Book One – questions for 1.1 – 1.23
As you read the early sections of Book One – especially 1.1 to 1.23 – consider Thucydides’ philosophy and biases. Keep in mind that Thucydides was a precise writer and that every word, every section serves a purpose. Ask yourself “why is he writing this”?
In our kickoff call, we discussed the extent to which Thucydides, an exiled Athenian general, was biased in favor of the Athenians. Thucydides certainly sought to understand the war from different perspectives. Further, he was reportedly criticized within Athens for a Spartan bias in his writing. So, does he have an Athenian bias?
In Book One, Thucydides provide an apology for Athens empire when in section 1.2, he describes Attica’s poor soil and how it led to overcrowding and the establishment of colonies. He says that because of its poor surrounding soil, Athens was safe from invasion (who would want it?) so it became a safe haven for Greek refugees fleeing wars in their home cities.
“The most powerful victims of war or faction from the rest of Hellas took refuge with the Athenians as a safe retreat; and at an early period, becoming naturalized, swelled the already large population of the city to such a height that Attica became at last too small to hold them, and they had to send out colonies to Ionia.”
It’s almost as if Thucydides is saying to the rest of Greece – you created the Athenian empire through making Athens your place of safe retreat and forcing it to create colonies to handle your “teeming masses.”
What do you see in Book One that reveals Thucydides biases or underlying philosophy? What do you make of his writing on naval power and piracy? Read each section and ask yourself “why is Thucydides saying this”?