1902 Encyclopedia > Thucydides

Thucydides
Athenian historian
(c. 470-400 B.C.)




THUCYDIDES. Thucydides was the greatest historian of antiquity, and, if not the greatest that ever lived, as some have deemed him, at least the historian whose work is the most wonderful, when it is viewed relatively to the age in which he did it. The most important facts which we know about him are those which he has told us himself. It matters very little, fortunately, that the biographical materials are scanty. For posterity, his life is represented by this life’s labour, the History of the Peloponnesian War; and the biographical facts are of interest chiefly as aids to the appreciation of that history. He was probably born in or about 471 B.C. The only definite testimony on the subject is contained in a passage of Aulus Gellius, who says that in 431 Hellanicus, "seems to have been" sixty-five years of age, Herodotus fifty-three, and Thucydides forty (Noct. Att., 15, 23). The authority for this statement was Pamphila, a complier of biographical and historical notices, who lived in the reign of Nero. She must have had access to Greek sources of the 4th century B.C.; and her precision—though qualified, in the version of Gellius, by the word "seems"—would warrant the supposition that she had taken some pains to secure accuracy. Further, the date which she assigns is in good accord with an inference fairly deducible from the language of Thucydides himself, viz., that in 431 he had already reached the full maturity of his powers. Krüger, indeed, would place his birth earlier than 471, and Ullrich later, but for reasons, in each case, which can scarcely outweigh the ancient authority.

The parentage of Thucydides was such as to place him in a singularly favourable position for the great work to which he afterwards devoted his life. His father Olorus, a citizen of Athens, belonged to a family which derived wealth and influence from the possession of gold mines at Scaptesyle, on the Thracian coast opposite Thasos, and was a relative of his elder namesake, the Thracian prince whose daughter Hegesipyle married the great Miltiades, so that Cimon, son of Miltiades, was a cousin, perhaps first cousin, once removed, of Thucydides. It was in the vault of the Cimonian family at Athens, and near the remains of Cimon’s sister Elpinice, that Plutarch saw the grave of Thucydides. Thus the fortune of birth secured three signal advantages to the future historian; he was rich; he had two homes—one at Athens, the other in Thrace,—no small aid to a comprehensive study of the conditions under which the Peloponnesian War was waged; and his family connexions were likely to bring him from his early years into personal intercourse with the men who were shaping the history of his time.

