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Thucydides, History of the
Peloponnesian war
Sandrine Bertaux
Assistant Professor of Humanities
Archaic Period (750-500 BCE)
Homer, Hesiod, Sappho
Rise of the city-state (polis)
Classical Period (500-336 BCE)
5th century BCE: Golden Age of Athens
Golden Age of Athens
5th century BCE Golden Age of Athens
 Political and cultural hegemony of Athens
• Consolidation of democratic rule under Pericles
• Birth of new forms of knowledge and new forms
of cultural expression:
History: Herodotus and Thucydides
Philosophy: Sophists, Socrates, Plato, (Aristotle -4th
Tragedy: Euripides
Golden Age of Athens
Rise of Athens, Wars and Birth of History
499-479 Persian Wars
Greek city-states versus Persian Empire
Recounted by Herodotus in his Histories
431-404 Peloponnesian War
Athens and the Delian League versus Sparta and
the Peloponnesian League
Recounted by Thucydides in his History of the
Peloponnesian War
Politico Magazine, 21 June 2017
“What made “The Trump team is obsessing
over Thucydides, the ancient
the war
inevitable was historian who wrote a seminal
the growth of tract on war.”
power and the
fear which this
caused in
Sparta.” (23)
Outline of the Lecture
• Greek Historiography:
Before history
Two wars, two historians, one “father of history”?
Thucydides’ conception of history
• A Democracy at War: The Funeral Oration
Pericles and Athenian democracy
Pericles, Aspasia and Women
Before History
• the word histor, the ancestor of historian, is
found in The Iliad of Homer. The histor was a
kind of judge or referee in disputes between
two contending parties and he was paid for
his work.
• The past was mythical and could be narrated
as Hesiod did for the five races of men, as just
the will of gods with no further attempt to
explain why it is so.
• History means
inquiry : new
form of
and a new
literary prose
2 wars, 2 historians, 1 “father of history”?
499-479 Persian Wars
Herodotus, Histories
432-404 Peloponnesian War
Thucydides, History of the
Pelop. War
Herodotus and Thucydides
Herodotus and Thucydides
• Herodotus (485-425?)-:
born in Halicarnassus:
modern-day Bodrum:
Greek family, under
Persian rule, travels.
• Not a direct witness of
the war; collected
• Greek versus Barbarians
• mythology and dreams
• remembrance
• Thucydides (465399?)
An actor in the war: a
general in the
Peloponnesian war
• Fight among Greek
• no gods, no myths:
direct witness
• The “greatest war”:
Thucydides vs. Herodotus
“Exposition” (Herodotus) vs. “writing” (Thucydides)
“It is better evidence than that of the poets, who
exaggerate the importance of their themes, or of
those of the prose chroniclers.” (22)
Writing: break with the rules governing oral
“My work is not a piece of writing designed to meet
the taste of an immediate public, but was done to
last for ever.” (22)
Not pleasant, no “romantic element”, but it will last
forever because of its timeless truth.
Useful; didactic
• “…judged useful by those who want to
understand clearly the events which
happened in the past and which (human
nature being what it is) will, at some time or
other and in much the same ways, be
repeated in the future.” (22)
Thucydides: Is history about the past?
• Only a history of the present is possible
“I made it a principle not to write down the first
story that came my way, and not even to be
guided by my own general impressions; either I
was present myself at the events which I have
described or else I heard of them from eyewitnesses whose reports I have checked with as
much thoroughness as possible.” (22)
A Democracy at War: Pericles and
Athenian Democracy
• Democracy means the power of the people
(Dêmos kratos).
“Our constitution is called a democracy because
power is in the hands not of the minority but the
whole people” (37)
• Participative (citizens):
“We do not say that a man who takes no interest in
politics is a man who minds his own business; we
say he has no business at all.” (40)
• and exclusive: women, foreigners, slaves.
“Fall in love” (43) with Athens:
cultural values
• Autochthony:
“In this land of ours there have always been the
same people living from generation to
generation up till now, and they… have handed
it on to us, a free country.”(36)
• … and empire:
“Our fathers…added all the empire we have
now.” (36)
Athens vs. Sparta
• Open to foreigners (as opposed to Sparta):
“Whole assembly, citizens and foreigners…” (36)
“Our city is open to the world, and we have no
periodical deportation in order to prevent
people observing or finding our secrets…” (39)
• Athenian education vs Spartan education (39)
Pericles, Aspasia and the “duties of
women” (46)
• “The greatest glory of a woman is to be least
talked about by men, whether they are
praising you or criticizing you.” (46)
• Pericles’ reform of citizenship
• Pericles and Aspasia of Miletus.
• “manliness” (35) and Pericles’ military policy.