Thucydides (//; Ancient Greek: Θουκυδίδης Thoukūdídēs [tʰuːkyːdídɛːs]; c. 460 – c. 400 BC) was an Athenian historian and general. His History of the Peloponnesian War recounts the fifth-century BC war between Sparta and Athens until the year 411 BC. Thucydides has been dubbed the father of "scientific history" by those who accept his claims to have applied strict standards of impartiality and evidence-gathering and analysis of cause and effect, without reference to intervention by the deities, as outlined in his introduction to his work.
He also has been called the father of the school of political realism, which views the political behavior of individuals and the subsequent outcomes of relations between states as ultimately mediated by, and constructed upon, the emotions of fear and self-interest. His text is still studied at universities and military colleges worldwide. The Melian dialogue is regarded as a seminal work of international relations theory, while his version of Pericles' Funeral Oration is widely studied by political theorists, historians, and students of the classics.
Herodotus records in his Histories not only the events of the Persian Wars, but also geographical and ethnographical information, as well as the fables related to him during his extensive travels. Typically, he passes no definitive judgment on what he has heard. In the case of conflicting or unlikely accounts, he presents both s
To hear this history rehearsed, for that there be inserted in it no fables, shall be perhaps not delightful. But he that desires to look into the truth of things done, and which (according to the condition of humanity) may be done again, or at least their like, shall find enough herein to make him think it profitable. And it is compiled rather for an everlasting possession than to be rehearsed for a prize. (1:22)Herodotus records in his Histories not only the events of the Persian Wars, but also geographical and ethnographical information, as well as the fables related to him during his extensive travels. Typically, he passes no definitive judgment on what he has heard. In the case of conflicting or unlikely accounts, he presents both sides, says what he believes and then invites readers to decide for themselves. Of course, modern historians would generally leave out their personal beliefs, which is a form of passing judgment upon the events and people about which the historian is reporting. The work of Herodotus is reported to have been recited at festivals, where prizes were awarded, as for example, during the games at Olympia.
Herodotus views history as a source of moral lessons, with conflicts and wars as misfortunes flowing from initial acts of injustice perpetuated through cycles of revenge. In contrast, Thucydides claims to confine himself to factual reports of contemporary political and military events, based on unambiguous, first-hand, eye-witness accounts, although, unlike Herodotus, he does not reveal his sources. Thucydides views life exclusively as political life, and history in terms of political history. Conventional moral considerations play no role in his analysis of political events while geographic and ethnographic aspects are omitted or, at best, of secondary importance. Subsequent Greek historians—such as Ctesias, Diodorus, Strabo, Polybius and Plutarch—held up Thucydides's writings as a model of truthful history. Lucian refers to Thucydides as having given Greek historians their law, requiring them to say what had been done (ὡς ἐπράχθη). Greek historians of the fourth century BC accepted that history was political and that contemporary history was the proper domain of a historian. Cicero calls Herodotus the "father of history"; yet the Greek writer Plutarch, in his Moralia (Ethics) denigrated Herodotus, notably calling him a philobarbaros, a "barbarian lover", to the detriment of the Greeks. Unlike Thucydides, however, these authors all continued to view history as a source of moral lessons, thereby infusing their works with personal biases generally missing from Thucydides' clear-eyed, non-judgmental writings focused on reporting events in a non-biased manner.
Due to the loss of the ability to read Greek, Thucydides and Herodotus were largely forgotten during the Middle Ages in Western Europe, although their influence continued in the Byzantine world. In Europe, Herodotus become known and highly respected only in the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth century as an ethnographer, in part due to the discovery of America, where customs and animals were encountered that were even more surprising than what he had related. During the Reformation, moreover, information about Middle Eastern countries in the Histories provided a basis for establishing Biblical chronology as advocated by Isaac Newton.
The first European translation of Thucydides (into Latin) was made by the humanist Lorenzo Valla between 1448 and 1452, and the first Greek edition was published by Aldo Manuzio in 1502. During the Renaissance, however, Thucydides attracted less interest among Western European historians as a political philosopher than his successor, Polybius, although Poggio Bracciolini claimed to have been influenced by him. There is not much evidence of Thucydides's influence in Niccolò Machiavelli's The Prince (1513), which held that the chief aim of a new prince must be to "maintain his state" [i.e., his power] and that in so doing he is often compelled to act against faith, humanity, and religion. Later historians, such as J. B. Bury, however, have noted parallels between them:
If, instead of a history, Thucydides had written an analytical treatise on politics, with particular reference to the Athenian empire, it is probable that ... he could have forestalled Machiavelli ... [since] the whole innuendo of the Thucydidean treatment of history agrees with the fundamental postulate of Machiavelli, the supremacy of reason of state. To maintain a state, said the Florentine thinker, "a statesman is often compelled to act against faith, humanity and religion". ... But ... the true Machiavelli, not the Machiavelli of fable ... entertained an ideal: Italy for the Italians, Italy freed from the stranger: and in the service of this ideal he desired to see his speculative science of politics applied. Thucydides has no political aim in view: he was purely a historian. But it was part of the method of both alike to eliminate conventional sentiment and morality.
