Thucydides

, an ancient Greek historian, was a citizen of Athens, and born in the second year of the 77th olympiad, or before Christ 469. He was of royal extraction; for all writers relate, that his father Olorus, or Orolus, was descended from Olorus, king of Thrace. He was educated in philosophy by Anaxagoras, and in eloquence by Antiphon. Suidas and Photius relate a circumstance, which shews, that he had from his youth a noble emulation, for when Herodotus recited his History in public, a practice in use then and many ages after, it drew tears from him; which Herodotus himself noticing, congratulated his father on having a son who shewed so wonderful an affection to the muses. Herodotus was then twenty-nine years of age; Thucydides about sixteen.

When the Peloponnesian war began to break out, Thucydides conjectured truly, that it would prove an argument worthy of his labour; and it no sooner commenced than he began his history, noting down events and circumstances, as they happened under his eye, or came to his knowledge. Of his own life we know nothing with certainty, but what he himself has delivered in his history. He was a lover of contemplation and retirement, yet he did not decline the service of the state, and accepted | accordingly a command in the army. This, however, proved unfortunate to him; for while he resided in the Isle of Thasus, it happened that Brasidas, the Lacedemonian, besieged Amphipolis, a city belonging to the Athenians, about half a day’s sail from Thasus. Thucydides being one of the strategi, or of those who had authority to raise forces in those parts for the service of the commonwealth, the Athenian captain sent to him to levy a power, and hasten to his relief: as he did not arrive till too late, and when the city was already yielded up, he was afterwards punished, as if he had done this either through negligence or fear of the enemy. For this suspicion, however, there was no just reason, for he put himself into the city of Eion, and preserved it to the Athenians, with the repulse of Brasidas, who came down the next morning from Amphipolis, and besieged it.

After his banishment, which happened in his forty-eighth year, he lived in Scapte-Hyle, a city of Thrace, where he had married a very opulent wife; and large possessions and rich mines of gold, as he himself professes in his fourth book. He was not however so affected with his disgrace, as to shut himself -up from the world, but was present at the actions of the rest of the war, as appears from the fifth book of his History. In compiling his History, which occupied a great share of his time while in exile, he is said to have employed considerable sums of money in procuring authentic memorials, not only from the Athenians, but the Lacedemonians. It comprehends the Peloponnesian war, which lasted one and twenty years; for though some writers make it continue six years longer, yet others more rightly judge what followed to be rather the consequences of the v\ar, than a part of it. Some critics have imagined, from the difference of style and manner, that the eighth book, according to the ordinary division, was not written by Thucydides, but added afterwards by another hand; but this is not the general opinion, and, as Hobbes says, it is very probable, that it is left the same as it was when he first wrote it, that is, in the way of commentary, neither beautified with orations, nor so well cemented in the transitions as the former seven books are. Xenophon’s “Hellenica” are a supplement to Thucydides 1 s History.

It does not appear, that after his exile Thucydides ever again enjoyed his country; nor is it clear from any author, where, or when, or in what year of his age, he died. Most agree, that he died in banishment j yet some have related, | that,“after the defeat in Sicily, the Athenians decreed a general revocation of all banished persons, and that he then returned, and was afterwards put to death at Athens. This is not likely; and many other circumstances are related which have no more probability. Hobbcs thinks, that in this variety or' conjectures there is nothing more probable than that which we have from Pausanias, who, in describing the monuments of the Athenian city, says,” The worthy act of Oenobius, in the behalf of Thucydides, is not without honour, for Oenobius obtained to have a decree passed for his return: who returning was slain by treachery, and his sepulchre is near the gate called Melirides." He is reckoned to have been sixty-eight years of age when he died. He left a son, whose name is hardly known, but supposed to have been Timotheus.

