chapter  5
17 Pages

Thucydides

What was really said?
BySophie Mills

The previous chapters have amassed a significant body of evidence which portrays a strikingly unified picture of Athens through various rhetorical means, as the city which champions justice and compassion and has the moral knowledge and military power to use its justice and compassion to aid oppressed suppliants if they truly deserve that aid. Athens is always rewarded in some way by those the city helps, with eternal alliances, promises never to attack the city and so forth. But the Athens that emerges from our only contemporary historian of Athens’ power, Thucydides, appears strikingly at odds with the positive picture of Athens offered elsewhere. Chapters 5 and 6 attempt to explain and explore this apparent contradiction. Chapter 5 explores Thucydides’ methods of writing history, focusing on what he says about his methodology in book 1.22 of his history and the implications of certain highly contested phrases in it, especially those related to his composition of the speeches and how far we can trust that they reflect what the original speakers said. I argue that Thucydides regarded the flattering sentiments about Athens that other texts offer us as the kind of thing that ordinary, intellectually lazy people who lack his intellectual rigour believe: because of this, Thucydides tends to minimize these sentiments in his speeches at the expense of other themes. Thus his speeches may give a slightly misleading though not false account of what was said on a particular occasion.