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Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War is considered in both history and political science as a text of fundamental disciplinary relevance. However, neither discipline takes the other discipline into account during debates about Thucydides. This collection addresses this inter-disciplinary gap, asking how can and should the two disciplines approach Thucydides in the 21st century. This collection gives the reader an overview of recent scholarly work, interests, and developments in both disciplines with regard to Thucydides. It also establishes the question of “political order” as a common theme in relation to Thucydides for historians and political scientists alike and identifies a common research agenda for future scholarly work on Thucydides across the disciplines.





Chapter 1. Thucydides and Political Order

Today, more than ever, the History of the Peloponnesian War, written by Thucydides some 2,400 years ago, is considered to be one of the “Great Books”1 of our time.2 Historians refer to it as the founding document of modern history-writing.3 Political scientists view the History as being the first textbook of International Relations (IR),4 if not of political science in general.5 Moreover, it is deemed to be one of the first accounts of democratic theory.6 In military academies around the world—and particularly in the United States, the self-identified “Athens of modern times”—the prospective military establishment studies the History as a textbook in military strategy.7 In 2003, the preamble of the European Union’s Draft Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Eu rope opened with Thucydides’s account of Pericles’s Funeral Oration.8 We could list many more examples of the “use and abuse of Thucydides” today:9 Peter Handke’s literary allusion to Thucydides comes to mind, and Bob Dylan’s Chronicles.10 Suffice to say that Thucydides succeeded in his attempt to compose a ktēma es aiei, a “possession for all time” (1.22.4).
Christian R. Thauer, Christian Wendt

Thucydides and the Modern Reader: Methodological Reflections from Different Perspectives


Chapter 2. Contextualism and Universalism in Thucydidean Thought

The aim of this chapter is to develop a framework for understanding the diverse traditions of interpretation and appropriation of Thucydides in the modern world; that is, the ways in which his work has been understood as offering useful and useable knowledge (not readings of the text as an end in themselves), and the ways in which ideas attributed to Thucydides have been deployed to support different intellectual projects.1
Neville Morley

Chapter 3. It’s Time for History! Thucydides in International Relations: Toward a Post-”Westphalian” Reading of a Pre-“Westphalian” Author

This chapter reconsiders Thucydides from an International Relations (IR) perspective. This perspective is interested in the History of the Peloponnesian War as a “possession for all time” (1.22.4), that is, as a theoretical text with the potential to provide significant insights for our thinking about world politics and IR today. This disciplinary interest needs mentioning. As Neville Morley reminds us in chapter 2, modern disciplinary perspectives on Thucydides are already foreknowledge1 conditioning our interpretations in the sense that they entail expectations with respect to what we hope to find in his text. While my predispositions in this regard are thus herewith made clear, this chapter, however, does not discuss “the” theory of Thucydides—or what we might think it is. Instead, it draws our attention to the processes through which we construct meaning in relation to the Thucydidean text. It thus concerns the act of interpretation itself. How can we, and how should we approach the ancient author from an IR perspective?
Christian R. Thauer

Chapter 4. archē in Herodotus and Thucydides

The word archē first became a political term during the archaic era. In the earliest literature, the epics of Homer and Hesiod, it meant beginning, origin, and cause.1 Neither in the epics nor in the surviving texts of archaic poetry does archē have any political connotations. One indirect record of the word’s political usage stems from the late sixth century BC. Remarkably this record is found in Thucydides.
Peter Spahn

Chapter 5. Turannis in the Work of Thucydides

Tyranny (turannis) is clearly not central to the work of Thucydides because this form of government had no immediate significance in the Peloponnesian War, the subject of his work. That is why our historian, in line with modern academic research, justifiably made stronger reference to the forms of government that played a far more important role in the contemporary conflict between the Athenian and Spartan camps: oligarchy or aristocracy, and democracy.1 Yet it is striking that the abundant modern research on Thucydides has frequently and in various ways addressed the issue of tyranny in the historian’s work, which indeed deals with it on several occasions. We even find studies specifically on the issue of Thucydides’s treatment of tyranny, such as Thucydides and Tyranny (1987) by Thomas F. Scanlon, or Thukydides und die Tyrannis (1990), by Pedro Barceló.2 It is difficult to say whether the interest in the subject is somewhat related to contemporary developments and experiences, whether, for instance, it increases with the fall of potentates who are held to be modern tyrants, such as Hitler or Stalin. This would have to be examined in separate studies. This chapter is instead interested in the concept of tyranny itself, as it emerges in the History of the Peloponnesian War.
Martin Dreher

