Thucydides Additional Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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Thucydides (thyew-SIHD-uh-deez) was the son of Olorus, an Athenian citizen. The date of his birth is uncertain; it has been put as early as 471 b.c.e. and as late as 455 b.c.e. He may have spent part of his youth in Thrace, where his family owned gold-mining rights. He says that he began his history of the Peloponnesian War at the moment when the war broke out, so he was presumably living at Athens in 431. He was certainly there the following year during the plague, of which he fell ill.

In 424 he was appointed, jointly with Eucles, to defend the coastal region bordering on Thrace and was entrusted with a naval squadron. His failure to prevent the capture of Amphipolis when it was invaded by the Spartans provoked the Athenians to send him into exile. He passed his twenty years of banishment in visiting the cities of the enemy and the principal battlefields of the war and in collecting from veterans of the war the historical materials needed for his work. He returned to Athens about 403. He did not live to complete his great work—the History of the Peloponnesian War ends in 411, seven years before the peace was finally made. His death is supposed to have occurred at the hands of an assassin about 402 b.c.e. Thucydides is classified as the first scientific historian. Compared with Herodotus, his predecessor, whom Thucydides criticized for his failure to verify facts and stories before using them, he went to extremes to guarantee the accuracy of his own work.

Thucydides’ History is both highly objective and highly dramatic. In the numerous orations which he reports or constructs, he shows his precise understanding of ideological issues. His narratives are marvelously vivid; among the most memorable are his accounts of the plague in Athens and of the Syracusan campaign, which ended with the imprisonment of the expeditionary force in the rock quarries and which had a direct effect on the defeat of Athens by Sparta.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Further Reading:

Connor, W. Robert. Thucydides. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984. A meditation on Thucydides and an analysis of the text, especially to determine the source of Thucydides’ emotional impact on his readers.

Debner, Paula. Speaking the Same Language: Speech and Audience in Thucydides’ Spartan Debates. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001.

Edmunds, Lowell. Chance and Intelligence in Thucydides. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1975. A study of Thucydides’ theory of reason and chance in human affairs and of the interplay of pessimism and optimism in his work.

Gomme, Arnold W. A Historical Commentary on Thucydides. 5 vols. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1945-1981. Gomme’s monumental work is a classic of Thucydides scholarship.

Gustafson, Lowell S., ed. Thucydides’ Theory of International Relations: A Lasting Possession. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000. Essays by nine political scientists consider Thucydides as a theorist of international relations, including his concepts of how history informs modern events, realism vs. pluralism, the impact of internal events on international politics, and culture as it operates in world affairs.


(The entire section is 413 words.)