Thucydides and his Writings on History

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The excerpt is from “History of the Peloponnesian War” written by Thucydides, during the Peloponnesian war. It was a historical work detailing the said war. The war was fought between Athens, which led Delian League, and Sparta, which led the Peloponnesian League.These two alliances included almost the entire Greek world. The stage for the war was set with the earlier Persian Wars. After the wars, Athens had amassed a sizable empire becoming the chief naval power. This caused concern in the Peloponnesian League. Which were land powers, excluding Corinth. As Thucydides states in his “History of the Peloponnesian War”, 'The growth of the power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Lacedaemon, made war inevitable.' (Lacedaemon is another name for Sparta.).

Thucydides started chronicling the war as it began because he thought it was “to those who examine the pure facts, a greater war than any in previous history.” Thucydides tries to be unbiased in his work as he states in it “ In recording the events of the war my principle has been not to rely on casual information or my own suppositions, but to apply the greatest possible rigour in pursuing every detail...”. Yet the assertion that he is completely unbiased is doubtful as he was a commander for the Athenians. Still, he admits that his information may not be accurate by writing “... it has been hard to reproduce the exact words used either when I heard them myself or when they were reported to me by other sources.”. He proclaims that previous works on history were written without enough rigour and were biased, saying they “have passed into the unreliable realms of romance.”. His work aims to stay grounded in reality. Thucydides criticizes Herodotus and the poet Homer, which has written the Iliad and the Odyssey. Homer’s works cover the Trojan War but Thucydides declares them “showpieces” due to their poetic nature. Herodotus states the purpose of his “History”, which covered the Persian Wars, as “... human achievements may not become forgotten in time, and great and marvellous deeds… may not be without their glory.” In contrast, Thucydides wants to be “judged useful by those who will want to have a clear understanding of what happened”.

Thucydides differs from previous historians in three major ways. First, he tries to be unbiased, second, he tries to be accurate, third, he admits to his shortcomings. He chronicles only the most reliable tales because he wants to pass on the correct version of events, not the best sounding, or most glorious. Elimination of bias has a similar reason. Thucydides doesn’t want to paint a one-sided view of history that demeans the other side. This makes his purpose and methods most alike to today's historians among other Greek historians. His work may not be a perfect example of his principles, but it’s still the best example of the time.

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Thucydides and his Writings on History. (2020, November 26). WritingBros. Retrieved July 13, 2024, from
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