Thucydides Book I: A Students Grammatical Commentary (Bk. 1)

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Earlier in the same year the Corinthian envoy at the Peloponnesian congress had given several reasons for believing that the Peloponnesians were likely to prevail in the war. They could acquire naval skill by practice. And among the possibilities of the war he suggests the occupation of a fortress in the enemy's country [52]. The speech of Pericles answers these arguments point by point.

But the correspondence is not merely in the topics. The very phrases of the Corinthian speech are repeated by Pericles in his reply [53]. Similar parallelisms may be traced between the Corinthian speech and that delivered by the Spartan Archidamus on the occasion of the former congress: one with which the Corinthians cannot be supposed to be acquainted in detail, since it was made to the Spartans only, after strangers had withdrawn [54].

The fact is that the eight [55] speeches recorded by Thucydides as delivered at Athens or Sparta before the commencement of the war form, for his purpose, a group by themselves. In these he has worked up the chief arguments and calculations which were current on either side. In this particular case, as we have seen, the disposition of topics may well be authentic in the main. But the composer's phrase is significant. It suggests the habit of selecting from a certain stock of available material and disposing the extracts with something of a dramatist's freedom.

In the Funeral Oration there is nothing, apart from the diction, which distinctly shows the invention of Thucydides. At first sight there is some plausibility in the view that such an oration would probably have contained allusions to the heroic legends of Attica, and that the mind of Thucydides is to be traced in their suppression [57].

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But the argument may be turned the other way. One or two passages, indeed, have been supposed to hint at the moral deterioration of the Athenian democracy in the years which followed the death of Pericles [58] ; but the supposition seems gratuitous. It remains to notice the debate in the Ecclesia on the punishment of Mitylene. Cleon urges a massacre, Diodotus opposes it.

Cleon's speech has one striking characteristic. In several places it echoes phrases which occur in the speeches of Pericles [59].

Thucydides Book I: A Students' Grammatical Commentary (Bk. 1)

As Pericles describes the good side of the intellectual Athenian nature, Cleon brings out its weak side. As Pericles insists on the Athenian combination of intelligence with courage, Cleon declares that this intelligence leads men to despise the laws, and prefers ignorance combined with moderation [60]. Pericles is gone: Cleon echoes the words of the statesman as whose successor he poses, at the very moment when he is contradicting his principles. It may be observed that when Thucydides reports the speech of the Syracusan demagogue Athenagoras, he marks his manner by a certain violence of expression [61].

Cleon, whom Thucydides calls "most violent," has no violence of expression. This closes the series of those seven speeches, delivered at Athens, for which Thucydides probably derived the "general sense" either from his own recollection or from the sources accessible to a resident citizen. The only one of these which exhibits distinct traces of artificial dealing with subject-matter is the first speech of Pericles. And in this the only traces are, first, a certain adjustment of the language to that of the Corinthian speech made earlier in the same year [62] ; and, secondly, a phrase by which the composer prepares the reader for a subsequent speech of Pericles.

We now come to the speeches made elsewhere than at Athens from B. Speaking in the congress at Gela in B. The Athenians, he says, are now on our coast with a few ships; but some day they will come with a larger fleet, and endeavour to reduce the whole island [65]. The Athenian fleet on the Sicilian coast at this time must have numbered some fifty or sixty triremes [66]. Hermocrates, speaking in B. But Thucydides, when he composed the speech, had in view the vast fleet—at least thrice as numerous [68] —sent to Sicily in B.

Nicias, in his second speech dissuading the Athenians from the expedition to Sicily, says that the only Sicilian cities likely to join the invaders are Naxos and Catana [69]. Both Naxos,and Catana did, in fact, join the Athenians. The alliance of Messene [70] was solicited by Alcibiades, though without success. Both Athenian and Syracusan envoys were sent to Camarina, and it was not without much hesitation that Camarina resolved to remain neutral [71]. The precision of the forecast made by Nicias betrays knowledge of the event.

Again, when the Athenian attack on Sicily is imminent, Hermocrates, in his speech at Syracuse, gives reasons for thinking that it will fail. Numerous as the Athenians are, he says, they cannot outnumber the united forces of Sicily.

The primary cause of the failure was not, he thinks, a miscalculation of forces, but rather the neglect of the Athenians at home—distracted as they were by faction—to support the army in Sicily, a neglect which blunted the zeal of those engaged in the campaign [73]. The words ascribed to Hermocrates were written by Thucydides in retrospective view of the Athenian errors which had led to the Athenian defeat. The speech of Euphemus, the Athenian envoy at Camarina, offers another example.

And if, he says, you dismiss them now, "one day yet you will long to see even the least part of them, when their succour can no more avail you [74]. Dionysius, who had become tyrant of Syracuse, failed to relieve Gela. The inhabitants of Camarina, like those of Gela, were forced to abandon their city; and when the conclusion of peace between Dionysius and the invaders allowed them to return, they returned as tributaries of Carthage [75]. The protection of Syracuse, in which Camarina had trusted, proved a broken reed.

