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Θουκυδίδης), the historian, belonged to the demos Halimus, and Halimus belonged to the Leontis. He simply calls himself an Athenian (Thuc. 1.1). His father's name was Olorus (4.104). Marcellinus, and some other later writers, say that the name was Orolus. The two forms are easily confounded, and we assume the true name to be Olorus. Herodotus (6.39) mentions a Thracian king called Olorus, whose daughter Hegesipyle married Miltiades, the conqueror of Marathon, by whom she became the mother of Cimon. The ancient authorities speak of consanguinity between the family of Cimon and that of Thucydides, and the name of the father of Thucydides is some presumption of a connection with this Thracian king. The mother of Thucydides was also named Hegesipyle, though Marcellinus is the only authority for his mother's name. It is conjectured that Hegesipyle may have been a granddaughter of Miltiades and Hegesipyle, but there is no evidence to show who the mother of Thucydides was, nor how his father was connected with the family of Miltiades. It is also said that there was consanguinity between the family of Thucydides and the Peisistratidae; but this also cannot be satisfactorily explained.

A statement by Pamphilus, which is preserved by Gellius (15.23), makes Thucydides forty years of age at the commencement of the Peloponnesian war or B. C. 431, and accordingly he was born in B. C. 471. The historian says that he lived to see the end of the war, and the war ended in B. C. 404. Kurüger attempts to show, on the authority of Marcellinus, that Thucydides was only about twenty-five years of age at the commencement of the war; but he relies too much on his own interpretation of certain words of Thucydides, which are by no means free from ambiguity (5.26, αἰσθανόμενος τῇ ἡλικίᾳ). There is a story in Lucian's Herodotus or Aetion of Herodotus having read his History at the Olympic games to the assembled Greeks; and Suidas (s. v. Θουκυδίδης) adds that Thucydides, then a boy, was present, and shed tears of emulation; a presage of his own future historical distinction. This story was first doubted by Bredow and has since been critically discussed by others, and most completely by Dahlman (Herodot, &c.) who rejects it as a fable. The truth of the story is maintained at great length, and with greater tediousness, by Kruger. It is of little importance what any man thinks of the story : it is enough to remark that the direct evidence in surport of it is very weak, and there are many plausible objections to be urged against it. Krüger has collected in his essay on Thucydides all that he could say in support of the story.

Antiphon of Rhamnus, the most distinguished orator of the time, is said to have been the master of Thucydides in the rhetorical art; and as Antiphon was a contemporary of Thucydides and older, there is no internal improbability in the statement. But the evidence for it, as Krüger shows, is really nothing more than this, that Caecilius in his life of Antiphon conjectures that Thucydides must have been a pupil of Antiphon's, because he praises Antiphon. Cicero, in his Brutus (100.12), speaks of the eloquence of Antiphon, and cites Thucydides as evidence, and it seems very unlikely that, if he knew Thucydides to have been a pupil of Antiphon, he would not have mentioned it. Anaxagoras also is named by Marcellinus, on the authority of Antyllus, as one of the teachers of Thucydides, as to which we may observe that it is possible that he was, for Anaxagoras was some time at Athens, and Thucydides might have had the advantage of his instruction.

That Thucydides, an Athenian, of a good family, and living in a city which was the centre of Greek civilisation, must have had the best possible education, may be assumed; that he was a man of great ability and cultivated understanding his work clearly shows. He informs us that he possessed gold mines in that part of Thrace which is opposite to the island of Thasos, and that he was a person of the greatest influence among those in that part of Thrace (4.105). This property, according to some accounts, he had from his ancestors : according to other accounts he married a rich woman of Scaptesyle, and received them as a portion with her. Krüger has a conjecture that Cimon, who took these mines from the Thasians, got an interest in them, and gave a part to that branch of his family to which Thucydides belonged.

Suidas says that Thucydides left a son, called Timotheus; and a daughter also is mentioned, who is said to have written the eighth book of the History of Thucydides. Thucydides (2.48) was one of those who suffered from the great plague of Athens, and one of the few who recovered.

