If Herodotus is properly considered the father of history, to Thucydides should probably go an equally distinguished title, the father of political science. He perhaps deserves and additional title as well: the father of scientific history, though whether his history is really more "scientific" than that of Herodotus is a debatable question.
Thucydides addresses political questions on both the "macro" and "micro" level. He takes on the big questions (What is the best form of government? What causes war? What justifies revolution?), but he addresses these questions by looking at specific individuals in specific situations--"political philosophy teaching by examples."
I would like you to read all of Thucydides' history (and all the dialogues
of Plato, all thirty two extant Greek tragedies, and all the plays of Aristophanes).
For this course, however, you should read all of Book I and the following
selections from the rest
of the history:
II:34-46 Pericles' Funeral Oration
II:46-57 The Plague in Athens
II:57--65 Pericles' justification of his policies
III:1-85 The revolt of Mytiline, the treatment of Platea, the revolution in Corcyra
IV:42-48 End of the Corcyra revolution
V:18-20 Treaty of peace between Athens and Sparta
V:84-116 Melian debate/destruction of Melos
VI:89-93 Alcibiades justifies himself
1. What is Thucydides purpose in writing this history?
2. What are his strengths as a historian? What are his weaknesses? Is he a "scientific" historian? How is he like modern historians? How different?
3. How does he compare to Herodotus as a historian? Better? Worse?
4. What does Thucydides think the ideal form of government?
5. What makes a man admirable in his eyes?
6. What characteristics does he dislike?
7. What does he think are the characteristics of a good leader?
QUESTIONS ON BOOK I:
1. What do you think of Thucydides' treatment of early Greek history? What sources does he use? Could he have done a better job treating this period?
2. How does Thucydides explain the outbreak of the Pelponnesian War? Do you think his explanation a good one?
3. What do you think of the technique of invented speeches? Is this a legitimate device for a historian to use?
4. Where do Thucydides' sympathies seem to lie? Is he pro-Athenian,
pro-Spartan or what?
1. What do you think of Thucydides' account of the effects of the plague on Athenian character? Is this "scientific" history?
2. How does thucydides' treatment of the plague differ from the
way Herodotus (or Homer) would have handled it?
THE MYTILENE DEBATE:
1. Did the people of Mytilene have a right to revolt?
2. Did the Athenians have a right to put down the revolt?
3. How should the Athenians have treated Mytilene?
4. Is there any strength to Cleon's argument (37-40)?
5. How does Cleon account for the Athenian change of heart?
6. Is this a problem in democracy?
7. What is Cleon's idea of justice?
8. How does Diodotus defend the orators?
9. How does he defend the people of Mytilene?
10. How does the Spartan treatment of Plataea compare to the Athenian treatment of Mytilene?
THE MELIAN DEBATE:
1. Why is the debate not open to the general public?
2. What is the Athenians justification for requiring Melos to join their alliance?
3. Are the Melesian officials right in refusing to submit to Athenian demands?
4. How do they hope to withstand the Athenians?
5. Are the Athenians right in saying their hopes are misplaced?
6. Should justice and fair play be considerations in international relations?
Why do you suppose Thucydides didn't finish his history?
THINGS TO DISCUSS IN A THUCYDIDES ESSAY:
I. General: background to Thucydides
You might discuss the originality of this work, comparing Thucydides work to prior works of Greek literature and noting any innovations made by Thucydides.
II. Thucydides as a political scientist
Thucydides addresses political questions on both the "macro" and the "micro" level. He takes on the big questions (What is the best form of government? What causes war? What justifies revolution?), but he addresses these questions by looking at specific individuals in specific situations--"political philosophy teaching by examples."
You might discuss the way in which Thucydides deals with several important political isssues. You might, for instance, discuss at length his depiction of the strengths and weaknesses of democracy and other forms of government. In particular, you might note his contrast of Athens and Sparta.
Another important issue here is the issue of justice. Does Thucydides think expediency or justice ought to guide the affairs of men? What does he think actually guides these affairs?
Also important is the question of leadership. Note the qualities Thucydides admires in a man and those characteristics he criticizes. Note the characteristics he thinks a good leader should have.
III. Thucydides as a historian
Possible issues to discuss:
1. Thucydides use of sources
2. The use of invented speeches
3. Comparison of Herodotus and Thucydides
4. Thucydides religious views
5. Whether or not Thucydides is a "scientific" historian
6. Thucydides treatment of early Greek history
7. Any "biases" in Thucydides work