In Thucydides's History of the Peloponnesian War, Book One, what are some historical patterns in his writings?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Book One, Thucydides traces the history of Greece leading up to the Peloponnesian War. In retelling his history, Thucydides is both realistic and inventive. As Flory (1988) notes, some scholars believe that Thucydides lets the facts of history and the war "speak for themselves," while other scholars believe that...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

In Book One, Thucydides traces the history of Greece leading up to the Peloponnesian War. In retelling his history, Thucydides is both realistic and inventive. As Flory (1988) notes, some scholars believe that Thucydides lets the facts of history and the war "speak for themselves," while other scholars believe that Thucydides is a writer who has a definite bent and perspective, much as a literary writer might have.

Some of the patterns that Thucydides uses in Book One include mentioning natural occurrences that he believes are a result of manmade conflict. In this sense, he adds perspective and literary color to his writing. For example, in Book One, Chapter 23, he says the following about the Median War:

"There were earthquakes of unparalleled extent and violence; eclipses of the sun occurred with a frequency unrecorded in previous history; there were great droughts in sundry places and consequent famines, and that most calamitous and awfully fatal visitation, the plague."

Thucydides believes that natural disasters are a result of the earlier war between Athens and the Peloponnesians. In this sense, Thucydides, trying to find a reason to explain human actions, finds a non-scientific and somewhat literary interpretation of the earlier wars.

In addition, Thucydides advances his own opinions about the war and isn't totally objective. In Book One, Chapter 123, he writes, "We must boldly advance to the war for many reasons; the god has commanded it and promised to be with us." He believes in divine support for the war and advances his own perspective in his writing. In addition, at times, according to Flory (1988; see the source below), Thucydides uses statements that are clearly contrary to fact, such as that Agamemnon had a large navy in Book One, Chapter 9. Flory refers to such statements or patterns in Thucydides' writing as deductions about the past that are counterfactual, supporting the idea that Thucydides wrote in a manner that is not entirely realistic or accurate. 

However, Thucydides also finds rational and scientific reasons for the war. For example, in Chapter 23 of Book One, he says, "the growth of the power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Lacedaemon, made war inevitable." In other words, the Peloponnesians began to fear the growing power of Athens, and this fear gave rise to the current war. He examines the upcoming war and the Athenian strategy in practical terms and writes in Chapter 122 of Book One:

"We have also other ways of carrying on the war, such as revolt of their allies, the surest method of depriving them of their revenues, which are the source of their strength, and establishment of fortified positions in their country, and various operations which cannot be foreseen at present."

These are examples of Thucydides' factual take on the war and his examination of realistic strategies, such as inspiring revolts among the opponent's allies. These examples involve factual assessments of the current situation that Thucydides examines in Greece. 

Sources:

Flory, Stewart. Thucydides' Hypotheses about the Peloponnesian War. Transactions of the American Philological Association, Vol. 118 (1988), 43-56. http://www.jstor.org/stable/284161.

Garst, Daniel. Thucydides and Neorealism. International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 33, No. 1 (Mar., 1989), 3-27.URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2600491.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team