Thucydides and the Fall of Athenian Democracy
Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War recounts the disastrous, 27-year war between Athens and Sparta. The Peloponnesian War brought to an end both democracy in Athens and the traditional Spartan aristocracy. Also destroyed was the classical idea of the city-state itself, with its attendant conceptions of citizenship and civic life. Through its mix of speeches, narrative, and analysis, Thucydides’ History presents a vivid and critical account of the decline and fall of the culture that we’ve come to call “classical.” What insights does the work offer us regarding why that culture could not sustain itself?
In this course, students will read the entirety of Thucydides’ History with particular attention to its oscillation between claims of historical objectivity and intense subjective pathos. We will examine Thucydides’ speeches, in which historical figures (Perikles, Alkibiades, Nikias, amongst others) debate central questions of political theory and action: democratic freedom and its limits, punishment and vengeance, expediency and justice, imperialism and democracy. We will attend, too, to the History’s intense emotional pathos: how does the work’s style and structure intensify its account of prolonged human suffering? Finally, we will explore Thucydides’ relation to his intellectual milieu, a context that includes Athenian tragedy and comedy, sophistic thought, and the incipient form of Socratic dialogue.
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm EST
October 20 — November 17, 2020
Class will not meet Tuesday, November 3rd.