The development of Athens during the forty years from 471 to 431 was, in itself, the best education which such a mind as that of Thucydides could have received. In the first two decades of his life the expansion and consolidation of Athenian power was proceedings; between the twentieth and fortieth year the inner resources of the city were being applied to the embellishment and ennoblement of Athenian life. As Cimon had been the principal agent in the former period, so Pericles was the central figure of the latter. A consciousness of such periods may be traced in the passage of the Funeral Oration where Pericles refers, first, to the acquisition of empire by the preceding generation, and then to the improvement of that inheritance by his own contemporaries (ii. 36. 5). It is a natural subject of regret, though it is not a just cause of surprise of complaint, that the History tells us nothing of the literature, the art, or the social life under whose influences its author had grown up. The Funeral Oration contains, indeed, his general testimony to the value and the charm of those influences. There we have the very essence of the Athenian spirit condensed into a few pregnant sentences, which show how thoroughly the writer was imbued with that spirit, and how profoundly he appreciated its various manifestations. But he leaves us to supply all examples and details for ourselves. Beyond a passing reference to public "festivals," and to "beautiful surroundings in private life," he makes no attempt to define those "recreations for the spirit" which the Athenian genius had provided in such abundance. No writer of any age, perhaps, had rendered a more impressive tribute to the power of the best art than is implied in the terse phrase of Thucydides, when, speaking of the works which the Athenian daily saw around him, he declares that "the daily delight of them banishes gloom" (_____). But it is not to Thucydides that we owe any knowledge of the particular forms in which that art was embodied. He alludes to the newly-built Parthenon only as containing the treasury; to the statue of Athene Parthenos which it enshrined, only on account of the gold which, at extreme need, could be detached from the image; to the Propylaea and other buildings with which Athens had been adorned under Pericles, only as works which had reduced the surplus of funds available for the war. Among the illustrious contemporaries whose very existence would be unknown form his pages are the dramatists Aeschylys, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes; the architect Ictinus; the sculptor Phidias; the physician Hippocrates; the philosophers Anaxagoras and Socrates. If Thucydides had mentioned Sophocles as a general in the Samian War, it may be doubted whether he would have noticed the circumstance that Sophocles also wrote dramas, unless it has been for the purpose of distinguishing him from a namesake. And, had he lived to carry his story down to the debate in the Athenian ecclesia after the battle of Arginusae, we may conjecture that Socrates, if named at all, would have been barely mentioned as the one prytanis out of fifty who resisted an unconstitutional act,—with some expression, perhaps, of praise, but without any fuller characterization. We think of the countless occasions which Herodotus, if he had dealt with this period, would have found for invaluable digressions on men and manners, on letters and art; we fell the severity of the loss which the reticence of Thucydides has caused to us; and we might almost be tempted to ask whether the more genial, if laxer, method of Herodotus does not indeed correspond better with a liberal conception of the historian’s office. No one can do full justice to Thucydides, or appreciate the true completeness of his work, who has not faced this question, and found the answer to it. It would be a hasty judgment which inferred from the omission of the History that its author’s interests were exclusively political. Thucydides was not writing the history of a period. His subject was an event—the Peloponnesian War,—a war, as he believed, of unequalled importance, alike in its direct results and in its political significance for all time. To his task, thus defined, he brought an intense concentration of all his faculties. He worked with a constant desire to make each successive incident of the war as clear as possible. To take only two instances: there is nothing in literature more graphic than his description of the plague at Athens, or than the whole narrative of the Sicilian expedition. But the same temper made him resolute in excluding irrelevant topics. The social life of the time, the literature and the art, find no place in his picture simply because they did not belong to his subject. His work was intended to be "a possession for ever." He could conceive a day when Sparta should be desolate, and when only ruins of Athens should remain. But his imagination never projected itself into a time when the whole fabric of Hellenic civilization should have perished. Could his forecast have extended to an age when men of "barbarian" races and distant climes would be painfully endeavouring to reconstruct a picture of that civilization,—when his own narrative would need the help of sidelights which seemed to him wholly unnecessary, — then, assured, he would have added all that such readers could require. But he would not have done this in the manner of Herodutus, by free indulgence in degression; rather he would have gathered up the social and intellectual phenomena of his day in a compact and systematic introduction, specially designed for the non-Hellenic reader.

The biography which bears the name of Marcellinus states that Thucydides was the disciple of Anaxagoras in philosophy and of Antiphon in rhetoric. Such statements were often founded on noting more than a desire to associate distinguished names, and to represent an eminent man as having profited by the best instruction in each kind which his contemporaries could afford. In this case there is no evidence to confirm the tradition. But it may be observed that Thucydides and Antiphon at least belong to the same rhetorical school, and represent the same early stage of Attic prose. Both writers use words of an antique or decidedly poetical cast; both point verbal contrasts by insisting on the precise difference between terms of similar import; and both use metaphors somewhat bolder than were congenial to Greek prose in its riper age. The differences, on the other hand, between the style of Thucydides and that of Antiphon arise chiefly from two general causes. First, Antiphon wrote for hearers, Thucydides for readers; the latter, consequently, can use a degree of condensation, and a freedom in the arrangement of words, which would have been hardly possible for the former. Again, the thought of Thucydides is often more complex than any which Antiphon undertook to interpret; and the greater intricacy of the historian’s style exhibits the endeavour to express each thought.1 Few things in the history of literary prose are more interesting than to watch that vigorous mind in its struggle to mould a language of magnificent but immature capabilities. The obscurity with which Thucydides has sometimes been reproached often arises from the very clearness with which a complex idea is present to his mind, and his strenuous effort to present it in its entirety, when the strong consciousness of logical coherence will make him heedless of grammatical regularity. He never sacrifices the thought to the language, but he will sometimes sacrifice the language to the thought. A student of Thucydides may always be consoled by the reflexion that he is not engaged in unraveling a mere rhetorical tangle. Every light on the sense will be a light on the words; and, when, as it not seldom the case, Thucydides comes victoriously out of this struggle of thought and language, having achieved perfect expression of his meaning in a sufficiently lucid form, then his style rises into an intellectual brilliancy—thoroughly manly, and also penetrated with intense feeling—which nothing in Greek prose literature surpasses.

