Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Leo Strauss lectures on Thucydides (1972-73)

“How shall we call such a thinking man as Thucydides? The word ‘historian’ is somehow not satisfactory.”
Leo Strauss, Lecture 17

"Neither historians nor political scientists can deal with the complexity of true strategy and statecraft. Thucydides does so because his narrative is literature, and literature does not restrict itself. It can say anything that needs to be said."
Grand Strategy: Literature, Statecraft, and World Order by Charles Hill (Yale University Press, 2010), page 34

What started as a lark…listening to Leo Strauss’ lecture series on Thucydides available at the Leo Strauss Center during my commute…ended up as a series of posts since I found the course so engaging. As I disclaim on the lecture posts, I don’t cover everything in the lecture and, while I do my best, the quotes are not always exact. I also refer to my posts on Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War in many of the posts.

The lectures can be discomforting at times knowing Strauss died a few months after the end of this course. In the lectures, Strauss provides recaps of the events and places them in both the immediate context and overall framework of the history. He constantly questions what Thucydides meant by presenting facts and speeches the way he did—why certain things are included, why others items are excluded, how presentations are framed, etc. Strauss' translation of the original Greek text helps clarify some items and provides nuance that Thucydides must have intended. Strauss highlights certain items he seems to be struggling to understand in a greater context, such as why the gods are mentioned at certain times or what it means when Thucydides provides paraphrases and quotes a speech. At all times going through the book, Strauss challenges the reader to look beyond the events of the history and see why Thucydides believed his work to be “an everlasting possession.”

List of lecture posts

Lectures 1 – 4

Lectures 5 – 8

Lectures 9 – 10

Lecture 11

Lectures 12 – 14

Lectures 15 – 17

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