Saturday, February 05, 2011

The Peloponnesian War summary

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

(W. H. Auden, from "September 1, 1939")

I did it. And I didn’t take an entire season to do it, like “the summer of Herodotus”. And I will never attempt to do anything like this again, at least in so short a timeframe. And now I’m not sure what to say, although if I haven’t said it in the 45,000 words I’ve posted on this book to date, a few more words won’t make any difference. Fortunately I’ve already posted a little bit on some of the reasons I think are important to read Thucydides.

The Peloponnesian War was something I have wanted to read for a long time and I am extremely glad I finally did. It’s an amazing work, a literary work every bit as much as a history. I hope I haven’t scared anyone that has considered reading this book because of my logorrheic posts. You don’t have to immerse yourself in it as deeply as I did in order to enjoy the work.

A quick word on my experiment with reading the Thomas Hobbes’ translation while also looking at The Landmark Thucydides—it went smoother than I thought it would. Hobbes’ wording gave me trouble in a few places and it was nice to have the Richard Crawley translation in the Landmark edition handy. Not to mention all the other help the Landmark edition provides with maps, detailed timelines, informative essays, etc. Because I sang the praises of my hardcover copy of The Landmark Herodotus, which held up to three months of use and abuse by me last summer, I feel I need to express my disappointment in the quality of my paperback copy of The Landmark Thucydides. I didn’t use it as my principal copy and still it came completely apart. I’m looking at it now and contemplating throwing this copy away because it’s a pain to open. Very disappointing.

I want to thank Steven Riddle at A Momentary Taste of Being for his kind words and links along the way as I posted as well as the links from Frank Wilson at Books Inq. – The Epilogue. Even though I’m doing this blog for me, I hope that others will find it of use at times.

On to the posts about Thucydides and his history:

Thucydides and The Peloponnesian War online resources

The Peloponnesian War: Thomas Hobbes’ introduction

Book One

An everlasting possession (Chapters 1 – 23)

Corcyra (Chapters 24 – 55)

Potidæa, Sparta votes that the peace has been broken (Chapters 56 – 88)

Pentecontaetia (Chapters 89-118)

The vote for war (Chapters 118 – 146)

Book Two

Strategy and Pericles’ funeral oration (Chapters 1 – 46)

Plague, recriminations (Chapters 47 – 65)

End of Book Two (Chapters 66 – 103)

Book Three

The revolt of Lesbos (Chapter 1 – 50)

War is an intermediate stage between peace and civil war (Chapters 51 – 85)

Sicily (Part One), Demosthenes (Chapters 86 – 116)

Book Four

Pylus (Pylos) and Sphacteria (Chapters 1 – 51)

Cythera, Sicily (Part Two), Megara, Brasidas (Chapters 52 – 88)

Delium, Amphipolis I, Truce (or consequences), Thespiae (Chapters 89 – 135)

Book Five

Amphipolis II, a peaceless peace, Mantinea (Chapters 1 – 83)

The Melian dialogue (Chapters 84 – 116)

Book Six

The Sicilian debate, sacrilege, false hope (Chapters 1 – 62)

Syracuse and chances lost (Chapters 63 – 105)

Book Seven

Syracuse and hope lost (Chapters 1 – 58)

The agony of defeat (Chapters 59 – 87)

Book Eight

A revolting development (Chapters 1 – 29)

When all Athens has is fear (Chapters 30 – 63)

No, this is how democracy ends (Chapters 63 – 88)

The end of (the) history (Chapters 89 – 109)


Who knew my youngest son would want to hear about Thucydides?

Memories of Thucydides in Patton (and trouble later in school)

Update (22 Feb 2011): A few notes on the podcast of Victor Davis Hanson on Thucydides: Understanding the Peloponnesian War

Update (15 Feb 2012): My notes on listening to Leo Strauss' lectures on Thucydides (1972-73), available from the Leo Strauss Center


Steven said...

Dear Dwight,

What can I say other than a marvelous, wonderful, insightful, entertaining read and guide. Thank you so much for going through the trouble to share with us all as you read through it! Truly, it was a great time following along with you.



Dwight said...

I'm glad it worked out that way. It's an amazing work--thank goodness for blogs...otherwise I would have buttonholed more friends or bored my wife to death with what I was reading.

Emily said...

God I heaven't totally read your summary but this is very very helpful for me, thank you so much.

Dwight said...

Glad it helped!

Unknown said...

I can't begin to explain how thankful I am your blog exist. This was insanely helpful in reading through The Peloponnesian War for class. Thank you!

Dwight said...

I'm happy to see this helped…thanks for the note!

Vincent Venatici said...

Dwight, you lovely lovely creature, thank you so much for the entries you've made here, they are as insightful as they are well worded and have been invaluable in introducing me to the wonders of classical literature.

Dwight said...

Thanks Vincent, I'm glad they were helpful. You've reminded me I really need to thank the person that made me interested in classics!

Jeanna said...

As someone who is studying for a Greek History test focusing on Thucydides, you are my favorite person and thank you so much for the analysis. It has cleared up so much confusion for me, and I got a lot more out of it. :)

Dwight said...

Jeanna, I'm so happy this was of help. Good luck!

Unknown said...

I had to write my annual essay and my oral exam on Thucydides (which we read months ago) and I couldn't have done it without these! They were a huge help! Thanks so much!

Dwight said...

I'm so happy to hear it was helpful. Thanks for letting me know!

Richard said...

Hello Dwight,

Thank you so much for your work. I tried to open the first two parts on book 1 but unfortunately it doesn't work.

I got an assignment by surprise to read the book by next week and I don't have the time at all. Do you believe reading your common reading will cover up the basics of the book?

Once again, Thank you so much!

Dwight said...

Richard, thanks for pointing out the problem with the first two posts on Book 1. The links should be fixed and working now. Let me know if it doesn't.

As far as my posts, they cover the basics and a little bit more, But there's no substitute for reading the work. If you're really crunched for time, I'd read parts of Thucydides that are essential (and here I'd have trouble winnowing out unessential parts since I think it's all great)...the first two books, book 4 on how the peace of Nicias was arrived at, the Melian dialog, books 6 and 7 (the debacle in Sicily). I didn't cut out too much, did I?

The problem is there is so much more to the war itself and Thucydides' presentation of it. I hope to post later this year on additional readings about the book, such as commentaries by Ernst Badian and Donald Kagan. Obviously that doesn't help you now, but you might search out some videos and course that cover the work, too, which will go more in depth on certain questions than I do here. One example: would Thucydides presentation of the war be more correctly called a tragedy than a history?

Best wishes on your assignment, and I hope the book, my posts, and some additional digging gives you a good start for your class.

Richard said...

Thank you Dwight,

It's going well so far thanks to you! :)

I'm almost at the end, however the link for "No, this is how democracy ends (Chapters 63 – 88)" at book eight is broken.

Thanks again,


Dwight said...

Thanks for the update Richard, and for letting me know which links were broken. The book eight link should be working now.

Again, good luck on the assignment. Be sure to check out the posts on Strauss' lectures, too. There are some topics raised which might provide great material for a paper, such as the alignment of common good and private good in Athens under Pericles as compared to after Pericles. Again, many thanks.

Unknown said...

I am teaching this for the first time, in Third World Zimbabwe, somewhat isolated from the academic world. I have been teaching for nearly 50 years, this is fascinating new work, and I need help! Thank you so much! I feel much more confident, and my pupils have excelled to date.

Dwight said...

I'm so glad to hear that! I hope they (and you) continue to do well. I appreciate you letting me know where this is being read and used.