We have no trustworthy evidence of Thucydides having distinguished himself as an orator, though it is not unlikely that he did, for his oratorical talent is shown by the speeches that he has inserted in his history. He was, however, employed in a military capacity, and he was in command of an Athenian squadron of seven ships, at Thasus, B. C. 424, when Eucles, who commanded in Amphipolis, sent for his assistance against Brasidas, who was before that town with an army. Brasidas, fearing the arrival of a superior force, offered favourable terms to Amphipolis, which were readily accepted, for there were few Athenians in the place, and the rest did not wish to make resistance. Thucydides arrived at Eion, at the mouth of the Strymon, on the evening of the same day on which Amphipolis surrendered; and though he was too late to save Amphipolis, he prevented Eion from failing into the hand of the enemy (4.102, &c.).

In consequence of this failure, Thucydides became an exile, probably to avoid a severer punishment, that of death, for such appears to have been the penalty of such a failure as his, though he may have done the best that he could. According to Marcellinus, Cleon, who was at this time in great favour with the Athenians, excited popular suspicion against the unfortunate commander. Thucydides (5.26) simply says that he lived in exile twenty years after the affair of Amphipolis, but he does not say whether it was a voluntary exile or a punishment. If it was voluntary, we may assume that he did not return to Athens, because he knew what fate awaited him. There are various untrustworthy accounts as to his places of residence during his exile; but we may conclude that he could not safely reside in any place which was under Athenian dominion, and as he kept his eye on the events of the war, he must have lived in those parts which belonged to the Spartan alliance. His own words certainly imply that, during his exile, he spent much of his time either in the Peloponnesus or in places which were under Peloponnesian influence (5.26); and his work was the result of his own experience and observations. His minute description of Syracuse and the neighbourhood leads to the probable conclusion that he was personally acquainted with the localities; and if he visited Sicily, it is probable that he also saw some parts of southern Italy, and an anonymous biographer speaks of Thucydides having been at Sybaris. But it is rather too bold a conjecture to make, as some have done, that Olorus and his son Thucydides went out in the colony to Thurii, B. C. 443, which was joined by Herodotus and the orator Lysias, then a young man. Timaeus, as quoted by Marcellinus, says that Thucydides during his exile lived in Italy; but if he means during all the time of his exile, his statement cannot be accepted, for it would contradict the inference which may be fairly derived from a passage in Thucydides that has been already referred to. Timaeus, and other authorities also, affirmed that Thucydides was buried at Thurii; as to which Krüger ingeniously argues, that if he lived there for some time, there is nothing strange in a story being invented of his having been buried there, especially as he might have had a tomb built with the intention of occupying it.

Thucydides says that he lived twenty years in exile (5.26), and as his exile commenced in the beginning of B. C. 423, he may have returned to Athens in the beginning of B. C. 403, and therefore at or about the time when Thrasybulus liberated Athens. (Xen. Hell. 2.4. §§ 22-38.) It may accordingly be conjectured that Thucydides joined Thrasybulus, and in company with him effected his return to his native country. Pausanias indeed (1.23.9) states that Thucydides was recalled by a psephisma proposed by Oenobius, but this account creates some difficulty, because it appeared from a critical enumeration of the authorities cited by Marcellinus, that there was a general permission for all the exiles to return after the conclusion of peace with the Laedaemonians, B. C. 404. Thucydides himself says that he was twenty years in exile, and therefore he did not return till B. C. 403, unless we assume that his " twenty years " was merely a round number used to signify nineteen years and somewhat more; or unless we assure that he did not return as soon as he might have done, but a few months later, so that the full term of twenty years was completed.

