Thucydides

Course Material 2022/23
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Thucydides plaster cast bust.

It is hard to overstate the influence of Thucydides. He is the earliest author whose text substantially survives to theorise the writing of history. He describes his methods and the reasons for adopting them, and he also structures his work so as explicitly to address historical causation. Thucydides’ primary concern was not simply to preserve a record of events, but to come to understand the forces at work in bringing to pass what he argued to be the greatest war fought in the Greek world down to his own day.

Thucydides’ analysis of internal politics and of the relations between states has proved foundational, not simply for all subsequent attempts to understand the dynamics of individual cities and their interrelations within the Greek world, but for understandings of politics and international relations across time and space. His decisions about what was and what was not relevant as an explanatory framework have had a massive impact. His exploration of the inter-relationship between word and deed has come to dominate our understanding both of Athenian democracy and of how politics in general works.

This course will look closely at Thucydides’ whole history, trying to understand why he included and excluded what he included and excluded, and exploring the interpretation embedded in the structure of his work. It will look closely at Thucydides’ understanding of what brings success or failure in war, and what the effects of war are. It will explore his treatment of internal political dynamics, both in his treatment of individual political occasions (e.g. meetings of the assembly in Athens and elsewhere) and in his discussion of civil strife, both in Corcyra and in Athens. It will ask what role Thucydides allows to the supernatural, and how the influence of the gods is manifested.  

The course will also explore Thucydides’ place in the Greek historical tradition and his influence on the writing of history more widely as well as examining his impact on understandings of international relations.

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