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History, like an individual's life, is a succession of well-defined periods. Herodotus took as his subject a long cycle of events; the shorter period was first treated by Thucydides who introduced methods which entitle him to be regarded as the first modern historian. Born in Attica in 471 he was a victim of the great plague, was exiled for his failure to check Brasidas at Eion in 424 and spent the rest of his life in collecting materials for his great work. His death took place about 402.

His preface is remarkable as outlining his creed. First he states his subject, the Peloponnesian war of 431-404; he then tests by an appeal to reason the statements in old legends and in Homer, arguing from analogy or from historical survivals in his own time to prove that various important movements were caused or checked by economic influence. He uses his imagination to prove that the importance of an event cannot be decided from the extant remains of its place of origin, for if only the ruins of both Sparta and Athens were left, Sparta would be thought to be insignificant and Athens would appear twice as powerful as she really is. Poetical exaggeration is easy and misleading, and ancient history is difficult to determine by absolute proofs.

    “Men accept statements about their own national past from one 
    another without testing them.”

    “To most men the search for truth implies no effort; they prefer to 
    turn to the first accounts available.”

    “It was difficult for me to write an exact narrative of the speeches 
    actually made; I have therefore given the words that might have been 
    expected of each speaker, adhering to the broad meaning of what was 
    really uttered. The facts I have not taken from any chance person, 
    nor have I given my own impressions, but have as accurately as 
    possible written a detailed account of what I witnessed myself or 
    heard from others. The discovery of these facts was laborious owing 
    to conflicting statements and confused memories and party favour. 
    Perhaps the unromantic nature of my record will make it uninteresting; 
    but if any person will judge it useful because he desires to consider 
    a clear account of actual facts and of what is likely to recur at some 
    future time, I shall be content. As a compilation it is rather an 
    eternal possession than a prize-essay for a moment.”

The essentially modern idea of history writing is here perfectly evident.

Having pointed out the significance of the war, not only to Greece but to the whole of the world, he gives its causes. To him the real root of the trouble was Sparta's fear of Athenian power: the alleged pretexts were different. The rise of Athens is rapidly described, her building of the walls broken down by the Persians, her control of the island-states in a Delian league which eventually became the nucleus of her Empire, her alliance with Megara, a buffer-state between herself and Corinth. This last saved her from fears of a land invasion; when she built for Megara long walls to the sea she incurred the intense anger of Corinth which smouldered for years and at last caused the Peloponnesian conflagration. The reduction of Aegina in 451 compensated for the loss of Boeotia and Egypt. Eventually the Thirty Years' Peace was concluded in 445; Athens gave up Megara, but retained Euboea; her definite policy for the future was concentration on a maritime empire; she controlled nearly all the islands of the Aegean and was mistress of the Saronic gulf, Aegina, “the eyesore of the Peiraeus", having fallen.

But if she was to confine her energies to the sea, it was essential that she should be mistress of all the trade-routes which in ancient history usually ran along the coast. On both east and west she found Corinth in possession; a couple of quarrels with this city ruptured the peace. In the west, Corinth had founded Corcyra (Corfu); this daughter colony quarrelled with her mother and prevailed. In itself Corcyra was of little importance in purely Greek politics, but it happened to possess a large navy and commanded the trade-route to Sicily, whence came the corn supply. When threatened with vengeance by Corinth, she appealed to Athens, where ambassadors from Corinth also appeared. Their arguments are stated in the speeches which are so characteristic of Thucydides. The Athenians after careful consideration decided to conclude a defensive alliance with Corcyra, for they dreaded the acquisition of her navy by Corinth. But circumstances turned this into an offensive alliance, for Corinth attacked and would have won a complete victory at sea but for timely Athenian succour. In the east Athens was even more vitally concerned in trade with the Hellespont, through which her own corn passed. On this route was the powerful Corinthian city Potidaea, situate on the western prong of Chalcidice. It had joined the Athenian confederacy but had secured independence by building strong walls. When the Athenians demanded their destruction and hostages as a guarantee, the town revolted and appealed to the mother-city Corinth. A long and costly siege drained Athens of much revenue and distracted her attention; but worst of all was the final estrangement of the great trade rival whom she had thwarted in Greece itself by occupying Megara, in the west by joining Corcyra, and in the east by attacking Potidsea.

