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History of the Peloponnesian War Paperback – September 30, 1954
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Text: English, Greek (translation)
About the Author
Thucydides (c. 460 BC–400 BC) was a general who was exiled for his failure to defend the Greek city of Amphipolis in Thrace. During his exile, he began compiling histories and accounts of the war from various participants.
Rex Warner was a Professor of the University of Connecticut from 1964 until his retirement in He was born in 1905 and went to Wadham College, Oxford, where he gained a "first" in Classical Moderations, and took a degree in English Literature. He taught in Egypt and England, and was Director of the British Institute, Athens, from 1945 to 1947. He has written poems, novels and critical essays, has worked on films and broadcasting, and has translated many works, of which Xenophon’s History of My Time and The Persian Expedition, Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian War, and Plutarch’s Lives (under the title Fall of the Roman Republic) and Moral Essays have been published in Penguin Classics.
M. I. Finley was a professor of ancient history and master of Darwin College, Cambridge. He died in 1986.
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Thucidides has been labeled as the first scientific historian. His account is incredibly objective, even-handed , and non-partisan. He participated personally in the Peloponesian wars as a minor strategos (military leader or general) and was banished for not achieving what he was supposed to do. From that point on, he retired to his extensive family holdings in Tracia and gave all his time (presumably) to research the war and interview the witnesses. His account ends abruptly, probably due to his sudden death, and covers the first 21 years of the 27-year war. The best parts are the speeches of the leaders, generals and representatives of various countries or factions. Obviously, Thucidides had not been present on these occasions and considering the poor records available 2400 years ago, had no access to recordings or stenograms. Most are therefore hearsay, at best, or the authors conviction that what he related should have been said. Nevertheless, the speeches are a marvelous exmple of how human nature did not change one bit in more than two thousand years. The people we observe through Thusidides' words are intelligent, educated, ambitious, demagogues and true lovers of their countries, heroes and rogues, many times could be perceived by us as both good and bad, depending on circumstances. The squabling, cultured, even effeminate democratic Athenians prove to be exceedingly good at war and barely fail to subjugate the whole Peloponesian league led by the harsh warlike Spartans. For Thucidides, however, there are no moral judgements, only cold examination of circumstances. Even Alcybiades, a rare example of turncoat, double-dealer, demagogue and villain is not censured. Rather Thucidides raises his eyebrows questioningly at the naivete of the people who continued to believe and follow, nay even invite this man despite all the evidence available.
Only in one case, that of Cleon, Thucidides looses his admirable cool. Cleon, the cowardly demagogue and cheat who instigates a doomed military campaign and is forced to lead it by the more responsible Athenian general. Thucidides describes that campaign how Cleon hesitates, stumbles, always puts his worst foot forward, and then wins by an unbelivable fluke. His description of thea rguments presented by the Athenian envoys to the representatives of Melos precede Macchiavelli's "The Prince" by two thousand years. The Melians choose honor and love of their freedom. Their cause being right, they are consequently slaughtered and the women and children sold into slavery.
Do not omit his moving description of the Athenian plague. It is a rare gem!
And by all means, do read it!
You should also consider pairing this with Dakyns' translation of Xenophon's "Hellenica", which completes the story of the war which Thucydides leaves unfinished at the end of this volume.
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