Tuesday, 20 June 2017

History of Peloponnesian War - Book III

History of the Peloponnesian War

Landscape of Attica
Nikolaos Lytras
source Wikiart
Book III:  In the summer of the fourth year, there is much action along the Ionian coastline.  Sparta also prepares to invade Attica.  Lesbos revolts from Athenian control and Mytilene follows suite and after fighting, Athenian strength prevails.  Cleon and Diodotus argue over how to treat the revolutionaries with Cleon arguing for execution.  In the end, Athens votes to spare them.

We have many descriptions of battles and states allying with one opponent or the other.  Most often the alliance was formed for self-preservation, rather than from any deep conviction, although the occasional loyalty did crop up.

The Thebans and Plataeans squabble, Sparta judges and executes the Plataeans (yes, all of them) and their city is razed.

Thucydides gives a fascinating speech on the evils of war and revolution and how it changes men both externally and internally.  There are chilling similarities to the politics and power struggles of our times:

"The sufferings which revolution entailed upon the cities were many and terrible, such as have occurred and always will occur as long as the nature of mankind remains the same; though in a severer or milder form, and varying in their symptoms, according to the variety of the particular cases.  In peace and prosperity states and individuals have better sentiments, because they do not find themselves suddenly confronted with imperious necessities; but war takes away the easy supply of daily wants and so proves a rough master that brings most men's characters to a level with their fortunes ...... words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them. Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal supporter; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question incapacity to act on any.  Frantic violence became the attribute of manliness; cautious plotting a justifiable means of self-defence.  The advocate of extreme measure was always trustworthy; his opponent a man to be suspected.  To succeed in a plot was to have a shrewd head, to divine a plot a still shrewder; but to try to provide against having to do either was to break up your party and to be afraid of your adversaries .......  The cause of all these evils was the lust for power arising from greed and ambition; and from these passions proceeded the violence of parties once engaged in contention ...... Thus every form of iniquity took root in the Hellenic countries by reason of the troubles.  The ancient simplicity into which honor so largely entered was laughed down and disappeared; and society became divided into camps in which no man trusted his fellow.  To put an end to this, there was neither promise to be depended upon, nor oath that could command respect; but all parties dwelling rather in their calculation upon the hopelessness of a permanent state of things, were more intent upon self-defence than capable of confidence.  In the contest the blunter wits were most successful .... {yet} often fell victims to their own lack of precaution."

For a second time a plague strikes the Athenians, although the first plague has not quite left, and lasted for a year, has a devastating effect on their population.

Demosthenes (1893)
Nicholas Roerich
source Wikiart

We are introduced to Demosthenes and his aggressive and single-minded leadership, which seems to work well for him, as he assists the Acarnanians in routing the Peloponnesians and the Ambraciots in a decisive victory.

The winter of the sixth year of the war concludes with an eruption of Mount Etna.

Viw of Mount Etna (1844)
Thomas Cole
source Wikiart


  1. I'm so impressed that I can hardly read the posts. Ol' Thucydides is my Nemesis.

    1. Did you ever make it through? He's terrible until you get used to him.

      Even though I enjoyed the maps in the Landmark edition, I have a feeling that the translation could have been better. One day in the future, perhaps I can do a comparison. Right now, I'm just pleased to have read it once!

    2. Still on page 70. On the bright side, hardly any FQ left to go! I WANT to have read Thucydides, but this doesn't seem to be a good time in my life to do so. Everything is unsettled and kind of stressful right now (but then, will it ever not be? Ha).

    3. Ah, the FQ is my bête noire! I can't even think about it now with The Republic and City of God on the go.

      Unsettled and stressed .... yes, I'm with you there. I found taking time to read made me feel much better but I had to go away to do it and now I'm home and .... Argh! But, you're right, such is life!