The final and open pretext for war was the exclusion of Megara from all Athenian markets; this step meant the extinction of the town as a trading-centre and was a definite set-back to the economic development of the Peloponnese, of which Corinth and Megara were the natural avenues to northern Greece. The cup was full; Athenian ambition had run its course. The aggrieved states of the Peloponnese were invited to put their case at Sparta; Corinth drew a famous picture of the Athenian character, its restlessness, energy, adaptability and inventiveness. “In the face of such a rival,” they added,

    “Sparta hesitates; in comparison Spartan methods are antiquated, 
    but modern principles cannot help prevailing; in a stagnant state 
    conservative institutions are the best, but when men are faced with 
    various difficulties great ingenuity is essential; for that reason 
    Athens through her wide experience has made more innovations.”

An Athenian reply failed to convince the allies of her innocence; one of the Spartan Ephors forced the congress to declare that Athens had violated the peace. A second assembly was summoned, at which the Corinthians in an estimate of the Athenian power gave reasons for believing it would eventually be reduced. They further appealed to what has never yet failed to decide in favour of war—race antagonism; the Athenians and her subjects were Ionians, whereas the Peloponnesians were mainly Dorians. The necessary vote for opening hostilities was secured; but first an ultimatum was presented. If Athens desired peace she must rescind the exclusion acts aimed at Megara. At the debate in the Athenian assembly Pericles, the virtual ruler, gave his reason for believing Athens would win; he urged a demand for the withdrawal of Spartan Alien Acts aimed at Athens and her allies and offered arbitration on the alleged grievances.

It is well to repeat the causes of this war: trade rivalry, naval competition, race animosity and desire for predominance. Till these are removed it is useless to expect permanent peace in spite of Leagues or Tribunals or Arbitration Courts. Further, it should be noted that Thucydides takes the utmost care to point out the excellent reasons the most enlightened statesmen had for arriving at contradictory conclusions; the event proved them all wrong without exception. The future had in store at least two events which no human foresight could discover, and these proved the deciding factors in the conflict.

The war began in 431 by a Theban attack on Plataea, the little town just over the Attic frontier which had been allied with Athens for nearly a century and protected her against invasion from the north. This city had long been hated by Thebes as a deserter from her own league; it alone of Boeotian towns had not joined the Persians. Burning with the desire to capture it, a body of Thebans entered the place by night, seizing the chief positions. But in the morning their scanty numbers were apparent; recovering from panic the Plataeans overwhelmed the invaders and massacred them. This open violation of the treaty kindled the war-spirit. Both sides armed, Sparta being more popular as pretending to free Greece from a tyrant. Their last ambassador on leaving Athenian territory said: “This day will be the beginning of mighty woes for Greece”.

The Spartans invaded Attica, cutting down the fruit trees and forcing the country folk into the city; the Athenians replied by ravaging parts of Peloponnese and Megara. The funeral of the first Athenian victims of the war was the occasion of a remarkable speech. Pericles in delivering it expounds the Athenian ideal of life.

    “We do not compete with other constitutions, we are rather a pattern 
    for the rest. In our democracy all are equal before the law; each man 
    is promoted to public office not by favour but by merit, according as 
    he can do the State some service. We love beauty in its simplicity, we 
    love knowledge without losing manliness. Our citizens can administer 
    affairs both private and public; our working classes have an adequate 
    knowledge of politics. To us the most fatal error is the lack of 
    theoretical instruction before we attempt any duty. In a word, I say 
    that Athens is an education for all Greece; individually we can prove 
    ourselves competent to face the most varied forms of human activity 
    with the maximum of grace and adaptability.... We have forced the 
    whole sea and every land to open to our enterprise. Look daily at the 
    material power of the city and love her passionately. Her glory was 
    won by men who did their duty and sacrificed themselves for her. The 
    whole world is the sepulchre of famous men; their memory is not only 
    inscribed on pillars in their own country, it lives unwritten in the 
    hearts of men in alien lands.”

