Thucydides and the Philosophical Origins of History
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
This book addresses the question of how and why history begins with the work of Thucydides. The History of the Peloponnesian War is distinctive in that it is a prose narrative, meant to be read rather than performed. It focuses on the unfolding of contemporary great power politics to the exclusion of almost all other elements of human life, including the divine. The power of Thucydides' text has never been attributed either to the charm of its language or to the entertainment value of its narrative, or to some personal attribute of the author. In this study, Darien Shanske analyzes the difficult language and structure of Thucydides' History and argues that the text has drawn in so many readers into its distinctive world view precisely because of its kinship to the contemporary language and structure of Classical Tragedy. This kinship is not merely a matter of shared vocabulary or even aesthetic sensibility. Rather, it is grounded in a shared philosophical position, in particular on the polemical metaphysics of Heraclitus.
CUNY444B/Shanske Printer: cupusbw 0 521 86411 9 The First Sentence July 21, 2006 5:13 19 distant past.11 The opening sentence of the work clearly echoes that of Herodotus, a first illusory indication that we are entering the familiar.12 Here is Thucydides: Thucydides, an Athenian, composed (sungraphein) the war of the Peloponnesians and the Spartans as they warred against one another, beginning to write immediately (euthus) at the outset, and expecting it would be great and most worthy of
not seem to have failed because of insufficient Athenian support. But does Thucydides in 2.65.7 not echo Pericles in 1.144.1? Yes, almost, and the parallelism between the author and his greatest character itself is an important indication of the work’s consistency. Pericles in his first speech states that the Athenians “will emerge superior if [they] desire not to add to the empire at the same time as warring and not to add selfchosen dangers.”39 And, according to Thucydides, “Pericles said that
explicitly urges the Athenians to remember the deinon that hung over them because of the Mytilenians.241 Still, the standard interpretation that Cleon is offering an opposing vision of Athens and of the deinon also remains valid; he is importing not only courtroom rhetoric, but tragic rhetoric, in order to undermine the possibility of reasoned deliberation and to goad the Athenians to commit an atrocity. Nevertheless, Pericles does not elaborate upon what the deinon might be, nor does he
seen through the ruse to get us into the fly-bottle long ago. Yet this initial textual analysis is only part of the story. Thucydides is, after all, successful in his seduction, and explaining this requires not only laying out the bare facts of how his text operates, but also explaining why these facts are so seductive. Returning to the image of the fly-bottle, we know that flies are drawn to sugar. What is the draw in Thucydides’s text? And why does the draw seem to be timeless? What could be so
something like the “true deep cause” is that it leaves out the superlative, the prefix, the visual force of aletheia, and the core meaning of prophasis (namely, something specious). We are not given the true prophasis, but rather the most revealing pretext (indeed, “pre-saying/showing”). Furthermore, Thucydides makes it clear that this is the reason least often given in logos. And this leads us back to what prophasis usually means, an alleged motive or pretext. Thucydides is about to lay out “the