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Thucydides, c.460-c.400 B.C.

thucydides.jpg (4438 bytes)The Greek historian of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides was the son of Olorus, an aristocrat, and was born near Athens around 460 B.C. He suffered in the plague that devastated Athens in 430, but managed to recover and command an Athenian squadron of seven ships at Thasos (424). Failing to relieve Amphipolis, he was condemned to death. He took refuge in exile and retired to his Thracian estates. Thucydides lived in exile for the next twenty years and probably did not return to Athens until 404.

Living in the Athens of Pericles, Thucydides regarded the motives of statesman and the actions of government as the essence of history. He did not simply categorize facts. Instead, Thucydides sought out those general principles that those facts illustrated. He searched for the truth underlying historical events and learned that the motives of men follow certain patterns. Therefore, the proper analysis of the Peloponnesian War would reveal those general principles that also govern human behavior. In The Peloponnesian War, Thucydides writes:

Of the events of the war I have not ventured to speak from any chance information, nor according to any notion of my own; I have described nothing but what I either saw myself, or learned from others of whom I made the most careful and particular inquiry. The task was a laborious one, because eyewitnesses of the same occurrences gave different accounts of them, as they remembered or were [partial to] one side or the other. And very likely the strictly historical character of my narrative may be disappointing to the ear. But if he who desires to have before his eyes a true picture of the events which have happened, and of the like events which may be expected to happen hereafter in the order of human things shall pronounce what I have written to be useful, then I shall be satisfied. My history is an everlasting possession, not a prize composition which is heard and forgotten.

More Information
Ancient Greece: Thucydides biography (Richard Hooker)
Francis M. Cornford's Thucydides Mythistoricus
The History of the Peloponnesian War (MIT) and at Perseus
Short Bibliography on Thucydides (Lowell Edmunds, Rutgers)
Thomas Hobbes' On the Life and History of Thucydides
Three Essays on Thucydides (John M. Finley)
Thucydides (Peithô's Web)

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