Thucydides Study questions Book 2
Dear fellow readers,
What a great conversation we had on Book 1. I appreciate the input you all gave on that call. I was impressed with the questions you all raised and how many different approaches came up. We will have to bring up Thucydides’ philosophy of history again as we move through the rest of the History. Book 2 is the exciting beginning of the war in terms of serious political and military operations. As always, Thucydides intersperses much about Hellenic culture and society as well. Book 2 focuses on the first three years of the war. I will send out a brief, but helpful outline of events next week.
Here are some study questions (below) for us to think about as we read through Book II. They should help us structure our discussion of Book II on Mon Jan 5. I will be asking some of you in the coming week to take on a question for our discussion, which means simply giving us your thoughts on the question as a way of introducing discussion on that particular question on Mon Jan 5 during our next call. If a particular question appeals to you strongly, and you feel led to address it, let me know and I will mark you down for that question on our next call. Otherwise, I will email some of you soon about kicking off our discussion with one of the following study questions.
1. According to Thucydides, how were Athens and Sparta each regarded by other Greek city-states at the beginning of the war? How does Thucydides himself regard each of the two major powers? Does his point of view bend towards Athens (perhaps because of his citizenship) or against Athens (perhaps because of his exile)?
2. Thucydides presents the Spartan king Archidamus in the first speech early in Book II (2.11, pp. 96-97). This is the same Archidamus who gave a long and compelling speech in Book I that we discussed on the last call. Likewise, Thucydides also presents Pericles, the influential Athenian statesman somewhat in response (2.35-46 pp. 111-118). How do these two leaders compare? What do their words reveal about them, their individual strategies and their respective city-states at the opening of what will eventually turn into a very long, protracted war?
3. As an unforeseen circumstance, the plague is one of the most devastating blows to Athens in the first two years of the war (2.47-2.55, pp. 118-122). The effects of the plague are difficult for a reader to imagine, let alone the Athenians themselves endure. Thucydides is said to have experienced it firsthand himself. What is your immediate experience of reading about the plague? Beyond this, how does Thucydides’ description of the plague transcend the moment and forecast the conditions for such a protracted war as he intends to chronicle?
4. In Pericles’ second speech (2.60-2.64, pp. 123-127), opposition to his strategy is growing. How does he react? How does Thucydides’ assessment (2.65, pp. 127-128) comment on the balance between maintaining a democratic government at home while waging very costly war?
5. What does the situation at Plataea (2.71-2.78 pp. 131-136) reveal with respect to Athens’ alliance system? Is this alliance system the cause of the war? How beneficial to Athenian allies is their allegiance to Athens?
6. As for the theaters of war in Chalcidice and Acarnania (descriptions of which are scattered throughout Book II), why are these regions so important politically? militarily? economically? ethnically/culturally?