Thucydides: An Introduction for the Common Reader

Thucydides: An Introduction for the Common Reader

Thucydides: An Introduction for the Common Reader

Thucydides: An Introduction for the Common Reader


This book is a concise, readable introduction to the Greek author Thucydides, who is widely regarded as one of the foremost historians of all time.

Why does Thucydides continue to matter today? Perez Zagorin answers this question by examining Thucydides' landmark History of the Peloponnesian War, one of the great classics of Western civilization. This history, Zagorin explains, is far more than a mere chronicle of the conflict between Athens and Sparta, the two superpowers of Greece in the fifth century BCE. It is also a remarkable story of politics, decision-making, the uses of power, and the human and communal experience of war. Zagorin maintains that the work remains of permanent interest because of the exceptional intellect that Thucydides brought to the writing of history, and to the originality, penetration, and the breadth and intensity of vision that inform his narrative.

The first half of Zagorin's book discusses the intellectual and historical background to Thucydides' work and its method, structure, and view of the causes of the war. The following chapters deal with Thucydides' portrayal of the Athenian leader Pericles and his account of some of the main episodes of the war, such as the revolution in Corcyra and the Athenian invasion of Sicily. The book concludes with an insightful discussion of Thucydides as a thinker and philosophic historian.

Designed to introduce both students and general readers to a work that is an essential part of a liberal education, this book seeks to encourage readers to explore Thucydides--one of the world's greatest historians--for themselves.


Of all the historians of war past or present, the ancient Greek Thucydides, author of the History of The Peloponnesian War, is the most celebrated and admired. His book, written in the fifth century BCE, is one of the supreme classic works of Greek and Western civilization that continues to speak to us from across the vast gulf of the past. Over the centuries a universal judgment has come to esteem it as one of the greatest of all histories. The famous nineteenth-century English historian Lord Macaulay, whose History of England itself became a classic, declared, “I have no hesitation in pronouncing Thucydides the greatest historian who ever lived.” The account Thucydides wrote of the twenty-sevenyear war of 431–404 between Athens and Sparta is taken up with the details and actions of warfare on land and sea, but also with much, much more. It is equally a story of diplomacy and relations among the Greek city-states, of political values, ideas, and argument, of the success and failure of military plans and strategy, of renowned and striking personalities, and most fundamentally, of the human and communal experience of war and its effects. Its time is the later fifth century, an era in which Sparta, one of the two great powers of Greece, was a formidable militaristic society organized for war, and Athens an intensely vital democracy that ruled over a large empire of subject city-states and stood at the height of its unequalled achievements as a creative center of culture, intellect, literature, and art.

In many ways Thucydides is one of our contemporaries. Despite the twenty-five hundred years that separate him from the present, and notwithstanding the vast differences in the beliefs, values, and general conditions of life between his society and ours in the twenty-first century, numerous aspects of his thinking and of the world he depicts in his book will seem recognizable and familiar to us today. Those who possess any knowledge or memory of the blood-soaked history of the twentieth century—its terrible international conflicts and the huge slaughter of human life caused by its two world wars, the revolutions that brought communism and fascism to power and the horrors of persecution and terror . . .

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