Historical Figures


What little data we have about Thucydides comes, for the most part, from a few passages in Thucydides' own work the. The rest of the sources either have little credibility or are directly fantastic. The only certain testimony we have, around which his biography has been built, is that he was appointed strategos by Athens in 424 BC. during the Peloponnesian War. The position of strategos (one of the few trades not drawn among the Athenians) required that the chosen one had a minimum age of 30 years. In this way Thucydides had to be born, at least, before the year 454 BC

Although the issue is not exempt from debate, it has been maintained with some consistency that it was born within the family of the Filiadas, belonging to the Athenian nobility, to which associated with such important characters as Cimón (who is said to have been his brother-in-law). We know that his father was called Oloro and in one of the passages of his work he records that he owned some gold mines in Thrace. We know little more about his family environment and life until 424, although it is not unreasonable to suppose that he had access to the most influential circles of Athens and an active role in the public life of the polis.

Like Herodotus, Thucydides suffered exile. In his case, this punishment was motivated by the disastrous result of the siege of Amphipolis, which he led during the war. There is no exact record of where he spent his exile, nor if he finally returned to Athens after the general amnesty granted in 404 BC at the initiative of Enobius. His death, like everything else surrounding his life, is shrouded in turmoil. Since his work is incomplete, part of the historiography considers that he died before the conflict ended, that is, before 404 BC. However, other critics, based on some of the passages in his work (specifically, those relating to King Archelaus of Macedon and the progress of the Athenian defeat), maintain that Thucydides must have died around the year 398 BC. The causes of his death are unknown.

If Herodotus was the first to elaborate a universal history, Thucydides has the honor of being the first scientific historian , that is, who for the first time applies methodological criteria to his work to provide it with greater impartiality and exhaustiveness. What he seeks with his History of the Peloponnesian War it is to make a true science fleeing from the exaggerations, from the lack of objectivity that characterized the poets and from the fabulous element that still remained in Herodotus. To achieve this, he will use Attic prose and will be the first to do so, since until then prose was used only by logographers, sophists and the Ionian world.

If the historians who preceded him adopted the slow and diffuse style of the popular tale and with a certain poetic ornament, Thucydides will radically transform this style by applying a concise, austere, serious language and direct. What does not prevent him from resorting to certain literary resources to keep the reader in tension, such as anticipation (advances the result of an event to captivate him during the description of it); the narrative with suspense (it recounts events in a discontinuous and intermingled way, which gives rise to a rich range of similarities and mutual relationships); or the ring composition (advances a mention, then introduces a narration related to it and finally returns to the initial mention, despite the linear nature of the historical events).

If we pay attention to what he tells us in the prologue of the History of the Peloponnesian War Thucydides began writing it at the very moment hostilities broke out between Sparta and Athens. Beyond the plausibility of this statement, it seems unlikely that he could collect all the information and contrast his sources parallel to the development of the events themselves. Thucydides highlights the contemporary nature of what he is transmitting to us, that is, he does not address a distant fact that has already passed, but rather an event that is alive while he is telling us about it.

This way of understanding history is original to Thucydides. The purpose of his work is not so much to reflect for posterity an event that is taking place at the same time he writes, but rather to describe the present and look for the causes that have caused it. For this reason his conception of the past differs from ours:the past only interests him to the extent that it helps to understand the present. The reflection on the events that have already occurred and the possible paradigmatic value of it is a constant in his work, especially visible in the speeches and always subordinated to what is really important, the present. This conception of time leads him to use a novel chronological system:he does not fix the years based on the name of a magistrate (which could lead to confusion when numerous cities participate), but uses a division based on solar years. In this way he can fix more precisely the time when the actions he describes occur.

Following the tradition started by Herodotus, but taking it to its ultimate extremes, the role of the gods in Thucydides' work is practically non-existent. For him, the engine of historical events is not the envy of the deities, but rather it nests in the internal logic of the facts and in the actions and reactions of psychology and human intelligence. Man as a social being is going to be the true protagonist of the History of the Peloponnesian War . Being the reason and not the myth the one that explains the events that he narrates, Thucydides suppresses any reference to the moral force as leitmotiv of the actions of men, since their intelligence is the decisive factor in history.

Together with the anthropocentric conception of history appear in Thucydides, at a level higher than man, a series of laws or principles not expressly stated by the author himself but which go to determine the course of human events. In the first place, the powers that have an empire will be hated by their subjects, which will force them to apply a strict policy of control over them, increased over time. Second, the pleonexia (the ambition to have more) is typical of the behavior of man, and by extension of the States and moves them to expand. The success of its expansion will depend, not on the masses, but on who leads them. In the third and last place, the incontestable logic of the strongest prevails, whose will prevails without the principle of justice guiding his actions. As can be seen, throughout all of Thucydides' work the idea of ​​power, specifically political power, underlies.

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