The History shows not only a thorough insight into the political ideas of Pericles, but also a sympathy with him, and an admiration for his character, which indicate personal friendship. If, before 431, Thucydides had wished to take a prominent part in the public life of Athens, everything was in his favour. But there is not trace of his having done so; and it is possible that his opportunities in this respect were modified by the necessity of frequent visits to Thrace, where the management of such as important property as the gold mines must have claimed the occasional presence of the proprietor. The manner in which he refers to his personal influence in that region is such as to suggest that he had sometimes resided there (iv. 105. 1). He was at Athens in the spring of 430, when the plague broke out. If his account of the symptoms has not enabled physicians to agree on a diagnosis of the malady, it is at least singularity full and vivid. He had himself been attacked by the plague; and, as he briefly adds, "he had seen others suffer." The tenor of his narrative would warrant the inference that he had been one of a few who were active in ministering to the sufferers—in that fearful time when religion and morality lost all control over the despairing population of Athens—when all the ordinary decencies of life were set at nought, and when even the nearest relatives failed in the duties of humanity towards the dying.





The turning-point in the life of Thucydides came in the winter of the year 424. he was then forty-seven (if his birth has been rightly placed in 471), and for the first time he is found holding an official position. He was one of two generals entrusted with the command of the regions towards Thrace (_____), a phrase which denotes the whole Thracian seaboard from Macedonia eastward to the vicinity of the Thracian Chesonese, though often used with more special reference to the Chalcidic peninsula. One reason why Thucydides had been chosen for the post was the local influence which he possessed among the people of the Thracian seaboard, through his family connexions and his ownership of the gold mines. His colleague in the command was Eucles. About the end of November 424 Eucles was in the city of Amphipolis, on the river Strymon. That city was not merely more important to Athens than any other place in the region,—it was the stronghold of Athenian power in the north. To guard it with all possible vigilance was a matter of peculiar urgency at that moment. The ablest of Spartan leaders, Brasidasm was then in Thrace with a Peloponnesian army,—not, indeed, close to Amphipolis, but still within a distance which imposed special caution on Athenian officers. He was in the Chalcidic peninsula, where he had already gained rapid success; and part of the population between that peninsula and Amphipolis was already known to be disaffected to Athens. Under circumstances so suggestive of possible danger, we might have expected that Thucydies, who had seven ships of war with him would have been near his colleague Eucles, and ready to co-operate with him at a moment’s notice. It appears, however, that, with his ships, he was at the island of Thasos, several miles distant from the Thracian coast. Brasidas, making a forced march from the Chalcidic peninsula, suddenly appeared before Amphipolis. Eucles sent in all haste for Thucydides, who arrived with his ships from Thasos just in time to beat off the enemy from Eion at the mouth of the Strymon, but not in time to save Amphipolis. Only a few hours before, it had capitulated to Brasidad, who had offered exceptionally favourable terms. The profound vexation and dismay felt at Athens found expression in the punishment of the commander who seemed primarily responsible for so grace a disaster. For the next twenty years—i.e., till 404—Thucydides was an exile from Athens. It is not improbable that the charge brought against him was that of treason (_____), for which the penalty was death, and that he avoided this penalty by remaining in banishment. A special psephism is said to have been required before Thucydides could return in 404, which would have been regular if a capital sentence had been on record against him, but no so if he had been merely under sentence of exile. Cleon is said to have been the prime mover in his condemnation; and this is likely enough. Eucles was probably punished also. Grote was the first modern writer to state the reasons for thinking that Thucydides may have been really guilty of culpable negligence on this occasion, and that this punishment—which has usually been viewed as the vindictive act of a reckless democracy—may have been well deserved. Everything turns on the question why he was at Thasos just then, and not at Eion. No one disputes that, after the summons from Eucle, he did all that was possible. It is true that the facts of the situation, so far as we known them, strongly suggest that he ought to have been at Eion, and of not disclose any reason for his being at Thasos. But it is only fair to remember, in a case of this kind, that there may have been other facts which we do not know. There is some presumptive evidence of carelessness; but we can hardly say more than that. The absence of Thucydides from the neighbourhood of Amphipolis at that precise juncture may have had some better excuse than now appears.

