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History of the Peloponnesian War Paperback – September 30, 1954

4.5 out of 5 stars 92 customer reviews

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Language Notes

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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 648 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Revised edition (1972)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140440399
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140440393
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1.1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (92 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #14,217 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By B. Streutker on May 20, 2007
Format: Paperback
There are four main translations of Thucydides available for the English reader:

Thomas Hobbes' 1628 version. Although made over 300 years ago this translation is still considered a classic by many in the English-speaking world. Hobbes is best known for writing "Leviathan" that classic work on Politics that all College students in the Western world for the past 200 years had to read. Do you like Shakespeare? If so give this edition a try. Hobbes vigorous and lively Jacobean English prose will enchant those more literary minded souls - however, Hobbes version has been noted for some inaccuracies due to his lack of proper understanding of the original Greek language text.

William Smith's 1754 translation. Most know of Crawley and Hobbes works but Smith's excellent 18th century version has been almost forgotten. I think you can only get it in a used edition on abebooks dot com. Smith's prose is as majestic as you you expect for a 18th century translation. While a bit hard to read for most modern readers Smith's prose is worth the effort if you stick with him. Some things were not meant to be "dumbed down". I compare reading Smith's Thucydides to plowing through Whiston's translation of Josephus.

The mid-Victorian (1874) Richard Crawley version is the one that most English speaking people were familiar with until the Penguin Books edition came out. This is a much easier version to understand than the Hobbes and Smith translations. While still retaining a very formal prose style it captures the Greek much more accurately than any previous version. This translation has the best balance between literary style and accuracy to the original text. This is the edition that many of our Grandparents and Great Grandparents read in school or College.
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Format: Paperback
"History of the Peloponnesian War" is, superficially, merely an account of a war that happened centuries ago, the Peloponnesian War, between Athenas and Sparta. Of course, you might think that the subject is trivial to you. After all, how important can a book like that be?. Well, if you were to think that, you would be enormously mistaken.
To start with, this book is a milestone you need to be aware of. Thucydides, its author, is very possibly the first modern historian. He tried to explain the causes of the Peloponnesian War, without reducing its complexity by saying that the gods had motivated it. Thucydides doesn't follow the easy path; instead, he searches those causes in human nature, and in power. He doesn't weave tales, but tries to write History.
It is rather astonishing how objective this Athenian was when he analyzed the war, and all that happened immediately before it. He examines methodically many events, paying special attention to facts. The author also gives his opinion from time to time, but he doesn't judge whether an action is good or evil: he merely shows that those that have power can use it as they see fit. Due to that, Thucydides is called by many the first realist theoretician. I was especially taken aback by how well he expresses his ideas regarding the fact that "power makes right" in the Melian debate. I don't agree with him, but I cannot deny that he makes a powerful case, and that his point of view is shared nowadays by many noteworthy thinkers.
It is important to point out that in "History of the Peloponnesian War" you will find a painstaking account of many things that actually happened, but also some speeches that weren't made by the actors, but could have been made by them.
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Format: Paperback
I had a Greek teacher who loved Herodotus, and did not love Thucydides. The consequences were not, perhaps, what you might expect. In the event, when we studied Herodotus, she would chatter on about the background, the characters. When we came to Thucydides, without nearly so much to entertain her, we just read the Greek.

Good thing, too. Herodotus' Greek is not elegant, and it is not pure Attic. But it is accessible to the relative novice. Thucydides, on the other hand, is about as hard as it comes - made worse by the fact that he is most accessible where he is least interesting, which is to say in the passages of pure battle narrative. It is in the "reflective" passages - where his "characters" are trying to explain or justify their actions, or where he is simply trying to make sense of an appalling calamity - that he is most obscure.

Is this an accident? I think not. Thucydides is, after all, an originator. He is perhaps not quite the first to give us a narrative of events, but he is surely the first to try to make sense of it all. And to recognize the path taken by his own beloved country as the course of stark strategy. It is the story, in short (at least at one level) of how a nation perhaps too rich and too self assured, can go terribly wrong.

It was fashionable to cite Thucydides in the dark days of the Vietnam War. I wonder if the comparison shows us too much flattery. For Thucydides' story is not only a story about the arrogance of power. Athens at its best was a priceless treasure. Anyone can throw away an opportunity, but some opportunities are better than others.
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