New History of the Peloponnesian War By Donald Kagan

Here are some highlights from this 2013 edition:

* That is not to say that early passages may not exist in the History; it is inconceivable that Thucydides did not take notes or that he failed to use them when he wrote his final work. It is merely to say that the work which we have should not be regarded as an agglomeration of passages written at widely different times and imperfectly blended together by reason of the author’s premature death, but rather as composed primarily at one time with the help of earlier notes and, if broken at the end, incomplete
perhaps in several places, yet possessing after all the unity which might be expected to result from a period of more or less sustained composition.

* The problem of the speeches is old and persistent. Opinions range from one extreme, that they are fictions completely invented by Thucydides, to the other, that they are close to verbatim reports of what the speakers said. The truth is clearly in between, but I am persuaded that it is far closer to the latter view.

* We are told, indeed, that, in composing his speeches, the historian kept as closely as possible to “the overall purport or purpose of what was actually said,” written in such a way as to coincide with his opinion of what the several speakers would most likely have presented to their hearers as being “what the situation required.” The reference to his own opinion represents a limiting factor in one way, as his reference to the “overall purport or purpose of what was actually said” is a limiting factor
in another way. Thus when the procedure has been applied, the reader will know something at least of what was actually said. Thucydides limits his knowledge in terms of the difficulty Cor even impossibility) of remembering precisely what was said.

* The Peloponnesian War was not fought by individual Greek states but by two great coalitions, the Peloponnesian League and the
Athenian Empire. In some important ways the two were similar, each providing an example of what has been called an “Alliance Under a Hegemon.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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