Thucydides Book 7 Questions
Greetings fellow Thucydideans,
Please feast your eyes on a great quote that Mark Casey found for us vis-a-vis Book 7. Then look over the questions as you continue reading Book 7 in anticipation of our next call on Monday January 7. I look forward to discussing this incredible piece of writing with you then.
In a letter, after talking about Cicero, Caesar, and other Romans and how great they were, Lord Macauley wrote:
But what are they all to the great Athenian? I do assure you that there is no prose composition in the world, not even the De Corona, which I place so high as the seventh book of Thucydides. It is the ne plus ultra of human art. I was delighted to find in Gray’s letters the other day this query to Wharton: “The retreat from Syracuse–Is it or is it not the finest thing you ever read in your life?”
Thucydides Book 7 Questions
1. As you read Book 7, it becomes clearer and clearer that the Athenian expedition is turning into tragedy. What was your experience of reading this book? It does contain some of Thucydides’ best writing – and I hope you enjoyed his majestic command of the narrative. Even as you enjoyed the pace and command of the story did you also find it simply hard to read as the tragedy unfolded?
2. Let’s review some of the important details of the book:
2.1 In the first three chapters of Book 7, what are the main differences:
in leadership of the Athenian and Syracusan force?
How are the actions of Gylippus and Nicias contrasted?
How does this foreshadow the turning point of the war?
2.2 What role does “time” play? Was “time” strategically against the Athenians? Why?
2.3 Focus on chapters 11-15, Nicias’ speech – what does the tone say of the mood of the army?
2.4 The incident at Mycalessus is terrible and tragic. How does it relate to the telling of the Sicilian campaign?
2.5 The arrival of Demosthenes from Athens complicates the Athenian command structure. How does the shared leadership between Nicias and Demosthenes fail? How could it have worked better?
2.6 How did the Athenians’ failed assault on the Syracusan wall (chs. 43-44) seem to hurt the Athenians and help the Syracusans?
2.7 Why was the first major naval defeat so devastating to the Athenians? How could the Syracusans take advantage of it?
2.8 In chs. 63-68, how do Nicias’ words fail in his attempt to rally the Athenians? How is his own physical problems symbolic of the Athenian situation as a whole? Why, in chs. 66-68, are Gylippus’ words more effective? What does his speech have that Nicias’ doesn’t?
2.9 How does Thucydides describe defeat in ch. 71 in this crucial sea & land battle? How does it evoke the pathos of great historical turning points like Stalingrad? the Tet Offensive? Hemingway’s description of the retreat from Caporetto in A Farewell to Arms? How does Thucydides evoke pity for the Athenians out of their former pride in the final surrender?
3. How are Nicias’ last encouragements to his troops, an appeal to mercy from the gods, ironically related to the Athenian demands at Melos three years earlier in the war? Is this Thucydides’ way of implying that Athens got what it deserved?