Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War: The Greatest Convulsion Among the Greeks

History 103A.002

Spring 2007
Instructor (text): 
2303 Dwinelle
Day & Time: 
Tues 10-12

Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War is a narrative remarkable as much for its careful reporting as for its profound analysis of power, empire, democracy, and civil strife. The war itself was fought, he tells us, for the supremacy of all Greece, which involved not only a monumental clash between Athens and Sparta but also drew in the very smallest communities around them. In this class we shall read Thucydides' History as well as several books of the Hellenika of Xenophon, who continued Thucydides' unfinished history of the war; several works by the comic genius and social critic Aristophanes; and documentary evidence, primarily from Athens. We shall thus study both the complex history and the rich historiography of the late fifth century BC, and along the way work with some of the major modern critical approaches to this material. Topics for discussion will include the development and nature of the Athenian empire; the complex web of events and pressures that caused the outbreak of war in 432; Thucydides' historical method; Perikles and the Athenian democracy; state funerals for the war dead; Sparta; the predicament of the small polis; civil strife; the changing nature of leadership and authority; war hunger and expansion; calls for peace and the exhaustion of the Greek world; and the nature and implications of Athens' defeat. Students will learn the basic tools for research in ancient history and write several short papers which may serve as preparation for a 101 thesis in the same field. No previous knowledge of Classical Greek history is assumed; readings in the first weeks of the course will provide background material and orientation.