At the beginning of the next year a calamity which no statesman could have foreseen overtook Athens. A mysterious plague of the greatest malignity scourged the city, the mortality being multiplied among the crowds of refugees. The city's strength was seriously impaired, public and private morality were undermined, inasmuch as none knew how long he had to live. Discouraged by it and by the invasions the Athenians sent a fruitless embassy to Sparta and tinned in fury on Pericles. He made a splendid defence of his policy and gave them heart to continue the struggle; he pointed out that it was better to lose their property and save the State than save their property and lose the State; their fleet opened to them the world of waters over which they could range as absolute masters. Soon afterwards he died, surviving the opening of the war only two years and a half; his character and abilities received due acknowledgment from Thucydides.

At this point Sparta decided to destroy Plataea, the Athenian outpost in Boeotia. A very brilliant description of the siege and counter-operations reveals very clearly the Spartan inability to attack walled towns and explains their objection to fortified friends. Leaving the town guarded they retired for a time, to complete the work later. The war began to spread beyond the Peloponnese to the north of the Corinthian gulf, the control of which was important to both sides. The Acarnanians were attacked by Sparta and appealed to the Athenian admiral Phormio. Two naval actions in the gulf revealed the astonishing superiority of the Athenian navy on the high seas. Threatened in her corn supply in the west, Sparta began to intrigue with the outlying kingdoms on the north-east, the “Thraceward parts” on the trade-route being the objective.

A spirit of revolt against Athenian rule appeared in Lesbos, which seceded in 428. The chief town in this non-Ionic island was Mytilene, which sent ambassadors to Sparta. Their speech clearly explains how the Athenians were able to keep their hold on their policy; her policy (like that of Rome) was to divide the allies by carefully grading their privileges, playing off the weak against the stronger. The Spartans proved unable to help and the Athenians easily blockaded the city, capturing it early in 427. In their anger they at first decided to slay all the inhabitants, but a better feeling led to a reconsideration next day. In the Assembly two great speeches were delivered. Pericles had been succeeded by Cleon, to whom Thucydides seems to have been a little unjust. He opened his speech with the famous remark that a democracy cannot govern an Empire; it is liable to sudden fits of passion which make a consistent policy impossible. He himself never changed his plans, but his audience were different.

    “You are all eyes for speeches, all ears for deeds; you judge of 
    the possibility of a project from good speeches; accomplished facts 
    you believe not because you see them but because you hear them from 
    smart critics. You are easily duped by some novel plan, but you 
    refuse to adhere to what has been proved sound. You are slaves to 
    every new oddity and have nothing but contempt for what is familiar. 
    Every one of you would like to be a good speaker, failing that, to 
    rival your orators in cleverness. You are as quick to guess what is 
    coming in a speech as you are slow at foreseeing its consequences. 
    In a word, you live in some non-real world.”

He pleaded for the rigorous application of the extreme penalty already voted.

He was opposed by Diodotus, who appealed to the same principle as Cleon did expediency.

    “No penalty will deter men, not even the death penalty. Men have 
    run through the whole catalogue of deterrents in the hope of 
    securing themselves against outrage, yet offences still are common. 
    Human nature is driven by some uncontrollable master passion which 
    tempts it to danger. Hope and Desire are everywhere and are most 
    mischievous, for they are invisible. Fortune too is as powerful a 
    means of exciting men. At tunes she stands unexpectedly at their 
    side and leads them to take risks with too slender resources. Most 
    of all she tempts cities, for they are contending for the greatest 
    prizes, liberty or domination. It is absolutely childish then to 
    imagine that when human nature is bent on performing a thing it will 
    be deterred by law or any other force. If revolting cities are quite 
    sure that no mercy will be shown, they will fight to the last, 
    bequeathing the victors only smoking ruins. It would be more expedient 
    to be merciful and thus save the expenses of a long siege.”