He excelled in the two great points which form a just historian, truth and eloquence. The faith of his History has never been called into question. He wanted no opportunities of knowing the truth, and he does not appear to have misrepresented it; and though some have fancied him a little malevolent towards his country, because the usage hy had received would have made most people so, yet he has not written any thing that discovers such a passion. His manner of writing is coherent, perspicuous, and persuasive, yet close, strong, and pithy. The ancients have spoken <of him in the highest terms and if Herodotus, as his senior, obtained the title “father of history,” yet the greater part have allowed that Thucydides is the better historian. Plutarch says, in his treatise De Gloria Atheniensinm, that Thucydidesaims always at this, to make his auditor a spectator, and to excite in his reader the same passions witii those who were beholders.” Then enumerating some examples, “these things,” he says, “are so described, and so evidently set before our eyes, that the mind of the reader is no less affected, than if he had been present in the actions.” And it was probably for his skill in painting, certainly not for his eloquence (for, as Cicero says, “what great rhetorician ever borrowed any thing of Thucydides?”) that the famous orator Demosthenes wrote over his History, according to Lucian, eight times with his own hand. The same Lucian, in his book “How a history ought to be written,” continually exemplifies the virtues required in an historiographer by Thucydides; and it seems as if the image of Thucydides’s History, preconceived in | Lucian’s mind, suggested to him all the precepts he there delivers. As to his style, Cicero speaks of it thus: “Thucydides in the art of speaking, in my opinion, has far exceeded them all. ^For he is so full of matter, that the number of his sentences almost equals the number of his words; and in his words he is so apt, and so close, that it is hard to say, whether his words more illustrate his sentences, or his sentences his words,” The Romans thought highly of Thucydides’s work; and Sallust evidently took him for his model.

It is remarkable, that Dionysius Halicarnassensis entertained unreasonable prejudices against this historian, in favour of his countryman Herodotus, whom he was desirous to have considered as superior to him, and had raised accordingly many objections to his work. “The principal and most necessary office of any man that intendeth to write an history,” he says, “is to chuse a noble argument, and grateful to such as shall read it; and this Herodotus has done, in my opinion, better than Thucydides. For Herodotus hath written the joint history both of the Greeks and Barbarians; but Thucydides writeth only one war.” To this, as well as to Dionysius’ s other objections, Hobbes replies: “Let any man consider, whether it be not more reasonable to say, that the principal and most necessary office of him that will write an history is to take such an argument as is both within his power well to handle, and profitable to posterity that shall read it; which Thucydides, in the opinion of all men, has done better than Herodotus. For Herodotus undertook to write of those things, of which it was impossible for him to know the truth, and which deJight more the ear with fabulous narrations, than satisfy the mind with truth; but Thucydides writes one war, which, how it was carried on from the beginning to the end, he was able certainly to inform himself.” The single circumstance here urged in favour of Thucydides, gives lord Clarendon’s History of our Civil Wars, perhaps, the preference to any history that is extant in any language. Some modern critics have, however, formed an opinion of Thucydides more according with that of Dionysius than of Hobbes. The emperor Charles V. is said to have been so fond of this historian, that he always carried him with him into the camp, and used to talk of him with wonderful pleasure to those about him.

Thucydides was first printed by Aldus, in 1502, folio, | since which the best editions are, 1. That printed by Henry Stephens, with a Latin version of “Laureutius Valla, Paris, 1538,” folio. 2. That of Oxford, “Greek and Latin, curn notis variorum & Joh. Hudsoni, 1696,” folio. 3. “Graces & Latin e, cum notis variorum & Jos. Wasse. Accedunt emendationes Car. And. Dukeri, Amst. 1732,” 2 vols. folio. 4. The Glasgow edit. 175y, 8 vols. 12mo. 5. A elegant and correct edition in 8vo, 1783, at Deux-ponts, from the edition of Duker, 6 vois.; and lastly, that of Ediu. 1803 6, 6 vols. edited by the rev. Peter Elmsley.

We have a good English translation of this author by Hobbes, whose account of Thucydides has been of service to us in the course of this memoir. But a translation now more in use and estimation is that of Dr. Smith, dean of Chester, which was published in 1753, 4to, and 1781, 8vo. 1

1

Life by Hobbes. Fabric. Bibl. Græc.—Dibdin’s Classics.—Blair’s Lectures.