There is a general agreement among the ancient authorities that Thucydides came to a violent end ; Zopyrus and Didymus, quoted by Marcellinus, affirm this; and Plutarch (Cimon 4), and Pausanias (1.23.9) tell the same story. But there is a great diversity of evidence as to the place where be died; and it is doubtful whether it was Thrace or Athens. Plutarch says, it is reported that he was killed in Scaptesyle in Thrace, but that his remains were carried to Athens. and his tomb is pointed out in the burial-place of Cimon. by the side of the tomb of Elpinice, the sister of Cimon. Pausanias, who was well acquainted with Athens, says that his tomb was then not far front the Pylae Melitides; and that he was assassinated after his return (ὡς κατἥει), words which seem to imply that he did not long survive his restoration. Marcellinus, on the authority of Antyllus, quotes the inscription on his tomb at Athens :

Θουκυδίδης Ὀλόρου (Ὀρόλου) Ἁλιμούσιος (ἔνθασε

We cannot doubt that there was a tomb of Thucydides at Athens, and he probably died there the testimony of Timaeus that he died in Italy, is of little value.

The question as to the time of the return of Thucydides to Athens, and of the place of his death and interment, is discussed by Krüger with a wearisome minuteness, and with uncertain results. As to the time of the death of Thucydides, he concludes that it could not be later than the end or about the middle of the 94th Olympiad, that is, in any event not later than B. C. 401. His own direct testimony (5.26) simply shows that he was living after the war was ended (B. C. 404). Dodwell argues that the third eruption of Aetna, which Thucydides (3.116) alludes to was tire eruption of B. C. 399 or the 95th Olympiad; but Thucydides means to say that the eruption, of which he does not fix the date, was prior to the two eruptions (B. C. 425 and 475) of which he does fix the dates. There is no doubt about the true interpretation of this passage.

The time when he composed his work is another matter of critical inquiry. He was busy in collecting materials all through the war from the beginning to the end (1.22); but we do not know from his own evidence whether he wrote any portion of the work, as we now have it, during the continuance of the war, though he would certainly have plenty of time during his exile to compose the earlier part of his history. Plutarch says that he wrote the work in Thrace; and his words mean the whole work, as he does not qualify them (τὸν πόλεμον τῶν Πελοποννησίων καὶ Ἀθηναίων ἐν Θράκῃ περὶ τὴν Σκαπτὴν ὕλην, and this is consistent with Plutarch's statement that he died in Thrace. Marcellinus says that he gave the work its last polish in Thrace; and that he wrote it under a plane tree : this is very particular, and it is not improbable that he might write under a shady tree in fine weather, but such particularities are very suspicious. The most probable opinion is that he was engaged on the work till the time of his death. In the very beginning of his history (1.18) he mentions the end of the war in a passage which must have been written after B. C. 404. A passage in the first book (1.93), when rightly interpreted, shows that it was written after the wall round the Peiraeeus was pulled down (Xen. Hell. 2.2). In the second book (2.65) he speaks of the Sicilian expedition, and the support which Cyrus gave to the Lacedaemonians, and of the final defeat of the Athenians in this war; all which passages consequently were written after the events to which they refer. A passage in the fifth book also (5.26), mentions the end of the war, the duration of which, he says, was twenty-seven years. Thucydides undoubtedly was collecting his materials all through the war, and of course he would register them as he got them; but the work in the shape in which we have it, was certainly not finished until after the close of the war.