From 423 to 404 the home of Thucydides was on his property in Thrace, but much of his time appears to have been spent in travel. He visited the countries of the Peloponnesian allies,—recommended to them by his quality as an exile from Athens; and he thus enjoyed the rare advantage of contemplating the great war from a point of view opposite to that at which he had previously been placed. He speaks of the increased leisure which his banishment secured to his study of events. He refers partly, doubtless, to detachment form Athenian politics, partly, also, we may suppose, to the opportunity of visiting places signalized by recent events, and of examining their togography in the light of such information as he could collect on the spot. The local knowledge which is often apparent in his Sicilian books may have been acquired at this period. The banishment of Thucydides was the most fortunate event that could have occurred for him and for us, when it enabled him, in this way, to look at his subject all round. If it is always hard for an historian to be impartial, it is especially so for the historian of a great war in which his own country has been one of the combatants. The mind of Thucydides was naturally judicial, and his impartially—which seems almost superhuman by contrast with Xenophon’s Hellenica—was in some degree a result of temperament. But it cannot be doubted that the evenness with which he holds the scales was greatly assisted by the experience which, during these years of exile, must have been familiar to him—that of hearing the views and aims of the Peloponnesians set forth by themselves, and of estimating their merits otherwise than would have been easy for an observer in a hostile camp.

His own words make it clear that he returned to Athens, at least for a time, in 404. Classen supposed that his return took place in the autumn of that year, about six months after Athens had surrendered to Lysander, and while the Thirty were still in power. Finding that the rule of the oligarchy was becoming more and more violent, Thucydides again left Athens, and retired to his property in Thrace, where he lived till his death, working at his History. The preponderance of testimony certainly goes to show that he died in Thrace, and by violence. It would seem that, when he wrote chapter 116 of his third book, he was ignorant of an eruption of Etna which took place in 396. There is some reason then, for believing that he did not survive his seventy-five year. According to ancient tradition, he was killed by robbers. His relics were brought to Athens, and laid in the vault of Cimon’s family where Plutarch saw their resting-place. The abruptness with which the History breaks off agrees with the story of a sudden death. The historian’s daughter is said to have saved the unfinished work, and to have placed it in the hands of an editor. This editor, according to one account, was Xenophon, to whom Diogenes Laertius assigns the credit of having "brought the work into reputation, when he might have suppressed it." The tradition is however, very doubtful. In its origin, it may have been merely a guess, suggested by a feeling that no one then living could more appropriately have discharged the office of literary executor than the writer who, in his Hellenica, continued the narrative.

