The only reason I listened to this book was because it was selected for discussion by the Great Books KC group. I listened to the LibriVox audio recording of the translation by Richard Crawley.
Otherwise I would have never had the patience for it. A much more pleasant way to learn about the Peloponnesian War is the historical novel, Tides of War by Steven Pressfield. Link to my Review. Sep 15, Gary Beauregard Bottomley rated it it was amazing. It is not necessary to understand all the players, the interlocking rivalries or the specifics as they are brilliantly told in this war chronicle. The book takes the particular and connects them to the universal, truths across time. What is justice, what is deserving of our time or what makes the good?
All this is laid out in this story telling about the war and the often fatal hubris of humans and what motivates us as human beings. This book surprised me. I was reluctant to try it because I thought it was going to be a boring telling of war and its inner details. I was wrong. Yes, it does have actual war details but that is only a prelude in order to let the narrative allow the author to get at the universal truth of discovering our meaning of being human, and yes, even why we choose to fight and go to war.
I would bet Abraham Lincoln read this book and understood it beyond a story of just the war itself. Each oration has within it the reason why humans will give the ultimate for a cause ideology , a person family or their country culture. That just shows that our meaning often lies within us from the value that we place on our own self dignity or self worth.
The description of the plague in Athens in B. History is often best told by observation. Thucydides understands why it mattered and describes the particular while providing the context inside the web of moving parts which make up history and determine the future. I wonder what would have happened to world history if Athens was not devastated with a plague. Regarding the siege of Syracuse I was totally enraptured by the unfolding of the events.
The story telling was that good, no, it was better than good, it was great! The speeches and the motivations that key players use to rationalize their reasoning. Life is complex and we are easily misled by the framing of the arguments.
Should we attack, should we not, or should we kill every single man woman and child in the defeated city in order to send a message. That is what they were told they needed in order to survive. This book transcends the story that is being told.
This is a rare book for which I would recommend to anybody because of the truths that abound within it. That, my friends, is my attempt to share my own experience of how Thucydides writes. He beats even Hegel on the "average number of clauses per sentence" metric.
He digresses within his digressions. He qualifies his qualifiers. What's more, in the translator's introduction, that worthy artisan confirms with some chagrin that all of this is there in the original Greek; that in fact two millennia of critical analyses have failed to untangle in any satisfactory way some of Thucydides' more ambitious grammatical performance art. Put simply, this book was a long, hard slog.
As an avid student of history, I had been meaning to read this seminal work by the Father of History for decades, and in fact I am very glad I did so -- but wow , that was a lot of work. Compounding the complexity of the style is the tendency of the text to drop into pages of excruciatingly boring lists of people and places with barely a linking action verb to be found between them.
I very often had the experience of having my eyes reach the bottom of a page, only to sheepishly realize that I had actually registered none of what I had "read" there. I will freely admit that I revived the skimming skills I last used regularly in college in order to finish the book before the sun reaches its red-giant phase.
And again, all that being said, I am glad I read this. For when Thucydides takes a break from listing every commander in a minor battle or the fleet sizes of every city in the Aegean, he delivers wonderful, brilliantly worded insights into eternal truths of politics, war, and society. He is not often a "poetic" author, but his wrenching, carefully escalating description of the catastrophic Plague of Athens broke my heart.
The speeches quoted and, he admits, reconstructed from various luminaries are riveting, brilliantly worded, and full of examples of rhetoric at its most finely honed. That they all sound the same, and thus very likely all sound like Thucydides, is a small cavil indeed. Being a great admirer of Tides of War , a carefully researched historical novel set during the same period addressed by Thucydides, I was especially interested in seeing Thucydides' portrayal of Alcibiades, a remarkable man who managed during his tumultuous life to lead and betray most of the major parties in the Peloponnesian War.
Thucydides' account was of course sparser than Pressfield's and rather jumbled, but it captured the essence of this complex figure. I came away with a fresh appreciation for both authors. For all its faults which are examined at length in the introduction , this work stands as the first attempt to write history in the modern mode -- analytical, dispassionate, and evidence-based. It falls far short of those goals in countless ways, but to even conceive of this task in BCE is evidence of genius.
His successes are far more remarkable and important than his failures. Despite the many times this book came close to being bounced off the far wall of my living room, I am happy that I took the time and effort to read it. If you have the same interests and stamina as I, you may find the same. Otherwise, stick to Pressfield.
Or Wikipedia. Nov 01, JJ rated it really liked it Shelves: classical-period , history , greek. What a valuable historical source this is! It has to be placed a little higher even than historians like Tacitus and Livy who probably had a better idea of what they were doing, given that that they were working as historians in an exisiting field, rather than pretty much creating the field as they went along. There's something quite strange reading about these events from the perspective of someone who doesn't simply want to record history, but also to mention their own part in making it.
New History of the Peloponnesian War by Donald Kagan - Book - Read Online
I s What a valuable historical source this is! I still have to remind myself: Thucydides really lived through these events, and played a role in many of them. The party opposed to the traitors were sufficiently strong in number to prevent the immediate opening of the gates, and with the assistance of the general Eucles who was there from Athens to protect the place they sent for help to the other general in the Thraceward region, Thucydides the son of Olorus, the author of this history.
And that is probably a pretty indicative passage in terms of the style of this text. Yes, it's dry. But Thucydides is not entirely without skill as a story-teller. If you are thinking about reading this, you shouldn't let the lack of liveliness put you off. Thucydides is not a bad writer.
In fact, his analysis is often what makes this text enjoyable. Not only was he an eye-witness to events, he was also a knowledgable strategist in and of himself, and could often break down why things went wrong.
New History of the Peloponnesian War
They did not have the same opportunity to learn the enemy password, as the Syracusans, getting the better of the battle and keeping their forces concentrated, had less difficulty in recognizing their own side. The result was that if a superior force of Athenians encountered a group of enemy, the enemy could get away by knowing the Athenian password, whereas the other way round, if the Athenians could not respond when challenged for the password, they were killed.
But nothing did greater harm than the confusion caused by the singing of the paean, which had a virtually identical sound on both sides. But yes, it's a comendable text. It's not easy to imagine what our knowledge of the period would look like without it.