Dionysius of Halicarnassus (essay date 8 B.C.?)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Translation of Usener-Radermacher Text of De Thucydide," in Dionysius of Halicarnassus: On Thucydides, translated by W. Kendrick Pritchett, University of California Press, 1975, pp. 1-46.

[A Greek who taught rhetoric in Rome, Dionysius was a prominent literary figure and the author of Roman Antiquities, a history of Rome from its origins to the First Punic War, and Scripta rhetorica, a collection of letters and essays on literary criticism valued for its thorough analysis and comparative method. In the following excerpt from his On Thucydides, Dionysius comments on what he views as some positive and negative attributes of the historian's style. Since the...

(The entire section is 3194 words.)

Thomas Hobbes (essay date 1629)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "To The Readers," in Hobbes's Thucydides, edited by Richard Schlatter, Rutgers University Press, 1975, pp. 6-9.

[Hobbes was an eminent English philosopher best known for his Leviathan, or the Matter, Form, and Power of a Commonwealth, Ecclesiastical and Civil (1651), in which he presented his theory of social contract. In the following preface to his 1629 translation of Thucydides's History, Hobbes praises the historian's objectiveness and vivid, descriptive style.]

It hath been noted by divers, that Homer in poesy, Aristotle in philosophy, Demosthenes in eloquence, and others of the ancients in other knowledge, do still maintain their primacy:...

(The entire section is 1477 words.)

Richard Jebb (essay date 1880)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Speeches of Thucydides," in Essays and Addresses, Cambridge at the University Press, 1907, pp. 359-443.

[Jebb was a Scottish-born classicist, translator, and author of numerous works on ancient literature, and the founder of the Cambridge Philological Society, the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies, and the British School of Archeology in Athens. In the essay excerpted below, originally published in 1880 in Hellenica: a Collection of Essays on Greek Poetry, Philosophy, History, and Religion, Jebb approaches the speeches as a vital part of the History for their "light on the inner workings of the Greek political mind, … on the whole play of feeling and...

(The entire section is 10192 words.)

Frank Byron Jevons (essay date 1886)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Thucydides," in A History of Greek Literature: From the Earliest Period to the Death of Demosthenes, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1900, pp. 327-48.

[In the following excerpt from his monograph written in 1886, Jevons maintains that Thucydides sought "to give a strict and faithful account of the facts" of the Peloponnesian War and demonstrates the importance of the War to Western history.]

"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. For he argued that both states...

(The entire section is 9226 words.)

Francis MacDonald Cornford (essay date 1907)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Mythistoria and the Drama," in Thucydides Mythistoricus, 1907. Reprint by Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965, pp. 129-52.

[Cornford was an English classicist whose books include From Religion to Philosophy (1912), Greek Religious Thought (1923), and Before and after Socrates (1932). In the following excerpt from a work originally published in 1907, Cornford argues that— despite the historian's intentions to "exclude the mythical"—Thucydides "unconciously" fitted his History to the structure of Greek drama.]


The epithet 'dramatic' has often been applied to Thucydides' work; but...

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Charles Norris Cochrane (essay date 1929)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Thucydides," in Thucydides and the Science of History, Oxford University Press, 1929, pp. 14-34.

[In the following excerpt, Cochrane identifies Thucydides as a "scientific" historian, demonstrating that "Thucydides adapted the principles and methods of Hippocratic medicine to the interpretation of history" and further asserting that therein lies his "power and originality. "]

Ideas such as those enunciated by the Hippocratic school were unquestionably floating about in the Hellenic world as early as the middle of the fifth century B.C. Herodotus, for example, was well aware of the requirements of a genuinely scientific hypothesis, as he showed by his refusal...

(The entire section is 7386 words.)

John H. Finley Jr. (essay date 1942)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Plan and Methods of the History," in Thucydides, The University of Michigan Press, 1963, pp. 74-110.

[Focusing on the opening chapters or "archeology" of the History in the following excerpt from his 1942 monograph, Finley asserts that the material reveals Thucydides' "belief that history is both useful and scientific. "]

[The] transition from Thucydides' age to his work is necessarily abrupt, because it is impossible to follow his development step by step as Plato's, for instance, can to some extent be followed. Thus one is confronted, on the one hand, with many facts of his life and many tendencies of his age which have an obvious bearing...