Representations of Order in Thucydides


Chapter 6. Beneath Politics: Thucydides on the Body as the Ground and Limit of the Political Regime

It is an honor and a pleasure to contribute to this distinguished collection, not least because its general approach is so congenial to me. My own reading of Thucydides has always been shaped by my preoccupations as a scholar of the history of political thought. I see him not as a pre-Socratic but as a proto-Socratic—given his contemporaneity with Socrates might I say a co-Socratic?—who has already found his way to the guiding question of Socratic politics. That is the question of this volume, that of the political regime.1 Two such regimes, Athens and Sparta, are the principal actors in his work. I say two regimes, rather than two cities, because Thucydides already grasps the fundamental insight so brilliantly displayed in Book Three of Aristotle’s Politics, that wherever a city claims to act, there lurks in fact only a regime, a part masquerading as the whole.
Clifford Orwin

Chapter 7. The “Rule of the Sea”: Thucydidean Concept or Periclean Utopia?

The special interest in Thucydides among academics in various disciplines as well as among military practitioners and politicians around the world results from the thought that embedded in his History of the Peloponnesian War is an element of “universalism” (as Neville Morley calls it in chapter 2). Readers hope to find guidelines, draw lessons for military strategy, or extract theoretical content from his text that can be meaningfully applied beyond the historical context of the late fifth century BC. In Thucydides’s own words, his History is “a possession for all time” (ktēma es aiei, 1.22.4), which suggests that he was not only interested in the analysis and description of a single concrete historical situation, but also in modeling more general lessons. The postulated “usefulness” of his History implies that this may in fact be the approach intended by the author himself.1 This chapter discusses a particular kind of “lesson” and “theory” ascribed to Thucydides, which relates to the issues of sea power and naval mastery. Such an approach, however, as already Robert Connor pointed out with regard to the readings prevalent in the 1940s and 1950s, brings about its own inherent difficulties:
In the same way the prevalent assumptions about the text made it easy for political philosophers and political scientists to extract from the work a series of propositions about his political views on the empire, democracy, Realpolitik, and the like… it was at least a convenient approach, one that made it possible to treat Thucydides as a thinker and to extract some useful messages from his work: that peace and freedom required power and preparedness; that great powers had to be tough and constantly alert, that sea powers ought, if properly directed, to have a great strategic advantage over continental powers. These and other inferences could be debated, of course, and none was explicitly stated by Thucydides, but it seemed fully appropriate to view his text as containing propositions that could be explicated and brought into a coherent system identified as “Thucydides’ Political Philosophy,” or even as a series of laws about the science of politics.2
Hans Kopp

Chapter 8. Civic Trust in Thucydides’s History

In his recent book A History of Trust in Ancient Greece, Steven Johnstone emphasizes the ancient Greeks’ public, political effort to create trust in impersonal institutions. Although Johnstone confesses to being “enticed” to study trust by Robert Putnam’s investigations of personal networks of trust in civil associations—the famous “bowling alone” idea—he chooses to focus instead on the regime-level production of impersonal trust through systems of standardized coinage, impartial law, and structures of institutional accountability (such as audits).1 Johnstone applies the sociological frameworks of Luhmann, Giddens, and others to the ancient polis, with a view to demonstrating that ancient (not only modern) institutions can render personal trust unnecessary or moot; impersonal trust is therefore not a specifically modern phenomenon.2 In keeping with his social—scientific approach, Johnstone eschews sustained inquiry into the notion of trust as such; equally characteristic is that he understands systems of trust in a non-psychological way, as “sets of practices—what people did as opposed to their psychological dispositions.”3
Ryan Balot


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