What makes reading Thucydides so relevant through the ages?
Dear fellow readers,
What makes reading Thucydides so relevant to us and to others before us? Here are my opening thoughts:
I have just finished re-reading the Introduction in Strassler’s edition of Thucydides. In it, Victor Davis Hanson says that Thucydides “believed that the war between Athens and Sparta offered a unique look at the poles of human and not just Greek experience, at contrasting ideologies and assumptions for a brief time ripped open by organized savagery and left exposed for autopsy” (xi).
History is a great teacher. Good history teaches through the ages.
I have been recently reading and researching the Roman historian Sallust, who was a witness to the end of the Roman Republic. In a commentary on Sallust, Professor J.T. Ramsey remarks: “As we happen to know from Cicero, Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War seems to have enjoyed a sudden access of popularity at Rome in the mid-first century B.C. shortly before Sallust began writing. Apparently the interest in Thucydides was revived by the crisis precipitated when Caesar crossed the Rubicon and civil war broke out. Readers turned to the historian of the decline and fall of the Athenian empire for grim consolation or enlightenment under the pressure of similar circumstances which Thucydides (1.22.4) argues are controlled by human nature and therefore are likely to recur so long as human nature remains unchanged” (Sallust’s Bellum Catilinae, 10).
Another anecdote. Woodrow Wilson is said to have had Thucydides at his side while negotiating the Versailles Treaty after WWI:
The lessons he teaches about imperial over reaching and unreasonable peace settlements are prescient today as they were during his times. President Woodrow Wilson, read this book on his voyage across the Atlantic to the Versailles Peace Conference and vociferously fought the other Allies in making unreasonable demands of the Germans. Wilson learned the dangers that the world would be placed in by backing the Germans into a corner politically and economically from Thucydides book.
I look forward to “meeting” you all at our conference call on Monday November 3rd, 8pm EST.