At the outset of the History Thucydides has indicated his general conception of his work, and has stated the principles which governed its composition. His purpose had been formed at the very beginning of the war, in the conviction that it would prove more important than any event of which Greeks had record. The leading belligerents, Athens and Sparta, were both in the highest condition of effective equipment. The whole Hellenic world—including Greek settlements outside of Greece proper—was divided into two parties, either actively helping one of the two combatants or meditating such action. Nor was the movement confined within even the widest limits of Hellas; the "barbarian" world also was affected by it,—the non-Hellenic populations of Thrace, Macedonia, Epirus, Sicily, and finally, the Persian kingdom itself. The aim of Thucydides was to preserve an accurate record of this war, not only in view of the intrinsic interest and importance of the facts, but also in order that these facts might be permanent sources of political teaching to posterity. His hope was, as he says, that his History would be found profitable by "those who desire an exact knowledge of the past as a key to the future, m which in all probability will repeat or resemble the past. The work is meant to be a possession for ever, not the rhetorical triumph of an hour." As this context shows, the oft-quoted phrase, "a possession for ever," had, in its author’s meaning, a more definite import than any mere anticipation of abiding fame for his History. It referred to the permanent value of the lessons which his History contained. Thucydides stands alone among the men of his own days, and has no superior of any age, in the width of mental grasp which could seize the general significance of particular events. The political education of mankind began in Greece, and in the time of Thucydides their political life was still young. Thucydides knew only the small city-commonwealth on the one hand, and on the other the vast barbaric kingdom; and yet, as has been well said of him, "there is hardly a problem in the science of government which the statesman will not find, if not solved, at any rate handled, in the pages of this universal master."1





Such being the spirit in which he approached his task, it is interesting to inquire what were the points which he himself considered to be distinctive in his method of executing it. His Greek predecessors in the recording of events had been, he conceived, of two classes. First, there were the epic poets, with Homer at their head, whose characteristic tendency, in the eyes of Thucydides, is to exaggerate the greatness of splendour of things past—as, for instance, conceding the historical character of the Trojan war, he suppose the strength of the Greek fleet to be overstated in the Iliad. Secondly, there were the Ionian prose writers whom he calls "chronicles" (_____), These writers are directly known to us only by meager fragments; but Dionysius of Halicarnassus has described their general characteristics in a manner which serve to illustrate the differences indicated by Thucydides between their work and his own. Their general object was to diffuse a knowledge of legends preserved by oral tradition, and of written documents—usually lists of officials of genealogies—preserved in public archives; and they published their materials as they found them, without any attempt at sifting fact form fable. Thucydides describes their work by the word _____, but his own by _____,—the difference between the terms answering to that between compilation of a somewhat mechanical kind and historical composition in a higher sense. The vice of the chronicles," in his view, is that they cared only for popularity, and took no pains to make their narratives trustworthy. In contrast with these predecessors, Thucydides has subjected his materials to the most searching scrutiny. The ruling principle of his work has been strict adherence to carefully verified facts. "As to the deeds done in the war, I have not thought myself at liberty to record them on hearsay from the first informant or on arbitrary conjecture. My account rests either on personal knowledge or on the closest possible scrutiny of each statements made by others. The process of research was laborious, because conflicting accounts were given by those who had witnesses the several events as partiality swayed or memory served them."

A period of at least twenty years must have elapsed between the date of which Herodotus ceased to write and that at which the History of Thucydides received its present form. There can be no doubt that Thucydides knew the History or Herodotus, and that in some places he alludes to it. The diligence and the honesty of Herodutus are alike beyond question, and would, we may be sure, have been fully recognized by Thucydides. The work of Herodotus was distinct in kind from that of the Ionian chroniclers, and was of an immeasurably higher order. While they dealt, in a bold fashion, with the annals of separate cities or peoples, Herodotus set the first example of multifarious knowledge subordinated to the execution of a great historical plan, and also showed for the first time that a prose history could have literary charm. But Thucydides doubtless thought of Herodotus as having certain traits in common with the Ionian chronicles, and as being liable, so far, to the same criticism. One such trait would be the inadequate sifting of evidence; another, the mixture of a fabulous element with historical fact; and another, perhaps, the occasional aiming at rhetorical effect. Of this last trait the chief instances would be those imaginary dialogues or speeches with which Herodotus sometimes enli8vens his narrative. This brings us to an important topic,—the purpose with which Thucydides himself had admitted speeches into his History, and the manner in which they have been composed.