This saner view prevailed. The doctrine of a “ruling passion” is a remarkable contribution to Greek political thought, the abstract personifications reading like the work of a poet or philosopher. An exciting race against time is most graphically described. After great exertions the ship bearing the reprieve arrived just in time to save Mytilene. This act of mercy stands in sinister contrast with the treatment the unhappy Plataeans received from the liberators of Greece. The citizens were captured, Athens having strangely abandoned them in spite of her promise to help. They were allowed to commemorate their services to Greece, appealing in a most moving speech to the sacred ground of their city, the scene of the immortal battle. All was in vain. The Thebans accused them of flat treachery to Boeotia, securing their condemnation. Corcyra similarly proved unprofitable; it was afflicted by fratricidal dissensions which coloured one of Thucydides' darkest pictures. As the war went on it became clearer that it was a struggle between two rival political creeds, democracy and oligarchy. To the partisans all other ties were of little value, whether of blood or race or religion; only frenzied boldness and unquestioning obedience to a party organisation were of any consequence. This wretched spirit of feud was destined in the long run to spell the doom of the Greek cities. In 427 the first mention was made of the will-of-the-wisp which in time led Athens to her ruin. In her anxiety to intercept the Peloponnesian corn she supported Leontini against Syracuse, the leading Sicilian state. In Acarnania the capable general Demosthenes after a series of movements not quite fruitless succeeded in bringing peace to the jarring mountain tribes.

In 425 a most important event took place. As an Athenian squadron was proceeding to Sicily it was forced to put in at Pylos, where many centuries later Greece won a famous victory over the Turks. Demosthenes, though he had no official command, persuaded his comrades to fortify the place as a base from which to harry Spartan territory. It was situated in the country which had once belonged to the Messenians who for generations had been held down by the Spartan oligarchs. Deserters soon began to stream in; the gravity of the situation was recognised by the Spartan government who landed more than four hundred of their best troops on the island of Sphacteria at the entrance to the bay. These were speedily isolated by the Athenian navy; and news of the event filled all Greece with excitement. A heated discussion took place at Athens, where Cleon accused Nicias, the commander-in-chief, of slackness in not capturing the blockaded force. Spartan overtures for a peace on condition of the return of the isolated men proved vain; after a lively altercation with Nicias Cleon made a promise to capture the Spartans within thirty days, a feat which he accomplished with the aid of Demosthenes. Nearly three hundred were found to prefer surrender to death; these were conveyed to Athens and were an invaluable asset for bargaining a future peace.

A further success was the capture of Nisaea, the port of Megara, in 424, but an attempt to propagate democracy in Boeotia ended in a severe defeat at Delium; the fate of Plataea was a bad advertisement in an oligarchically governed district. Worse was to follow. Brasidas, a Spartan who had greatly distinguished himself at Pylos, passed through Thessaly with a volunteer force, reaching Thrace and capturing some important towns; the loss of one of these, Eion, caused the exile of the historian, who was too late to save it. In 423 a truce for one year was arranged between the combatants, but Brasidas ignored it, sowing disaffection among the Athenian allies. His personal charm gave them a good impression of the Spartan character and his offer of liberty was too attractive to be resisted. His success was partly due to a deliberate misrepresentation of the Athenian power which proved greater than it seemed to be. The two real obstacles to peace were Brasidas and Cleon; at Amphipolis they met in battle; a rash movement gave the Spartan an opportunity for an attack. He fell in action, but the town was saved. Cleon was killed in the same battle and the path to peace was clear. The truce for one year developed into a regular settlement in 421, Nicias being responsible for its negotiation in Athens. The chief clause provided that Athens should recover Amphipolis in exchange for the Spartan captives.

