Thoughts on Thuycidides’ “History of the Peloponnesian War”

So, a while ago I was browsing for history books and came across Thuycidides’ “”History of the Peloponnesian War”. Back in high school we covered some Ancient Greek history and the period interested me — I was sympathetic to the Spartans — and so I picked it up.

While the book does a credible job of covering the historical timeline, its great strength is about speeches. Thuycidides really loves the speeches, and outlines them in full at many points in the work. Whether the rhetoric is verbatim or something that he himself wrote, if you like speeches and are in the mood to read them, they’re quite good. Unfortunately, I myself wasn’t really in the mood for speeches at the time.

It’s unclear how unbiased Thuycidides was in his history. While he was a citizen of Athens for most of the war, at one point he points out that he was exiled from Athens and had taken up with the Spartans — he uses that to highlight that the events he was describing on the Spartan side were things he had experienced — and so you could probably make a case for bias on either side. Without having an actual full history to appeal to, I can’t say one way or the other. I will say that if you want a parallel to Nazi Germany vs Europe on a political basis — not ideological — you’d be hard pressed to find a better one. As presented, Athens kept pushing and pushing at the Spartan League members, emboldened by Sparta’s lack of interest in foreign entanglements. At the same time, given the Spartan dominance on land the Athenians were at times quite frightened that they might get involved, right up until the point when the Spartans actually did engage them in a land battle, and lost, which then gave the Athenians a false sense of superiority and they then overextended themselves and lost battles and ground.

The history ends abruptly before the end of the war and that, combined with the above issues, means that I really should find a more direct history and read that to get a better sense of the war itself. Still, it wasn’t a bad read, especially if you happen to like speeches.

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