Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English


Thucydides (c.460 – c.400 bce) was the second great Greek historian, following Herodotus by about a generation and writing a history of the Peloponnesian wars, the period that brought an end to the golden age of Athens. After the victory over the Persians, Greek confidence ran high, especially in Athens. This city-state had organized itself as a direct democracy, in which every citizen gets a vote (as opposed to a representative democracy). Sparta was totalitarian, in which the needs of the state outweighed concern for individuality. Hostilities between these two city-states erupted into the Peloponnesian wars, 431-404 bce.

Where Herodotus was sometimes a “romantic” writer of history, Thucydides is considered more realistic, having had direct access to his material by his participation in many of the events recorded. Thucydides tends to locate the causes of events in human action rather than on the divine plane. Instead of the stories of individuals, Thucydides records speeches and debates, such as the oft-anthologized Melian Dialogue, in which he brings to life “the amoral realities of power that underlay those ideals [of Athenian life], realities expressed by the Athenians in the cynical aphorism, ‘The powerful exact what they can, and the weak grant what they must'” (Wilkie & Hurt 1250).

For Thucydides’ text, click here.

Works Consulted

Powell, Barry B. Classical Myth. 3rd edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 2001.

Wilkie, Brian, and James Hurt, eds. Literature of the Western World, Volume 1. 5th edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 2001.