The speeches constitute between a fourth and a fifth part of the History. If they were eliminated, an admirable narrative would indeed remain, with a few comments, usually brief, on the more striking characters and events. But we should lose all the most vivid light on the inner working of the Greek political mind, on the motives of the actors, and the arguments which they used—in a word, on the whole play of contemporary feeling and opinion. To the speeches is due in no small measure the imperishable intellectual interest of the History, since it is chiefly by the speeches that the facts of the Peloponnesian War are so lit up with keen thought as to become illustrations of general laws, and to acquire a permanent suggestiveness for the student of politics. When Herodotus made his persons hold conversation or deliver speeches, he was following the precedent of epic poetry; his tone is usually colloquial rather than rhetorical; he is merely making thought and motives vivid in the way natural to a simple age. Thucydides is the real founder of the tradition by which historian’s were so long held to be warranted in introducing set speeches of their own composition. His own account of his practice is given in the following words, "As to the speeches made on the eve of the war, or in its course, I have found it difficult to retain a memory of the precise words which I had heard spoken; and so it was with those who brought me reports. But I have made the persons say what it seemed to me most opportune for them to say in view of each situation; at the same time I have adhered as closely as possible to the general sense of what was actually said." So far as the language of the speeches is concerned, then, Thucydides plainly avows that it is mainly or wholly his own. As a general rule, there is little attempt to mark different styles. The case of Pericles, whom Thucydides must have repeatedly heard, is probably an exception; the Thucydidean speeches of Pericles offers several examples of that bold imagery which Aristotle and Plutarch agree in ascribing to him, while the Funeral Oration, especially, has a certain majesty of rhythm, a certain union of impetuous movement with lofty grandeur, which the historian has given to no other speaker. Such strongly marked characteristics as the curt bluntness of the Spartan ephor Sthenelaedas, or the insolent vehemence of Alcibiades, are also indicated. But the dramatic truth of the speeches generally resides in the matter, not in the form. In regard to those speeches which were delivered at Athens before his banishment in 424,—and seven such speeches are contained in the History,—Thucydides could rely either on his own recollection or on the sources accessible to a resident citizen. In these cases there is good reason to believe that he has reproduced the substance of what was actually said. In other cases he had to trust to more or less imperfect reports of the "general sense"; and in some instances, no doubt, the speech represents simply his own conception of what it would have been "most opportune" to say. The most evident of such instances occur in the addresses of leaders to their troops. The historian’s aim in these military harangues—which are usually short—is to bring out the points of a strategical situation; a modern writer would have attained the object by comments prefixed or subjoined to his account of the battle. The comparative indifference of Thucydides to dramatic verisimilitude in these military orators is curiously shown by the fact that the speech of the general on the one side is sometimes as distinctly a reply to the speech of the general on the other as if they had been delivered in debate. We may be sure, however, that, whatever Thucydides had any authentic clue to the actual tenor of a speech, he preferred to follow that clue rather than to draw on his own invention. Voltaire has described the introduction of set speeches as "a sort of oratorical falsehood, which the historian used to allow himself in old times." The strongest characteristic of Thucydides is his devotion to truth,—his laborious persistence in separating fact from fiction; and it is natural to ask why he adopted the form of set speeches, with the measure of fiction which it involved, instead of simply stating, in his own person, the arguments and opinion which he conceived to have been prevalent. The question must be viewed from the standpoint of a Greek in the 5th century B.C. Epic poetry had then for many generations exercised a powerful influence over the Greek mind. Homer had accustomed Greeks to took for two elements in any complete expression of human energy,—first, an account of a man’s deeds, then an image of his mind in the report of his words. The Homeric heroes are exhibited both in action and in speech. Further, the contemporary readers of Thucydides were men habituated to a civic life in which public speech played an all-important part. Every adult citizen of a Greek democracy was a member of the assembly which debated and decided great issues. The law-courts, the festivals, the drama, the market-place itself, ministered to the Greek love of animated description. To a Greek of that age a written history of political events would have seemed strangely insipid if speech "in the first person" had been absent from it, especially if it did not offer some mirror of those debates which were inseparably associated with the central interests and the decisive moments of political life. In making historical persons say what they might have said, Thucydides confined that oratorical licence to the purpose which is its best justification; with him it is strictly dramatic, an aid to the complete presentment of action, by the vivid expression of ideas and arguments which were really current at the time. Among later historians who continued the practice, Polybius, Sallust, and Tacitus most resemble Thucydides in this particular; while in the Byzantine historians, as in some moderns who followed classical precedent, the speeches were usually mere occasions for rhetorical display. Botta’s History of Italy from 1780 to 1814 affords one of the latest examples of the practice, which was peculiarly suited to the Italian genius.