(The entire section is 9604 words.)

A. W. Gomme (essay date 1945)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "What Thucydides Takes for Granted" and "Thucydides' Self-imposed Limitations," in A Historical Commentary on Thucydides, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1945, pp. 1-25, 25-29.

[Gomme, a scholar of Greek letters, was the author of Essays in Greek History and Literature (1937). In the following excerpt, he first describes the economic, military, and political contexts and assumptions of Thucydides' work and then documents what the historian elected to exclude.]


Thucydides was well aware of the importance of the economic factor in history. In his sketch of the early development of the Greek states in his...

(The entire section is 7095 words.)

G. B. Grundy (essay date 1948)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Thucydides and the Philosophy of History," in Thucydides and the History of His Age, Vol. II, Basil Blackwell, 1948, pp. 28-80.

[In the following excerpt, Grundy suggests that Thucydides imbued the History with his own philosophical perspectivean "essentially practical" or cynical view-pointdespite his claims to objectivity.]


Any student or any reader who is interested in Thucydides will require as full a pro of as possible of his aim as an author. In the case of his philosophy the difficulty of acquiring a comprehensive knowledge of it is due to the fact that Thucydides...

(The entire section is 9648 words.)

David Grene (essay date 1950)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Chance and Pity" and "Beyond Necessity," in Man in His Pride, University of Chicago Press, 1950, pp. 70-79, 80-92.

[In the excerpt that follows, Grene endeavors to answer the question, "in the true domain of politics … where does Thucydides find his highest value?" In order to find an answer, he explores Thucydides 's notion of primary historical forces—particularly necessity and chance—and examines those instances where Thucydides deems it appropriate to insert moral commentary on individual behavior.]

Chance and Pity

Everybody who reads Thucydides has been struck by the sparseness of any personal moral comment on the men and...

(The entire section is 7922 words.)

F. E. Adcock (essay date 1963)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: in Thucydides and His History, Cambridge at the University Press, 1963, pp. 27-57.

[In the following excerpt, Adcock first analyses Thucydides' manner of presentation: he contends that the speeches present a dialectical movement through argument and persuasion, proceeding indirectly towards the final purpose. Adcock posits that purpose second: the history makes an ethical argument about the primacy of civic life over private life.]


Thucydides has told his readers what they are to think about the content of the speeches either in the first part or the whole of his work. When he wrote the sentence is not known for certain,...

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Michael Grant (essay date 1970)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Speeches and Personalities in Thucydides," in The Ancient Historians, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1970, pp. 88-101.

[In the following excerpt, Grant defends the "accuracy" of Thucydides's speeches, basing his argument on an examination of contemporary Greek notions of the purpose of public speech. He speculates that Thucydides believed that individuals in history were "there to reveal underlying causes " of the course of history; therefore, their speeches are not only vital to written history, but also are accurate inasmuch as they articulate those underlying causes.]

Thucydides' history would not have been at all the same without the speeches. This device, which...

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W. den Boer (essay date 1977)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Thucydides," in Progress in the Greece of Thucydides, North Holland Publishing, 1977, pp. 21-38.

[In the excerpt that follows, den Boer enters the debate over Thucydides' views on progress as a necessary part of history—that is, whether events in time necessarily "progress" toward some higher condition. He concludes, through an examination of the opening chapters of the History and contemporary Greek thought in general, that such a notion of history did not exist for Thucydides.]

One author who was not impressed by the accomplishments of man was Thucydides. Nevertheless, in the eyes of many scholars he is one of the champions of progress. "More...

(The entire section is 4724 words.)

W. Robert Connor (essay date 1985)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Narrative Discourse in Thucydides," in The Greek Historians: Literature and History—Papers Presented to A. E. Raubitschek, Anma Libri, 1985, pp. 1-17.

[In the following excerpt, Connor argues that the predominant critical examination of Thucydides as a political scientist and a historical scientist neglects the strength of his narrative technique—and consequently misses "the pleasure of reading" his History.]

There are today many signs of a sea change in our understanding of the relationship between literature and history and hence in our understanding of the historians of the past and of historical writing in the present. Lawrence Stone drew attention to...

(The entire section is 6686 words.)