Thucydides: Narrative and Explanation

Thucydides: Narrative and Explanation

Thucydides: Narrative and Explanation

Thucydides: Narrative and Explanation

Synopsis

This book analyzes the narrative technique of Thucydides, relating his shifting uses of various techniques to his explanatory aims, and showing how he narrates the progression of one war and at the same time exposes various truths about the human condition.

Excerpt

It is the start of the winter of 422/1, shortly after Brasidas and Kleon have both died at Amphipolis:

Rhamphias and his men [reinforcements for Brasidas] returned home, knowing that when they set out, the Spartans were more inclined towards peace. Indeed it happened that, directly after the battle of Amphipolis and the retreat of Rhamphias from Thessaly, both sides no longer set their hands to war, but were more inclined to peace. The Athenians had suffered a blow at Delion, and again shortly afterwards at Amphipolis, and no longer had that confidence in their strength through which they had previously refused peace, thinking that in their present good fortune they would come out on top; they were afraid, too, that their allies elated by their failures might revolt more generally; and they regretted that they had not come to terms after the affair at Pylos, when a good opportunity offered. The Spartans, on the other hand, found that the war was not turning out as they had expected: they had thought that they would destroy the power of the Athenians within a few years if they ravaged their land. As it was, they had met on the island a disaster such as had never happened to Sparta; their land was being plundered from Pylos and Kythera; the helots were deserting; and they were in constant apprehension that the helots who remained, trusting in those outside, might revolt, as before, in response to present circumstances. It happened, too, that the Thirty Years Peace with the Argives was on the point of expiring, and the Argives were unwilling to renew it unless Kynouria were restored to them; so that it seemed impossible to fight Argos and Athens at once. They also suspected that some of the cities in the Peloponnese would go over to the Argives, as indeed happened. (v. 13. 2-14)

The move to closure at the end of the Ten Years War has a neat symmetry: on both sides present mood is determined by past calamities, contrasted with previous hopes, and marked by fear for the future. Their perceptions give an indirect summary of Thucydides' own plotting of the war; in particular, the eagerness of the young on both sides 'to set their hands to the war', and . . .

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