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The History of the Peloponnesian War

by Thucydides

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
6,640501,093 (4)2 / 128
Written by Thucydides around 400 BC, The History of the Peloponnesian War is a meticulous account by the Athenian general of the extended struggle that raged between Athens and Sparta for the better part of twenty years. Thucydides eschews the romance of heroics and dramatics and his precise and thorough account of the ill-fated conflict is one of the first surviving scholarly works of history.… (more)
  1. 60
    The Histories by Herodotus (Voracious_Reader)
  2. 30
    The Histories by Polybius (timspalding)
    timspalding: Thucydides, Herodotus, Polybius—the rest is secondary.
  3. 10
    Thucydides by Walter Robert Connor (wildbill)
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» See also 128 mentions

English (42)  Dutch (4)  Italian (2)  Spanish (1)  All languages (49)
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
The first book of the History, after a brief review of early Greek history and some programmatic historiographical commentary, seeks to explain why the Peloponnesian War broke out when it did and what its causes were. Except for a few short excursuses (notably 6.54–58 on the Tyrant Slayers), the remainder of the History (books 2 through 8) rigidly maintains its focus on the Peloponnesian War to the exclusion of other topics.

While the History concentrates on the military aspects of the Peloponnesian War, it uses these events as a medium to suggest several other themes closely related to the war. It specifically discusses in several passages the socially and culturally degenerative effects of war on humanity itself. The History is especially concerned with the lawlessness and atrocities committed by Greek citizens to each other in the name of one side or another in the war. Some events depicted in the History, such as the Melian dialogue, describe early instances of realpolitik or power politics.

The History is preoccupied with the interplay of justice and power in political and military decision-making. Thucydides' presentation is decidedly ambivalent on this theme. While the History seems to suggest that considerations of justice are artificial and necessarily capitulate to power, it sometimes also shows a significant degree of empathy with those who suffer from the exigencies of the war.

For the most part, the History does not discuss topics such as the art and architecture of Greece. ( )
  Marcos_Augusto | Mar 8, 2021 |
Obviously one of the ornaments of Classical History, this Penguin edition, translated by Rex Warner has been on my shelf, and occasionally been referred to for the last sixty years. Though not as lively as the Plutarch biographies dealing with some of the popular figures of this war, or as simple in approach as Herodotus, this is a basic book in historical education. While Thucydides was a participant in some of the events he describes, the author, probably a minor commander on the Athenian side of the struggle,does make efforts to seem even handed in his account of a brutal and exhausting struggle. Rex Warner's translation seems readable. The Mapping is sparse and not really adequate. For those desiring to discover how the war eventually ended, there is a book by Xenophon describing the final years of the war. The Penguin edition of that work is called "A History of My Times." While this 551 page edition does have an index, it is a fairly sketchy effort. I note the ISBN cited here is of an E-book edition. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Nov 16, 2020 |
Thucydides predicted that the lessons in his History of the Peloponnesian War would be valid “for ever” (I, 22, p. 48), and sure enough, scholars still apply his concepts. Graham Allison, for example, in Destined for War (2017), examines several wars between established powers and rising ones, and whether the United States and China “can escape Thucydides’s trap.”

Now that the world is in the midst of a pandemic, Thucydides’s account of the Plague of Athens (II, 47-55. Pp. 151-6) takes on additional interest. Thucydides contracted the disease but survived. Pericles, Athens’s greatest leader, died of it. A medical symposium in 1999 judged that the Plague of Athens was typhus, but in light of the significance of coronaviruses, that judgment may need reexamination. Thucydides concluded that “Nothing did the Athenians so much harm . . . or so reduced their strength for war” (III, 87: p. 246).

Thucydides was an Athenian strategos (a general and also an admiral) until relieved of his command and exiled. Exile enabled him to write about the war with relative impartiality, because he had access to information from Sparta and other city states. He appears to have been inured to the suffering and death in ordinary battles, and he takes for granted that his readers are familiar with the weapons and tactics of the combatants. He mentions repeatedly that advancing armies (especially the Spartans) "laid waste to the countryside," implying that destruction of the civilian economy, especially agriculture, was the Greeks' version of strategic warfare--their forerunner of Sherman's March and strategic bombing. He skips over whether rape and plunder were implicit forms of soldiers' pay. He does not address why the Greek city states so often chose war over peace, but he was appalled by the bitterness of civil conflict, when political and personal enmities intermingled, moderation was denounced as cowardice and “words, too, had to change their usual meanings” (III, 82, p. 242).

Some readers will find the History an uncongenial work of a hard-bitten and humorless author who grinds through obscure battles, amphibious expeditions and local revolts. To make more sense of the narrative, readers can skip the inadequate maps in the Penguin Classic in favor of The Ohio State University’s computerized geographic information: https://ehistory.osu.edu/exhibitions/peloponnesian. ( )
  HerbThomas | Jul 25, 2020 |
It's been so long since I read this that I can't really remember the details.
( )
  Tara_Calaby | Jun 22, 2020 |
Written 400 years before the birth of Christ, this is a detailed "contemporary" account of the long life-and-death struggle between Athens and Sparta.
  Janet_DeBellis | Apr 5, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (309 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Thucydidesprimary authorall editionscalculated
Baldwin, Hanson W.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Crawley, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Finley, John H.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Finley, M. I.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Flashar, HellmutNachwortsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Garais, FricisTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gavorse, JosephIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grene, DavidEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hadas, MosesIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hammond, MartinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hanson, Victor DavisIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hobbes, ThomasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hollo, J. A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jowett, BenjaminTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Landmann, Georg P.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Radice, BettyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rhodes, P. J.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Savino, EzioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schwartz, M.A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Smith, WilliamTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Strassler, Robert B.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thesleff, HolgerIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vidal-Naquet, PierreForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Warner, RexTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Thucydides the Athenian wrote the history of the war fought between Athens and Sparta, beginning the account at the very outbreak of the war, in the belief that it was going to be a great war and more worth writing about than any of those which had taken place in the past.
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The Corcyraeans...went to the sanctuary of Hera and persuaded about fifty men to take their trial, and condemned them all to death. The mass of the suppliants who had refused to do so, on seeing what was taking place, slew each other there on the consecrated ground; some hanged themselves upon the trees, and others destroyed themselves as they were severally able. During seven days...the Corcyraeans were engaged in butchering those of their fellow-citizens whom they regarded as their enemies: and although the crime imputed was that of attempting to put down the democracy, some were slain also for private hatred, others by their debtors because of the moneys owed to them. Death thus raged in every shape; and as usually happens at such times, there was no length to which violence did not go; sons were killed by their fathers, and suppliants dragged from the altar or killed upon it, while some were even walled up in the temple of Dionysus and died there.
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Written by Thucydides around 400 BC, The History of the Peloponnesian War is a meticulous account by the Athenian general of the extended struggle that raged between Athens and Sparta for the better part of twenty years. Thucydides eschews the romance of heroics and dramatics and his precise and thorough account of the ill-fated conflict is one of the first surviving scholarly works of history.

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