Mythology and History:

Thucydides' archaeology and method

  • Thucydides' life: note his "second introduction" at V.26:
"I myself remember that all the time from the beginning to the end of the war it was being put about by many people that the war would last thrice nine years. I lived through the whole of it, being of an age to understand what was happening."
  • Book 1, paragraph 1: The historian's problem--evidence: lack of evidence and interpretation of evidence.
  • The archaeology (1.1-19) is less a description of early Greece or a chronicle of events as the establishment of a WAY OF LOOKING AT THE PAST. (Connor, 1991)
  • To whom does Thucydides explicitly contrast his way of dealing with the historian's problem?
    • The poets, who exaggerate (e.g. Homer, Trojan War)
    • The logographers/prose writers, who are interested in sensationalism and who pass on unreliable information (e.g. Herodotus, Persian Wars)
  • Thucydides uses the contemporary examples of Sparta and Athens to claim that one cannot judge cities by their APPEARANCE instead of by ACTUAL POWER. What IS actual power by Thucydides' reckoning?

    Actual power is economically based: power based on access to and deployment of resources.

    Take for example Thucydides' treatment of the Trojan War in contrast to Homer's.

    • For Homer, what determines the progress and eventual outcome of the war?
    • For Thucydides, what determined the progress and eventual outcome of the Trojan War?
  • Thucydides offers his own method as a scientific method based on scrutinizing evidence; it argues for third person objectivity and is designed to inspire a sense of security in the reader.
  • Thucydides uses a grid, or set of criteria, by which he scrutinizes evidence, both ancient and contemporary (e.g., reports about the Peloponnesian War). We may observe elements of his interpretive grid in the archaeology, and will watch for it throughout the rest of his history:
    • what is "likely" to have happened (a Sophistic style of argumentation)
    • actual power = wealth
    • naval power inclines particularly toward accumulation of wealth and empire
    • human nature = accumulation of wealth (=power) inclines the wealthy/powerful to dominate the poor/powerless
  • The REAL CAUSE, as opposed to intermediate causes, of the Peloponnesian War is, in Thucydides' view, the growth of Athenian power and the fear this generated in the Spartans (1.23)
NOTE WELL what Thucydides says about his method with respect to SPEECHES and EVENTS!! Keep what he says in mind as you read the next assignment, which consists of a set of speeches.

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