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Speeches And Speakers In Thucydides Notes

Classics Notes > Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War Notes

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Speeches and Speakers The speeches In Thucydides are important to the narrative of his history because they give a different perspective on the normal context and reveal both the characters of the main protagonists and their motives. This is particularly important in the Sicilian books where they have a strong influence on the outcome of the war, particularly the two speeches of Alcibiades. However a common problem found with his speeches is one he raises himself in his own introduction; that it is very hard to relate with a very high degree of accuracy what was actually said. 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 speeches must be, to a large extent, 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. The difference between word and deed goes even further because any speech must be in the words and style of the author and so reflect his literary qualities; events do not have this same problem because they are simply historical content. Even if there were verbatim account of the speeches (unlikely owing to the admission of the faults of imperfect memory), then he would have had to significantly shorten speeches and in so doing omit things he did not consider important. He indicates this problem on most occasions of a speech because he uses toiade (as opposed to the tade of Herodotus) to introduce what sort of thing the speaker said. This sort of thing, according to Hornblower, "has been seen as a warning against a less rigid a defence of the historical fidelity of all Thucydides' speeches." His introduction illustrates a contradiction between the subjective and the objective in his whole method of speech writing because he says that he will relate what was really said and what was appropriate in each situation. This would imply he had very sketchy evidence for some, if not many, speeches and so perhaps he inferred what was likely to have been said from the outcome that resulted or in the case of exhortations of generals what was fitting for the situation even if nothing was said. For example the speech Nicias gives to his retreating men; even if Thucydides had access to the few that survived the expedition would they really remember a particular speech Nicias gave them when they were tired, hungry and on the run. A final point is that the word ta deonta which Thucydides uses for "what is appropriate" is a word most commonly associated with the rhetoricians Gorgias and Isocrates and it has been shown that Thucydides' speeches often follow their rhetorical protocol. Clearly not every speaker would have talked in this set way and so this serves to illustrate how Thucydides imposed his own literary style on the speeches in his work and for this reason they start to become even more subjective.

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