Politics 6311 Thucydides de Alvarez Spring 2011



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Politics 6311 Thucydides de Alvarez

Spring 2011 B210/x5344
Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War, unlike Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Politics, treats political life on its own terms. Political philosophy deals chiefly and primarily with the best political order, the best regime, with an arrangement which is possible but not actual. This orientation leads to the consequence that political life as it is becomes depreciated. Political life as it is proves to be inferior when seen in the light of the best regime. Thucydides does not transcend political life, the actual life of the city, and he therefore does not present a philosophic account. To understand political life in its own light is necessarily to see politics as imperialistic, as a struggle for dominance; it is to understand politics in terms of war, both civil and foreign.
Texts: The Landmark Thucydides, ed. by Robert B. Strassler. R. Crawley translation, Chicago: Free Press, 1996. Plutarch, The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, translated by John Dryden and revised by Arthur Hugh Clough. New York: The Modern Library, 1992.

Course Requirements: Reading of texts, attendance and participation, one term examination and final.

Schedule of Readings:
Week 1 Introduction. The Archaeology, Book I. 1-23. (1) Why did Thucydides decide to write a history of the Peloponnesian War? Why is the book an “everlasting possession?” What does that choice indicate about his understanding of the nature of things? (2) How does Thucydides present the beginnings of political order? What are the implications for his understanding of politics? (3) What is the relationship between speech and deed? What does he say about the relationship between his writing or speech and the deeds?
Week 2 (1) The Causes of the War, I.24-55. What is the difference between the open allegations made about the causes of the war and the invisible causes? Why these invisible causes are not openly stated? Was the war inevitable? Which side can be said to be more just? (2) Potidaea and the Assembly of the Peloponnesian League, I. 56-66, 67-88. Are the Athenian actions in Potidaea unjust? What is the Corinthian allegation against Athens? What is the Athenian response? What is the significance of the way in which Thucydides describes the Athenian response? What does Archidamus say is the most important issue to be considered? What is suggested by the way in which the Spartans reach a conclusion?
Week 3 (1) The Pentacontaetia (The Fifty Year Rise of Athens), I. 85-118. Does the history of the rise of the Athenian empire confirm what was said by the Athenians at Sparta? (2) The Second Assembly at Sparta, I. 119-125. Is there a difference in the tone of the Corinthian speech? What now is the concern? (3) The Greatest Cause of the War I. 126-138. How is this section connected with the previous account? What is its purpose? What is revealed about the character of Athens and Sparta? (4) Pericles, I. 139-146. What does this first speech of Pericles suggest about his character? What is his assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of Athens and Sparta respectively? What is his understanding of the relationship of cities to one another -- in other words, of international politics?
Week 4.(1) The Beginning of the War, II, 1-33. What is the formula Thucydides uses in setting down the events of the war? What is the manifest breach of the peace? Who then is responsible for the beginning of the war? What are the different strategies for conducting the war? Who is in the better strategic situation, Athens or Sparta? (2) The Funeral Oration, II, 34-46. Compare Pericles’ Funeral Speech with Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. What is Pericles’ understanding of Athens as a city? (Compare Plutarch’s judgment in his Life of Pericles.) (3) The Plague, II, 47-54. In what way does the account of the Plague reflect upon the Funeral Oration? What is being said about both human and divine order? (4) The Invasion of Attica, II, 55-58; The Attack on Pericles, II, 59-65. How does Pericles; final speech differ from his two earlier speeches? What is Pericles’ understanding of the city, i.e., of the political? What is Thucydides’ judgment of Pericles?
Week 5 (1) The Progress of the War, II, 66-103. What is revealed about the different characters of the two cities, Sparta and Athens? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the two cities as revealed in the various campaigns? What is the significance of the account of the Odrysian kingdom? What is the significance of the allusions to natural forces? .