A question has been raised as to the authorship of the eighth and last book of Thucydides, which breaks off in the middle of the twenty-first year of the war (B. C. 411); and with the remark that, " when the winter which follows this summer shall have ended, the one and twentieth year of the war is completed." It differs from all the other books in containing no speeches, a cirenmstance which Dionysius remarked, and it has also been supposed to be inferior to the rest as a piece of composition. Accordingly several ancient critics supposed that the eighth book was not by Thucydides : some attributed it to his daughter, and some to Xenophon or Theopompus, because both of them continued the history. The words with which Xenophon's Hellenica commence (μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα) may chiefly have led to the supposition that he was the author, for his work is made to appear as a continuation of that of Thucydides : but this argument is in itself of little weight; and besides, both the style of the eighth book is different from that of Xenophon. and the manner of treating the subject, for the division of the year into summers and winters, which Thulcydides has observed in his first seven books, is continued in the eighth, but is not observed by Xenophon. The rhetorical style of Theopompus, which was the characteristic of his writing, renders it also improbable that he was the author of the eighth book. It seems the simplest supposition to consider Thucydides himself as the author of this book, since he names himself as the author twice (8.6, 60). Cratippus, a contemporary of Thucydides, who also collected what Thucydides had omitted, ascribes this book to Thucydides, remarking at the same time that he has introduced no speeches in it. (Dionys. De Thuc. 100.16, ed. Hudson.) Marcellinus and the anonymous author of the life of Thucydides also attribute the last book to him. The statement of Cratippus, that Thucydides omitted the speeches in the last book because they impeded the narrative and were wearisolme to his readers, is probably merely a conjecture. If Thucydides, after writing speeches in the first seven books, discovered that this was a bad historical method, we must assume that if he had lived long enough, he would have struck the speeches out of the first seven books. But this is very improbable a man of his character and judgment would hardly begin his work without a settled plan; and if the speeches were struck out, the work would certainly be defective, and would not present that aspect of political affairs, and that judgment upon then, which undoubtedly it was the design of the author to present. Some reasons why there should be no speeches in the eighth book, in accordance with the general plan of Thucydides, are alleged by Krüger; and the main reason is that they are not wanted. Whatever may be the reason, the only conclusion that a sound critic can come to is, that the eighth book is by Thucydides, but that he may not have had the opportunity of revising it with the same care as the first seven books.

A saying (λέγεται) is preserved by Diogenes that Xenophon made the work of Thucydides known (εἰς δόξαν ἤγαγεν), which may be true, as he wrote the first two books of his Hellenica, or the part which now ends with the second book. for the purpose of completing the history. The statement in Diogenes implies that the work of Thucydides might have been lost or forgotten but for Xenophon's care; and if the statement is true, we may conclude that the manuscript of Thucydides in some way came into his possession, and probably the materials which the author had collected for the completion of his history.


History of the Peloponnesian War

The work of Thucydides, from the commencement of the second book, is chronologically divided into summers and winters, and each summer and winter make a year (2.1). His summer comprises the time from the vernal to the autumnal equinox, and the winter comprises the period from the autumnal to the vernal equinox. The division into books and chapters was probably made by the Alexandrine critics. In the second book he says at the beginning of the 47th chapter, " such was the interment during this winter, and after the winter was over, the first year of the war was ended." He then goes on to say :--" now in the commencement of the summer," which is evidently the beginning of a new year, and of a new division, if he made any division in his history. Again, at the end of the eightieth chapter, ie mentions the end of the second year of the war ; and again in the last chapter of the second book he mentions the conclusion of the third year of the war. The third book begins just in the same manner, " In the following summer," as the eighty-first chapter of the second book. There is, then, nothing in the work itself which gives the least intimation that the division into books was part of the author's design; and in fact, the division into books is made in a very arbitrary and clumsy way. The seventh hook ought to end with the sixth chapter of the eighth book; and the seventh chapter of the eighth book ought to be the first. We may conclude from the terms in which Cratippus alludes to the eighth book (τὰ τελευταῖα τῆς ἱστορίας) that the division into books was not then made; but it existed in the time of Dionysius (Dc Thueyd. 100.16. 17, &c.), and when Diodorus wrote (12.37, 13.42).

There was a division of the work also into nine books (Diod. 12.37); and a still later division into thirteen books. The title of the work, as well as the division into books, is also probably the work of the critics or grammarians. The titles vary in the MSS., but the simple title Συγγραφή is that which is most appropriate to the author's own expression, Θουκυδίδης Ἀθηναῖος ξυνέγραψε τὸν πόλεμον, &c. (1.1).