The members of the Peloponnesian league considered themselves betrayed by this treaty, for their hated rival Athens had not been humbled. Corinth was the ringleader in raising disaffection. She determined to create a new league, including Argos, the inveterate foe of Sparta. This state had stood aloof from the war, nursing her strength and biding her time for revenge. When Sparta failed to restore Amphipolis, the war party at Athens, led by Alcibiades, formed an alliance with Argos to reduce Sparta; but this policy alienated Corinth, who refused to act with her trade rival. An Argive attack on Arcadia ended in the fierce battle of Mantinea in 418, in which Sparta won a complete victory. Argos was forced to come to terms, the new league was dissolved and Athens was once more confronted by her combined enemies, her diplomacy a failure and her trump-card, the Sphacterian prisoners, lost.

Next year she was guilty of an act of sheer outrage. Her fleet descended on the island of Melos, which had remained neutral, though its inhabitants were colonists from the Spartan mainland close by. Nowhere does the dramatic nature of Thucydides' work stand more clearly revealed than in his account of this incident. He represents the Athenian and Melian leaders as arguing the merits of the case in a regular dialogue, essentially a dramatic device. The Athenian doctrine of Might and Expediency is unblushingly preached and acted upon, in spite of Melian protests; the island was captured, its population being slain or enslaved. Such an act is a fitting prelude to the great disaster which forms the next act of Thucydides' drama.

In 416 Athens proceeded to develop her design of subjugating Sicily. Segesta was at feud with Selinus; as the latter city applied to Syracuse for aid, the former bethought her of her ancient alliance with Athens. Next year the Sicilian ambassadors arrived with tales of unlimited wealth to finance an expedition. Nicias, the leader of the peace party, vainly counselled the Assembly to refrain; he was overborne by Alcibiades, whose ambition it was to reduce not only Sicily but Carthage also. When the expedition was about to sail most of the statues of Hermes in the city were desecrated in one night. Alcibiades, appointed to the command with Nicias and Lamachus, was suspected of the outrage, but was allowed to sail. The fleet left the city with all the pomp and ceremony of prayer and ritual, after which it showed its high spirits in racing as far as Aegina.

In Sicily itself Hermocrates, the great Syracusan patriot, repeatedly warned his countrymen of the coming storm, advising them to sink all feuds in resistance to the common enemy. He was opposed by Athenagoras, a democrat who, true to his principles, suspected the story as part of a militarist plot to overthrow the constitution. His speech is the most violent in Thucydides, but contains a passage of much value.

    “The name of the whole is People, that of a part is Oligarchy; 
    the rich are the best guardians of wealth, the educated class can 
    make the wisest decisions, the majority are the best judges of 
    speeches. All these classes in a democracy have equal power both 
    individually and collectively. But oligarchy shares the dangers 
    with the many, while it does not merely usurp the material benefits, 
    rather it appropriates and keeps them all.”

The Athenians received a cold welcome wherever they went. At Catana they found their state vessel waiting to convey Alcibiades home to stand his trial; he effected his escape on the homeward voyage, crossing to the Peloponnese. The great armament instead of thrusting at Syracuse wasted its time and efficiency on side-issues, mainly owing to the cold leadership of Nicias. This valuable respite was used to the full by Hermocrates, who at a congress held at Camarina was insistent on the racial character of the struggle between themselves who were Dorians and the Ionians from Athens. This national antipathy contributed greatly to the final decision of the conflict.

Passing to Sparta, Alcibiades deliberately betrayed his country. His speech is of the utmost importance.

His view of democracy is contemptuous. “Nothing new can be said of what is an admitted folly.” He then outlined the Athenian ambition; it was to subdue Carthage and Sicily, bring over hosts of warlike barbarians, surround and reduce the Peloponnese and then rule the whole Greek-speaking world. He advised his hearers to aid Sicilian incapacity by sending a Spartan commander; above all, he counselled the occupation of Deceleia, a town in Attica just short of the border, through which the corn supply was conveyed to the capital; this would lead to the capture of the silver-mines at Laureium and to the decrease of the Athenian revenues. He concluded with an attempt to justify his own treachery, remarking that when a man was exiled, he must use all means to secure a return.

