Famous Greeks: Thucydides

Historical research and writing began in the Athenian democracy of the fifth century B.C. It was born out of the conviction that the study of the past offered the best means of making decisions in the present and foreseeing the future. Herodotus was the “father of history,” but⎯in the view of antiquity and the modern age⎯Thucydides (471–400 B.C.) was the greater historian. He was the founder of scientific history, the attribution of history to human, not divine, motivation. He was deeply immersed in the intellectual currents of his day, and strong parallels have been noted between his approach to the body politic and the discoveries of scientific medicine attributed to his contemporary Hippocrates. Thucydides participated actively in the political life of Athens. He was an admirer of Pericles. He was also a failed general, who spent much of the war in exile. His History of the Peloponnesian War has been called “the eternal manual of statesmen.” This lecture focuses on specific passages in that history to explore what is most enduring in Thucydides’s view of politics and human nature.

Questions to Consider:

1. How would you compare Herodotus and Thucydides as historians?

2. The argument has been made that the Melians were guilty of hybris. After all, is it not outrageous arrogance to think that you know what the gods approve? Do you agree?

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