. Cornford in his suggestive study of Thucydides Mythistoricus,18 “that Thucydides seemed to himself to stand on the very threshold of history. Behind him lay a past which, in comparison with ours, was unimaginably meagre. From beyond the Grecian seas had come nothing but travellers’ tales of the eastern wonderland. Within the tiny Hellenic world itself, the slender current of history flashed only here and there a broken gleam through the tangled overgrowth of legend and gorgeous flowers of poetry. . . .  “ There was nothing to do with such a past but to leave it alone and turn to his great journalistic enterprise of saving the world of fact in which he lived. Skepticism might keep him free from credulity, but it could not forge the tools for investigation.

In short, the mind of Thucydides was neither primitive nor 175 modern; it was antique. No recognition of modern tendencies or capacities should blind us to its limitations. It moved with the precision of supreme self-consciousness, but within narrow confines both of time and space, — and by unknown frontiers. To quote Cornford again: “Thucydides lived at the one moment in recorded history which has seen a brilliantly intellectual society, nearly emancipated from a dying religion, and at the same time unaided by science, as yet hardly born. Nowhere but in a few men of that generation shall we find so much independence of thought combined with such destitute poverty in the apparatus and machinery of thinking. . . .  We must rid our minds of scientific terminology as well as of religion and philosophy, if we are to appreciate the unique detachment of Thucydides’ mind, moving in the rarest of atmospheres between the old age and the new. Descartes, for all his efforts, was immeasurably less free from metaphysical preoccupation; Socrates appears, in comparison, superstitious.”19

Finally, there is one element in Thucydides’ work which bears the mark of the antique on its face, — the speeches which he put into the mouths of his leading characters, and into which he compressed most of the politics and diplomacy of his history. Nothing could be more unmodern than this device. Imagine a Ranke inventing or even elaborating orations for modern statesmen and then embodying them into his narrative! One cannot supply speeches for historical characters unless one has the text, and where the Thucydides of antiquity labored most, the Thucydides of today would give up the task. Even from the standpoint of art, the speeches seem now incongruous and unreal. As Macaulay said of them, “They give to the whole book something of the grotesque character of those Chinese pleasure-grounds, in which perpendicular rocks of granite start up in the midst of a soft green plain. Invention is shocking where truth is in such close juxtaposition with it.”20

But we must not be too sure of our judgment, either of the antique or the Chinese. Each must be judged in its own environment. Certainly no one in Ancient Greece or Rome could have guessed that a historian would ever object to the making of orations as a legitimate part of historical narrative. Speech-making in story-telling is as old as story. It is natural in all primitive narration. 176 All good story-tellers put words into the mouths of their heroes. They do this, not as conscious artifice, but simply because their minds work naturally in dramatic mimicry — the mimicry which is a direct legacy from the most primitive form of thought and its expression. This is the explanation of much of what seems to us either naïve or questionable in the Old Testament, where the words of the patriarchs and of Jahveh are given in direct narration by authors of a millennium later than the recorded conversations. There, however, as in Herodotus, the general background of the story was in tone with such primitive dramatizing. In Thucydides the case is different; his mind did not naturally work like that of a gossip or a raconteur, by the impersonation of others. He kept to the old devices, and made up speeches to suit his story; but the content does not suit the form, and in the ears of a modern the thing rings false.

Yet we should not forget that Thucydides wrote for Greeks, not for us. The incongruity is there because the work survives into another age, when the clamor of the agora is stilled, and people read instead of listen. Oratory no longer determines the fate of states. The sneers of Bismarck at its impotence are justified. The forces that move events in the modern world seldom find expression at all, and if they do they are more likely to be embodied in figures than in words. This was partly true too in the ancient world, truer than Thucydides could have suspected. But it is well, after all, that he did not; for he had no means for handling it, and would have merely obscured his narrative had he attempted it. As it was, he left us, besides the story of war, a picture of the leadership of men, of great speakers swaying the passions of uncertain crowds, of councils listening to the thrusts of keen debate. If we are always conscious, as we look at these scenes, that we see them through the eyes of an interpreter, we at least have the satisfaction of knowing that our interpreter was, of all who saw them, the one best fitted to transmit them to posterity.

