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.a In the first three chapters of Book 7, what are the main 


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.b What role does “time” play? Was “time” strategically against the Athenians? Why?

2.c Focus on chapters 11-15, Nicias’ speech – what does the tone say of the mood of the army?

            2.d The incident at Mycalessus is terrible and tragic.  How does it relate to the telling of the Sicilian campaign?

            2.e  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.f How did the Athenians’ failed assault on the Syracusan wall (chs. 43-44) seem to hurt the Athenians and help the Syracusans?

2.g Why was the first major naval defeat so devastating to the Athenians?  How could the Syracusans take advantage of it?

2.h In chs. 63-68, how do Nicias’ words fail in his attempt to rally the Athenians?  How is his own physical condition 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.i How does Thucydides describe defeat in ch. 71 in this crucial sea & land battle?  How does it evoke the pathos of other great historical turning points that you can think of?  (I personally liken this to Stalingrad, the Tet Offensive, and even Hemingway’s description of the retreat from Caporetto in A Farewell to Arms always comes to mind.)  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?

04. May 2009 by Arrian
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