The Spartans had for some time been anxious to open hostilities; an act of Athenian aggression gave them an opportunity. Meanwhile in Sicily Lamachus had perished in attacking a Syracusan cross-wall. Left in sole command, Nicias remained inactive, while Gylippus, despatched from Sparta, arrived in Syracuse just in time to prevent it from capitulating. The seventh book is the record of continued Athenian disasters. Little by little Gylippus developed the Syracusan resources. First he made it impossible for the Athenians to circumvallate the city; then he captured the naval stores of the enemy, forcing them to encamp in unhealthy ground. Nicias had begged the home government to relieve him of command owing to illness. Believing in the lucky star of the man who had taken Nissea they retained him, sending out a second great fleet under Demosthenes. The latter at once saw the key to the whole situation. The Syracusan cross-wall which Nicias had failed to render impassable must be captured at all costs. A night attack nearly succeeded, but ended in total defeat. Demosthenes immediately advised retreat; but Nicias obstinately refused to leave. In the meantime the Syracusans closed the mouth of their harbour with a strong boom, penning up the Athenian fleet. The famous story of the attempt to destroy it calls out all the author's powers of description. He draws attention to the narrow space in which the action was fought. As long as the Athenians could operate in open water they were invincible; but the Syracusans not only forced them to fight in a confined harbour, they strengthened the prows of their vessels, enabling them to smash the thinner Athenian craft in a direct charge. The whole Athenian army went down to the edge of the water to watch the engagement which was to settle their fate. Their excitement was pitiable, for they swayed to and fro in mental agony, calling to their friends to break the boom and save them. After a brave struggle, the invaders were routed and driven to the land by the victorious Syracusans.

Retreat by land was the only escape. A strategem planned by Hermocrates and Nicias' superstitious terrors delayed the departure long enough to enable the Syracusans to secure the passes in the interior. When the army moved away the scene was one of shame and agony; the sick vainly pleaded with their comrades to save them; the whole force contrasted the proud hopes of their coming with their humiliating end and refused to be comforted by Nicias, whose courage shone brightest in this hour of defeat. Demosthenes' force was isolated and was quickly captured; Nicias' men with great difficulty reached the River Assinarus, parched with thirst. Forgetting all about their foes, they rushed to the water and fought among themselves for it though it ran red with their own blood. At last the army capitulated and was carried back to Syracuse. Thrown into the public quarries, the poor wretches remained there for ten weeks, scorched by day, frost-bitten by night. The survivors were sold into slavery.

    “This was the greatest achievement in the war and, I think, in 
    Greek history the most creditable to the victors, the most 
    lamentable to the vanquished. In every way they were utterly 
    defeated; their sufferings were mighty; they were destroyed 
    hopelessly; ships, men, everything perished, few only returning 
    from the great host.”

So ends the most heartrending story in Greek history, told with absolute fidelity by a son of Athens and a former general of her army.

The last book is remarkable for the absence of speeches; it is a record of the continued intrigues which followed the Sicilian disaster. Upheavals in Asia Minor brought into the swirl of plots Tissaphernes, the Persian satrap, anxious to recover control of Ionia hitherto saved by Athenian power. In 412 the Athenian subjects began to revolt, seventeen defections being recorded in all. At Samos a most important movement began; the democrats rose against their nobles, being guaranteed independence by Athens. Soon they made overtures to Alcibiades who was acting with the Spartan fleet; he promised to detach Tissaphernes from Sparta if Samos eschewed democracy, a creed odious to the Persian monarchy. The Samians sent a delegation to Athens headed by Pisander, who boldly proposed Alcibiades' return, the dissolution of the democracy in Samos and alliance with Tissaphernes. These proposals were rejected, but the democracy at Athens was not destined to last much longer, power being usurped by the famous Four Hundred in 411. The Samian democracy eventually appointed Alcibiades general, while in Athens the extremists were anxious to come to terms with Sparta. This movement split the Four Hundred, the constitution being changed to that of the Five Thousand, a blend of democracy and oligarchy which won Thucydides' admiration; the history concludes with the victory of the Athenians in the naval action at Cynossema in 410.

