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The celebrated Greek historian, son of O1orus, an Athenian, probably descended from the Thracian prince Olorus, whose daughter Hegesippe was the wife of Miltiades and mother of Cimon. He was born about 471 B.C., and is said to have been the pupil of the rhetoricians Antiphon and Gorgias, and of the philosopher Anaxagoras. The earliest trustworthy notice we have of him belongs to the year 421 B.C., when we find him at the head of an Athenian fleet stationed at the island of Thasos at the time when the Spartan Brasidas was besieging Amphipolis in Thrace. He was summoned to the help of the besieged, but, on his arrival, found the place already in the hands of the enemy, and had to content himself with garrisoning the neighbouring town of Eion, and securing it against Brasidas. On account of his delay in coming, he was put on his trial for treason, and banished. For twenty years he remained away from Athens. Part of this time he spent in Thrace, where he owned valuable gold-mines opposite Thasos, and part in the Peloponnesus. He probably lived for sometime in Sicily. In 404, when the exiles were recalled to Athens, he returned to his native town, but only to be murdered either at Athens or in Thrace, a few years later (not later than 395 B.C.). At the very beginning of the Peloponnesian War Thucydides foresaw, as he himself says, that the struggle would surpass all earlier wars in magnitude and importance, and accordingly at once resolved to write its history, and began his preparations for his narrative without delay. His banishment afforded him the opportunity of calmly observing the course of events, of making inquiries from both parties, and ascertaining the truth with the greatest accuracy. At all events, at this time he was already beginning the composition of certain parts of his work. He proceeded to elaborate the whole directly after his return from banishment, but had only reached the twenty-first year of the war (411), when death prevented the completion of his task. The existing history was published by another hand, and was continued by Xenophon as well as by Theopompus. Its general plan is simple and artless in the highest degree. After a critical examination of early Greek history and an exposition of the internal and external causes of the war, the history follows the succession of events, with a strict division of each year into summer and winter. This arrangement, while it supplies us with the chronological sequence of events in an accurate form, sometimes prevents our obtaining a general view of the whole, and leads to facts which are intimately connected with one another becoming separated by the course of the narrative. The matter falls into three great divisions: (1) the Archidamian war down to the peace of Nicias, 421 B.C. (books i-v 24); (2) the interval of disquiet, together with the great Sicilian expedition, down to 413 (v 25-vii); (3) the Decelean war, of which the first two years alone are included in the eighth book. The first four books alone are marked by even and uniform execution. Next to this part in excellence comes the history of the Sicilian expedition (vi and vii). Far inferior to the rest of the work are books v and viii. The latter presents us with only a sketchy collection of historical materials. In writing the history of the Peloponnesian War, his aim (as he himself states at the beginning of his work) was to produce a possession for all time, and not only a showy declamation for the listeners of the moment. This object he has attained, since he founds his work on the most careful investigation of facts, carried out with most conscientious criticism. Endued with the most penetrating insight, he searches into the connexion and causes of events. His narrative is characterized with an unswerving love of truth, calmness, and impartiality of judgment, without the incidental digressions with which the history of Herodotus is interwoven, and is marked by an abstinence from all personal reflexions. The speeches, which are inserted in accordance with the universal custom of ancient historians, are in no author so far from being mere displays of rhetorical skill. In no history are they distinguished by such depth of philosophy and richness of thought as in that of Thucydides, who uses them exclusively with the object of unfolding the motives of actions and expounding the sentiments of the speakers. He displays a marvellous skill in lucid description, as in the harrowing account of the plague of Athens; equally striking is his vivid portraiture of the characters of distinguished personages. In accordance with his personal character, his style is grave and elevated. It does not exhibit the easy flow and charming grace of a Lysias, Isocrates, Xenophon, or Plato. On the contrary, it is often harsh and rugged, interspersed with archaic and poetical phrases, and is concise to the verge, of obscurity and unintelligibility. This is especially the case in the speeches, which, with their fulness of thought and their effort to express as much as possible in the fewest words, are among the most difficult portions of Greek literature.
Type: Standard
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