chapter  6
31 Pages

Thucydides’ Athens

Λόγῳ μέν … Ἔργῳι δέ
BySophie Mills

The final chapter explores selected speeches of Thucydides in books one through seven and the ways in which they connect in some way with images of the ideal Athens sketched in previous chapters, whether through endorsement, modification or outright disagreement. Although Thucydides believes that the idealized images of Athenian power that the funeral speeches and other texts portray are merely “nice words” (cf. 5.89) that completely belie the violence, greed and vulnerability of the Athenian empire, his speeches are imbued with those idealized images and he expresses, explores and often then undermines them. Later speeches in particular seek to expose the self-deceptions lying under the “nice words”: a particularly clear brief example is seen in the words of Alcibiades, urging the Sicilian expedition in book six. At 6.18.1 he claims that Athens is bound by oath to help allies, whether or not they have offered reciprocal services, because the principle of helping friends is how they both have always won power: this claim invokes the plots of tragedies like Euripides’ Suppliants in which Athens helps Argos and wins an important alliance from grateful allies for so doing. But Alcibiades moves from the confidence of the idealized empire to an argument from sheer fear at 18.3, asserting that putting limits on empire is dangerous and liable to cause the collapse of Athens’ power. The gulf between the ideal Athens of rhetoric and the reality of Athens’ actions in the Peloponnesian War is explored repeatedly in the speeches that this chapter discusses.