Thucydides' War Narrative: A Structural Study

Thucydides' War Narrative: A Structural Study

Thucydides' War Narrative: A Structural Study

Thucydides' War Narrative: A Structural Study

Synopsis

As a sustained analysis of the connections between narrative structure and meaning in the History of the Peloponnesian War, Carolyn Dewald's study revolves around a curious aspect of Thucydides' work: the first ten years of the war's history are formed on principles quite different from those shaping the years that follow. Although aspects of this change in style have been recognized in previous scholarship, Dewald has rigorously analyzed how its various elements are structured, used, and related to each other. Her study argues that these changes in style and organization reflect how Thucydides' own understanding of the war changed over time. Throughout, however, the History 's narrative structure bears witness to Thucydides' dialogic efforts to depict the complexities of rational choice and behavior on the part of the war's combatants, as well as his own authorial interest in accuracy of representation.

In her introduction and conclusion, Dewald explores some ways in which details of style and narrative structure are central to the larger theoretical issue of history's ability to meaningfully represent the past. She also surveys changes in historiography in the past quarter-century and considers how Thucydidean scholarship has reflected and responded to larger cultural trends.

Excerpt

This book is divided into two parts. Part 1 (chapters 1 through 4) considers the narrative structure of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, ii.1–v.24. This portion of the History, commonly called the Archidamian War, tells the story of the first ten years of the twenty-seven-year war. I argue that the structure Thucydides uses to narrate the Archidamian War is paratactic in nature. The term “parataxis,” originally used of a military battle line, was adopted by literary critics and linguists to describe some distinctive features of early Greek prose. It is sometimes glossed in English from Aristotle’s description in the Rhetoric (1409a24) as the “strung-along style.” In a work written in the paratactic style, discrete segments of either poetry or prose follow each other in sequence. The image often used for this kind of narrative arrangement is that of beads on a string—the string, or thematic unity of the whole, often remaining tacit or implicit in the way the sequence of segments unrolls.

In my discussion of Thucydides’ paratactic organization of the narrative of ii.1–v.24, I call the narrative segments that form its “beads,” or building blocks, units of action. To analyze how Thucydides uses these units of action, I use a particular terminology, most of which is explained in chapter 1. In chapter 2 the introductory sentences of the Archidamian units of action are examined in detail. Most of the lists of examples, and the tables quantifying the overall statistics about these introductory sentences, have been relegated to appendix B, which can be read separately as an account of everything one ever wanted to know about the formular first sentences Thucydides uses in his narrative of the first ten years of the war. In other chapters, the tables that support the argument are included in the body of the chapter.

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