Thucydides began his history with the expression of haughty scorn for the tales of poets in the youth of Hellas; prose, not poetry, is the medium for truth. With this judgment the modern critic agrees, and prosy historians have found in it much consolation and encouragement. But prose in the hands of Thucydides was not a 177 bare shroud upon dead facts to ensure them decent burial in ponderous books, it was a work of art in itself, as nervous with life and energy when moving with the war-bands or the fleet as it was keyed to the eloquence of Athenian oratory when dealing with politics and diplomacy. His work was the result of long and painstaking researches, — at times he breaks his impersonal reserve to tell us so,21 — but he did not consider it complete until the elements of which it was composed were worked over so as to lose their outlines in the structure of the whole. Unlike Herodotus he tried to obliterate his sources in the interest of art.22 Fortunately the art was noble enough to compensate for the loss of the materials, and secured for the facts themselves an immortality which they alone could never have attained. But there was danger in this polishing of text. Thucydides himself was not the victim of rhetoric; he lived and wrote before the schoolmen had fettered language into styles, and he could hardly have surmised that the very passages upon which he concentrated the mastery of his art would exemplify a tendency hardly less fatal to history than the naïve credulity of the early poets, a tendency to sacrifice substance for form — in prose. How real the danger was, the subsequent chapters of antique historiography show. But Thucydides stands out in as strong contrast against the age of rhetoric as against that of poetry. In him the antique spirit is revealed at its best; but it was antique.


Standard critical editions of the text of Thucydides are those of J. Classen (8 vols., 1862-1878, 5th ed., 1914-    ) and I. Bekker (1821, 3d ed., 1892). Other convenient editions are those of H. S. Jones (Oxford Library of Classical Authors, 2 vols. [1902]), and D. Hude (2 vols., ed. maior, Teubner, 1901-1913). The English translation of B. Jowett (1881, 2d ed., 1900) is a classic itself. This translation has been used in the text. The Loeb Classical Library is bringing out a translation of Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War by C. F. Smith. Two volumes have already appeared. For textual study see the illuminating work of W. R. Lamb, Clio Enthroned (1914). For general discussions see the histories of Greek literature: G. Murray (1912); J. P. Mahaffy, A History of Classical Greek Literature (2 vols., 1880, 3d. ed., 1890-1891), Vol. II, Pt. I, Chap. V; A. and M. Croiset (5 vols. 2d ed., 1896-1899, 3d ed., Vols. I-III, 178 1910-1914), Vol. IV, pp. 87-172; W. v. Christ (5th and 6th ed., 1908-1913) (6th ed.), Vol. I, pp. 476-493. See also J. B. Bury, The Ancient Greek Historians (1909), Lects. III-IV, pp. 75-149; G. W. Botsford and E. G. Sihler, Hellenic Civilization (1915), for extracts. Accounts and critical estimates of Thucydides will be found in all the larger Greek histories, but by far the most thoroughgoing is that in G. Busolt, Griechische Geschichte (3 vols., 1893-1904), Vol. III2, pp. 616-693. See also G. B. Grundy, Thucydides and the History of His Age (1911); E. Meyer, Forschungen zur alten Geschichte (2 vols., 1892-1899), Vol. II (Thucydides), pp. 269-436. Of especial interest is F. M. Cornford’s Thucydides Mythistoricus (1907), but see the reviews by B. Perrin in The American Historical Review, Vol. XIII (1908), pp. 314-316; T. Lenschau, in Jahresberichte der Geschichtswissenschaft, Vol. XXX1 (1907), p. 229 (“seit Ed. Meyers Abhandlungen die bedeutendste Erscheinung der Thukydides-Litteratur”); E. Lange, in Jahresbericht über die Fortschritte der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft, Vol. CXXXVIII (1908), pp. 119 sqq. For the life of Thucydides see U. v. Wilamowitz-Möllendorff, Die Thukydideslegende, in Hermes, Vol. XII (1877), pp. 326 sqq.; but see R. Scholl in ibid., Vol. XIII (1878), pp. 433 sqq.; and G. F. Unger, in Jahrbüucher für classische Philologie, Vol. CXXXIII (1866), pp. 97 sqq., 145 sqq.; A. Bauer, Die Forschungen zur griechischen Geschichte (1899), pp. 210 sqq.; E. Lange, in Philologus, Vol. LVII (1898), pp. 465 sqq. For his sources, see H. Stein, Zur Quellenkritik des Thukydides, in Rheinisches Museum, Vol. LV (1900), pp. 531 sqq.; and the reply of J. Steup, Thukydides, Antiochos und die angebliche Biographie des Hermokrates in ibid., Vol. LVI (1901), pp. 443 sqq.; A. Kirchhoff, Thukydides und sein Urkundenmaterial (1895); L. Herbst, Zur Urkunde in Thukydides, in Hermes, Vol. XXV (1890), pp. 374 sqq.; In general see E. Meyer (Thukydides und die Entstehung der wissenschaftlichen Geschichte), in Mitteilungen des Vereins der Freunde des humanistischen Gymnasiums, Vienna, Vol. XIV; M. Büdinger, Poesie und Urkunde bei Thukydides (1891); R. C. Jebb (Speeches of Thucydides), in Essays and Addresses (1907), pp. 359-445; Th. Gomperz, Griechische Denker (3 vols., 1896-1902), Vol. I, pp. 408-413; G. Busolt, in Klio, Vol. V (1905), pp. 255 sqq.; E. Kornemann, Thukydides und die römische Historiographie, in Philologus, Vol. LXIII (1904), pp. 148 sqq.; J. E. Harrison, Primitive Athens as Described by Thucydides (1906).

