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W. Robert Connor
Copyright Date: 1984
Pages: 280
Stable URL:
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    This full-scale sequential reading of Thucydides' history of the Peloponnesian War will be invaluable to the specialist and also to those in search of an introduction and companion to the Histories. Moving beyond other studies by its focus on the reader's role in giving meaning to the text, it reveals Thucydides' use of objectivity not so much as a standard for the proper presentation of his subject matter as a method for communicating with his readers and involving them in the complexity and suffering of the Peloponnesian War. W. Robert Connor shows that as Thucydides' themes and ideas are reintroduced and developed, the initial reactions of the reader are challenged, subverted, and eventually made to contribute to a deeper understanding of the war.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2004-7
    Subjects: History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments (pp. ix-x)
  4. Abbreviations (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction (pp. 3-19)

    I first read Thucydides in the 1950s—that strange decade in which we Americans enjoyed such national power and stability and yet assumed the imminence of such disaster. During the first Cold War it seemed self-evident that the world was dividing into two camps. The great anti-democratic continental powers, the Soviet Union and what was called “Mainland China,” each with its “satellites” and co-ordinated plans for world conquest, seemed to be driving closer to a conflict with “the free world” whose strength derived from control of the seas and the air. That earlier struggle, the Peloponnesian War, in which democratic,...

  6. Book 1 (pp. 20-51)

    Hume, echoed by Kant, said the first page of Thucydides was the commencement of real history.¹ But it is a puzzling and difficult beginning—an idiosyncratic introduction to as complex an argument as is to be found anywhere in the eight books of the work or indeed in all the pages of ancient historical writing. After a brief statement of the anticipated greatness of the subject matter, the grand and potentially moving theme of the nature of the Peloponnesian War is abandoned for a digression arguing that early Greek history was all on a small scale. This section, commonly called...

  7. Book 2 (pp. 52-78)

    On a rainy night in the spring of 431 B.C. during a month set aside by their fellow citizens for sacred observances, a group of wealthy but disaffected Plataeans opened the gates of their city to troops from Thebes. The Theban force, a little more than three hundred, moved swiftly, took the town by surprise and seemed to be in command. But later that night the other inhabitants recognized their superior numbers, counterattacked and forced the Thebans to withdraw. Some were killed; some captured and later put to death. When Thebes sent a larger force against the city, the Plataeans...

  8. Book 3 (pp. 79-107)

    From a city adrift and leaderless to one driven by demagogues is but a small transition. The concern with the absence of effective leadership in Athens in the years following Pericles’ pre-eminence naturally draws attention to the false leader, Cleon. The contrast is conspicuous because verbal echoes link Cleon to Pericles.¹ Cleon dominates Thucydides’ narrative through much of the third, fourth, and fifth books.

    But his emergence is gradual. Thucydides does not move directly from analysis of the lack of leadership in Athens to an examination of Cleon and his significance. Instead he pauses to develop a theme already present...

  9. Book 4 (pp. 108-140)

    To the historian, the fourth book of the Histories is perhaps the least convincing of the entire work. In it Thucydides relates two highly innovative, and risky, undertakings, one by the Athenians and one by the Spartans. The strategy of each of these is based on premises that up to this point had been rejected in the war. Each results in a movement toward peace, although the respective leaders, Cleon in Athens and Brasidas of Sparta, both resist a settlement. And, most important for our purposes, Thucydides’ treatment of each strategy is complex and controversial.

    The narrative of the first...

  10. Book 5 (pp. 141-157)

    The deaths of Brasidas and of Cleon make peace possible. After the battle outside Amphipolis we move swiftly toward the Peace of Nicias and to an apparent conclusion of the hostilities. We return, in effect, to the opportunity that had been missed after the initial success at Pylos. At that point a temporary truce had been arranged while Spartan ambassadors traveled to Athens and appealed to the assembly to preserve their current good fortune by agreeing to peace and alliance (4.16-20). Now the one-year armistice arranged in 424 B.C. (4.117) leads to negotiations and to treaties of peace (5.18-19) and...

  11. Book 6 (pp. 158-184)

    Suddenly the Athenians decide to invade Italy. The reader is plunged into a new undertaking of major proportions and awesome implications. Juxtaposed to the Melian episode,¹ without any discussion of the strategic background or the immediate circumstances of the decision, the first sentence of the book presents the Athenians’ intentions in an extreme form: “The Athenians were wishing to sail against Sicily . . . and to subjugate it if they could.”² The juxtaposition of this sentence with the Melian account is abrupt and powerful; there is no transition and, remarkably, no discussion of the strategic situation. Later we learn...

  12. Book 7 (pp. 185-209)

    The sixth book led the reader through a major progression. It began ironically; the knowledge of the outcome of the Sicilian Expedition shaped reactions to the decision to invade Sicily with a large expeditionary force. Our foreknowledge of the ultimate disaster informed our judgments about the speeches and actions of the participants in the assembly at Athens, at Syracuse, and in the council of Athenian generals. But gradually the ironic perspective was replaced by a much more immediate focus on the operations of the expedition. From this point of view Athenian success no longer seemed so farfetched. Despite the delays...

  13. Book 8 (pp. 210-230)

    Most readers of Thucydides have found the account of the Sicilian Expedition to be the culmination of the work with the eighth book a disappointing sequel. Whereas the· seventh book draws together many of the major themes of the work—ships, finances, walls, the dissolution of ethnic ties, and the greatness of the war¹—and transforms them into a rich and moving unity, the eighth book is diffuse, fragmented, and incomplete. The narrative, in Comford’s words, seems “unfinished, dull and spiritless” and “the historian . . . seems to grope his way like a man without a clue.”²

    The reason...

  14. Conclusion (pp. 231-250)

    Thucydides’ history has no conclusion; half way through the account of the twenty-first year of the war, in the middle of a paragraph, at a semicolon, it abruptly stops. Many themes that we have encountered throughout the work find no completion; many of its tensions lack resolution; the author makes no final appearance and provides no summing up to indicate what we should conclude about his work or how we should react to it.

    We crave something more than this incompleteness: some resolution, some clearer sense of the writer’s own responses and conclusions. Yet the ending is in many respects...

  15. Appendixes (pp. 251-262)
  16. Index (pp. 263-266)