Week 6. (1) The Mytilenean Revolt, III, 1-19. What is the Mytilenean justification for their rebellion? Is it justified? What is suggested about the correctness of the Athenian justification of their rule? (2) Progress of the War and the Mytilenean Debate, III, 20-50. What are the different issues put forward by Cleon and Diodotus on how Athens should deal with Mytilene? Who has the better argument? (3) The Trial of the Plataeans, III, 51-68. What is the difference between Sparta and Athens in the way they treat their enemies? What is suggested about the question of justice? .
Week 7(1) The Corcyrean Revolution, III, 69-86. Compare the account of the Corcyrean Revolution with the account of the Plague. What is revealed about human nature? Which city best represents Thucydidean political principles, Sparta or Athens? (2) Progress of the War, III, 87-116. What is suggested about the question of human loss in this section? What is the importance of the references to the poets and the gods in this section? What do we learn about Demosthenes?
Week 8. (1) Pylos, IV, 1- 41. What does Pylos reveal about Sparta and Athens? What accounts for the success of Demosthenes? What is revealed about the character of Nicias? (2) Hermocrates Speech, IV, 42-65. What does Hermocrates’ speech add to the theme of imperialism? (3) Brasidas, IV, 66-88; 103-135. What is Brasidas’ policy? What makes him different from other Spartans? How does Thucydides judge him? How does the loss of Amphipolis affect the Athenians? What are the consequences for Thucydides? (3) Athenian Piety, IV, 89-102. What is said by the Athenians about the profanation of the temple? (Exam. 1 Mar. 17)
Week 9. (1) The Peace of Nicias, V, 1-83. What leads the two sides to conclude a peace? In what way does Thucydides intrude himself? What is the situation of each city at the end of the first part of the war? What is the policy of Alcibiades? (2) The Melian Dialogue, V, 84-116. Why does Thucydides choose to present the exchange between the Athenians and the Melians as a dialogue? Who is right, the Melians or the Athenians? What should the Melians have done? What should the Athenians have done?
Week 10. (1) The Debate over the Sicilian Expedition, VI, 1-26, 30-32. How is Sicily introduced by Thucydides? Why Nicias’ speech fail? What is Alcibiades’ response? How is the Sicilian expedition described? (2) The Mutilation of the Herms, VI, 27-29, 53-61. What is suggested about Athens and Alcibiades by the story of the herms? Why does Thucydides tell the story of Harmodius and Aristogeiton? (3) The Sicilian Expedition: Arrival and the Debate over Strategy. What is the Syracusan response to Hermocrates’ report of the coming Athenian invasion? What does it say about the divisions in the city? Whose strategy is best, that of Nicias or that of Alcibiades?
Week 11 (1) The Battle with the Syracusans and the Debate at Camarina, VI, 62-88. What is the effect of the first encounter between the Athenians and the Syracusans on each side? What appeal does Hermocrates make to the Camarineans? What is remarkable about the speech of Euphemus? Is his justification of Athenian imperialism the same as that stated by the Athenians at Sparta and Melos? How plausible is his account? (2) Alcibiades at Sparta, VI, 89-105. How does Alcibiades persuade the Spartans to accept his advice? What is the consequence of Alcibiades’ act of treason? What is revealed about Alcibiades’ ambitions?
Week 12 The Battles in the Great Harbor, Mycalessus VII, 1-49. What accounts for the actions of Nicias? What should Nicias have done? Why does Thucydides introduce the account of Mycalessus? Why is Nicias not willing to follow Demosthenes’ advice?
Week 13. The Defeat of the Athenian Expedition, VII, 50-87, What is the cause of the Athenian defeat? Could the Athenian Expedition have succeeded? In what way does the Melian Dialogue reveal the causes of the Athenian failure? What is the theme of Nicias last speech? What is Thucydides’ judgment of Nicias? What is his judgment of Demosthenes?
Week 14. Rebellion and Revolution, VIII, 1-56. What are the consequences of the Athenian defeat on Athens and Sparta? What accounts for the treaty between the Lacedaemonians and the Persians? Why do the Persians become more and more important in Book VIII? What caused the revolution in Athens?
Week 15 Restoration. VIII, 57-109; Plutarch, Life of Alcibiades, and Life of Lysander. What is Thucydides’ judgment of Alcibiades? How does he save Athens? What is Thucydides’ judgment about the best form of government for Athens? What does that judgment suggest about his understanding of the nature of man and the city?




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