The history of the Peloponnesian war opens the second book of Thucydides, and the first is introductory to the history. He begins his first book by observing that the Peloponnesian war was the most important event in Grecian history, which he shows by a rapid review of the history of the Greeks from the earliest period to the commencement of the war (1.1-21). His remarks on the remote periods of Grecian history, such as Hellen and his sons, the naval power of Minos, and the war of Troy. do not express any doubt as to the historical character of these events; nor was it necessary for the author to express his scepticism ; he has simply stated the main facts of early Grecian history in the way in which they were told and generally received. These early events are utterly unimportant, when we view history, as the author viewed the object of his history, as matter for political instruction (1.22). He designed his work to be "an eternal possession," and such it has proved to be. After his introductory chapters (1.1-23) he proceeds to exaplain the alleged grounds and causes of the war : the real causes were, he says, the Spartan jealousy of the Athenian power. His narrative is interrupted (e. 89-118), after he has come to the time when the Lacedaemonians resolved on war, by a digression (ἐκβολή) on the rise and progress of the power of Athens; a period which had been either omitted by other writers, or treated imperfectly, and with little regard to chronology, as by Hellanicus in his Attic history (100.97). He resumes his narrative (100.119) with the negotiations that preceded the war; but this leads to another digression of some length on the treason of Pausanias (100.1281-134), and the exile of Themistocles (100.135-138). He concludes the book with the speech of Pericles, who advised the Athenians to refuse the demands of the Peloponnesians; and his subject, as already observed, begins with the second book. Mr. Clinton, in his Fasti, has a chapter " On the Summary of Thucydides," or that part of his first book which treats of the period between B. C. 478 and 432. The Peloponnesian war began B. C. 431.

A history which treats of so many events, which took place at remote spots, could only be written, in the time of Thucydides. by a man who took great pains to ascertain facts by personal inquiry. In modern times facts are made known by printing as soon as they occur; and the printed records of the time, newspapers and the like, are often the only evidence of many facts which become history. When we know the careless way in which facts are now reported and recorded by very incompetent persons, often upon very indifferent hearsay testimony, and compare with such records the pains that Thucydides took to ascertain the chief events of a war, with which he was contemporary, in which he took a share as a commander, the opportunities which his means allowed, his great abilities, and serious earnest character, it is a fair conclusion that we have a more exact history of a long eventful period by Thucydides than we have of any period in modern history, equally long and equally eventful. We are deceived as to the value of modern historical evidence, which depends on the eye-sight of witnesses, by the facility with which it is produced and distributed in print. But when we come to examine the real authority for that which is printed, we seldom find that the original witness of an important transaction is a Thucydides; still less seldom do we find a man like him who has devoted seven and twenty years to the critical (enumeration of the events of as many years. A large part of the facts in Thucydides were doubtless derived from the testimony of other eye-wit-nesses, and even in some cases not directly from eye-witnesses; and that is also true of all modern histories, even contemporary histories; but again, how seldom have we a Thucydides to weigh the value of testimony either direct or indirect (1.22). His whole work shows the most scrupulous care and diligence in ascertaining facts; his strict attention to chronology, and the importance that he attaches to it, are additional proof of his historical accuracy. His narrative is brief and concise : it generally contains hare facts expressed in the fewest possible words, and When we consider what plaints it must have cost him to ascertain these facts, we admire the self-denial of a writer who is satisfied with giving facts in their naked brevity without ornament, without any parade of his personal importance, and of the trouble that his matter cost him. A single chapter must sometimes have represented the labour of many days and weeks. Such a principle of historical composition is the evidence of a great and elevated mind. The history of Thucydides only makes an octavo volume of moderate size; many a modern writer would have spun it out to a dozen volumes, and so have spoiled it. A work that is for all ages must contain much in little compass.

He seldom makes reflections in the course of his narrative : occasionally he has a chapter of political and moral observations, animated by the keenest perception of the motives of action, and the moral character of man. Many of his speeches are political essays, or materials for them; they are not mere imaginations of his own for rhetorical effect ; they contain the general sense of what was actually delivered as nearly as he could ascertain, and in many instances he had good opportunities of knowing what was said, for he heard some speeches delivered (1.22). His opportunities, his talents, his character, and his subject all combined to produce a work that stands alone, and in its kind has neither equal nor rival. his pictures are sometimes striking and tragic, an effect produced by severe simplicity and minute particularity. Such is the description of the plague of Athens. Such also is the incomparable history of the Athenian expedition to Sicily, and its melancholy termination.