Thucydides must have been at work on his History for some years after the end of the Peloponnesian war, perhaps as late as B. The Corinthian speaker at Sparta in B. Alcibiades, speaking at Sparta in B. I will briefly notice the chief of these. Most of the property in the country will become yours by capture or surrender. The Athenians will forthwith lose their revenues from the silver mines of Laurium, and all their present gains from the land and the law-courts.

Above all, they will suffer by the irregular transmission of tribute from their allies, who, when satisfied that you are making war in earnest, will slight their demands [79]. The temporary presence of the invading enemy had not hitherto hindered the Athenians from reaping the fruits of the soil; but now "they were deprived of their whole land"—including, of course, the mines at Laurium.

The whole number of adult male citizens was required for military duty on the walls or in the field, a necessity which would suspend the sitting of the law-courts and, as Alcibiades foretold, close that source of profit [81]. The expenses of the State were heavily increased, its revenues were perishing.

Thucydides Book I: A Students' Grammatical Commentary (Bk. 1)

Alcibiades might easily have foreseen the importance of occupying Deceleia. But the minute correspondence between the special results which he is made to predict and those which Thucydides relates in his own person indicates that the prophecy followed the event. III 7. The Athenian speaker at Sparta in B. The usages of your community preclude intercourse with others, and moreover a Spartan citizen on foreign service observes these usages as little as those of Hellas at large [82]. And the reference to the misconduct of the Spartan citizen abroad was certainly not suggested by the case of Pausanias alone.

The war had furnished two signal instances. Gylippus had been convicted by the Ephors of appropriating part of the treasure taken after the capture of Athens [83].


Lysander—the first Greek who received divine honours from Greeks—had surpassed the arrogance of Pausanias [84]. The striking speech of Brasidas to the Acanthians B. It is throughout an emphatic assertion that the cause in which Sparta fights is the cause of Greek liberty.

Such freedom would be harder than a foreign yoke: and we, the Lacedaemonians, should reap no thanks for our pains, but rather blame instead of honour and renown [85]. Oligarchies of the narrowest type—boards of ten—were established by Lysander in most of the cities, with a Spartan governor and garrison in each to repress the popular party [86]. The many were literally enslaved to the few, and they found the freedom which Sparta had given them harder indeed than any foreign rule.

It can scarcely be doubted that this speech of Brasidas—composed by Thucydides after the close of the war—was inserted by him here, just at the moment when Sparta was making the first advances to the democratic cities of Northern Greece, for the purpose of bringing out the glaring contrast between Spartan promise and Spartan performance.

The reference here is unmistakable. After the surrender of Athens in B. The effect of such touches as these—suggested by a knowledge of occurrences subsequent to the dramatic date—may be compared with that produced in a Greek tragedy when one of the persons unconsciously utters a word or phrase which foreshadows the catastrophe.

The spectator who knows the destined end of the drama is affected in the same manner as the reader who knows the sequel of the history. In using such touches, however, Thucydides was probably thinking more of logical than of artistic effect. His mind, with its strong concentration, grasped the whole series of arguments or illustrations which the experiences of the war could yield; and he brought the most forcible of these to bear on his point without caring whether the facts which suggested them were earlier or later than the supposed date.

These military harangues, of which there are twelve in all, are usually short. The object is always the same—to bring out vividly the essential points of a strategical situation; and the historian has been less uniformly attentive here to the details of dramatic probability [89]. A modern writer would have attained the object by comments prefixed or added to his narrative of the operations.

The Peloponnesian captains, exhorting their men before the action in the Corinthian Gulf, tell them that, though naval skill is much, it cannot avail against courage [92]. Phormio, exhorting the Athenian crews, tells them, as if in retort, that though courage is invaluable, their decisive advantage is in their naval skill [93].

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Pagondas, before the battle of Delium, tells the Boeotians that they must fight, even beyond their own border, for the safety of Boeotia, and reminds them that their fathers secured it for a time by defeating the Athenians at Coroneia [94]. Demosthenes tells the Athenians that they must fight, even on Boeotian ground, to protect Attica, and reminds them of the Athenian victory over the Boeotians at Oenophyta [95]. The speech of Brasidas to his men on his Illyrian expedition is intended to bring out the contrast between Hellenic and barbarian warfare [96] ; his speech at Amphipolis serves to explain his tactics [97].

Nowhere else, perhaps, has Thucydides given so free a scope to his own rhetorical power; yet even here it is strictly subordinated to his primary purpose—that of faithfully presenting the cardinal facts of the situation as he conceived them. The expression of character in the Thucydidean speeches has the same kind of limitation which was generally observed in Attic tragedy. It is rather typical than individual. Thucydides seizes the broad and essential characteristics of the speaker, and is content with marking these.