The present division of the History into eight books is one which might well have proceeded from the author himself, as being a natural and convenient disposition of the contents. The first book, after a general introduction, sets forth the causes of the Peloponnesian War. The first nine years of the war are contained in the second, third, and fourth books,—three years in each. The fifth book contains the tenth year, followed by the interval of the "insecure peace." The Sicilian expedition fills the sixth and seventh books. The eighth book opens that last chapter of the struggle which is known as the "Decelean" or "Ionian" War, and breaks off abruptly—in the middle of a sentence, indeed—in the year 411. The words in which Grote bids farewell, at that point, to Thucydides well express what every careful student must feel. "To pass from Thucydides to the Hellenica of Xenophon is a descent truly mournful; and yet, when we look at Grecian history as a whole, we have great reason to rejoice that even so inferior a work as the latter has reached us. The historical purposes and conceptions of Thucydides, as set forth by himself in his preface, are exalted and philosophical to a degree altogether wonderful, when we consider that he had no pre-existing models before him from which to derive them. And the eight books of his work (in spite of the unfinished condition of the last) are not unworthy of these large promises, either in spirit or in execution.

The principal reason against believing that the division into eight books was made by Thucydides himself is the fact that a different division, into thirteen books, was also current in antiquity, as appears from Marcellinus (§ 58). It is very improbable—indeed hardly conceivable—that this should have been the case if the eight-book division had come down from the hand of the author. We may infer, then, that the division of the work into eight books was introduced at Alexandria,—perhaps in the 3d or 2d century B.C. That division was already familiar to the grammarians of the Augustan age. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who recognizes it, has also another mode of indicating portions of the work, viz., by stichometria, or the number of lines which they contained. Thus, in the MS, which he used, the first 87 chapters of book i. contained about 2000 lines (equivalent to about 1700 lines in Bekker’s stereotyped 8vo text).

Ullrich has maintained with much acuteness that Thucydides composed the first three books and about half of book iv. in the years 421-413, and the rest of the work after 404. His general ground is the existence in i.-iv. of passages which seem to imply ignorance of later events. Chassen has fully examined the evidence, and, as a result, has arrived at the following conclusion. It is possible that a first rough draft of the History, down to 413, may have been sketched by Thucydides before 405. But the whole History, from the first book onwards, was worked up into its present form only after 404. This view is confirmed by some passages, found even in the earliest books, which imply that the writer already knew the latest incidents, or the final issue, of the war. We have seen that, after 404, Thucydides may have enjoyed some six or seven years of leisure. Several peculiarities of expression or statement in book viii. suggest that it had not yet received the author’s final revision at the time when death broke off the work. The absence of speeches from the eighth book had also been remarked. But it should be observed that much of the eighth book is occupied with negotiations, either clandestine or indecisive, or both. Its narrative hardly presents any moment which required such dramatic emphasis as the speeches usually impart. The mere misrepresentations by which Alcibiades and Chalcideus prevailed on the Chians to revolt certainly did not claim such treatment.

The division of the war by summers and winters (_____)—the end of the winter being considered as the end of the year—is perhaps the only one which Thucydides himself used, for there is no indication that he made any division of the History into books. His "summer" includes spring and autumn, and extends, generally speaking, from March or the beginning of April to the end of October. His "winter"—November to February inclusive—means practically the period during which military operations, by land and sea, are wholly or partly suspended. When he speaks of "summer" and "winter" as answering respectively to "half" the year (v. 20. 3), the phrase is not to be pressed: it means merely that he divides his year into these two parts. The mode of reckoning is essentially a rough one, and is not to be viewed as if the commencement of summer or of winter could be precisely fixed to constant dates. For chronology, besides the festivals, he uses the Athenian list of archons, the Spartan list of ephors, and the Argive list of priestesses of Hera.