The defects of Thucydides are evident; his style is harsh, obscure and crabbed; it is sometimes said that he seems wiser than he really is mainly because his language is difficult; that if his thoughts were translated into easier prose our impressions of his greatness would be much modified. Yet it is to be remembered that he, like Lucretius, had to create his own vocabulary. It is a remarkable fact that prose has been far more difficult to invent than poetry, for precision is essential to it as the language of reasoning rather than of feeling. Instead of finding fault with a medium which was necessarily imperfect because it was an innovation we should be thankful for what it has actually accomplished. It is not always obscure; at times, when “the lion laughed” as an old commentator says, he is almost unmatched in pure narrative, notably in his rapid summary of the Athenian rise to power in the first book and in the immortal Syracusan tragedy of the seventh.

His merits are many and great; his conciseness, repression of personal feeling, love of accuracy, careful research, unwillingness to praise overmuch and his total absence of preconceived opinion testify to an honesty of outlook rare in classical historians. Because he feels certain of his detachment of view, he quite confidently undertakes what few would have faced, the writing of contemporary history. Nowadays historians do not trust themselves; we may expect a faithful account of our Great War some fifty years hence, if ever. Not so Thucydides; he claims that his work will be a treasure for all time; had any other written these words we should have dismissed them as an idle boast.

For he is the first man to respect history. It was not a plaything; it was worthy of being elevated to the rank of a science. As such, its events must have some deep causes behind them, worth discovering not only in themselves as keys to one particular period, but as possible explanations of similar events in distant ages. Accordingly, he deemed it necessary to study first of all our human nature, its varied motives, mostly of questionable morality, next he studied international ethics, based frankly on expediency. The results of these researches he has embodied (with one or two exceptions) in his famous speeches. He surveyed the ground on which battles were fought; he examined inscriptions, copying them with scrupulous care; he criticised ancient history and contemporary versions of famous events, many of which he found to be untrue. Further, his anxiety to discover the real sources of certain policies made it necessary for him to write an account of seemingly purposeless action in wilder or even barbarous regions such as Arcadia, Ambracia, Macedonia; in consequence his work embraces the whole of the Greek world, as he said it would in his famous preface.

As an artist, he is not without his merits. The dramatic nature of his plan has been frequently pointed out; to him the main plot is the destruction not of Athens, but of the Periclean democracy, the overthrow thereof being due to a conflict with another like it; hence the marked change in the last book, in which the main dramatic interest has waned. This dramatic form has, however, defeated its own objects sometimes, for all the Thucydidean fishes talk like Thucydidean whales.

To us he is indispensable. We are a maritime power, ruling a maritime empire, our potential enemies being military nations. He has warned us that democracy cannot govern an empire. Perhaps our type of this creed is not so full of the lust for domination and aggrandisement as was that of Athens; it may be suspected that we are virtuous mainly because we have all we need and are not likely to be tempted overmuch. But there is the other and more subtle danger. The enemies within the state betrayed Deceleia which safeguarded the food-supply. We have many Deceleias, situate along the great trade-routes and needing protection. Once these are betrayed we shall not hold out as Athens did for nearly ten years; ten weeks at the outside ought to see our people starving and beaten, fit for nothing but the payment of indemnities to the power which relieves us of our inheritance.


The earliest is by Hobbes, the best is by Jowett, Oxford. Though somewhat free, it renders with vigour the ideas of the original text.

The Loeb Series has a version by Smith.

Thucydides Mythistoricus, Cornford (Arnold), is an adverse criticism of the historian; it points out the inaccuracies which may be detected in his work.

Clio Enthroned by W. R. M. Lamb, Cambridge, should be read in conjunction with the above. The author adopts the traditional estimate of Thucydides.

See also Bury, Ancient Greek Historians, as above.