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Tragedy And Drama In Thucydides Notes

Classics Notes > Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War Notes

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Drama and Tragedy The sixth and seventh books of Thucydides work deal predominantly with the Sicilian expedition of Athens and so it would be reasonable to say that they form their own selfcontained unit within the history as a whole. If this is true then there must be some sort of plot guiding the narrative through this episode. Furthermore it is interesting to consider what elements of Thucydides' work are dramatic and tragic. It must be remembered that, of course, the book divisions of Thucydides are an entirely modern invention; whoever did impose them on the work obviously thought it fit to isolate this part of the narrative into two books. The division at the point where book 6 starts is not a necessarily obvious point to place such a division because the introduction to Sicily is rather abrupt and starts, following directly on from the Melos incident, "In the same winter the Athenians..." Had the Sicilian expedition been much shorter and given much less emphasis perhaps book 5 would have just continued for a little while longer. It seems slightly strange to argue the case for the expedition as a self-contained unit from the point of view of whomever later imposed this structure but it shows that it has always been the perception of commentators and critics; despite the fact this all-important episode lacks a grand, rather than abrupt, start. The expedition certainly has a verifiable end which is superbly narrated and extremely dramatic, "their losses were, as they say, total; army, navy, everything was destroyed, and, out of many, only few returned. So ended the events in Sicily." The end is dramatic and all encompassing, showing very well how Thucydides had conceived the Sicilian expedition to be a unit within his work; an episode that was in many ways a microcosm of the whole war. This certainly follows if book eight is then considered. In many ways it is slightly odd and the author understandably finds it hard to begin again; this is not to say there is anything particularly bad about book eight but, with the ending that book seven has, it would be hard to find something to equal it. The Archaeology at the start of book six further supports the case because it introduces the new enemy which is required if these books are to be self-contained and it gives a detailed description of their origins. This means that book six starts with no real prior knowledge needed; you could, in fact, read these two books in isolation and still have a very full understanding of what was going on. In order for this episode to stand alone away from the rest of the narrative it must have a very definite plot; and this is exactly what Thucydides gives it. He does so by weaving thematically connected events and ideas together; by structuring his data in this way he gives it order and keeps the narrative interesting. The most important motif that runs through the books is a balance between Athenian discouragement and Syracusean encouragement; as the confidence of the Athenians falls that of their enemy increases. The moods in the two opening assemblies are in stark contrast, just as they will be at the end of book seven but with the roles reversed. The Athenians are confident to the point of sheer arrogance and do not listen at all to the sound military advice of Nicias and they get wrapped up in the patriotic and emotional speech of the self-seeking Alcibiades. The result

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