There is no reference to the History of Thucydides is the extant Greek writers of the 4th century B.C.; but Lucian has preserved a tradition of the enthusiasm with which it was studied by Demosthenes. The great orator is said to have copied it out eight times, or even to have learnt it by heart. It is at least beyond doubt that the study of Thucydides contributed a very powerful influence to the style of Demosthenes, though that influence rather passed into the spirit of his oratory than showed itself in any marked resemblances of form. The Alexandrian critics acknowledged Thucydides as a great master of Attic. Sallust, Cornelius Nepos, Cicero, and Quintilian are among the Roman writers whose admiration for him can be traced in their work, or has been expressly recorded. The most elaborate ancient criticism on the diction and composition of Thucydides is contained in three essays by Dionysius of Halicarnassus.

Among the best MSS. Of Thucydides, the Codex Vaticannus 126 (11th cent.) represents a recension made in the Alexandrian or Roman age. In the first six books the number of passages in which the Vaticannus alone has preserved a true reading is comparatively small; in book vii. it is somewhat larger; in book viii. It is so large that here the Vaticannus, as compared with the other MSS., acquires the character of a revised text. Other important MSS. Are the Palatinus 252 (11th cent.); the Casselanus (1252 A.D.); the Augustanus Monacensis 430 (1301 A.D.). A collation, in books i. ii., of two Cambridge MSS. Of the 15th century (NN. 3. 18, KK. 5. 19) has been published by Shilleto. Several Parisian MSS. (H.C.A.F.), and a Venetian MSS. (V.) collated by Arnold, also deserve mention. The Aldine edition was published in 1502. It was formerly supposed that there had been two Juntine editions. Shilleto, in the "Notice" prefixed to book i., first pointed out that the only Juntine edition was that of 1526, and that the belief in an earlier Juntine, of 1506, arose merely from the accidental omission of the word vicesimo in the Latin version of the imprint.

Of recent editions, the most generally useful in Classen’s in the Weidmann series (Berlin, 1862-78); each book can be obtained separately. Arnold’s edition (1848-51) contains much that is still valuable. For books i. and ii. Shilleto’s edition (1872-76) furnishes a commentary which, though not full, deals admirably with many difficult points. Among other important editions, it is enough to name those of Duker, Bekker, Goeller, Poppo, and Krüger. Bétant’s lexicon to Thucydides (2 vols. Geneva, 1843) is well executed. Jowett’s translation (Oxford, 1883) is supplemented by a volume of notes. Dale’s version (Bohn) also deserves mention for its fidelity, as Crawley’s (London, 1876) for its vigour. Hellenica (London, 1880) contains an essay on "The Speeches of Thucydides," pp. 266-323, which has been translated into German. The best clue to Thucydidean bibliography is in Engelmann’s Scriptores Graeci, pp. 748 sq., 8th ed., 1880. (R. C. J.)


Footnotes

FOOTNOTES (page 323)

1 See Jebb’s Attic Orators, vol., i. p. 35


FOOTNOTE (page 325)

1 Freeman, Historical Essays, 2d ser., iii.



The above article was written by Sir Richard Claverhouse Jebb, M.P., Litt.D., D.C.L., LL.D.; Regius Professor of Greek, Cambridge; Fellow and Lecturer of Trinity College, 1863; Professor of Greek, University of Glasgow, 1875-89; Lecturer in John Hopkins University, Baltimore, 1892; Fellow of London University, 1897; Member of London University Commission, 1898; Bampton Lecturer, 1899; author of Sophocles, Electra in Catena Classicorum, Ajax, Characters of Theothrastus, Bentley, Sophocles, with Critical Notes, Commentary, and Translation, Humanism in Education, etc.




Search the Encyclopedia:



About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Sitemaps
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us



© 2005-14 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries