The excursus of Thucydides on the last years of Pausanias and Themistocles is remarkable for its simple, rapid-flowing style, its storytelling tone, its wealth of personal ancedote, its marked deviation from his normally strict criteria of relevance. These characteristics, which give the excursus a Herodotean flavour, have often been noted by modern scholars, but until recently acceptance of its general credibility has been widespread, and indeed, with one important exception, which seems to have created very little impression almost unchallenged.
In a recent paper I attempted to show that Plutarch founded his Timoleon upon a Hellenistic biography and made direct use of Timaeus only for the major episodes, where the material contained in this biography was insufficient. The Pelopidas is similar in colouring to the Timoleon, both belonging to what might be described as the ‘chivalrous hero’ class of Plutarch's Lives. Yet this similarity does not originate from the use of similar authorities; for in writing the Pelopidas he was compelled (...) by the nature of the sources available to him to adopt an entirely different process of composition. The bulk of the Life is, as I hope to show, directly derived from the work of a fourth-century historian, and a considerable amount of supplementary material is added from miscellaneous sources. (shrink)
Although the decision of Pericles to abandon Attica to devastation in 431 has often been severely criticized, the conviction of Thucydides that his defensive strategy was sound has been widely accepted during the last half-century. On the other hand, the offensive side of his strategic plan, consisting mainly of using his fleet to raid coastal districts of the Peloponnese, has tended to be dismissed as unimportant by modern writers, while a few have condemned it as pointless and wasteful. Because Thucydides (...) devotes so little space to these raids, it is tempting to regard them as minor operations, but his careful record of the naval and military resources engaged, together with his statement that the force which Pericles commanded in 430 was approximately equal to that sent to Sicily in 415 , shows that they were on a substantial scale. Their influence upon the course of the war was slight, but if Periclean strategy is to be fully appreciated, it is clearly important to inquire why they were undertaken. (shrink)
It was at one time almost universally believed, and is still believed by some scholars, that Thucydides cannot have written his account of the Pentekontaetia before his return from exile because he refers in it to the of Hellanicus, in which an event belonging to the year 407/6 was mentioned. This argument in favour of a late date for the composition of the excursus has been disputed and is now much less widely supported. It has been suggested that the reference (...) to Hellanicus in 97. 2, or the whole of that section, was added by Thucydides to a part of his work written much earlier, or that an edition of the including an account of the Pentekontaetia may have been published long before 406 and the work have been subsequently continued. (shrink)
Scholarly interest in epiteichismos has, for various reasons, been centred almost exclusively upon the Athenian occupation of Pylos and the Spartan occupation of Decelea. In occupying Pylos the Athenians were adopting epiteichismos for the first time, as were the Spartans in occupying Decelea. Both enterprises were on a considerable scale and deeply influenced the course of the Peloponnesian war, though neither so decisively as had initially seemed likely. Another source of interest in them is their link with the perennial problem (...) of speeches in Thucydides. The Thucydidean versions of speeches delivered shortly before the outbreak of the Archidamian war include references to the possibility that epiteichismos might be attempted by both sides , although in fact Athens did not do so until 425, and then partly by accident, and Sparta not until much later. These puzzling references have been thought by some scholars to be anachronistic, while others have disputed this inference, maintaining that even before the war military leaders had in mind the possibility of epiteichismos. A similar if less vexed problem arises from the fact that the occupation of Decelea, vigorously recommended by Alcibiades in the Thucydidean version of his speech at Sparta at the end of 415 and apparently accepted with enthusiasm , was not implemented until the spring of 413. (shrink)
The chapters in which Thucydides describes the revolt of Potidaea and the subsequent operations there have often been criticized for their lack of clarity and precision. Their unevenness suggests an inadequate mastery of technique, and it seems very probable that they were written in the earliest years of the Peloponnesian war and never revised. Although opportunities to interrogate Peloponnesian prisoners must occasionally have come his way , his accounts of military operations which took place long before his banishment are founded (...) very largely upon evidence derived from Athenian sources; but the chapters on Potidaea do not suffer from this disadvantage, and their faults are in no way attributable to a dearth of information from Peloponnesian sources, which seem, strangely enough, to have provided him with much of his material. His narrative is written as much from a Peloponnesian as from an Athenian point of view, and indeed it achieves warmth and colour only where its subject is the Corinthian Aristeus, whose plans and even motives are described in some detail, though they did not substantially influence the course of events. His treatment of Aristeus is sufficiently remarkable to merit examination with the object of seeking an explanation of its peculiarities. (shrink)