For recent literature, see Philologus, Vol. LVI (1897), pp. 658 sqq.; Vol. LVII (1898), pp. 436 sqq., for the years 1890-1897. See Jahresbericht über die Fortschritte der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft, Vol. C (1899), pp. 171 sqq., for 1888-1899; Vol. CXXV (1906), pp. 166 sqq., for 1900-1903; Vol. CXXXVIII (1908), pp. 119 sqq., for 1904-1907; Sup. Vol. CLI (1911), pp. 372 sqq. E. Drerup, Die historische Kunst der Griechen, Festschrift für W. v. Christ, Jahrbücher für classische Philologie, Sup. Vol. XXVII, pp. 443 sqq.; F. Jacoby, Über die Entwicklung der griechischen Historiographie, in Klio, Vol. IX (1909), pp. 80 sqq.


1  Thucydides (c. 460 (?)-c. 396) was sprung from an old Thracian family on his mother’s side, though his father was an Athenian citizen. We have no trustworthy evidence for the date of his birth, some placing it as early as 471, others as late as 455; a late date is generally accepted, however. His family was well-off, possessing valuable mining properties in Thrace. His early life was spent at Athens, where the influence of the sophists upon him was great. Although he tells us that as soon as the Peloponnesian war opened, in 431, he kept a record of it from the very first, he took no great part in it himself until 424, when he was elected one of the two generals to command an expedition into Thrace. He was unsuccessful, however, owing to his failure to arrive in time; and the incident resulted in his exile. For twenty years he lived on his Thracian estates, and returned to Athens only after its defeat in 404. His stay in the fallen city was but for a short time, as he soon returned to Thrace, and spent the remainder of his life working upon his history. We cannot be sure of the date of his death, but it seems probable that it took place between 399 and 396 B.C. Tradition says that he was murdered; in any case his History was not finished at the time of his death, and one legend has it that the eighth book was completed by his daughter, who then gave the whole work to Xenophon to be published .

