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Individuality In Thucydides Notes

Classics Notes > Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War Notes

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Individuality In Thucydides the importance of relating a true narrative is paramount and so the contributions of individual characters are stressed only when they are relevant to the course of history. In others words he is not a writer who tells his story with the main focalisation being on individuals as Homer does; history is, after all, far larger than any one individual and it is circumstance which defines a man rather than vice versa. Obviously, since he is writing about the lives of men, Plutarch stresses far more strongly aspects of character than Thucydides. However the focus on certain individuals is still an important part of Thucydides' literary technique. In book 2 he appears to be alluding to this impact in the Sicilian books when he states the dangers of irresponsible, self-seeking leaders who, having a special power over the Athenian demos, coerce the city into foolish undertakings. "But his successors did the exact opposite, and in other matters which apparently had no connection with the war private ambition and private profit led to policies which were bad both for the Athenians and for their allies. Such policies, when successful, only brought credit and advantage to individuals, and when they failed, the whole war potential of the state was impaired." He is indicating the very harmful effect that individuals can have and that when given the right opportunity, such as in the discussion as to whether to go to Sicily, they can drive the Athenians to a cause which is ultimately futile and destructive. An important note to make is that when characterising individuals the most common method used is the speeches that they give (or also the letter in the case of Nicias in book 7). These, as Thucydides himself admits, are not necessarily the exact words of the speaker. He says that, through faults of memory or lack of presence at the actual speech, he has had to relate only what is most reasonable and fitting for a person to have said at a particular occasion. Therefore the characterisations must be predominantly creations of Thucydides' own imagination. Although he probably researched well with people who knew the individual in question and could infer from their actions what sort of person they were likely to be it is still the case that they cannot be said to have the same integrity as the facts he sets out, which are verifiable. Alcibiades is the man who, in book 6, convinces the assembly to vote for war and he does so for exactly the reasons as Thucydides sets out in book 2; he is persuasive but ultimately only concerned with his own interests. It is Nicias who expresses these concerns, "Beware of him, too, and do not give him the chance of endangering the state in order to live a brilliant life of his own." He has an extravagant life and is said only to want to lead the expedition on the one hand to oppose his rival Nicias and on the other to get enough personal wealth to fund his love for horses and enough glory to make himself a great man. He even says himself that he does not care if there are those that think badly of him while he is alive and fear that he

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