A man who thinks profoundly will have a form of expression which is stamped with the character of his mind; and the style of Thucydides is accordingly concise, vigorous, energetic. We feel that all the words were intended to have a meaning, and have a meaning none of them are idle. Yet he is sometimes harsh and obscure; and probably he was so, even to his own countrymen. Some of his sentences are very involved, and the connection and dependence of the parts are often difficult to seize. Cicero, undoubtedly a good Greek scholar, found him difficult (Orator. 100.9) : he says that the speeches contain so many obscure and impenetrable sentences as to be scarcely intelligible ; and this, he adds, is a very great defect in the language of political life (“in oratione civili”).


The first thing that is requisite in reading Thucydides is to have a good text established on a collation of the MSS., and this we owe to I. Bekker. Those who were accustomed to read Thucydides in such a text as Duker's, can estimate their obligations to Bekker. For the understanding of the text, a sound knowledge of the language and the assistance of the best critics are necessary; and perhaps nearly all has been done in this department that can be done. But after all, a careful and repeated study of the original is necessary in order to understand it. For the illustration of the text a great mass of geographical and historical knowledge is necessary; and here also the critics have not been idle. To derive all the advantage from the work that may be derived for political instruction, we must study it; and here the critics give little help, for Politik is a thing they seldom meddle with, and not often with success. Here a man must be his own commentator; but a great deal might be done by a competent hand in illustrating Thucydides as a political writer.

The Greek text was first published by Aldus, Venice, 1502 fol., and the Scholia were published in the following year. The first Latin translation, which was by Valla, was printed before 1500, and reprinted at Paris, 1513, fol., and frequently after that date. The first edition of the Greek text accompanied by a Latin version, was that of H. Stephens, 1564, fol. : the Latin version is that of Valla, revised by Stephens. This well printed edition contains the Scholia, the Life of Thucydides by Marcellinus, and an anonymous Life of Thucydides. The edition of I. Bekker, Berlin, 1821, 3 vols. 8vo. forms an epoch in the editions of Thucydides, and, as regards the text, renders it unnecessary to consult any which are of prior date. Among other editions are that of Poppo, Leipzig, 10 vols. 8vo., 1821-1838, of which two volumes are filled with prolegomena; of Haack, with selections from the Greek Scholia and short notes, Leipzig, 1820, 2 vols. 8vo.; of Göller, 2 vols. 8vo., Leipzig, 1826; and of Arnold, 3 vols. 8vo., Oxford, 1830-1835.


The translations into modern languasres are numerous. It was translated into French by Claude Seyssel, Paris, 1527, fol. The English version of Thomas Nicolls, London, 1550, fol. was made from the version of Seyssel. The Biographic Universelle mentions an anonymous English version, published at London in 1525. The English version of Hobbes appears to be mainly founded on the Latin versions, as a comparison of it with them will show. Hobbes translated it for the political instruction which it contains. Thucydides was afterwards translated by W. Smith, 1753, whose translation is generally exact; and again by S. T. Bloomefield, London, 1829. The most recent German translation is by H. W. F. Klein, Munich, 1826. 8vo. Thucydides was translated into French by Levesque, Paris, 1795, 4 vols. 8vo.; and by Gail, 1807, &c. Gail published the Greek text of Thucydides, the Scholia, the variations of thirteen manuscripts of the Bibliothèque du Roi, a Latin version corrected, and the French version already mentioned, with notes historical and philological. The French version of Gail has been printed separately, 4 vols. 8vo.

Further Information

The authorities for the Life of Thucydides have been generally referred to, and they are all mentioned and criticised in the Untersuchungen über das Leben des Thucydides, Berlin, 1832, by K.W. Krüger. The " Annales Thucydidei et Xenophontei," &c. of Dodwell, Oxford, 1702, 4to., may also be consulted.

Dionysius' Criticism of Thucydides

The criticism of Dionysius of Halicarnassus on Thucydides has itself been much criticised : most of his censure will not receive the approbation of just criticism.


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  • Cross-references from this page (10):
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 12.37
    • Herodotus, Histories, 6.39
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.23.9
    • Thucydides, Histories, 1.1
    • Thucydides, Histories, 3.116
    • Thucydides, Histories, 5.26
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 2.4
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 2.2
    • Thucydides, Histories, 2.48
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 15.23
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