2  Thucydides [History of the Peloponnesian War], Bk. I, Chap. XX. (Jowett’s translation.)

3   Ibid., Bk. I, Chap. XXI.

4  Cf. ibid., Bk. V, Chap. XXVI.

5  Cf. J. B. Bury, op. cit., p. 76.

6  Cf. Thucydides [History of the Peloponnesian War], Bk. I, Chap. XI. “Poverty was the real reason why the achievements of former ages were insignificant” [and the Peloponnesian war was so much more important than the Trojan, etc.].

7  Ibid., Bk. I, Chap. XXII.

8  Cf. F. M. Cornford, Thucydides Mythistoricus (1907).

9  Cf. Th. Gomperz, Greek Thinkers (4 vols., tr. 1901-1912), Vol. I, p. 503.

10  Cf. E. Meyer, Kleine Schriften (1910), (Zur Theorie und Methodik der Geschichte), p. 67.

11  Cf. Thucydides [History of the Peloponnesian War], Bk. I, Chap. I.

12  Cf. ibid., Bk. I, Chap. XIV.

13  The comment of Thucydides upon his use of this easy-going method of reckoning time is worth quoting. “Ten years, with a difference of a few days, had passed since the invasion of Attica and the commencement of the war. I would have a person reckon the actual periods of time, and not rely upon catalogues of the archons or other official personages whose names may be used in different cities to mark the dates of past events. For whether an event occurred in the beginning or in the middle or whatever might be the exact point, of a magistrate’s term of office is left uncertain by such a mode of reckoning. But if he measure by summers and winters as they are here set down, and count each summer and winter as a half year, he will find that ten summers and ten winters passed in the first part of the war.” Bk. V, Chap. XX. This undoubtedly has its advantage for contemporary reckoning; but Thucydides failed to see that the calendar of the war had also to be set in the chronicle of centuries. For other references to the calendar in Thucydides, cf. Bk. II, Chap. I: “The narrative is arranged according to summers and winters.” Bk. II, Chap. XLVII: “As soon as summer returned, the Peloponnesian army . . . invaded Attica.” Bk. III, Chap. I: “In the following summer when the corn was in full ear, the Peloponnesians and their allies . . . invaded Attica,” etc.

14  It would be an interesting speculation to imagine Herodotus writing the history of the Peloponnesian war. We should know much more of the history of Greece. Thucydides holds himself so closely to the war itself that there are only four digressions in the whole history, after he once gets through the introduction. Because he plunges into the war itself (Bk. I, Cap. XXIII) at the opening of his narrative, he reverts, in an excursus, to the history of Athens since the Persian war (Bk. I, Chaps. LXXXIX-CXVIII). In addition to this he inserts a short account of affairs in Thrace (Bk. II, Chaps. XCVI-CI), a description of Sicily (Bk. VI, Chaps. I-V), and a criticism of the received tradition of the overthrow of the house of Pisistratus (Bk. VI, Chaps. LIV-LIX). In each place Herodotus would have been tempted to insert a book.

15  Cf. Thucydides [History of the Peloponnesian War], Bk. I, Chaps. X, XXI.

16  Cf. F. M. Cornford, Thucydides Mythistoricus, Part II.

17  To be sure the modern historian finds much illumination from many passages. But they are mainly incidental to the narrative.

18  F. M. Cornford, Thucydides Mythistoricus, p. 76. This most stimulating book on Thucydides lacks somewhat of Thucydidean caution in the way it forces home the comparison of the work with Æschylean tragedy. Nevertheless, in spite of the protest of classicists, it is a notable contribution to historical appreciation.

19  Ibid., pp. 73, 74.

20  Essay on History.

21  Cf. Thucydides [History of the Peloponnesian War], Bk. I, Chaps. I, XX, XXII, Bk. V, Chap. XXVI.

22  So definitely is this the case that one can readily detect where his hand had not given the final touch.


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