Thucydides Book 3 Study Questions
Here are our next set of discussion questions for Book 3. I hope that the minimal notes will also help us keep the larger perspective of Thucydides’ direction in mind. I will get a more detailed outline of Book 3 to you next week.
Reading Book 3 may seem like more of Book 2 at first, but I have found that Thucydides tries different ways of narrating his history in each book. See if you can detect any subtle differences in presentation as you read through Book 3. The differences will become much more clear from Book 4 on.
Summary of events so far:
Book 1 – events concerning primarily Athens & Sparta that lead up to the war
Book 2 – first three years progress of the war; at the beginning of Book 2, the Plataean occupation by Thebes starts the Peloponnesian war. By the third year, instead of the usual invasion and devastation of Attica, Sparta and the Peloponnesian League besiege Plataea and pressure it to renounce its association with Athens.
Book 3 – years four, five and six of the war; the opening of this book (fourth year of the war) concentrates first on the revolt of the island of Lesbos (except Methymna) from Athens.
1. What conditions lead to this revolt? Why do the Mytilenians especially feel that this is the proper moment to challenge Athens? What are the strategic ramifications for a successful revolt versus an unsuccessful one?
In the summer of the fifth year, the Athenians debate the fate of Mytilene.
2. Cleon’s speech (3.37-3.40) imposes a hard line toward the Mytilenians in the name of Imperial rule. How are his words an indictment of the rule of Athenian democracy in determining foreign policy? Cleon is reported to have said: “I therefore now as before persist against your reversing your first decision, or giving way to the three failings most fatal to empire – pity, sentiment, and indulgence” (3.40, p. 178). Are “pity, sentiment, and indulgence” truly out of place in foreign policy decisions? domestic policy decisions? (Diodotus responds to “pity” and “indulgence” as well in 3.48)
3. How does Diodotus’ point of view present Athenian democracy in terms of foreign policy? Is he simply advocating a “dove” approach in response to Cleon’s “hawkish” approach? What part does social class play in Diodotus’ proposal? How ethical is it? How political? How does the result of the Mytilenian debate reflect the democratic process in Athens? How does the result speak to the rest of the Athenian allies?
By winter of the fourth year, the ensuing Plataean siege still leaves some important questions:
4. Why are the Spartans so intent on subjugating Plataea? Is the goal a military one? political? psychological? Why are the Athenians not sending more significant relief to the besieged Plataeans? Why are the Plataeans still remaining loyal to Athens? Why does Thucydides spend effort on describing the events of this particular siege (specifically 3.20-24, 3.52)?
In the fifth year of the war, the Plataeans (3.53-59) and Thebans (3.60-67) debate their own respective merits in the Greek world at this time:
5. Which argument is more persuasive to you? Is either argument much more forceful than the other? What reasons do the Plataeans have for standing with Athens? How are these reasons either stated or implied? How do the Thebans respond to the Plataean argument with any conviction? How does Sparta’s punishment of Plataea compare with Athens’ punishment of Lesbos (i.e. Mytilene)?
The effect of the Peloponnesian war upon Corcyra in the summer of the fifth year.
6. How does the Corcyrean revolution (3.69-85) complement what Thucydides initially brought up concerning the Mytilenean revolt? Is Thucydides maintaining “historical objectivity” or is he allowing too much subjective comment here? What is the significance of Corcyra with respect to any of the other many city-states that Athens has an interest in? to all of Greece? What is Thucydides implying with respect to the relationship between war and revolution? Does this bear out in later history?
7. Is the weather phenomena described in 3.89 a “tsunami”?!
By the sixth year of the war, the Athenians begin operations in the vicinity of Sicily and in parts of Northern Greece between Acarnania and Boeotia
8. As for military operations in Northern Greece, what is Thucydides trying to say by focusing on Demosthenes’ defeat and victory? How do the Athenian allies participate? Is Sparta’s military strategy here effective? Why or why not?
Mentions of Sicilian operations are scattered throughout the last part of Book 3 and will become more important in Book 4 as a reason the Athenians land at Pylos. In books 6 & 7, the ill-fated Athenian Expedition to Sicily will eventually affect the outcome of the whole Peloponnesian war.