The Unmasking of Thucydides

Thoughts on Thucydides – Book II, Part I

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A reader finishing Thucydides’ History for the first time is probably most impressed by the 2 following points: (1) that such a lengthy and detailed record has survived intact for almost 25 centuries; and (2) the extent to which Thucydides removed himself from the narrative and composed a neutral and objective history of the war. As a result, very little is known of Thucydides himself, but it requires only a mildly discerning reader to make informed judgments about his political persuasions. The relevant sections occur early in the history – the first half of Book II – and the key evidence is Thucydides’ treatment of Pericles, a phenomenal leader and politician, but arguably a lackluster strategist. The disconnect between the sub-optimal outcomes produced by Pericles and the glowing praise showered upon him by Thucydides provides strong hints of the latter’s political ideology.

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Athens, Sparta, and Strategic Miscalculation

Thoughts on Thucydides – Book I, Part III

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Nearly a century before the onset of the Peloponnesian War, on the other side of the planet, Sun Tzu wrote the scripts for The Art of War, including the famous admonishment to “know thy enemy, know thyself.” Unfortunately for the Athenians, the lesson had not yet transmitted very far from ancient China. At the very outset of the war, Athens committed three critical strategic miscalculations that would cripple the effective prosecution of the war.

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