In the seventeenth century, the English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes, whose Leviathan advocated absolute monarchy, admired Thucydides and in 1628 was the first to translate his writings into English directly from Greek. Thucydides, Hobbes, and Machiavelli are together considered the founding fathers of political realism, according to which, state policy must primarily or solely focus on the need to maintain military and economic power rather than on ideals or ethics.
Nineteenth-century positivist historians stressed what they saw as Thucydides's seriousness, his scientific objectivity and his advanced handling of evidence. A virtual cult following developed among such German philosophers as Friedrich Schelling, Friedrich Schlegel, and Friedrich Nietzsche, who claimed that, "[in Thucydides], the portrayer of Man, that culture of the most impartial knowledge of the world finds its last glorious flower." The late-eighteenth-century Swiss historian positivist historians stressed what they saw as Thucydides's seriousness, his scientific objectivity and his advanced handling of evidence. A virtual cult following developed among such German philosophers as Friedrich Schelling, Friedrich Schlegel, and Friedrich Nietzsche, who claimed that, "[in Thucydides], the portrayer of Man, that culture of the most impartial knowledge of the world finds its last glorious flower." The late-eighteenth-century Swiss historian Johannes von Müller described Thucydides as "the favourite author of the greatest and noblest men, and one of the best teachers of the wisdom of human life". For Eduard Meyer, Thomas Babington Macaulay and Leopold von Ranke, who initiated modern source-based history writing, Thucydides was again the model historian.
Generals and statesmen loved him: the world he drew was theirs, an exclusive power-brokers' club. It is no accident that even today Thucydides turns up as a guiding spirit in military academies, neocon think tanks and the writings of men like Henry Kissinger; whereas Herodotus has been the choice of imaginative novelists (Michael Ondaatje's novel The English Patient and the film based on it boosted the sale of the Histories to a wholly unforeseen degree) and—as food for a starved soul—of an equally imaginative foreign correspondent from Iron Curtain Poland, Ryszard Kapuscinski.
These historians also admired Herodotus, however, as social and ethnographic history increasingly came to be recognized as complementary to political history. In the twentieth century, this trend gave rise to the works of Johan Huizinga, Marc Bloch, and Fernand Braudel, who pioneered the study of long-term cultural and economic developments and the patterns of everyday life. The Annales School, which exemplifies this direction, has been viewed as extending the tradition of Herodotus.
At the same
At the same time, Thucydides's influence was increasingly important in the area of international relations during the Cold War, through the work of Hans Morgenthau, Leo Strauss, and Edward Carr.
The tension between the Thucydidean and Herodotean traditions extends beyond historical research. According to Irving Kristol, self-described founder of American neoconservatism, Thucydides wrote "the favorite neoconservative text on foreign affairs"; and Thucydides is a required text at the Naval War College, an American institution located in Rhode Island. On the other hand, Daniel Mendelsohn, in a review of a recent edition of Herodotus, suggests that, at least in his graduate school days during the Cold War, professing admiration of Thucydides served as a form of self-presentation:
To be an admirer of Thucydides' History, with its deep cynicism about political, rhetorical and ideological hypocrisy, with its all too recognizable protagonists—a liberal yet imperialistic democracy and an authoritarian oligarchy, engaged in a war of attrition fought by proxy at the remote fringes of empire—was to advertise yourself as a hardheaded connoisseur of global Realpolitik.
Another author, Thomas Geoghegan, whose speciality is labour rights, comes down on the side of Herodotus when it comes to drawing lessons relevant to Americans, who, he notes, tend to be rather isolationist in their habits (if not in their political theorizing): "We should also spend more funds to get our young people out of the library where they're reading Thucydides and get them to start living like Herodotus—going out and seeing the world."
Another contemporary historian believes that, while it is true that critical history "began with Thucydides, one may also argue that Herodotus' looking at the past as a reason why the present is the way it is, and to search for causality for events beyond the realms of Tyche and the Gods, was a much larger step."